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Issue , 2014

The Games Issue

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News

  • Students to benefit from Green dollar bills

  • Victoria Publishing Written Up

  • Eye on Exec

  • Students Swamp Staff

  • Scarfies Get Fair Fares

  • Google Is Frying Our Brains

  • Students Get Bad Rep

  • Students to benefit from Green dollar bills

  • Victoria Publishing Written Up

  • Eye on Exec

  • Students Swamp Staff

  • Scarfies Get Fair Fares

  • Google Is Frying Our Brains

  • Students Get Bad Rep

  • Features

  • interviewwithaallwhite

    An Interview with an All White

    I want to end up playing in the England Premier League; that is the ultimate goal, but at the moment I am loving every minute in France.

    by

  • fotballiesta

    Football Fiesta

    On 12 June, the opening night of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, 32 of the best international teams were stationed in Brazil with dreams of taking home the world’s most sought-after sports trophy.

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  • State Of Origin

    Salient got Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell and Maori Party candidate Chris McKenzie to face off. The question: which is the better State of Origin team? You decide.

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  • A League Of Legends – E-Sports And What They Are All About

    Right as this article goes to print, there is a sporting event in Seattle that has made an entire community sit up and take notice. With a total prize pool of USD$10,000,000 and represented by the best players of the sport the world has seen, this is the World Cup of their sport.

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  • appsmear

    App Smear

    Feature writer Philip McSweeney doesn’t have a smartphone, so we got him to investigate the world of mobile-phone gaming apps.

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  • fitspo

    Fitspo is the Pits, Bro

    #istheobsessionwiththeperfectselfiebodyhealthy? #fitspo #nopainnogain #doyouevenlift #shredding #youmirin?

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  • Something Wicked This Way Comes

    As the means to make video games becomes more streamlined for artists, we will no doubt approach an age where, like with film, you will be able to make them from home.

    by

  • interviewwithaallwhite

    An Interview with an All White

    I want to end up playing in the England Premier League; that is the ultimate goal, but at the moment I am loving every minute in France.

    by

  • fotballiesta

    Football Fiesta

    On 12 June, the opening night of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, 32 of the best international teams were stationed in Brazil with dreams of taking home the world’s most sought-after sports trophy.

    by

  • State Of Origin

    Salient got Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell and Maori Party candidate Chris McKenzie to face off. The question: which is the better State of Origin team? You decide.

    by

  • A League Of Legends – E-Sports And What They Are All About

    Right as this article goes to print, there is a sporting event in Seattle that has made an entire community sit up and take notice. With a total prize pool of USD$10,000,000 and represented by the best players of the sport the world has seen, this is the World Cup of their sport.

    by

  • appsmear

    App Smear

    Feature writer Philip McSweeney doesn’t have a smartphone, so we got him to investigate the world of mobile-phone gaming apps.

    by

  • fitspo

    Fitspo is the Pits, Bro

    #istheobsessionwiththeperfectselfiebodyhealthy? #fitspo #nopainnogain #doyouevenlift #shredding #youmirin?

    by

  • Something Wicked This Way Comes

    As the means to make video games becomes more streamlined for artists, we will no doubt approach an age where, like with film, you will be able to make them from home.

    by

  • Arts and Science

  • The Problem with Music in New Zealand and How To Fix It & Why Blink Started and Ran Puppies

    It’s easy to get cynical about New Zealand’s music industry. We’re tiny. Nothing happens here. When it does, we either over-hype it to the point of nausea or cut it down before it properly blooms. Anything that isn’t somehow involved with cows seems doomed to fail financially – there just aren’t enough of us, and we aren’t interested in anything but drinking and fucking and rugby.

    The fatalism isn’t exactly unfounded, but it’s part of what is holding us back. Low expectations clash with inexperienced idealism; you end up either jaded or on the other side of the world. Or you end up as Blink.

    Blink (real name Ian Jorgensen – yes, you have read this line hundreds of times) is best known for Camp A Low Hum, a summer music festival with all the annoying shit taken out that ran from 2007 to 2014. He also created a Wellington bar named Puppies, with a similar ethos, which shut down last month – not due to failure, but because Blink is busy working on other things. One of these things is already out – a book, named ‘The Problem with Music in New Zealand and How To Fix It & Why I Started and Ran Puppies”. As the title suggests, this collection of short essays is split in half, the first recording Blink’s problems and proposed solutions for the the industry, the second a chronicle of putting some of the solutions into practice – that is, building and running Puppies.

    Blink isn’t jaded, but he is a little angry. A kind of quiet rage runs through the first half of this book, most of it aimed at two very deserving targets – APRA and booze.

    The alcohol industry dominates our entertainment industry at almost every level. Nearly every show is either outright sponsored by alcohol (‘Jim Beam’s Homegrown’!) or held in a fucking bar. All-ages shows are almost non-existent, despite the fact that nobody cares about local music more than local 15-year-olds, and booze appears to distort nearly every other part of the live music experience. Shows start late and run late, giving the bars more time to sell drinks, and liquor laws are often complicated and unworkable – yet needed – stifling the possible innovations many venues might put in place. He emphasises that this is a particular problem in New Zealand, that he didn’t realise how bad it was until he toured the world with bands and saw plenty of small shows that weren’t at bars. Blink isn’t against alcohol per se – understanding that a few drinks are essential for some of us to have a good time – but he still mentions the ‘student who shows up at 11 pm after a bottle of scrumpy’ (I’m paraphrasing) with particular acidity. Ahem.

    I could find a succinct quote on APRA, but the title of the essay does it all – “APRA AND PPNZ ARE RIPPING OFF NEW ZEALAND BUSINESSES IN THE NAME OF SONGWRITERS WHO HAVE NO IDEA THIS IS GOING ON”. Basically, the people responsible for making sure that bands get paid when people use their songs – in TV, on the radio, even on a stereo at a café – have been stuck in the past, basing songwriter compensation on radio plays, despite the fact that the radio charts in no way mirror the actual amount a song is played in various venues. Blink makes clear that he sees much merit in APRA’s mission; he just finds that their methods are wilfully ignorant, and there has already been a bit of a mea culpa from APRA, as well as a lot of support from others in the industry.

    Blink also rails against some of the more arbitrarily stupid shit about shows in New Zealand. Why are they still $5? The price of everything else has gone up, but we still expect four bands and hours of entertainment for five bucks? The expectation that we will buy two or three $10 drinks may have a part in this. My fourth-form metalcore band broke up after only three shows, so I never quite realised all the bullshit that bands have to put up with to play shows in New Zealand, including literally paying for the ‘privilege’ to play in some bars. Not that bands aren’t at fault either – Blink has plenty of advice for them too, but this is starting to sound like Blink’s book is a rant. It’s not.

    Blink provides a multitude of ideas to deal with the problems in our industry, both ones he put into practice at Puppies (concrete advertised set times!) and ones he dreamed of years ago (two identical shows! one night!). There’s a detailed guide on how to set up DIY venues and parties, even in small towns, with New Zealand prices and recommendations and advice on liquor laws. There’s hope, but realistic hope. Blink is an idealist who has been making shit happen for years. He’s toured artists around the world, and seen that things can be a lot better, even for a country as small as ours. If you have any interest in making music shit happen in New Zealand, buy this book, or download it for free (alowhum.org). In Blink’s words: “Suck it up and make it work.”

