I really enjoy film photography, but there are certain aspects which make me pine for something a little more 21st century.
Take ISO and noise performance, for example. With film, you load a roll of film, and that’s your ISO set for the next 36 shots. You can’t chop and change ISOs whenever you want, and you can all but forget shooting at an ISO above 800 as it gets pretty grainy at high film speeds.
On the other hand, digital cameras let you change the ISO whenever you want, and with advances in sensor technology and noise-reduction algorithms, noise is less of a concern than it is with film. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to shoot at ISO 12800, but the very fact you can is a feat in and of itself.
I’ve been eyeing off a great compact camera for a little while now, and the only thing that has really caught my eye has been the Sony RX100. It’s perhaps a smidgen pricier than what you might normally pay for a good compact camera, but it does have semi-good reason to be: it has a large sensor paired with some decent optics, which usually translates to decent photos. When I say it has a “large sensor”, it’s big, but in relative terms: it’s still smaller than the sensor in your DSLR, and smaller still than the sensor used in the four-thirds system, but it’s one of the biggest sensors available in what can still be called a compact camera. The RX100 is the pocketable, every-day carry size I’ve been looking for.
Sensor size aside, I’ve wanted to play with an RX100 for a little while now, and PAX was a great opportunity to give one a good workout. Then Sony announced and released its successor-of-sorts, the RX100 II. There’s not even that much different between the two models: a back-side illuminated sensor for even better low-light performance, Wi-Fi and NFC, and a display that tilts, but it still makes sense to get the updated model, right?
Long story short, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get one in time for PAX as the release dates meant that I was cutting it fine. But one phone call later, I secured a RX100 II to call my own. And just in time for PAX Australia!
I used the RX100 to take all the pictures you see below. There’s not that much to say about the camera itself, but there are a few points worth mentioning.
While the camera does have an auto-ISO option, it seems to favour slower shutter speeds instead of using higher ISOs. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but there’s no option to set a minimum shutter speed, meaning you can get motion blur if you’re not careful. Because of this, I felt as if I had to shoot the majority of my photos in shutter priority to avoid motion blur in photos.
Low-light and noise performance is excellent, as expected. If you’re a pixel-peeper like me, you’ll probably find it’s a fraction soft in the details, but that’s par for the course for any compact camera. I’m generally pretty happy with the images I took during PAX (they’re certainly better than what my iPhone 5 managed to do), but I’d really only consider them “happy snaps” as opposed to images I would deliver to a client. Read into that what you will. That said, the photos turned out totally fine when resized down, and provided you’re not peeping at the pixels of the full-size images, they’re more than adequate for web usage.
I’ll let the photos do the talking in just a moment, but shooting with the RX100 II at PAX made me wonder how I might have fared with a DSLR. There are obvious size and convenience advantages to a compact, of course, but the photos I took just seemed to reiterate the fact that the DSLR is the workhorse, the one that gets the job done. I hardly use my DSLR these days unless I need to produce extremely high quality images, but I’m consistently impressed by the photos it takes, whenever I’ve done everything I can to make the photo as good as it can possibly be (focus and exposure, in that order).
Taking photos of cosplayers was way more fun than it should have been. Having to ask people for photos took a little getting used to at first (street shooters, represent), but it was cool since it meant they looking into the camera — well, most of the time, anyway. There was heaps of great cosplay on display, but half the time I had issues recognising who people were cosplaying as. Either I need to be exposed to more games or their interpretations of certain characters was just too far off the mark for me. And besides, people in Melbourne dress so weirdly anyway it was hard to tell if they were cosplaying or whether they were just hipsters, but I digress.
The lighting was generally terrible in the expo hall and even worse in the theaters, but here are a few shots I gathered during my time at PAX. There’s probably a million things I missed capturing due to just taking it all in, and I’d love to do PAX with a more serious camera and focus on photography, but hey, I think I did OK.
“Hmm, where to start?”
Among many others, that was a phrase that I uttered during my time on a panel about gaming on the Mac at PAX Australia. It was in response to a question from a fellow panelist about what kind of games I’m playing on the iPad, but now that I think about it, it’s strangely applicable to whatever I want to say about PAX Australia, too.
