Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bibliophile: The Ol' Bait and Switch At Dalhousie

“A book without words is like love without a kiss; it's empty.”
― Andrew Wolfe

I'm not sure why anyone would write a book without words, and if love requires a kiss in all places, a lot of pet owners are performing acts that probably aren't legal, but whatever, it's a metaphor.

This is Bibliophile.

If you're new here, the idea is that I browse through the weekly new book list at my local University library, and note the new entries. Sometimes, though, the phrase "weekly" is a bit of a misomer, and the list fails to be updated, in which case I usually skip the week, or take another Canadian university to browse. This is one of  those latter weeks. So this week, we're looking at the new books at Dalhousie University. Books available at my own local university, good ol' University of Waterloo, will be marked by a bolded H.

Friday, June 28, 2013

This Week In Panels

Let's try out a new (old?) feature and see if it's got some legs. Introducing the almost-certainly sporadic series "This Week in Panels," in which I choose panels or pages from comics that have come out that week. We've got three this time round, all Marvel-based:

Hawkeye 11:
Matt Fraction and David Aja. Aja's been drawing the hell out of this series for a while now, but this issue takes the cake. It's from the point of view of Hawkeye's Dog, Lucky, and I think it really sells the animal-based POV. Basically, it does so through three ways, all of which are present in the page above:
1. The dog (and thus the reader) only understands a very limited vocabulary, which means that--like an animal--we have to get most of the conversations from body language and tone.
2. The panels are, for the most part, wordless--a simple technique, but a useful one, as it foregrounds the importance of the images.
3. You've got the schematic-like, abstract depiction of the human characters following their first appearance, which represents a combination of the dog's scent association, and its memory. I'm not sure I agree with the notion that dogs think in so schematic a fashion, but I do like the idea that they conceive of the world in simpler, more iconic ways, and that it's all about associations. If nothing else, it really sells the notion we're seeing a nonhuman interpretation.

By Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. This is another series that has really been pushing the visual aspect of storytelling, although the more interesting stuff has generally been drawn by Paolo Riveria. Daredevil gives a unique challenge for an artist, because they need to convey the visual experience of someone whose defining trait is that he can't see. This panel isn't really showing that at all, though. I highlighted it mostly because it's the culmination of Mark Waid's run up to this point. For at least the past decade prior to Waid starting on the title, Daredevil's defining trait has been that his life is depressing as hell--his secret identity was ruined, his wife was driven insane by his enemies, and everyone he cared about ended up abandoning him or dying. Waid opened with a simple premise: Matt Murdock can either choose to enjoy what he has, or go mad. And he toyed with both extremes. The last few issues had Daredevil's enemies once again closing in on him, but this single page shows how he's overcome them, by refusing to be brought low. The size of the page--the single panel image--is also much more open than the rest of the comic, with a lot more open space, again symbolizing his reclaimed freedom (although that is a ridiculously long staff).

Young Avengers 6

By Keiron Gillen and  Kate Brown.  This is yet another young Marvel series that's really been pushing the envelope in terms of the visuals. Usually, though, Keiron Gillen's partner in crime is Jamie McKelvie; check out this feature at Comics Alliance.  My favorite is Marvel Boy's 2 page spread, numbered fight, though the panel-breaking Loki is also a highlight. But Kate Brown's proven she's up to filling McKelvie's shoes, and providing her own style. There's a number of pages that I could have picked for this one, but I went with the two page spread showing the speedster's perception of time when he's moving at high speeds. Time is a tricky thing to show in comics, because the images are, by the nature of images, static. And yet without the passing of time, nothing in a comic can happen. There's a number of ways to convey time; Scott McCloud devotes a whole chapter to them in Understanding Comics. Brown uses a few different ones here. If you look close at the images, his hands are slightly blurred, which is a pretty common device. She also uses the size of the panels--the smaller panels suggest not only speed, but fine detail, performing fragmented close-ups, contrasted with the larger panels that show "normal" time. And the whole page is laid out in a way vaguely reminiscent of a microchip, reinforcing the assembly that our speedster's performing. I also like her use of expressions: even without the word bubbles, Tommy's arrogance shines through, from his facial expressions to how he flings around the cup of coffee. David, the onlooker, in contrast doesn't say a word, but still conveys a mix of skepticism and slightly unsettled. I wasn't familiar with Brown before this issue, but I'll be keeping an eye out for her from now on.

I love that this sort of play with the comic form is happening at Marvel, in superhero comics, a genre of comics that tends to be rather traditional. Granted, it's all in decidedly "B-list" titles, but I think it's a good sign of the industry's creative health, if not financial health.

Will this feature ever return? Why not COMMENT AND LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK?

Later Days.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Friday Quotations: Computer Stuff

"He's as near to naked despair as has ever been shown to me by anyone not in a film. Here, in that place, we have no shame. He has seen me sleeping on the floor, drooling. We have both seen Danny's puffy white midsection--young as he is, it's a pity--when he stripped to his underwear in the heat of the machine room. I have seen Joel's dandruff, light coating of cat fur on his clothes, noticed things about his body that I should not. And I'm sure he's seen my sticky hair, noticed how dull I look without make-up, caught sight of other details too intimate to mention. Still, none of this matters anymore. Our bodies were abandoned long ago, reduced to hunger and sleeplessness and the ravages of sitting for hours at a keyboard and a mouse. Our physical selves have been battered away. Now we know each other in one way and one way only: the code.

