Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Ben's Top 5 Narrative-Based Video Games

Good morrow to you all, dear readers! Ah, what a fine day it is, too. I'm starting my festival job as of today and have, after getting the good news of passed resits (yuhs), spent the past week sitting on my arse playing video games, gradually turning into the Sloth victim from Seven.

legend of zelda ocarina of time screen shot child link
You know you've played too much OoT when you start dreaming in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
As such I've not exactly got round to doing much else this week, so you's lot is getting a chat about gaming; if you don't like it, tough titties. My most recent obsession (save for FTL and any other Rogue-like I can get my sweaty, Dorito-cheese-coated palms on) has been a rather peculiar and oft-debated genre of games that are difficult enough to categorise, let alone even decide if they count as video games at all. I am, of course, talking about *spooky music* Naaaaarrative-based games, oooooooooo!

Robbie the reindeer legend of the lost tribe wibble wobble flashback gif
"Wibble wobble, wibble wobble..."
What are Narrative-based games? Classically, they serve to blur the line between gaming and other forms of media, most notably film, either by adopting tropes more classically associated with those other mediums or by casting off some of the more iconic aspects of video games themselves. Like, say, if you were to make a Sci-Fi game but take out the shooting lots of aliens and focus more on galactic inter-species relations. Kirk-style, if you know what I mean...

mass effect strip tease screenshot
Essentially half of Mass Effect.
A lot of people see these games as more akin to "interactive entertainment", what with a predilection for reduced or often non-existent challenge and a lack of traditional gameplay elements like puzzles or combat. They're right, to an extent, but I think to veto these as a type of video game is a slight to both video gaming as a whole and what these games try to achieve; why can't a game be more about emotion and story than headshots?

I'm going to assume that only half of you know what I'm actually talking about while the other half are sitting in quiet befuzzledment, so I feel like the best way to explain this is by giving you a few examples of my favourite games of the genre and why you should play them. These are games that perfectly encapsulate what narrative-based gaming is all about and have been numbered in the order that I think you should try them to ease yourself into the genre nicely. Consider this a handy beginner's guide to a broad and fascinating genre.

Saturday, 26 July 2014


Graphic novels are not something that I'm going to try and pretend to be hugely knowledgeable about, but they are something which I wish I was more involved with as I gingerly make my way through its panelled worlds. It started with 'Watchmen'; continued on to 'Kick Ass';  next was 'The Umbrella Academy'; then of course the 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World' series; then I had a bit of a lull and didn't really pursue this interest any further. However, after watching a crazy long French film called 'Blue is the Warmest Color' (which I've reviewed elsewhere), I immediately bought the graphic novel off of which it was based and thus my interest in this particular medium of storytelling was piqued again. After finishing that, I moved on to 'The Brown of Nao', which I finished earlier this week; which leads me to 'Maus'. 'Maus' was one of those novels that whenever I ventured into a bookshop, which is often, I would always pick it up and pine hopelessly over it, but I could never justify buying it. That is until the other week where I decided I couldn't put it off any longer, I needed to buy it, I needed to own it and I needed to read it. Let me tell you, it was a wise investment indeed.

Maus art spiegelman graphic novel cover
Deceptively simple artwork, extraordinarily effective.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Medical School: A Survival Guide - Part 3

Ah, summer. What a wonderful time of year. Everything is green and smells nice and you can't stop sweating because why the fuck is it so hot? I'm boiling all the time. C'mon, Scotland, sort yourself out. You're meant to be able to freeze the balls off a brass...statue...of...balls? Nope, lost that one.
ball pit plastic balls photograph
Sadly for any of those unlucky enough to have ended up in higher education, summer also means waiting for the results from those oh-so-special exams that you did a couple of months ago; and ain't waiting for news on whether or not you still have a future just dandy. Now almost every single one of us will have sat an exam in the past (unless you're lucky enough to be of the special few who only need to remember how to put your helmet on and not to bite your tongue. Hey, silver linings), so I'll try and focus specifically on what new horrifying additions medicine adds to the formula and, for the third time, why you should never ever ever study this awful cesspool of a course.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Kill Your Darlings

I'm all kinds of mega-hungover so I do apologise if this post isn't quite up to scratch, but please do cut me some slack.

Kill Your Darlings (2013) Poster
Again with the two faces.

Oh boy. Where to start?
The film is quite the mess. 

"A murder in 1944 draws together the great poets of the beat generation: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs."

There's something a little off-beat about this beat generation film - ba-dun-dun-chh! Terrible puns aside though, this was a very peculiar film to say the least. It felt like a very specific film that director John Krokidas knew precisely what he wanted to make - and then failed at it entirely. I could see what he was aiming for, the troubled artists smoking endless arrays of cigarettes, inhaling and injecting any drugs they can get their hands on, franticly typing away at typewriters trying to churn out "something beautiful" whilst one of these soundtracks play in the background - upbeat jazz, soulful blues or weirdly out of place modern music. Want to know how it turned out? Exactly as it sounds, pretentious as fuck.

