Thursday, 27 January 2011

Beyond Thought - Short Story

Image from
It was a dull wispy morning, the gantries of Neo London draped with fog. The towering angular structures grew out of the misty depths below and disappeared into the clouds above. Kale scuffed her way along the suspended pathway, fiddling with her burgundy blazer, her short brown hair still wet from her hasty shower. Although the gantries were full of people on their way to work or school, she walked alone, like every morning. Her younger brother and sister would dart off in a different direction once the children had left the apartment building. They didn't want to be seen with their reject sibling, their leprous relative.

Kale stood patiently at the crossing bridge, waiting for the air traffic to divert and the platforms to link. She didn't want to arrive at school any quicker than she needed to. She noticed a business man in a formal grey suit also waiting at the crossing. He stood as far away from the girl as he possibly could, pretending she wasn't there and yet simultaneously very aware of her presence. As the platforms hovered together and bridged the immeasurable drop with a magnetic click, he strode away as quickly as he could. She could tell he was afraid, repulsed by her emptiness. You didn't need to be a psychic to work that out.

. . .

How are you progressing with the task, Kale?” 

Miss Warner smiled as she made the enquiry, but that only made her appear more patronising.

Um...OK I guess.” 

Kale turned her work book around for the youthful blonde teacher to see. The young girl was one of the two children seated in the non-psi area at the back of the classroom. The 'normal' children sometimes got spooked by the 'dead-heads' as they were known. The empty psychic space where thoughts and feelings should flow made them nervous, especially the chipped kids, afraid their implants would break if they got too close, sending them back into the mental darkness that Kale experienced daily. She didn't know why she and the others whose minds had rejected the chip didn't just work in different rooms, or go to a different school altogether. Probably because that would be too much like segregation, and this, well, this was nothing like segregation at all.

I have identified some mistakes,” said Miss Warner, overly formal. The spoken language that teachers like her had to learn was so rigid, so lifeless and cold. “I have marked them with a circle. Please try to identify and rectify the errors.”

Kale nodded. Miss Warner turned and walked back to the front of the class, soundlessly communicating with the psychic majority. Kale could tell when they were talking psychically. The movement of their eyes, the turn of their heads, lots of little clues they probably thought she didn't notice.

Sitting a couple of desks away from Kale was Derek Middler, a spotty little boy, the only other non-psi student in the classroom. Despite their shared affliction, she always kept her distance from the scowling youth. He was a troubled, volatile child, like many non-psi children could be, feeling paranoid and threatened. Not someone you wanted to be associated with.

They're talking about us,” Middler muttered.

Heads turned. Kale wished she could sink through the floor with embarrassment. Why did she always get put with the crazy ones?

You got something to say?” Derek challenged. He jumped up from his seat aggressively. Some of the students shrank back. Others grinned mockingly.

Don't laugh at me!”

Please calm down, Derek,” said Miss Warner evenly.

She'll be summoning the hall attendants now, thought Kale. Derek wasn't going to calm down.

Shut up!” 

The wiry boy pushed his desk over, his books and pens clattering to the ground. Two hall attendants entered the room. They walked straight up to Derek, faces emotionless, and grabbed the boy, who struggled against them, yelling and screaming. They dragged him out of the room, his rage echoing away down the corridor.

Kale looked down at her book, her face flushed with shame, knowing that all the remaining occupants of the room were scrutinising her. If not with their eyes, then with their minds.

When are you going to snap? they questioned.

When are you going lose it?

. . .

The family sat around the table, plates of hearty home-cooked food in front of each member. Kale ate slowly, chewing each mouthful with a deliberately sluggish pace. They might not try to converse with her if they think her mouth is full. She assumed her mother, father and siblings were talking together; her mother hadn't awkwardly broken the silence for a few minutes.

Molly was just saying she might apply for kinetics next semester,” said Kale's mother out of the blue.

“Oh, OK,” replied Kale, thinking about how fun it would be avoid the objects her younger sister would send flying at her with the power of her mind. Her mother often did this, tried to act as interpretor; a guilty attempt to make her other child feel included. She only saw pity when she looked into her mother's eyes, a pity that outweighed love.

“Your father is taking the day off on Friday. We are all going to the holo-pool together.”

That sounds cool,” the young girl replied unconvincingly. Her mother frowned.

I think they have adequate heating.”

No, I mean...forget it.” None of them were used to speaking, they'd lost the natural ability. Kale had learnt from old films and songs, conversing with herself, re-enacting scenes, playing all the characters.

Molly laughed. Kale knew this was aimed at her. Whenever her brother or sister poked fun at her, they always laughed out loud so she would know they were laughing at her. Their father gave them a stern look. Kale ignored them. She had risen to their baiting in the past, responding to their hollow chuckles with white hot anger. Over time, however, she had learnt to block it out.

. . .

