Let the ‘craft begin!!

A while ago a small group of us got together for a LAN to play an incredibly geeky game called Artemis. This required us to play the crew of a star ship, each of our computers functioning as one “station” of the vessels bridge, and Stupor’s very own Neil as Captain (he just shouted orders at us with no PC control of his own). In any case, once we’d exhausted the “kill n ships while defending y space stations” scenarios someone (our Captain, oh Captain as I recall) suggested we invest in a little Indie game he’d played for a while and become rather addicted to. This digital Crack was the Beta of Minecraft. It all went down-hill from there… To cut a long story short, we all paid our fare and played into the night. Around 3am we called it a day but our generous host (The Very Reverend Booth) left the server running so we could all connect up from home and extend the madness we had created.

Some months later the game has been updated several times. More resources,  further recipes and enemies that can actually hurt you, rather than groaning impotently in your ear. To mark both the leaps forward made by the game itself and the fact that one of our number has been gifted a licence for the first anniversary of his 29th birthday, it was decided we should LAN again, lay waste to the old world and start over. Below you will hopefully find the story of the first days of that new land. It will be bigger, it will be better, it will undoubtedly be even mentaler…

15:00ish
The game begins. A new world is generated and we dive in. First thing we wander around aimlessly, hit each other a little, laugh then get on with the serious business of finding a mountain to build a monster proof home into. We all know that mountain will have to be removed eventually, but the group deludes itself into thinking that it wont happen this time.

15:00 to 16:00
Neil digs a pilot shaft and we follow him down. So far down it almost becomes up.  Many, many red blacks (a rare and precious element for making electric circuits) are found, plus iron and diamond. Ralph and Matt sink “Shaft 2”, they find more iron, red and a little diamond. Nice… Work begins outside, ‘Tash fences everything in and Ralnor finds and replants reeds. Doors are placed and the base takes shape…

16:00 to 17:00
I try to start writing and get bitched at for standing around (cheers guys :o). Bedrooms are created (one nice one horrid). We all begin to gather and expand the base. Neil sinks a shaft to the mining level and equipts it with ladders, much much better than the circular staircase that took minutes to get down. I order everyone outside, we must have a picture…

17:15
The lads are putting windows in the bedrooms, two little ones have turned into what is more a entire wall of glass. This always happens. ‘Tash gets lost in the wilderness and decides to hide until the zombie goes away.

17:20
Ralph has a bucket, Ralnor decides we need a kitchen room and completes a “Ninja” entrance way. Matt wants to build a farm and everyone approves… Ralph walks on the farm while stating “I’ll be taking that mountain down”. Trev manages to interact with things in the game at last…

17:30
Ralph find a “flock of cows” then picks the flowers… BY KILLING THEM!! He also starts to wear some leather trousers which make him looks like he’s wandering around (the worst) half naked. One of the exits from the base becomes “the reed garden”, accessibility is limited but its all for the greater garden.

17:45
Matt’s farm is taking shape but people continue to walk all over it, this vexes him. The cook room is also finished, ovens line the walls, it’s like a lady-dudes dream :o)

17:55
Neil finds coal and a bunch of Creepers really close to our base, he tactically allows us them to explode on him, therefore defending the base. He then proceeds up our mountain and discovers how massive it actually is, finding both snow and pumpkins upon it. Most pleasing as snow can be used to produce snowball to throw at innocent folk and pumpkins are, well, just nice pumpkins.

18:15
After a good nights sleep we emerge to find a Creeper trying to explode Matt’s farm, he keeps his distance… We’ve now got enough red dye that Neil decides to start on the “Carpet Project”, we all think we know what he means, but you never know in this game. The first snowballs are used in anger, Ralnor is displeased. Ralph refuses to get in bed before he’s covered in leather (and in the game).

18:30
Everyone gets back to mining. Neil mines some fish and ‘Tash mines some sheep. I dig down from the top of the mountain and dig through an oven. Creeper alert in the reed garden!! He explodes and we figure we ought to sort these gits out… We decide to make a cake but we need eggs and milk, but where might we find these? A plan is formed, worry chickens so they produce eggs and squeeze the cows to make milk, that’s how it works right? Tastey, fresh squeezed sky juice could be nice :o)
Ralph wants the cows for leather, but ‘Tash wants a bucket to attack the cows for milk. Matt goes to the loo but and **** suggests we could dig up the farm in his absence, it’s agreed that that would be foolish, as he may kill in revenge.