I procrastinated writing a thing about PAX Aus over on MacTalk because I couldn’t really make my mind up about what to write about. After I was able to procrastinate no more and did eventually write something, I posted it on Twitter with the comment that it was really hard to write. It was, but only because there were so many different narratives about PAX Aus that deciding on just one was the hard part.
There were a number of different angles I could have covered PAX from, with titles such as “the booth babes controversy”, “welcome home”, “PAX Australia and the rise of indies”, “boycotting PAX and Penny Arcade”, “what do you get when you create content just for the content, not to pay bills”, and last but not least, “out of context quotes from Mike and Jerry”.
As you can see, there were any number of different narratives I could have talked about when writing a retrospective about PAX Aus, but I chose the one I did and ran with that. That being said, there are still a few topics that weren’t discussed to my satisfaction, so I’d like to touch on a few other things which grabbed my attention during my time at PAX Aus, starting with panels.
Panels at PAX Australia were, for the most part, excellent. We’ll get to the queues in a minute, but being able to hear intelligent people talk about intelligent topics was kind of great — it didn’t matter if they were the Lead Writer or Lead Editor from BioWare, or if they were the freelance games journalists, or even just yours truly, hearing people talk about stuff that they had a vested interest in was fantastic.
I had originally planned to see more panels than I did, but thanks to the insane queues I had to reconsider what I really wanted to see and what I was only kind of interested in. On the first day I saw the Gaming on the Mac panel (saw, was a panelist on1, same thing), along with “BioWare Goes Down Under”.
The BioWare panel was interesting as there were more people who were into Dragon Age than I thought there would be, even though fans of Mass Effect still beat them numbers-wise. I think I queued for around 45 minutes for the BioWare panel, and after that, it was straight into the Xbox One keynote in the massive main theatre. The atmosphere of the Xbox One presentation was particularly great – heaps of people all hyped for a next-gen console, live Kinect demos, and even though I posted snarky comments on Twitter throughout the whole thing, it was still worth seeing the Xbox One in Australia for the first time.
On the second day I kicked things off with the Make a Strip panel, where Mike and Jerry (Gabe and Tycho) were on-stage making a strip live and in colour. It was pretty great seeing the whole thing come together like it did, and there was a great Q&A session after which saw Mike and Jerry eat a Vegemite sandwich with all the results you might expect (you kind of had to be there, I guess). I had planned to see the Good Game panel, but because it was in one of the satellite theatres, it kind of meant the queue was already full 90 minutes before their presentation was even scheduled to start. Kind of bummed I missed out on that, but I still finished off the day with a panel from Australia’s largest games dev studio, the Firemonkeys (Real Racing, Flight Control, that kind of thing). It was eye-opening to see them talk a little about their relationship with EA, the games publishing giant that people often blame for the worse decisions relating to their titles (as discussed in the panel). I wanted to ask them about Real Racing 3 and in-app purchases, but didn’t really want to seem like “that guy”.
The final day came along and by now queues and I were old friends, which was good, because I ended up doing so for an hour for the “are videogame reviews failing to change with the times” panel, which featured editors and reviewers from a few big-names — PC PowerPlay, Hyper, and others. Writing game reviews is something I’m tangentially interested in, so I thought it was going to be an interesting panel. Sadly, while some interesting topics and points of view were brought up, I walked away feeling disappointed — towards the end the panel degenerated into a “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument between people asking questions and the panelists, and failed to address some of the bigger issues surrounding video game reviews.
It was during that last panel that they brought up the topic of not wanting to attach a numerical score to reviews. They held up the shield of “but our readers want it”, and I guess that’s the response you give when you live and die by your readership, but I would have liked to have seen the debate if they approached the subject from the angle of “if we care about our readers (which we do), then how does removing scores make for better reviews?”
Also on the list of bullets dodged by the panelists: “where do written video game reviews stand in the context of “Let’s Play”s on YouTube?” And since all of the panelists were in print media, “how does print media fare in the increasingly online age, where people expect videos of actual gameplay, not just words deconstructing the game mechanics?”
After the controversy of the videogame reviews panel, it was nice to end PAX with something a little lighter, namely the final round of the Omegathon (giant Jenga!) and the short and sweet closing ceremony that ended rather abruptly with Mike and Jerry dropping the mics and walking off stage.