“Goodnight Kale.” Her mother turned out the light. She didn't kiss her daughter at bedtime anymore. She didn't need to with her other children, they could feel her love in their minds. She had forgotten, trying so hard to stop Kale from feeling different. As the young girl rolled over under the covers she longed for her mother's touch, those soft arms encircling her in a simple hug. She began to cry, sobbing as quietly as she could. The loneliness didn't always sting this badly, but some days she couldn't help but feel crushed under the weight of the isolation, feeling like the only person who hadn't been told a secret. She reached over to her bedside table and removed her ear pieces, slotting them in comfortably. 
Ray Charles, 'I Can't Stop Loving You'.

The voices surrounded her, soothing her. She imagined she was part of the ensemble, singing the refrain in perfect harmony.

To be a part of something.

That was all she desired.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Enslaved VS Vanquish: Comparison Review

Enslaved: Journey to the West and Vanquish were two games released in the latter part of 2010 which I knew I had to play. Now that my birthday and Christmas have come and gone I've achieved this goal, and having played through both games I thought I'd do comparison review, assessing how well these titles fare against each other.


Although Vanquish's story-line isn't awful, Enslaved is the clear winner in this section. Written by screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later), the narrative ofEnslaved re-imagines an ancient Chinese myth by Wu Cheng'en in a futuristic apocalyptic wasteland. The changing relationship between protagonist Monkey and his captor/companion Trip is what makes this a great story, with a really thought-provoking conclusion. Vanquish's narrative on the other hand, doesn't have the depth or emotion of Enslaved. The sci-fi tale of US forces launching an assault on a space-station turned super-weapon, captured by Russian coup detat forces intent on world dominance, is little more than a frame to hang the game's furious arcade action upon. There are a couple of nice twists, but you'll see them coming.

Winner - Enslaved


It's a dead heat in this round, as both video games have some really unique concepts and imagery. The overgrown cityscapes of Enslaved provide the player with colour and life, in contrast to the metallic greys of Vanquish's orbital space-station, pock-marked with explosions and flames. Both of the games contain superbly designed enemies, from the simple grunts to the gigantic bosses. The character designs are also great, muscular Monkey with spiky hair and tail-like belt, and Sam Gideon in his ARS exoskeleton, complete with awesome BLADE weapon animations.

Winner - Tie


Another contest that ends with no clear victor, as both Enslaved and Vanquish have great visuals for the most part, with only a couple of flaws spoiling the picture. The graphics of Enslaved are crisp and vibrant and the animations flow realistically, but there were a few instances when textures appeared fuzzy, but only briefly.Vanquish fares similarly well, with massive explosions rippling across the screen with dazzling flare, and a superbly consistent frame-rate considering the pace of the action. However, not all the back-drops look as pretty as each other, and the first-person HUD seen during some briefing scenes looks a bit cheap.

Winner - Tie


While both games do well in terms of sound effects, score and voice acting,Enslaved edges in front of Vanquish due to the superb vocal talents of Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings, The Prestige) and amazing music by Nitin Sawhney. The sound effects are also top notch, with the enemy mechs emitting blood-curdling roars and screams. There were a couple of times when the sound cut out or got mixed up, but only very rarely did this happen. Vanquish has some great sound effects, with the weapons sounding powerful and authentic, and has a pumping soundtrack to match the game's tempo. However, the voice acting isn't anything out of the ordinary, with the protagonist and his comrade, Colonel Burns, trying to out-growl each other for most of the game.

Winner - Enslaved


Yet another tie, as both these games have top-notch action for the player to get involved in. Enslaved provides a mix of platforming and combat, which helps vary the pace of the game. The platforming is a little bit linear, with the next step clearly highlighted, but gunfire, crumbling hand-holds and other dangers help up the level of risk. The combat is fast-paced but also tactical, and although there aren't endless options for attack and defense the player will be pushed to use Monkey's skills creatively to survive. There are a few subdued moments in the gameplay of Vanquish, such as an espionage sniping level, but the pace is stuck on full-speed for most of the game. Not that this is a bad thing, as the player is totally sucked into the gun-totting action, really feeling the danger as the bullets and missiles fly. The bullet-time and boosters allow the player to speed up or slow things down as they see fit, and the mix of weaponry provides ample choice for ways to cause destruction. There are a few quick-time events during boss-fights, but Vanquish mainly delivers good old-fashioned arcade-style gunplay.

Winner - Tie


With no multiplayer option included in either of these games, both Enslaved andVanquish are quite limited if you only plan to play the story through once. There is DLC for Enslaved, where the player gets to play as side-character Pigsy, but at the pretty steep price of £8 (that's steep for me). You could probably stretch these games out a bit by getting all the achievements and beating the hardest difficulty setting, but really you're looking at 8-10 hours of fun per game, which isn't great if you don't replay your games.

