More thoughts on the books I’m reading

So I opened my Goodreads to add a book I’ve finished reading to the shelf and

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That’s, uhh, that’s a bit more than I was expecting. That’s a lot of books. I don’t usually read a lot of books simultaneously; I zoom through one and if there’s more to the pile, move on. This is probably the most I’ve shuffled at any one time.

But I admit my reading has been erratic the last few–last few months actually. I seldom have the time or place or situation to read. And when I do,  I have that sick of feeling of reading non-textbooks as a waste of time. It’s getting easier to put a book down, getting harder to be patient with a curving narrative. It’s, well, it’s not a thing I’m happy with.

And look at those books! I might need to pick up something more light-hearted eventually. These books are killing me.

Anyway, I didn’t start up this blog post to digress. On to the thoughts:

The Stranger by Albert Camus

The book I have just finished reading, mostly in one sitting, after two hours, because the book is my brother’s and he’ll want it back. I think different people will take this in entirely different ways. For one, I sympathize with the main character, can relate with in some ways. In much the same way as I did with Murakami’s works, I’m glad of reading it, even though I didn’t think it enjoyable, but can’t really find a way to recommend it.

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

Also my brother’s, so am trying to zoom through this one but gloriously failing. I’ve always liked George Orwell, and the fact that this one is a memoir, well, you might not be able to tell just from reading it. It’s honest but with a lot of humour in it. Orwell must have a magnificent memory or lots of magnificent diary entries. But I guess that’s life; the little details can stick with you.  The book is best to be taken slowly, in long relaxing sips (much to my brother’s annoyance; I’m taking my time with it).

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am unashamedly a fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald. There’s something in his writings that is unrelentlessly honest though extravagant in their own ways. Some of the thoughts in this book hits way too close to home for me. Although it winds up and down and drags a bit, enjoying the sound of its own voice, it’s enjoyable enough.

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman is my favourite author, period. Haven’t been very far into this short story collection, but I alredy feel like I’m going to take this slowly, trying to make it lasts a while.

The Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who fanfics intrigues me.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

A leftover from when I was working on a paper about science fiction. The science is pretty hard in this one. It even had multiple interludes where scientists bicker with each other. Woof.

Honestly, I think it’s interesting, but I really can’t get into it. The characters feel detached, and I keep getting confused of where they are in the alien structure. That might just be me though. I’m terrible with spatial and visual descriptions.

It also piles mysteries after each other without any indication of a conclusion. I heard the ending is pretty bullshit, but I haven’t got there. Take it with a grain of salt.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Not on my Goodreads shelf yet for, uhh, reasons. Also a leftover from my paper, I was only going to skim through, get a feel for the original cyberpunk, but I ended up enjoying it, though not enough to be sure I’ll read the whole thing. It’s a mess to read through, but I can get into it much easier than I do Rendezvous. It’s just more my kind of thing.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A mess. A complete, glorious, linguistically baffling mess. I know next to nothing about Russian, and most of the slangs reach out there. I think I would be more comfortable if the Nadsats are more into, say, Japanese than Russian. But at current, I need a dictionary. I confess I skimmed through it, didn’t read the whole thing, but from what I can comprehend, it’s not very, well, groundbreaking.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

I love Jules Verne, but I guess not for his writing. Still sick and tired of reading 19th century literature. I do like reading this one, but it might take a while.

The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind by Robert Penrose

I’m honestly considering waiting until my second year of college before continuing, just so I can fully appreciate Penrose’s fanboyism.

Anak Semua Bangsa by Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Pram is one of the best writers from my home country. Folks have translated his works to plenty of languages. If you see any if his works in a shelf, give it a try. He’s good.

Which is a way to distract myself fron saying oh god this book has been on my shelf for so long what am I doing with myself.

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Bramble

This one story I wrote on a whim in class and finished right after the class’s session was over. It’s a bit abstract, unconventional, prologue-ish. Can maybe be expanded. I don’t know. It was a pretty one-shot thing.

