Saturday, 19 August 2017

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (Mental Illness)

This blog entry contains spoilers. While it's not intended as a full game review specific events within the story are mentioned.

"This place, it reminds her of the isolating suffocating darkness she lived through as a young girl. Imprisoned in her room at night, the faces in the dark, coming through the walls. She once thought everyone could see them. I mean, that's what children say all the time isn't it? That there are monsters in the dark. By the time she realised that only she could see them, her father, Zynbel, could see the monster in her." - This quote taken from the game reminded of my own childhood particularly the line "She once thought everyone could see them."

Hellblade is a very unusual game and is nothing like I expected it to be. Initially I thought it to be a sequel of Heavenly Sword due to its title, the likeness of the main character, and the company Ninja Theory that made both games. I was totally wrong in that assumption but from what people have been saying online I'm not the only one who believed that.

Upon starting the game there are references to mental illness, even stating the names of mental illness advisers during the opening credits. I did feel this was a little odd and wondered if Ninja Theory were just covering their backs due to mental illness being part of the story. In fact during the opening of the game and the initial levels there isn't much related to mental illness at all and it simply plays as a conventional sword fight hack-and-slash type game. Parts of the game play as a puzzler where runes have to be found to decode the patterns upon doors. Senua also appears to talk to herself a lot, albeit within her head, but no more so than Gollum from Lord Of The Rings. In fact I even stopped playing for a while as the game didn't intrigue me in terms of the story or the playability. I wanted to explore but there was nothing to find only the symbols to open the obligatory locked door.

There were also some game bugs, and a number of typos and word changes within the game's subtitles. These weren't particularly annoying but I tend to notice things like that. Luckily the much talked about game breaking bug was patched before I reached the part of the game that was effected by it.

However, after the two initial areas of the game, it appears to change in the way it plays and the solutions to the door puzzles become more elaborate. It's subtle at first but before long it becomes apparent that Senua's internal voices have personalities of their own sometimes wishing to help her and sometimes being downright spiteful and laughing at her misfortune. They even discuss what would happen to them if Senua died. They would die too. At one point Senua turns her head and replies verbally to something they said. This reaches its climax when they take on a form of their own and talk to her face to face begging her to not proceed. I had tears in my eyes, it's a powerful scene.

Many games have strange weird monsters but the more progress made through this game the more it becomes clear that everything may be in Senua's imagination. Later in the game a flashback scene involving her mother reveals what caused Senua's mental trauma to begin with, but that may have tipped the balance of an already disturbed mind.

The ending is a little open ended and open to interpretation. I like to think she was re-enacting her memories during a vision quest and was never really in any physical danger. But she was bloody and still had the burn of rot upon her arm so I may be wrong.

Luckily I've never experienced audible hallucinations and while I've seen a lot of frightening things over the years they have all been totally silent. But I do identify with the notion of hallucinations having personalities of their own even to the extent of them feeling fear. This game is really spot on with how they managed to tell the story of a traumatised woman dealing with her delusions. It's not something that film and TV appear to deal with properly. The genre of a game is much more personal with the player experiencing what the main character is going through, seeing through their eyes, experiencing what they are going through.

There's a stigma that surrounds mental illness with people not wishing to talk about it hoping that it will go away. Then there are people who will wear a label of mental illness like a badge with a self diagnosed illness they read about online being their flavour of the month. In many ways it's a double edged sword.

I enjoyed this game, not the sword fighting so much, but the story itself. I'll likely play it again in the coming months.

Senua gets caught in the pouring rain.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The London Film & Comic Con 2017

Last Sunday I attended the London Film & Comic Con with my brother. I was cosplaying as Lara Croft and he was dressed as The Bride from Kill Bill. We were very late on account that there was a cycling event taking place in London at the same time causing a lot of bridge closures. It would have been good to have had more time as it's such a large event. The cake stall had already run out when we arrived at 2.30 or so in the afternoon.

At a previous event we both cosplayed as Star Trek characters and were very popular with people stopping and asking to have a photo taken with us, but that paled into insignificance compared to this time. It seems guys dressed as female characters are hugely popular and we were constantly asked for posed photos and selfies. Sarah Douglas (from Superman 2) even wolf whistled us.

I didn't take many photos myself because we were hurrying to see as much as possible and we also wanted to buy a lot of stuff. I wanted to get some anime DVDs but there didn't appear to be a specific stall that sold any. I did manage to get a lot of Japanese sweet though with was nice.

