Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Geek Communication Barrier

Sometimes it feels as if the world is divided into two categories; gamers and non-gamers. – In a blunt sense, of course there are many different types of people out there but for the purpose of this article I’m referring to the relationship between these two groups. There’s aren’t many gamers who don’t have a story to offer about how a non-gamer did something stupid on a game or their misunderstanding parents keep bugging them to give it a rest. It gets pretty annoying right, even after numerous times explaining that what they say on the news is wrong you still get told to go away from your console/computer. I use to get this a bit when I was younger, now I’m older not so much. The other problem is also the fact that I’m a geek who spends much of her spare time programming. I don’t know if others get this, but there’s often a communication barrier between computer professionals and everybody else, in the way that you’re expected to do more of the work coming down to their level than they are coming up to yours.

I don’t really mind the barrier being there as long as I have somebody like me to talk to. It seems a bit one sided though because often people make an assumption about you if you’re a geek – that you’re a poor person to talk to. The fact is we don’t always have to talk about computing or video games, but in non-tech gatherings I’m often sat in the corner feeling slightly bored because I feel like people are giving me a bit of a berth. I try to join in and take interest in what other people say and sometimes they’ll let me through. The problem is, I’m expected to let them talk about what they want, but then can I talk about what I want, often not. When you mention the ‘vg’ words or anything computing related you can tell it’s going ‘whoosh’ over their heads. You can try to complain that people don’t take an interest in what you have to say, but they’ll make out that they do even though it’s obvious they’re just trying to look as if they are (as you tend not to get much of a response.) There’s also the fact that they’ll blame video games for everything that goes wrong in your life (tends to make you think that they don’t care much about your interests.) How are you suppose to take their attempts at understanding you seriously if they just irrationally blame everything on what you care about? I feel people think that I have to do something else other than computing, but that’s my hobby and future career choice, don’t have much time for anything else. Why should I change myself anyway? They expect me to just switch that part of myself off, yet they can talk about their jobs, education or hobbies as much as they want. I can’t complain about it because my hobbies are to blame, not the way that society is or anything *rolls eyes...*

I often feel like I have to choose between people and my passion for video game development because it’s always made out to me that when I’m on my computer I’m shutting myself away. The fact is, games programming is one of the hardest subjects you can choose, and I want to make sure I practice a lot each day so that I can pick it up well and live my dream. I actually program on my laptop a lot so I’m sat around in places where people are anyway and sometimes I stop and have a chat. If it seems I shut myself out sometimes it’s because I’m sick and tired of having my passions put down, the very thing I’m striving to create. It’s no different to the passion an artist feels when they start to make that masterpiece, it’s the desire to make something brilliant that other people can enjoy. I don’t even understand how people can’t see the crafting of video games as amazing. It’s so exciting thinking that I can design and produce my own world with its own rules – each to their own I guess. Amazingly, I haven’t actually met many other people who share the same enthusiasm as me for this sort of stuff, which is a shame because you hear about how young computer scientists get together at university and make successful things such as Google. I really wish I knew more people to share my hobby with because it’s kind of frustrating not being able to talk about programming more often. I guess I’ve read too many game development books written by eager professionals and I’d really like to meet them and gabber about computing all day. (To get past that steep learning curve to become a professional I guess you’d have to be pretty eager.)

Amongst the gaming/tech crowd you often find that it’s much easier to bond. (I read a study once that stated that people who played MMORPG’s together often had a stronger bond with each other than people who don’t.) When I went to university and finally met some other genuine gamers like myself we just instantly clicked and got talking away. You find you hardly ever run out of stuff to say because games are plentiful and you’re both happy to sit there and talk about them all day; non-gamers looking on in amusement because once again they think your silly and incapable of talking about anything else. It’s true that gamers can also have lots of tiffs, like over camping or kill stealing, and we don’t all get on such as the FPS and RPG crowd, but overall, once you do meet another gamer with similar tastes you find that your friendship tends to blossom. It’s a shame that all those non-gamer folk will never understand how good it feels to have a friendship like this.

I know that you can’t expect non-tech people to understand every detail of what you do, after all, it’s incredibly complicated, but on the top level it’d be nice to know that some of those people could maybe lay off a bit and try to accept my interests. I’m always made out to be the bad person for having a hobby in computing, and yet I’m not the one going around putting down somebody’s interests and making them feel that they can’t talk about it, or even briefly mention it once. I sometimes even fear going anywhere near my computer because I think I'm going to be judged for it. I admit to the fact that I’m a little obsessive over what I do, but it’s what makes me who I am and I love being that crazy creative person who puts all into what they do (too many people these days don’t seem to put any effort into developing skills anymore.) I’ll be more willing to come down a notch to their level if they can just maybe try, for once, not jump to the conclusion that video games and computers are destroying people lives, because in actual fact it's the un-accepting people in this world who are to blame. Yup the story of my life – I’m interested in a subject in which girls are often not very well received, which in turn isn’t widely accepted by society, and people wonder why I sometimes cut myself off! Oh-isn’t-the-human-race-just-wonderful? -.-