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  • Interview with Young and Hungry Directors

    The Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre turns 20 this year. Having helped spawn the careers of noted alumni such as Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, it allows young theatre-makers to engage in all aspects of theatre creation. I sat down with Programme Director Diana Cable and Director Kerryn Palmer.

    There is always quite an eclectic mix of work on in the festival. What is the process behind choosing plays for production?

    Diana: One of our other programmes is the Playwrights’ Initiative. At the beginning, we commissioned established writers to create work, but around about 2000, we began commissioning emerging playwrights to create new works. We commission three new playwrights to create three original plays, and over a period of about eight months they are given a script advisor to work with them to develop the play for the festival the following year.

    How long have you been involved with Young and Hungry, Kerryn?

    Kerryn: 20 years. I acted in the first Young and Hungry when I was young. I’ve always had a passion for youth theatre. Prior to this, I hadn’t worked with Young and Hungry for about ten years, but I decided I needed some fresh young energy. It can get a bit jaded working in this industry, especially in Wellington, so what I love about working with young people is their enthusiasm.

    Young and Hungry spread to Auckland in 2003. Do you see Young and Hungry going even further to become a nationwide theatre festival, or are you quite happy with Wellington and Auckland at the moment?

    D: We are interested in working collaboratively with other organisations that are happy to embrace the philosophy and mentoring system that we have. At the moment, we are talking to Court Theatre in Christchurch and Centrepoint Theatre in Palmerston North. They recognise the connection between the established theatre practitioners and the young people, and they recognise that it provides a valued connection up into the professional industry. Court Theatre is interested in the process in the way that it might bring young people closer to the educational programmes they are already doing. For us, the collaborative process is as important as the outcome on stage.

    There has been a lot of debate about the future of the arts in Wellington. How do you, as both experienced arts professionals, see the future of the arts in Wellington? Particularly Young and Hungry.

    K: I think Young and Hungry is a really important place. Theatre is a particularly important way of getting kids away from digital screens. It’s more important than ever that theatre exists so that kids can experience something real. People say that it is a dying art; it has its place beside film. I’m quietly confident that theatre will keep going. However, things need to change, ways of thinking about funding need to change. But Young and Hungry has a really great method.

    D: I do think Young and Hungry plays a major part in the Wellington theatre scene, because it is a proven feeding ground for a lot of areas. All of our programmes are free to the participants. We provide all the technical aspects for theatre-making, not just acting. At the end of every year, we do a survey, and the one answer that comes up time and time again is you can’t do this alone. I have learned to be part of a team and collaborate, and from coming through us, young theatre-makers are learning to set up their own theatre companies, and take on all aspects of theatre, not just the acting.

    Do you have any advice for young theatre-makers?

    D: Put yourself out there.

    K: You have to be quite resilient. As well, consider doing something else while you’re making theatre. Be realistic, but also stay true to yourself. In addition to that, question why you are doing it. How is what I am going to do going to contribute to the world, not just myself?

    The Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre features three new plays from Wellington’s brightest young talent:
    Our Parents’ Children by Alex Lodge at 6.30 pm.
    Second Afterlife by Ralph McCubbin Howell at 8 pm.
    Uncle Minotaur by Dan Bain at 9.30 pm.

    The festival runs from the now to 2 August at BATS Theatre.

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  • Julia Holden’s Remains

    Julia Holden’s Remains
    30 Upstairs, until 2 August

    It took me a long time to warm to David Hockney’s photomontages. It may be that before I met Hockney, I met the fervid, but ultimately piddling, attempt of some 16-year-old to emulate him to meet NCEA Level 2 course requirements. Or perhaps because I associate my first meeting with Hockney with an age of full-body acne and chronic masturbation. They were messy, I thought. Something juvenile, something about their pasting together, something resembling a scrapbook.

    In a 1984 interview with Lawrence Weschler, Hockney recalls his ambivalent relationship with the camera. Upon learning that the photograph didn’t necessarily demand a rectangular frame, nor did it demand a single moment frozen, Hockney remembers a sense of exhilaration. “It takes time to see these pictures… these pictures came closer to how we actually see.” There’s a sense of motion to Hockney’s images. There’s no discernable focal point; the eye moves up, and down, and across, and is allowed time to make sense of things.

    Julia Holden’s paintings take a while.

    The promotional image for her current exhibition is taken from a series called The Philosopher. A pale woman against a brown background smokes a cigarette. Holden’s lines are hazy, her figures somehow cartoonish, and, upon first glance, bear something pubescent, like Hockney’s grasping at profundity, a solid Merit at best.

    Holden’s Philosopher, though, in some way offers a response to Rodin’s Thinker, and, more generally, a tradition in art of indulging the figure of male ‘savant’. Her pose is open, the positioning of her hand indicative of a deliberate femininity; her gaze is restless, but never meets the viewer’s. On the wall opposite the series of four paintings is a washed-out cream canvas, with an impression of the woman burned into it – like rayograph, or an LCD screen.

    Holden’s practice is one of building up. The paintings that make up each series are the remains of between 500 and 1000 oil paint frames that together constitute three-to-four-minute silent films. Viewed in sequence, Holden’s paintings become an examination of the painting as an autonomous object, a meditation on the creative process, of formation as destruction.

    In the room beside The Philosopher is The Muse, a single portrait adjacent to a screen playing a three-minute film of its composition. Holden’s subversion of art historical narratives is perhaps obvious, but it’s effective. The Muse paints herself. Using the frame as a mirror, the viewer enters into an uneasy relationship with her formation. She layers and re-layers herself, adorns herself in lipstick and eye shadow, adjusts her jawline. The result is something almost discomfiting. Tonally, The Muse is a slightly sickly green.

    There’s a violence to Holden’s work. But it’s not the masculine violence of abstract expressionism, in which the product is an excavation of process. Holden is more calculated. The paintings on show, even in the language used to refer to them – as remainders – suggest the artist takes on a role of curator, allowing the viewer to freeze particular moments of a moving whole. This violence manifests itself most evidently in Holden’s depiction of men. Two male portraits are featured in the exhibition; one, titled The Painter, complements The Muse, presented as its opposite, with a single oil painting adjacent to a film. The other, 38 Days, is larger in scope, with oil stills taking up three walls of one of the rooms, leading to a monitor in the bottom corner. Both men are pictured in a similar ritual of adornment as The Muse. The difference, however, is that the male ritual is one of violence. Shaving, or the disfiguration of the body, takes a central role in these works. Both men engage in an act of removal in order to best present themselves. In the top corner of 38 Days is a burnt impression similar to the one featured in The Philosopher. This image is repeated in the corresponding film, appearing at the end. The subject surveys his work, using the frame as a mirror, reaches out and wipes himself away. Holden seems to suggest that representation itself is an act of violence against the subject.

    Hockney’s photomontages disrupt the perspective of the image, allowing for an examination of the subject that seems dynamic. They seem to invite us in, to allow for a consideration that mirrors the way we examine three-dimensional works. We bend down, we circulate, we try to consume as much as we can. In a way, Holden reverses this. The viewer is locked in position, but the subject is able to move in and around the pictorial space. The inclusion of remainders allows for an extended consideration of a single moment – for the possibility of scrutiny, of an understanding – but their lack, the understanding that what is on show constitutes only a fraction of what has been produced, renders apparent the presence of someone controlling what can be seen.

