Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint about rewiring things and punching people, I'm on a weekly gaming podcast called The Crate & Crowbar, I wrote these two short stories in the Machine of Death collections, and I used to write articles like these for PC Gamer. I'm now prototyping two new games, Heat Signature and one about grappling hooks.
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I have moved house and am now offline until Friday the 10th, except here at work. The new house is great – it’s solid and thickly carpeted, making it very quiet, and it’s on a street where everyone’s retired, which makes it quieter still. We had a fairly spectacular house-warming with nineteen people on Friday, the exact details of which are a little sketchy to me but I do remember enjoying it enormously. There are photos, but they’re even more blurry than my recollection – a rare triumph for organic data storage methods. We overstocked a little, or perhaps just under-served through drunken negligence, so now we have a stockpile of alcohol and snacks. Oh no!
It’s not until you’re offline that you suddenly realise how much you love Half-Life 2: Deathmatch, Guild Wars, Eve Online, Battlefield 2, and Counter-Strike: Source. It’s also made me realise that I’m never going to go back and complete Dawn Of War: Winter Assault, Brothers In Arms, Fahrenheit or The Movies – if I’m not playing them when starved of most of my entertainment forms, they can be safely uninstalled. All were fun at first, but eventually became too much of a chore. (Mass-reviewing: efficient!) Instead, I’ve been playing Deus Ex. Critical acclaim might not guarantee enjoyment, but you really get your money’s worth with the ones you like.
Unattractive* film critic Roger Ebert got a bit of attention on the gaming news sites a while back for declaring games “inherently inferior” to art because interactivity is mutually exclusive with storytelling. I’d been thinking about a post here along the lines of “I’m sorry to say it, but I just don’t believe art can ever be games. It can try to be open to interpretation all it likes, but storytelling is mutually exclusive with interactivity. It’s inherently inferior.” But the director of the Silent Hill movie raised another point I hadn’t previously considered: “Fuck him.”
* Pop culture has taught me that it’s okay to mock someone’s physical traits if they’re bad people, up to but excluding calling black villains niggers. If they’re short, blind, ugly or disabled, though: let fly.
There’s an extremely handy calendar site out there called 30 Boxes. It’s just a website laid out like a calendar, and once you’ve created an account you just click a day to add an event. The point of it is that you can obviously access this from anywhere, but more interestingly you can add friends and they can see your events (once you’ve given permission), and you theirs. It turns out there’s masses of stuff everyone’s doing that they have no particular reason to tell you about, but don’t mind you knowing. It’s not always particularly useful information to you, but like a calendar itself, it’s more about having an overview than any particular infolet (a unit of data I made up).
The issue of PC Gamer that’s now on-sale in the UK is my first cover-article – a review of the strategy game Star Wars: Empire At War. But I actually had much more fun dissecting the preview code of Rise Of Legends to find the story in The Spy (page 20), digitally enhancing a screenshot of the Far Cry guys’ next game to make out the shape of an alien in the Crysis preview (page 44), and recounting the tale of horrible cruelty that was my first few hours of playing Oblivion (page 34). Because games are impossibly rich, expansive and crazy things. It’s impossible to lose enthusiasm for them when they’re as wildly diverse and exciting as the ones I wrote about last month. It’s also impossible to predict what quirks of the worlds they create will irk any given person, making reviewing a slightly unnerving experience. And when one is not only good but perfectly suited to you, it’s impossible to tire of it. That term in literature, ‘unputdownable’ (surely ‘unputabledown’?), rarely applies beyond the last page. In games, the end is when you’re just getting started.
All of this was encapsulated in what I did this month, but I can’t talk about it for another three weeks.
David: Excellent on the house front. Congrats! Also: new Belle and Sebastian - yay! or nay :( ?
The_B: There probably should be some sort of exsasperated comment that you are one part of the entity that is "The Spy" (As Graham put it, "Like the last boss of Path of Neo".
As I put it: "Only good.")
However, the fact that you are probably playing a lot of Oblivion will no doubt ease some of the pain, damn you.
Tom Francis: Ah, I only said I found the story. And David: yay! (oem).
David: Agreed! Different, but still brilliant. Though oddly, the two Acts of the Apostle seem to me to be the weakest songs (except Song for Sunshine which I really can't stand) - 'oddly' because they're the kind of 'story/journey' songs that B&S have been so good at previously.
Graham: I kind of thought that about Act of the Apostle to begin with, but they've grown on me.
Lots of story/journey type songs on there besides those though. I love White Collar Boy and Sukie In The Graveyard. Murdoch tells stories good, yes.
johnj: It's no wonder you stopped playing fahrenheit, as it's utterly abysmal. The reviews led me to believe this was heralding in a new era of gaming, HAHAHAHAHA! There's a barely a game, filling it with quick time events (that bare no relation to what is happening on screen at all, there was a dancing one that was out of time ffs) and what amounts to little more than hide and seek, is ridiculous. The graphics are bland and medicore and the animation makes all the characters look like the thunderbirds, and their facial animation just doesn't work. Then there's the erratic change of pace where suddenly a load of stuff happens in about five minutes that has absolutely no explanation, I wuldn't have minded that if the rest of the game wasn't so bad. I mean, I read in one mag about it analysing the human psyche! What! There's a black dude who you contrl...who's apartment is decked out in 70s funk and when yo control him yes, the soundtrack is 70s funk. Then of course you've got your straight talking partner. And the dialogue is atrocious.
"Hey maybe you should take up another game....chess!"
as your playing some white boy at basket ball,your black character says possibly the unwittiest thing I have ever heard in my life. And then later:
"he needs to be dealt with definitively"
"he will be dealt with definitively"
dealt with definitively ? what on earth.
The only good thing you can say about this game, is the score is pretty excellent for the most part. It even has some embarrasing bullet time / air fighting scenes that look absolutely ridiculous, and while the score is good the sound effects are so wildly off most of the time, excellent work, videogames press , OR NOT.
Dave: Congrats on the new house, wish i owned a house. . . but i still live with my mom, lol. i agree with out about the being offline and missing games especially Battlefield 2 and Half-Life: DM. the borders i go to doesn't have the UK PCG so i can't read your reviews. lame huh? but i reallly want to. anyway, keep up the obviously (cover page man) good work. . .
Rob: Awesome Oblivion review Tom.
You might be pleased to know that someone scanned and posted it on the Something Awful forums and it was followed by lots of people praising its quality :)
Ian: 30Boxes is a cool find too, I'm nicking that.
Tom Francis: Cheers. I can't wallow in narcissism on that SA thread though because it seems to require an account to view.
Jason L: Congrats on the successful review; the SA forumites are not easy to please! I'd love to be proven wrong about Oblivion; we'll see, won't we.
I'm wondering if you've had any contact you can talk about with BioShock? It just recently came out of left field for me, and has me terribly excited. The impression I'm getting is System Shock's je ne sais quoi pedigree + Deus Ex' freedom, self-building and AI + Art Deco Submarine Vacuumtubepunk City, with the attention to detail and cohesive environment which I've so far found lacking in Elder Scrolls games.
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