Look, a video!

This isn’t the reason I’ve been gone so long, editing and recording and perfecting this one video, I’m just generally useless. Anyway, I thought of this yesterday and made it this afternoon. There are links describing what exactly the Bechdel test is in the video description. Do have a gander soonish, it’s not long and possibly amusing. Also I fully expect it to get nuked with copyright claims.


Judgement Time for Dredd


Last week, instead of watching busty Polish milkmaids being sexy with butter churns on the Eurovision Song Contest, I watched a 2012 action film starring Karl Urban. While the movie was less… visually indulgent than that, it was also better paced, more exciting, and had a better soundtrack. I also learnt that Olivia Thirlby is a bit lovely.


And kind of rocks that dirty blonde dye job.

Based on the long-running British comic series of 50% the same name (the other 50% being the prefix “Judge”), Dredd is set in a semi-apocalyptic future America. Mega City One: billions of lives packed into a giant megatropolis stretching from Boston to Washington DC. Policing this sprawl of humanity are the Judges, peacekeepers who use invasive citywide surveillance, lethal force, and on-the-spot sentencing to try and curb the ever escalating crime rate. Every one of them is judge, jury, and frequently executioner (and don’t worry, the film doesn’t miss its opportunity to hammer home that particular expression). We follow Judge Dredd as he and rookie-on-assessment Judge Anderson respond to a triple homicide call at Peach Trees, a towering city block five times the height of normal skyscrapers. Their investigation attracts the attention of Ma Ma, dangerous gang leader and de facto ruler of the Peach Trees block. Allowing the two to leave would mean more Judges returning to end her rule, so Ma Ma traps Dredd and Anderson inside the block and orders her men to hunt them down.

Dredd has been compared a lot to The Raid. Both films came out around the same time and both use the same high concept framing device of a police force getting trapped inside a high-rise controlled by a dangerous gang and having to fight for their survival. While the premise is the same, each film develops it in their own direction. The Raid is a balletic display of the aggression and beauty of martial art pencak silat. Dredd is a straight up 80s-style action flick where the best defence is bullets and sarcasm.

The campy machismo of that decade’s best action pulp runs thick through Dredd. The film has a healthy supply of quips and one-liners, coincidence battles it out with deus ex machina for control of the plot, and the hero characters are almost entirely bulletproof. At one point Dredd runs away from three mini-guns unloading so much ammo at him that they annihilate an entire corner of this incredibly vast complex, killing untold hundreds. He staggers away without a graze on his stubbly chin. In fact, his immediate reaction is to hunt down and unceremoniously chuck the villain’s second-in-command off the central balcony.


Pictured: Dredd, in no danger whatsoever.

What we have then is a better example of a revived 1980s action film than anything Stallone or Schwarzenegger have been involved with recently. Dredd establishes its scenario and then goes, a brisk 90 minutes of energy and movement. There is no lull or downtime, no padding or fat. No subplots to get hung up on or character motivation to get bogged down in. Just premise and resolution.

The plot contains story beats that are overly familiar, but Dredd earns a ton of points by pleasantly subverting them. Take the aforementioned second-in-command. He’s been established in such a fashion that we the audience expect to see him as a “mini-boss” encounter later on, the way that baddies in these films always are. Instead he is abruptly and unexpectedly dealt with and then we move on. There are several scenes just like this, where the traditional narrative of this genre leads you to expect a certain outcome that Dredd eagerly flips the finger to.

Anderson’s character arc is a good example of this: she shows early jitters when the job goes sour and is set up in multiple scenarios as the damsel in distress. Again, the film lets your expectation go hang. Instead of remaining timid or developing “inner strength” while externally remaining weak, Anderson grows into the aggressor role of a Judge, learning the ruthlessness and efficiency of Dredd. She never needs saving, she gets out of messes on her own, and she is more than capable of fucking people up.

This is also indicative of a more modern leaning in Dredd. Unlike the films that serve as its inspiration, women are not sidelined. Of the three main characters, two are women: Olivia Thirlby’s Anderson, and the chief antagonist Ma Ma. Lena Headey’s languid drugged-up performance blends well with the fear inherent in her subordinates; she seems relaxed and softly spoken, but nobody questions her for even a second.


