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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet- The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

Round one- I'm the one standing. 

Round one- I'm the one standing. 

In the end, I decided to do a pre-release session of the new set, only because a friend offered a lift to the local card shop.

This is the one time where everything went right, and this time finally deciding to be satisfied with one session instead of getting greedy.

At 1:30 in the afternoon, on a sunny Perth saturday, I got to duly open the pre-release box, a little finicky to open than the ones made for Aether Revolt (and certainly not as thick). Inside, six packs for the new set, and a foil promotional card with the date stamped on it (22nd Saturday).

That promotional card ended up being Harsh Mentor, a card that was useful if your opponent activated lots of abilities, but in this format, it often ended just as a creature on the field that did next to nothing, and except sometimes swing. However outside this environment, it has lots of theoretical uses, especially in formats where activated abilities form the core of top level Magic decks.

I opened the rest of my packs, paying attention to the rares. One was a green card named Prowling Serpopard, which is a cross between a cat and snake (and is not merely a creation of nerds of the 21st century- it is actually a creation of nerds back in the actual Ancient Egyptian era), and then followed by a Mouth // Feed- a card with the Aftermath mechanic, which provided a hungry, hungry hippo when cast the first time, and when cast for the second, drew me a bunch of cards dependent on how many big animals I had on the field. All I needed was a second colour to go with it.

The all-star cast.

The all-star cast.

With that forming the centre of my strategy, I was lucky to have some big animals of my own, in the form of Desert Cerodons, Greater Sandwurms and Colossapedes. These were key to ending games in my favour by being simply too big to be killed in combat, forcing my opponents to hold back from attacking. Of course however to give me time to unleash the hounds on to unsuspecting rivals, I needed some early soldiers- as soon as I saw Khenra Charioteer, which was both red and green, an early enough drop that gave all my other units on the field to ability to trample through defenses, I settled on a red as a secondary colour, filling the rest of my team with warriors, be they human or jackals who provided the early aggression. To give me an edge in tight board states, I had two Magma Sprays to kill their weaker creatures and a Synchronized Strike, which turned up at crucial moments to save my warriors and even once improving one of my troops just enough to deal the lethal blow.

My pool was solid, but it was nothing fancy. The kids near the table where I was pulled all the stuff I wanted, as usual. The $50 Gideon of the Trials that I really wanted at the time (further testing in my own tournament deck proved that the acquisition was no longer necessary)

With the deck arrayed, it was time for me to start crushing opponents, or so I thought, when was I given a bye round. So I had the privilege of watching everyone else play.

Excuse the handwriting.

Excuse the handwriting.

After three rounds (best of threes) of extremely casual Magic, all the games I played ended in the same manner. My opponents could not do anything as I turned creatures after creatures sideways, first they were hit hard by the early attacks, and were forced to hold back in order to just buy additional time, and then simply finished off. The slaughter was indeed ruthless- with the score card on my nerd pad to prove it. I only took a total of 4 damage that day.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet

Andrew Ryan

Plains // Titus Lunter. The landscape this world is dominated by its ruler's horns as a monument to his power.

Plains // Titus Lunter.

The landscape this world is dominated by its ruler's horns as a monument to his power.

There’s a lately been a bit of a resurgence in Egyptian-themed media, from that really bad Alex Proyas film starring Jaime Lannister, or the upcoming remake of The Mummy with the ever-present American action-hero/really short guy Tom Cruise. Magic: The Gathering is ready to pile on the budding Egyptologists out there, with a set that smells like the Nile.

Amonkhet contains 264 cards to add to the ever expanding pool of the Magic: The Gathering’s metagame. It is the first set in that block, to be later followed by Hour of Devastation. Also included are the first 30 of the 54 extremely rare Masterpiece cards, titled Amonkhet Invocations, inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics, which have been mocked widely for its unreadability and its garish colouring.

The story continues approximately 5 minutes after the end of the previous set’s storyline, in which the Gatewatch head over to this new plane, ruled by their arch-enemy, a powerful dragon lord named Nicol Bolas. These plucky rabble rousers end up starting a revolution in this world, as they did in the last world they set foot in.

Sacred Cat // Zezhou Chen This adorable kitten has has two lives with the Embalm mechanic.

Sacred Cat // Zezhou Chen

This adorable kitten has has two lives with the Embalm mechanic.

The set introduces to 2 new major mechanics, with 2 new minor mechanics, Embalm and Exert, both of which fit the flavour of the set. Embalm turns any of your creatures in the graveyard, either through death or discard into additional tokens (in all its mummified glory) that are exact copies of the original, complete with their abilities and keywords. On the tabletop, this means every creature with the keyword, is effectively 2 cards, and therefore quite conducive to long grindy strategies when the game goes down to drawing cards off top of the deck. On the other hand, the tokens are tokens, so if they get bounced back to hand they are effectively removed, and are susceptible to being pushed off a ledge by a Fatal Push, which was printed in Aether Revolt. Having two for ones is always valued in any competitive environment, and I wouldn't be surprised if some cards made it to established decks, or form a new archetype all by itself.

Glorybringer // Gregorz Rutkowski-  Glorybringer is one such with creature with the Exert mechanic, roasting another non-Dragon as it swoops in.

Glorybringer // Gregorz Rutkowski- 

Glorybringer is one such with creature with the Exert mechanic, roasting another non-Dragon as it swoops in.

Exert is the other key mechanic, and in a world where you are encouraged to compete to be noticed and be found worthy by this world’s five gods, each warrior ought to just try a little harder. Exert allows your creature’s attack to have an extra effect in exchange for not untapping the next turn. The extra effect ranges from situational, to generally useful, to game-winning- most of the generic card effects tend to be stapled to this mechanic. Exert is best abused with another keyword, Vigilance, which allows your creatures to not tap when they attack, allowing you to exert turn after turn, stacking all those tiny incremental advantages to a winning position. Whether the payoff is good enough at a competitive level remains to be seen.

Two other minor mechanics are also attached- Cycling, Aftermath and -1/-1 counters. Cycling is a returning mechanic and is very simple, but at the same time very relevant- you pay a certain amount of mana to discard a card and draw its replacement. You would use for example if the card in question isn’t relevant at the time, or the window of opportunity to use it is long passed. Aftermath is a mechanic stapled to the set’s split cards. You cast the top half of the card from your hand, but when it is cast from your graveyard, either by itself or through other means, the effect on the bottom half takes place- so it’s effectively two cards and I’m always happy to play it when I can. The -1/-1 counters mechanic weakens your opponent's creatures over time, until they wither away into the aether, but some of your own creatures also come in weakened by this mechanic itself.

What stands out most is the quality of the cards that answer threats on the field. For cheap removal you have a reprint of Magma Spray, that coincidentally removes the thing you hit it for good, which is the perfect answer to those annoying gits that come back from the dead. The addition of some quality countermagic in the form of Censor and Essence Scatter gives much benighted control players some extra tools in their fight against aggressive decks. Manglehorn, Dissenter’s Deliverance and By Force to hate out artifact-based strategies.

Rhonas the Indomitable // Chase Stone This guy is one of the gods, and hits really hard, whilst helping your other dudes hit harder.

Rhonas the Indomitable // Chase Stone

This guy is one of the gods, and hits really hard, whilst helping your other dudes hit harder.

Just because the answers are good, doesn’t mean the threats aren’t bad either. Gideon of the Trials is an adequate tag along for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, whilst costing 1 mana less than his bigger counterpart. The world’s five gods- Rhonas (snake god), Oketra (cat god), Kefnet (bird god), Hazoret (dog god), Bontu (croc god), array themselves for battle and can do a lot of damage whilst being impervious to all mortal weaponry, but only if you meet their onerous conditions before they’ll pitch in, and each of them have an ability that helps achieving their condition. However give them a Vehicle and they’re happy to drive it for you in the meantime.