     

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  • Jimi: All Is By My Side [Review]

    Jimi: All Is By My Side featured documentary in the NZIFF
    2.5 stars

    It starts with Jimi Hendrix playing to an empty bar. In this bar is the girlfriend of Keith Richards: Linda Keith. She befriends Jimi Hendrix, simultaneously introducing him to the music industry and LSD. The 1960s are here and aren’t they just groovy. Recent films such as Howl, On the Road, Nowhere Boy, Factory Girl and countless others all offer glamorous appropriations of ‘50s and ‘60s artistic counterculture – appropriations which inspire youths to rebel, and for their middle-aged parents to look back on their adolescence with fondness.

    These are the disturbingly clichéd narrative expectations that the viewer is rendered with after the opening scenes of John Ridley’s Jimi: All Is By My Side. While André 3000’s performance as Hendrix was cool, the rest of feature was definitely not “Ice Cold”. All Is By My Side details Hendrix’s rise to fame from his early days as a sideman in Clarksville, Tennessee, to his early UK success which climaxed with his performance of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ at the Saville Theatre (only three days after the song was released, while The Beatles were in attendance), and his departure to tour the US and play at the Monterey Pop Festival. We are given a plot – which is entertaining and engaging – but there is a lack of substance. Ridley was not given permission to reproduce any of Hendrix’s original material. In a fit of rage, Hendrix assaults his ginger girlfriend with a payphone, and then claims to have written ‘Red House’ as an apology – yet we are never given a performance.

    Throughout All Is By My Side, Hendrix is obsessed with Bob Dylan – he spends his last dollar on the LP Blonde on Blonde, and later recruits bassist Noel Redding because he had the same hair as Dylan. Thus, for appropriate comparison as far as biographical counterculture films go, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There reigns supreme. His multifaceted representation of Dylan, ranging from a negro child, an elderly outlaw and a washed-up woman, provide supreme artistic and narrative satisfaction. Yet this satisfaction is not given through Ridley’s representation of Hendrix. There is no depth, no character development, and most importantly, no songs by the man himself. Hendrix’s prophesying is hardly awe-inspiring – “When the power of love takes over the love of power, that’s when the world will change.”

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  • NZIFF

    That blissful time of year when spending all your money on films becomes even more socially acceptable is fast approaching. The New Zealand International Film Festival embraces the cultural hub of Wellington from the 25 July to 10 August with a programme which demands many circles and underlining in blue ballpoint pen. The festival always proves to be a soul-soothing couple of weeks where a spontaneous venture to whatever is on when time needs to be killed acts as the best reward for a soul-sapping day at the institution we call university. Consider it an essential part of your life education, gifting memories such as seeing a documentary about Pussy Riot with a large group of apathetically-feminist boys who only knew it involved a chance to hate on Putin and enthusiastically contributed to the most verbal abuse I have ever heard flung at a movie screen. It is never a mentally passive experience, and this year is proving to have equal potential for such mind-broadening, with a richly varied programme definitely worth dedicating time to for perusal.

    An inconclusive list of 10 films to use as a starting point:

    1. Maps to the Stars: Satirical portrayal of Hollywood featuring Julianne Moore (for which she won Best Actress at Cannes), John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska.

    2. Boyhood: A unique and unprecedented film shot over 12 years following the experience of a boy evolving from childhood to manhood. It has been widely pinpointed as one of the most notable films of 2014.

    3. Frank: Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Fassbender, this movie presents a quirky, satirical representation of indie-rock celebrity.

    4. White God: Won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, a dramatic story about a violent canine uprising (and dogs are no longer man’s best friend).

    5. At Berkley (documentary): Highly relevant to tertiary students in exploring the perspectives of both students and administrators at this incredibly famous progressive university on the challenges presented to the accessibility of tertiary education today.

    6. 20,000 Days on Earth: A richly seductive documentary on the life and music of Nick Cave.

    7. Joe: dark American drama starring Nicolas Cage. Enough said.

    8. Under the Skin: Highly critically acclaimed, this fantasy film showcases Scarlett Johansson as an alluring alien.

    9. Yves Saint Laurent: Vibrant biopic of the fashion designer.

    10. New Zealand’s Best 2014: For an experience of local talent, see this selection of the top entries from the latest short-film competition.

    However, the best way to find out what’s on is either online at the Festival’s website, or picking up a hard copy from locations including the Paramount and Embassy cinemas, Penthouse, Film Archive, Roxy, Unity Books, Aro Video and Te Papa.

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  • Don’t Tell Me It’s Not Like the Book

    “Yeah, but the book’s better.” A phrase heard only too often. A phrase you’ve probably uttered before in an attempt to appear literate. It’s okay, we’ve all done it. It’s humanity’s secret shame. “I am more literate than you because I read a book before it got turned into a film.” The thing we always seem to forget is that books and films are two different mediums. There is no such thing as a perfect adaptation. Nor should there be.

    The first stories to be adapted into film are believed to be Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm and Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1899 and 1900 respectively. Since then, both these stories have had countless adaptations. Sherlock Holmes has had at least three in the past decade. Clearly, it isn’t a bad thing to have a book turned into a film; otherwise, it wouldn’t keep happening. Why not adapt a book? It’s already got a story and characters that people like.

    The Fault in Our Stars is a book by the very fashionable young-adult author John Green, a man more famous for his metaphors than his stories. The novel follows two teenagers, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, who fall in love and say things like “hamartia”. More to the point, Hazel has cancer and Augustus once did. In a desperate bid to find out what happens to the characters of their favourite book after it has ended, they venture to Amsterdam to meet their favourite author. Self-referencing at its finest. I enjoyed the book a lot.

    However, I was pretty disappointed in the film. I know – sorry! Whether this is because I am older than the target audience or because I wasn’t altogether happy with some of the artistic visions, I’m not sure. It may even be because Green’s words are nicer to read than to hear. “I’m in love with you and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” doesn’t sound quite right when said aloud. But films and books are different mediums, right? The cinematography made sense in terms of film. I didn’t not like the film because I thought the book was better, that’s for sure.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t write off films because they aren’t as good as the book. Write them off because the cinematography is bad (or whatever). Film adaptations of books are great. They’re bringing the characters you love to life. They’re making your characters real; people who love and suffer as much as you do. The magic of fiction isn’t lost in film. Film is magical. Love your favourite book. But don’t ever let me know I’m not a real fan because I haven’t read it.

    5 HIGHEST-GROSSING BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATIONS:

    1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

    2. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

    3. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

    4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

    5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

    WHAT WE’RE READING

    Anna, English lecturer
    “Charles Martindale on aestheticism and the classics (why not talk about beauty?), James Elkins on Why Art Cannot Be Taught, JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith, and just finished Terry Castle’s The Professor.”

    Ashleigh, VUP editor
    “I’ve just finished Breton Duke’s new book Empty Bones which was grim as all heck, but great. And The Night We Ate the Baby by Tim Upperton is the best poetry book I’ve read this year, to be published soon.”