On performances, Karl Urban’s gravelly sarcasm is a perfect fit for the broader strokes of the script. Incidentally, neither the helmet nor the grimace ever come off. That’s proper dedication to accurately portraying your character.

The film generally shies away from CGI. There are two major areas you’ll find it – establishing shots of Mega City One and the Peach Trees tower block, and in the Slo Mo drug sequences – and this is where a certain cheapness lies. The establishing shots aren’t too bad, grimy landscapes that easily establish the scale of the world and how ultimately insignificant individuals are. You don’t spend too long with them, otherwise you’d notice the relative simplicity of the CGI architecture.


By their very nature, the Slo Mo sequences don’t fair as well. One puff of the drug inhaler sees the picture contrast rocket up and playback speed drop to about 30%. Garish colour distortion taints everything. Now I personally quite like this. It’s cheap-looking yes, but in my brain it connects to some element of 90s culture, a kind of angular neon otherness seen in the Wipeout games and Prodigy music videos. One thing we can all agree on though is that the CGI blood in these scenes often looks a bit shite, weirdly rubbery and unreal.

That’s my only real complaint though because I really enjoyed the film. It’s not the best in the world, but nor is it trying to be. With its soundtrack of grumblingly oppressive electronica, its slick and efficient action scenes, and its game cast giving appropriately comic-book-broad performances, Dredd delivers a solid action romp. Popcorn cinema at its finest.

The Fourth of May Be With You

May the Fourth be with you, said the lispy Jedi. Yes, it’s the one day in the year where the American date system is something other that purposefully confusing: Star Wars Day. The title is intentional by the way, because that is the proper way to date things. Anyway, here’s an appropriately themed article to celebrate (and to take my mind off the sudden hayfever attack that has left me sounding like a snotty Darth Vader).

So then: midi-chlorians. The microscopic life-form found in every living being in the galaxy that allows access to the Force when they are in high concentration. They were brought to the attention of the world by a bit of exposition in Episode 1 that stopped mastery of the Force being an egalitarian skill and turned it into a birthright. Because heroes aren’t determined people successfully dealing with difficult situations. They’re genetically destined saviours.


All a bit Aryan ideal.

Here’s what I was thinking instead.

I’d like to think that rather than being the reason why an individual can use the Force, midi-chlorians are simply part of a larger picture. The Jedi Council shown in the prequels is incredibly conservative, frequently burying its head in the sand rather than investigate the rise of Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious and other changes happening in the galaxy. Why? Because they have a system that has been in place for X period of time and has served them perfectly well, and midi-didians are part of that. Given the Jedi Council’s role in the films, Palpatine would have been tested before being allowed into office, lest someone with Force powers started mind-controlling the Senate into doing their bidding. A high concentration would have meant instant disbarring from holding office or at least arousal of suspicion, but if Midi-Pyrénéesians weren’t the be all and end all Lucas has ret-conned the series to make them, then a Palpatine with a low blood concentration would have been able to sneak by the Jedi Council. That would be why they didn’t suspect him when the shit really started hitting the hyperdrive.

I have more defence for the Mini-Clubmans. If they were part of the reason the Force can be manipulated but not the entire reason, it explains the various characters throughout the films that are resistant to Jedi suggestion. Maybe Jabba the Hutt had a super high concentration of midi-musicians in his blood, but because he never trained in the Force (or some other reason or combination thereof) he didn’t have any actual abilities. If there were multiple reasons behind the Force (some clear, some murky, and some unknown entirely), it would return the power to a more classless democratic standing too.

I had these ideas and more in mind, and I was planning to flesh them out in honour of the day (not necessarily because they’re any good, but I needed something to do while my allergy tablets kicked in).

Then I did some Googling on the subject because I am a diligent researcher.

This has depressed me.

Now I really hope J.J. Abrams just ignores the whole mess.

NPFC: Assorted Thoughts of a Crap Manager #1

The first match the Revolutions won was a surprise.


Before this, the total number of goals scored by the club was 3.

I was right to expect great things from the pairing of Jung and Hermann as they’ve both become real assets to the team, with Vink leading the midfield to provide a third reliable goal scorer (admittedly the above screenshot doesn’t show any of the three players I’ve mentioned scoring, but shush). Some problems have arisen in said midfield however. More than half of them are out of the game right now, mostly through injury (except for Grant who has a red card as well). This is my fault for overtraining them and leaning on their strength to prop up my middling defence. Now I’m left with the dregs that I’ve been keeping on the bench. In other words, I’m pretty boned.