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Grand Theft Gameplay

Since GTA III there’s been an increasing number of sandbox games all sticking with the same formula that Rockstar has been trying to perfect since 2001. Games like the Saint’s Row and Just Cause series’ and even the odd super hero game like Spiderman 2, inFamous and Prototype are going for the open worlded do what you feel like approach. The funny thing is, most of them are better than the very thing they are imitating. Don’t get me wrong, I loved San Andreas and would probably put it in my top 10 but having tried to get into GTAIII and Vice City several times each (even though the latter is often considered better than San An) and failing, I’ve just found other games to be more enjoyable. In this article I will be comparing a few sandbox games that have stood out for me, San Andreas, GTAIV, Saints Row 2 and the recently released Just Cause 2. I would include inFamous and Prototype but they don’t really involve cars all that much unless you count using them as a weapon.

Overall I can’t really pick a single favourite each have their merits but here’s a quick lowdown.

The only area GTAIV is the best for me is story, and even then it’s not brilliant, a little cliché and one or two of the characters are I want-to-punch-you-in-the-mouth-unlikeable, no names mentioned. Its good towards the end but takes too long to pick up. San Andreas and Saints Row 2 are ok, but they are too gang orientated which in my opinion makes it hard to sympathise, but that could be just me. As for Just Cause 2 the story is pretty much nonexistent, it doesn’t flow all that well and the (intentionally) bad voice acting doesn’t help but that doesn’t really matter.

Graphically Just Cause 2 is the best, the draw distance is incredible and standing on top of the mountains or climbing in a helicopter and looking towards the horizon gives you a real feel for how large the game world is, granted this is the most modern of the four but it’s impressive all the same. GTAIV is nice, but on HD resolutions it could have done with better anti-aliasing and there’s way too much bloom at times, all it suffers from is the same fate as a lot of games this generation, everything is grey. Saints Row 2 isn’t amazing but it’s bright, colourful and while not realistic still a nice looking game. It isn’t really fair to compare San Andreas here as it was released last generation but did look nice at the time so it is noteworthy.

When you spend a good majority of the game driving around you need to have a decent soundtrack to help you along or it can get a bit boring, and this is where Saints Row 2 is the better of the 4, plenty of variety with a nice selection of old and new tunes some of which are guilty pleasures but it just adds to the tongue-in-cheek mood of the game. San Andreas is also good, some may argue Vice City is better but I can’t personally vouch for that but most of the time I always ended up turning on WCTR. GTAIV is, well, terrible, I have a very broad music taste but there wasn’t a single station I could get on with, there was Integrity, the equivalent of WCTR but even that wasn’t as good as it was in San Andreas. Unfortunately, Just Cause 2 has no soundtrack to speak of, there’s (mediocre) background music but no radio stations, though, after GTAIV this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Gameplay, obviously the most important aspect of a game, there isn’t really much difference between all of them, get gun, aim, shoot, avoid consequences. Both GTAs have a lock on feature and IV has a Gears of War style cover system which is up there with QTEs and Zombies on a list of biggest clichés this generation, it was useful, but not needed, not in a game of this style. I never really cared for lock on anyway, makes is feel like the game is doing it for you. Just Cause 2 has an upgrade system which adds to the game but is almost compulsory as without it the weapons seem to shoot frozen peas.

Another thing all of these games have in common is collectables, things you run/fly/swim/drive around the entire map for to collect, which in my opinion is kind of annoying, it’s never been something I’ve really enjoyed and almost felt like a chore, San Andreas mixed it up a bit with having photo icons you collected with the camera and spray tags as well as the usual pick-ups but it still felt tedious as all hell but its GTAIV that really takes the biscuit. For those who don’t know, across the entire city are 100 pigeons, or “flying rats” that you need to kill, the main issue is that there is no silent way of doing the deed so 4 out of 5 times you shoot one, you get a wanted level which makes an already mundane task even worse because you need to lose the cops every time you kill one of them. Saints Row 2 has CDs, and these where incredibly hidden, in my entire time playing it I think I found about 10 (out of 50), I could use a map or guide but still, this is a little too secret. Just Cause 2 is nice and puts a blue spot on the map where all the collectables are but with 300 it’s still insane, and then there’s the 2000+ resource items that aren’t on the map, I can’t imagine completing this game 100%.

Then there’s wanted levels, another area where San Andreas is prime, bringing the FBI and even the army in at high levels to take you down, a misguided attempt because then you just steal the tank, maybe that’s why they didn’t do it in GTAIV, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, ey? Saints Row 2, not much can be said, kind of a medium between the one in San Andreas and IV, not quite heavy tanks but a bit more than SWAT. But my main qualm in this area is in Just Cause 2 where the wanted level (or heat as the game calls it) doesn’t really stand for much. Sometimes I can survive for 20+ minutes on level 5 without an issue, sometimes level 2 will completely obliterate me, it doesn’t seem to make much sense. Plus sometimes you will actually just gain heat for nothing, I mean literally nothing, I swear they sometimes come after you because they don’t like your face. I was doing a race once, in a small town, not restricted land or anything, just drove past and bam, level 4, out of nowhere, I don’t know whether this is a bug or known issue but when the game screws you out of a challenge because the feds simply don’t like you it’s a bit silly.