19:00
“All the cows and no buckets” is exclaimed as ‘Tash find the cows, she does manage to milk the cows and is rewarded with some white liquid. “Yes, that’s the milk” Ralnor reassures her “unless you found a bull”… Everyone decides to gather resources again, Neil and Ralnor decide to deep mine down, reaching into the depths with pick and bucket in search of lava. The idea of tiling the kitchen is raised, everyone turns into a Changing Rooms style home furnishings fiend.

19:30
Everything’s quitened down a bit, everyone’s just going round doing their own thing. Cake has been baked, and the bedrooms have been nicely carpeted (the jack o lanterns add a disturbing edge). Also the kitchen has been nicely tiled. Tash has gone “underwater pork hunting” and Neil has put a carpet on the roof of the entrance. Ralph is digging, who knows where, who knows why? Perhaps he’s trying to mine for cows again (he likes that leather a bit too much). Oh, and we have a secret entrance to our base, it is a little too secure to be secret and is Neil states it”disrupts my pumpkins”. Sounds uncomfortable… It’s turning into a very English base, carpets, books and lots of coal.

19:50
Neil wants to “dig higher” and Matt wants to bake some bricks, where will it all end? People have found my lovely sky observatory but Ralph wants to throw himself off. In any case, perhaps a nice glass floor would add to the effect. Also I think they may have worked out where the wood went, well it definately wasn’t that ladder to the sky, I’ll tell you that.
We now also have automatic doors (Woot!! just like Tesco!!), Matt has laid some purest red from pressure pads to the front door, so we don’t even have to open the doors ourselves any more :o) Disaster strikes immediately as Matt realises that the pressure of monsters will also open our front door, pigs begin to open and close the doors at random.

20:15
Nail and Ralnor start messing with infinite sources, I wished it was for BBQ but it was for water :o( They’ve decided to build out of the side of the base with glass, then to place infinte water on it to make a “water feature”. This water fall with viewing platform is perhaps the maddest thing thus far, but it is pretty sweet. This is living…

20:30
Me and Matt decide to find some desert, we’ll follow the rising Sun and see what we find… I get dropped from the server, my first crash but everyone else seems to be experiencing ore crashes than usual too. Matt digs a hole and see’s out the night “Saddam style” buried. He continues on at first light and find a lake in the mountains and a desert with cactuses in it on the mountain just next to it. The level designer (which amounts to a mathematical equation)  is doing a really cool job of making the world, but throws up these oddities sometimes, no-one’s complaining though :o)

21:00
Pizza arrives (in the real world) and we break for eats.

21:55
‘Zza is dead, tea has been drunk and the dog of the house has been teased into a drooling mess. Lets load up and get back in…

22:05
First building idea since Pizza, the two crazies have decided we need a pool. Where to build it though? Should they lower the floor or make it in a sensible place, nope, it’s gonna be made of glass and in the air. Apparently it will be like a scuba tank with reeds used as an airlock, lets see shall we… Neil immediately floods the kitchen.

22:25
Argh!!! My second crash, just as a zombie activates a pressure pad and enters the base!!

22:30
The scuba tank is complete, I immediately drown in it and respawn in a tree somewhere. Matt begins to cultivate the cactuses he found, to use to discourage any further monster intrusions. They hurt like razor-wire, let’s see how many people die on this defensive measure.

