Monthly Archives: May 2010

Red Dead Redemption – Review

Holy Great Googly Moogly! Red Dead Redemption is here!!!

I love westerns.

Not all westerns. I’m fairly specific.

 In the list of the Best Westerns of all time i would have to say Unforgiven is the obvious top. The paragon of all. The Alpha and the Omega. It is the condensed mythology of all of the history and mythos of westward expansion jammed into a very painful two hours – as complicated psychologically as it is cathartic. Next up is Lonesome Dove, both the book and the exceptional Miniseries. I always figured we’re all stuck somewhere between the extremes of Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call and their steady, plodding, manuevers through the american west is our steady and plodding movement from coast to coast. Enterprise and ingenuity meet laziness and ease, still somehow managing to accomplish the amazing.

I have often lamented the dearth of westerns in Videogames which is choked full of aliens, mutants, zombies, magic and fantasy and so far still woefully lacks anything compelling in terms of psychology or narrative. This is a lament i will probably continue until the powers that be in the gaming industry realize that they need to start hiring good writers to craft their stories, and until there is an active program generated by the universities to train writers in how to tell a story well using buttons and joysticks.

Well, along comes Red Dead Redemption. While it is not a triumph of storytelling – no matter what the glowing reviewers might say – it’s closer than most things have come. It is also a wonderful triumph of an experience. No video game has given me more joy to see its main character being rained on. I can’t tell you the glee i had when i roped my first mustang and then tamed it and then to ride drag on a herd of cattle? Really? Do i honestly get to do this in a game? Oh but it gets even better than that. Just you wait.

Anyone who has played any of Rockstars Grand Theft Auto series will know of its tenet for allowing the player to do things and go anywhere. This is no longer a shock in the video game world, but never has it been so pretty. In watching the cinematic opening scene i felt like my Xbox had been rebuilt from the ground up. I fear, now, that Red Dead’s gorgeous setting, graphics and game play may have ruined me for other games. I think i spent several minutes of my first day just wandering around to watch the dust get kicked up by my boots.

If you’ve played the first Red Dead nothing is similar. Nothing. The traditional pathed environments, missions and most particularly the overly mythologized spaghetti western thematic is gone entirely. The world is now populated with wry witticisms delivered by townsfolk, the occasional opportunist bad guy, card sharps, hucksters, gamblers, thieves, gunmen, and tired relics. For the most part they are fairly believable entities, blithely unaware that the weight of civilized westward expansion is about to put their world to an end and it’s unfortunate and leveraged harbinger is you.

John Marston, the character you portray, is much like many of the characters in the game. He’s simple, just wishing to live out the rest of his days tolling in the fields with his young family but unable to walk completely away from his past. Like Josie Wales or Bill Munny, he trudges back into the violence he thought he’d left grudgingly but with an odd acceptance. He is also the agent of change and everyone he meets seems to know it and resent it.

Quite literally Marston is set loose in the land by ‘the folks back east’ to bring the law to the land he used to run ragged in. His job, whether you choose to accept it or not, is to bring to ‘justice’ his former compadres of the bandit gang he once ran with. It’s not a job he wants. It’s not going to be easy. But within ten minutes of playing it you know damned well it’s going to be fun.

I have, after a week and then some of playing, JUST managed to unlock a new section of the already dauntingly huge map. Throughout the map, all of the maps, you meet the straggling bandit, those who are slowly losing their minds in the vastness of the west and all number of characters you will appreciate (and some you will not). But the land itself is alive. Coyotes, wolves, mountain lions. You can race deer on horseback, watch buzzards circle fresh corpses, listen to the wind whistle through the arid barnboards of a dead town, and ride forever into dusk while being struck with the beauty of an enormous blue moon.

Yeah. I fancy myself a gamer at times but i knew this was special when i rode to the edge of a cliff and simply stood looking out over the plains studded with the silhouettes of cacti, sparkling with the faraway light of a town, and all glowing under that moon. The game puts you into the west in a way no game and few movies have.

There are a few sticking points I feel I have to mention if this is to be a truly fair review though. Every so often things don’t quite work the way they ought. I noticed once, in coming out of the saloon i occasionally call home, a feller leaning on a chair that didn’t exist. Needless to say he was a little easy to knock over. I wondered briefly if he was a transplanted mime from France, finding himself a stranger in a land made of and for strangers.

And speaking of strangers – they are out there, providing respite and relief from the main path of the storyline and if you are to play the game i highly recommend you seek them out. From the young woman trying to survive the desert on faith alone, to the sad wanderer dreaming of a destiny too long-delayed, their brief stories add poignancy to the main quest, acting as waypoints on your moral compass, to some extent, in your dealings with the slippery characters you end up fraternizing with.

As usual the controls can feel a bit sluggish at times and sometimes it gets a tad frustrating, like while trying to follow a dog through a henhouse while brandishing a Winchester. Marston, while walking, moves interminably slow but there is always the run function. Because of the grand scope of the environment, no enemy you ever draw a bead on feels particularly close and you will often find yourself looking into the blue night trying to find muzzle flashes to direct your fire at. In my opinion this is not a bad thing.