An area Saints Row really did well in was customisability; build your character from the ground up, gender, age, colour, voice, build, eyes, hair, size of cleavage/package even the way they walk. It’s arguably more in depth than the sims which is a little crazy. New clothes and accessories were available through my outlets in the game world which you could choose a colour and material for, car mod shops available too with a nice amount of options, really well done. You can sum up the system on this in San Andreas in 3 syllables. Oh-ver-kill. I know how much I just praised the Saints Row for the amount it had but you chose a shirt you chose a colour, San An would be green shirt, blue shirt, red shirt, black shirt, white shirt, green t-shirt, blue t-shirt; ad infinitum. When you're a completionist [Read: Anal] like I am, and you want to own everything and this is just annoying. IV once again went completely the other way and gave so little choices of attired I could count them on my fingers and toes, and then count the ones that looked half decent on my thumbs. Just Cause has well, nothing. You look the same from start to finish and your choice of colour of car depends on who you steal it from.

Finally, gimmicks and side missions, which is where Just Cause prevails, this is a game to get if you like destroying things, trust me. If you wanna blow crap up then there’s not much better out there, blowing stuff up gets you chaos which in turn unlocks story missions so you can progress. I actually spent the first 15-20 hours of gameplay exploring and blowing stuff up and collecting stuff and did maybe 15 missions in that time (including faction missions). Saints Row 2 has respect, which works in much the same way but you get that by doing side jobs such as assassination, drug trafficking, smearing people’s houses in poop, you then “spend” the respect to do missions. Neither of the GTAs really have a mechanic like this, missions are always available once you’ve unlocked them but will normally yield you money so you can make other missions easier.

In a perfect world we’d have GTA IV’s story and characters, Just Cause’s destruction and graphics, Saint Row’s taste in music and missions, San Andreas’ over the top wanted level system and general “feel”, and a healthy mix of all their gameplay aspects. Oh, and the collectable system from pong.

"Man, I gotta drive a taxi, next I'll be flying a remote control helicopter or some ****" ~ Marcus Reed, True Crime: New York City.

Ignorance and Video Games

Following on from Sneeze’s article about violence and fornication in video games, I’d like to take a closer look at the people who complain about this sort of thing. Jo and I were watching some videos of Jack Thompson and some other people complaining about Grand Theft Auto IV last night, and it was honestly one of the most ignorant, scaremongering piles of crap I have ever seen in my life. I’ve never played GTA IV myself, but I have played III, Vice City and San Andreas, so I know the basic precepts of GTA games quite well. Apparently, in this game (according to the talk show we watched) your child can pick up a hooker, have sex with her, then beat her to death with a baseball bat to get your money back. OK, OK, OK, let’s get one thing straight shall we. Your child can’t do these things because the game has an ESRB rating of M and a BBFC rating of 18. If a child gets their hands on a copy of the game it’s due to negligence, either on the part of the store who sold them the restricted item, or on the part of the parents, to provide their offspring with a video game that has been deemed unsuitable for them. On that note, many people have complained that the ESRB rating of M should be raised to AO due to some of the game’s content. For anyone who doesn’t know, M is for ages 17+ and AO is for ages 18+. I mean seriously, is one year really going to make that much of a difference?

Right, now on to the point of this article. Many people complain that some of the themes in video games, such as violence, sex and crime have an adverse effect on people who play them, causing them to go on mad killing sprees in schools with an AK47 or something. As a side note, if I was personally gonna go on a killing spree I’d screw an AK47 and take a HK47 with me instead. At least it’d add some humour to the situation. “Query: Shall we start with the blaster rifle or plasma grenades master? I do so enjoy the sound of meatbags in pain. Except you of course master. Haha.”
Anyway, random Star Wars references aside, how many reported sales of GTA IV have there been? I can’t seem to find an up to date figure, but according to Wikipedia, as of the 16th of August 2008 (a few months after the game’s release) it had sold over 10 million copies. So I guess we can assume that that figure has increased dramatically since then. Now, how many cases have there been of people running amok in schools with rifles? Yeah, considerably less. Oh and let’s not forget that hardly any of these cases can actually be directly linked to video games. People just seem to think that since someone has played a violent game before, that must have somehow trained them to become psychotic killers. As Sneeze, said in his article, these people also tend to be quite fond of statistics, throwing them out like confetti at a wedding, so here’s one for you: let’s take a high estimate for the number of school shootings linked to video games. Shall we say 50? Yeah that sounds like a nice high estimate. Now how many sales have there been of GTA IV? Well there were over 10 million sales in August 2008, so in May 2010, taking into account additional sales in the past nearly 2 years, plus pre-owned sales on eBay and the like, shall we say 17 million? Right now let’s work out the percentage shall we? Notice I’m being lenient here and assuming that all these violent rampages were linked to GTA IV and not to other games like Counter Striker or Manhunt. So, 50/17,000,000 * 100 = ~0.0003%. Wow, that’s a low percentage. Plus I’ve been lenient with this percentage don’t forget. Now let’s consider, out of all the people who have played GTA IV, how many are likely to have had a deep rooted psychological problem that would probably lead them to become violent with the influence of something like GTA anyway. I don’t know about you, but I’d reckon it’d be higher than the previous percentage. So the only people who would have been affected by violent games are the ones who are quite frankly mentally unfit to play them anyway. I mean what train of thought would lead you to the conclusion “Oh, I just killed someone in this game, therefore it must be alright to do it in real life too”. Sounds retarded doesn’t it? Really, if someone can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality, then it’s obviously a case that needs looking at more thoroughly right?