Initially when the set was spoiled, it looked unexciting, and largely this set isn’t as impactful as Aether Revolt, or Kaladesh, but then that was just a really good block altogether that produced enough cards that saw play in older formats like Modern and Legacy, which have an incredible card pool and where games are decided in the first two or three turns, so it's more of a syndrome of having too high of an expectation.

I might just play a pre-release to see how it all plays out.

Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet is officially released on 28th April, but however pre-release is on the 22nd / 23rd of April.

 

Once In Royal David’s City @ State Theatre Centre

Andrew Ryan

Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Director: Sam Strong

Playwright: Michael Gow

Produced by: Black Swan State Theatre Company & Queensland Theatre Company

Cast: Jason Klarwein, Adam Booth, Penny Everingham et al.

 

The title is a hell of a tongue twister and a reference to an obscure Christmas carol that one may have never encountered in childhood, but don’t let that detract from a what is a very good piece of performance theatre.

Once In Royal David’s City is a story about Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein), an idealistic and at times pretentious theatre director trying to make sense of his life and his place in the world when he has to come to terms with the impending death of his mother, not long after he had lost his own father- and it is also Christmas time. To cope with these turn of events Will muses on the writings of German playwright Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and his faith in Christianity.

The play owes a lot to Brecht himself, to a point of homage, utilizing his style of staging- the ‘alienation effect’ often referenced throughout- where the actors would move props into the blank stage as the scene transitions, and frequently breaking the fourth wall to lecture directly to the audience. Whether the motifs of religion, Christmas and Marxism come too strongly is a matter of personal taste, though arguably one could point out that it is in character at the very least. There are also many moments of joy and levity that break up the heavy and somber themes that anchor the play.

The production aspects of the play looks and feels like money and effort has been put into it- even when one considers the style of the play’s staging. The aural aspects aren’t really utilized, aside from the background Christmas carol cheer (for the purposes of setting) and the pre-recorded choir tracks, but it doesn’t need to. The performances are excellent, and don’t miss a beat, given that each actor plays multiple roles (standard in contemporary theatre practice).

Once In David’s Royal City is a play with genuine, well-crafted, touching scenes, and ponders on the human condition, whilst not delivering it in a way that feels forced. Whilst to a good portion of the audience, the high art references may fly over heads, or find an introductory lesson in Marxism 101 a bit cringeworthy, it’s still worth the time to see the talent on stage.

(Once in David's Royal City runs until 9th of April)

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Andrew Ryan

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4

Developer: Bioware (Montreal branch)

Publisher: EA Games

 

At the start of the year, Mass Effect: Andromeda was highly anticipated and a lot of gamers were excited for. A couple of controversies (on a technical level, coupled with the hiring practices of the developer (a topic that will not be discussed here), knocked a little out of that wind. Now that it’s out there, its time to give it a spin.

For those not familiar with the original trilogy that inspired this title- the Mass Effect series, which consisted of a trilogy of games that told the story of John/Jane Shepard, humanity’s first Spectre (think Daniel Craig’s 007 in space), and eventual hero in the galaxy’s war against the Reapers, a terrifying, genocidal enemy. Mass Effect: Andromeda answers a what-if question: What if the series had gone in the vein of the first game (which had a more exploratory feel to it), rather than the eventual Battlestar Galactica + Star Wars mash up that it finished in.

ME:A is set in the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million years away from our own Milky Way (in our timeline, we haven’t found Prothean artifacts or encountered/declared war on Turians), and focuses on the story of humanity’s quest for a new home in a new galaxy, 600 years after the events of the original trilogy. You play as one of the Ryder twins, Scott and Sara, accompanying your dad Alec, a Pathfinder (which you will eventually become) to this final frontier of the human experience as part of the Andromeda Initiative, a privately funded, Elon Musk-esque inter-species effort to scout, settle and colonize this new galaxy.

For all its faults (more on that later), ME:A is visually stunning, especially the alien environments it is trying to depict. From our first planetfall (and what an epic, kick-ass planetfall it was) we are treated to a skyline cascade of floating rocks (someone must have taken took a look at Magic: The Gathering’s Battle for Zendikar art book, and said we should have that). The combat is a massive improvement over the original, and is actually fun. For starters, you get a true 3d space to move around in, a la the developer’s previous title, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Secondly, they’ve finally done away with the arbitrary, strait-jacket, military specialization system, in favour of a supermarket, pick-and-mix approach to character builds to suit each player’s play style. I’m going to be a biotic god that will sweep like a great wind, and there’s nothing the game can’t do to stop me.

My own Ryder ready for duty. Somehow this one looks good, except under unflattering lighting. Also note racial diversity. 

My own Ryder ready for duty. Somehow this one looks good, except under unflattering lighting. Also note racial diversity. 

It’s faults- and they are stark, and immediately noticeable. Nearly 75% and upward is on all on a technical level. Facial animations- the subject of internet gamer culture controversy (and plus an unfair, detestable Gamergater rant), as well as shitpostery and .gif memes- are way off for a title of this magnitude. One could spend a hour taking one of the absurdly ugly face presets, salvage it and make it presentable, and then have it ruined the moment your character moves a muscle. Following on that, the game suffers from some pretty poor optimization issues across the board- for comparison The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks far better and run at a constant 60 frame rate per second, at extremely high graphical settings. And this is compounded by some quality of life issues- for example, the game’s ‘combat profile’ system comes to mind, which lets you save to 4 different configurations, with 3 powers each, and switching from one to the other as the ebb and flow of battle dictates. You know what would be better in a life-or-death firefight? Having access to all of it at once- I get that its extremely lore friendly, technically fluid and easier for the console peasants out there. Oh, and dear Galaxy Map, taking 15-20 seconds to travel from planet to planet in any given system, adds up to a lot of waiting.

The Mass Effect series has always thrilled, excited and inspired sound and score aficionados, and Andromeda is no different. The most iconic soundtrack from the entire trilogy is not anything from all the game’s most dramatic moments, but the humble track when you are exploring on the Galaxy Map. This track, from its first iteration to slightly refined and more harmonic layers as technology improves, remains an inspiration to electronic musicians across the world.

Though it may have tried to go where no game has gone before, and did not find its destination in safe harbor, Mass Effect: Andromeda is still a great, epic adventure and worth your money if you can bear with its faults.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier @ Stratagem- 12/3

Andrew Ryan

Two weeks of preparation, acquiring cards, frantically borrowing the last pieces on the day. Then watching livestreams of Grand Prix Barcelona and New Jersey, inspecting for any innovation at the very last minute. Turns out there were none, and there were only two decks on screen largely duelling for the honour of being the best deck in the tournament format.

I pictured myself winning the event, then flying to Sydney and Singapore, then top 8 that one, and then compete at the actual thing the tournament was meant to qualify for- the privilege to play against the world’s best Magic players in Kyoto.

This is what high-level Magic is like- fun, exhilarating, deep, yet incredibly frustrating.

I chose a very typical internet deck- sacrificing every ounce of creativity and originality in favour of proven efficiency- enter Red/White/Black vehicles. I’m still very much in the love with the colour archetype (on a purely aesthetic level), but now strictly about going for the dome, except the deck is also very capable of playing the long game and grinding them out with incremental advantage- the deck does everything. The deck is built around a solid core of low drops, backed up with four copies of what is arguably the best card the game has seen- Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It makes creatures, it can do damage as a creature himself (which cannot be destroyed by conventional strategies). And when you really need to, give a shout out to the entire team, by making them all more hyped.

Coming in to this tournament, I had acquired a small reputation, on the back of winning a small tourney, a Grand Prix Trial (for Grand Prix Brisbane), a few weeks prior (Laneway was on that given Sunday- had I got media tickets, I would have been down there instead- though from what I’ve heard from friends who were there, the line-up was pretty low key). The prize for winning that was two byes for an event I couldn’t even attend- on account of not having the deck for it, neither being able to afford the airfare. No matter.

