« May 2009 | Main | May 2012 »

June 19, 2009

Grazing and Plugging

Phone pic of some of Dengue Fever at Pure GrooveI didn't have time to plug Dengue Fever before yesterday's show at the Scala, but what you need to know is this: Andy Kiang of Proper has been telling me how good they are for a while, and finally persuaded me to go to a free record shop gig on Wednesday. Since when I have downloaded three of their albums from eMusic and have been listening to Dengue Fever pretty much solidly. So yup, they rocked and I felt enormously lucky and privileged to be seeing them at the very front of a crowd of about 80 or so. No Spotify for Dengue Fever but you can download a lossless live version of their song Tiger Phone Card from the also awesome B&W Society of Sound.

The record shop in question was Pure Groove in Farringdon. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what a record shop was like; Pure Groove is not like that at all. It consists of an shop-sized open space (they put a few cafe tables in it during the day) with a stage at one end, some comfy chairs, magazines and so on, and a counter down one side behind which is a small selection of interesting rarities, vinyl, signed CDs, t-shirts and so on, a coffee machine and some beer. It reminded me strongly of I Knit London, though the space in the middle is optomised for listening to live music rather than for knitting. They have a in-store gig every evening (and many lunchtimes), they sell nice bottled beer and some snacks, and they're clearly a fantastic place to just chill.

I couldn't get to the Scala because I was off seeing the Greek Theatre Players, slightly displaced this year from the Greek Theatre. This was The Comedy of Errors, marvellously played. My heart sank when I saw that nobody else had brought kids; but Marianne enjoyed it all and even Jonathan enjoyed the second half, once we'd said "Right. There are *two* sets of twins." If you're taking kids, even teenagers, to The Comedy of Errors I would recommend explaining Egeon's initial speech to them in advance because it's long and hard for kids to follow and without the set up the entire play is incomprehensible. Once again I benefitted from my appalling ignorance of Shakespeare; most of the ending is telegraphed long in advance, but I got to enjoy one delightful reveal. Another benefit of advancing years is that Shakespeare's language, which I remember struggling with in school, seems to me pellucid now. You can catch The Comedy of Errors tonight or tomorrow at the Holy Family College in Church Hill Road, Walthamstow, or on Sunday at the Capel Manor Gardens.

A Graze BoxFinally, I must mention Graze, who send little boxes of tasty treats to your home or workplace. Each box has three things to graze on, a mixture of fresh and dried fruit, nuts, seeds, little yoghurt coated things, and so on. There's loads of different possibilities, you can rate items to get them more or less often or not at all, and the presentation is lovely. The boxes are £2.99 each, which is pretty comparable to what the same sort of thing would cost you from, say, Marks and Sparks or Pret. I'm in two minds about Graze. On the one hand this is fantastic stuff to get you through the work day, far better than crisps and choccy bars, and I love getting the boxes through the door. On the other hand this is a lot more expensive than, say, peeling and chopping fresh pineapple yourself, so if you're committed to the cult of Cheap then it's clearly not for you. I have a code -- 3GH2D5JE -- if you enter that on the website you can get a first box free to try, and a second box half-price.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2009

Two adult games and a tantalising preview

When GTA: Chinatown Wars was released, people looked closely to see whether an 'adult' game would sell on the Nintendo DS. It was the first 18 rated game on the DS, better known for bouncy plumbers and the like. It got fantastic reviews, but the skeptics were right; it has not sold particularly well, and has been marked down to £9.99 on Amazon.

I was intrigued by the reviews so I got a copy, despite a longstanding hate of both driving games and crime simulations (I'm very law-abiding). It is fantastic fun and well worth a tenner. It is possibly a bit immoral; you certainly find yourself gunning down people with abandon, and although the drug-dealing sub-game is 'optional', you will quickly find yourself unarmed and penniless if you don't join in. There's a good range of missions and some of the plotting is genuinely funny. GTA is famed for its sandboxes and there are lots of fun things you can do in this game that have nothing to do with the main plot. For example, all the service vehicles can be stolen and then used, so you can drive a cab and pick up fares, drive a police car and respond to crimes, drive a fire engine and put out fires, and so on. And the pacing is fantastic for a DS game; you can pick it up and have fun in just a few minutes. The graphics beat anything I've previously seen on the DS by some margin too; Liberty City is huge, and it's all distinctive, and I don't know how they have done it.