I dislike calling out panels that didn’t answer the tough questions because I know my own panel wasn’t perfect in this regard either — we missed a few topics I would have liked to cover a little more, such as the rise of indie development, Kickstarter, and how those have affected gaming on the Mac, but at the end of the day, all the preparation in the world might not have satisfied those who were in attendance. Either way, this being the first PAX Aus and all, I’m sure panels will get better — bigger venues, shorter queues, and even more intelligent discussion.
There’s a few other topics I want to talk about (gaming culture, the whole Penny Arcade aspect of things, etc), but those might have to wait for another time.
As an introduction into the world of Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs), Personal 4 Golden is pretty great. The Persona series is actually a spin-off of the main Shin Megami Tensei series of games, with its official title being Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4, but as far as Persona 4 Golden goes, it’s actually a remake of the original Persona 4 game that appeared on the PS2 many moons ago. Now it’s on the PS Vita with a few new bits added here and there, and that’s where this review/thing/whatever, comes in.
History and background of the game aside, all you need to know is that P4G is one of those games you’d consider buying a PS Vita for, it’s that good. Using JRPGs to describe a sub-genre of games isn’t exactly fair, seeing as technically, there are lots of different kinds of RPGs to come out of Japan; Pokémon (obviously), Final Fantasy, and a million others besides. Which brings me to my next point…Continue Reading →
I think I restarted the original Metro game probably five or six times. It wasn’t because I wasn’t very good at it, or that I didn’t enjoy it, but every time I’d get up to one part, but then I’d run out of filters and die in the harsh environment of the post-war Moscow. Or I’d come up against innumerable enemies, waste all my ammunition, and die. Or maybe I’d lose my way, frantically run around trying to find the next area to go to, run out of filters, and die unceremoniously in some dark corner, panting for breath as everything slowly faded to black.
I probably played through the first few chapters five, maybe six times, each time growing more and more frustrated with a game everyone was raving about, all because of its incredibly atmospheric gameplay and fantastic plot — an atmosphere and plot I was being denied time and time again, due to my own inability to survive on the irradiated surface.
It even got to the stage where I wanted to play through the game so badly, wanted to experience it for myself, that I looked up cheats for “infinite ammo”, or some kind of god-mode invincibility so I wouldn’t have to worry about using my hard-earned military-grade rounds buying filters for my mask whenever I got the chance. I’m usually against cheats, but in this case I was making an exception. I was desperate to play the game, but it seemed as if the game didn’t want to be played. At least, not by me.
So I played other games. Every time Metro 2033 came up in a Steam sale, I pushed away the guilt of never having played what was by all accounts a fantastic game, ashamed I couldn’t even beat it on the easiest difficulty. My pile of shame grew, but Metro 2033 sat squarely on the top of the pile.
It wasn’t until Metro: Last Light came out that I read a review of Last Light that said the first game was supposed to be played as a stealth shooter. Then it dawned on me almost as if I had just stepped out of the underground tunnels of the metro and into the harsh sunlight above ground: that was exactly what I had been doing wrong all along. Instead of sneaking around in the shadows, crouch-running through the tunnels, I had been going in all-guns blazing. Instead of conserving my ammo, I had been neglecting my knife when only one or two enemies were between me and my goal.
Looking back at it now, I’m reasonably surprised I didn’t think of playing 2033 as a stealth game. I must have restarted the game some five or six times without changing my play style, each time expecting to Rambo through sections with wanton abandon and then dying out in the unforgiving tunnels and surface. But after learning about playing it as a stealth game, everything changed. Suddenly, I had more filters than I knew what to do with. My knife became my best friend for dealing with one or two bad guys, and ammo, while not exactly abundant, became plentiful enough.
The game changed.
Instead of a game where my every thought was on survival and finding enough filters, it became a game about exploration and discovery. Fear was replaced by a curiosity that could only be sated by exploring every nook and cranny for supplies, with little fear about how many filters I had or which direction I was going — although that could also be attributed to my compass, which always lead the way to the next objective, to the next rendezvous.
Sections that had seemed impassable before due to the numbers of enemies between myself and my object now seemed easier, somehow, either by use of stealth or a little ingenuity on my part. The game didn’t become any easier, necessarily, but the simple act of playing it differently meant that I could see and explore places I wouldn’t have had the chance to had I just sprinted through rooms filled with enemies.
