The Storm is bigger and nastier than you think

So a game journalist source of Bill Harris over at Dubious Quality had some things to say about publishers and their renewed interest in screwing journo’s jollies:

There’s a sequel to this post, in which they bring up Eurogamer, Rock Paper Shotgun and others as hallmarks of Game Journalism (they truly are, never think I doubt that), and go on to say that the death of independent ballsy publications like these over the IGNs or the Gamespots of the world will be the loss for all readers.

By looking at the consumer and the industry as one entity aligned against disparate news and websites varied in their quality of journalism, the source is making the same mistake he assumes people make against game journalists.
This is something that also part of the problem loop, as much as you or I wish it weren’t. Consider this: the games industry is not just Gears of War or Skyrim or Modern Warfare, it is also smaller games, and medium tier games. We all know this, and yet we don’t practice it. Some with artistic integrity, and some with just enough spit and polish to be fun, but not wholly original. They are all works that deserve to be talked about, to be shown to people, to be discussed as original/unoriginal, refreshing/bland. And yet we don’t. Most of the coverage you see from even the most respected outlets is about the big names. A slew of Skyrim screenshots is page one news, while a new XBLA or PC game announcement is hardly ever mentioned. Even the publications I most respect are party to this. I do a search for Terraria on Eurogamer, a publication I respect above all else, except maybe RPS, and I see a “No results found” page.

Where is the coverage for Ghost Recon Online for the Wii U? It was on the show floor at the E3 Nintendo booth, and while it may have been too bland/unfinished or anything else to be seen by journos, it is almost as if it wasn’t there. You know why that is? I was at the Nintendo booth at E3, and the VIP and the regular show floors had the game, but the “press” both on the second floor didn’t – understandable as it was Nintendo’s showcase floor and they only wanted to show their own demos. There is your lack of proper journalism right there. Here’s a game announced and playable at the show floor, but the barest of peeps were heard from the news outlets. I could count many such instances, but the fact is that this happens too.

Also thinking of your audience as one huddled mass is quite sad. The death of Eurogamer WILL affect the large Eurogamer community that attends the expo, takes part in discussions on the boards and carries that badge proudly. Same for any other website – but a large percentage of consumers now treat games just the same as films. They see reviews on their favourite general magazine or newspaper or Sunday supplement and go ahead and buy it if their friends also make a fuss about it. The reason they do not turn to specialist outlets has a lot to do with the casual way in which they interact with their gaming time, but I have also seen a lot of hardcore gaming friends completely disenchanted with the journalism on display. The 7 to 9 scale is not a myth or an exaggeration. You know it’s a reality, and even some of the most respected outlets are guilty of that. The fact that competency in craft and polish count for more than artistic integrity, vision or even fun in game reviews is true enough; the PR and publishing wings of most game companies accept that. They may be part of the problem, but they are now working with that – they want to convince the “legitimate” news outlets more than the gaming press which will grant them an 8 anyway (unless the game’s quite boring, in which case they get a 7).

My point is that saying that there are different, better game journalists in the same statement where game companies, games and the audiences are homogenised is just as bad, and contributes to the problem. We are stuck in a vicious cycle of pandering to the biggest and the loudest, and the biggest and loudest publications (in this case being non-specialist press) is getting preferential treatment is not a surprise. By calling themselves part of the “games industry”, gaming press has subjected themselves to the machinations of the very industry which forgets the small ones.

There are defiant small player in every part of this equation – sites like RPS or GWJ, the small, well made games, the indie developer, and the discerning fan who reads better kinds of journalism. We need to celebrate them all equally; the entire cycle is nothing without any of them.

Disclaimer – I work for a games developer, and am a fan of well written games journalism and discussion. None of what I say here comes from my employer.

Who wants to be a Slumdog Millionaire?

Slumdog Millionaire
Indians, eh? It is the contradiction in us that makes us who we are. The diversity, the different viewpoints, and always, always the vociferous opinions that bring forth the most argumentative parts out in us. We love a good argument, let’s not mince that out and the bigger the success the bigger the argument about the validity of the success, the importance of restraint, and the calls to be contradictory just to be contradictory.