I’ve been playing a lot less friendly matches than I did when I first started the game, which is what sent my manager approval rating tumbling because I lost all of them. Now I have a better handle on what I’m doing, playing practise matches against higher league opponents to earn training cards without damaging my reputation with a loss, I’m up to about 50% approval. This is a clear improvement over most of the fans hating my guts.

I’ve changed the club emblem and kit so much that we’ve got more of an identity crisis than Cardiff City. And I may well change it again, because I can’t quite get it right. The game does its damnedest to build empathy and a sense of ownership over the club, which escalates naturally as you spend time watching them play. Sadly though, the painfully limited customisation options leave it difficult to make your club look distinctly yours. Kit customisation isn’t too bad, offering a decent number of patterns and a somewhat limited colour palette of 12. Designing a club emblem is less good. Let’s say you want a dragon on it.


There are three colourisation options here and none relate to the dragon.

You can totally have a dragon, but it will be this size, in this location, and no you may not choose what colour it will be. You may change the colour of the circlet behind the dragon, from that same measly colour palette. Same goes for the logos with trophy cups, anchors, skull and crossbones, damn near all of them. There are lots of options here, but little in the way of personalisation. I can see the Nintendo logic of not offering too comprehensive an emblem designer in a family friendly game that has an online component, lest younger fans face off against a team with a disturbingly veiny logo, but not even allowing you to recolour a stinking lightning bolt when the game desperately wants you to get attached to your club is disappointing.


The current Revolutions emblem. There are a few designs that do allow you to choose a letter as centrepiece for your emblem. That’s as personalised as you can get.

I really wish there was a “dispute” button to hammer on when you’re flagged offside. The Revolutions have definitely been on the wrong end of some iffy linesmen. I don’t necessarily want it to change the decision, I just wish to make my dissatisfaction clear. Part of being a great manager is having an epic shit-fit on the sidelines, right?

Nintendo Pocket Football Club and the Humble Beginnings of [Insert Team Name Here]

I was drawn to Nintendo Pocket Football Club on 3DS (or NPFC so as not to wear out my keyboard) the same way I was drawn to its Japan-only predecessor, Game Boy Advance game Calciobit: I really like the art style.


More iffy photos of the screens I’m afraid. I should write about some PS Vita games, you can save screenshots directly on the system and transfer them easily onto PC and they look lovely and everything… Ahem. This is the main menu; the buildings on the bottom screen represent things like training, play a match, manage the team etc.

The meat of NPFC is a light form of football management. During actual games, your interaction is limited to substituting tired players and changing team tactics. Off the pitch, you can train your players using cards that you earn during the matches. Managerial commentary from your Mii will pop up at random points, each opinion coming with an associated training. “The lads look knackered, best get them doing some Running training”, he paraphrased. Each training boosts one or several of seven stats that make up the skills of each player.


Skills include kicking, speed, toughness, and are each ranked from E to S depending on how good the player is.

While there is plenty of training you can give, it can often feel like you’re piddling into a rather stiff breeze. Skills are slow to level, and the minimal interaction during matches can leave you feeling irritatingly distanced from your team. What does capture you though is seeing your players in action. Goal celebrations are utterly charming acted out by these chunky stylised pixels, and I’ve found myself grumbling impotently as my players make bad decisions or the ball pings off the opponent’s crossbar, or delightedly mouthing praise for good passing and deft runs. Though it takes some time, you will start to see personality in the randomised sprites in the way they play and how they act with each other. If you were looking for a cutesy Football Manager, NPFC probably isn’t for you as it’s nowhere near that deep. It is however fairly perfect for someone like me, somewhat aware of football and not inherently dismissive of it, but also not a big football fan. A flipping casual football watcher.

I chose to name my team for a real life one that I was involved with some years ago: a small community startup called New Age Revolutions, playing in grey and red with a gear wheel for a logo. Purportedly this was to represent the industrial heritage of the area (the revolutions of the gear and such). Really it came from the chairman being quite into Che Guevara at the time. I was the club secretary officially, but despite our various titles we were just a bunch of teenaged mates who thought it’d be cool to give the whole thing a shot. I only attended one match, the first New Age Revolutions played. We lost, 30 odd-to-1. Though my memory might be generous thinking we even scored once. We were astoundingly shit by any standard, and the team quickly fizzled out after that.


