Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

29 March, 2012

Five of a Thing: Myst Ages

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Since I wrote Monday’s post, my head’s been stuck in the Myst series, going over the plot and characters once more, remembering when I first played the games and how much story there is to explore in them. Since I am short on time today, and need to crank out another of my emergency lists, I’m going to list my top five favourite Myst Ages. My own Five Classics, as it were. Maybe that’ll shake me out of this track and allow me to move on to other things.

Or not, this might just become a Myst blog.

Anyways, top five Ages. For reasons I’m sure will be obvious, I’ll start the list with the digit one, and leave the top favourite for number five.

1 – Amateria

Myst III: Exile sneaks onto the list with Amateria, which is just such a beautiful age, filled with weird contraptions and cool concepts. It’s puzzles are decent, and it has what is possibly the best exit of any Myst age.


2 – D’ni

Yeah, maybe I’m cheating here. This encompasses both the D’ni caverns, with Ae’gura, K’veer, and the Kadish Library, as well as the Cleft, Tomahna, and anything else I’ve forgotten, but as it is technically all one big age, I think I get away with it. Each of those places are different from the other, and they all have cool aspects to them, so when you put it all together, it makes the list. Plus, it includes this music:


3 – Minkata

Great concept, great visuals, and really fantastic music. The endless windswept desert, where you can run around and get thoroughly lost, houses a really clever puzzle, which also makes total sense in the context of the Age (it was a training grounds for the Guild of Surveyors). While Uru still ran, I would sometimes just go to Minkata and leave it open while I did other stuff, just for the beauty of it.


4 – Myst

Where it all began. Included not just because of what it is, as a section of the game, but for waht it represents, as the heart of the Myst series. This is the place where it all went wrong, where something good became something horrible, and the ghost of Myst Island remains throughout the series, and then all the way through Uru and into Myst 5. This was the gateway into the adventure, into the story, and the first introduction to the twisted family at the heart of it. It is so pretty and innocent and sad, it couldn’t go any lower on the list than this.


5 – Riven

If you looked at the previous post at all, where I declared Riven the best game ever made, I doubt this came as much of a surprise. I think I said what I need to say in that post, so I won’t repeat myself here. To add to what is found in the game, there’s all we learn about Riven in the books, which makes it all the more cooler, and tragic. Leaving Riven in the end isn’t as visually impressive as Amateria, but it means a lot more.

As for honourable mentions, there were quite a few that almost made the list. The 233rd Age would have been on it if it hadn’t been so limited in the game; it reaches honourable mention on the strength of its concept and great look alone. Todelmer could also have defended a place on this list on those grounds, if not on others.

I now hope all my readers go out and play the games and read the books and make their own lists. A week or two should suffice, yes?

26 March, 2012

Musings on the Fifth Age

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

The best game ever made is Riven.

Okay, even as I type that, a bunch of qualifiers spring to mind. I am using “games” in a rather narrow sense, excluding board games and, you know, tag. What I’m talking about is what the kids aren’t calling video games, the kind you play on a computer or a console. That’s where Riven is the best.

Yeah, okay, some more qualifiers. Riven is 15 years old now, and it’s showing its age in comparison with more recent releases. The graphics, which were absolutely stunning top-shelf stuff in 1997, now pale in the face of what more computer power can do. The pre-rendered environments are a chapter we’ve left behind, and the point-and-click interface is on the old-fashioned end of what is now an unpopular choice to begin with. In terms of game-play and technology there’s been innovation, is what I’m saying, and Riven‘s been surpassed in that area. Where I don’t think it has been surpassed is in terms of interactive storytelling.

You can have games without any sort of story, like Tetris, where you’re essentially just solving a puzzle, like a Rubik’s Cube, but I can’t get very invested in that. It’s in interactive storytelling games as a medium shine, and Riven tells its story so well it’s mind-boggling. The Myst series in general has an excellent story, and a fantastic way of telling it, but it is Riven which is the pinnacle of achievement. As Riven is the second game in the series, that might sound a bit damning of the following games, but they are still very good games; they just don’t reach as high as the champion. Bronze in the Olympics is still a great achievement.

