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Sunday 27 March 2016

Finished Product

When was the last time Ubisoft released a game that was properly finished?

Like, you boot it up, play it, and there's no performance issues or graphical glitches or hilarious gameplay bugs of any kind. Just a nice, neat, finished game that has been properly bug tested and just works straight away.

The Division has been interesting thus far. Perhaps a little grindy, in an attempt to push one toward playing in a team, or just to artificially extend the lifespan of the game. I luckily didn't attempt to play it before the chortle-worthy laptop bug was fixed, but I have experienced a significant amount of other issues. None of them have made the game unplayable. They've just been a bit of a snide chuckle as I think about how much money I spent on it, and how long it was in development.

But then it is a Ubisoft game, isn't it? This isn't a new thing. The face-ripping graphical bugs in Assassin's Creed: Now We're In France, the frankly disappointing Watch_Dogs; Ubisoft as a company are very, very good at putting out a product that isn't quite done yet.

The thing is, this is surely their bread and butter. Like they make games for a living. Right? That's what they do. It's how they earn their money. If a bridge-building firm consistently made bridges that kept falling the fuck over (or at least were a bit wobbly) you'd think the governments of the world would stop giving them money.

I suppose that is how we differ as gamers.

Of course the game isn't going to be finished. They never are. And of course, if you want the best out of it, you're going to want the season pass - a fantastic evolution of paid DLC that means that you can essentially charge double for a game on release day, with the promise that some DLC may be coming out that will be worth it. Borderlands 2 totally over-delivered on that particular score. Other games, well... I'm not so sure.

It's our expectations that are the problem, in my opinion We're very forgiving. We keep pouring money into the same shitpits in the hope that the gold at the bottom will rise to the top, which encourages the companies to keep bulking out the pit with more shit. It makes money. How can it be the wrong thing to do?

I bought The Division and Stardew Valley at the same kind of time. Stardew Valley was a quarter of the price and I have put almost sixty hours into it. The Division has struggled to hold my attention for more than two hours.

Stardew Valley is, simply put, a better game.

Perhaps that is the SNES gamer in me speaking, the man who thinks that three of the best RPGs of all time were released on that console. Perhaps I am too casual for The Division to really grab me by the balls. One thing that can't be argued is that Stardew doesn't fall into a great many of the modern gaming traps that The Division does - and despite the game being coded, developed and essentially made by hand by one single individual (one Eric Barone, aka Concerned Ape), it feels finished. It feels like it is complete when you pick it up. Yes, there will be more - you feel it will be EXPANDED upon - but that is the difference, isn't it? Stardew Valley will get bigger, and you probably won't have to pay the game's cost again in order to experience it.

So how come Ubisoft can't finish a game but one guy can?

And why will we (me included) still end up paying for the unfinished product?

Sometimes I think the only reason the Triple A game industry hasn't been rocked to the core is because we're too busy just hovering up the next release to actually stop and ask questions.

One question you SHOULDN'T ask is if you should be playing Stardew Valley.

Yes. You should.

Saturday 19 March 2016

One Hell Of A Woman

I remember a story my aunt told me once, though she wasn't actually my aunt by blood.

She used to live in London, way back when; her mother was a hairdresser, ran a very succesful hairdressing salon. Renee learned everything about cutting hair from her mum. She was a bloody good hairdresser, too.

Well. Once upon a time, a long time ago - Renee wasn't really old enough to do anything but sweep the floor while the rest of the hairdressers did the work. They were keeping the place going, and they were never shy of the glamour girls of the East End sashaying in and paying for the latest styles.

One day this guy walks in, and asks for Renee by name. He goes over, and there she is, holding the broom and looking up at him, this bloke in this razor-sharp suit with a jet-black head of hair and a concerned look on his face.

" 'Ere, Renee," he says. "I 'eard your mum is 'avin a bit of a time of it."

"She's ill, mister," she replies.

"You give that to 'er," he says, as he hands her an envelope. "Tell 'er we wish 'er well."

Then the guy picks up two of the girls who were having their hair done, and he leaves. Renee takes the envelope dutifully up to her mum, never once asking what was in it or who the guy was.

Turns out there was about a thousand pounds in that envelope, which in the fifties was a hell of a lot of money; and when Renee asked who the man was, her mum told him his name was Reggie.

Yes. Reggie Kray.

Renee has pretty much been a grandmother to me ever since I first met her. She's more family to me than a lot of people I share blood with (on one side - I've not had the pleasure of meeting most of the Lebanese side of my heritage, though I'd like to change that). She's been there, for years, throughout the hardest times of my life. I always knew I could count on her particular brand of wisdom, always knowing more than I thought she could about every little thing.

She's been very ill, recently. Very ill. Not the kind of ill one suspects they will get better from. Renee always knew how it would turn out - and I didn't know it at the time, but everything she did was to make it easier for my mother and I to cope with when push came to shove.