Back of the net! You can save replays of favourite games or goals for later perusal (hence why this picture looks even blurrier, it’s of a video).

My digital Revolutions (just Revolutions, due to a character limit on naming your team) aren’t quite that bad, but we have yet to win a game. To date, we have scored three goals total and our best result is a 1-all draw. I got my star forward injured two weeks before the first match of the beginner’s league by playing him too hard in a friendly we lost. One of a series of losses incidentally that has seen my manager approval rating amongst the fans tumble like my surname was Moyes. I’m paying 600 coins for a middling goalkeeper who hasn’t seen game time in over a month, my defence is full of players on the downturn of their careers, and my second half performances are routinely shocking. I have been thinking perhaps it was a bad omen to use the name.

There are positives. I recently moved defender Vink into the midfield, where his wide skill range and pro-active play style are better suited. I’ve also started playing the team in a 3-5-2 formation, which is really taking advantage of the strength and depth I’ve got in midfield. While he is currently injured, Jung is a solid forward (he’s scored two of the club’s three entire goals). Hermann, who I hastily signed to fill the gap up front, has turned out to be a better player than fellow forward Alonso, so when Jung is back on his feet I’m looking forward to seeing what he and Hermann can do together (Alonso can drink Lucozade on the bench and like it). Happily, we’re also not at the bottom of the league table, which means there may still be hope for us this season.


Pictured: not bottom of the league. NAR is my club, the New Age Revolutions. Also we’re highlighted in red, so this explanation isn’t really necessary.

This could be the beginning of a successful dynasty, or it could crash and burn like the real Revolutions. Stay tuned to see whether the team secure a victory any time soon, or if I’m turfed out for being a crap manager with only the most general of footballistic knowledge.

Crimson Shroud

You sit at your desk, mouse in hand, browsing the internet. Unnatural light spills out from the screen and illuminates your glorious locks (unless you have f.lux, in which case the light is probably warmer in tone). You see a link to a review for Crimson Shroud, a 3DS downloadable RPG that came out at the tail end of 2012. Hardly timely, you scoff, but you’re a little curious as to why the writer thought that a meta-narrative in the style of the game’s inspirations would be a good way to start the review. You hold 1d6, noting to yourself that a) you didn’t have any dice a moment ago, and that b) dice rolls are a core element of tabletop RPGs. You don’t know why you noted that second bit, as you haven’t read the review yet.

Roll a 4 or higher to read the review. Roll a 3 or lower to dismiss the review as hopelessly pretentious for using this concept to begin with.

They see me rolling

You enter the review. A man stands facing you. You exchange no words, but you know that this is the writer. Or rather, this is the mouthpiece for the writer. An author insertion. A construct created by the yearnings of the writer’s psyche. This means he shares some passing resemblance (if you encountered the writer and his author insertion about town, you’d think they were… I dunno, maybe cousins?) but is generally thinner and fitter than the writer actually is, with better posture and more friends. He is also disturbingly well endowed. Unbidden, the man starts to talk.

While all videogame RPGs have essentially grown out of Dungeons and Dragons, Crimson Shroud presents a more direct transcription of that ancestral inspiration than its peers. Dice rolls accompany many of the actions you’ll undertake. Every character is represented by a static die-cast statuette and every environment is a half-constructed diorama, more like a theatrical set than an actual location. The sound is deliciously physical, the clangs and trills of combat contrasting with the sheafing of paper and clicking whirring gears accompanying your movement through the menus. The game’s art design as a whole speaks of dog-eared journals and handwritten notes.

The story is one of flashbacks, your small team of adventurers entering a ruined palace in search of information on the titular Crimson Shroud, the first of many gifts in the world supposedly handed down by the gods that bestow magical abilities to the bearer. Gameplay presents you with a map on the bottom screen which you can use to select the area you want to move to. Arriving in a new location triggers “dungeon master” style descriptions along with plot points, world building, and character dialogue as appropriate.