A Journey Cloth

The hand print glows in the dark! Of course, Uru isn't really a Myst game, but it's set in the same universe, so I think it counts even so. It also has a pretty good story, which makes sense as its intertwined with the main Myst story, though I still prefer that to the more nebulous and back-story focused Uru. Don't even get me started on the so-called "Myst 5", which can hardly be considered part of that original storyline, and you know what, I'll stop typing now.

I should stop at this point and explain where I’m coming from. I am a huge Myst geek. It ranks very high amongst my favourite stories. I’ve played all the games, read all the books, I’ve dabbled in learning the D’ni language, I have a journey cloth hanging on the wall above my desk, I have given deep and serious thought as to the possible identity of the Stranger, and I still number my lecture notes using D’ni numerals. … Hey, I like having glyphs going to 25! Now, is this excessive fanboyism a bias in declaring Riven the best game ever, or does the fanboyism follow from the fact that the Myst games are indeed the most awesome? I lean to the latter, but crazy people others might disagree.

But back to Riven. What makes Riven such an immersive experience? Why do I think it’s a triumph of interactive storytelling? Well, for one thing it’s extremely tight-lipped when it comes to telling you the story. Like all the Myst games, it just sort of drops you into the world with a few cryptic comments for context, and then leaves it up to the player to figure out what is going on, how the world works and the characters fit into it, and what exactly you’re supposed to achieve. You have to snoop around, look at the environment and the clues you find in it, sneak peeks at letters and private journals and recordings, and piece the bigger picture together yourself. This is where Riven in particular excels – nothing in the game is there for no reason. The attention to detail is amazing, even the bolts keeping pipes together are given a particular shape which makes sense in the context. The puzzles continue that theme, there are no rubber ducks to combine with clothes lines, the puzzles all have a function in the world of the game beyond being a puzzle for the player.

This attention to detail contributes to the overall atmosphere of the game, which might be its main strength. I don’t think I’ve ever seen atmosphere conveyed as effectively as in Riven. Where Myst was a very solitary and lonely experience of exploring abandoned worlds, Riven constantly reminds you that you are not alone. Your every move is being watched. You glimpse people in the distance, who sound alarms at your approach. Villagers are hiding in their huts as you pass through. There are periscopes and cameras, and if you turn around quick enough you can catch a glimpse of Gehn observing you in his temple. The whole thing makes what is actually a very leisurely experience feel very tense. I think I actually shouted in terror the first time I unexpectedly came across a little girl in the forest, I was so startled.

There aren’t a great many characters in the game, but there’s one very important one who is excellent. Exploring Riven is very much a dive into the mind of its master, an exploration of Gehn’s madness and megalomania and obsessions, like his fixation on the number 5. The more you see of the world he considers his greatest creation, the more disturbed he appears – and yet without falling into cartoonish villainy, he is too believable an example of a man corrupted by power. When you finally meet him in the flesh, and he greets you by politely apologising for the cage, I get goosebumps.

I started quite bombastically – I obviously haven’t played every game, or any more than the tiniest fraction of the available market, so my opinion is of somewhat limited value when it comes to handing out Lifetime Achievement Awards to game designers. Riven remains my favourite game, though, and I’ve yet to see a game that seems to come close to its level of storytelling.

Okay, so I guess I ended up writing a review of a game that came out in 1997. Way to be topical, me!

22 March, 2012

A Sigh at Close of Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Oh why, oh why, do error’s missives fly
To plague my screen, all brooding, bleak and dour?
Why must I simply watch the signal die?
I’ve fiddled with the settings for an hour!
Perhaps the mystic box of light’s to blame,
Whence fly the aether’s waves throughout my home?
Or even further, from where first  they came,
The error lies, obscured in hostile gloam?
I’ve run the tests, done all that you propose;
At every turn, a new hope dies, all broken.
Though I’ve been patient, now despair o’erflows;
My sorrow can no longer go unspoken:
I’ve put up with your every little quirk.
Why won’t the friggin’ Internet just work?!

19 March, 2012

Dresden files

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Let me tell you, hypothetical cave person, about the Dresden Files. The Dresden Files is a series of books following the adventures of Harry Dresden, professional wizard and private investigator. He solves crime and wrangles monsters.

It is awesome.