The store the tourney was also in some high stakes of its own. It needed more than 50 people to show up to be allowed to host tournaments like these. 60 showed up, and it got to keep its status. Also the Red Bull Wings team also happened to be there, handing out free Red Bull.

To begin the day, I had the privilege of facing the mirror match, against Adam (last names retracted for privacy’s sake). The first game was decided on me mis-sequencing a line of play, resulting in the loss of my own Gideon, and with that him winning the game. The second game was a bit unfair- I got to do my thing, all land drops turning up on time, whilst he got stuck at a critical part of the game (the first two turns), and there was nothing he could do. The third game was a tit for tat battle, but eventually I dropped a threat on the end of his turn, to which he did not have an answer to. 1-0

Round 2- I'm the one in the really bright red shirt, mercilessly destroying the guy seated across me.

Round 2- I'm the one in the really bright red shirt, mercilessly destroying the guy seated across me.

The second round was against a red/green/blue Dynavolt Tower deck, piloted by Brandon B, although at the time it didn’t look like it because Brandon never saw the namesake card. The first round was a run of the mill affair where I got to pressure his life total down to 0 without much resistance. The second round I sideboarded as if he was playing a control type deck, but dropping a creature that could go big and was resistant to any removal I played- my only response was to look at my card, look at my paltry board state, and just scooped and moved. The third game was a repeat of game 1. He saw red mana very late in the game, and he did not see countermagic at all, to counter one of my planeswalker cards from winning the game. 2-0

The third was against Luke, who is both a very good competitive player as well as a small business owner (that unsurprisingly involves selling cards), piloting the other top tier deck- Four-Color Saheeli. The deck simply plays things that generate value upon entry, and couldn’t give two shits if half the stuff died over several rounds of mortal combat, and would win by assembling a two card combo that would go infinite if the opponent could not cut it off or somehow disrupt it (in theory there’s like 10-20 cards that could, but most of them are also bad). I won the first, applying just enough damage before he could assemble the pieces together. Game 2, he didn’t need the combo, as he just beat me down with a swarm (the plan B made the deck from merely average to tournament winning). Game 3, Luke simply grinded me out of resources and eventually assembled the two-card combo. Also it was a bit unnerving to have about five to six bystanders crowding on my side of the table. 2-1

For the fourth round, it was the mirror once again- and against Connor, an opponent I’ve faced many times before (the record stands somewhere like 3 wins to me, 1 to him). Connor stole back the first game from me, with a Walking Ballista paired with Archangel Avacyn combo wiping out my board (Ballista has an ability where it can remove itself and deal damage to anyone, and Avacyn would flip if one of his creatures he died), then me being unable to answer it. I took down the second game by curving out perfectly- early rush of creatures, then playing a Gideon and having him finish the charge. The third game was both of us exchanging resources, until it came down to my live Gideon and his lone Thalia, Heretical Cathar- all she had to do was survive that turn. Unfortunately my hand was the most savage one I ever saw on that day. I dropped a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, which is like one of those Starcraft battlecruisers, and splatted Connor’s Thalia out of existence (he lost to me recently in a eeriely similar manner).

The fifth round I had to win in order to remain in contention for the Top 8 cut- and it was against Tom, on red/green/blue Dynavolt Tower. Unfortunately I choked, with the dramatic moments of the last game still on my mind, at which point I had finally cracked under the pressure. For game 1 I kept a very loose, risky hand, which unfortunately did not payoff at all, as he assembled the namesake Tower and countered all my stuff. Game 2 I made another misplay that costed me the game as my opponent had the opportunity to stabilize. 3-2

The final round was a fight for the consolation prize, and I didn’t even get the privilege of the consolation prize. It was against Ben, who was on Green-Black Energy- a deck built around a card called Winding Constrictor, and the rest of the deck was small creatures and anything that could add +1/+1 counters which. In game 1 my opponent got to do his thing, and I couldn’t put any lasting board presence. In game 2, I won eventually when I dropped an Archangel Avacyn when he was on 4 life (which was the exact amount the angel would do). Game 3 was where I made the punt of the century, misplaying one of my key removal spells and chose the wrong target. The rest was cardboard history. 3-3.

At the end of the day, I felt really bad about the punt, and finishing 22nd out of 60. The only positive take-aways was my ability to win against my own deck in the mirror matches. I made the wrong call on the local metagame in regards to my choice of cards, and was rightly punished for it. Some cards in the sideboard, are now promoted to the main. Secondly my choice of beverages to bring for the day should have been tea rather than coffee. Red Bull also turns out to just clip wings when playing cerebral games. 60 people in a small space also made for a very noisy environment, surprisingly more so than an actual gig at The Bird.

one of the door prizes- the bundle of booster packs alongside this was already opened. I wouldn't have wanted to travel to Kuala Lumpur for that Grand Prix as my deck wasn't done yet.

one of the door prizes- the bundle of booster packs alongside this was already opened. I wouldn't have wanted to travel to Kuala Lumpur for that Grand Prix as my deck wasn't done yet.

As for what Perth’s card wizards brought, 16 were on the Red/White/Black Vehicles deck, spilt evenly between versions running Walking Ballista and versions that don’t. 7 players were on the 4c Saheeli deck, because infinite cats is a legitimate winning strategy, and a surprising 5 were taking Red/Blue/Green Tower, which was something I half expected to show up, but not in the numbers that turned up. 6 were on the Black/Green Snake decks, because it turns out a balance of power and affordability will always have its fans. And about 20 players brought decks other than the major archetypes, because we’re in Perth, and like our music scene, there’s always going to be players who go against the grain regardless of what the world tells them to play (the similarities between the Magic scene and the Arts' scene overlap, and sometimes in the same person).

And thus, for now, the dream is over. Alas. At the very least I was lucky (enough) to win a door prize.

PIAF: Mosquito Coast, Frankie Cosmos & Margaret Glaspy- 2/3

Andrew Ryan

As PIAF winds down, and the onset of a wet summer looms (the most dreaded of all summers). If it wasn’t for the fact that I was in area where free-flowing public availability of moonshine and overpriced street food, the sheer humidity would have convinced me that I was at a pasar malam in a nicer part of downtown Jakarta.

After establishing the fact that I was in fact not somewhere in South East Asia, and I was in fact still in Perth, I arrived at the Gardens just as Timothy Nelson and his motley crew were serenading the early birds that had gathered there (along with the airborne mosquitoes that enjoy basking in the warm, wet environs). Timothy Nelson is, to say, a very well known local personality for those who don’t know, and can be spotted a mile away with his big fluffy, bright red afro, and he sings songs that remind of you our windswept, sunburnt plains.

Warming up the main stage (which was probably already as hot af with all the lights and electronics) was local act Mosquito Coast (trivia- there’s a 1986 film of the same name starring a very young and strapping Harrison Ford). My first instinct was something along the lines of “please-not-another-West-Australian-shoegaze-band”, and as soon as they started, they sure were that, with the psychedelic rhythms, upbeat light hearted vibe, combined with the musings of the youthful and the innocent. Derivative as they were, at the very least their pop was decently catching to that I ended up unconsciously grooving (slightly) to, though some of the younger audience- a mistake I shall endeavour not to quite do again. Mosquito Coast are the perfect stage-warmers for any act.

Frankie Cosmos, may not be exactly my kind of jam, but with her irreverent, highly relatable witticisms combined with her lo-fi indie sounds that you would normally associate with that housemate of yours who has his own bedroom project- it’s not hard to see why she’s a lot of people’s favourite spread. New Yorkers do love our weather, and having to take off their winterwear on stage elicited one of those typical male responses (which is probably more friendly, lusty ribbing). Frankie Cosmos and band also used a little of performative dance during their set, which was slightly interesting so to say.