I started to enjoy the game.
And what a game it was. The reviewers and critics were right: Metro 2033 was as deserving of every accolade it earned, and for good reason. As an introduction into the subterranean life of a post-nuclear-war Russia, it was unparalleled. As a look into the life of one individual’s journey through the dark tunnels of the Metro, the harsh wasteland of the surface, and deep behind enemy lines, it was an awe-inspiring experience.
Forging your own path was easier if you shot out all the lights first so that you could remain unseen, as indicated by your handy watch. Stealthily taking down enemies wherever possible meant you raised the least amount of suspicion, meaning a longer time undisturbed looking for ammo, military-grade rounds, or secret caches filled to the brim with ammo, filters, and military-grade rounds.
But as much as you thought you were the silent killer lurking in the shadows, you never felt overpowered compared to the enemies you encountered — human or otherwise. Part of the reason you had to sneak around in the first place is because you’d quickly run out of ammo if you had to engage the enemy, particularly during the section where you’re between two sets of enemies on either side, where you have to jump around and avoid being spotted. The only time you feel on top of things is when you’re journeying towards the D6 compound with your fellow Rangers — only because there’s safety in numbers, and even then, only when those numbers are comprised of the Ranger elite.
In terms of gameplay, Metro 2033 is a shining example of how to do stealth right. There’s parts where stealth benefits you greatly, combined with parts where you can’t stealth due to environmental conditions, and just have to run and gun. Your watch helps you immensely, and paying attention to it is usually the difference between a successful stealth attempt and tens of soldiers being alerted to your presence and opening fire.
The plot of Metro 2033 isn’t too bad either. You meet a couple people and do a few things along the way. You’re never completely alone except for a few short parts here and there, and you always have a clear sense of purpose, even when you’re given the freedom to roam around an underground establishment or and above-ground environment.
For the most part, other characters will be there to guide you through various sections. It’s a little hand-holdy at times, but means you’re never really thrown into a situation you can’t handle. I usually hate escort missions, but this isn’t like that at all — if anything, it’s more like a reverse escort mission where you’re the one being escorted through the bowels of post-nuclear-war Moscow, being taught survival tips and tricks along the way. If another character tells you to jump, you don’t even have to ask how high, because he’ll tell you.
The introduction at the start of the Metro 2033 is brilliantly executed — the whole “play through this first part, then flashback to the beginning of your journey, playing though until you come back to this section again” aspect is a plot device more frequently used in TV, but it still works here. It creates enough intrigue to get you hooked and just enough action to blow you away, at which point it dials it all back a few notches so you can start to ask questions and get truly into the plot and story that Metro 2033 presents during the course of gameplay.
Make no mistake: Metro 2033 is a great game.
Top to bottom, left to right:
N7 Valkyrie — the two-round burst is more annoying than helpful, in my opinion
M-55 Argus — three round burst coupled with a relatively slow firing speed, avoid
M-37 Falcon — the only mini-grenade firing weapon worth using is the Striker Assault Rifle, this just seems like a worse weapon by comparison
Phaeston — a decent alternative to the Cerberus Harrier, if you haven’t unlocked that
N7 Valiant — the only thing that lets down this reasonably-fast-firing sniper rifle is its 3-round mag size
M-90 Indra — haven’t actually unlocked this weapon yet, although from memory it wasn’t too bad in single player
M-13 Raptor — a fast-firing sniper rifle that’s probably closer to an assault rifle, but I think I’ve only seen it used successfully in one game
Javelin — the small delay between pressing the mouse and the Javelin means you constantly have to follow your target with the mouse, which takes a bit of getting used to, otherwise, it’s actually the sniper rifle that does the most damage. The scope is a little unorthodox.
Scorpion — sticky grenades might seem like a good idea, but they rarely are. Doubly so if you can’t aim
Arc Pistol — one of my favourites, able to be either shot as-is or charged up and shot. I use it whenever I’m using a biotic character, although I know people that favour the Scorpion as a secondary for characters that don’t have to consider cooldowns
M-358 Talon — a pistol that fires like a shotgun? Since when did that seem like a good idea? I haven’t used this in combat though, so I can’t tell you how it fares in-game
The designs are essentially the same for North America and Europe, aside from the local ratings boxes. Which one do you intend to pick up — Pokémon ElkSwag or Pokémon Come At Me Bro?