OK, the first couple of books were decent, but not brilliant. They had a simple structure circling around the central case Dresden was on, and not much beyond that. From the third one though, it started growing into something more. The greater hidden world of wizards and faeries and monsters became more defined and arcs began to develop that spanned several books, like the war between the wizards and the vampires. There were still individual cases for each book, but they all began to tie together, as the contours of a magical conspiracy began to emerge. I can’t say too much on the subject, for fear of spoiling, but the story that runs across the whole series is shaping up to be really, really good.

I really enjoy the blend of hard-boiled detective story and fantasy. I have this idea that I don’t really like detective fiction, but since I did enjoy this, and also love the Watch books in Discworld, perhaps I ought to try some plain vanilla detective fiction to see if I’m wrong. Even so, though, it is the fantasy elements that I think really shine. The secret wizard society (which really does in no way resemble the one found in Harry Potter), the vampire courts, and the faeries. The depiction of faeries and their society in particular is inspired.

Harry Dresden himself is also a really good character, the kind of stubborn idiot who insists on doing the right thing,  at times from sheer bloody-mindedness, for fear of what he might end up doing if he did not. It echoes the same conflict in Vimes of Discworld, but is handled differently enough that I only thought of the parallel now, while writing that sentence. I really enjoy reading about him, and hope there will be many more books before the climactic showdown. Yeah, it’s a series so good, I don’t want it to end.

Some of the books I listened to as audiobooks; these were very well done, with James Marsters nailing the voice of Dresden and his world.

I watched a few episodes of the TV adaptation once I was a few books into the series, but I found that disappointing. They had made many changes which seemed quite nonsensical – changing up the best part of the universe, the magical society. The White Council of wizards had become the High Council of vague authority over everything, it was just weird. And a real shame, I think this could have made for a great series.

What am I saying, it has made for a great series – of books! Go read them!

15 March, 2012

I Am Not a Theologian: Literally

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As I sit down to write this, I feel very keenly my lack of learning. I am going to try to say something useful based on opinions that may not be as fully founded as I think they are, and I feel I should admit that up front, so as to defuse my potentially grievous errors before they crop up. Despite these misgivings though, I am going to share some of my half-arsed musings on the divine and internet-assembled philosophy, and hope I manage to convey my point despite my limitations.

I read an article today which said that only 1 in 4 Norwegian Christian leaders interpret the Bible literally. This was presented as if it were some kind of shocking fact, which I suppose it is – I was a bit shocked that the number was that high.

The article did not differentiate based on denomination, it spanned both state church Lutherans and free church pentecostals and probably some other communities as well. I’m from a Lutheran background myself, so I don’t really know too much about what is taught in other denominations, but the idea of taking the creation story literally seems so alien to me. It is the sort of fundamentalism I hear of in the news from the US, thinking those opinions would never be held here. Yet, one in four leaders do hold them! I don’t get it.

I especially don’t get the argument given in the article, that you should read the Bible literally to protect you faith. The man interviewed gives the example of Swedes who lose their faith when confronted with evolution; to avoid this result, one must apparently cling to the literal truth of Genesis. What? How does that make any sense? Only if you do take Genesis literally does science and evolution become a problem. If you assume, reasonably, that the point of the story is not to give a literal account but to convey an underlying truth, there is no conflict.  Why cannot evolution be the literal means of creation?

When it comes to the creation story in particular you encounter problems when taking it literally, because there’s actually two creation stories, right next to each other in Genesis. And they don’t agree. One says there was only water before creation, the other that there was a desolate wasteland. Both cannot be literal truth – another argument for reading them as metaphors, in my opinion.

It must be hard to be a fundamentalist. I certainly don’t understand how it can be maintained. I also don’t understand why fundamentalists get to call themselves the conservatives – Fundamentalism is fairly recent idea. The Catholic church has certainly always held that Scripture is not the sole authority of Faith, but always tempered with the tradition of the Church. QI informed me that the Church of England was quite positive towards Darwin’s theories when he first made them, as they had long tried to encourage a metaphorical reading – but less positive about the harsh and loveless existence implied in survival of the fittest.

As for my own church tradition, Luther did insist on Scripture as the sole authority – but was far from being a fundamentalist. He assigned the various books of the Bible – which is not one book, no matter how many times we claim it is – varying degrees of authority depending on their subject. Only that which pointed towards the essential truth of the loving Christ was considered truly true.

