Monthly Archives: March 2013

Behind Sydney

For many years now, I’ve wanted to live somewhere that would allow me to come home to a balcony with a westerly view. And so, now I come home, plop down on a chair on the balcony, and watch the sunset, whilst sipping a glass of wine. A portion of our balcony looks out over a moderately crowded street. The other side looks out onto a side-street featuring something that, at first glance, would seem rather unremarkable. Houses. Trees. Apartment blocks. But it’s far more appealing than the main road, which features, apart from some tree-lined side-walks, a park, and some buildings built well over 50 years ago, which now sit unloved, rotting away, featuring about as much aesthetic appeal as a turd.

So it is with the main streets of Sydney. We don’t know much about how to make our main thoroughfares [outside the CBD] of any interest. Parramatta Road? It’s a dour piece of work. Unimaginative, tacky store-fronts for miles on end. One stretch of road (near the Italian quarter) features, at last count, six different stores selling wedding dresses. A whole half-mile that takes the highway car-dealership approach, and simply stuffs them close together, like members of an unhappy family. Later spots along the road? Car repair stores. Dingy pubs. Fast food chains. Houses framed by rusting fences, overgrown weeds.

Sydney, lovely Sydney, is only lovely behind the scenes. The arteries of our city feature an almost relentless lack of beauty. I wonder sometimes if the people involved in the development of these major arties thought “Beauty? When yer goin’ fohty kay down the bloody street? Whatcha be goin’ on about?” (That may have been an Irish accent, it may have been Scottish…let’s just call it a pan-anglo accent).

And the good people of Sydney, being a fairly practical lot said: “Well this is a bit shite, innit? Let’s just make sure the rest of our city doesn’t look like this” and set out to build a lovely set of side-streets alongside 19th century churches, micro-parks, and even places to barbeque near cricket ovals.

It makes me think that perhaps I should give tourists a walking map of Sydney, and say “Now, when you get a bit outside the inner city, it gets a bit suss for a few suburbs, but if you hit the side-streets, well golly it gets pretty”. Because that’s where Sydney’s prettier locations are hidden. And it’s worth taking a visit.

Luckily, my balcony looks out onto just such a set of side-streets. And it’s a pretty marvellous sight at sunset.


Filed under Ruminations and Musings

Job Hunts and Salutations

So I’m currently job-hunting, and it’s a drag. There is absolutely nothing fun about it. Job hunting is like the administrative work that one does at the end of a massive project: a neatly bow-tied set of annoying tasks that need to be completed, and in a certain order, for there to be microcosmic harmony in thy microverse.

Luckily, I happen to know people who understand that being unemployed sucks, and have gone out of their way to do what they can to assist me, so as to minimise the amount of time I spend sitting at home, firing off CVs at websites and making phone-calls to people who would rather not have to suffer one more dire American accent interrupting the flow of calls from otherwise entirely more delightful Australian accents (I don’t think much of my accent, and I’m stuck with it for life, so what can I do but mock myself?).

One such friend just happens to be a pro at this whole job hunting thing. And so today our lessons began. In an empty pub.

There I sat, at the Royal Hotel, preparing cue-cards, nursing a Coke (as one does on St. Paddy’s Day) when my friend walked in. A quick meal later, we were sitting on the couches near the front entrance, doing our best not to fall in (due to there being a distinct lack of springs in the mattresses, a by-product of many years of abuse from students – mainly engineers), and she was prepping me. “So, begin” she said.


Her eyebrows flickered like a match that had just been lit. 

So I began. And blustered my way through about 2 minutes of incomprehensible nonsense about…a career path layered in the blood of cheesecake-making virgins and there’s a butterfly over there and who the fuck else knows what else. She took notes. Serious notes. The kind that I took when listening with deadly urgency to lectures on Thomas Pynchon.

And that’s when the feedback and the graphical structuring began. But only after first having the wind taken out of the sails of my ego.

The presentation needed a lot of work. A lot. So the exercises continue tomorrow. And possibly several more times throughout the rest of the week, until I can comfortably sit down in front of a group of random strangers and communicate in an intelligent way with them the way I would with friends, or family.

Oh, and before I forget, in far more important news, my friend Malcolm was appointed the new Australian Marriage Equality NSW convener, so many claps, hurrahs, and salutations to him on this most excellent appointment. Also, he throws wicked dinner parties.



Filed under My relentlessly fascinating life, Telling stories, Where We Are

The State of Gaming

For many years, I despaired, for videogames had taken a route that was no longer of any interest to me. Following the decline of isometric games, wildly expensive sandbox games, first-person-shooters and MMORPGs became the norm. Almost excessively so. And those of us who came of age during the RPG renaissance of the mid 90’s weeped, for there was little room for our particular palette.

There has been some discussion in the last year or so, on various gaming sites, discussing how games have changed in the last decade – the unbelievable budgets, name-brand focused approaches, the importance of sequels, the necessity for graphical improvements…the list goes on.

That all seems to be changing now. The games that I grew up loving, like Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, System Shock 2, Anachronox seem to be slowly returning to the market, but in highly unorthodox ways. Kickstarter. It’s making it easier now for game developers to take stock of the situation and ask: “Are $100 million dollar budgets what we really need? Isn’t that excessive?” For many, myself included, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the article posted on TheWertzone, about the contemporary nature of the gaming world. I’ve a few friends who work in the industry, and know – through them – that it is a difficult one. Especially in Australia. It’s a difficult industry in which to be involved, when living here. Fortunately, there are tablet games and smaller, smart-phone games, that are keeping people employed. However, the big studios, one after another, have over the last decade, faced increasing financial difficulty, and it’s unsurprisingly related to the spiraling budgets and excessively long development times of computer/console games.

As Adam Whitehead points out in his article:

How times have changed. Today, it takes teams of several dozen people anything from two to six years to make a game, with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars. Dozens of game development studios have closed over the course of the last generation of gaming (which began in 2005 with the release of the X-Box 360), in many cases despite selling millions of copies of games. It’s no longer enough to be successful. Now you have to produce a fast-selling megahit from day one, otherwise your company might go bust.

When budgets are massive, and one’s employment hinges on whether or not a game is successful, it’s hard not to stress, and lose one’s joi de vivre. Many studios seem to have forgotten that making more modestly-budgeted games means that they don’t *have* to sell as many copies to make a profit, and there’s less risk involved. Of course, what might get sacrificed is the quality of graphics. But videogames were never about that to begin with. Rather, they were about the gameplay, and the story. Some of my favourite games were immersive not because the characters in the game were lifelike, but because the storylike sucked me in. Anachronox, Planescape, System Shock, Deus Ex, all these game featured less-than-amazing graphics. But what they lacked in that department they more than made up for by having incredible writing, memorable characters, interesting storylines, and some wickedly excellent music.

They were immersive.

With the rise of Kickstarter, the opportunity to return to that style of gaming is returning. The spiritual successor to Planescape: Torment (Torment: Tides of Numenera) is now officially in development, and they’re asking for all of $900,000 (a paltry sum when compared to the budget for the Call of Duty games). The spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate – Project Eternity – is now also in active development. Like Numenera, the developers have asked for a relatively small sum of $1.1 million dollars. To date, they’ve passed the $2 million dollar mark in funding.

It appears to be a good time for gaming. Alternative revenue sources have appeared, which might, at the very least, lead to a bit more stability for those involved in the development of these games. And it might just very well lead to an industry-wide reassessment of how games are made, how much they should cost, and how the current publishing system could be restructured in order to facilitate the transition to a more economically sensible method of developing (and marketing) videogame content.



Filed under Ruminations and Musings, Where We Are