Tuesday, 4 May 2004

FPS Survey II

Listening to:

Beethoven, piano sonata in B flat major, Op. 106 “Hammerklavier”, played by Alfred Brendel.


← Back to FPS Survey I

Half-Life is undoubtedly one of the most famous first-person shooters out there. It’s credited with demonstrating that shooters could be full of action and also tell a neato story too. To get credited as being epoch-making in this fashion inevitably means that it’s pretty old. In fact, it came out in 1998. I didn’t play it until much more recently, but still thought it pretty impressive.

Graphically, it’s not as good-looking as NOLF2, but the story is pretty good. Nor is the story simply something that goes on in the background while the player sits, twiddling their thumbs and thinking, Yeah, yeah. But when are we going to see some action? Instead, the player is central to the story. Lest you get the wrong idea, this is not Pride and prejudice. The story is the hero getting himself out of an underground lab that has been overrun with aliens that have appeared through an inter-dimensional gateway. Cliché-city then, but it’s well-paced, told with an effective rhythm, and has one or two interesting developments too.

The story is also completely linear, and obviously so. The only scope that the player has to change the development of the story is in the way that enemies are dispatched (some can even be avoided): there’s always just one door through which the player needs to pass in order to advance the story. By way of comparison, NOLF2 is really just as linear, but provides more open environments in which to run around. Another difference that makes a good impression is that Half-Life presents its story in one seam-less whole: there are no real cut-scenes, and story’s development always unfolds directly in front of the player with the same interface visible, and with the player free to move around and shoot things.

As in NOLF2, the game features good variety. There is some variety in locations because you do eventually make it out of the underground lab to the surface, and there’s also a final segment set on a variety of miniature alien worlds. Better, there’s great variety in the enemies that have to be defeated. There are a number of alien species, and there are also humans that need defeating too. All of these different enemies behave differently, and usually quite believably.

It’s a deserved classic, but there are still two relatively minor problems with Half-Life:

  • There are too many jumping puzzles: areas that can only be traversed by pulling off some feat of minor acrobatics. For example, there’s an area early on consisting of crates hanging on cables above an enormous drop. You have to jump from one crate to the next, and avoid falling into the chasm. This is just tedious.

  • The final section, set in weird alien worlds, is not very satisfying. The motivating story takes a back seat. Instead, each little world is no more than a series of enemies that must be killed in order to gain access to the world’s magic teleportation gate. This then takes you to the next little world. This doesn’t make any real sense, and it’s all capped off by a fight with a great big boss monster. Pshaw!

Forward to FPS Survey III →

Friday, 7 May 2004

Heavenly date and other flirtations

Listening to:

Ella Fitzgerald, Ev’ry time we say good-bye.

Just read:

Alexander McCall Smith, Heavenly date and other flirtations.

This is an enjoyable collection of short stories on a variety of romantic themes. Most of them are quirky in appealing ways. There’s just one, set in southern Africa and about a new marriage, that packs much emotional punch. The punch is definite and effective, the story is memorable, but even here there’s an unexpected twist. The other stories tend to produce smiles, as the reader responds appreciatively to the dry and effective wit with which McCall Smith presents his often rather odd situations. For example, there's the Australian woman who goes on a blind date in Queensland, and is thoroughly sick of her man by the time they reach a crocodile farm. Then there's the date between the two people of “larger stature” and its amusing finale.

The title story comes last, and is different again: it has an impressive hushed tone to it, one that also conveys a sense of being slightly high on a hallucinatory drug. It’s an impressive finish to an entertaining read.

Wednesday, 12 May 2004

Language links

Listening to:

Adrian Willaert, Occhiu non fu giamai. Willaert was a composer from early 16th-century Venice, of the generation before Palestrina.

Today, a variety of links on linguistic themes:

  • The transcript of a radio programme on the ABC, about using “they” and “their” in singular senses. Some might imagine that this is a modern invention, something awful foisted on right-thinking types by the terrible demands of political correctness. But no. If it was good enough for Jane Austen, William Thackeray, and W. H. Auden, then it’s certainly good enough for the rest of us.

    Not that it’s always correct to use “they” in the singular sense:

    ...suppose you know someone called Chris was around earlier, and you have no idea whether it was a Christine or a Christopher, but Chris did leave a signed note saying,

    “I’ll be back.”

    You would never say, “Chris says they’ll be back.”

  • More people have analyzed it than I have. It’s easy to see what’s meant here, but if you think about this sentence for long enough, you’ll eventually realise it’s bogus. See this Language Log entry for more analysis.

  • Finally, from the same ’log, a rather depressing political comment: No French please, people are watching.

Monday, 17 May 2004

Artemis Fowl: the Eternity Code

Listening to:

Charpentier, Messe de minuit.

Just read:

Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl: the Eternity Code.

This is the third novel in Colfer's series about Artemis Fowl. I thought the first was neat, but was a little cooler about the second. I thought this one as good as the first, and found it very entertaining. The usual cast of good guys features, and they have some interesting bad guy problems to sort out. Though the fairies and criminal master-mind Artemis Fowl are co-operating again (something I held against book 2, The Arctic incident), they are up against a more interesting opponent than they were before. The eventful plot is laced with typical humour, and I raced through it, enjoying it all.