Kill your darling film 2013 oasis in this wasteland gif
Please just...stop. Talking. Forever.
There are exactly 0.5 likeable characters in this film. I say 0.5 because Radcliffes character of Alan Ginsberg is probably the least detestable character - hell, he even has some moments where I wasn't actively rooting against him! But the rest of the characters are pretty damned unlikeable. Like DeHaan's portrayal of Lucien Carr. Every time he opened his mouth I wanted to roll my eyes and sigh and infinite sigh. Like, okay, I get that he is meant to be a great thinker and an unstoppable creative force and a deep soul of touching poetry and manic genius and oh my god can he speak one sentence that doesn't sound like he is reciting it from a random instagram picture with an "inspiring" hashtag.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Le Geek: Classy Nerd Merchandise

One of the main reasons I don't indulge in many of the trappings of geek culture is due to how horrendously tacky it can be. Maybe it's because of the perception of comic and sci-fi fans being overgrown man-children who obsess over how much of a real geek they and others are (or just children), but everything seems to be cheap plastic designed to do nothing more but shout "Look at me! I'm a nerd! I like quirky nerd things!" Where's the taste? Quite frankly, it makes me suspect that geeks would empty their bank accounts for a brick if it had Link's face drawn on it with a Sharpie.

Troy community donald glover brick
I would totally shell out for this brick, though.
However, with the maturation of second wave geekdom (We're much like second wave feminism, but with more friends) combined with the growing acceptability of admitting that you like reading Ron Weasly/Sephiroth slash fic*, businesses are finally clocking that nerds want more than tacky model Millenium Falcons to decorate their homes and persons with, and that these nerds have much disposable income. The result is some classy, understated nods to our favourite cultural icons that should be the cornerstone of any geek's growing collection, my favourites of which are compiled below:

*I lied - this is never acceptable. Particularly if you're the one writing it; your update schedule is abysmal.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Rosemary's Baby

So having finished reading Rosemary's Baby and having never seen the film, I thought I could do a cool 'novel versus film: fight to the death' type review. However upon viewing the movie, my grand thoughts of a paperback and big screen showdown was thoroughly dashed as the film is one of the single most faithful adaptations to the original source I think I've ever seen. So this will probably just play out as any regular review, boo hiss.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) Poster
I'm getting such strong E.T vibes. 
A young couple move into a new apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins controlling her life.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Battle of the Blockbusters: The Hide vs Big Bad Wolves

the hide big bad wolves poster comparison
Spotted the severed foot yet?

We're all likely aware of the concept of a 'bottle episode', even if you've never heard of that particular term before. It's when, in a TV show, the characters and sets are whittled down to their absolute minimum and the drama all takes place in this kind of closed ecosystem for an episode. We've seen it in Breaking Bad where Walt and Jessie chased a fly around the lab for a whole day; Community even riffed on it marvellously back in Season 2 when Annie lost her pen and I'll be, those are the two examples used in the Wikipedia article about this very phenomenon. Freaky. It's used because it works well as a chance for writers to build on character relations without having to worry about all the extra guff that you usually have to shove into an episode as filler.

breaking bad walt jr eating breakfast
Like getting round to giving Walt Jr. any meal that isn't breakfast.
Bottle episodes aren't limited to TV though, and a restricted set and cast are a go-to for anyone trying to make a movie on a budget. Our two films for today take a claustrophobic single location and use it to their advantage: First up is The Hide, a darkly comic and twisted British thriller about two men and a murder in a bird hide, and second is Big Bad Wolves, a darkly comic and twisted Israeli thriller about three men and a murder in a basement.
three men and a baby murder spoof poster
Wasn't Tom Selleck in that one?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Orphan Black (Season One)

Orphan black TV poster
Cool poster, but it doesn't look like the actress?
In the interest of celebrating the end of season two of Orphan Black, I thought I would do a review on the first season of this show!

"Sarah Manning, a British orphan now living in America, witnesses the suicide of a woman named Beth, who looks exactly like her. Assuming Beth's identity brings Sarah a new apartment, a nice boyfriend, and trouble that includes a deadly conspiracy."

Orphan black tv sarah manning close up gif
Sarah Manning: queen of perfect faces.
Okay, let's get to it, shall we? I fucking love this programme. Like, I want to climb to the top of the Empire State Building, rip off all my clothes and declare my undying love for this show at the top of my lungs (preferably holding Tatiana Maslany in my arms and swatting away the planes that try and bring me down).

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

DIY Game Of Thrones Coasters, Aw Yiss...

Difficulty - 3/5  
Duration - 3/5

Dutiful followers, I give you Game of Thrones coasters.

Game of Thrones Song of Ice and Fire DIY Coasters Arryn Lannister Stark Greyjoy Tully Tyrell Baratheon Targaryen
You know you want them...
I really shouldn't be as proud of these as I am but goddamn are they pretty! I've recently started reading, or, more accurately, devouring, A Song of Ice and Fire (I'm trying to get ahead of the TV show) and at the back of each book you find the house sigils and family trees and such, and they're so lovely looking that I've decided to immortalise them in the form of slabs of stone that you put your drink on. As is customary on The Pop Culture Cynic I've provided a handy How-To guide below, but you might also have noticed the "Difficulty" and "Duration" ratings up top there (and now on all the previous crafting posts if you take a look back). They're there to give you an idea of how much of a commitment any of these projects are on a scale between 1 and 5; 1 being drawing a stick man on a napkin and 5 trying to build your own toaster.

Simpsons toaster homer time machine
Or trying to fix one. Or inadvertently turning it into a time machine.
5s are pretty much reserved for all toaster-related activities.
Coaster drawing equipment
If only life was more like a Wes Anderson movie...