The man scuttles towards you, pulling a smartphone from his pocket. He shows you a picture to illustrate; it appears to be a photo taken of a screen. You assume the device pictured has no adequate or unified method to capture pictures directly from its own screens (and you’d be correct), hence why you’re being subjected to such poor photography.

Location text

Mmm, that writing

It’s worth taking time at this point to make something very clear; there’s a lot of writing to get through in this game. Down to the most insignificant item, everything is detailed. It’s all of a very high standard (barring a few scuffs here and there, which seem to originate in the translation from Japanese to English) and an RPG having a lot of text is hardly anything surprising, but it needs to be highlighted in Crimson Shroud. As I said, environments are like theatrical sets. In a similar theatrical fashion, the game wants you to use your imagination to bring life to the still scenarios, and the writing provides you with the tools you need; vibrant descriptions and vivid histories, lively dialogue, myriad motivations.

There’s so much here to sink your teeth into. While the main storyline includes a huge amount of lore for the world, there’s also a lot of optional material; dialogue that fills in the backstories of the characters, extra descriptions for revisiting rooms. Not to mention that every item has a description of its own, some of them astoundingly lengthy. Every word is worth digging out, as they form more supports to the rich and absorbing latticework of the sumptuously deep universe that Crimson Shroud creates. That the game does this over a relatively short timespan (for the RPG genre) is even more impressive.

My first playthrough ran nine hours, with most of the optional text read. A chunk of that time was spent backtracking through the second area of the game. It’s the only time I was uncertain of how to progress, due to a lack of signposting.


See that Obsidian Daphne? That’s a key item, required to move the game along. It’s a random drop from an unimportant battle. Aside from the irritating necessity of having to grind in order to obtain a critical item, the game offers no indication that this is how to advance the story.

Without that particular buggering about though, you’re probably looking at closer to seven or eight hours. While the game does encourage a new game plus run (with the temptation of a different ending), that looks to be even briefer as much of the text is unchanged. This brevity is more disappointing than anything else, leaving me wanting longer to spend exploring the game’s world.

While the atmosphere of Crimson Shroud is superb, there are a few flaws that appear in the gameplay. Comparing the pros and cons of two different pieces of equipment involves too much faff, especially given how important this process is. In fact, the various menus you’ll use most, to select examine and equip your items and gear, are clunkier to navigate than they should be. The art style of the game is lovely, but in technical terms it’s not super. Character models sit somewhere around the Dreamcast and PS2 level in their quality, disappointing given that they’re never required to animate.

Speaking of, the only animation in the game engine is of burning torches and little hops the statuettes of characters give in battle while attacking and being hit. Despite this, the game still exhibits bouts of slowdown, particularly when magic is used (the effect of which is simply flashing a translucent colour over the screen). And as the game eschews the idea of levelling up your characters, instead binding abilities and magic to whatever the character has equipped, it means that general encounters such as these are somewhat pointless.

To battle!

The battle system itself is fun with a good depth and tactical possibility. It’s here you’ll see most of the dice rolling. Most actions you can make don’t require it, but you can roll to beef up damage dealt or improve hit chances. Your collection of die can be restocked by pulling off combos with elementally themed moves.

Looking back, I can forgive these little niggles. Crimson Shroud is a well crafted game, if not necessarily as well polished as it could be. Its direct rendition of tabletop RPG tropes lend it a distinct identity, while the excellent writing and pleasantly deep systems at play in combat ensure that the game stands up beyond that initial eye-catching design. This isn’t the lengthy experience you might expect from this genre, but immersing yourself in its wonderfully drawn world is a delight entirely worthy of your time.

The man finishes his lengthy speech and stands silently in front of you, eyes locked unblinkingly on yours. You are slightly creeped out. You cast a glance around the rest of the site; two film reviews, one of a Liam Neeson vehicle. Noting to yourself the disparity between game and film discussion, you mentally file the site away as another one of those blogs and exit the review by closing the tab.

The author insertion blinks a few times in rapid succession, before looking around himself questioningly. Finding no-one to tell his tale to, he cricks his neck and leaves the review to go and get wrecked with Jordan Belfort over in the Wolf of Wall Street piece.