--Ellen Ullman, "Closer to the Machine."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Bibliophile: Cavorting Like the Greeks of Tomorrow

“I cannot live without books.”
― Thomas Jefferson

The good ol' library has added some 6001 items this week. So we probably WON'T be doing the completionist list this time around. Here's the books I did get to, after the break.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday Quotations: A High Calibur Discussion

“The FPS can be read as a stylized sex-hunting game—the always-erect gun looks for virtual bodies so that he can impregnate them with bullets—there is no other way of negotiating the encounters with other characters.”--Matteo Bittanti

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Montezuma's Revenge

I thought it was time to do another videogame post. So let's see... what have I been playing recently? Have I been playing the new PS4 game that everyone's talking about, Last of Us? No. Have I been coasting the indie scene with Mousechief's game of 7000 years, the 7 Great Steps? Installed, but no. Have I been doing retro horror indie, with a playthrough of Limbo? Well, I thought hard about it. Have I been doing my dissertation research with a playthrough of Planescape: Torment? No again. No, all my time has been spent on this little number:

TToM3 is a tile-swap game. It's Bejewelled with a fancy new paint job, and a vaguely Mayan aesthetic. And for the past two weeks, it has owned my soul.
Let me back up a bit. A "Friend" forwarded me an invite to the Facebook game Candy Crush Saga, which is another Bejewelled clone, with a candy-aesthetic that is so annoying and cloying that I want to play only where I can be sure no one can possibly see me. But--and here's where I was surprised--the game had some depth to it. There was strategy to the shape of the levels, and the slow drip of the new bonus types. Then I hit level 20, and it told me I needed to invite three friends or pay 30 cents, and I said, well, forget that.

However, the tile tyrant was now in my blood. The multicolored monkey was on my back. And so I let myself be sucked into the world of Montezuma. So: it's a tile game. And it follows the simple tile rules. You have sixty seconds, you can swap tiles, line up three of the same color and the tiles disappear, granting you points, and giving you more tiles. Simple/. Except: first, there's the gems. You see, some tiles have gems attached to them. And for every gem tile you get, your score gauge goes up, until you hit a new level, and all the points after that are multiplied by whatever level you're on. Plus, at the end of the round, you get a bonus for each individual gem. So you're not just swapping tiles, you're swapping to remove gem tiles.

But. Speed is also of the essence, because there's a secondary gauge at the bottom, which increases as you make matches, and if THAT reaches it's full, then you score doubles for a short time called a SCORE FRENZY-- and that's on top of the gem bonus. So you want gems, but you also want speed.

But! You're not just going for any high score. You see, when you complete a level, if your score reaches a certain height, you unlock one of the emblems on the chest at hand. Unlock all the emblems for a chest, and you get a star. And if you hit the highest score, then you get another star. And the stars unlock the bonuses. What kind of bonuses? Well, one where, when you make a swap of four tiles, sometimes, a tile with a bomb on it appears, and when you successfully swap that bombed tile, then the ones around it go as well, a delightful explosion of points. There's the clock bonus, where--apparently at random but probably not--after you make a swap of four, sometimes a clock tile appears, and if you swap THAT tile, then you get time added to your clock. And there's a bonus where, if you match 5, there's a chance of a lightning tile appearing, which, when matched, wipes out all others of that color. AND there's another that does the same thing, but instead of wiping out others, it shows you possible moves. Finally, there's two more bonuses, one which adds to the total number of gems that appear on the screen at once, one which raises the ceiling on the score multiplier. And of course, all of these abilities are upgraded with more stars.

BUT! That is still not all. For in addition to these bonuses, the discerning player may also invest in Totems. Totems are another thing altogether. For each totem, you activate the bonus by matching two triple sets of the same color in a row. Two greens summons a totem that removes all gems currently in play and adds them to your count. Two blue summons one that shoots lightning and eliminates local gems. Two red does roughly the same, but with a slightly different dispersal pattern represented by fireballs. Two yellow activates the score mode regardless of your bottom gauge. Two orange adds time, in different amounts than the time icon.Two purples add special tiles, ala the bomb or the lightning tiles. And two whites change a random number of tiles into some other color. Usually, in my experience, it changes more tiles into white tiles, which is less than useful. But more strategy is clearly coming to play. You want to be fast, you want to get gems, but you also want to unlock totems.

And sixty seconds is the perfect length, too. Every time you play, you tell yourself, just one more round. It's just a minute. And then it's an hour later, and your children are at home going hungry because daddy's not coming home to feed them. (Okay, in my case, it's my roommate's dog, not kids, and I'm not responsible for feeding him anyway, but where's the drama in that?) And the worst part isn't the lost time, or the frustration of failure, or the notion there's a hundred hundred other games I could be spending my time on. No, the worst thing is that I'm totally obsessed with this game and I can't talk to anyone about it BECAUSE IT IS THE MOST BORING THING TO TALK ABOUT IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.