22:35
Matt has an ingenious idea, cactuses grow 3 blocks tall but can’t exist between two other blocks (so they can’t be built). He places the cactus “seeds” in some sand then puts two dirt blocks higher up, at the 3 level. Once the cactus grows to 3 tall the top will immediately pop off, as it can’t exist there, so self-farming. He extends this theory even further by growing the cactuses on an incline and putting a water flow around them, this means that, when the cactus blocks pop they land in the water and are swept to the bottom of the hill where an individual can pick them all up at once. It’s basically a cactus conveyor belt. Awesome invention, truly inspired :o)

23:00
The next project was “The Great Underwater Tunnel”, so basically the Euro-tunnel but made of glass. Trev brought all the sand in the world (to cook up into glass), Neil made the air pockets and then put Jack O Lanterns in the water (cause they work there) and the tunnel was born. It’s good, but something’s missing. Ralnor solves the problem by building a monolith to show the way into/out of the tunnel.

23:28
Neil crafts the first phallus of the night, it took a lot longer than normal (and yes, that is what she said too…).

23:45
Matt discovers a new enemy, the Slimes. They’re just like the Minecraft version of Slimer but they hurt a bit, after a little butchering they split into small and non-harmful versions of themselves. Matt smashes them and is surrounded by the annoying little buggers. Also, I pick up some Slimeballs. They seem quite useless but I’m sure we’ll find something to do with them. Just when you think you’ve seen it all Mincraft goes and surprises/delights you all over again…

00:00
And it’s about time for me, one more picture and I’m out. The guys start to play around with dispensers, they fire out whatever you put in, in response to a circuit. It doesn’t take long before they think of firing stuff out that will hurt things, just like the real world, eh?

00:15
So that’s me finished. It’s been a good day of digging and making, what more could a boy ask for? The three remaining guys are now looking at making buttons to fire things out of areas of the base at enemies and making music blocks (they do what you’d expect from the name). The world’s gonna be left up for us all to play online, so I’m gonna be checking in over the next few weeks to see what happens, the updates have certainly enhanced the game and, for the creative of mind, it’s so much fun to play. It really is the living-Lego for the grown-up geek. Any who, I’m out, here’s one last look at what we’ve created from the outside, it looks kinda weird but it was bags of laughs and there’s so much more under the surface too (kinda like the game I guess). Wonderful stuff…

I’m Still Here

I'm Still Here
I'm Still Here Poster
I’m Still Here is the directorial debut of Casey Affleck, star of the ill-timed Gone, Baby, Gone and controversial The Killer Insisde Me. As a first move from actor to filmmaker, I’m Still Here is both incredibly brave and shockingly misjudged.

The film is ostensibly a cinema verite take on the retirement of Joaquin Phoenix, picking up after the huge success of Walk the Line. We see Phoenix’s hedonistic lifestyle, his failing attempts to start a hip hop career, his alienation from his friends and finally a supposed catharsis.

The film is supposed to be a documentary account of Phoenix’s real life, but after watching the movie it becomes apparent that the whole thing is an act, Albeit one played out on a public stage. A fact confirmed by Affleck soon after the film’s release.

I think I’m Still Here was supposed to be a grand experiment. Phoenix created a character to act as his stand in, and played that role in public throughout the course of the film. As a piece of character acting it’s astounding, even taking his pretend persona onto the Letterman show and press appearances. This approach makes us question the role of actors, as well as taking a swipe at celbrity culture, but falls short of its lofty visions of holding the mirror up to us.

Despite whatever artistic merit it might want to posess, the end result is a hard to watch mess which just seems self indulgent. Rather than setting out to make a film with a point, it feels like the brothers-in-law are playing a joke on you and looking to make a quick buck out of filming it. I can only see two intentions behind making this movie, either as a serious film about actors and their private lives, or as a comedy.

The film fails on both fronts. Phoenix’s assumed persona is little more than an idiot, he plays a role which wouldn’t be outside of the ouvre of Jack Black. There are no moments of humanity to relate to, no tender beats to endear this invented version of Joaquin Phoenix to us. All we are left with is a fool acting up on camera, which would be fine if this was a comedy. It’s not. There are no laughs here, there’s no cringeworthy moments, in fact I can’t think of a time during the film when I felt anything but bewildered and bored.

All this leads to one final scene, without dialogue, of Phoenix walking up a stream until submerged, all the while scored by a lonely piano. At this point I was done with the film, and adding a faux meanignful moment at the end just smacked of a desperation to be taken seriously. We can’t be expected to feel empathy with a character suddenly, just because the film tells us to.