(Margaret Glaspy- Photo Credit: Rachael Barrett)

(Margaret Glaspy- Photo Credit: Rachael Barrett)

Margaret Glaspy came on to finish the night, and it was probably the longest and yet aurally rewarding set I’ve gone to, even the sweat was starting to really stick and the humidity was starting to make me fall a little asleep. Regardless of whether or not you like her brand of wispy, soulful rock, in the vein of St. Vincent and the National, there’s no denying absolute talent here, as if it was an actual quantifiable thing, and not a subjective opinion. Her set was just good in a very sublime way, that sounds and feels just perfect. Glaspy’s vocals carried the entire set on her own, running through some of the best hits of her discography, along with some covers of other artists, that were quite personal to her. It was a very intimate set (if somewhat overly long) for those who stuck all the way to the end.

After the end, I began my long sojourn home catching the train from the Elizabeth Quay (formerly the Esplanade), I somehow managed to get into conversation with one of the punters who was there. Both of us agreed that Glaspy was brilliant, and it turns out that this guy used the Cool Perth Nights gig app to service his weekend needs, and he in turn to got to meet the human face of one its writers.

PIAF: Jambinai & Gold Class - 23/2

Andrew Ryan

An evening of post-rock. Of grizzling rhythms, and the quiet, simmering anger, under a cold night sky. All sound, thunder and fury.

Gold Class was the first to warm up the stage. Think of the English band Sleaford Mods, except cross out Nottingham for Melbourne, and lose the grim, sardonic humour that only life in the British hinterlands could produce, in favour of something more dour, more serious. Gold Class isn’t mould breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but in their niche, they do it particularly well. It’s got the obligatory, angry vocals, and the low droning rhythms that always inevitably draws Joy Division comparisons (who remembers other Joy Division songs, let’s be honest?), though their drummer seemed to be performing at his peak. Their set wasn’t anything special to remember, but at least the lead singer came down to be amongst his fans. Other than that, Gold Class’ set was at best deserving of a silver medal- good enough, but not quite one to remember either.

Jambinai, a strange band, from a strange country better known for its pop bands, is on the other hand something special. From the moment of the geomungo and the haegum was struck, everyone knew they were going to be in for a real, spicy treat. The fusion between the traditional folkloric instruments of the East with the familiar technological stalwarts of the West isn’t just for show. It’s the heartbeat that which Jambinai pulses through. Each song passed from one to the next, in the manner of a stream of consciousness, but the feeling is that akin to an ocean drowning out all your senses (think of the ‘fear is the mind killer’ quote from Frank Herbert for a great visual imagery). The melodies build up from slow and finish to a haunting crescendo, with really rich layers beneath forming the soundscape. Unlike most acts from the West, no one in particularly really took centre stage- and not sure if its an artistic or a cultural thing, but rather the entire band kind of performed as a single unit, with the efficiency and unison of an E-Sports team (naturally the country’s other main export), and their ‘lead’ singer’s banter game was a bit stilted, but more due to the language barrier than being awkward, but with the few words that he did manage to communicate, let us know how lovely the Perth audience that came down, which we deep down appreciate (evidenced by the crowd cheering in reaction) . The end result is a product that one could headbang to- proving that post-rock truly swims across cultural oceans- whether East, or West, or a bit of both, they share a lot of similarities.

By the end of the night, my leg was pretty sore.

(Photo Credit: Daniel Craig)

PIAF: Forgiving Night For Day / Kishi Bashi + Teeth and Tongue- 17/2

Andrew Ryan

It’s not often I have to run from one end to the city to bask in the sea of culture that Perth International Arts Festival drowns the city in, but it’s usually well worth the trouble. It's the kind of deep body of water that it's fine to submerge in, and not swim back up (Though we must at the end of the day). 

The first thing I made a stop to was to check out the opening of Forgiving Night For Day at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. I haven’t been to an opening at PICA for a while (due to just not being in the city on any given Friday for the most part), and I’ve always liked the aesthetic of Capone’s work- from a previous Hatched exhibition, the exact title escapes me. The titular exhibition, is a poetic art work, delivered in separate videos across several screens, revolving around the Portuguese word ‘saudade’, which is a profound longing for an absent something or someone, usually with the knowledge that the object of affection will never return (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Contemporary art has received a sledging of its reputation recently, some of it warranted- at its mildest, its usually criticism of aesthetic merit or lack thereof. Such an accusation cannot be levelled at Capone. The installations themselves are beautifully arranged in the main gallery, with the lights off for effect. The videos depict fado singers (Portuguese folkloric music) in Lisbon, singing a poem that had Jacobus had written specifically for the work itself, as the sun rises and the day begins. The backdrop of the city itself, with its heritage-listed limestone buildings (and the modern panorama out of the picture), harking old-fashioned Occidental perceptions of Iberian culture, is simply picturesque (that said, I am a bit of a Europhile). I couldn’t hear the recitation itself, being the opening night and all, so that I would have to come in and check out another day when the place is nice and quiet.

Also there was cheese. I took one rather large slice, and it was rather salty, which is exactly how I like my cheese.

(Photo: Jacobus Capone- Forgiving Night For Day)

After that, it was a time to go all the way other end, bypassing through London Court, down to Elizabeth Quay (it’s actually the first time i’ve been down there) and hit up the Chevron Festival Gardens. Not that it look much like a garden, and it did feel a bit… tiny, but if at the very least it was festive.

Kishi-Bashi, the main act, came up first, which is not the usual run of things. The Japanese-American kicked it off with a few upbeat numbers from his latest album. At the heart of his set is the lovely sounds of his violin (which Kishi-Bashi played with great finesse), and that of his partner on his electrified banjo. Somewhere halfway during the set, the banjo player went on an electrifying solo that was immensely memorable. Then the band was given a break and it was all just Kishi Bashi, a violin and his keyboard, and belted out one of his more intimate tracks “Can’t Let Go, Juno”, to which the crowded sounded their appreciation of this part of the set, by correctly not making any noise at all. After this, it went almost 180, switching to an extra-noisy, high tempo beat reminiscent of J-Pop hits, complete with the seizure inducing light show. Near the front, there was a lot of stomping and dancing followed with literal shaking of the floor (the surface of the amphitheater was rather soft and prone to bouncing. This also caused some of the crowd to just straight out head for the exits. For those that remained, Kishi-Bashi asked the crowd what they would like him to play, with various answers, though Manchester seemed the loudest, and finished the set with that.

Melbourne party starters Teeth And Tongue came up to cap off the night, but the crowd already whittled down to the few stalwarts who chose to party on. It was a shame, though they were the perfect band for a crowded moshpit that never was, though Kishi-Bashi did enjoin himself amongst the crowd. From the get go, it was a non-stop avalanche of frenetic, pulsating dance beats fit for a rave. Jess Cornelius took a commanding presence, calling all the shots, though her banter game was a bit forced and awkward. Each song seemed like it flowed from one to the next, and overall, it was a great, fun vibe.

(Photo- Rachel Barrett- Kishi Bashi / Teeth & Tongue)

Lucidity

Andrew Ryan

Director: Michael Abercromby

Starring: Andreas Lohmeyer, Charlotte Davenport, Alex Malone, Shaynee Bradshaw

Lucidity is wacky, rambunctious, dishevelled, and that’s about all I’ll say.

It is a play about a very successful man, Alex, whose success is all about selling the ability to control one’s dreaming through a company of his own, the eponymous Lucidity, trying to come to terms with the loss of his beloved, and coping with it by dreaming his life away. Basic enough stuff. It mixes slapstick, and high-flying concepts into at least a coherent and consistent package, occasionally funny, occasionally serious, and nothing in between the two. The vibe that I got very much screamed like it was a “Fischer Price’s Baby’s First Fringe World Production”.