If i had one major critique it would be that the tutorial doesn’t fully explain everything. I still struggle with the quickdraw (a mini game wherein you square off against an opponent High Noon style) and Dead Eye (a function wherein you slow down time allowing you to shoot down multiple opponents in rapid succession) still eludes me from time to time. As a whole, however, Red Dead is enormously satisfying and i hope it continues to be with the release of further Downloadable Content.

Basically, if you are a western fan, this is the game you’ve been waiting for. It’s too early in video game history to call it the Unforgiven of Videogame Westerns – more like The Searchers or High Noon, but it has everything you need – roping, gunmen, law and order, gorgeousness on a grand scale, and characters who are well above the average of the fairest examples of compelling video game folk.

I’ll see your steely eyes in Armadillo. Come heeled.

Categories: Video Games | 2 Comments

Memorial Day

Well here it is at Memorial Day in the US and i, ever the reluctant and recalcitrant blogger, am busy at my keyboard for the first time in forever jotting down a few thoughts on this neglected holiday while trying not to drown in my own sweat. Sitting in shorts and a thin shortsleeved button down shirt i’m moved to reflect on the extremely hot uniforms of all of those who marched off to war. Whether it was the many layers of wool worn throughout the past centuries or the cotton or linen or whatever – going to war is hot dirty work.

I know. What an odd way to begin a memorial but this is Puckishwird, here, what did you expect? A straightforward paien to the honor and nobility of those who served? Part of being Puckish means that straightforward is not in my being. Nothing moves in straight lines. Life – and writing – is a dance. The steps are marked out. Sometimes you do it well and sometimes it looks like someone is electrocuting you in a conga line.

So here i am, trying to stay cool (and failing) and considering – having donned the blue wool of a civil war reenactor in my youth – that it’s all hot and dirty work and wondering what the hell the point of it all was. I am trying to reconcile the sacrifice of generations of youths with the product, which is us. This is no easy or Puckish task. This is, perhaps, fit for stouter and more glorious minds. But quite frankly, and i’m going to be as honest as i can be here, it’s difficult to remember (or memorialize) the grand feat of all of the generations of fighters in this country and come to terms with what we are today which is (as i see it) a nation divided once again by the pettiest of petty squabbles so wrapped up in our self conceptions that it is unconscionable to give one inch of so called ‘principles’ for fear the other side – whoever they may be – may take a mile.

Basically the world has some serious problems – Dire, grave, woeful, issues – and we as a nation dance on the head of a pin like furious two year olds squabbling over who gets to sit in the front seat- sooner or later that damned pins going straight up our ass. How does one reconcile this with the willingness of thousands to give fully of themselves for the benefit of the nation and the world?

You don’t.

We like to say that we honor their sacrifice because they fought for us. I’m sorry but that cannot be true and if it is – we’ve made horrid mockeries of their sacrifice. Most of us will not spend two seconds thinking about an uncle one has never met, or a grandfather who never was, or the tragic ghosts of a memory carefully unspoken. We will shovel our faces with a hot dog, watch the game, and be thankful at least that they have produced a day of respite from a job that we are privileged to be ground to dust by. Our human imaginations, so potent in individuals, anemic en masse, can’t contain the weight of misery endured on behalf of an unseen future that is fairly blighted by prospects at present. It can’t look on a murderous beachhead with  promise, or a vast wheatfield with hope. We can’t imagine facing these things. And that’s okay, really. We don’t have to. Someone else did it already. But we do have to imagine a future that is worth envisioning. We are given, graced perhaps, with the victories and defeats of others and obligated to live up to them. Yeah. That sounds awfully dour. Sorry. But this isn’t a bad thing. This is an opportunity and an honor.

Our ancestors who fought these wars, no matter their cause or outcome, didn’t do so for us. They did it for themselves. They did it so that they could carve from history a place for their immediate future. It is always such a tragically small future that they make and some of them fail, but it is their right to determine it that we honor.

Precious few remember the soldiers at Yorktown on both sides, one holding to the glory of an empire, one fighting for freedom of a new land of promise built on the back of an old land of home and nature. Few remember Antietam and it’s miserable mess fought for the right of a people to be released from slavery and a country to stay united. Sadly few remember Iwo Jima or Normandy where we stood with THE WORLD to free europe from a nightmare. All of this is okay. Someone bought our right to not remember and who really wants to remember all that blood anyway? It’s a horrible thing. Don’t do it. Enjoy your hotdog.

But to be here and now is an honor. Rather than reenact on a pathetic scale the conflicts of ideologies and egos that have led to so much death on this planet, lets put them down. Rather than stand in a uniform with one side or the other, let’s take the uniforms off and discuss solutions to these problems. We can get away from Us and Them so long as we can discuss everything in that great expanse of wheatfield in the middle, so long as we can both look upon the beach with no reason to fear.