I’ve been amusingly reading a lot of articles and opinions on the Oscar sweep that Slumdog Millionaire affected by it’s 8 out of 9 wins (it was never 10, remember this children.) It has been entirely hilarious reading oppositions to its name, and the protests against it depicting Mumbai slums as Mumbai slums. Actors like Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan have been very PC about disliking the film, albeit with Aamir actually calling it over the top.

Let’s just say that I don’t think anyone making films for a living and a shame sheet of his own gets to diss another film for anything. Ever. Joel Schumacher does not get to call the Ed Norton Hulk film campy. Aamir needs to work off Mangal Pandey and Mann (especially Mann) and Mela before he gets to say any film made by anyone else was over the top. Just out of curiosity though, Aamir: in your opinion, was it more believable than Lagaan, or less? Bachchan’s comparisons to Delhi 6 are more earnest – he simply does not seem to get the difference between subtlety of meaning and nailing a conviction with a hammer.

Then there are the many, many different articles trying to make sense of what they see as unreasonable euphoria for the Slumdog Oscars. Tunku Varadarajan’s largely cacophonic take on it in the Times (pointed out to us by Sidin via twitter) is extremely stupid, of course. He asks the question a lot of people think is valid: how can the same people who thought the film is a blemish, a shame unto us, are now celebrating the wins by going over the top? Answer: they’re not. If you cannot think that a people can have different voices, and that they will get different weightage (there’s an Asian word for ya) in the media coverage simply because of the topicality, I’m sorry, but you are simply calling attention to you being dense or a compulsive contrarian or quite possibly, both.

I liked the film when I saw it, I like it still, and I like the fact that it won a prize. How hard is that to understand? Heath Ledger winning the Oscar made scores of comic book geeks very happy. Where is the problem in that? If Martin Scorsese has been neglected by the very same awards all his life and that makes me angry as a film buff, am I trying to assert ownership over the work of that master director? I’m not, all I’m saying is that I like his films, and it would make me happy if he did win every now and then. Indrajit Hazra (a man I much respect) on his blog does mention that

all credit should go to Boyle (not to England) and to the actors…as well as the fab let-nothing-ungushy-be-said-about-him A.R. Rahman and Resul Pookutty. It should not go to India and, er, ‘all of us’.

I agree, but important to consider here is the fact that all anyone seems to be doing is celebrating the win of one of our own in an international event. If eleven men can be carried on a Billion shoulders to their coronation as lords and Kings simply by playing a sport for an independent board of sport, surely we can fête a soft spoken sound editor and an awe-inspiring composer? It’s a call for sanity, and I am with him through and through, but I do think that toasting the success of someone amongst us is a quality that all Indians could have more of.

Of course people tend to be more pragmatic and mention that the film is an international film directed by a British (a lot of people think he’s a Scot, he’s not) and distributed by an American studio, so hey bud-dy, hey palll, chill out, won’tcha? Don’t just jump for joy, be cool. Be very, very cool.

I can see where they are coming from. Of course restraint is called for, and of course we need to realize that it was never our film. Of course, if there’s one thing the middle class has learnt over the many, many years of grooming to be more like the West, is to act cool, to abandon the wanton junglee-ness of the lesser peoples, to not dance on the streets, yaar.

As much as it pains me to say this, I tend to agree with something Vir Sanghvi said on his blog:

And yet, so much of Slumdog is Indian.

He comes at it from the point of view that much of the supporting cast, the original novel, the talented crew, including the oft forgotten co-director are all Indian. Sure, but so was more or less the case with Gandhi. Gandhi, as much as I like that film, DDL cameo and all, was not an Indian film. Attenborough came with a certain fascination with The Mahatma, and an amused enchantment with the passion that dictates us as a people. He managed to capture a lot of history in that film, and it was very strong thematically, but it always felt as a well educated guess of a foreigner trying to understand India.