The staging is rather basic, and very sparse, it involves a lot of coffee cups, and mattresses and quilts, and not much more than that. The sound aspects of the production were largely ignored and under. The script and structure of the play is almost very light, and the pacing of the narrative is either going really slowly, or a hundred miles an hour. The performances are very energetic from each performer. The play could have done away with some of the dance routines, as it felt unnecessary and out of step with the rest of the story. The themes that the story touches on, are however, well-delivered without being too ham-fisted in.

Lucidity’s execution is at least decent- it’s not trying too hard to be unique, neither is it breaking new ground, instead choosing to tread familiar ground, and do the best it can. It’s the exact bar that one should use to measure any performance at any given fringe festival. Lucidity, in this case, is the bar.

Silence

Andrew Ryan

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka

Silence is not for the faint of heart.

Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests, Fr. Sebastiao Rodrigues (Garfield), and Fr. Francisco Garrupe (Driver) in their search for the whereabouts of their mentor Fr. Cristovao Ferreira (Neeson), who was last heard of doing the Lord’s work in Japan and the disturbing rumours of his apostasy (recantation of faith). The two arrive secretly into the country at the height of the extremely violent persecution of the Christians in the country, personified in the form of the local governor of the region, a high-ranking samurai Masashige Inoue (Ogata), who uses creative methods in order to break the will of the Christians.

This is a very deep and thought-provoking film, but it asks for our effort- for the most part the context maybe lost to a largely secular audience- and explores the moral ambiguities of spiritual faith and evangelic martyrdom (as my good friend Lyndon puts it- it can be odd to watch Qui-Gon Jinn, Spiderman, Kylo Ren and the King of the Free Folk debate on the topic). Scenes are sublime, yet brutal, and can be distressing at times, with scenes depicting extreme suffering, without any glory or honour.

The cinematography is beautiful, capturing the essence of the Land of the Thousand Autumns (The ‘Rising Sun’ moniker wasn’t used until the late 19th century) at its most picturesque, and at its grimmest, whether it is the rolling green landscapes or the festive atmosphere of Edo-period market towns. The score and the sound design are muted, and sparingly used, to give the film a meditative feel to the proceedings, but the strongest moments of the film, are the parts where all is silence, save for the sounds of crashing waves of the buzzing of native fauna. The subject matter is treated with a lot of respect, lacking in the moralizing tone that many other films would have been tempted to do- the amount of detail is staggering- from the scripture, to the set dressing, everything feels on point.

The only part I found grating was the heavily exaggerated Japanese accents, but with such a quality film on the screen, this was the least of my cinephilic concerns.

Silence is a truly beautiful film, that only asks you for your time and effort, and that emotional effort is worth it.

 

**

 

Historical context behind the film:

 

The history of Christianity in Japan began approximately in the early 16th century, with the arrival of Francis Xavier, a Spanish missionary belonging to the Society of Jesus (Por. : Societas Iesu- or otherwise known as the Jesuits). He initially sought permission from the Emperor of Japan to openly preach the Catholic faith, unaware that during the time, the Emperor was only a figure head and that the real rulers were the local daimyo (literal translation- great names) who ruled parts of Japan at the time, and constantly warred against another for the position of Shogun- the nominal, true power of all Japan. Francis Xavier never got his permission, as he was barred from entry to Kyoto, the capital. He found welcome however in the western parts of Honshu (the big island)

Whilst Xavier got the credit for opening up the possibility of proselyting and missonary work in Japan, it was someone else who would make a far bigger impact. Fernao Mendes Pinto, a merchant from Portugal, crash-landed his vessel in Tanegashima (in modern day Satsuma prefecture), Kyushu in 1543, and inadvertently introduced to the locals the arquebus, the grand-daddy of all firearms, when they got curious about the contents of his now wrecked vessel. The local daimyo were impressed by this new weapon, and got to work acquiring and producing as many copies of it.

Christianity and musketry were thus very closely linked, and often many a daimyo would choose to take up the religion of the foreigners (and to an extent techniques in metallurgy and armorsmithing) in order to secure more favourable trade agreements that invariably involved a regular supply of guns, bullets, and the saltpetre in order to make gunpowder. Many notable samurai of the late 16th century and early 17th century became Christians- the most eminent being the Konishi and Arima families, whose descendents could now be found in Brazil and the Phillippines. Once the local daimyo converted, it was also beneficial for the local populace to follow suit, creating a new generation of people relatively divorced from the native Shinto and Buddhist religions.

Guns transformed the Japanese battlefield almost immediately, proving their capability by mercilessly destroying the traditionally-minded Samurai still clutching tightly to their swords and bows, dying in the mud after being shot off their horse.

The persecution of Christianity began as the civil wars and struggles among daimyo waned, and the advent of the unification of the country itself under one ruler. Hideyoshi Toyotomi, was the second of these unifiers, banned the Catholic religion on the rumours that the foreigners were enslaving Japanese (the foreigners did indeed enslave Japanese, but not to an extent they inflicted in Africa and South-East Asia), and the policy was enacted legally later down the track by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the ultimate victor of the civil war, becoming virtually Shogun by winning the decisive battle at Sekigahara in the year 1600.

Christians were rooted out in many forms, with methods ranging from the relatively merciful fumi-e (in which Christians must trample on the image of Christ, and denounce their faith), to the extremely brutal crucifixions, and a method known as anazuri- hung upside down inside a pit and slowly bleeding to death- all of which are recreated in the movie.

From this point on, the only foreigners allowed to enter Japan were the Dutch, whose Protestant creed was less of a moral threat to the regime, and even then they were limited to a small port named Dejima, within the vicinity of Nagasaki. The order of things was only ended in 1854 when Commodore Perry of the United States arrived with an armada behind him.

Fringe-views: Grounded

Andrew Ryan

grounded.jpg

Grounded soars high amongst many a Fringe World stage performance.

Red Ryder Production fuses George Brant’s award-winning play, fusing contemporary practice common in the realm of today’s theatre.

Grounded focuses on the controversial topic of drone warfare, from the perspective of an unnamed female fighter pilot (Van Reeken), who is re-assigned away from the sky and onto terra firma, piloting drones, waging war that is 70,000 miles away from home, and yet 1.2 seconds away from it, without the threat of death (and the adrenalin that comes with it) hanging overhead for the members of the ‘chair force’, all whilst maintaining the suburban middle-class life with her husband and daughter.

By keeping the perspective on the topic from the point of view of one anonymous character, and not delving into the politics, it keeps the direction of the play grounded (sorry), and asks the audience to consider the implications that drone warfare has on the individual soul, and imagining the life of a person usually far removed from our own circles, yet not entirely out of the ordinary- the main character’s schedule of dropping a child off to daycare and then going to work (killing foreign men of military age) would be familiar to most.

The entire performance is delivered simply as a monologue, and constructed to be simply delivered by one person, as it was meant to be, by all accounts of other adaptations. The verse is simply sublime, and poetic, with plenty of religious and spiritual motifs recurring throughout, like the use of words like ‘angels’, divine wrath and other such cultural touchstones. Van Reeken carried the entire show all on herself, and did so convincingly, especially in scenes where she was piloting, with the deadpan, emotionless expression that characterizes a certain perspective of the topic.

The sound design was probably its weakest part- not that it wasn’t bad by any stretch of imagination, and noting some obvious creative choices- but on this aspect, it wasn’t inspired either. That said, the lack of extraneous sound effects helps keep focus on the quality of the verse, and the silence. The staging is rather simple, minimalist and effective.

All in all, Grounded is simply a very polished piece regardless of who is adapting the work- it asks our audience on a topic that is usually far and away from our own lives, into the realm of abstract moral philosophy, a refreshing change from the arts being about the here and now.