Thanks for listening.

Later Days.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

This Post Is Just Too Mainstream

Technically, the content posted here today could probably be refitted for a tweet or a facebook post, and would, pessimistically, reach a much larger audience in either case. But I haven't posted in a while, so....

A while back, I thought it might be fun to do a hipster meme / nerd thing mash-up.

"Dungeons & Dragons? I'm into Path Finder. You've probably never heard of it."

"I liked Game of Thrones before it became a TV series." (replace Game of Thrones with Walking Dead, as is your wont.)

The White Queen's new outfit in Uncanny X-Men is just so... gauche compared to the classic design."

"Call of Duty? Please. The shooter genre peaked with Gunsar Heroes."

It's when you look into the Foucauldian implications of religious dogma coupled with a military industrial complex that Battlestar Galactica really comes into its own."
And then I stopped, because I realized I was just describing myself, over and over again.

Later Days.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Book Triad (Minus Two Books): Graham Harman's The Quadruple Object

In a shocking change of pace, I actually finished a nonfiction book. And the review turned out to be pretty substantial in itself (disproportionately so, given the book's main content is only 140 pages), I thought I'd just post that. Review of Graham Harman's The Quadruple Object, after the break.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Bibliophile Postponed

Good news! The library hasn't updated the new books list for this week, so there's nothing to report! Normally, that would not be good news at all, but I'm torn between preparing for my English 109 class this week and a roundtable discussion on fantasy and environment this Friday, so it's a full slate at the moment, and my razor-sharp intellect is needed elsewhere. Toodles, everyone.

Later Days.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Friday Quotations: DOOMed to Repeat Itself

Wolfenstein 3D not only offered a radical break from the normal deployment of first-person perspective in gaming; it stalked the RPG through the corridors of the medium, blasted it at short-range with a shotgun, and planted a flag in the sucking chest wound of the corpse.”--Dan Pinchbeck, DOOM: Scarydarkfast

Later Days.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Those Things What Happen To Me

Random Things:

(Imagine this part is narrated by Albert Brooks using that voice he uses on the Simpsons) I got to campus today about 2 pm. I hadn't eaten yet that day (busy morning), and so I was hoping at least to snag a muffin. But I got to the library coffee shop and they were OUT OF MUFFINS! How can you be out of muffins? Who eats that many muffins? Where do the muffins go? Well, fine. I went with my second choice, and decided to get a chocolate bar from the vending machine. Only I hit the wrong number, and I got a Turkish Delight. That is the WORST possible chocolate bar you can get. What a day!

I gave a guest lecture this week on, among other things, personal video games and Anna Anthropy's Dys4ia. And honestly, it wasn't the best lecture I've given. The students just weren't responding like I was hoping they would. I think it's the subject matter more than anything. Not Anthropy's games, but trying to teach games at all in the lecture format. Given that I only had them for an hour, it was basically the only way to do things, but if I had more resources and time, I'd rather have taught it the way Samantha Allen describes here, taking students to a lab, having them play through it, and discussing it with them as they play, one-on-one or in small groups. There's something about actually playing the game that encourages an engagement that's a lot different from the lecture format. Now, some day, when I teach a videogame course, things'll be different. Some day...

On top of the afternoon muffin incident, I had to get groceries today, and I was half way to the store before I realize that I had forgotten my bookbag. Now, I don't have a problem with buying bags once, but the trick was that I was on my bike. Biking with grocery bags is tricky--the simplest thing to do is to let them ride on the handle bars, but whether that works at all depends on the shape of the bike. And on top of that, you've got to be careful in terms of balance. The best case is to get two bags and distribute them evenly. It'll still make the turns somewhat different, but it's fairly easy to do. Actually, it reminded me of the videogame Scribblenauts. In the game, you type in words, and whatever you type appears as something the avatar can interact with, provided it's in the dictionary. You type "cat," you'll get a cat. Type "cap" and you'll get a cap. And type "Zombie Abe Lincoln," you'll get... well, you get the idea. As the zombie example indicates, it does adjectives. And that's handy for levels where you have to reach something high. Winged boots works, as does winged shirt, and winged hat. But where the game's controls really shine is that the control is slightly different for each, because your center is moved from the usual center of the avatar to the center of whatever winged object you're wearing. It's still your avatar you're controlling, but your focus shifts a little. And that's what biking with grocery bags on your handle bars is like--the same, but with a shifted focus.

That was a lot of words describing something complicated to explain something simple. I think I need to lay down.

Later Days.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bibliophile: Returning Full Circle At University of Waterloo

 “Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?”
― Henry Ward Beecher

First: I wrote something this week that got published at First Person Scholar. Funny how often a site where you sit on the editorial board publishes your stuff. Check it out!

Second, have  I got a surprise for you. This week, we'll be looking at the new books from.... my home town university! Yes, after many, many months, my alma mater has updated its new books page. After so many trips to universities so far away, we may finally return home. And now, since we've eased up on the rules, I can even grant it a name: welcome, everyone, for a very special Bibliophile, in which we examine the new books at the University of Waterloo.  After the break.