If this film had worked it could have been a game changer, instead it ends up being a character study of an unlikeable twerp, a high-concept Borat. Maybe this film could have had something to say about ‘real-life’ celebrity but it burns that bridge with sheer bloody-minded silliness. Doubtless Phoenix is a great actor, but this project was simply a waste of his time and yours.

-7 R-S

Election Time!

Yay! It’s time for the midterms in Americaland!
Who gets to sit in the Senate? Who will be in the House of Representatives?
Probably asshats like the Tea Bagger Partier candidates.
Come on Americaland, don’t be a tool!

Nostalgia Trippe: Gamebooks

Lone wolf 6 coverHello children. Are you comfortable on your Thomas the Tank Engine bean bags? Does anyone need a wee before I start? No? Good, let’s begin.

I want to take you back to a time from my youth. Games came in three formats, floppy disk, cartridge and tape, you could still buy betamax and Tandy was still in business. It is a time when kid’s movies are still scary, cartoons are all extended adverts for action figures. I am 10.

All of my non-school time was taken up by mapping out our local woods as a fictional realm with my best friend (this included us following about a mile of waist deep fast flowing water at one point. We were sticklers for detail), failing to learn to skateboard, reading fantasy and Sci-Fi, and poring over the new issue of White Dwarf.

White Dwarf was (miniature gaming overlords) Games Workshop’s monthly magazine, and my friends and I were big fans of the minis they made. We all had a few Orks, Space Marines and Eldar kicking around our bedrooms but hardly ever played the games. My best friend had a copy of Man O’ War which we occasionally tried, but none of us ever got into wargaming until the nigh incomprehensible mess of Rogue Trader was done away with and replaced with the brilliant second edition of Warhammer 40,000. Now, I could write pages about just the Wargear book of 40k2e but you’ll get that in another Nostalgia Trippe. Instead what I want to illustrate is that I had these great fantasy worlds stuck in my head (still do) but my love of gaming had not yet developed.

What led down the terrfiying road to turbo geekdom was coming across a second hand book. I can’t remember where I bought it, but I do remember why I decided I had to have it:
1) It was called Kingdoms of Terror, which to my young mind was possibly the greatest title ever
2) It had a kick ass (we would have said wicked at the time) monster on the front
3) It promised me that I could ‘choose my own adventure’
Not long after getting this book home I had my weapons in hand; an eraser topped pencil, a packet of crisps, the recollection of a bunch of He-Man cartoons. Ready for adventure I was.

It turned out the book was a revelation. The blurb claimed I was Lone Wolf, the last remaining knight of the Kai order. It was my job to use my skill with both sword and supernatural power to bring back the former glory of my order.

AWESOME!

A few pages in, and Lone Wolf/10 year old me is trying to convince a guard to let me into a town without paying the extortionate toll. Lone Wolf’s silver tongue fails so I decide to try and jump a wagon to gain entry for free. The book tells me to pick a random number from the table at the back of the book then turn to entry 36. I do as I’m told, and I’m presented with this:

LW 6 Guard

‘You are a few feet from the wagon when your horse refuses the jump. It rears up, its forelegs scrabbling at the air. The long day’s ride has taken its toll, and your horse has neither the strength nor will left to clear such a daunting obstacle.

You lurch backwards, falling over the horse’s rump and desperately cling to the tightening reins as it teeters on its hind hooves. Suddenly, the horse falls, pinning you beneath her as she crashes to the ground.

Agonizing pain gives way to numbness as you fight to hang on to life, but it is a battle that you can no longer win.

Your life and your quest end here.’

What the hell? I’m an elite Kai warrior and my horse has just fallen on me. For a couple of seconds I sat in stunned silence. I contemplated throwing the book in a drawer and fogetting it, but then realised that I’ve learned a lesson. I know where I might fail now. Armed with this new insider knowledge I rolled up a new Lone Wolf and started again, but this time taking different skills, get past the guard and always keep my finger stuck in the previous page.