Fringe-views: Sophie Joske: Household Name

Andrew Ryan

A Sophie Joske comedy show is not your usual stand-up show.

Sophie Joske is a relatively new name on the scene, and yet, a relative veteran of the Fringe World circuit, having previously produced her breakout show How To Become A Functional Adult In 45 minutes, which was honestly laugh out loud funny, and very relatable to its audience.

Playing out to a packed audience, albeit, in all honesty, a small room converted out of a TAFE classroom.

The show’s basic premise is about Sophie Joske lampooning the typical mainstream comedians, and her desire to be a typical mainstream comedian (rich enough to not have to worry about living expenses), and on this note, it makes some hits, and yet makes some misses- I didn’t feel like there was enough of that part (or at the very least, in a way reasonably communicable to the audience), but it’s more than made up for it with the raucous, typical Sophie moments.

The jokes were rip-roaring good, delivered with the typical self-deprecation and self-awareness that is the trademark of Sophie Joske’s oeuvre, and then it falls slightly when she plays the ‘typical stand-up comedian’ aspect, which is more likely than not deliberate. Adam Peter Scott, the show’s director, also makes an appearance, being a part of the performance as much as he is the actual director, and the stereotypical show director that he lampoons on stage. From there on everything devolves into chaos, with shouts, curses and tantrums being thrown on stage.

The rather small stage, and the fact that its a TAFE room, did however detract a little bit from the atmosphere, and the staging very much looked like an average stand-up show, which again, may be a deliberate comedic choice.

Sophie Joske: Household Name is fun, and not meant to be taken seriously, and you have trouble trying to choose a Fringe show, at least with this one, you’re going to guarantee (some of your) money’s worth. It’s not as good, and as well presented as her previous show, which if you did miss it, was definitely shame on your part.

Sophie Joske: Household Name runs until 6th of February.

*I’m not the best when it comes to analyzing and critiquing stand-up comedy. Comedy’s not my best (spread of) jam.

Cardboard Crack: Magic: The Gathering: Aether Revolt: The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

So I decided to be greedy and bought two pre-release packs.

And it doesn’t pay off.

My first pool of the day started with me opening relatively shit cards from my 6 booster packs, 4 of which are of the new set, with a foil promo card, that was of course outside the two best colours that was in my pool. I initially tried three, but the likelihood of hitting Having to build around a Blue and White flying list is always a crap feeling, especially when the win condition- an Aethersquall Ancient (which I have a habit of somehow pulling), a big giant flyer but, are on the blue side, and are really slow. So I started out game 1 against a Black-White shell which I won relatively easily, albeit with a lot of luck on my end.

Then I moved into the second game and got slaughtered in less than 5 minutes, because my opponent has a Solemn Recruit that just ticks up and up (Revolt triggers are revolting) and nothing but drawing lands and other irrelevant cards in the face of a double strike beater that gets stronger and stronger. I scoop, then sat down, decide to look at the rest of my pool, particularly the Red cards in my pool, with a new strategy of going for a fast kill using cheap low-cost cards like Frontline Rebel, and my foil promo Kari Zev, Skyship Raider (which swings in combat with a pet monkey), and just simply playing a linear, straight forward battle. This strategy paid off in the 3rd round where I was able to rush down an opponent on a Blue-Red deck built around artifacts to rush out Maverick Thopterists, (it generates 3 bodies in the form of itself and two tokens, and has the Improvise keyword) and win by the barest of margins. And then I lost the fourth round to a Black-White deck because the other guy simply had Heart of Kiran, the most valuable (in monetary terms) card of the set (outside of the Masterpieces itself), and had better creatures than I had in my entire pack (my opponent’s pulls were just incredible), so it wasn’t an entirely fair fight.

Not satisfied with a mere 2-2 record, I decided to go for another one. A decision that I sort of regret.

Moving into the 2nd box, and opening my packs, and opened two mythics, both relatively rubbish, whilst everyone else once again pulls everything that I want (note that this was completely the other way round when I did Kaladesh pre-release, where I pulled good stuff all day). Once again not only was I in blue, the cardboard gods seem fit to give me another Aethersquall Ancient, so I built a Green-Blue deck, with a mix of quality creatures, and some spells that bounced cards back into the opponent’s hand, at the expense of speed. I lost the first two games, first one to play mistake and a second one due to also a play mistake. So once again, I said to myself, that I’d cut all the blue in exchange for the rather functional if mediocre red cards that I had in my pool, and went with that. That didn’t help me in the third game, against a Blue-White deck that had Exquisite Archangel (where if they would lose the game, they would get their life totals reset) as a win condition which turned up in both games- and my opponent had only been playing the game for one week (based on the quality of his play, and remembering triggers or lack thereof).

I managed to win at least one game, at the very last round, so 1-3.

At the end of the day, it’s simply variance, and I fell on the bad end of it.

(Pictured: First draft of my pool. Note also the wrong playmat for the wrong game)

Cardboard Crack: Magic: The Gathering: Aether Revolt

Andrew Ryan

The city of Ghirapur, in the plane of Kaladesh, is in uproar. The Inventor’s Fair was nothing more than a grand ruse for the Consulate, its oppressive and tyrannical government, to forcibly seize the fruits of the labor of the city’s best and brightest minds. In this volatile political climate, the Gatewatch, a group of planeswalkers of legendary power decides to throw their lot amongst the crowd and declare a popular revolt. Plowshares will be turned to swords as the now pissed-off inventors of the city turn their skills towards violent ends.

For it is time to take the power back.

Aether Revolt is the newest set in the extremely popular collectible trading card game Magic: The Gathering, adding 184 cards to the existing metagame, and adding 54 extremely rare Masterpiece cards. It is an expansion to Kaladesh and is meant to be used to finish off the entire cycle.

The set introduces two new mechanics. Improvise and Revolt. Improvise is a straight forward that allows you to tap any cards with the Artifact type to cast cards with the Improvise keyword, bringing powerful cards into play far earlier than expected. Revolt is a mechanic that improves the power of spells (with the keyword) providing you lose a permanent (usually a creature you control) on the turn you cast it. This mechanic is interesting in how it incentivises good sequencing of play in order to make the most of cards with the keyword, or knowing sometimes its better off to send your creatures to their doom for the greater good.

This new set, however drops on the day that the entire Standard format that the community had known for the last couple of months, would be obliterated with a new banlist that would be effective as of Aether Revolt’s release. Standard doesn’t usually see cards banned (the last banning being six years ago), which was a tacitly accepted part of the bargain for players who bought into the format, and reaction amongst the global playerbase is akin to a literal revolt, with those in favour and those against, each with arguments supporting their side.

Three cards were banned- Reflector Mage, who could bounce an opponent’s creature and then keep it in their hands (He had won me many many games int the past), which was understandably frustrating. I was about to get myself four copies of Smuggler’s Copter, which found itself home in practically every deck that wanted to attack head on, and then dig through their library and throwing out lands and other irrelevant cards to keep the aggression flowing. I was thankful for the money saved. Emrakul, The Promised End proved to be too much, with a flying monster that killed the opponent in more than one way (by taking control of their turn), there was no reason not to play any other big monster than this bowl of spaghetti bolognese. Wizards of the Coast did this in the hopes it would introduce more diversity in decks that are running around, which may or may not be anymore likely (my money’s on the latter).

So Aether Revolt’s impact on the tournament scene will be judged on how it operates in the new wild, wild West-like environment, and how the bans achieve the objective of seeing less frustration among players with the format itself.

I’ll be either getting down to a pre-release, or just picking up individual cards later down the track. Either way I am cautiously excited to play in this strange new format.