    Sebastian, English and Art History student (and published novelist)
    “I’ve been reading & Sons by David Gilbert – a really interesting multi-perspective story about a reclusive novelist and his estranged family.”

    Nina, Salient Books Editor
    “I’m reading Rough On Women by Margaret Sparrow, an eye-opening history of abortion in 19th-century New Zealand. And I’ve just started reading my first ever Oscar Wilde novel which is, unsurprisingly, full of rich men with glossy hair sauntering languidly.”

     

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  • The Problem with Music in New Zealand and How To Fix It & Why Blink Started and Ran Puppies

    It’s easy to get cynical about New Zealand’s music industry. We’re tiny. Nothing happens here. When it does, we either over-hype it to the point of nausea or cut it down before it properly blooms. Anything that isn’t somehow involved with cows seems doomed to fail financially – there just aren’t enough of us, and we aren’t interested in anything but drinking and fucking and rugby.

    The fatalism isn’t exactly unfounded, but it’s part of what is holding us back. Low expectations clash with inexperienced idealism; you end up either jaded or on the other side of the world. Or you end up as Blink.

    Blink (real name Ian Jorgensen – yes, you have read this line hundreds of times) is best known for Camp A Low Hum, a summer music festival with all the annoying shit taken out that ran from 2007 to 2014. He also created a Wellington bar named Puppies, with a similar ethos, which shut down last month – not due to failure, but because Blink is busy working on other things. One of these things is already out – a book, named ‘The Problem with Music in New Zealand and How To Fix It & Why I Started and Ran Puppies”. As the title suggests, this collection of short essays is split in half, the first recording Blink’s problems and proposed solutions for the the industry, the second a chronicle of putting some of the solutions into practice – that is, building and running Puppies.

    Blink isn’t jaded, but he is a little angry. A kind of quiet rage runs through the first half of this book, most of it aimed at two very deserving targets – APRA and booze.

    The alcohol industry dominates our entertainment industry at almost every level. Nearly every show is either outright sponsored by alcohol (‘Jim Beam’s Homegrown’!) or held in a fucking bar. All-ages shows are almost non-existent, despite the fact that nobody cares about local music more than local 15-year-olds, and booze appears to distort nearly every other part of the live music experience. Shows start late and run late, giving the bars more time to sell drinks, and liquor laws are often complicated and unworkable – yet needed – stifling the possible innovations many venues might put in place. He emphasises that this is a particular problem in New Zealand, that he didn’t realise how bad it was until he toured the world with bands and saw plenty of small shows that weren’t at bars. Blink isn’t against alcohol per se – understanding that a few drinks are essential for some of us to have a good time – but he still mentions the ‘student who shows up at 11 pm after a bottle of scrumpy’ (I’m paraphrasing) with particular acidity. Ahem.

    I could find a succinct quote on APRA, but the title of the essay does it all – “APRA AND PPNZ ARE RIPPING OFF NEW ZEALAND BUSINESSES IN THE NAME OF SONGWRITERS WHO HAVE NO IDEA THIS IS GOING ON”. Basically, the people responsible for making sure that bands get paid when people use their songs – in TV, on the radio, even on a stereo at a café – have been stuck in the past, basing songwriter compensation on radio plays, despite the fact that the radio charts in no way mirror the actual amount a song is played in various venues. Blink makes clear that he sees much merit in APRA’s mission; he just finds that their methods are wilfully ignorant, and there has already been a bit of a mea culpa from APRA, as well as a lot of support from others in the industry.

    Blink also rails against some of the more arbitrarily stupid shit about shows in New Zealand. Why are they still $5? The price of everything else has gone up, but we still expect four bands and hours of entertainment for five bucks? The expectation that we will buy two or three $10 drinks may have a part in this. My fourth-form metalcore band broke up after only three shows, so I never quite realised all the bullshit that bands have to put up with to play shows in New Zealand, including literally paying for the ‘privilege’ to play in some bars. Not that bands aren’t at fault either – Blink has plenty of advice for them too, but this is starting to sound like Blink’s book is a rant. It’s not.

    Blink provides a multitude of ideas to deal with the problems in our industry, both ones he put into practice at Puppies (concrete advertised set times!) and ones he dreamed of years ago (two identical shows! one night!). There’s a detailed guide on how to set up DIY venues and parties, even in small towns, with New Zealand prices and recommendations and advice on liquor laws. There’s hope, but realistic hope. Blink is an idealist who has been making shit happen for years. He’s toured artists around the world, and seen that things can be a lot better, even for a country as small as ours. If you have any interest in making music shit happen in New Zealand, buy this book, or download it for free (alowhum.org). In Blink’s words: “Suck it up and make it work.”

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  • Interview with Young and Hungry Directors

    The Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre turns 20 this year. Having helped spawn the careers of noted alumni such as Bret McKenzie, Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, it allows young theatre-makers to engage in all aspects of theatre creation. I sat down with Programme Director Diana Cable and Director Kerryn Palmer.

    There is always quite an eclectic mix of work on in the festival. What is the process behind choosing plays for production?

    Diana: One of our other programmes is the Playwrights’ Initiative. At the beginning, we commissioned established writers to create work, but around about 2000, we began commissioning emerging playwrights to create new works. We commission three new playwrights to create three original plays, and over a period of about eight months they are given a script advisor to work with them to develop the play for the festival the following year.

    How long have you been involved with Young and Hungry, Kerryn?

    Kerryn: 20 years. I acted in the first Young and Hungry when I was young. I’ve always had a passion for youth theatre. Prior to this, I hadn’t worked with Young and Hungry for about ten years, but I decided I needed some fresh young energy. It can get a bit jaded working in this industry, especially in Wellington, so what I love about working with young people is their enthusiasm.

    Young and Hungry spread to Auckland in 2003. Do you see Young and Hungry going even further to become a nationwide theatre festival, or are you quite happy with Wellington and Auckland at the moment?

    D: We are interested in working collaboratively with other organisations that are happy to embrace the philosophy and mentoring system that we have. At the moment, we are talking to Court Theatre in Christchurch and Centrepoint Theatre in Palmerston North. They recognise the connection between the established theatre practitioners and the young people, and they recognise that it provides a valued connection up into the professional industry. Court Theatre is interested in the process in the way that it might bring young people closer to the educational programmes they are already doing. For us, the collaborative process is as important as the outcome on stage.

    There has been a lot of debate about the future of the arts in Wellington. How do you, as both experienced arts professionals, see the future of the arts in Wellington? Particularly Young and Hungry.

    K: I think Young and Hungry is a really important place. Theatre is a particularly important way of getting kids away from digital screens. It’s more important than ever that theatre exists so that kids can experience something real. People say that it is a dying art; it has its place beside film. I’m quietly confident that theatre will keep going. However, things need to change, ways of thinking about funding need to change. But Young and Hungry has a really great method.

    D: I do think Young and Hungry plays a major part in the Wellington theatre scene, because it is a proven feeding ground for a lot of areas. All of our programmes are free to the participants. We provide all the technical aspects for theatre-making, not just acting. At the end of every year, we do a survey, and the one answer that comes up time and time again is you can’t do this alone. I have learned to be part of a team and collaborate, and from coming through us, young theatre-makers are learning to set up their own theatre companies, and take on all aspects of theatre, not just the acting.