The ending is a bit rushed, I admit. The class was over and I wasn’t going to leave it too hanging.

Anyway, I hope it’s readable.

“Oh, bloody hell,” she said, as she stared at the paper that keep insisted on being being empty. She had his pen out, the same pen her uncle gave her, five years ago, before he was shot a year later, shortly after he told her to write his biography.

“You can write, can’t you?” he had said, in his delirium. “You can tell a story. I saw you. Treat those words like pets of yours.”

And she could. At least, she thought she could. She appeared to be able to do it. But it’s been four year and all she had, for all her efforts, were dozens of useless scribbles and acres of empty space. Blank papers by the piles. And that night was proving no better. She was drawing a blank, again.

She put the pen down and resigned to just sitting there, thinking the whole thing through all over again. Her desk was surrounded by papers: letters and books and journals. Scribbled notes, cobbled-together transcripts of his uncle’s many anecdotes.

If he wasn’t already close to losing his mind when he asked her to do this, she would have asked why he didn’t write it himself. He liked to talk, to tell stories and expound on his experiences. His speech was often colourful. He remembered all the little details of his escapades even when he missed the big pictures. Always the life of the party, until his mind started to go and his words became far too colourful for the public ears. Continue reading “Bramble”

Every Level a Gamble

Review of Invisible Inc, a video game by Klei.

Procedurally-generated, or randomized, levels have always been a gamble in video games. It’s unpredictable. It can be the perfect experience for the player, or it can also be, at worst, a complete bore. you can’t really tell if the player will emerge from the level satisfied, or complaining relentlessly that the game was being unfair. You can’t even approximate. What you can do is manage your probabilities.

This is true for the players too. With handmade levels you can just memorize everything in it and plan your movements accordingly. At the farthest end, you can just look up online for a walkthrough. But when no one has any idea what’s going to happen next, the careful planning gets thrown out the window and you just have to try to be ready with what you have. Managing your probabilities.

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Invisible Inc is a turn-based stealth-focused rogue-like-like game where you play as an agency of spies infiltrating procedurally-generated buildings. Being a turn-based game that relies more on being undetected than breaking through every obstacles in your way, it really plays itself more like an elaborate puzzle game than a, well, any other game with this kind of setting, really.

When played right, this game will make you feel. It has some cutscenes, some semblance of a story in its very short story arch, but they don’t really matter much. You don’t play this game for the story. Instead,most of the tensions and dramas are actually played out in the game itself. Each level is randomised, and you never really know what’s going to happen then. It could go smoothly, or you can find yourselves cornered. There could be choices, a great plenty of choices, from which doors to open first to how much are you willing to sacrifice to make it out of this alive.

There’s that real sense of risk and danger to those choices too. When you’ve acted on something, there’s no back button. One of your agents died because you forgot to close a door? Deal with it.

Not the best shot of the game, but, jeez I'm tired and hopefully this is gameplay enough without confusing you with details.

Not the best shot of the game, but, jeez I’m tired and hopefully this is gameplay enough before confusing you with details.

In a lot of ways, it’s similar but also the complete opposite of another game I like, Sunless Sea. You’re taking chances and exploring the unknown, but while everything in Sunless Sea is prebuilt in its text-based glory, the events in Invisible Inc evolves entirely on its own. You can screw yourselves and it will be entirely your fault. You can simply survive a single level and it can feel like the greatest achievement possible. Being procedurally generated, though, it’s a bit of a gamble. You can have a very rotten level if you’re being unlucky, but that might just you not being well-prepared enough. Manage your probabilities well, and the hard levels shouldn’t be a problem.

While being made on the hard scale of gaming, it also has an entirely customizable difficulty setting. Like it hardcore but some elements just tick you off? Just turn it off. Can only beat it on easy, but there are some things that you’d rather make more challenging? Punch the slider up. Want the procedural generator to go mad? Tinker a bit.

