Archive for April, 2014

Bleeding Edge

Pynchon’s second, in what is I believe a trilogy of gum shoe novels, replaces the hippy from Inherent Vice with a Jewish fraud investigator. Our protagonist inhabits an even more peculiar period of human history than the previous: she lives in Brookyln right before the World Trade Center collapses. Maxine, our heroine, is a little down and out. Separated from her husband, living with 2 children, and surprisingly profiting from being unaccredited by her profession’s judges, she begins an investigation into a somewhat shady cyber-security firm. It’s here that the novel begins.

Inherent Vice is a slice of psychedelica, L.A. In the sixties and the story begins and ends with a punch and a point that meanders through archetypical hippy tropes before delivering a message on the necessity of evil. Bleeding Edge on the other hand avoids Pynchon’s most beloved structure: Lear. Gravity’s Rainbow and Inherent Vice are both novels in which the protagonist ascends into madness and like Lear comes back down again. In Bleeding Edge the protagonist suffers from fewer loses of reality, rather she lives in a digital age in which reality is ever increasingly lost. The novel is full of allusion to video games. Doom comes out on gameboy, a mysterious deep web virtual reality promises a world “with graphics better than Final Fantasy X.”, and the mansions of Montauk share connections with lost government projects in time travel. It’s the later that brings up a consistent theme in Pynchon.

Gabriel Ice is the novel’s antagonist. A nerd who has given himself over to a world of government surveillance and secret projects. However, Mr. Ice remains an enigma for all of the novel. Maxine’s paranoid investigations into Mr. Ice’s world reveals September 11th tie ins, money laundered using Arabic financial instruments, and a potential link between Isreali covert ops and the NSA. But these wandering are all a product of class. Like Pynchon’s other novels we are in the hands of an unknown, but that vast other we in capitalism confront is simply the great levels of other the upper class produce. Gabriel Ice’s movements through the security apparatus and his apparent disregard for even organized crime means he produces huge wafts of the fog Pynchon loves to wallow in. Like the Hedgehog in the Russian animation beloved by one of the novel’s mobsters, that exact loss of scale, the experience of being lower class produces a necessary evil over story on those above us. It is perhaps one of the stranger experiences of class that great stratification mixed with an absence of transparency means those in power are often shrouded with the envy, hatred, speculation, & most of all a peculiar sense of other. While in Inherent Vice we end the novel with a great deal of known, and in the end a pretty powerful moral punch, Bleeding Edge is rather, somewhat like 9/11, one persistent patch of fog.

The novel in other words doesn’t resolve difficulties, but rather trivializes them as if the text is one giant bong hit in a GTA game. And btw GTA is name checked in this novel as is Hideo Kojima, the internet, CSS tables, Metal Gear Solid is given a lengthy treatise, Echo and the Bunnymen play in the background, and Zima is yesterday’s drink. It is this archeology of pop culture so close to home that might be Pynchon’s biggest point. We live in an era in which literature is a construct. Fine authors try to sling words with contemporary judges decide are canon. The result is a good deal of literature that omits the everyday. Pop art essentially stopped it’s chronicles around coca cola and the flinstones, Pynchon shows that the era of laptops, ps2s, and rapid web expansion is a more than worthy home of meaning. This isn’t to say Pynchon is being fascist in his obsession with pop culture, rather it feels rather frank. The New York Bleeding Edge covers is one only 5 years old. However it is covered in as much historical detail as a film set (and Pynchon has claimed film as a muse). In this it is almost shocking to hear web design conversations covered so frankly and so many copyrighted corporate slogans produced with aplomb. It is refreshing to see such contemporary subjects as it reminds of the shock value pop art contained in it’s genesis and is telling of the way we have ingested the 60s and 50s as ideal periods for meaning. It’s a bit like Donnie Darko in a way, but it is also a mirror that nears infinite reflection: Pynchon chronicles the exact web sayyid hipsters likely to buy into the idea of an established author chronicling them, and that tension gives the text new life.

Bleeding Edge is part of a series of mystery novels intended to give the hard boiled fiction of yesteryear new life, but instead what it does most of is remind of how much pop culture has changed in such a remarkably short time, and in that it says more about the state of things than a novel intended for audiences of any time.