For all that people complain about violence in video games, surely it’s better that people do it within the confines of a fantasy world rather than in real life. At our core, human beings are just animals that have developed the confines of society, making many of our animal urges unacceptable, for instance the need to hunt and kill. Animals do it all the time, it’s a perfectly natural part of life, and the old hunter-gatherer instincts are still there in all human beings. Take a look at the Freudian model for example. (I apologise for any inconsistencies here, but I briefly studied Freud out of a textbook at college 5 years ago after dropping out of Psychology for being too boring and taking Physics instead. They just weren’t covering the stuff I wanted to learn in Psychology, and Physics was a much more black and white subject, which suits my style of thinking more, so I decided to just learn the stuff I wanted to know out of a textbook instead. So I apologise if I’m wrong about anything here.) The Freud model states that the consciousness is split into three parts, the ID, the Ego, and the Superego. The ID is the animal instinct, self-gratification part of our mind that tells us what we want and that we want it now. The Superego is the part of our mind that tells us what’s right and what’s wrong, and that we should always do right by other people. The Ego sits between the two, and keeps them both in check, making sure we get sufficient self gratification, but that we are still decent people. Anyway, dragging this back onto topic, the ID part of our minds tells us that we want to kill things. Surely, a place where we can satisfy these urges without doing harm to anyone else is preferable to going out and stabbing someone in the street or something. I know I’ve actually found games where you can be someone else for a while terribly relieving, not having to worry about the real life consequences of my actions actually de-stresses me really well. So in that sense, violent games are surely good for people, provided they don’t have any prior mental instabilities. Maybe instead of age ratings on games they should have mental stability ratings, ensuring the only people who play these kinds of games aren’t the kind who are going to go crazy and start eating their socks or something.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

The Glorification of Violence and Fornication

One of the main problems people seem to have with video games is that they “glorify” sex and violence and this makes children grow up corrupted and desensitised and they might stab people. Of course, there have been loads of studies that prove that games make children violent, they are just secret studies that only exist in a realm of reality that only anti-game enthusiasts can see, or at least that’s what I imagine because I sure as hell can’t find any. They just spout random statistics to get ignorant people like putty in their hands so they’ll buy their latest book or whatever they’re selling.

Violence in media has always been around and video games are just the latest punch bag to emerge, 30 years ago, people would be complaining about violence on TV, 80 years ago people would have complained about violence in movies, 10,000 years ago, probably complained about violence in cave paintings. People are always looking for an excuse why someone stabbed someone and instead of blaming the child’s own free will, poor parenting or perhaps the person in question deserved to be stabbed, no its Rockstar’s fault because they “taught” him how to use a knife, I’m not even sure how this works, unless you’re unaware of which end made people bleed.

It’s pretty clear that these so called “experts” haven’t played a game in their life but people believe anything you tell them if you’re over the age of 50 and in a suit and stick some sort of percentage in there. No, you don’t get “points” for killing cops and the aim of the game isn’t to kill prostitutes.

Complaints were actually received about the advert for Heavy Rain glorifying violence, now, anyone with a brainstem can tell this game is in no way glorifying violence, on the contrary. It shows the after effects, the consequences, the problems that come with taking a life. Then, to bring up a point Jo made in a previous article you have adverts for joining the army. They show guns, tanks, airplanes, boats all the machines that where invented to kill a guy quicker than he can kill you, they make it all flashy and give it the “boy with their toys” appeal. This is for an invention, the sole purpose of which is for ending life. Now, which one of these is actually doing the glorifying? Which one is getting the blame for people getting killed?

Then there’s sex, which is equally as hypocritical, all you have to do is turn prime time TV on and see the latest advert for deodorant or make-up and have far more sexual content then you’d see in most video games, and even then, watch anything on Channel 4 post watershed and you’ll see stuff worse than pretty much all video games (well, all of the ones sold outside Japan anyway). Yet Mass Effect got accused of being a “porn simulator” (which when you look at it is a deeply flawed term anyways, how does one simulate porn?) yet it’s actually tastefully done, and shows the feelings and connection between the two characters and the most graphic thing you get is a sideboob. What kind of porn are they actually watching?