Cannot wait for Pokémon X and Y. Thinking I’ll skip Black/White and go straight to X and Y (also, the first time the name of a Pokémon game hasn’t been based on a colour).
And yeah, totally getting Pokémon ElkSwag.
Alternate title: I think I would have made a good Arts student. Maybe not a great one, but at least a good one.
It all started when I realised that there weren’t enough Computing units this year for me to do that I hadn’t already done, or didn’t have the prerequisites for, or just plain wasn’t eligible for, in order for me to graduate this semester. A quick email to my degree coordinator revealed that I was allowed to do units outside the School of Computing and Information Systems, and that was that: I started looking for something a little different, something that I would actually enjoy.
And truth be told, I’m interested in a lot of things, but wouldn’t necessarily want to do a course at Uni on them. Take statistics, for example: I like knowing how statistics are derived and an intrigued by the whole numbers side of things, but from what I’ve heard, statistics at Uni is more of a mathematical nightmare than it is “fun stuff to do with numbers”. With that in mind, it was basically a toss up between some photography-based unit, and some writing-based one.
Photography would have been cool. I’ve been wanting to get into the whole darkroom development side of photography, and I’d like some kind of formal training rather than just reading PetaPixel posts on how to be a better photographer. Then I read something in the unit outline which said that you needed to do a certain number of hours of photography per week, and that kind of turned me off. Reason being, most, if not all, of my photography is done for my own enjoyment, not so I can impress someone else with my compositional technique. Forcing myself to get out there and shoot might have turned me off photography altogether, and I’m a little scared by the prospect of someone else critiquing my work, as much as I might want them to.
With photography out of the picture (so to speak), I looked towards a writing-based subject. Of those, it was a choice between some journalism based unit or a writing-one — not having the prerequisites for a more advanced unit, I chose English 1A for two reasons. One, I thought I’d be able to get feedback on my writing process, and two, it would be something a little different. Plus, I thought I’d be able to get decent enough grades without really having to try. Sue me for being lazy.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in, but honestly, it all turned out pretty great. I always looked forward to the tutorials, even if they were at the end of a long Monday of other classes, and even though I couldn’t go to lectures due it a clash with another subject, I was there in spirit whenever I listened to the recorded lectures at home. But that wasn’t the same as the real thing, as I soon discovered…
About two-thirds through the semester, I realised that it was probably time to start blowing off the other class (which wasn’t really worth going to anyway, seeing as all the material was given to us online), and start going to English lectures. Starting around week 9 of the 13 weeks in a semester, I went to my first ever English lecture, and just like the tutorials, they were an entirely different experience than the Computing lectures I was used to.
I mean, they still had someone who delivered the lectures, obviously, and they still used PowerPoint presentations, but the kind of lecture delivered was so much different. There was interaction! The lecturer asked people questions to do with their opinion on certain ideas, certain aspects of whichever text we were studying at the time — something that is pretty much unheard of in Computing lectures. The atmosphere of an English lecture was just so different — people seemed more engaged, attendance always seemed great (although this was a first-year Arts unit, so not entirely unexpected), and yeah, there were heaps of cute girls. Again, not entirely unexpected — although welcome — for a first year Arts unit.
Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember the name of something? Of course you do. Everyone does.
I’ve been looking for the name of a book for a number of years now. Every now and again, I Google a few things about a plot in the vain hope that I’ll be able to find something that will point me in the right direction, but because I can’t remember anything specific such as names of characters or places, or anything that would lead me to a title or ISBN, I don’t ever find anything.
Still, I Google.
What’s even more frustrating is that even though I can describe the plot is great detail, everywhere I’ve asked hasn’t been able to name the book that I’m talking about.
I don’t really care about the book itself. Even if I did find the title I probably wouldn’t be able to buy a copy. The only physical copy that I did read was probably destroyed, or exists in a place I no longer have access to. But still, it grates that I can remember everything about the plot, but nothing about the actual book.
I’ve included a detailed plot description of the book below. If you’ve read the book, recognise the plot, and remember the title, get in touch.