Revisit: Fallout 4- Wasteland Survival Guide

Andrew Ryan

 

You walk through the Atomic-blasted ruins of Boston, gripping your scratch-built gun tightly, sweat forming around your brow. You heard the sound of monstrous growls, unsure where the direction where it’s coming from...until it’s too late. A Deathclaw emerged from a drainage grate no further than 15 meters ahead of you – catching you entirely by surprise.

You unloaded your clip into the beast, to little effect as it lunged at you with it’s deadly claws and almost took you out. Then in panic you pumped as much drugs into your veins – Psycho to boost your strength, Med-X to toughen yourself up and Jet to slow down time. You eventually triumphed after a bloody battle that left your limbs crippled, severely addicted to the chemicals you just ingested and out of food and water to heal yourself. But hey you celebrate with an ice cold bottle of Nuka Cola that also irradiated your blood systems to dangerous levels – ah the sweet taste of victory.

This is Fallout 4’s Survival mode.

This is a recent addition to the game, where it changes the way you play dramatically. Now enemies are much more dangerous, you are no longer as tough, you have to eat, drink and sleep (the only to save your game) on a regular basis. Furthermore you also have to look after your character’s body as you can get illnesses, radiation sickness and addicted to substances more often. Your character no longer have a bottomless bag as everything has weight (as each bullet also weighs you down now as well), oh you also have to walk everywhere as you no longer have the ability to instantly fast travel.

This single addition has made this rather above average title at launch in late 2015, into the game that it’s supposed to be - a simulation of surviving the post-nuclear American wasteland in the year 2282. My first run through of the normal mode made my character into Boston’s finest killing machine with little to no effort, carrying a shed-load of weapons and items on your back – making the entire experience feel laughably comical. There simply was no element of danger or challenge to be had as you mow down human raiders and giant super mutant monstrosities with equal ease.

But Survival mode made me fall in love with game to a new level, I’ve always enjoyed the lore and look of the retro futuristic vision of the Fallout universe – which drew inspiration from 1950’s America, in all it’s white picket fence glory and anti-communist rhetoric. Now you play the game in a more cautious and methodical manner, picking fights when you know you can win, looting only the important stuff (ironically in this mode broken junk are extremely invaluable for scavenging materials) as well as hunting for food and water. Additionally you can also invest your time into building communities to provide settlements for wandering survivors which will help you grow food and gather materials in order to supply your character with better gear and ways to survive further challenges of the game.

I’ve already logged in 24 hours of gameplay; discounting the hours of progress I’ve lost by stepping on hidden landmines or picking unwinnable fights. Fallout 4 Survival mode will be the game I’ll be playing for a long time to come and oddly enough currently the only way I can enjoy my sessions. If you haven’t picked up Fallout 4, this update is the definitive way to play if you love an atmospheric – yet challenging experience of surviving the post-apocalypse.  

Image- "Not So Tasty" by Xazomm

Two Week Disconnect

Andrew Ryan

As I write this, I finally have NBN speed internet (not that it feels any different- and not the fault of the government in particular).

I spent two weeks without the internet, not my own volition mind you. I have survived and not become insane.

Well, I did use the local library as needed though, so it wasn’t entirely within the rules of that ‘disconnect’ game.

Without the internet, there was a lot of things I couldn’t do, namely searching for work, looking up strategy guides, so I had to pass the time in more than unusual ways.

I ended up gutting through three novels- 2 of which I had bought a long time ago, but could never finish- the works of Iain M. Banks are a hard read- The Culture novels, Consider Phlebas and Player of Games doesn’t come easy to digest with its concepts (and consequentially why the novels would be nigh-on impossible to adapt- the descriptions would be a nightmare for production designers alone), and then Ben Bova’s Apes And Angels which explores the whole “White Man’s Burden theme” in a science fiction context, in which humanity embarks on a mission to save as many species as possible from an universal doomsday. The novel is told in a rather straight forward manner, and develops its characters enough, for them to have believable physical and emotional motives for their actions.

As for games, I passed the time between familiar classics Morrowind and Skyrim, fully modified to keep it playable in the 21st century, and then Civilization VI, which was a massive upgrade compared to the previous Civilization game (V and Beyond Earth which used the same ruleset and engine). The game’s score is possibly one of the most uplifting score (‘Sogno Di Volare' to come out a video game of recent years, here is a live rendition of it, coupled with a narration by Sean Bean (he survives here). Civilization VI eschews the old art style in favour of a more Pixar-like look, for both reasons of technical clarity, and a sense of optimism and innocence, and mixes the best parts of previous Civ games, as well as removing the more frustrating parts of it, and reducing the amount of micro-managing one has to do in a typical 4X game.

That and I got some personal writing done. A little bit though.

On the other hand, there are silver linings to not having internet for a while. You get to think and meditate a little. Two weeks of disconnect is enough of me. I’m not much to wax morals on cutting oneself off from technology, even for a while. Such notion is silly.

Star Wars: Rogue One Review

Andrew Ryan

Director: Gareth Edwards

Cast: Felicity Jones, Donnie Yen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk

Star Wars: Rogue One is a Star Wars movie that sits comfortably amongst the pantheon, but yet at the same time it is not a Star Wars movie at all.

In spite of all that, it is a solid piece of cinema, full of action for every minute of its two hour and a bit runtime.

Rogue One is told from the perspective of Jyn Erso (Jones), a woman would rather not be part of the war between the nascent Rebel Alliance and the dominant and terrifying Galactic Empire, if she could help it. Circumstances beyond her control eventually transpires to convince her to throw her lot in with the Alliance, assembling a rag-tag dirty half-a-dozen, that consists of conscientious Rebel captain Cassian Andor (Luna), and his sidekick, a re-programmed Imperial droid K2-S0 (Tudyk), and they are later joined by a warrior mystic Chirrut Imwe (Yen) and his bodyguard (Jiang), along with an Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Ahmed), whose escape from the Empire sets decisive events in motion. Together they form the eponymous team sent forward in a desperate mission that could decide the outcome of the war, and the very fate of galaxy itself.

The choice of Jyn Erso as protagonist, is a fresh and interesting one, from a strictly Star Wars context. Your usual heroes in a Star Wars story is usually someone who is already a Jedi, or about to become one. It is not often the humble ordinary grunt that gets to be the centre stage. In fact, Rogue One could be said to be a paean for the universe’s poor bloody infantry- to paraphrase Heinlein, the doughboy and the mudfoot who go into the trenches and kill the enemy, to put himself between one’s love and one’s desolation. The film’s narrative is presented in a straight-forward, easy to follow manner, akin to a blaster wielded by any infantryman.

The cinematic style is markedly different from the usual template. We’ll start with the most noticeable and the most talked about- the lack of opening crawl that is iconic and unique (and copyrighted). Notably absent are the Kurosawa-style wipes into the next scene. The old man can get some rest, as in this film, its straight up Eisenstein style montage all the way, each scene setting up for another fight. The score is impressive, emulating the scope of John Williams (a hard shoe to fill), but using entirely all-new tracks that don’t borrow from the main franchise. The performances aren’t wasted, especially Donnie Yen, who puts impressive martial arts movie skills to good use- a relief given that the appearance of Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in The Force Awakens was rather wasted.

Rogue One is a great war film, with added Star Wars flavour. It stands very well on its own, and adds real flavour into the Star Wars narrative. The last few minutes of the film is worth the admission fee alone.

 

Obligatory Star Wars: Rogue One hype thread

Andrew Ryan

I’m going to be catching this one on the weekend, once the crowd has (relatively) died down a little bit.

Part of me regrets not seizing the chance to see a midnight screening (a friend of mine was on a generous bend and decided to buy a fistful of it and doled it out to mates). By all accounts it’s real good, so I’ll save that one for next week (which by that point would be a bit late, so I’ll take different spin on it).