Granted this issue does seem to be getting less pressing, Mass Effect 2 didn’t get any stick to my knowledge and that was probably more graphic, and Heavy Rain (yes I know I keep using this game in examples, if it’s bothering you play a drinking game or something) didn’t receive much notoriety and that’s probably more graphic still.

One more point on sex in games, I found this link today: Click. Now, surely he must have known of Rule 34’s existence, by its very nature you can find porn of anything, Sonic, Pokémon, The Land Before Time and pretty much anything that will destroy your childhood in a few simple jpegs. None of these previously had any sexual context but the internet got hold of it and suddenly Simba has a foot long. So, you make a game like Bayonetta which is pretty sexual itself, you’re pretty much doing half the work for them, and then you had the stones to complain when porn of it emerges? If you’re going to make a highly sexual character expect the character to be highly sexualised, it would be like serving someone an extremely salty meal and complaining if they get a drink afterwards.

Video games are no worse than any other form of media, TV, film, music, all influence people to some extent but people are always in control, if someone “copies” a video game it’s not at the fault of the game but at the fault of the person. Some people are naturally violent regardless of what hobbies they do or don’t have (except maybe yoga) and these people should be dealt with accordingly instead of fighting against an industry and ruining it for all the people who have self control and the little voice that tells them what’s real and what isn’t.

The best idea is to educate people more on game ratings, people still think that the age rating is purely based on difficulty and nothing else and then complain when they find out their 8 year old is running over pensioners in a golf cart. I saw a mother and her kid in game a few days ago, the kid wanted Forza Motorsport and the mother said “No, it’s obviously a 12 for a reason” obviously having no idea that a simple flip of the case would tell her exactly why it’s a 12. (which as it turns out is bad language, why you need to effectively cut out a large percentage of your audience by adding a few swears to a racing game of all games is beyond me). PEGI should run a few adverts on TV, tell parents about ratings and leave it all up to them instead of letting the Daily Mail handle it.

In return, for gamers, have a rating on all talk shows when video games are the topic, with little icons that mean “contains people that haven’t the faintest what they are on about” and “contains an audience with a collective amount of less than 5 brain cells” just to give us a heads up on what to expect from the next 20 minutes that way and prepare accordingly, possibly by performing a lobotomy on ourselves beforehand so we’re on the same train of thought as the people on the program.

“Before you go and criticize the younger generation, just remember who raised them.” ~ Unknown

Professionalism? Don't make me laugh

I’m sure everyone who has reached around 14-15 years of age has probably had the concept of professionalism shoved down their throats at some point. Apparently, to get by in this world, you need to be professional and respectable in everything you do. But why? Where did these concepts of professionalism come from in the first place? Who first decided that if someone turned up to a meeting in jeans and a T-Shirt instead of a shirt and tie they would be considered as not being professional and giving a bad impression?

Personally I hate the very idea of professionalism. It’s so stifling. I mean seriously why is it needed? It’s not a necessary thing in life. People just tend to not challenge established concepts, like having a shave for instance. If no one shaved, it would be regarded as completely normal for people to be hairy and have wild tangled beards and the like. The same goes for professionalism. If people didn’t expect other people to treat them in a formal way and behave like robots, no one would have to act like that and in my opinion everyone would be much happier for it. Let me give you an example: I used to work in a cafe in Debenhams. We were allowed to get a drink of water from the tap, but we had to go into the back, out of view of the customers, to drink it. This was apparently to protect the company image and keep us looking professional. So let’s get this straight. People, human beings, drinking water in plain sight was apparently bad for the company image and unprofessional. So it seems Debenhams wants to give the impression that it employs robots, because who ever heard of a human being drinking water? This is the sort of thing I mean. Customers know that the people employed there are humans, and so it follows that they do other things that humans do, such as drinking to stay alive. Why the hell would it be considered unprofessional to be seen doing something that you need to do to stay alive, especially considering you’re on your feet for at least four hours at a time, constantly talking and moving around.

