EssRec- Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

EssRec! My genius marketing term for Essential Recommendations in which I rattle off essential recommendations; be it books, films, games, trailers or whatever. This is my very first ‘EssRec’ so I thought I would start it off with a bang! An unconventional, wordy and incredibly niche bang! but a bang! nonetheless. Allow me to introduce you to:

Killing Is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line

by Brendan Keogh

Information at Goodreads, Available from Amazon, Gumroad.

Bang!

Art by Daniel Purvis

I’ve spoken before about how I believe Spec Ops: The Line to be one of the most important games in modern video game history. From its sweeping criticisms of modern game design, war, the effects violence and killing in both the real world and it’s portrayal in entertainment, a story line that deals with complex issues such as PTSD, war crimes and the current political climate and characters that are so real and developed you feel a definite, if at time strained and regrettable connection with, Spec Ops is bold, brash and unapologetic as it forces you to experience a spiral of escalation and ugly look at the true human condition. It’s a game I’d recommend everyone play and experience and please, please if you have not or do not know the story don’t read this book, and don’t spoil it for yourself! This game is meant to be played without any knowledge or expectation of what you’re going to experience. The ignorance and shock of going into this game fresh is its defining feature.

Anyway I’m not here to gush about the game, but rather this Brendan Keogh’s brilliant 177 page piece about it. He writes a book that is the perfect companion piece to the game and will keep you thinking about Spec Ops for years to come. He goes through the story chapter by chapter, missing nothing, questioning and analyzing everything. His criticisms, comparisons and references are spot on but also have a brilliant accessibility his writing isn’t pretentious or overly academic (which is, admittedly, what I thought I was going to be in for when I bought it)- Keogh writes like a true fan of the game, speaking honestly about his experiences with it- both good and bad. The best part is his charting of the characters journey- pointing out the flaws, mistakes and shifting intentions and mindset of the main character. Killing is harmless is a good remedy to a problem that plagues video games, especially ones as complex and detailed as Spec Ops– that of length. Games that run over dozens of hours and that potentially take you days to finish are hard to follow at times- understandably, how are you to remember the intricacies of a two-minute conversation after hours of gameplay and other scenes? There’s no ‘Previously on Knights of the Old Republic’ like you’d get on 24. Keogh’s piece bridged the gap nicely, and his in-depth look at the music and soundtrack was a particularly high point, as it was something I’ve been hoping to find discussed in depth for some time.

I don’t want to spoil anything else- either the game or the book, but I would recommend it highly. Well researched, fulled referenced and very well written, it’s great read if you’ve just played or enjoyed Spec Ops: the Line. The best way to enjoy it, I found, was to read a chapter of the book, then play that chapter in the game. You’ll see things you never noticed before, I swear.

Finally, If you enjoyed Spec Ops or Killing is Harmless, I can also recommend a brilliant two part Extra Credits video on it (Part 1 is spoiler free, part 2 is all spoilers all the time!) and the review on Zero Punctuation (hint: he likes it!) as well as a pretty good analysis by Errant Signal. If you’re in a reading mood, this piece by Tom Bissell is very good. Enjoy!

Spec_Ops_Preview_Code_08

Regrets

Editors note: I’m writing this very late at night after very, very little sleep and my goodness is my bedroom cold so please forgive (more) spelling & grammar errors (than usual).

My friend died today- a very good friend of mine who was about the same age as me. It’s still not really sunk in, and I doubt it ever truly will, but I want to write about it. I don’t really know why, exactly. I guess the reason at the top of my teetering tower of reasons  is that in times like this I have very few people to turn to, emotionally. In fact, I doubt many people think I’m very affected by the event at all. It’s not a lack of friends or caring folks, believe me, I guess I just like to remain emotionally distant from people. I don’t cry, I don’t really get emotional or deep with people, in case of sounding silly. I don’t cry at films, or books. I don’t do well at telling people I care for them. And from within my protective wall of sarcasm and self deprecation, I can sit around and deal with emotions privately and without other people knowing. Also I’m not a psychopath. Just wanted that out there.

So I guess I’m writing this because it still creates a nice division between actually sharing my feelings. Not many people I know in real life know about any of this, and if they do I can laugh it off and not have to be all serious and shit.

I feel so guilty doing this. It feels like I’m stealing the limelight in a weird way. Like I’m self obsessively spouting off all my feelings about how I feel, as if I’m so important in this whole thing. I don’t know. I’ve never dealt with this- I’ve never had someone who was close to me die. Christ, the most emotionally damaging thing I’ve had happen in my formative years was my sister’s rabbit dying when I was 10. Now, however, the person who was a best friend to me for a year, who convinced me I was funny, that I should try and get into radio, that I should go to college, the person who laughed at my jokes and was just always happy to see me is no longer around. She hasn’t been for a while, to be fair. When she moved away a couple of years ago our friendship faded as is so often the case. The texts became more infrequent, our comments and conversations turned less into plans for the future and more reminiscing about cool times we’d already had. Promises to meet up “when we were all less busy”. Nevertheless, I always thought things would just sort of reset; I kept sort of telling myself she’d move back and the gang of us would get up to the same tricks. We’d snap back into our old ways; locking ourselves in the bar and drinking all night, pier jumping into freezing water, hiking and climbing hungover, sitting around drinking and joking and eating.