I am not claiming Slumdog to be a thorough dissection of the Indian psyche, if there is such a collective thing, but it is unreservedly Indian. The film does not glorify our mysticism and our small triumphs, and neither does it try to show us a picture of horror which is the normal life of an impoverished child. It just shows it as it is, albeit through the impossibly stained glasses of the fatalist. And in that, it is an Indian film. We can go back and forth about the relative merit of the film as a best picture, but in this point I remain unswerving.

Boyle films it with a mix of his own kinetic, hyper detailed style and what we have come to accept as nouveau Bollywood, and uses his lens to direct our attention to what is not just an Indian story, but The India story. If you cannot see parallels of our nation in the story of Jamaal – a young impoverished, oft used, oft suffering person, growing up, learning new tricks of the trade, but with his mad optimism intact, and finally winning it all in a sweepstake with many, many stumbles, not because he could, but because it was his destiny – I urge you to watch it again. If you cannot see the Indian-ness of the story, the half-lingering, half reverential shots, the celebration of all our triumphs, the hard work to win small shit-stained ones, and the big ones we win by fighting for love, and indeed the whole film the way it is put together, you do a great disservice to a crew that worked hard to do so.

Of course, Danny Boyle is not one of us, and neither is Christian Colson, but for the few months they made this little gem of a film, they tried very hard to be. Don’t dust off your Bharat Ratnas just yet, but saying you are glad a good film, and an Indian film in all but name, won the best picture does not make you a less proud Indian, or a more over the top one. It’s another matter if you didn’t like it all that much, and that is a discussion for another day.

Slumdog Millionaire

No, fuck it. I am writing after many days, so yes, it is a discussion for right bloody now.

I love that film. Unabashedly. Not simply because it is an Indian film, but because it gets it more than a lot of films do. It is a multilayered masterclass in film making that you have to see to believe. No really see, with eyes wide open. The film asks you a question, asking you to participate in the rollercoaster quiz show right at the outset. Literally, the film flashes the question and four options right in your face. Slowly, methodically, it eliminates those answers in front of you, leaving you with the jackpot answer – it was his destiny.

Indians don’t love like most people think of love. Despite any façade a Metro boy will put up in front of you, when Indians love, they love like madmen, and without thought of what happens next. That the film gets that, and gets it not just in the main story, but in all of it is a feat. That it also gets the simple, ugly facet of Indian-ness that we are sometimes not euphoric over the success of another fellow is a testament to the honesty of the film. It is a fantasy, of course, and it could all be Jamaal’s fantasy, accentuated by the never more Bollywood moment when he thinks of taking his brother down a high-rise with him.

It is a unique physical experience, watching this film. It is staggering that despite the time Boyle spends explaining just how much it sucks to be a poor orphan from the slums, the celebrations are much more memorable than the defeats. It has a sentiment, without being sentimental. It’s not a docu-drama, it is a fairy tale, and like all fairy tales, the end explodes with uplift in tone that never leaves you for quite a while.

Sanghvi, in his article goes on to mention that:

Do we really need a Scottish director backed by American money to come to Bombay to make a film of a Vikas Swaroop bestseller starring Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan with songs by Gulzar and A R Rahman?
Obviously, we do. Otherwise it would have been Yash Chopra or somebody like him standing on that stage in the Kodak theatre waving that Oscar around.

First of all, Yash Chopra would never be able to do so, and the reason I can make that claim is the very reason some people have not liked this film. We are too used to being manipulated by our dream peddling cinema that will shy as much as it could from the cruder places in Mumbai. The minority voice of the Kashyaps and the Banerjees is being heard better these days, but not at equal volume with the cacophony of the factory produced fantasy mongering studio films. The reason something as regressive and dishonest as Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was one of the most celebrated films last year, and a terribly wasteful, not to mention completely gimcrack film like Ghajini was considered a masterpiece is a symptom of the larger problem.

We are too used to the trappings of the bad kind of cinema that Bollywood, or any other cheaply named wood makes that we stepping out of the comfort zone is hard for us. Instead of thoroughly celebrating the triumphs that were Dev D or Oye Lucky, fans are left apologizing for them in a place where the worth of a film is till measured by the money it made. It’s not our fault either.

