Saturday, 30 July 2011

An Awkward Death

I was a prisoner in a prisoner of war camp. It was halfway between The Great Escape and The Sound of Music. We were in the mountains, and it was grassy and sunny and a little cool, and we were herded through barbed wire compounds. I had been here a while. The guards were all generic - faceless to me - but there were two officers whom we feared. There was Officer Kelly. Some new guy sniggered when I spoke his name, and I wondered if there was an Officer Kelly in a movie. But I was trying to warn this guy. Officer Kelly strode before us. He was earnest and intense, and he could not stand still for more than a couple of seconds at a time. He would keep a distance from you and lean forward, and his eyes would open really wide. He never smiled. He was the torturer guy; he would extract information with the greatest ease. I don't know what he was talking to us about - I think because I was too terrified to listen. My whole body was definitely shaking.
He stood before a woman who wore a headscarf and he ordered her to approach him. She stepped forward. He yelled at her and told her she could only approach him from the valley at the bottom of our mountain peak. I left pov and entered omniscience and watched from the opposite side of the valley as the guards pushed her from the camp, and she hurried down the grassy slope to the valley, and she was struggling for breath, and then she climbed back as fast as she could, holding the hem of her skirt.

Officer Kelly marched off, and I wandered into this stone guard house which was a bare room with a door at either end and an antique wooden desk to one side. I think an officer lived here, in a small but luxurious room just through a door behind the desk. I think I could hear music playing on a gramophone. We didn't fear her so much. She was in her fifties and had red hair. Her face was much like Officer Kelly's: it perpetually scowled and the cheekbones were pronounced and the skin tight and heavily dimpled and the nose hooked and sharp. Her son worked at the desk when she took breaks. He was about seven. He wore oversized, round-framed glasses and looked a little goofy. He sat reading his comic. I think he might have been a mute. His mother ushered us outside, waving a Luger.

In another room, an American officer had just arrived. He had been made to stand with his back to a wall. I think he had been there a while. He was dirty and a little bloodied. He had fair hair and a fair moustache, and he smiled at me. In that instant, I felt I knew what women looked for in a man. He made me feel safe. All that terror which I lived inexorably with vanished. Well, just for a moment. I told him he was going to be tortured and he didn't seem to mind. He smiled more. I liked him.

Officer Kelly came and shouted at me to come with him. Immediately, we were in a pitch black room, illuminated by a single cone-shaded lightbulb. He would walk into the light and then back into darkness. I said I would tell him anything, and that I knew lots of useful things. The smallest spark of courage fired inside me and I amended my statement to... I know a few useful things.

Then we were outside. The sky was wide and blue, and we sat twenty abreast at field tables eating and chatting. I was relieved that my interrogation had not been physically painful. The red-haired female officer came and shouted at us about something and she fired her pistol a few times.

I was on the floor, and I don't know how I got there. I could see people's legs like a tunnel in the shade beneath the table, and I could hear the female officer talking still but her voice was muffled and I was lying a bit and sitting a bit, and I shifted my weight to one arm, to my elbow, and felt the back of my head and ran my finger over the soft lip of the hole and pushed my finger gingerly into the hole. My first reaction was annoyance: I was annoyed that she had taken my - I thought about it a bit - my future. I spat the F word. Then I realised I didn't want my last word to be a swear word, and was going to say something else, but was too confused to think of anything else and a black vignette was filling my vision and some female prisoner looked under the table at me in horror and I tried to smile at her like the American officer had smiled at me. I don't think I replicated it very well, but I don't know because I was clumsy and then I was dead and I knew as I scurried from my bed to the computer in my pants that I could demonstrate the clumsiness and the stupidity of my death by not ending with I was dead or use any punctuation marks in the last line or even pause between dream and reality because I could really use a coffee and I am flipping between tenses across thoughts as I desire and that is better to create the clumsiness of the death and what I think of as controlled madness which was what it felt like. But then I wondered if everyone tries to smile at the end.