With my new found prescience (finger) I made short work of the book, but it left me completely engrossed. Apparently this was the 6th book in the series, and better yet you could keep your character from previous books! Soon second hand book stalls and John Menzies (that’s an old newsagent/bookshop, folks) had yielded books one to four. I ended up with most of the first two series of books, although where they are now is anybody’s guess. Let’s hope some kid at a jumble sale has picked one up and is reliving my first experiences in the world of fantasy gaming. Do kids still read gamebooks? Not a clue, but they damn well should!

The Lone Wolf books were only a gateway drug, however. Whilst browsing the second hand books at a jumble sale I came across a series of six books which looked similar to the Lone Wolf ones I loved, but at the same time pretty different. These books were called Dragon Warriors, and it turned out they were a lightweight roleplaying game system released by Corgi books as a pocket-money friendly competitor to the expensive D&D Red Box. The intro told you that the books were a way to let you play out your favourite fantasy adventures, like the one in The Hobbit. Play The Hobbit like a game? Sold!

Some lizard thingThe rules were complicated for a young lad, and it took some convincing, but I eventally talked my friends into letting me murder them in different ways using inescapable traps and overpowered monsters, as is the way of the young inexperienced DM. While these rules were OK, I complained for and received a copy of the basic D&D box (the one with the dragon cards rules integrated into the DM screen, the cardboard standees and poster map of Zanzer Tem’s dungeon). This and GW’s output kept us busy for a few years. At A-level I ended up running a one-off AD&D game for about 10 players, but we really got into the White Wolf games Vampire The Masquerade and Werewolf The Apocolypse. Then 3e came out, which had a bit of play but not as much as it deserved.

Now I run a (semi?) regular D&D 4e game, have a massive stash of RPG books and PDFs as well as board games and a penchant for all things gamer-nerd, and it’s all thanks to gamebooks.

Yes I’m a total geek, but gamebooks were an essential piece of my childhood. I’ve not even mentioned the amazing free roaming Fabled Lands books, or the massive range of the Fighting Fantasy series and it’s RPG spin-off. If I’ve tickled your nostalgia sense however, or you just want to see what the fuss is about, it looks like lots of folks are feeling the same way. There’s reissues and RPG conversions abound. Below are some of my favourites if you want to take a look…

The old Lone Wolf books are due to be reissued sometime, but they’re also available for free online (with the blessings of Joe Dever, the author) at http://www.projectaon.org/en/Main/Home

There’s also a reissue of the Fabled Lands books coming out, and a free-app version here: http://sourceforge.net/projects/flapp/

Fighting Fantasy has already seen some re-releases along with an iPhone app and some other bits over at http://www.fightingfantasy.com/

New Vegas: Double Hardcore Mode

With the release of Fallout: New Vegas in The States, my excitement in anticipation of this RPGFPS is just about peaking. Whilst sitting around at work, day dreaming of what I might be able to do and what may lay in wait for me to discover, I’ve toyed with many things. Top most of my “to-do” list is that I MUST play the game in the new “Hardcore Mode”.

“Hardcore Mode” is something that was first introduced in PC Mods of the original Fallout 3 game and turns the more forgiving aspects of surviving the wastes into something more realistic and, in that case, much harder. Dehydration and malnutrition become as lethal as any Deathclaw or Super Mutant Behemoth you might stumble across. Add to this, weighted ammunition and a kaleidoscope of harsh effects the multitude of drugs can cause and the game becomes a survivalists dream (or nightmare, depending on their masochistic tendencies). Saving your last irradiated box of Insta-Mash for the long trek back across the desert will be a necessity and searching the toilet bowls of a petrol stations smallest room for whatever liquids may remain will become common practice.

Thanks to "tocsik" for these lovely real-life labels

“Ok,” say some of you, “but wont that make it more difficult and less fun as a result?”

“Perhaps,” I reply, “but I think that’s the point. The sense of achievement will be increased and the entire atmosphere of the game will be ratcheted up, off-setting any loss you might feel”

In that spirit then, I dreamed up and now introduce an idea for to increase my personal gaming toughness; “Double Hardcore”, which basically boils down to this single statement:

Playing Fallout: New Vegas in “Hardcore Mode”, but only having one life to play with. Once your character dies, that’s it, end of story, do not pass go, do not collect $200, and start from the beginning all over again.