    Do you have any advice for young theatre-makers?

    D: Put yourself out there.

    K: You have to be quite resilient. As well, consider doing something else while you’re making theatre. Be realistic, but also stay true to yourself. In addition to that, question why you are doing it. How is what I am going to do going to contribute to the world, not just myself?

    The Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre features three new plays from Wellington’s brightest young talent:
    Our Parents’ Children by Alex Lodge at 6.30 pm.
    Second Afterlife by Ralph McCubbin Howell at 8 pm.
    Uncle Minotaur by Dan Bain at 9.30 pm.

    The festival runs from the now to 2 August at BATS Theatre.

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  • Julia Holden’s Remains

    Julia Holden’s Remains
    30 Upstairs, until 2 August

    It took me a long time to warm to David Hockney’s photomontages. It may be that before I met Hockney, I met the fervid, but ultimately piddling, attempt of some 16-year-old to emulate him to meet NCEA Level 2 course requirements. Or perhaps because I associate my first meeting with Hockney with an age of full-body acne and chronic masturbation. They were messy, I thought. Something juvenile, something about their pasting together, something resembling a scrapbook.

    In a 1984 interview with Lawrence Weschler, Hockney recalls his ambivalent relationship with the camera. Upon learning that the photograph didn’t necessarily demand a rectangular frame, nor did it demand a single moment frozen, Hockney remembers a sense of exhilaration. “It takes time to see these pictures… these pictures came closer to how we actually see.” There’s a sense of motion to Hockney’s images. There’s no discernable focal point; the eye moves up, and down, and across, and is allowed time to make sense of things.

    Julia Holden’s paintings take a while.

    The promotional image for her current exhibition is taken from a series called The Philosopher. A pale woman against a brown background smokes a cigarette. Holden’s lines are hazy, her figures somehow cartoonish, and, upon first glance, bear something pubescent, like Hockney’s grasping at profundity, a solid Merit at best.

    Holden’s Philosopher, though, in some way offers a response to Rodin’s Thinker, and, more generally, a tradition in art of indulging the figure of male ‘savant’. Her pose is open, the positioning of her hand indicative of a deliberate femininity; her gaze is restless, but never meets the viewer’s. On the wall opposite the series of four paintings is a washed-out cream canvas, with an impression of the woman burned into it – like rayograph, or an LCD screen.

    Holden’s practice is one of building up. The paintings that make up each series are the remains of between 500 and 1000 oil paint frames that together constitute three-to-four-minute silent films. Viewed in sequence, Holden’s paintings become an examination of the painting as an autonomous object, a meditation on the creative process, of formation as destruction.

    In the room beside The Philosopher is The Muse, a single portrait adjacent to a screen playing a three-minute film of its composition. Holden’s subversion of art historical narratives is perhaps obvious, but it’s effective. The Muse paints herself. Using the frame as a mirror, the viewer enters into an uneasy relationship with her formation. She layers and re-layers herself, adorns herself in lipstick and eye shadow, adjusts her jawline. The result is something almost discomfiting. Tonally, The Muse is a slightly sickly green.

    There’s a violence to Holden’s work. But it’s not the masculine violence of abstract expressionism, in which the product is an excavation of process. Holden is more calculated. The paintings on show, even in the language used to refer to them – as remainders – suggest the artist takes on a role of curator, allowing the viewer to freeze particular moments of a moving whole. This violence manifests itself most evidently in Holden’s depiction of men. Two male portraits are featured in the exhibition; one, titled The Painter, complements The Muse, presented as its opposite, with a single oil painting adjacent to a film. The other, 38 Days, is larger in scope, with oil stills taking up three walls of one of the rooms, leading to a monitor in the bottom corner. Both men are pictured in a similar ritual of adornment as The Muse. The difference, however, is that the male ritual is one of violence. Shaving, or the disfiguration of the body, takes a central role in these works. Both men engage in an act of removal in order to best present themselves. In the top corner of 38 Days is a burnt impression similar to the one featured in The Philosopher. This image is repeated in the corresponding film, appearing at the end. The subject surveys his work, using the frame as a mirror, reaches out and wipes himself away. Holden seems to suggest that representation itself is an act of violence against the subject.

    Hockney’s photomontages disrupt the perspective of the image, allowing for an examination of the subject that seems dynamic. They seem to invite us in, to allow for a consideration that mirrors the way we examine three-dimensional works. We bend down, we circulate, we try to consume as much as we can. In a way, Holden reverses this. The viewer is locked in position, but the subject is able to move in and around the pictorial space. The inclusion of remainders allows for an extended consideration of a single moment – for the possibility of scrutiny, of an understanding – but their lack, the understanding that what is on show constitutes only a fraction of what has been produced, renders apparent the presence of someone controlling what can be seen.

     

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  • Jimi: All Is By My Side [Review]

    Jimi: All Is By My Side featured documentary in the NZIFF
    2.5 stars

    It starts with Jimi Hendrix playing to an empty bar. In this bar is the girlfriend of Keith Richards: Linda Keith. She befriends Jimi Hendrix, simultaneously introducing him to the music industry and LSD. The 1960s are here and aren’t they just groovy. Recent films such as Howl, On the Road, Nowhere Boy, Factory Girl and countless others all offer glamorous appropriations of ‘50s and ‘60s artistic counterculture – appropriations which inspire youths to rebel, and for their middle-aged parents to look back on their adolescence with fondness.

    These are the disturbingly clichéd narrative expectations that the viewer is rendered with after the opening scenes of John Ridley’s Jimi: All Is By My Side. While André 3000’s performance as Hendrix was cool, the rest of feature was definitely not “Ice Cold”. All Is By My Side details Hendrix’s rise to fame from his early days as a sideman in Clarksville, Tennessee, to his early UK success which climaxed with his performance of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ at the Saville Theatre (only three days after the song was released, while The Beatles were in attendance), and his departure to tour the US and play at the Monterey Pop Festival. We are given a plot – which is entertaining and engaging – but there is a lack of substance. Ridley was not given permission to reproduce any of Hendrix’s original material. In a fit of rage, Hendrix assaults his ginger girlfriend with a payphone, and then claims to have written ‘Red House’ as an apology – yet we are never given a performance.

    Throughout All Is By My Side, Hendrix is obsessed with Bob Dylan – he spends his last dollar on the LP Blonde on Blonde, and later recruits bassist Noel Redding because he had the same hair as Dylan. Thus, for appropriate comparison as far as biographical counterculture films go, Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There reigns supreme. His multifaceted representation of Dylan, ranging from a negro child, an elderly outlaw and a washed-up woman, provide supreme artistic and narrative satisfaction. Yet this satisfaction is not given through Ridley’s representation of Hendrix. There is no depth, no character development, and most importantly, no songs by the man himself. Hendrix’s prophesying is hardly awe-inspiring – “When the power of love takes over the love of power, that’s when the world will change.”