It never happened. I never saw her again. She died today.

On my desk beside me is a pad of paper I have full of sketches and drawings. It’s an elegant A4 sketchbook with wonderfully thick, grainy paper (though not so much that it’s card-like). Sure, it’s nothing as fancy as a moleskine, with their black leather covers and silky bookmarks, but it has that cool ‘artist at work’ look- I’ve stuffed it with notes and sketches, smudged it with paints and charcoals and filled in every corner with drawings. It has notes next to each sketch, where I should improve or colour, what to work on or just to fill out where the page looked empty. It feels like a book you’d see in leonardo da vinci’s workshop it’s that fucking authentic. It’s a book a failed realisations. It’s stuffed with sketches I never finished, never completed. It’s full of broken promises of logos I’d say I’d try, or maps or drawings or cartoons I promised to people. I promised my friend a drawing. I often draw big A2 illustrations for people’s birthdays in leu of a present, and for a whole year she pestered me for a drawing. I joked I was working on it, I told her every week that I had made progress, that I was almost done. I hadn’t. I wasn’t. I had sat and stared and done nothing. What work I had done was half assed. I put it off. I put it off I like I put of my friendships, put off my plans, put off my emotions. I had forgotten about it. As I looked through my texts today, I found an old conversation. We were talking about this one time I blew off meeting her at the pub because I was too shy to meet someone she had with her (I told her the reason was because I had ‘paperwork’ to do for a new job). She said “I owed her big time”.

“haha What do I owe you? Name your price! Money? Gold? A picture of that monster you apparently saw in the woods?”

“lol that was real! You owe me a picture!”

It never happened. I never saw her again. She died today.

I’m keeping that sketch, that shitty, half assed sketch. I considered throwing it out so many times. Not now. Now I’m hanging it on the wall. As a reminder.

And I’m sorry K. I wish I had made more time for you, and I wish I had had the balls to tell you what a great friend you were, and always will be. I wish I had gone to the pub with you that time.

267772_10150235002572857_5675390_n

The Post-Apocalyptic (literary) Survival Guide

The combination of a recent buzz around the (now confirmed fake) ‘Survivor 2299’ website that was purported to be a teaser for Fallout 4, as well as my own new Fallout: New Vegas video series has made me realise my love for post apocalyptic fiction and settings all over again. If it came to nailing down a favourite literary genre, post-apocalypse rules the roost for me. The gritty survivalist and the under current of real fear for an end to society as we know it fascinates me and combined with the 50’s and 60’s technological optimism and concurrent, constant threat of nuclear inhalation is what drew me into the Fallout series of game so much. Apocalypse fiction often gets criticised as cliched, but I think that’s coming more out of the over saturation of ‘Zombie Culture’ that has been exponentially growing for the past few years (on a related note, I’ve left out World War Z from this as I think ‘zombies’ are pretty much a genre of their own at this point). The kind of apocalyptic setting I like the most usually harks back to the 1950’s- from things like the cosy catastrophes of Day of the Triffids to darker, bleaker works like The Road, A Boy and His Dog or The Earth Abides. The Zeitgeist of Nuclear war and global annihilation of the Cold War has always been a big draw for me creatively, and also fascinates me on a historical level.

Because of this, I thought I’d write up a list of what I think it some essential reading, watching and playing when it comes to post-apocalyptic literature. I’ll touch on my favorites as well as some that are essentially cornerstones at the foundation post apocalyptic fiction, and I’ll hopefully cover movies and finally video games later (and possibly in more detail). Either way, here we go!

1- There Will come soft Rains (1950)- Ray Bradbury

You MAY recognise this if you played Fallout 3...

A short story that is based on one of my favourite poems of all time, There Will Come Soft Rains by Sara Tisdale. A very short story originally published in a magazine, it tells the story of a robot still carrying out its duties in a house that has been almost destroyed by nuclear way, to a family long since dead. Really thoughtful and touching book, and the reading of the poem is particularly fantastic. Must read if you have 15 minutes to yourself.

2- Earth Abides (1949) – George R. Stewart

Earth_Abides_1949_small

A true cornerstone of apocalyptic fiction (man, get used to reading those words!) that tells the story of a world almost wiped out by plague. The story covers an epic timeline and charts the rise of new cultures in a devastated world and is heart breaking in a personal level. Fallowing the main character and watching a new society rise up around him is told so incredibly, it’ll leave you wanting more. Brilliant book and very ahead of its time.