Bollywood is too exclusive a club. Not only are they completely resistant to the idea of anyone else other than them making films, they are completely resistant to change. Too many of the ‘trade pundit’ or ‘acting institutions’ have given interviews that smack of distaste at the new corporate film houses or the smaller, ‘multiplex’ films. Every step forward is coupled by a jog backwards. If they could, they would make the same film they know how to make again and again. Of course, in the times when ‘different’ is the new ‘safe’, they have made an art form of making an atavistic film with all the bells and whistles of a new wave film.

Of course Bollywood slams Slumdog and disavows it as a bastard child, a freak occurrence. Accepting it as a good film would mean they give their blessings to honest, technically accomplished, thematically rich film making. If they did that, how will they make one like that? Balderdash! That would mean the new kids will win, and we can’t have that, can we?

I am not claiming that just because you didn’t like a film I loved you are a brain dead Bolly-zombie. What I am getting at to is this: I liked the film, as I liked many more this year. I don’t denounce it or celebrate it just because it is an Indian film at heart. I am happy it won as much as I am happy Woody Allen’s fun film gave Cruz a statuette. I just don’t want you to get in my business of liking a film’s win with all your misguided cries of oh, it’s not ours, or oh it’s not special, or oh we suck. Sometimes good cinema is good cinema, regardless of the politics behind it.

I mean, look at Gandhi.

Shut It OR What we REALLY need in the aftermath of 26/11 Mumbai attacks

How about a nice big cup of Shut the fuck up?

Edit:This is not a gamer/geek post, and anyone who still reads this should probably be turned off by just that.
This is about the aftermath of the 26/11 Mumbai Terror Attacks, so please do not expect to be entertained.

If you’re remotely clued in to what we have experienced as a nation, you know that people are baying for politico blood – everybody blames the politicians and poor governance and the government’s supine handling of the situation. The mantra of the day seems to be we need better politicians.

And to that, I say: Shut It.

We as a nation have not given any consideration to what it means to have good governance while demanding it blindly. The politicians are as much part of the system they have helped create as you are. We ask for the politicians to be forcibly removed, while we ourselves do not own up to what we have contributed to the state of the nation’s pitiful governance.

Oh, this is not a rant about your need to vote. I am sure many of you vote. A lot of you even take active part in discussions and debates. What you do not do is be a good citizen. We complain and whine and bitch, and yet we will not walk the line we preach.

You expect better roads but you will still break red lights on your way to office, over-speed, bump pedestrians, pick fights with other drivers, run over someone while drunk and not stop.

You expect better security at home, but you will still live in illegal builder floors, use tampered meters at business, and never once contribute to neighborhood watch.

You expect strong leadership, where you bribe policemen and government officials to get out of a situation or get work done. You would rather pay 500 bucks than stand in line to get your passport renewed, and you want the system to reform itself.

You expect terrorism to not affect you, but you would rather blow 10000 INR in a watch or 2000 on lunch with friends than contribute a sizable chunk to charity.

You would rather send you children to the US to study than the Army, and still expect the understaffed NSG to miraculously become the US Marines.

You will raise a huge cry about the lax security, while you will badmouth, swear and intimidate the security guards at cinema halls into letting you carry your expensive gadgets in.

You will buy a swanky sedan that give 4 kilometers to a liter while you already have 2 other cars, but you’ll hate the idea of an affordable small car because it will crowd up the roads.

You want terrorism to go away, but you won’t stop badmouthing a religion just because you happen to not belong to it.

A good society is not made up of good government alone. It is made of good citizens. If we as a society have failed at creating a sense of well-being despite all our Mrsaidee and Gucci fixation, it has everything to do with the citizens of this country, of which the politicians are a part.

Yes, what happened in Mumbai on 26/11 is heinous, and nothing we do as a society will ever prepare us for something that so unequivocally shatters our bubble of security. Yes, we need better governance, and we deserve it. Everybody does.

What I am saying is that good governance begins with you. The citizens of India, and especially the privileges citizens – the children of unlimited potential and opportunity, the ones with money, family, and education. You were the future of India, and so far you have done a great job, no doubt, but the country needs more. Not just your hard work at the multinational and your taxes. The country needs you to take an active part is building a better society.