We met an author named Laura Morgan and had a chat about her books and I mentioned I was also a keen author. She left a message in the book I purchased along with her autograph saying 'good luck with your stories.' The book I bought is called Embracing The Darkness. I'm a fast reader but alas I have yet to begin reading it as I'm still partially through another book.

I also bought an art book about fairies and a metal poster of a fairy. A lot of modern depictions of fairies tend to be goth women with wings but the art book varies greatly in its content. I also had it signed by both the artists whose pictures it depicts.

My brother bought a Elsa (from Frozen) children's dress which was a bargain for £5. In fact there were a lot of similar dresses on that stall for a similar price. Often prices at conventions are expensive (£25 for a Hello Kitty mug, £30 for a hentai comic for example), yet unusually that stall was full of bargains. He was even given a free Spiderman pencil set.

Neither of us got any celebrity autographs this year. I was intending to get Tia Carrere's but she cancelled a few weeks before the event. We were also keeping our spending to a minimum.

I'm not sure what we'll cosplay as next time. I may go as Lara again but I'm not sure.

I cosplayed as Lara Croft.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Ghost In The Shell (2017)

This is a spoiler free review. I won't mention any specifics about the plot itself. There is an amazing story twist at the end of the movie which would be ruined if known beforehand.

I've always been a big fan of anime. Ghost In The Shell was one of the first animes I ever saw and it's still the best. As well as the original anime there's also been a partial remake of the original called Ghost In The Shell 2.0, a sequel called Innocence, a series called Stand Alone Complex, a second series called Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, an abridged version of the first series known as The Laughing Man, an abridged version of the 2nd Gig series known as The Individual Eleven, a movie length spin off of the series called Solid State Society and a totally new series called Ghost In The Shell Arise. Then of course there's the original manga comics. There are three story cannons in the animes so it can get a little confusing.

When the live action movie was announced I was excited but at the same time apprehensive especially when I heard Scarlett Johansson would play the lead role. There was also a lot of heated discussion online about Hollywood whitewashing movies and not understanding the nuances and culture of anime. There were requests to boycott the movie.

When the trailer was released I felt a little easier as it was clear that the movie was set in Japan and while a lot of the cast weren't Japanese there was still as least some respect paid of the original anime. I decided not to read any reviews or watch anything more about the movie until it came out so I could have a genuine unbiased opinion of it. I didn't see it at the cinema and instead waited until it came out on DVD/Blu-ray.

I'll likely receive a lot of hate for saying this, especially from anime fans, but I enjoyed the movie. In fact I loved it and will certainly watch it again. Incidentally if you've never seen the Ghost In The Shell anime you'll likely enjoy it even more as you won't be comparing scenes and instead feel you're watching something totally new.

There's a lot of CGI, especially the opening scenes, which gives it an unintentional animated look to it which is a little off putting for a live action movie. The way the movie's lit reminded me a little of The Matrix while the overall style was an exaggerated look of the anime resulting in a Blade Runner feel.

The story begins with an unseen accident where upon a woman is rushed to the hospital having almost drowned. Both her parents died in the accident. She comes too and is shocked to discover she's been placed inside a robot body. A year later she joins a police unit known as Section 9 where upon she swears that she will get revenge upon the terrorist that killed her parents. That's the opening of the movie and I won't say any more than that because of spoilers.

Scarlett Johansson plays the lead character Major Mira Killian and is convincing in her role being both tough and venerable at the same time. The movie also respects the anime in that it's not all about action, there's a lot of computer hacking and intelligence gathering too.

A lot of the scenes are similar to scenes from the original anime as well as its sequel, but shown in a completely different setting. These could be seen as a homage, to please the existing fans, but on a personal level I would have preferred if everything was totally new. It could also be seen as a prequel to the anime especially due to the way it ends, but to be honest it doesn't really matter. With the original anime having three story cannons having a movie outside of that doesn't effect it.

In summary if you're a fan of the anime don't judge this movie until you've seen it in its entirety, but if you've never seen the anime then you're still going to enjoy it.

The Major needs repairs.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Until Dawn (Game Review)

This is a spoiler free review.

I downloaded this game recently because I'm into survival horror games but mainly because it was free on PS4 if you have PlayStation Plus. I've very mixed opinions about this game ranging from "It's a boring pile of poo" to "This is a fantastic game."