Non-Stop, briefly

Non-Stop is better than it appears to be. Nowhere near as good as that other film starring Liam Neeson that is way better than you’d expect, but put it this way; I entered the theatre braced for diverting brain rot and nothing more. I left pleasantly surprised.


Non-Stop is for around 60-or-70% of its run time a very enjoyable thriller. Liam Neeson is an air marshall who starts receiving anonymous texts on his supposedly encrypted phone (that incidentally looks like a Chinese knock off of an iPhone crossed with one of those early Android phones with slide out keyboards) threatening to kill passengers on board the flight if he doesn’t arrange the wiring of $150 million dollars to an account, an account that happens to bear Neeson’s name. Cue lots of rushing around, muttered conversations, and ever escalating paranoia as our grumbling Irishman tries to figure out what the hell is going on, while everything he does only indicts him further in the eyes of the plane’s passengers and the world at large.

The film expertly wrings a huge amount of tension out of this. From its opening scene, Non-Stop establishes something isn’t right. There’s a queasiness that runs through the film, with the enclosed nature of the plane and the frantic yet powerless Neeson digging a pit of unease in your stomach. The film takes pleasure in constantly wrong-footing you on who the anonymous threat could be, and how they’ll enact their plans. Only in the second half does the film really pull the trigger on more typical action. Up until that point it’s a relatively low-key affair of quietly tense discussions and accusations, and the few action scenes present are, like violence in real life, all the more unsettling because of their unexpected explosiveness.

Sadly, the tightly-coiled spring the film had been winding snaps as the threat is revealed, leading into generic bad guy speechifying and big but rote set-piece confrontations, the plot nosediving into deus ex machina convenience. After the promise the film had shown, this is unsatisfying to say the least.

The damp squib of the ending is emblematic of a bigger problem – it’s not very well written. Dialogue is a big sticking point, swimming in stock character cliches and heavily expositional. There’s a particular speech that Neeson gives where he basically reads out his character’s spec sheet, and from then on it’s completely impossible to ignore the hackneyed tropes at play in every layer of the film.

There’s something good here, semi-realised. The direction is solid if perhaps uninspiring, the acting of a good standard (Neeson’s impotence here is a welcome spin on a character type he’s played many times before, the supporting cast do a nice job portraying real people despite their underwritten roles). And of course there’s that delicious tension. With a limp second half and universally poor dialogue though, Non-Stop is merely decent.

The Wolf of Wall Street, briefly

The Wolf of Wall Street is a long film about self-centered people getting fucked up, fucked over, or just plain fucked.


It’s a film all about the glory of excess, the kind of consequence-free decadence that a big bank balance can bring. We follow Leonardo DiCaprio’s likeably dislikeable stock trader Jordan Belfort as he rises from the ashes of the 1987 stock market crash, working his way back to the high life of neon extravagance and insincerity.

Adapted from the memoir of the real life Jordan Belfort, apparently without too much embellishment, the main feeling I left the film with was “that would’ve worked better as a miniseries”. It covers a solid ten year or so period. In pulling events from Belfort’s life to construct a tighter narrative arc of the rise and fall, it ends up feeling somewhat disjointed.

Not that any of the film is actually bad. This is well written, stylish, frequently very funny stuff, and the huge cast (full of “oh it’s him/her!” faces) is incredibly game. DiCaprio as Belfort is superb fun – a riches-stunted adolescent who preens and pouts his way across the screen, devouring scenery like a foppish black hole, with just enough realism sprinkled through the performance that his smaller realer moments in the fall part of the story don’t feel unearned or even unexpected.

Generally as big and bold as its subject matter, direction is also strong, my favourite touch being the use of music; 80s tunes designating success, 90s songs hinting at change.

Again though, I can’t help but feel the tale would have been better told over a six hour, six part miniseries. The film does have a kinetic hyperactivity that would certainly have been lost stretching the story out, but it would have benefited from more time to develop some characters and scenes (in particular, the collapse of Belfort’s second marriage feels like a largely untapped seam). The film sits a shade under three hours, jam-packed as it is with myriad characters and stories all coming and going. If you catch it at the cinema, get a big bag of popcorn; this is a bum-numbing undertaking.

The Wolf of Wall Street is garish, aggressively sexual, hugely hedonistic, pretty funny, and certainly worth a watch. Whether you’ll want to return for a second viewing is another matter entirely.