April 28, 2014 at 7:59 am 1 comment

Design journals for this week

uncharted: golden abyss Miyamoto once mentioned that their competitors wanted to make film: Naughty Dog does. Uncharted is a film. It’s full of love able characters, small set pieces, a shooty cover game, and a rock climbing game. However cover based shooters: done them before. Climbing games: loved the focus of Prince of Persia. That becomes Uncharted’s main problem. Where a series like Gears of Wars can do cinematics, but excel at gameplay Uncharted cranks up the character button, doubles down on suspense, and forgets about gameplay. I might not finish it before my ps plus membership ends, and I man not so sure it really matters. The primary reason I keep playing is to experience a story. A well characterized one.
rayman: legends Have now unlocked almost every level. And now the game becomes a check in everyday for lums and daily challenge fest. The remixed music levels essentially ask you to play blind which is not a bad idea because you are playing to the beat. I enjoyed the game a lot, but I am not so sure why the game needs to be endless. Part of what makes these games fun is the mastery of a finite challenge. It’s the infinity in details, the possibility in level design that makes platformers come back for me. Leaderboards should globally clock complete times for levels. That said the challenge levels aren’t bad and do a good job of introducing you to a global score system.
strikers: 1945 An old Psiyko release which has been sitting around my vita for a bit. At first it was to fast for me,mthe psp visuals are reduced to a small black bordered box on the vita, but it keeps growing for some reason. I still can’t adjust to the danmaku sufficiently to not be credit feeding the machine, which means Psiyko’s strategy (which I am told is agreession) eludes me. What I like about the game is that the bomb system works as a piece of cover, you call in your squad and they take flack for you for a bit. The result is some serious strategic moments of gameplay. The difference in the ships’ abilities is also refreshing.

April 26, 2014 at 11:05 pm Leave a comment

Some stuff I posted to reddit

Just savings these here so I have a more concrete design diary.

**luftrausers** vita
I am around 30 something hours trying to finish the blimp with missiles mission (making good progress) blimps seem to spawn after 2 battleships for about 13k score. I tried puttering around in the sky avoiding enemies and it just delays the spawning if battleships, hence yes score seems to speed up the difficulty. Few games have I investigated this throughly, but the challenge in these accomplishments is so severe I fear they are there more as a means of keeping players there which means Vlambeer vastly misjudged their audience. I am really annoyed by this mission nonsense. I just want to work on my leaderboard score.

**rayman legends** vita
This just amazes me. The game’s levels have really grown from the somewhat basic concepts of the origins games to fully fleshed out trails of wit snd cunning. Also it just looks great on the vita. When I grow tired of luftrausers brutalist approach to difficulty I often find myself clocking in a few levels here and there. The challenge is nice, but not overly difficult.

**Crimzon Clover** PC
I can totally like with Cave’s blockage of new shmups as long as doujin games are like this. Crimzon Clover has all of the traps and vestiges of a cave shmup with an indie spirit that is hard to deny. I didn’t get to play it much, but this really impressed me. It has the right amount of enemies you have to focus in on while also containing the right bullet hell. In other words like a cave game it understands how to turn the some what free for. Aimless aspects of shmups into tight visceral situations worth your attention. It’s also free.

**monument valley** iOS
Somewhere up in the British sky there is a great wonka and he loves games. He also likes ico and M.C. Escher. Monument Valley does a lot of what Fez claimed to just with out all the clutter of those controllers & puzzles with highly subjective solutions. Instead if focuses in on the optical illusion Escher made and turns them into puzzles that are never overly challenging, but man is finished this game in a day. I believe after you finish there is a little more to the game, but right now the initial experience has left me pleased. One of the better ios games and one of the few that excels from being a touched based game.

**metal slug anthology** psp/ vita
Back in the day I had a neo geo and it was my bread and butter. I best Blue’s Journey at least 8 times. By the time Metal Slug hit I was in high school and working on things like Fatal Fury Real bout. The original metal slug is one of the best examples of enemy design ever made. Each unit has a specific purpose yet it never feels unfair… Well except that last boss. The levels a re joy to make it through contains enough super heroic Rambo shit to keep you entertained. I am not sure why no one has done a run and gun game as good as this one over the years. Unfortunately tacked onto the original metal slug are it’s numerous sequels. 3 was designed by the original designer of street fighter / moon patrol / KoF and shows a creativity of spirit with unique challenges and ideas in each level, but the later games feel like a milking of the franchise and then let’s not even mention those loading screens. Yes the official psp port of metal slug anthology contains loading screens the illegally emulated versions do not. While it’s not a huge deal it breaks up the flow and feels annoying. For such a great series Snk playmore should have spent more time. It’s a shame Nazca no logger exists because they made some of the better arcade games out there (in the hunt, metal slug, and gun force 2). Still this package contains more ideas in a segment than many games do in a full campaign.

April 13, 2014 at 12:18 am Leave a comment


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