While I’m on the subject of customers at Debenhams, what is it with the way employees at these places are meant to treat awkward customers? During the approximately two years I worked there, hardly a week went by when I didn’t witness some customer or another complaining about the state of a table, or the service they received, or the fact that a member of staff spoke to another about something not strictly work related. Let’s tackle these issues in order shall we? A table being messy; well during busy periods it’s hardly possible to keep all the tables in the cafe clean. There were around 40-50 tables in the cafe, and at the very most there were only ever 5 people on tables at any one time. Usually there were only 2 or 3. So during busy periods, when there’s someone leaving a table almost constantly, it’s quite impossible to keep them all clean. The service they received; this could range from anything from the amount of time it took to get them a hot drink, the amount of time spent in the queue, or the fact that someone didn’t smile and look happy while serving. During busy periods, when there were around 4 people moving around each other in a small space all trying to make drinks on 2 drinks machines, it was pretty impossible to get every order done straight away, especially when the machines took around a minute to make the drink, and then there was another 30 seconds after that finishing the drink off by hand. As for the queue, it’s unfortunate but sometimes queues take a while, there’s nothing the staff can do about that when they’re already working as fast as they can, this just requires patience on the part of the customer, something which most customers seem to lack in my opinion. It’s also unfortunate, but after an hour or two of serving awkward customers, not all staff have the capacity to remain happy and cheerful when being treated like a piece of dirt in a lot of cases. Also, this complaint mainly came about people who were new at doing the job in question (I got it from the manager once when I first started serving hot drinks, after a 10 minute crash course from another member of staff), so they aren’t always capable of looking cheerful while concentrating on doing their job properly. A member of staff spoke to another; for this, I refer you to my earlier comments about members of staff being human beings. Admittedly, you can go too far on this one, ignoring a customer while having a detailed conversation about the state of electoral system in this country with another member of staff for instance, but just mentioning something of interest to a co-worker while there aren’t any customers around should be fine, since the members of staff aren’t robots and are unfortunately quite incapable of keeping their minds permanently on their jobs. I myself got it in the neck from customers several times for this, when I was cleaning a tray and talking as I worked, but apparently the ability to multitask is lost on most people. I suppose you could argue that there are some jobs where absolute concentration would be required, but a part time Food Services Advisor (my official job title) for £5/hr isn’t one of them.

The worst thing about it was, if a customer chose to be awkward to us, and even insult us in some cases, we had to be polite, stay calm, and treat them with respect. I’m sorry, but he just lost my respect the moment he called me a ‘long haired idiot’ (I don’t remember the exact wording here, but something similar to this happened to me once). My usual policy when a customer approached me with a complaint was to ever so politely say “I’m sorry, let me get my supervisor for you to speak to”, at which point I’d go into the back, tell the nearest supervisor that “we’ve got another one”, at which she’d roll her eyes and go out to deal with them. Hey, they got paid more than me so they can deal with these situations. This is a prime example of professionalism gone wrong if you ask me. Staff members in a cafe are not subservient to the customers they deal with. Customers are not worth more than staff members. They are all human beings, just the same. However, if you were a visitor from an alien world you could quite easily get the impression that we are divided by a strict class system where people are forced to serve those superior to them.

Another problem I have with professionalism is the way it’s shoved down your throat in the education system. From the time you start career sessions in around Year 10 at the age of 14 or 15, you constantly hear about this concept that you must act a certain way in society. It happened in school, at college, and again in university. In our first year of university we had a module called ‘Professionalism and Communication Skills’. In the second year, we had a module called ‘Asset Management’ in which we apparently got prepared for our placement year. In our final year (or right now in some cases, since those on placement year get a fast-track option) we have another professionalism module, where we have to write a 1500 word essay on professionalism. I wonder if I could hand this post in instead? I wonder how that would fly? In every educational establishment and university course you find something like this. A module tacked on that ‘prepares you for the world of work’. I’ve had two part time jobs in the past 4 years, and with that experience, as well as the experience some of my friends have had in the world of work, I can pretty much say that everything they tell you in these modules a huge pile of crap. They make you think that employers actually care about their employees. In my experience this is by no means the case. Employers care about their employees in the same way they care about a piece of machinery: a tool to do a job. They don’t care how you feel, or what your goals are in life, and they only give you the care required by law. All they care about is that you keep making them money. It would be much better in my opinion if these modules in education were replaced by something actually specific to what you want to do, like on our course for instance, Games Software Development, a module on game theory or the games industry would be much more useful than all this professionalism crap.

In summary, going back to what I said earlier, professionalism doesn’t need to exist. If people didn’t expect other people to behave like this, people wouldn’t need to, removing the entire need for professionalism. All it does is stifle individuality, and without individuality what would society become?

Monday, 10 May 2010

Logic Vs Creativity

If you read my previous article (Can games be classed as art?) you’ll have noticed I have a fair few issues when it comes to the art community. I do actually really like art, but I tend to admire works from artists like Escher and Da Vinci (who were both quite clever and produced technical drawings, not just random blotches of paint like many others.) In fact the helicopter design was inspired by Da Vinci, and I’m sure were all aware of the famous staircase perspective drawings by Escher (inspiring many things; the PS3 game Echochrome and the final scenes of the Labyrinth to name a few.) Anyway, now I come to the point of this article, back when I selected Art as an option at school and college I found a lot of people also selected it, not because they cared but because they thought it would be an easy option. Despite the fact that artists like Escher used mathematical ideas within their work, people seem to think that art can’t be academic or involve any intellect – and if I’m honest, I don’t blame them when observing most modern day pieces. Still, most people would later come to realise that as a subject it’s one of the hardest, most time consuming ones you can take.