Saving can be done as much as desired of course, so the player can stop whenever is needed, but the main aim is to start the game, sort the settings out and just play as one person for as long as is possible.

I got the dispatch notice for my copy yesterday, so I can hopefully kick my plan for “Double Hardcore Mode” into gear sometime on Friday. I’ll then update this here blog on how it went and, even more hopefully, give a running commentary on the happenings in the life of my persistent avatar at that time and perhaps in future too.

Undoubtedly it’s gonna be a scary-ass time in the New Vegas wasteland, but it’s certainly gonna be an adventure too.

Eugenics if you want to…?

Should a parent be allowed to choose the characteristics of a child? It seems like this question has been asked for an age and has divided opinion for just as long.

My initial reaction to this question is “No” and quite a forceful, unequivocal no at that, but when I begin to think about why not, the waters become significantly less clear.

So; what about embryonic selection, to avoid disability? I guess I can see the virtue in that, it increases quality of life and avoids having to compensate/adjust for any disability that a child might have.

What about genetic manipulation, to avoid disease? Well that seems ok, we do other things to cure disease and we all know that prevention is better than cure, so surely it follows that this should be fine.

Frame these questions differently and a different conclusion is drawn immediately; what if a couple have a child in mortal need of a transplant and the only way to guarantee this is by having a child and choosing a suitable embryo from a fertilised group? Ick, that’s a really tough call, especially as there’s a living being, a child no-less, involved. You’re also then looking at the “When does life begin?” question, is it immediately at an egg’s fertilisation?

What about embryonic selection to allow a family with 5 male children to choose to have a female? Hmmm, I think not. It’s getting too close to that blurry line now.

What about genetic manipulation, to give parents the ability to choose their child’s eye or hair colour? Why certainly not!! I said good day, sir!!

My reaction to these more frivolous uses of cutting-edge biotechnology is, first and foremost, caused by what I would consider a waste of resources. Why should we use what time and money we have on choosing the exterior facets of our offspring, when those same assets could be put to use preventing another’s disease. This seems to me an ironclad argument that can only be objected to by the most fervent capitalist, who I suppose would postulate “Those who can afford it can choose, those who can’t don’t deserve to”. I am certainly more leftist than such an imaginary advocate.

Some day, some day very soon, though we will have to answer these questions and the answer “Well it depends…” just isn’t going to cut it. We’re going to need a line thou shall not cross, not a blurry area that people debate and can manoeuvre within.

Snack Spectrometer #1: Kinder Joy

On my recent foray into Euro-Land I discovered many things, some new and exciting, some I’d rather forget. One item that fell into the “new and exciting” category was a mysterious treat known as the “Kinder Joy” and it inspired me to conceive of the Snack Spectrometer, the newest digest to grace this web-lication.

The Kinder Joy appears at first to be a European version of the beloved Kinder Surprise*. It is almost identical in size, shape and design as those eggs of inevitable disappointment, but, on closer inspection, the shell is an egg-shaped plastic housing with opening tabs at the bottom.

The exterior reads “Avec Surprise” and, on pulling the tabs, this proves to be the case in the extreme. Where one expects a chocolate egg to be, the Joy simply parts in two, one half covered with a silvery Kinder foil and the other having a film with “?” symbols over it. Attached to the Kinder foil is a small Kinder paddle too, very mysterious…

Opening the “?” section reveals the surprise (read; toy). These seem to be universally standard throughout the international Kinder range, so they’re generally alright but nothing special. Unfortunately, I got a horrible Shrek themed pen top replete with stickers of the rather tired CGI ogre.

The snack itself, however, was much more entertaining than the toy.

Opening the Kinder foil reveals more of a surprise that the “?” section. We are presented with what is best described as two mini Ferrero Rocher** in white chocolate mousse, the reason for the Kinder paddle becomes evident. Scooping a mini Rocher ball up with what turns out to be white and milk chocolate layered mousse proves to be a little difficult as the mousse is very stiff, however the reward is most gratifying. I’m not a fan of Rocher and these are identical in every way, but with the Kinder gunk they are much better. The gunk turns out to be very tasty, but like a half digested Kinder Egg. The texture is ok, but it’s a tad sickly and I think any more than this half egg portion and I’d feel a little ill.