And for those with a fancy for a refresher, here's the distinction between who and whom.Link

Thursday, 14 July 2011


My son and I are loving the Penn and Teller: Fool Us show.
Having hung out with magical peeps over the years, and having dug out a fair few books on illusions, I can often figure out how the tricks performed for Penn and Teller are done. Heck, I even have a magnetic ring of my own! (It was given to me by a friend, along with the warning: Keep it well away from credit cards.)
Richard Bellars had me stumped. If you missed it, prepare to be boggled...

So what d'you think? I reckon I've cracked it...

Many tricks rely on a force. There are a handful of dead simple ways to force any playing card upon your victim. In these instances, as P&T recently commented, whatever occurs beyond the force is trivial. If I know beforehand that my victim is going to end up with the seven of spades, I can pre-book a Lancaster bomber painted with the seven of spades to fly over my victim at the very moment I guess their chosen card incorrectly.
In this case, I can't believe that the results were forced. (That said, I have seen Derren Brown force a dart, but there could be any number of ways he could have achieved that result outside of a studio filled with a live audience.)
Ergo, the results were written down after the event and placed into Richard's shoe.
When and how?

What's with the briefcase then? Richard initially alludes to his prediction being placed in the briefcase, and later asks Teller to bring 'the prediction up to the table'.
Misdirection right?
Well, I'm guessing it serves partly as misdirection, but it's a double misdirection because it primarily serves as a means of bringing a 'table' onto the stage. Yep, some stage-hand brings a table onto the stage after the results are known. We don't get to see this because the camera has cut to the audience. And P&T don't notice because they're walking back to their seats. But you can catch the stage-hand leaving the stage at 6:15/6:16. (I find tables easier to spot than police stations.) It's a seemingly insignificant occurrence, and all but identical to how P&T wangled a victim's mobile phone off stage in the pilot show. (It was then inserted into a fish backstage.) Furthermore, with no hint of the prediction being stored in his shoe, all attention is focused on the briefcase.
I'm going to guess that, hidden in the table's pedestal is a shoe containing the 'prediction' which has just been written off-stage. Sure, Richard ultimately slips his shoe off with ease, although he feigns an amount of resistance. Those laces, which he sees fit to crowbar into his script, really aren't doing their job too well eh! Note how his feet are obscured by the pedestal at 6:31 and how he looks down at his feet. Once he has left the pedestal, he nervously checks his feet several more times (notably at 6:50), presumably to ensure that the shoe is on properly and that the prediction isn't hanging out. Finally, check out one last nervous glance at the pedestal at 10:41 the moment Richard has shaken hands with Jonathan to scuttle away.
What d'you reckon? Nice trick with some wonderful choreography and a great plot. :o)
Now to figure out that blasted spirit cabinet...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Margrave: The Conjure of the Cut Ticker

Hey nonny nonny!

Along with hot grey clouds and a plague of thunderflies, July has welcomed phase three of the M3 staggered release strategy and we're currently the second highest ranked game across the board! Yes, we've conquered Big Fish and iWin, and we're now top of the Gamehouse charts with an average score of 4.5/5. We're also pedalling up the Pogo charts (number 7 at time of typing, and second highest download rate) and we're receiving superlicious reviews over at Shockwave and Wild Tangent. And best of all... dev costs have now been recouped and it's profit all the way. I think all the localisations are also complete now, so we should presently be threatening Koreans and Italians and Chinese and so forth. (I'm particularly impressed by the Korean take on the Margrave logo :o)

Oh, and I love this witty exchange I discovered on Yahoo! Answers:

Gates Vafa: Hi I just go hooked to playing Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart and I wanted to know where can I get Margrave: The Curse of the Severed Heart for free no trial.

Best answer - chosen by voters:

My Neck is Like a Shrubbery: Have you tried using your faith like a mustard seed to teleport a copy from the middle of the ocean to your local sycamine tree. (Luke 17:6 in reverse.)