I guess, in a way, i think the greatest honor to the fallen might be to finally figure out a new way to do the fighting – to finally figure out that in the middle, between the trenches, is a football pitch, an idea, a problem, a solution. All the killing in the world will not find the solution unless you stop fearing and get on out there and play without uniforms.

Enjoy your hot dog.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Why Writing Isn’t Easy – Particularly for those who call themselves writers

Okay. Now that i have officially linked (i think) this here blog to my facebook account and nothing has exploded – yet – i will commence with a slurry of generally foolish bullshit before slinking off in embarassment. Or something might explode – which i think i might prefer.

Let’s start with the title of this blog. Writing isn’t easy.

Well it’s not. Particularly if you have latent, but well concealed, neurotic tendencies. Let’s face it. Writers want to be adored for their amazing wit, pithy wisdom delivered in shining gemlike…umm…things…similes…what are those called? Metaphors? Anyway. Something like that. Generally writers are not unlike other people, the big difference is they usually don’t hide it as well. Writers often consider it their solemn duty to be messy humans. If they aren’t bulls in china shops they aren’t doing their job well. So… That said… Let’s just get this out the way before i embarass myself futher.

LOVE ME LOVE ME LOVE ME!!! Look upon my words of wit and wisdom and be thoroughly amazed!!! Or barring that politely look away while i make an ass out of myself.

Alright. I feel better about that.

Honestly i am in a post neurotic phase of my life so the moments wherein i lose my head seeking the adoration of a mythical fan base has passed. You missed it. Or i missed you. Whatever. It’s in the past. The real trouble, as you can see, is doing the work. To actually be a writer you must write. I know. It’s shocking but true. Should you meet one of those fellows who call themselves writers but will not show you a thing they’ve written but have a frightening affinity for gin and tonics, call them on it. Demand a sonnet immediately. An ode. Anything. At the very least make them hold a pen in their hands as they quaff down the next gin and tonic (and as they are looking at the pen and quaffing, slowly back away to a safe distance)

Because it actually requires work. You actually have to sit there and think of something to say. Or (as you can see from the bullshit here present in glorious abundance) you at least have to write SOMETHING – even if it is crap. Yeah. Sorta like life. It’s weird that way.

I started this blog a good two months ago or so and since it has opened for business i have quietly crawled back into my den of excuses about writing, some of them genuine and some of them total nonsense. I have finished one screenplay (the rejections of which i am not so anxiously awaiting – another tip from the notoriously unpublished: there is no point in being anxious about rejections. You might as well worry about walking. Just let it happen and enjoy it.) I have been planning another screenplay and in the interim i have been playing alot of videogames and have been deeply engaged in the process of NOT being a writer.

And then i come to this blog. I can write, but i’ll be honest with you – when i get here i choke. It’s like all the words and all the thoughts that might have flowed from any ready pen storm out of my head like crows over the proverbial wheatfield and then the thought “my lord! I’m a sickening fraud!” pokes up again from the primordial ooze of my subconcious and threatens to throttle me. And then i remember. I am a fraud. Of course. Duh. Being a Writer is a fraudulent act. Like BEING a concert pianist. Your life would really suck if you were chained to a concert piano 24/7. Same thing with writing, only we poor bastards have a long history of antisocial and self destructive behavior to live up to. It’s a heavy task, being brilliant and witty and fascinating and self destructive. It’s also a load of horseshit. Some dumb writer once said you can perfect the life or you can perfect the art and maybe there is some necessary tightrope walking being done, but lets all just hold it together and promise to do the best we can and pray – like the rest of the human race – that it all works out in the end. Let’s do that and set aside the questions of life, art, aesthetics, postmodernism and all the other nonsense you can throw into the great piss pot of whatever it is you do every  day, writing included.

Oh and by the way, if there are those of you who are not writers (shame on you, lesser people) – you remember that stuff they used to tell you about the brilliant writers of yesteryear who sweated and toiled over every word for the sake of their art? Well, sure. They’re out there but you definately don’t want to meet them and when you read them you will smell the stink of their effort. This is just my opinion but the best writers were the craftsmen who stumbled into their intent while staring at the clouds floating by. We’re gonna have a knife fight if you disagree.

Anyway. This is just my disjointed attempt to get the blood flowing as you can probably figure out. I have alot of things to write – another screenplay to start, one to edit and a third to play surgery with, and i really need to remember what those creative juices taste like and its not all absynthe and port. Sometimes it’s a bit like bile mixed with honey.

So write if you want to. Paint. Raise kids. Be a mess. But work on doing what you’re doing when you’re doing it and do  it the best you can then move away and do something else. Try not to call yourself an artist or a writer or a something and live up to whatever principles that you think define that. Believe me it makes it much harder to actually do it if you have to believe in it first.

Categories: Uncategorized, Writing | 5 Comments

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