The game is about a group of friends who are staying at a lodge in Canada on a snow covered mountain. Due to a prank gone wrong two of the friends go missing which results in their deaths. Their brother reunites the group a year later as a mark of respect with them staying at the same location as before. Then a psycho starts stalking them and killing them gruesomely. As the story moves on there are multiple plots, subplots and twists which I won't mention to avoid spoilers.

When I first started playing I was instantly reminded of the Telltale Game series. It's more of an interactive story than a conventional game. The pacing is excruciatingly slow as the characters are introduced. They spend most of their time arguing and there's not a likeable character among them. This may be intentional as their personalities change depending on the events going on around them and the player's choices. The player has no choice as to which player to be as the game will change from one to another as you progress.

As the game progresses there is more to do than simply react to what the characters are saying and it plays more like a conventional game albeit with quicktime events for a lot of the action. Press triangle, press square, press circle, etc to climb a wall. There are lots of things to pick up too which give clues as to what it going on.

The game's divided into episodes when you can select once you've completed it. I did find the "Story so far" summary beginning each episode annoying however as they interrupted gameplay. I found the therapist character equally annoying as he often appeared at the most inappropriate of times.

On the main menu is the option to see how the game was made and to see the voice actors. That was very interesting and a surprise that they used their true likeness as characters within the game.

I managed to finish the game with two characters surviving, it is possible for them all to survive depending on the decisions you make so I'm certainly going to play it again at a later date. I did enjoy it once the action got going but I'm sure the slow pacing and annoying characters put a lot of players off. 

Ashley is spooked by a rocking horse.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Why I Don't Use Goodreads

Generally speaking I use my own website to promote my books along with Facebook and Twitter but I have looked at Goodreads in the past but felt it wasn't for me. There are two ways to sign up, you can use it to read and review books or you can sign up as an author to specifically promote your own work. I didn't really like it due to the fact that there's no requirement to purchase a book before leaving a review. They also group books together by author name meaning that my books will be in a list along with every other author named Raymond Johnson. Just a quick Google search will reveal at least seven authors of that name. It's never really bothered me as Amazon Kindle's listings don't work that way and know the difference between one author and another of the same name.

I've used Lulu Forums to discuss book issues in the past, especially when I was starting out, and I found them to be invaluable with kind, friendly people giving advice. I've also used Amazon Kindle Forums but found a lot more spiteful comments among the good. It just seems to be the way that an unmoderated forum attracts more trolls. I'm unaware if Goodreads is moderated or not but from what I gather it seems it's not.

There's been some controversy recently and Twitter arguments about two authors who share the same name, with one accusing the other of plagiarism, while those in defence accusing the other of homophobia.

I'm lucky to avoid this kind of nonsense with my own books but I do wonder if other authors named Raymond Johnson often get annoyed with me. Maybe similar things have happened that I've been totally oblivious of. Sometimes I do get very odd reviews of my books. The strangest was a review that said "This reads more like a horror than a romance" when the book was about sailors being attacked by mermaids and sirens. Why they thought it was intended to be romantic is lost on me.

Anyway back to my point. If you do find authors named Raymond Johnson on Goodreads it's not me for I never use it. they may even have my books listed among their titles but it's simply down to the way Goodreads works. They are not stealing my books or my reputation. If you purchase a book within Goodreads it will still link to the correct author in the Kindle website.

Take Goodreads reviews with a pinch of salt.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Feeling Nostalgic

I've been feeling nostalgic recently. I think it was an episode of Dr Who that caused it because he met a previous incarnation of himself, his first self in fact, that's been making me think about the past. I know I've made lots of mistakes over the years, and while it's important not to dwell upon them it is still important to learn from them.

I've been playing Perfect Dark Zero on the Xbox 360. Apparently it's also available on the Xbox One and the way it's designed Xbox One and Xbox 360 players can play together. While the game isn't as popular as when it first came out it is still more popular that it has been recently due to Xbox One players joining in. It's probably getting on for about ten years now since that game come out, which in gaming terms is a long time.