Now I move to the opposite side of the argument, logic. Apparently people who program like me are dull and nerdy because their brains are so full of logic they’re incapable of doing anything creatively. Before college I had to attend a few interviews to talk about what I wanted to do, and when I mentioned my choices of Art and ICT the interviewer would look at me gone out. They’d tell me that, ‘they’d never really seen it happen before,’ and that ‘it might not work.’ In fact most timetables at school and college were drawn up to have art clash with more logical subjects because people were less likely to combine the two. At school I use to always be considered the creative one, and I was treated differently because of it. Now I’ve started introducing myself more as a programmer I get treated differently once again with statements such as, ‘you need to try and be creative even though it might be a bit difficult for someone such as yourself.’

The first part of my life was dedicated solely to art. I got into it because my mum, sister and cousin all did it. For that reason I didn’t really choose to, it just sort of happened. It used to irritate me at school though because people saw me as the “Art” person, which I didn’t want to be. I can’t even remember how I came to decide I liked computing, I’d always had fun on my Amiga, and then I got my first PC and it just clicked. My Playstation was what inspired me to consider being a game designer, and on leaving school the art supplies went in the cupboard and the programming books came out. Not that I’ve given up my art, I actually find it to be a really useful skill to have for what I’m doing.

When I started my game development course at university, I found that there were a variety of people. A majority were more maths or physics minded, and when it came to the more creative modules such as Flash, they would complain, a lot. Then there were the more creative people, who enjoyed using Flash, and even began to consider that maybe programming wasn’t for them. Obviously it would be quite difficult to be a programmer and a 3D artist, of which I am most certainly leaning more towards programming, but I still find being creative helps a good deal. For starters, I tend not to have as much trouble thinking up ideas for what to make unlike some of the less creative ones. I am also able to create some decent looking games on my own. It’s unlikely you’ll make many games solo, but for the odd university assignment you don’t have much choice. Last time I checked it was being called Programmers art, where the game would be exquisitely made, but the aesthetics would be poor (unfortunately some lecturers are a bit critical on appearance as well.) Then when it does come to working on a team, I’ve read books stating that the programmers and artists have a tendency not to get along because they don’t understand where the other is coming from. The artists want the game to look pretty, but the programmers want good performance. In that case maybe it’s a good thing to have a programmer or an artist who has some idea of what the other wants. I also find that with creativity, comes attention to detail, which can be useful in any subject.

When I write my CV I always try to make a big deal out of the fact that I am a strongly creative/logical person and how this can be beneficial. I reckon it makes me stand out more form the crowd because I believe it makes me unique. Amazingly enough, I don’t actually want to be a graphics programmer, and I’m more leaning towards areas such as A.I. Despite being a difficult mathematical area, perhaps I can bring some creativity to A.I. to make it operate in a better way. Like I said in my pervious article, when I program I actually feel like I’m being creative because I have to design systems and come up with solutions to problems. I love game design because of its ability to combine both logic and creativity.

Who says you can’t be a little bit creative and logical at the same time?

Friday, 7 May 2010

Top 10 People I'd Like to Slap with a Wet Trout

Due to a combination of writers block and possibly deeply rooted psychological issues regarding the combination of aquatic creatures with violence here’s something a little different, the top 10 people I’d love to slap with a wet trout.

#10 – Katie Price
Assuming the fish is long enough to reach over to her face. I almost question as to whether the breasts are actually some bizarre form of satire, at least that way I’d have some faith restored into humanity. Then there’s her and Peter having all them damn shows on ITV2 about their wonderful life together only to lead into a split-up that even John Edward could have seen coming. Also, am I the only one that gets the impression Peter was at home looking after the kids while she was out sleeping with anything with a pulse?

#9 – Charley from Big Brother 8
Do I even need a reason? I’m not being funny but she is possibly the most obnoxious, nasty, harsh, argumentative all around slut to ever be on reality TV, and that’s saying something. I don’t think there’s a single housemate she didn’t have at least one altercation with, oh, and did I mention she’s stupid?

#8 – Al Murray
Now as you know if you read my political correctness article jokes are fair game and shouldn’t be classed as offensive, but there’s one thing jokes should be and that’s where Al Murray fails: funny. I never found the whole “France sucks, Britain is great” thing funny to begin with, when you repeat this routine every Saturday evening coupled with the McFly version of Don’t Stop Me Now you are using the word “entertainment” very loosely, I might change the rules and slap him a System of a Down CD instead...

#7 – Amanda Holden
Three reasons. Number 1: Not everything under the age of 16 is “cute”, Number 2: Stop flailing your hands like the fish I’m about to slap you with every time anyone with abs takes their top off. Number 3: Stop crying every time someone from either of the above two aforementioned categories does something other than take breath.

#6 – Otis from Dead Rising
Stop calling me, seriously.