You want better leaders? Be them. Stand for elections – the new pay commission won’t keep you affluent in your sedans and Barista fixation, but it’s comfortable nonetheless. If you can’t, and I am sure not everyone thinks he can run the country, do small things.
Follow the basic rules of conduct. Respect people. Create a gracious and courteous generation. Respect all religions. Ask questions of your government, take part in the governance. Give to charity, especially the ones that contribute to children education. Teach your next generation to respect religion. Stop rumor mongering. Stop looking at news as a piece of perverse entertainment, but take action that will help you ameliorate those ghastly things at home.
Don’t encourage grief mongering, but do help people. Don’t bribe policemen, but do respect the law.

Do what makes a good society. It takes time to create a society that has it’s problems, but can boldly solve them. Create a good society and I promise you a good leader will spring from there.

I know, it’s a naive way to think, but we thought the cynical way, and that didn’t help us much, did it? Of course it’s not as easy as saying it. Of course I am wrong that this is the solution to terrorist attacks.

What happened on 26/11 was a dastardly act of terror, and deserves nothing less that absolute punishment. We need a strong and decisive acting leader now, and we need to feel more secure before we can create this [irony on]wonderful[irony off] society of ours. We need a whole lot of things that the government and the various organizations failed to provide us. But when you bay for the politician’s blood, remember that we as a nation that is 60 years old created them too.

I pray to God we don’t see another attack like this, and if we do, we are better prepared to thwart it. I hope this does not affect our economy as much, and that we don’t have to go to war to get the job done. And I pray that all the lost lives are somehow not wasted, but remembered as a sign of missing maturity that we as a people need to show.

Half Life 2: The Orange Box

So Chris Baker over at Wired’s Game|Life says in his E3 round up : (Specifically for the Half Life 2: Orange Box)
“Let’s see: One of the best PC games ever made, plus two expansion episodes, plus an enormously fun multiplayer shooter Team Fortress 2, plus the unique puzzle/action title Portal? There really isn’t a better bargain in gaming this year. Anyone with a 360 or PS3 or PC who doesn’t plan on buying this must be smoking crack.”

Hoo boy, really Chris? Really? I have the original Half Life 2 box. I have HL2: Episode one. I have paid for those, and own the original boxes, you shortsighted commenter! Do you really think its a good deal, me buying the whole original box, paying full price for 2 mods and one episode? Huh? Valve has left me with no choice, and I think that sucks. Don’t kiss their asses because you want to play the whole box on your 360. I don’t. I want to play Ep2, Portal and TF2 on my PC. And if Valve doesn’t provide, you know what lesser people are going to do Chris? You know what? They are going to pirate. Yo ho ho, Chris, yo ho ho.

Not me though, I will probably have to buy the damn box, unless they change their minds and release individual parts on Steam.

Doesn’t mean I’m gonna like it.

C’mon all you…

I’m not going to build it up or dress it up nicely, this is international Motherfucker week. As simple as that. The only reason you need is that it’s fuckin sweet to say that all day long and go back to the simpler time when you had just discovered swear words. Even so, let me explain.
So the new Die Hard has released, and trusted sources tell me, that it’s great fun, and a nice in form sequel. But, and this is crucial, the iconic line that I have grown up repeating, the one that begins with “Yippee-ki-yay”, and ends with, yup, sahi jawab, “Motherfucker”, is only half there. And guess which half got misplaced by the PG13 ass kissing whoresons out there? Sahi Jawab, aap iss cheque ko choo sakte hain.

Why am I so worked up though? As some heathens (cough, beatzo, cough) would say, it’s just a movie, man. Well it is, like 300 is just a comic, or Godfather is just a book, or Never Mind The Bollocks is just an album. Yes, all of these are iconic, they were great fun then, and we have moved on to more, maybe better of the same now. They are merely products of the entertainment medium they chose to live in. Yeah, but they all KICK ASS. These are rites of passage rituals to mandom.

And this is the truth: it’s not just a movie. As a kid watching it in the eighties, it OPENED MY HORSES! (Yeah, inside joke, go here.)

