Always outnumbered. Generally overdresssed.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TED is great isn't it?

You might argue that there's already a great online game where you get to make adverts and it's called YouTube.

GC's Grammar Bounty

I will pay £20 to any bank account or charity in exchange for the email address of the copywriter responsible for this grammatical abomination.

They will then find themselves on the wrong end of extremely pedantic email about the proper usage of the words less and fewer and their responsibility, as producers of mass media, to the English language, the language of Shakespeare and Milton, a responsibility that they should be mindful of even if they are, as I suspect, Scandinavian, and fought shoulder to shoulder with the Nazis during the war.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another relatively good reason to keep blogging

I noticed this over at the Buns and Zammo blog. Looks like their web director has written a novel, that he's released as an iPhone app, apparently inspired by Nick Cave's all-singing, all-dancing digital version of the The Death of Bunny Munro.

I'm sort of allergic to The Cave's non-music projects, because by and large they tend to be pretentious in the way that only the works of Australian auteur can be, and I haven't downloaded Neil Ayres's app, because this evening I'm mainly downloading the new iPhone software, and frankly I don't think it's a good idea to do anything that might jeopardise my relationship with the only people currently prepared to pay for my journalism. Hastily reviewing the work of one of their key employees is unlikely to work out well for either of us.

But look, we all better get interested in writing for the iPhone/iPad because that's what it's going all going to be about from now on.

As part of the Creative Writing MA we've had a series of lectures from agents and commissioning editors. These have been, by and large, deeply depressing and involved them telling us that we're very unlikely to be published and that even if we are they certainly won't be able to give us any money.

In fact the only thing they haven't managed to be totally pessimistic about is the possibility that writing for the iPad might just save publishing, creating what is essentially a new media that people could be excited enough about to pay real money for.

The thing that makes writing for the iPad or the iPhone different is that you can accompany your words with things like video, or music. I hesitate to mention the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy again, but I don't think anyone will be surprised, given the kind of nerd I seem to be becoming, if I say I recently found myself looking at this clip from the not very good film that was made of the first of the books a few years ago. (Don't worry, I'm not about to start quoting Blackadder, or The Life of Brian, or inviting you round to my house to play Risk):

The theme music is excellent, but what you will notice is that the edition of The Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy (from 1.10 mins) they show is underwhelming - watching the animation you can't avoid a creeping sensation of pointlessness or redundancy. This was a major problem with the film, this and Mos Def's inability to act.

They didn't want to lose the narrated passages from The Book, since these are some of the most entertaining bits of writing in the novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide constituting a sort of separate character or sub rosa narrator. But they were then left with the difficulty of showing a film of a digital book. This was much more stylishly done in the TV serialisation from the 80s, when interestingly, they didn't bother to show the frame of the book. Probably something weird has gone on with our acceptance of screens within screens that's to do with the Windows operating system and YouTube. But to an art director in the 80s it would have just looked absurd and extraneous to requirement.

But I digress.

The problem with the animations in the more recent film, as you can see, is that they are merely dramatisations of what the words are saying and, as such, gratuitous. Douglas Adams wrote it originally for radio. In the radio version the impression you have is of someone reading out passages from the book, which, we are invited to imagine, with the help of sound effects, would have been digital text.

The text therefore described everything the listener needed to imagine the experience of reading The Guide for themselves - there was no shortfall which had to be supplied with images.

Most books are written like this.

And but see this is interesting because advertising writers, at their best, are used to writing with pictures. In fact, some of the very best adverts are good precisely because of the pleasure that comes from the weighting of meaning between visual and text.

Boring headline without the picture, meaningless picture without the headline. Nothing is wasted.

Obviously the other people that do this are graphic novelists, but there's something about the framing of text within a graphic novel that doesn't leave it to play freely off of the meaning of the imagery.

Bloggers also do this, because they link to an image, or a piece of film with text. Really good bloggers, like Ben Kay, do a killer lead in - so even though you don't really want to you, end up watching a shit French McDonald's advert or something.

So all I'm saying is that if I was a publisher looking for someone to offer a lot of money to, I would be assiduously reading advertising bloggers of a literary bent right now.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The best copy I've seen in ages

Hey look, a really good press advert. Unique proposition, 'try eating slowly', sweet design, nice bit of writing too:

No idea who made it and Campaign won't tell me, but what do you want to bet it's a relatively small agency and they're not being totally ridden by Sir Gulam Noon to make something flashy.

Historically British-Indian entrepreneurial spirit goes quite well with advertising, as evidenced by Cobra's consistently great stuff. In fact I think my favourite tube card ever was the unsung Cobra campaign 'Have a Cobra. Or something else if you'd prefer.' (the beer that puts you under less pressure). Conservative budgets and one guy in charge makes the whole process much less painful.

In other news, I've nearly finished Red Dead Redemption but have already stopped regarding it as a form of recreation and see it now as more of a Satanic Chore. It's like the videogame equivalent of War And Peace, because by all accounts I've got to the end, I've killed all the bad guys, John Marston has been re-united with his wife and son, and yet the game still tells me that it's barely 70% complete. I'm now formally a rancher, so I'm worried that the rest of the game will be a realist study in farming in 1900s America, more Hud than Once Upon a Time in The West, and I'm going to spend the next two weeks dipping virtual cows to ward off foot and mouth disease.