#5 – Shiguru Miyamoto
I’ve never really settled on one games company, always flitting between Sony and Nintendo over the past 13+ years so I guess in some ways I should be thanking him because he finalised my decision. I loved the Gamecube, as unsuccessful as it was but with games like Wind Waker, Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door and Pikmin how could I not like it? The Wii came along and I was stoked, imagine all those great quirky games from the GC on the Wii but with nicer graphics and great motion control. Unfortunately, nearly 4 years down the line, I’m still left doing just that, imagining. Paper Mario was murdered, all Pikmin has seen is a couple of ports and him teasing us a couple of times with a Pikmin 3 but no news yet, at all, well, other than its existence and then the true sequels to wind Waker where... meh. Everything I loved about Nintendo is slowly fading away, bring back the quirks and stop selling out.

#4 – Peter Kay
10 years ago this guy was the newest comedian on the block with his jokes that everyone can identify with, observational humour and stories about his Mum that anyone can apply to their lives and take enjoyment and laugh because it’s all funny “because it’s true”. Now we are in 2010 and yeah... He’s no longer new, and nor is his content. New jokes or feel the wrath of my fish slap, kthx.

#3 – Piers Morgan
Everyone’s favourite journalist, Britain’s Got Talent judge and professional narcissist. If this guy’s ego was any bigger he’d have to actually have to declare it as a separate continent and then he’d probably only let people in if they paid a “Piers is awesome tax”. He just sits there on the panel of talent criticising everyone claiming he “could do that”. Really Piers? Do us all a favour and try it, with a bit of luck you’ll slip and land crotch first on to an active chainsaw, that’s on fire.

#2 – Noel Edmunds
No real reason for this guy other than the fact I don’t really like his face. Just to feel the satisfaction of removing that undeserved smugness from his face with an accelerating pre-moistened fish would be immensely satisfying.

#1 – Nick Griffin
You may have seen this coming and I can’t be the only one that feels this way but this man is just plain... creepy. I mean, even if you put the bigotry aside, just look at the man. He could save kittens from the violin factory for a living and he’d still look sinister. Imagine waking up at 4am just to see Mr. Griffin at the edge of your bed, with that smile of his... It’s not a pleasant thought, on second thoughts he looks like the kind of guy that would enjoy being slapped with a trout, probably while wearing the skin of a recently sacrificed virgin and reciting Hitler speeches.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Punsihment and rewards in schools

Now I was always the ‘good kid’ in school. You know the one I’m talking about, the one who always stays in line, never plays up for the teacher, stays quiet in class and just generally behaves and respects authority. Needless to say I got a lot of trouble from the ‘bad kids’ for my approach. I had a few threaten to ‘deck’ me at times, and I left the school premises worried that someone was going to jump out from around a corner at me more than once. However, all of this, even though it went on in class a lot of the time, seemed to go largely unnoticed by the teachers. No one ever noticed that I was being threatened in the classroom or anything. But then again, they never really seemed to notice me at all. I just got down to work, did my work well, didn’t cause trouble and didn’t draw attention to myself. But did I ever get rewarded for doing well in school? Nope. Outside of the fact that I got good ‘qualifications’ (GCSEs cease to be important once you’ve got into college anyway), I never received one jot of support from the teachers for doing well in school. Nor did I receive anything for behaving myself.

Now the ‘bad’ kids, who disrespected the teachers, never did their work, disrupted classes, made it impossible for anyone else to learn and took up all of the teacher’s time, in our school anyway, were sent to the ‘report room’. This was apparently a punishment – to be taken out of the class with their work and sent to a room where they were watched over by a single teacher. So they were taken out of class and forced to do the work they would have otherwise had to do in class anyway. Well. Some punishment.

Later in my school career they introduced an addition to the report room. Repeated offenders, as it were, were taken out of classes completely and placed in a special class on their own with other students of similar behaviour levels so that they wouldn’t disturb other students. A noble objective to be sure. But let’s not forget the fact that this meant the ‘bad’ kids were being taken out of regular classes and placed in smaller classes as a punishment for bad behaviour. I don’t know about anyone else, but being in smaller classes with better and easier student to pupil interaction sounds like more of a reward than a punishment to me. Meanwhile, all the ‘good’ kids like me are stuck in classes of 20+ students, at the least, with teachers who, in my honest opinion, quite often really don’t care about the subject they’re teaching or whether they are giving their students the appropriate knowledge or not. Right. This sounds fair doesn’t it?

Just for the icing on the cake, our school THEN decided that, as a reward for their ‘improved’ behaviour, this special class got a nice shiny reward of a trip to Alton Towers. Hm. Something strikes me as rather odd here. Let’s weigh up what our school said to the two respective classes shall we.

To the special class: “Well, you’ve behaved badly, but since you’ve been behaving better recently we’re going to take you Alton Towers as a reward.”

To the normal class: “...” Yeah. Silence. That’s what we got. No recognition of good behaviour or anything.

This is just stupid in my opinion. Why should schools reward badly behaved pupils who then decide to act normal for a change. Why don’t the ones who behaved all along get the same treatment? The most we ever got was an extra revision book in History class and a revision/study residential weekend trip to Matlock in Year 11 just before the exams. I don’t know about anyone else but I’d take Alton Towers any day.