The world could do with an army of her, but we were only blessed with one; and I was lucky enough to be part of that life.

Genuinely not sure what we're going to do without you.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Not Born To Pay Bills

It is sometimes a hard thing to deal with depression as a vaguely nihilistic person.

You see a lot of motivational posts all over social media. A lot of these posts talk about purpose, meaning, so on, so forth.

It's great that people can find things like that helpful or soothing or actually motivational, you know? It's nice that the things can actually prove to be useful to folks, because everyone copes differently and everyone needs a different way forwards.

For me, all the motivational stuff makes me feel a little nauseous.

Like...I am sure some of them (if not most, if not all) are made by people who don't necessarily need the motivation they provide. They always strike me as hollow platitudes. Like there is something inherently mindlessly optimistic about it all, like someone that's never lost a limb telling me how it will feel, or someone who isn't drowning smiling calmly and telling me that it'll be okay, just picture the oxygen entering my lungs.

More than that, though - more than that is the notion that there's something beyond, and if only I believe in it, then it'll give me the strength to do the next thing. Which I can't do. Because if the recovery is built on the belief in something that can't be proven, then there's nothing to keep it all from falling down when you have that moment of doubt. All that can hold it together is your belief, your unshakeable belief...

...and you are better off devoting that to yourself.

"You were not born to just pay bills and die," one of them says. That's true. In truth? You weren't born for anything at all. You were born because of point A leading to point B, and the cell separation at point C, and the birth at point D. You're not here FOR anything. You're here BECAUSE you were conceived.

My function is to keep going. I wasn't put here with a purpose. Happiness is the one thing that should be pursued without question - though not at the cost of other people's. What else is there? All life demands is sufferance. We owe it to ourselves to make that as easy on us as possible.

Something my dad used to say, when he was very, very sick. "All I want is a peaceful life." I think that is what all people want, in a way. More than to be wildly succesful, more than to be vastly wealthy or permanently entertaining; we want to be able to breathe, to take time and to have that time to ourselves.

We spend a significant proportion of our lives doing things to try and achieve that peace. The average citizen of the UK works 1,677 hours a year. We go through school, we try and normalise, we go through everything that is expected of us just so we can get to a point where we have warmth and shelter and a lack of hunger. Then we have to keep it up - we run on the spot to keep that place. We put ourselves through daily experiences that lead to heart conditions and buildups of stress just so we have somewhere to go and sit and not be stressful anymore.

That's the life we have, the cards we are dealt. All we can do is try and change it to something better, and find our peace and our happiness as best we are able.

That's something to believe in.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

War Isn't Over

The three-way split between working class, middle class and upper class is something that has typified much of British history. Who doesn't remember this particular classic comedy sketch?

 The imagery associated with classism is something that is inseperable from the global image of the United Kingdom. Just think of how we are presented in films originating from other countries. (Dick Van Dyke, I am looking at you.)

The thing is, of course, such class warfare doesn't exist anymore. ...right?

...well, wrong. It just looks different.

I wrote this blog post over a year ago about - amongst other things - elite panic and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Sure, the entire notion of breeding and familial obligation doesn't really come into the upper class any more - these days, it's wealth and power, pure and simple. Perhaps, in days of yore when the upper class were held to certain rules and expectations (that they still broke regardless but anyway), things might have been a touch...fairer.

Today, though, the gap between the top and bottom of the scale continues to grow. The gulf is vast and increases every year. The top end tax rate has dropped by 15% in the past 30 years, whereas the income share of the top 1% of earners has doubled from 6% to 12% in the same amount of time, according to the OECD. The average income of the lowest 10% of earners has actually reduced, in real terms, compared to the cost of living.

Wealth changes your view of the world - your perspectives on things. Almost everyone takes some things for granted, and those things differ depending on circumstance.  Perhaps that doesn't create the rigid First World War-like expectations of class divide, but it does create boundaries - and those boundaries create shared self-interest.

When you get down to it - that is what class is. A social group within a divisive stratified system. It's a system that is not only designed to create such divisions, but also to expand the gap between them. That is how it defines itself - its measures for success are also its lines of demarcation.

No longer are our classes dictated by the colour of our collars (or if we wear them at all). Nor are there only three - if I wanted to try and divide them up I'd have to do some real study, though as a starting model I might use the results of this study here.

How does this affect you and I? Well...that's not strictly for me to say, aside from perhaps drawing attention to who makes the decisions regarding the rules and regulations of this country. The people that suffer the most from the decisions are almost always those diametrically opposed to those making those decisions. More and more, we low earners are encouraged to look at each other with suspicion, or to look down on those below us, or to enviously stare up at the heady heights we can't access - because then we won't realise how rigged the game is.

After all, it's an old trick to get all your junior execs to work twice as hard. Tell fifty of them that if they work their guts out, and if they do that, they will get to be a senior exec and earn five times as much. That way you only (eventually) have to pay one of them the extra, for all that added effort.

...just a thought, mind. Just a thought.