Winner - Tie


Although I enjoyed both Enslaved and Vanquish, there has to be a winner. Despite their minor flaws, both games lived up to my expectations and delivered some great gameplay and narrative moments. Enslaved has the edge over Vanquish in my opinion, due to the depth and power of its story, as well as the voice acting that brings it life. On the other hand, if narrative isn't an essential component for you then Vanquish will probably float your boat just as much as Enslaved. The best thing to do is just play both! They both have deadly robots and epic battles - what more could you want?

Monday, 10 January 2011

The heavy metal you SHOULD be listening to!

There are a lot of misconceptions regarding music genres, a lot of stereotypes that don't necessarily hold their water. With this in mind, I want to spend a little bit of time considering 'heavy metal', and why Christians shouldn't dismiss it out of hand.

Metal is one of the genres that is generally avoided by the majority of Christians, the assumption being that this style of music is inherently evil, demonic and immoral. While there may be individuals and groups who use metal as a vehicle to oppose God and his statutes, this doesn't make the genre itself sinful. The whole world belongs to God; he created it - and therefore all music belongs to God. It's up to us as the human race to choose whether we use music to praise God or defy Him. With that in mind, any genre can oppose or worship. All sin is equal, meaning that a pop song by Lady Gaga can be just as immoral as a track by Cradle of Filth.
I personally think that heavy metal is very useful form of musical expression for Christians. While I completely agree that metal may not be appropriate for congregational worship, it has certain qualities that align well with the themes and facts of Christianity. Intensity, power and aggression are the words that I would use to sum up heavy metal, all of which are part of being a follower of Christ. The Christian life is one of conflict - Paul speaks in Romans 8 about a war being waged inside him, a war between his sinful nature and God's law. Shouldn't we therefore display this battle in our musical interests, raising a battle-cry against the darkness that seeks to envelope us? We are told in Philippians 4:13 that we "can do everything through him who gives us strength." Does this phrase invoke a whimper in your mind, a tiny pitiful sound? Or would this verse be better displayed by boldness and strength, by the sound of people standing firm, ready to fight?

There are many fantastic bands that speak God's truth through the medium of heavy metal. Through this genre, Christians can talk about their struggle against the sin that snaps at their heels, about living in a world that is in complete opposition to God, and can bring glory to God by highlighting his power, glory and might. With that in mind, here are a few bands defined as 'Christian Metal', that I suggest you should sample.

As I Lay Dying - taking their name from the title of a William Faulkner novel, this metalcore band from San Diego were formed in 2001 and have recently released their fifth studio album, 'The Powerless Rise'. AILD's musical style is a combination of furious guitar riffs and soaring harmonies, breakneck drum beats and varied vocal styles, mixing guttural screams with anthemic melodies. The band's religious beliefs are summed up perfectly in the FAQ on AILD's official webpage when Tim Lambesis states,
If you truly believe something, then it should affect every area of your life. All five of us are Christians. I believe that change should start with me first, and as a result, our lyrics do not come across very “preachy.” Many of our songs are about life, struggles, mistakes, relationships and other issues that don’t fit entirely in the spiritual category. However, all of these topics are written about through my perspective as a christian.
Try this if you like: All That Remains, Trivium
Demon Hunter - combining the speed and intensity of metalcore with industrial rhythms and tones, this Seattle-based band have battled their way into the mainstream US charts, whilst still retaining their uncompromised passion for Jesus Christ. Lyrically, their songs strike out at the fallen state of our world, with tracks like 'Tie This Around Your Neck', from the album 'The World Is A Thorn', highlighting the hopelessness of trying to live without God's power and direction. DH's musical style unites modern technical riffs and licks with classic metal power and swagger, refusing to be defined by cliches or stay stagnant in the past.

Try this if you like: Killswitch Engage, Fear Factory
Becoming the Archetype - if you're looking for progressive heavy metal that glorifies God, then look no further. Hailing from Dacula, Georgia (great town name!), this group push the boundaries of musical skill and experimental praise, displayed best in their reworking of the hymn 'How Great Thou Art' into a death-metal masterpiece. The band's unusual name is taken from the Genesis 1:26, "let us make man in our image," seeing Jesus as the archetypal sinless human who we should strive to emulate. Each of BtA's songs tells a story, with their latest album, 'Dichotomy', focusing on the opposition of biology and technology, of man versus machine.

Try this if you like: Opeth, Chimaira

There are so many other bands that I could have included, such as technical metal band Extol or post-hardcore rockers Underoath, but I just don't have time! If heavy metal is a genre that doesn't turn you on, don't worry, I'm not saying that makes you a bad person. However, what is important is not to limit your tastes in music because of stereotypes. If you like hip-hop or electronica, go and find some Christians who are making it. However, don't think I'm advocating shutting yourself off from secular music and culture - how can you reach the world if you have no connection to it? Hope some of this made sense and that it leads you to listen to some good old-fashioned 'bleeding-from-the-ear drums' heavy metal!