The three stages of Joy (photos stolen from Tweets by Marcus J. Jordan***)

In conclusion I’d have to say I prefer the Kinder Surprise we have over here presently, as the chocolate is nicer than the mousse desert and the toys are the same. However, I’d certainly recommend trying one of these treats if you happen upon one, they are a strange but pleasant experience.

+4 in the full Rjandberg-Smythe Scale (+12 to -12)

+Interesting packaging
+You get a toy
+Nice gunk

-A little sickly
-Inferior to the Surprise

* On further investigation I discovered that the Joy is the summer version of Surprise in mainland Europe, as the Surprise’s egg suffers in the warmer temperatures “over there”.

** Ferrero make both Rocher and the Kinder range. So, most likely, they are precisely mini Rocher.

***Currently starring on the When It Rains blog.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Review

About four years ago at the excellent Page 45 in Nottingham, I picked up an innocuous looking digest format comic book. Its title was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Last night I got around to watching the film adaptation of it for the second time so I could write this review properly.

Scott Pilgrim is a slacker. Not the mangy pot-smoking poverty-line kind, but the kind of shiftless, cute, aimless layabout which can only exist in fiction. Scott falls in love with Ramona V. Flowers after meeting her in his head whilst napping. He convinces Ramona to date him, but almost accidentally ends up dating her at the same time as his platonic, 17 year old, rebound girlfriend Knives Chow. Scott soon finds out that seven of Ramona’s evil exes, headed by the villainous Gideon Gordon Graves, have banded together to fight him, all whilst he tries to keep in the good books of Ramona and go to band practice.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is a visually stunning film. It is cut like a music video, shot like a CG blockbuster and looks like a videogame, but don’t confuse it for any of those things. Edgar Wright and co. take the worst parts of the soulless Hollywood summer films and makes them a selling point, turning Scott Pilgrim from what could be another quirky teen comedy into something much braver and impressive. Consider a comic adaptation like Iron Man. In Marvel’s recent films the comic inspires the film, which takes the concepts from the books and transplants them into the real world, or at least the celluloid real world. Scott Pilgrim instead presents itself like the comic played on a cinema screen, placing stylish onomatopoeia in shot and even going as far as using frames lifted straight from the book as flashbacks.

These stylistic touches play into the theme of the film, producing exciting, appealing and, most importantly, funny fight sequences. It’s a rare occasion when a battle plays through without a comedic interlude. In-between these scenes are the story of Scott trying to make it work with Ramona whilst being inept and charming, all the while his equally inept, charming friends muddle along with him.

Now let me explain why I had to see this film twice before I could write the review. After the first watching on release day (damn you Little White Lies preview selector bot!) I came out of the cinema with a big grin and happy thoughts. After I let the film percolate in my head for a while I noticed something that bothered me. I don’t think any of the characters have real depth, even as Scott wins the day and the girl we only see a tiny glimmer of character growth. Most of them seem to be the essence of their comic counterparts, distilled into stereotypes; none worse than Scott’s ex Envy Adams, who hardly gets any screen time at all.

This really bothered me, why had this not mattered during the film but only irked me afterwards? The answer came after my second watching. The characters can only be shown as thin slices of personality. The relentless pace of the film basically dictates this, but stylistically the videogame inspired nature of the narrative also supports wafer thin characterisation. These people aren’t Final Fantasy or Mass Effect cohorts, but are Slippy Frog and Diddy Kong. They serve their plot purpose; make you laugh then get out of the way. I have decided I like that.

It’s worth mentioning here that Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells steals the show completely, some friends suggesting they’d happily watch a Wallace Wells spin off movie. He has the best lines, great timing and just the right amount of charm mixed with lascivity.

The re-watching didn’t help some things though. I speak, of course, of the mind control chip. Whilst I suppose it sounds like a campy-yet-fun plot device it comes across as a last minute inclusion, fixed by a poor deus ex machina. Sure, the third act needed to be kept snappy, but this seemed like an ill-judged contrivance. Other elements of the plot make little sense also, but these come off as charming idiosyncrasies.