3- The Road (2006) – Cormac McCarthy

The-road

Brutal, terrifying and not for the faint of heart, The Road is an incredible story of survival in a world and humanity during its dying breaths but it’s heavy, bleak and very depressing. This however, only makes the small uplifting moments that much more wonderful. It was faithfully adapted into a movie 2009 and is a recommended watch, however the book is still leagues ahead. Also contains what is, without a doubt, one of the most terrifying passages in any book ever (spoilers! Don’t read that article until you read The Road!).

4- A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) – Walter M. Millar

Miller 1959 - A Canticle for Leibowitz

Remember how I said Earth Abides was epic in scale? Yeah, compared to A Canticle for Leibowitz, Abides takes place in the blink of an eye. Taking place over the course of thousands of years, it charts the story of a group of monks protecting what knowledge remains of a world devastated by nuclear war and watching as the new civilisations begin to repeat the same mistakes again. I fully admit right now, I have never read Canticle– I have always had it on my list but never fully gotten around to it. That said, it is safe to say it is an essential read to anyone wanting to immerse themselves in both apocalyptic and science fiction literature.

5- The Stand (1978) (1990 complete & uncut edition) – Stephen King

016878

Everyone should read at least one Stephen King book, and if you do, let it be… 11/22/63 but if you read TWO then definitely read The Stand, one of King’s most famous (and longest) works. The Stand charts the odyssey of several characters as they survive in a world devoid of all but 0.1% of all human beings. In true King fashion though, dark powers are at work and a battle of good an evil soon begins to surface. An epic book in size and depth, King’s story is beautifully written and contains some of the best written characters in any of his work. While I think the story past a certain point leaves a lot to be desired, the initial depictions of the plague and helpless downfall of society is honestly terrifying. While it’s always been true that King is a better writer of characters than plots,  The Stand will still have you hooked by page five and leave an incredible impact on you.

6- A Boy and His Dog (1969)-  Harlan Ellison

A-Boy-and-His-Dog

Funny, dark, twisted and bizarre, A Boy and His Dog is one of my favourite books in the genre as it inspired so much after it (more on that when we get to Games). The story of a Boy, Vic and his telepathic dog, Blood, it charts his story across a brutal wasteland as they struggle to survive and, in the boys case, have sex by any means necessary. The books are controversial to say the least, but the brutal nature of the characters and their horrible, savage qualities make for some of the most believable characters in a post-apocalyptic fiction I’ve ever read.

Well, that’s my essentials. I know I missed out a tonne, but I want to keep is just slightly concise. Have you got an favourites? Have I missed an out? Tell me in the comments or send me some recommendations! Next time- movies!

 

In Search of a Lost Love Affair

Did I ever tell you guys how much I love trailers? Film trailers, TV show trailers, anything. I love the idea of conveying and selling a film or piece of work in only two minutes or so, utilising the (now rare) art of getting across the plot and selling the film without ruining any of the story. You’ll probably see me post about trailers a lot in the future.

Anyway, my favourite trailer is the extended trailer for 2013’s The Cloud Atlas. It was one of my films of 2013 and an incredible piece of filmmaking in general.

In the aforementioned trailer is a brilliant line, uttered by one of the best characters in the story. Robert Frobisher cannot find the end of a book he was reading, and it’s driving him mad. He writes to his lover, Sixsmith: “Half the book is missing. It’s completely killing me. A half-finished book is, after all, a half-finished love affair.”. I always thought that line was brilliant, because it has summed up the feelings I’ve had in regards to an infuriating search for a book I read in high school.

I picked the book up when I was twelve or thirteen and too bored/scared/lazy to hit the playground in High School. From what I remember, It was about humanoid aliens who lived (or had settled) on a dystopian Earth after human society fell apart. Humans live in slums of ruined cities surrounding the alien citadel acting as servants, and are dismissed as primitive and unintelligent, serving as menial workers for the aliens. The plot was told from the point of view of a young female alien and (possibly) involved the discovery or cover up of a plan to kill/sterilise the humans on the planet or cover up their intelligence. That’s all I can clean from my memory of it. I have a feeling I never made it to the end of the book.

Some points I know:

  • The aliens had some kind of ‘halo’ above their heads.
  • There is a section where they discuss anatomy and I feel as if they were described as taller and fitter than the average human
  • They use flying hover cars
  • There is a plot point of either the protagonist or someone close to her escaping in a garbage truck that serves the alien citadel.
  • Another (possible) plot point involves the protagonist wandering the human slums at night, discovering they are more intelligent than she believes or possibly evidence of a more sophisticated human culture (which makes me think the plot involved some kind of repression or cover up of this fact)
  • There is another plot point where they fly to a doctors summer-house to find him dead (I also think he may have been human. There was something notable about him).
  • The cover featured (possibly) the protagonist flying over the slums of the city in aforementioned hovercar, heading toward the citadel. It had that made think it was from the 80s/70s? Possibly?)