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  • NZIFF

    That blissful time of year when spending all your money on films becomes even more socially acceptable is fast approaching. The New Zealand International Film Festival embraces the cultural hub of Wellington from the 25 July to 10 August with a programme which demands many circles and underlining in blue ballpoint pen. The festival always proves to be a soul-soothing couple of weeks where a spontaneous venture to whatever is on when time needs to be killed acts as the best reward for a soul-sapping day at the institution we call university. Consider it an essential part of your life education, gifting memories such as seeing a documentary about Pussy Riot with a large group of apathetically-feminist boys who only knew it involved a chance to hate on Putin and enthusiastically contributed to the most verbal abuse I have ever heard flung at a movie screen. It is never a mentally passive experience, and this year is proving to have equal potential for such mind-broadening, with a richly varied programme definitely worth dedicating time to for perusal.

    An inconclusive list of 10 films to use as a starting point:

    1. Maps to the Stars: Satirical portrayal of Hollywood featuring Julianne Moore (for which she won Best Actress at Cannes), John Cusack, Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska.

    2. Boyhood: A unique and unprecedented film shot over 12 years following the experience of a boy evolving from childhood to manhood. It has been widely pinpointed as one of the most notable films of 2014.

    3. Frank: Starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Michael Fassbender, this movie presents a quirky, satirical representation of indie-rock celebrity.

    4. White God: Won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes, a dramatic story about a violent canine uprising (and dogs are no longer man’s best friend).

    5. At Berkley (documentary): Highly relevant to tertiary students in exploring the perspectives of both students and administrators at this incredibly famous progressive university on the challenges presented to the accessibility of tertiary education today.

    6. 20,000 Days on Earth: A richly seductive documentary on the life and music of Nick Cave.

    7. Joe: dark American drama starring Nicolas Cage. Enough said.

    8. Under the Skin: Highly critically acclaimed, this fantasy film showcases Scarlett Johansson as an alluring alien.

    9. Yves Saint Laurent: Vibrant biopic of the fashion designer.

    10. New Zealand’s Best 2014: For an experience of local talent, see this selection of the top entries from the latest short-film competition.

    However, the best way to find out what’s on is either online at the Festival’s website, or picking up a hard copy from locations including the Paramount and Embassy cinemas, Penthouse, Film Archive, Roxy, Unity Books, Aro Video and Te Papa.

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  • Don’t Tell Me It’s Not Like the Book

    “Yeah, but the book’s better.” A phrase heard only too often. A phrase you’ve probably uttered before in an attempt to appear literate. It’s okay, we’ve all done it. It’s humanity’s secret shame. “I am more literate than you because I read a book before it got turned into a film.” The thing we always seem to forget is that books and films are two different mediums. There is no such thing as a perfect adaptation. Nor should there be.

    The first stories to be adapted into film are believed to be Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm and Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in 1899 and 1900 respectively. Since then, both these stories have had countless adaptations. Sherlock Holmes has had at least three in the past decade. Clearly, it isn’t a bad thing to have a book turned into a film; otherwise, it wouldn’t keep happening. Why not adapt a book? It’s already got a story and characters that people like.

    The Fault in Our Stars is a book by the very fashionable young-adult author John Green, a man more famous for his metaphors than his stories. The novel follows two teenagers, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, who fall in love and say things like “hamartia”. More to the point, Hazel has cancer and Augustus once did. In a desperate bid to find out what happens to the characters of their favourite book after it has ended, they venture to Amsterdam to meet their favourite author. Self-referencing at its finest. I enjoyed the book a lot.

    However, I was pretty disappointed in the film. I know – sorry! Whether this is because I am older than the target audience or because I wasn’t altogether happy with some of the artistic visions, I’m not sure. It may even be because Green’s words are nicer to read than to hear. “I’m in love with you and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things” doesn’t sound quite right when said aloud. But films and books are different mediums, right? The cinematography made sense in terms of film. I didn’t not like the film because I thought the book was better, that’s for sure.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: don’t write off films because they aren’t as good as the book. Write them off because the cinematography is bad (or whatever). Film adaptations of books are great. They’re bringing the characters you love to life. They’re making your characters real; people who love and suffer as much as you do. The magic of fiction isn’t lost in film. Film is magical. Love your favourite book. But don’t ever let me know I’m not a real fan because I haven’t read it.

    5 HIGHEST-GROSSING BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATIONS:

    1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011)

    2. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003)

    3. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

    4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

    5. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001)

    WHAT WE’RE READING

    Anna, English lecturer
    “Charles Martindale on aestheticism and the classics (why not talk about beauty?), James Elkins on Why Art Cannot Be Taught, JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith, and just finished Terry Castle’s The Professor.”

    Ashleigh, VUP editor
    “I’ve just finished Breton Duke’s new book Empty Bones which was grim as all heck, but great. And The Night We Ate the Baby by Tim Upperton is the best poetry book I’ve read this year, to be published soon.”

    Sebastian, English and Art History student (and published novelist)
    “I’ve been reading & Sons by David Gilbert – a really interesting multi-perspective story about a reclusive novelist and his estranged family.”

    Nina, Salient Books Editor
    “I’m reading Rough On Women by Margaret Sparrow, an eye-opening history of abortion in 19th-century New Zealand. And I’ve just started reading my first ever Oscar Wilde novel which is, unsurprisingly, full of rich men with glossy hair sauntering languidly.”

     

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  • Articulated Splines

    University is a time to try new things.

    The parties are better, sure, but it’s also a time for us to discover hobbies and broaden our interests. If you leave Vic still listening to the same music and wearing the same clothes as the day you walked in, you’ve missed out on something important.

    Music is an interesting way of looking at it. Most of us make cool new friends here that teach us about the stuff they don’t play on the radio. It’s the same with film and books. All it takes is that cool friend or that day-long internet browse to uncover more hidden gems than we could ever possibly have dreamed of.

    It’s exactly the same with video games. There’s a whole galaxy out there of small titles, indie developers and outrageous fun to be had, and everybody is starting to catch on. Gamers on PC can take advantage of services like Steam and GOG.com, while big boys Microsoft and Sony are showing more and more support for indie gaming. Just look at the ludicrous success of Minecraft on the Xbox Live Arcade for proof of that.

    What I want to do with this column is showcase the trends and events of the wider gaming scene, as well as review some of the more interesting titles out there. After all, one Call of Duty review is much the same as another.

    There will probably be a slightly greater focus on PC and mobile gaming than the consoles. The main reason for that is because indie gaming is a lot more accessible that way. Besides, there’s already a lot out there about AAA console games like Call of Duty, and I’d rather fill these inches with something new.

    It’s a fortnightly column, so I’ll never be able to touch on everything, but at the very least it’s a wooden sword in your quest to find something new to play. Because we’re all gamers now – whether it’s FIFA, Candy Crush, Flappy Bird or Star Citizen – and that’s something to celebrate.

    Nidhogg
    PC, $18 on Steam

    This charming multiplayer platformer pits you against a friend, each of you trying to stab your way past the other and run to the final screen. Simple, but there are going to be a lot of dead stick figures before the round is over.

    Why are they duelling? What does ‘nidhogg’ mean? Why does each game end the way it does? I have absolutely no idea. What I do know is that the nuanced swordplay is frantic, the laughs are endless and the price is low. The controls are a bit unusual, and you’ll probably want to be playing with controllers, but if you’ve got the right setup this is a party game to cherish.