I've also been playing a game called Los Amores De Brunilda on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega. I suppose technically this doesn't count as nostalgia because it's not a game I've played in the past and it was created in 2013 but the fact that it's been created for the Sinclair Spectrum it kind of has that retro feel. In fact a lot of the games on the Spectrum Vega were created relatively recently. I've been tempted to make some myself, specifically for the Vega, but even the simplest of games require a lot of time and patience. I could probably write a full novel in less time than making a game from scratch. I do miss those days though, I loved making adventure games. However an adventure game with eighty locations required at least eighty pictures and would take over a month to draw. I wish everyone was taught how to program just so they'd realise how much work it actually consists of.

There are some things that I don't think twice about doing yet in some ways could be considered nostalgic to others. For instance even though I watch movie downloads, blu-rays and DVDs I still have a video recorder and lots of tapes. I occasionally buy anime on video if it's not available in any other format. I've also got audio tapes as well as CDs.

I know I'm getting older yet I feel the same inside. I could mention I'm balding with a fat belly but I've been balding with a fat belly for years. My physical health is good with no aches or pains. People in my family are getting older, children are growing up, and new children are being born. I feel I've stayed the same but I've probably changed in ways I've not noticed.

I appear to have gone off subject with this blog entry. I think the point that I'm making is that it's good to keep up with the latest technology but it doesn't have to be at the expense of previous tech. And no matter how old you get you still feel the same on the inside.

Old bodies with young minds.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The UK Novel Writing Competition

About a year ago or so I entered the UK Novel Writing Competition. The unique feature of this competition is that the public are the judges and anyone can sign up to read these books. Also the authors' names aren't included with the book titles as to avoid anyone being influenced. It also meant I had to keep quiet about it in case it would be seen as me trying to promote my book if any of the judges came across my website, Twitter or blog.

There were three rounds to this competition and I managed to get to the final round but alas I didn't win. Out of 3112 entries I managed to get into the top 25 so it was still quite an achievement.

The book is called Effluo Insula or Effluo Insula: Vern's Tale to give it its full title. It's available on Amazon Kindle as an ebook and on Lulu in printed form. It's essentially a fantasy novel about a mysterious island, cultists and a monster troll containing lots of sword fighting and a very unexpected twist at the end. The two sequels are the same story told from different character perspectives.

Needless to say I'm going to take part in a lot of other book competitions. Just the thought of so many people enjoying my book is what keeps me motivated.

My book.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Lara Croft Crossplay

In July I'll be attending the London Film & Comic Convention. It's a place where people dress up, meet celebrities, buy loads of comics and do all kinds of nerdy stuff. It's lots of fun and it's good to meet other people with similar interests. It usually takes place twice a year but sometimes just once. The London Film & Comic Con is pretty much the best of its kind. There are other conventions around the country but they tend to be far more packed with huge crowds whereas the London conventions tend to take place at larger venues. Having said that though it's still the kind of event that's difficult to get through in just once day so people often attend on all three days.

I always dress in cosplay. In fact if you're a shy person it's far easier to dress up in something outrageous as it's less conspicuous that wearing normal attire. Most people are in costume after all. There are often Star Wars Stormtroops walking around as well as Darth Vader, Batman, Spiderman and all kinds of anime cosplayers attending.

My default cosplay, if I can't think of what to wear, is to shave my head bald and dress as Captain Picard from Star Trek. I've also gone as Data from Star Trek, The Laughing Man from Ghost In The Shell, Tracer from Overwatch and Faith from the game Mirror's Edge.

This year however I'm being sponsored, in other words dared, to dress is Lara Croft. The money raised will go to MIND. I've always wanted to go as Lara but her outfit is far more complicated than anything I've worn before. When I cosplayed as Faith it was essentially cargo pants, black vest and a cheap wig. Tracer from Overwatch was essentially a jacket. Captain Picard was far the easiest in terms of the costume itself.

But this outfit is far more complicated. I'll be going as the traditional Lara with light blue vest, brown shorts, boots, gun holsters with guns, a backpack, red lens sunglasses, a wig and a backpack. Technically the vest should be a leotard but no one will notice if I use a vest and it'll be more comfortable. There's also breasts and a bra to deal with.

I've been looking online at other Lara Croft crossplayers and many are male equivalents looking somewhat like Nathan Drake in stead of Lara. There's a crossplayer in particular who goes by the name EmperorMossy on Deviant Art. His crossplay is brilliant. The link is here. He even wears makeup which I certainly am not able to do.

So far I have a brilliant Lara Croft wig, a blue vest and the gun holsters with 'blue' guns. I've still got a lot more to buy before I can put the outfit together.

The traditional Lara outfit.