I read this book on and off without much interest in high school and I believe I never finished it. However, years on that book seems to have had more impact and me than almost anything else I’ve read. Every science fiction book I read reminds me of it. I don’t remember particularly liking it, but the fact I remember it so vividly makes me desperate to find it and properly read it. I have a feeling it was the first true science fiction book I ever read. I’ve googled everything I know, I’ve scoured Wikipedia pages and TV Tropes entries, I have stopped at every bookshop and even tried to contact the old librarian that lent me the book, all with no luck.

Do you know if this book? If so, tell me! I’ll reward you with all the drawings you could possibly want! I can’t live out my days not knowing the conclusion of this book. A half-finished book, after all, is a half-finished love affair.

One Year on the Internet

Well if anyone hadn’t noticed on twitter or on my most recent video, my channel is officially one year old. On the 23rd of November 2012, I uploaded my very first video to YouTube. It was… uh well, it was pretty standard for your first Let’s play video in that I was quiet, boring and it sucked! Also, for whatever reason I started an LP on a hardcore world of Minecraft, meaning if I died the whole place would get deleted. So yeah, I wasn’t the most forward thinking of chaps back then.

Either way, now that I’m at my one year mark I thought I would look back and reflect on how I’ve done and give some thoughts on the experience on a whole. A year ago, I decided to start making YouTube videos as a way to build a portfolio if I ever got into radio or some kind of job that might benefit from a pre-built fanbase. This has been my go-to answer to most people when the ask “Why the hell do you make videos?” and since I studied radio at college, they’re pretty used to me doing weird things. That said, I’ve always hoped and dreamed to actually make a living creating, writing or talking in whatever capacity and while I don’t expect Youtube to be the platform for me to make any real money, I’ve avoided telling people that it case they simply scoffed at me for being an idiot (I wouldn’t blame them, I would too) and wasting my time. However, now that we’re one year in- have I wasted my time? Is it time for me to call it quits? When I started, I made a pact with myself based on some advice I heard on an interview with Dave Chappelle, where he told James Lipton  that, while getting into comedy, his father told him: “Set a price. Set a price, and whenever it gets more than the price you set; get out”. So I said to myself I would give it a year- I’d give it my best shot and I’d see where I was in a year. Well, a year is up. Was it worth it?

If I looked at my channel today before I had started making videos, I’d probably be pretty disappointed. When you start a channel, your lofty ambitions of gaining a thousand subscribers a day is quickly dashed when you realise just how hard it is to gain a steady viewership. It can be hard for someone who hasn’t spent hours recording, editing and rendering to appreciate just how much a single comment, like or even view means to you after toiling away at making the best you have to offer. A year later, having experienced the elation of having two, three or even four comments on a video and seeing the views shoot up to almost twelve (twelve!) views after only a few hours, I’ve come to appreciate the difficult of building  fanbase. That said, I could never have dreamed the positivity and warmth people have shown towards the things I’ve created, case in point: Crappy Animations.

I’ve talked at length before about just how incredibly I lucked out with the Mindcrack animations I’ve made (for example, avoiding my near disastrous plan to upload my first ‘animation’ to a separate channel in case they weren’t well received) but you have to understand that when I started out, if I had been told my main subscriber base and thousands upon thousands of views would come from animations, I’d have laughed. I’ve gone on record as saying I’m certainly no artist, much less an animator, so the sheer avalanche of positivity and compliments I got in reaction to each and every animation has truly shocked me. I understand people may look at each video and ask how something with ‘merely’ <20000 views can mean so much to me, but this is from a guy who gets over the moon at 150 views per video (something I’m still getting used to).

Maybe this is a bit presumptuous, but I can almost feel myself looking back at this post down the line and laughing over my excitement of approaching a measly 700 subscribers, or gushing about videos that get upwards of 20 likes, but I really hope I don’t. If this year has taught me anything it’s that having a small fanbase or reach makes each and every interaction, like or  comment that much more special and unique and the be all and end all should never be a meaningless number at the top of your channel page. If I had to measure my biggest success, the greatest achievement of my YouTube hobby thus far, its been in the people I’ve met. Interacting, laughing and goofing around with people all across the globe has made for some of the funniest moments of 2013, and it’s justified every failed upload, every content ID and every restless minute trying to edit things together as time well and truly spent.

Here’s to another year!

At least, above all else, my quotes shall live on.

At least above all else, my quotes shall live on.