Michael Cera as Scott still seems a bit off to me. Film Scott seems a bit too pathetic. We never see the self-confident, impish grin of the book Scott. Don’t get me wrong, I like Michael Cera, I just think playing Scott a little cheekier and assured would have been a better move and Cera doesn’t seem to be able to quite pull that off.

Even with these flaws though, the film comes together as a great piece of work. It tries to be something different, and genuinely succeeds. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World realises the idea of a graphic novel as a film, even better than Sin City did. It’s fast, clever, exciting and most of all fun. Go into expecting a lot of silliness and leave the po-face at home and you’ll get the most from it. Even better take some chums along and have a good old geek-out afterwards.

+7 on the Rjandberg-Smythe Scale (+12 to -12)
+ Geeky, campy fun
+ Genuinely different and engaging
+ Great soundtrack
– Shallow characters
– Some dodgy plot points

AFTERWORD
Don’t listen to Ado. Scott should not end up with Knives. If he disagrees with me I shall be forced to shoot him down with amazing logic. Also Tom Petty’s American Girl should have been the credit music.

Operation: “Driving Maximum Europe” Info-Bomb

As no-doubt everyone reading this blog will know, my summer holiday this year has been dedicated to utilising the lax passport controls we’ve paid so much for over the past few decades. To that end me and my long suffering partner in… well… many things, have driven from the most lovely town that we live in (Bolsover) to the eastern edges of both the Adriatic Sea and Europe itself, then started back again. After travelling some 2394 miles, I’d like to share with you a few things I’ve discovered thus far about the closest continent to our British Isles.

Driving is what you make of it
To comply with the law in different countries along our route we assembled a plethora of items that will probably never be used. We have a full spare bulb set (inclusive of every single bulb on the car), a full first aid kit, two high-visibility jackets, a fire extinguisher and two emergency road triangles. However, as soon as you get off that ferry every rule of the road itself goes out the window, it’s you verses them, survival of the fittest. No-one drives to the speed limit (even when it’s 85Mph), 50% of people never indicate as a matter of principle and zebra crossings mean absolutely nothing (woe-betide anyone who thinks otherwise, on foot or in a car, you will be struck and noisily ridiculed for your foolishness).

The customer is a nuisance
In central and northern Europe all is good, service is quick, precise and polite. In stark contrast, southern and eastern Europeans attitudes are somewhat more… “relaxed”, in almost every respect. If you walk into an empty restaurant and two of you sit at a table for four you will be ordered (not asked) to move immediately. You may wait up to 15 minutes to order a drink and then wait a further 15 for them to arrive. Another 15 minutes will pass before you’re asked what you’d like to eat and if it’s off the menu the waiter(ess) will retire at once, for a further 15 minutes. An hour in and you might be able to order something to eat but don’t even think about paying up and leaving or complaining, as it will be made quite clear to you that it’s entirely your fault and that you shouldn’t have bothered frequenting their establishment in the first place.

If you want to pee, you’ve gotta pay for it
It seems to be a universal truth across continental Europe that, if you’re not at either a restaurant or cafe bar, then you’ll have to part with some coin in order to evacuate your bladder. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve just spent on petrol or if you’ve purchased several hefty sandwiches with accompanying drinks at a service station. If you’re at some type of attraction, say a museum or a castle you’ve already paid far too much funny money to get into. You might even find yourself walking around one of Europe’s finest cities with an excellent public transport system, a pristine road network and free public access to some of the finest culture in the world. However, no matter what you do or where you are, at every toilet you will find a small bowl, usually on a little table in front of a bedraggled old lady, dressed in her finest tabard, and you will not be allowed to pass her (or anything else for that matter) without stumping up the cash. Ok, so it’s usually around 50p a throw but still… and you’ve gotta think it’s maybe why some of these places have a rather ammonia-like scent that lingers in the air.

I think that’s about enough for now loyal reader, if I’m honest I can’t believe you stuck with me this far. In any case, stay tuned for the next instalment that I’ll almost certainly forget to write, coming to a computer screen near your face soon…