And just to have an aside regarding the main character himself: Jesus, of course, is famous for never speaking in metaphors …

I don’t think much of the Bible was meant to be taken as a literal, historical account. Even the Gospels are less concerned with the sequence of actual events and more with the point they’re trying to convey. History as a discipline or genre didn’t really exist then as it does today, and it is futile to impose our views of academic texts on writings which were never intended to be read that way.

When it comes to the pointless opposition between evolution and creationism, I always return to this quote by St. Augustine, which I’ll use to round off this rambling. I don’t agree with everything Augustine said, not by far, but in this case he’s hit the bullseye:

In the Gospel we do not read that the Lord said, “I send you the Holy Spirit so that he might teach you all about the course of the sun and the moon.” The Lord wanted to make Christians, not astronomers. You learn at school all the useful things you need to know about nature.

Contra Felicem Manichaeum

12 March, 2012

Flippin’ Voltorbs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

If you’ve never lived through the wonderfully frustrating experience of trying to catch a particularly recalcitrant legendary pokémon, I don’t expect you to understand why I hurt my shoulder punching the air after finally bagging Ho-Oh last night.

It had taken me quite some time, you see, and been sufficiently frustrating that I took a couple of very long breaks in the middle. Ho-Oh, like most legendary pokémon has a very low catch rate, meaning that even when it is reduced to a very low health, you need a bunch of tries before it gets successfully caught. Putting a pokémon to sleep, or poisoning or paralysing it can help, but Ho-Oh knows the move Safeguard, which protects it from that kind of tampering. Safeguard has 25 uses, while its other three moves have only 5 uses each, which is significant because once it runs out of moves, it begins to Struggle, which does damage to itself – and when you’re trying to catch it, you’ve likely reduced it as low as you can already. In other words, you have 40 rounds to sufficiently weaken and catch it before it kills itself. There’s only one in the game, so when that happens, you have to shut the game off, and start over from your previous save. But yesterday, I got it at last.

The preceding paragraph is probably one of the geekier things I’ve written, and it makes me seem like a huge pokémon nerd, which I really don’t think I am. The fact that I managed to unload all that might speak against me on this, but looking around at some of the truly dedicated fans, I find myself lacking indeed.

I played pokémon as a child, the Red version to be exact, simply because I liked the colour red better at the time. Later, I also played Silver, because I liked Lugia better than Ho-Oh, not because of a preference in valuable metals. I watched a few episodes of the show, and the first movie, and I dabbled in the trading card game, but it was really the actual games that interested me.

After Silver, which I doubt I fully finished, I took a long break. Not from any resolve or anything, I just didn’t get the next one. It wasn’t until the summer of 2010, when I bought a DS on sale, and a copy of the remake SoulSilver (because Lugia is still better than Ho-Oh) I got the bug again. I played a good deal that summer, but when classes stared up again, it ended up in a drawer. Then a played a bit at Christmas, then back in the drawer till Summer again. This time I didn’t even play at Christmas, but yesterday I got it out of the drawer in a moment of boredom, and set to bringing that dang bird down. Now I’m probably going to keep at it. Not like I’m anywhere near done, I’ve got 195 of the 493 pokémon possible to get in this game.

As usual, I am a generation behind everyone else – I’ll probably get around to trying Black or White when the sequels come out. Actually, I was sort of hoping Nintendo would keep doing remakes of old games, like they did with Gold and Silver, and I could maybe jump in and finally see the Ruby and Sapphire storyline when it came out as EarthRuby and StarSapphire or something along those lines. Doesn’t look like that’s the plan though, so I may as well jump ahead.

Pokémon isn’t really about the story in any case; which is not to say that the story sucks, just that it is not the main selling point. It’s about the collecting, the training up and the cataloguing. I think Pokémon would be a very bad game for someone with real OCD, but for someone like me, it’s perfect. Like I said, I’ve got  I’ve got 195 of 493, can’t stop there! Never mind that getting a perfect score is actually impossible, and getting a high one gets harder and harder as others abandon this generation of games, got to keep going till the bitter end.

Favourite pokémon? From previous comments, you might think it’s Lugia, and Lugia is indeed up there, but the number one spot goes to someone else. The very first I had, and the one I keep going back to – stalwart and trustworthy Bulbasaur. When I was moving away from York, one of my friends even used her mystical baking arts to make this fantastic going-away present:

Bulbasaur cake

It was a shame to eat it, really ...

… dangit, I am a huge pokémon nerd!

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