And another hilarious mutation of my hard-won copy, fresh from the slitted throat of a babelfish:

Wakeless in the Humanities countryside, Edwina Margrave has returned to the cottage where her parents died, impatient to verbalise with the one soul who power remove white on the tragedy - the volatilisable landlady, Missy Prickle. But her sensational revelations are not what Edwina predicted! Recruit the aid of the spirit experience and evade the wrath of a disfigured savage as you explore Margrave: The Conjure of the Cut Ticker, a heart-breaking Hidden Target Teaser Labor mettlesome!

I'm very happy with M4's progress. I finalised the new schedules today and we're looking to hit the first survey a fortnight before Christmas. Ben's scenes get better and better, and Sally has blown us all away with her preternatural ability to nail the art style in under a fortnight. Already she's creating faultless work! Ade's first stabs at ambient music are bumping geese and 3D Raul's new-found adoration of displacement maps has added a lovely organic quality to his latest offerings. And the harder everyone works, the more anxious I become, wondering if I really am shepherding them all towards something special. Or not. If we screw up, there's only one direction that gnarled finger can point. A little piece of sick has made its nest in my gullet.

I'm perpetually tired, and not thinking clearly enough to tackle any of those outstanding topics I recently jotted down, but Sally's monumental task has made me think...

Style is a git. As art lead on Warhammer Online, I had to quickly immerse myself in all things Warhammer. In particular, I remember learning the names of all those lumps of architecture (crenels, merlons, flyers, etc.) and armour (pauldrons and greaves and chamfrons and such). I had to learn the particulars of Skaven weapons and Dwarfen caverns and I had to memorize the number of breasts per any given demoness. It was a leviathan task.
I remember, too, the wonderful biographer Sunny explaining how she had been asked by Peter Cox to change her style, and how it was the toughest thing she had ever attempted.
I recently completed the M4 in-game map (top of post). I think it's still recognisably me, but I examined medieval maps and fell in love with the ridiculous switches in perspective and the intricate cross-hatch techniques and pointillist shading methods. The architecture was all second nature to me, and once I had identified the elements that I thought would work well, and also those I thought would clutter or mislead, it was a relatively effortless task working the piece up. As my favourite art tutor would say: Art is 99% inspiration and 1% perspiration.

Sally faces an even tougher challenge. She is the hand and mind of Edwina, and today we worked through a few of 'Edwina's' sketches. Sally will also become the unnamed engraver and the eight-year-old orphaned girl and the Cyclopean painter and the wood carver and stone sculptor and the creative automaton. At the drop of a hat, she needs to leave her own soul behind and dip into the soul of many other characters. Which is, I guess, one of the fundamental skills a writer needs to master.
Ed's sketch of the goddess of life.

Mostly, it's about understanding the character's state of mind. The eight-year-old orphaned girl is a good example. When she creates her picture of herself with the kind man who took her into his care, what will she focus on? Does she see him as a tall man with big, strong arms and a giant's smile. Does she see his hands as huge? How does she see herself? Small and fragile? Shy? Tall and strong? How will she reveal the space between the two characters? Will they be standing close together or far apart? Will they be dancing together or perhaps she will be hugging him, or him her? We each see the world in our own way, and this changes depending on our state of mind. Several years ago, a police station sprung up on the corner of my street. I didn't notice it for many weeks. I simply ambled past it, presumably lost in thoughts of intricate leaf designs or shopping lists or whatever. I routinely miss big things, but I can easily spot small things. I guess years of showering have seen to that. (I also discovered an inch-long hair growing from my ear hole the other day. Does that qualify as a big thing or a small thing? Man, that's another five minutes to add to my weekly preen.)

Okay, I'm flumped. I'm going to bed to fall asleep to my new favourite album: Max Corbacho's Ars Lucis, which sounds like a bowel disorder but is actually a subtle and sophisticated splicement of boundless sonic phantoms. Sleep tight.