Rogue One takes the focus away from the typical heroes of Star Wars movies- and fills in the gap about how the Rebel Alliance got the Death Star plans (I mean we have to find out if they get it right?). That’s all about I would say at this moment.

These aren’t technically part of the main movies- these movies are sub-titled with “A Star Wars story.” These stories expand the universe and explore the world from the perspectives of less than usual heroes- we all get sick of lightsaber wielding guys stealing the show all the time.

These individual Star Wars story, sort of forms the “Expanded Universe” for the new Star Wars canon- as most of the old Expanded Universe got wiped out like the Death Star’s thing, after the franchise’s acquisition by Disney- that monstrous leviathan behind a cutesy smiley face that will surely consume us all. These stories are self-contained, all wrapped up in one movie, without the need to ever visit them again. In that sense, they are like the Culture series of novels (by the late Iain M. Banks), though the latter does not come easy to read and digest (which is why the Culture series is highly unlikely to get a televisual adaptation of its own)

The old Expanded Universe had a lot of stories and arcs that were just plain terrible, so only the good ones were kept, like the Clone Wars (both the Gennady Tartakovsky’s 2007 animated series or the more recent 2012-13 one suffices), one of the universe’s most important conflicts between two armies that had the means to rapidly replenish war-related losses, which led to the whole Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance thing down the track. The Clone Wars had plenty of perspectives from those whose boots are on the ground, exploring the more ambiguous aspects of Star Wars that the main storylines usually shy from.

So what do I hope of Rogue One? It’s got Donnie Yen. That means it’s already awesome regardless of how the rest of the movie is. This is his first major role in front of a Western audience, discounting hardcore martial arts afficionados who saw all the three Ip-Man movies (seriously check out that shit- where he plays the eponymous martial arts master and teacher to Bruce Lee). The last time a Star Wars movie brought some foreign martial arts stars, Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in Episode VII- we only got to see 10 seconds of them before they shortly got gribbled up by that tentacle monster- a great waste considering their amazing performances in the Raid: Redemption and Raid 2 (both of which are on my top 10 movie lists).

I mean after all, I really am dying to know if they get the Death Star plans or not.

(Some of you readers may have already caught this film ahead of me)

28th of January: A Neutral Perspective

Andrew Ryan

A lot of you may have heard about this one.

The City of Fremantle Council, after consulting both its constituents and the local, have decided, on their own accord, to move our national public holiday two days later, with a special event that has pretty much all the hallmarks- music, fireworks, and of course snags.

Victory was won. Glowing articles praising the courage of the locals, and the mayor, Mr. Brad Pettit. A sign of change and progress! People power has finally won! (A tiny, tiny slice) of Australia is finally moving forward!

Like all good things that happen in this country, don’t get too hasty.

Federal Government comes charging in suddenly like the Kool-Aid Man and spoils all the fun. To back it up, they were banned, or at least told to stop from doing one every thing that is also a hallmark of the day: inaugurating new Australians and presenting them with citizenships on the now modified date.

Classic governmental overreach is on full display here, good people. No doubt that this is the setup of a modern re-telling of a certain ancient Biblical story. The government is adamant and stubborn, albeit on principle and ‘tradition’- to send a message that is Australia Day should be non-partisan, and not be used as political football (the irony is lost here), but it seems rather petulant to focus on an incredibly local matter. This is the government that is far from living up to its free market principles (as their plans to subsidize the hypothetical Carmichael mine) and the notion of individual freedom. Currently, the Fremantle council are holding their guns on the issue. (UPDATE: They just got served the ban-hammer)

Writing this from a neutral standpoint and almost little emotional stake in the events, this episode almost feels like another part in a long running culture war that is pretty much going on with the rest of the world, although with a markedly (and unsavoury) local flavour, considering a less than savoury relationship, and an almost hard to defend (though not impossible) policy regarding those people from very far away lands. As soon as the date change was announced, armies in social media, formed ranks, one side moaning about how political correctness is ruining everyone’s fun and that they should get over it, whilst the Green-votin’ set saying how insensitive the traditional date to the traditional owners of this land. The changing of the date, is at best a gesture, and whilst gestures don’t help, but its the thought that counts. But gesturing and posturing of this sort will feel like sanctimonious virtue-signalling if it doesn’t lead to concrete and meaningful change (and concrete and meaningful change takes an awful long time).

On the upside, one could possibly enjoy two Australia Day parties, because a number of small business owners in the area, the most prominent of which is Cicerello’s (I.e the holy grail of fish and chips), are willing to chip in for their own private fireworks display albeit having to go to one after work, and that’s more than plenty of beer for one weekend, and maybe relive the Triple J Hottest 100 twice. Or grab as many games of backyard cricket. To fail in any of these duties is truly un-Australian.

(Picture: (L-R): Mayor Brad Pettit, Dr. Richard Walley OAM, Gina Williams, and John Butler)

Football Manager 2017

Andrew Ryan

Developer/Publisher: Sports Interactive

Price: $60 AUD (GreenmanGaming)

In the spirit of F.C Barcelona’s motto, it is more than just a game.

Football Manager 2017 is the latest edition of Britain’s most lasting export, and I think finally the company behind finally latched on to the subculture that it has generated, as reflected in the massive ramp-up of their advertising budget- a sponsorship deal with Everton F.C. (who have been known to use the game as a scouting tool in real life), combined with a marketing campaign that captured the whole addictive aspect of the game- the phenomenon otherwise known as ‘one more match’.

The game continues to refine its by now world-class graphic user interface, improving accessibility to a lot of the information, statistics and data (you could call it Excel in game form). The old-school, and by now anachronistic newspaper feed has now been replaced by the more zeitgeist-appropriate social media feed, complete with 140 character goodness- where fans would share their thoughts on your team’s performances, or any players that you brought in over the summer/winter. I like this aspect, though some of the ‘tweets’ are a bit ridiculous. However some of the new staff roles added into the game- data analysts and sports scientists, are very unclear on what they actually do- though it is a nod to the modern game.

Also simulated in the game is Brexit, with three outcomes- you have a hard Brexit which drastically alters the landscape of the English league, a soft Brexit with some conditions, and sometimes Brexit gets shut down by Parliament and doesn’t really go ahead, or at the very least affect the composition of your first eleven.

The match engine looks a bit spicier, but the improvement is marginal, but one of the key points is that the in-game actions are a lot more logical, and auto-piloting your tactics doesn’t really work anymore, so you have a think a little about how your team plays, and your opponent’s team. Some of the idiosyncrasies of the match engine remains- where keepers are just a little too good in relation to their real life counterparts, where your average Joe McGoalie starts playing like Mark Schwarzer (when he was in his heyday) on speed (and yours plays like Zeljko Kalac’s famous butterfingers).

But it is beyond just a game. No, the more appropriate word is addiction. An entire subculture that has many an amazing story to tell- there’s even a book about it: How Football Manager Has Stolen My Life, replete with tales about people flying all over to the other side of the world to visit the lower league team they have been managing, one person causing a medical emergency in a hospital after watching his virtual team win an all-important derby match, and these days, how it led them to their dream jobs, usually as data analysts for many a football club (they make for enthusiastic recruits), as well as players suddenly getting noticed become some enthusiast spotted him in one of their saves. Others relish the challenge of guiding a fourth division team to reigning European and domestic champions, year after year. I've sank years of my life in this round-ball shaped pit.

Other than that, though Football Manager 2017 is a must buy for fans and veterans of the game, and unfortunately it has come at the expense of those trying to come into the game, with a steep learning curve that is less fun in an increasingly technical sporting world. Gone are the days and romance of old-school football, it seems, but as a scouting tool (which is a direction it’s heading towards), it’s become increasingly prescient. One day, some day, there will be a manager managing a top division team, who’s CV consists of nothing but their splendid achievements in this quintessentially British game. 

Picture- the feeling of developing a solid, successful tactic.