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  • Games – Journey

    You’re trailing through a landscape of tumbling hills and crashing mountain faces with bag of Scroggin, a fanny pack and the dirt road for company. You spot a fellow traveller coming toward you on the otherwise uninterrupted, outdoor panorama. Your eyes meet theirs. You squint-smile joyously at each other with a sense of mutual understanding. The wilderness has its way of making total strangers connect in a way that you simply don’t get on the street; the more isolated we are, the more we treasure company.

    It is this sensation that the developers of Journey were trying to capture, and in doing so, managing to rake in a hefty handsome haul of
    2012 Game of the Year awards. Journey is the final installment in Sony’s three game contract deal with developer ‘thatgamecompany’ (TGC).

    Despite their cringe worthy meta-title, reminding me, regrettably, of our own sausage man ‘that—New Zealand television personality Leigh Hart—guy’, TGC have made themselves three very alluring games, each more beautiful than the last. The beginning of Journey is set in a golden desert, littered with the ruins of a mysterious past civilization, inhabited only by strange cloth creatures and yourself. You play as an androgynous, poncho-laden pilgrim, whose only apparent goal is to head to a large, light spewing mountain on the horizon. This minimalist concept is accompanied by an equally minimal storyline, which is pieced together by the tapestry-style wall art you’ll uncover on your way.

    If you’re not much into video games, I’d certainly prescribe it as a first endeavor. along with it the fact that it is bite sized, Journey will at no point present you with any real challenge; this sounds like a negative, but it means that you can happily go at your own pace, tinkering with the world as you go. You can’t ‘die’ in Journey, and an ever-growing or diminishing scarf serves as your motive for avoiding mistakes and encouraging exploration. The music, winning Best Original Score at last year’s VGAs, and a Grammy nomination, accompanies the already dazzlingly pretty scenery. It all comes together in a nice pretty package that you can sit down and get comfy with.

    I won’t jabber on much further as the game’s mystique does a lot for its charm. I’ll conclude only with a few instructions for you, in the event
    that you are interested in trying it on: Play this game alone.

    This is imperative. Although powerful, Journey is delicate; it will not survive a casual play amongst alcohol and jeering friends. While receiving rave critical acclaim unanimously amongst those paid to have opinions, it will receive negative reviews all round in such a context. The uncultured oafs.

    Play it online.

    Some say it isn’t a necessity, but considering what the developers had in mind when making the game, you’d be missing out on a whole bunch of juicy artist intention if you don’t, not to mention all of the sweet online cooperation and subsequent flirting.

    All three of TGC’s Sony titles are downloadable from the PlayStation Network. Alternatively, you can issue it from the Design Campus library.
    (Yes, you can issue games from there. Blew my mind too.) Don’t have Playstation Tres? All of the aforementioned games can be played at Game Masters, Te Papa. Go during school hours and take a significant other, it’s quite a charming wee exhibit.

    Game Masters, featuring over 100 playable games, showcases 40 years of gaming history, and is on at Te Papa until 28 April.

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  • Mass Effect 2

    Games

    Since the advent of computer gaming, developers have tried to emulate the experience of going to a film. Never was this more obvious than the early 90s, when the next big thing was thought to be the use of live actors in interactive video sequences. It wasn’t. 

    A few years and several million dollars later, the industry wised up, resulting in the modern ‘multiple choice’ role-playing game that we’re more familiar with today. Companies like Black Isle pioneered this format with games such as Fallout and Arcanum, immersing the player by giving them a world which responded to their choice of actions—for better or for worse. 

    Mass Effect 2 is in many ways an evolution of these forms. After the events of the first game, your character Shepherd is (SPOILER ALERT) killed in combat with an unknown alien craft and resurrected by Cerberus, a secret organisation with a pro-human agenda. Colonists across the galaxy are disappearing by the thousands, and Shepherd is tasked with discovering the nature of the threat. Over the course of the game you encounter, and in some cases recruit, members of your old team as you attempt to unravel the mystery of the Collectors. 

    The beauty of both Mass Effect and its sequel has always been the unique way it deals with unique character development. Shepherd is a hero—your mission is to save the galaxy. Instead of choosing to be a ‘Good’ or ‘Evil’ character, you take either ‘Paragon’ or ‘Renegade’ conversation paths, which affect your character’s relevant scores. For example, you have the option of verbally zinging a reporter or simply knocking her out. This might seem more linear than a game where you could run around gunning down every civilian in sight, but ultimately provides a tighter gameplay experience, and better emotional payoff for your actions. 

    None of this will be news to anyone who’s played the first game, but thankfully Mass Effect 2 is a great improvement on its predecessor. For a game based around squad-based combat, Mass Effect’s combat system was pretty seriously flawed. Weapons felt and looked like super-soakers, and although there was a cover system, there was little point in using it in the expansive planetside environments. Mass Effect 2 fixes this with the addition of exhaustible ammunition and location damage, making gunfights much more desperate and visceral.  

    The exploration aspect of the game has also been overhauled. The critically despised Mako driving sequences have been replaced with an orbital scanning minigame where you gather resources by launching probes at the planet’s surface. This can get tedious, but is only really necessary if you’re determined to research every upgrade available for your team. Side quests work much better when you don’t need to drive across half the map to get there. 

    Mass Effect 2
    is a landmark in cinematic gaming. Visually, it’s incredible. The ‘texture popping’ that plagued the the first game has been eliminated—it’s a lot easier to believe you’re a heroic starship commander when it you don’t look like a bar of soap for half the conversation. The game rewards the player for exploration not just with more resources, but with different experiences. There are very few games that I can say I’ve explored in just to meet new characters and try new conversation, or to retry an entire mission simply to be a badass. Whether you’re a Luke Skywalker or Jack Bauer fan, Mass Effect 2 allows you to play to your fantasy. 

    PROS: Visually stunning, engrossing characters, massive backstory. Every major flaw of the first game has been addressed.

    CONS: New hacking and scanning elements are a great improvement on quick-time sequences, but still feel much the same after 20 hours of play.

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  • Anno 1404

    Anno 1404 is an interesting little wee game, and so far I’ve had a lot of fun playing it. It’s novel, it’s interesting, it’s incredibly well made, but it’s also very boring.

    I’m usually a pretty big fan of the real-time strategy genre. Games like Civilization 4 have been the backbone of my gaming life. I nearly had as much fun micromanaging my city states in Medieval Total War 2 as I did battling rival armies. Actually, that’s a lie. I had way more fun massacring French peasant archers with my British Royal Knights. But raising taxes was always fun as well.

    Anno 1404 is, funnily enough, set in the year 1404. You are a European nobleman tasked with setting up and managing various cities—making sure they grow, prosper and are able to produce and build variously different goods in order to complete quests set for you. There is a nice story element involving a rebellious cardinal trying to start a crusade, and naturally, you need to build cities everywhere to stop him.

    The team behind Anno 1404 knows their stuff (the good folks at Blue Byte Software developed the iconic The Settlers series), and it shows. The graphics are awesome, the music is great and the game mechanics run smoothly. It’s actually pretty interesting creating large sprawling cities with millers, bakers, peasant houses and shipyards.