What does it mean that millions of people are Being John Marston? I don't know, and if my brain weren't so addled with videogames I could probably postulate something in about 500 words. As it is, I'm having trouble even leaving my flat.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

If this is what women like...

...then I have no idea what women like. To me it looks like she's got some kind of hideous billowing skin condition. Like that man who turned into a tree. Don't follow that link while you're having your Pret Crayfish Sandwich.

And it's still not as good as this:

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I'm on a horse


I've been meaning to write a something about Red Dead Redemption for some time, only I keep playing Red Dead Redemption.

I know, I know, when you signed up for this it was just advertising and a bit of literature - not sitting for hours and hours in front of a frankly awesome rig incorporating an Optoma GT7000 HD projector, PS3 and 1973 Harmon Kardon solid state amplifier, clutching a greasy plastic control paddle and tapping away for hours on end like a little boy with a rare genetic condition that causes him to look like a 29 year old man.

Funnily enough that's what my ex-girlfriend said.

But see I like the idea of writing about video games because the first writing I was really into was the video gaming magazines like Mean Machines and C&VG which I would read from cover to cover every month, a habit that lasted till I discovered the dodgy man in Shepherds Bush Market who would sell an eleven year old three ancient editions of Razzle for a fiver. There's also the distinct possibility that video games are just about to turn into art - and if there's a point to being a critic then maybe it's to try to propagate your sensibility within whatever it is you're criticising. You might even argue that one of the reasons that most advertising is real pony is that no one takes it seriously enough for it to have developed a critical culture.

But reviewing games, as a grown-up, ain't easy. The problem is that the element of interaction overwhelms the things that you would normally take interest in as a critic. Most people are more interested in how the game plays than how it sounds, or looks, or what it's saying. There's also the fact that games contain this other dimension which there isn't really a critical vocabulary to talk about yet - which is to do with pacing, how the tasks in the game are presented and what they are. You might call this a game's politics.

Most games are a lot like work, i.e. in order to succeed you have complete a series of goals set by someone else, and are rewarded for doing so with some form of credit that you can spend within the game. These games are late capitalist. A lot of games are also nihilistic, because the game world is hermeneutic nothing you do really matters. This is both chief advantage of gaming, compared to real life, and the scariest thing about it. If your children are noisy, wilful and violent plugging them into a Playstation is, no doubt, a blessed relief. But you're also encouraging them to immerse themselves in a world without consequences, or where the consequence of their actions are perverse, where stabbing 50 people in the face earns a you a Command Pro Perk.

But I digress...Red Dead Redemption.

If you've played Grand Theft Auto, you've already got the idea. Loner arrives in a large virtual environment populated by characters who swear a lot. Gunplay ensues. Only, and here's the kicker, in Red Dead Redemption you're in the Wild West, and you're a cowboy.

That's all I want to say about the, hem, gameplay.

Red Dead Redemption manages to be bigger than your average game, partly because it's a Western, which means it has this whole existing culture to engage with and comment upon, something it does in a rather smart post-modern way, and partly because its writers have taken care to introduce morality into the mix. So there's the normal obsession with shooting stuff, with weaponry and levelling-up, but you also have an 'honor' meter. So if you go round murdering nuns (which, yes, you can do) then you lose honor and become a 'desperado'. But, this behaviour has consequences, it makes your life more difficult, because everywhere you go people get together a posse and try to ride you out of town. On the other hand if you do good, good characters are predisposed to be genial and give you discounts.

This demonstrates, in a purely practical way that there is a reason to try to behave well, that it is not just its own reward. It offers choices which are absent in most games. You could not, for instance, play Call of Duty and manifest an attitude of pacifism within the game, whilst still playing the game. But in RDR you can at least choose only to shoot people who are intent on shooting at you.

But of course, as BolaƱo says: 'Evil is a Ferrari on the highways of freedom'.

There's also a third option, which is just to ride around the beautiful virtual countryside writing haiku about birds. And here's the unique thing about the game: RRDR is libertarian in its politics, because you don't have to do any tasks at all, if you don't feel like it. The world is wide, so your motion doesn't have to be straight ahead through time, it can just be digressive in space. It's the first game I've played that gives you the option of being a horseshoe throwing hippy.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Do they owe us a living? I strongly suspect they do.

So the first half of this novel I'm supposedly writing is set in the 70s, in Shepherds Bush, in the demi-monde of squatting and petty criminality. As part of the research I've been reading Penny Rimbaud's book, Shibboleth - My Revolting Life.

Rimbaud was drummer and founding member of the anarchopunk band Crass. I remember being played The Feeding of the 5000 in council flat bedroom when I was about 15 and becoming genuinely scared that someone would hear it and arrest us. Just one of the reasons I don't do drugs any more.

Rimbaud was actually an upper-middle class hippy - a public schoolboy, then a tutor at an art college, he lived in a commune he set up in a rented farmhouse. His father was Colonel in the British army and he was already in his thirties by the time Crass made it.

He shares these qualities with Joe Strummer, whose Dad was in the Foreign Office and who consistently lied about his age and his background. Increasingly punk seems to me to a be movement of posers who were angry with their parents, or angry about being sent to boarding school. The only authentic punks were the inauthentic punks.

Anyway, Shibboleth is great, by turns pretentious and smart much as you'd expect from someone that changed their name from Jeremy John Ratter to Penny Darjeeling Rimbaud. If you'd like to experience some abuse from Rimbaud first hand, I suggest you visit his website here.