Picture this: You are a European terrorist holding a building hostage, and you find yourself thinking, “Hey! Zis vas eazy. Zis building is as safe as mein mädchen’s lap for me. Vat problem can vun cop really bee?”, etc. Now this is when that very cop breaks through one of the many air vents or shafts any time, and fucks with your happiness real bad.

I’m talking of course, about Officer John McClane. You know, Policeguy, deadly aim, all round hard ass? Of course you do. Nothing defined the eighties better than the iconic eighties action heroes. John Rambo, T800, John Matrix, Robocop, John McClane, Riggs and Murtaugh, Kaalia, Arjun Malvankar, the whole bunch. What makes John McClane even more badass than all of the other people from the eighties is that he is not a trained killing machine. He’s just a chain smoking cop with receding hairline and handy around guns. T800, say, can kill twelve terrorists just by the by on his way to his main mission to kill his target. (And let’s face it, he does get his ass handed to him in all the films’ end). But when you are just a regular guy with a police issue beebee gun, taking out twelve terrorists in one night is hella hard ass. And he doesn’t take days or weeks in wiping the bad guys off, like the others. He does that before Christmas, and he started on Christmas Eve!

Not only does he polish the pesky Euro-terrorists off in increasingly cool fashions, he does that without any shoes. Factor in huge chunks of glass and debris around and that means when he’s not shooting bad guys, he taking chunks of glass the size of PSPs from his feet. That’s badass.

Seriously though, Die Hard was the first time I saw a pure action film that perfectly balanced a heist, comedy, character development, and a touch of the rare – the characters were right on the thin line between realistic and fantastically mythic. Watch it again and you’ll see that director John McTiernan paces the action and comedy between pure tense moments beautifully.
There were long beats where the hero just lay hiding and waiting and trying to improvise, something that was contrary to all way of making an action film. We had seen action heroes with vulnerabilities, but McClane with his jet lag and sleeplessness and feet full of fuckin glass was something so completely original that others had to ape it eventually.

Te rest of the cast is simply fantastic, and McTiernan does a great job reining them all in. Riggs and Murtaugh were the ultimate buddy cops, but Reginald VelJohnson played his role with believability and true to life beats; I still think theirs was as good a hero-sidekick relationship as any. Alan Rickman’s grim presence was exploited by the actor to his fullest, and it remains his most menacing role, Snape or no Snape.

The cinematography and action choreography are beat perfect, and there is surprising amount of believability in the environment they create. The building and its infrastructure is created simply to offer action set pieces a place and a room, but they seem real and functional. The lag time between two terrorists dying is utilized not only by Willis to shine on a new coat of vulnerability, Jan De Bont and McTiernan use that time to establish a sense of geography to the Nakatomi building and establish the film firmly as something that has very few mistakes. (I’ve only ever see one, really)

Of course the casual way with which terrorism was observed in the eighties is not something that can find resonance in our time, but you don’t see me complaining about sexism when I watch Wayne westerns, do you?

There are iconic one-liners, and most don’t even belong to McClane, and the film improves because of the focus McTiernan had for the entire project. “Hey, we’re flexible. Pearl Harbor didn’t work out so we got you with tape decks.” Awesome.

It’s a film that not only spawned a whole lexicon, it is a film that became a staple diet film at my VHS player with friends. A friend once said that it’s our generation’s Sholay. I don’t quite agree with him, because our generation’s Sholay is still Sholay, as it should be for all generations (someone forward this to Ramu), but this one’s pretty up there as frequent watch films go. This is not a cinematic watershed moment, it’s just a film. It’s just a film that kicks ass.

This was not a love letter for an eighties action film. This was to tell you that you don’t rubbish international Motherfucker week. It’s a week, because from here till the end of seven days, you pick a day, any day, and use the word motherfucker in your language all day long. Pay respect to something that has been part of your childhood like Maggi, GoldSpot, Litchis from the tree, Double Decker buses, bicycles with U shaped handle bars.
Go my little devious ones, spread the word. Yippie ki yay…