    However, the game suffers from some serious flaws. Firstly, it has a pretty steep learning curve. Some elements of the game (such as zones of influence for warehouses) just aren’t explained very well, resulting in half of your industrial buildings sitting idle for no apparent reason. Secondly, this is a game played on a gargantuan scale. The maps are huge and are largely archipelagos. The length of time it takes to construct and then sail your ships around—to engage in warfare or trade—is frustrating. You can automate trade routes, which is nice, but that eventually removes most of the seafaring fun on offer. Because of these hurdles it takes you ages to finish a map in the game, which make it seem like you are doing a lot of work for very little reward. Which in my book results in the fast onset of boredom. Meh, maybe I’m lazy, or attuned to fast images and flashing lights like a gaming Pavlov’s dog. Whatevs, yo.

    Anno 1404 is not a bad game. In fact it’s probably quite a good one. All the ingredients are there for you to put together. It just needs lots of time, lots of dedication and lots of patience. Things I don’t really have.

    7/10

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  • Neverwinter Nights 2

    In the sullenly sparkly 80s, before there were computerised RPGs, there was Dungeons and Dragons. This was how people played computer games before computers were mainstream. A complex set of rules defined a game where combat was resolved using the role of dice. A problem lay in the intricacy of the game, and could be overwhelming with a standard D&D rule book that could compete with copies of Grey’s Anatomy in the categories of size and complexity. Yet at its core, D&D was a game about statistics and about combat. Neverwinter Nights 2 is a modern example of these classic aspects of the older RPG generation. The mechanics are modeled after the 3.5 edition of the D&D rules and as such the emphasis of the game is mostly upon battle, though role playing elements have been given a thorough polishing.

    You begin as a humble villager on the outskirts of the mere of dead men. The backstory puts you in the care of a reclusive elfish foster father, who to be frank is a bit of a tosser. Thankfully the dialogue options allow for good/neutral/bad responses, giving you enough leeway to tell him as much, which is refreshing. The plot quickly ushers you out into the wider world, and before you know it you’ll be pitted against extra-dimensional religious fanatics, devils of the lower planes, scheming necromancers, werewolves, angry foreign ambassadors, you know, standard fantasy riff raff. Along the way you’ll pick a small army of would-be friends and allies, each wanting to join you for their own reasons. Each has their own complicated history that you will end up unraveling if you so choose. These optional extras are part of what add to the greater context of the game. In line with this philosophy of context, care has been given to see that you always have a reason for fighting what you do. Regardless of whether you decide to be a high-n-mighty paladin or an unscrupulous power hungry mage, it never feels as if you’re forced into a course of action.

    Attention to detail is the key word for this game. Characteristic of a Bioware product from the word go, from character creation to epic final battle, you have plenty of options and an immersive world to explore. Veteran fans of D&D will no doubt have already played this title, however its popularity has ensured that it’s still being sold way after it was released, and at $25 it’s cheaper than a Core Rule Book. Indulge your inner geek.

    Genre: RPG
    Platform: PC
    Developer: Obsidian Entertainment

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  • Plants vs. Zombies—or, O.C.Dead Rising

    This is little pop culture nugget capitalises on the current popularity of the walking dead and is chock full of rapid click action. If you know Bejewelled, then you may have heard of PopCap, they’re the devils behind its creation and Plants vs. Zombies. They’re coming to specialise in smart game design that reduces the distance between interaction and reward. Bejewelled will have you matching up shiny jewels while under the pressure of a decreasing timer in an obsessive way that the written word cannot do justice to. Plants vs. Zombies is busting with that same O.C.D. fun—just exchange lining up jewels with lining up aggressive, yet adorable plants. While the mechanics have changed, there is still the same gripping playability at its core, and this is not the case of a gamer joking of addiction as is often the case. Approach this title with awe and caution, lest it sucks you in for the remainder of the semester. Having been released from its brightly coloured, cutely animated claws for two hours’ sleep before class several days running, I can give testament to that fact. You have been warned…

    The concept, as the title suggests, revolves around plants and zombies battling it out. The zombies have come to your neighbourhood and want to make a nice tasty meal out of your brain. Naturally you’d like for this to be avoided. The good news is that you have a big 5×9 grid lawn in which to plant all the cute, exotic and deadly plants to protect you against the hordes of undead. If you play your cards right, zombies will be picked to pieces by your botanical arsenal. Such loyal plant ‘towers’ include the peashooter, starfruit plant, doom-shroom, gatling peashooter, exploding jalapeños, cherry bombs, cabbagepults and many others. There are 49 plants in total. The best defence will be one that manages to combine plants to form plant combos. PvZ allows for a great deal of experimentation and you’ll gradually unlock all 49 as you progress through the game. This gives you the chance to change tactics, adapting to the new kinds of zombies you face and preventing the gameplay from becoming stale.

    To plant your plants and hold onto your grey matter, you need an ample supply of collected sun. This falls gentle down the screen on daytime missions and you can collect it with a simple click of the button. Also there are sunflower plants you can sow that will produce sun. The beauty of the whole system is that it’s simple. It is well thought through and tested game design. The combat zone changes every once in a while, as zombies try to find different ways into your house. You’ll move from the front lawn to the pool area and face down the boss in an epic rooftop battle. The adventure game continues to change and evolve as you progress, and once finished, unlocks a crate-load of different mini-games and puzzles. A particularly fun level allows you to help the zombies practise eating your plants and invading your house, essentially letting you play as the zombies for a while. And if the unthinkable should happen and you get bored of killing zombies (as if), you can visit your peaceful Zen Garden to water plants you’ve collected from various missions or nurture your ‘tree of wisdom’, which spouts words of wisdom and secret commands to alter the game. With so much content, it’ll be a long while before you get bored of this game.

    By way of tutor and salesperson, you have your helpful and insane neighbour Crazy Dave. He introduces you to the basics of the game and will sell you any handy items you need from the back of his car. Crazy Dave wears a metal pot upon his head for reasons the game never goes into, possibly because as he’ll tell you, “I’m CRAAAZY!!!” If the content described so far sounds too off the wall or pun-heavy, don’t worry, it’s all part of the game’s loveable and good-natured demeanour. The colour pallet is full of bright, rich colours, and the music is bubbly with just a little menace thrown into the mix. Even the zombies are about as cute as decaying flesh will allow. There’s a basic zombie model, then there are the clever zombies that have decided to use road cones or buckets as helmets. These you have to watch out for, they’re a little tougher. Then there are quarterback zombies, pogostick zombies, bobsleighing zombies, miner zombies, dolphin-riding zombies, to name just a few. And while you know that they’re in pursuit of your brains, you can’t help but be charmed by them. These aren’t the vicious zombies of Left for Dead or I am Legend. These are their backwards idiot cousins, the ones who were at a children’s birthday party when they were turned. And if the zombie apocalypse is going to happen, I’d want it to be like this; brightly coloured, off-centre and endless fun.

    If you have any doubts about the game, go download the free demo from the website, it’s itty-bitty—26mgs, go try it. And if you’re still not convinced, go check out this toddler’s endorsement. The full game is NZ$30, so neither the recession nor student poverty are valid excuses for not getting this game.

    Developer: PopCap
    Genre: Tower Defence
    Platform: PC

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    by

  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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