GTA: Chinatown Wars is an adult game that says 'here, come and play at doing things you'd never dream of doing in real life, in a ludicrous fantasy world where you are much tougher than a pack of hardened goons, your car automatically drives in a straight line and nobody fires straight.' One of the reasons that people criticise GTA is that it 'glamorises' crime but I think it is just doing the same thing as any simulation game; making a hard thing (making crime pay) seem much easier, just like Guitar Hero or Wii Tennis.

In other adult gaming news, I'm playing the new Mac version of Braid, the thinky, philosophical puzzle game disguised as a platformer. The premise is that of Super Mario; Tim (I do not know whether Tim is a plumber by trade) has lost his princess and is searching for her. He has to collect jigsaw pieces which are cashed in for the ending, and like in Prince of Persia, he can rewind time to avoid getting killed by monsters. That description misses out three key things. The first is that rewinding time is not merely a death-avoidance gimmick. In practice you have to rewind time, in many and variously tricky ways, to solve the puzzles, nearly all of which are fiendish. The second is that this game is exceptionally beautiful, and I am a sucker for pretty games. And the third, of course, is that Tim is not an uncomplicated little plumber. The game is framed with his ruminations on time, loss, princesses, and the general weight of living. The game has an ending, which I have been somewhat spoilt for by randomly wambling round the internet; so you will want to be careful about that.

I downloaded the demo and was hooked; it does not feel to me particularly pricey at $14.99 but perhaps I am an easy target. I understand it crashes on many Macs; fortunately not on mine. Most of the puzzles (but not all) are self-contained and lend themself to prolongued thought; this is a game where setting it down, going away for a while and returning often renders an impossible scene straightforward. There is a puzzle early in Braid which is widely decried as unfair; I solved it without help and was enchanted when I did it. I think I've collected about half the puzzle pieces now. These puzzles are difficult, and the learning curve is quite brutal. The designer, rather arrogantly, has released a 'walkthrough' that says, roughly, all the puzzles are fair, figure it out and don't use a walkthrough.

Braid then, is an adult game about the nature of gaming, and about life. It is saying 'games can tell us about our life' and a deliberately artificial situation can nevertheless teach us profound lessons that are similar to those acquired from a movie or book. I do not doubt that this is true of games in general; I am not yet sure it is true of Braid.

And finally, the gameplay trailer for The Beatles: RockBand is jolly great and I'm sure the game will be fine. But the opening cinematic is just extraordinary. I'm only a moderate fan of the Beatles and I'm seriously excited.

Posted by Alison Scott at 03:13 PM | Comments (2)

June 02, 2009

Two of those big yellow taxi moments

eMusic has finally hooked a major label, and will shortly have Sony back catalogue. In return, they are 'adjusting' their prices in two directions; plan costs rise, and tracks per plan reduce. There's no sign that existing users will be grandfathered. Like many longstanding emusic regulars, I have the October 2006 email that guarantees to honour my existing plan as long as my account is in good standing -- US members have been told that these plans are now being 'retired' which is an interesting use of the word 'guarantee' that m'learned friends are now considering. People with grandfathered plans like mine are facing typically a doubling of per-price track. Guess what, chaps? If I download 45 tracks instead of 90, you do not make any more money. If I download 0 tracks instead of 90, which is not impossible, you make less. The good news is that there will, finally, be a per album price for some albums with many tracks. So, we shall see. It seems very strange given Spotify, too; but yes, I have a workaround where I can listen to albums on Spotify and then choose whether or not to buy them.

Meanwhile, I learn that Birdsong Radio has gone off the air. Since getting a radio that could have multiple alarms tuned to different stations, we used this as our weekend 'alarm'; instead of being woken suddenly by music we were woken gently by birdsong. Apparently some radios do it themselves now, and this radio can use music on an SD card as an alarm. But still.

Posted by Alison Scott at 09:12 AM | Comments (1)