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And on top of all its gameplay, Invisible Inc has a style to it. The story is really nothing remarkable, but it sets a tune. You’re spies on the run in a cyberpunk world ruled by corporations, where people have cybernetics implants and hacking is a weapon. The setting and the world’s lore is implemented to everything from the items you can have to the background of your spies to the visual of the game, giving it a… a structural, if not narrative, base on which it thrives. The game happily plays a lot of cyberpunk and science fiction tropes to their maximum, and they can do that without being trite or cliché because it is never about them in the first place. They’re the background, and on the front is the unique experience of every procedurally generated levels.

I’d like to say, on its base, this is a perfect game already, if not a strictly good or bad one. Every element of the game has worked and been interlocked with each other so well, you can’t take any of them away or add anything new in. Sure, you can add some new characters or new items; maybe make the scenario longer or add more to the story. But how the theme and gameplay match with each other, it’s perfect.

Screenshot from the Steam page. I can't believe all those screenshots are so empty, it seems like I always get flanked by objects and enemies in the game.

Screenshot from the Steam page. I can’t believe all those screenshots are so empty, it seems like I always get flanked by objects and enemies in the game.

A bit of a story

Something I wrote a while ago. Part-practice, part-impulse. It’s a side thing to a bigger story I’m working on. Still working on. On hold, at the moment, but, still being worked on. This bit is just really meant to flesh out the character. It has also passed the rough draft period and has been edited down somewhat. Do call out if there’s anything wrong or amiss with it.

Also, I have, like, only a little idea of how music work. And I enjoy music in a mostly irregular way. And the story is set in the real world but on a whole different continent than the one I live in. So, yeah. Do call me out if something is off.

Ever since Jim left, Kane’s life had been reduced to dull echoes on everybody else’s. His life was doing fine, steady, with no hitches or bumps or trouble even far in the horizon. He was doing fine in school. His grades were okay. The professors hardly knew his face because he had never have problems enough to see them. On weekends he took walks in the park and spent some time in the library. Sometimes he would be asked out to parties or dinners, and he would come, and he would eat and chat about nothing in particular. And he would go home, and some people might remember him as that nice polite guy, but never more, because he never put attention to himself, never needed attention to himself.

Kane’s room looked empty now. He couldn’t quite get used to that. When he still shared the flat with Jim, there were posters put up on the wall, drawings and CDs strewn on the table, notes filled with sheets music and lyrics. The books in the shelf would be a mess, because sometimes Jim forgot to put them back where they should be. There was a small keyboard, a harmonica, and a guitar Jim never quite prop up properly. He played the thing day and night, and often he would just put it down on any part of the floor that was the closest.

With Jim gone, so were his posters and CDs and the music that sometimes helped Kane sleep. The books on his shelf were back to being neatly organized, because he couldn’t quite do what Jim did, returning the books in a seemingly random order. The only things on the desk now was his thick textbooks and his notes on chemical reactions and radioactive decay. No more random scribbles of music notations, no more pieces and bits of poetry Jim was weaving into his songs. Everything was clean, rigid, orderly. Exactly how Kane had set them up before Jim entered his life, and now he hated it. Continue reading “A bit of a story”

Video games are a fickle thing to design, more difficult than designing an everyday object or coming up with a fitting cinematography. Not only must you know your audience, you must also anticipate whatever that audience might be doing in the game. Hence why a majority of games, especially those with a story to tell, opt to railroad the player, giving a set of corridors of levels that they have to go through in exact succession.

The other option, if you’re making a game with a narrative, is try to be a Bethesda: make a huge, handcrafted, expensive world and populate it with quests that might or might not have anything to do with each other.

I’ve been playing Fallout New Vegas and it’s hilarious how a lot of its things just don’t match up with each other.

Or you can ditch the handcrafting entirely and let the computer randomize your levels for you.

(Bits removed from a game review. Thought I’ll just dump it here instead of removing it entirely)