Caché and French history

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In my newly rekindled love for movies, this weekend I finally watched Caché. As expected the movie is excellent and I should watch more movies by Haneke. It plays out like a reverse and more refined version of the Dinner.

I was however stupefied to learn about the Paris massacre of 1961 from this movie. The French culture we learned in school did not really touch on colonial history instead focusing on the more touristic aspects.

This leads me to believe that Dutch kids are the happiest in the world (a widely cited statistic) because in school they don’t learn how fucked up the world was and is. It is however a very Dutch thing to be proud of being oblivious.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

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I rewatched Once Upon a Time in Anatolia last week with my parents and it was even better than the first time. I usually think that movies shouldn’t be longer than two hours but here even a second viewing did not bore.

What I learned is that it at one point the convoy moves out of the Kırıkkale area into the administrative part of Turkey that we are from (map).

The idle chit-chat of the people in the cars is still funny but now it was easier to keep track of the interleaving stories. Pared down they rend flesh. Arap’s story about why you need a gun or the piecewise telling of a woman’s suicide are incredible. The point where Clark Gable swallows his words being one extreme example.

My memory had exaggerated the appearance of the angel halfway through the movie. It is still a key moment but not as magically-realistic as I had remembered.

The movie as a whole is about the utter insignificance of human action on all levels. Or as the poet said: ‘years again will pass and I will leave no trace // darkness and cold will encompass my weary soul’.

I am immensely looking forward to seeing his next movie Kış Uykusu which is playing in cinemas right now. And I am still eagerly awaiting Nuri Bilge Ceylan to make a movie adaptation of one of Pamuk’s big books (The Black Book or Snow).

Console gaming after the fact: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an extremely questionable game catering to the war fantasies of American hawks. I played the fully German version and having to make sense of a war scene where people are shouting stuff at you in German only adds to the weirdness.

Every time you die also you get quotes about war and peace by such notables as Cheney, Rumsfeld and Gandhi. I have no idea what the people who made this game were even thinking.

In the German (and Japanese) version also the “No Russian” mission is weird. You’re in a terrorist group that is massacring a Russian airport but any time you hurt a civilian the mission restarts. It turns out that this is something region specific.

For the rest it’s just a bunch of shooting around the world with a questionable (and increasingly incoherent) neo-terrorist plot straight from a Steven Seagal movie.

Console gaming after the fact: Mirror’s Edge

Not so much a game as it is a parkour simulator with some combat thrown in. It is absurdly difficult which isn’t even the problem. The real problem is that every time you restart it takes too long and puts you in a place where you have to replay large segments of the game. This may be fun for some but not for me.

I’m also not convinced that it is useful to have a parkour simulator where you don’t see where your feet are and as such cannot time your jump really. There are better parkour games out there (Assassin’s Creed II comes to mind).

The aesthetics of the game are special and that is more or less the only reason I was told to play this game.

Console gaming after the fact: Journey

This is just a lovely experience. A small, beautiful, near perfect game with graphics that have held up excellently over time. Are there more games like this? If not there should be. This has such a broad appeal and playability.

Journey which is an absolutely lovely game

A photo posted by Alper Cugun (@alper) on

Some of the transitions are among the most beautiful things I’ve seen in gaming. The sunset sand surf through the mountain in shimmering gold (video on YouTube) stands out but most of it is excellent.

What comes to mind with regards to aesthetics and also breaking out of the ‘gamer’ confines is this year’s hit Monument Valley but we could use a lot more.

Console gaming after the fact

I have found myself in the custody of a Playstation 3 console and have borrowed a couple dozen games to play over the holidays. This came to be after I mentioned to my local game design support group that I hadn’t played anything on a console for over ten years and that I was quite happy with that state of being. They thought that this was unacceptable.

Their reasoning was:
1. That consoles get the best games these days. (I’m not so sure about that.)
2. That I should have played some of these games to have an idea what I’m talking about or against. (Fair enough.)

Gaming rig for Christmas

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The big screen is back home because we have emptied our office in Berlin and are awaiting the new one. The biggest impediment to me getting a console in fact was the fact that we didn’t have any screens at home and buying a console would mean having to get a tv/projector as well.

And Markus Kaikkonen agreed to hook me up with his old Playstation 3 since he had just gotten a PS4 and was going to play some stuff on that over the holidays anyway. Many thanks to Markus for that and I do agree that it can’t hurt to play a bunch of these games but now that I have nearly two dozen of them (thanks also Peter Bihr and Simon Cubasch) to go through it does feel a bit like work. I will post my findings here.

Somme preliminary stuff that isn’t very game specific:

Console games are a huge deal. This may seem obvious but I hadn’t fully realized it before. I think it is fair to say that most males below the age of 40 own a console, owned one or have wanted to own one in the past decade. Being a contender in the console wars and releasing AAA games have huge entry costs but they also carry with them the potential for gigantic upsides.

I had noted the fact that there weren’t any good action franchises anymore. The only stuff we get are Bond movies and a Bourne episode every five years or so. I am now wagering that most of the audience and the budgets for these things have gone into AAA shooters. A FPS game is more fun, about as poorly written and more cost effective (for the consumer) than going to the cinema for a similar ‘shoot stuff and blow stuff up’ experience. For the same price as a current AAA game you can go to the movies 3-4 times.

I am surprised at the amount of grinding in AAA games. Playing parts of a game over and over again because of poor design or balancing. Especially egregious are situations where every death means a lengthy reload and resumes you somewhere back before. Also I’m spending a lot of time in geometric first or third person games walking around looking for the clue to the next stage. They may have higher production values than mobile games but the amount of grinding seems to be about the same.

Console gaming after the fact: Killzone 2

Extremely crude but a decent shooter nonetheless. Can be a bit of a slough at times but now that I’ve played more from the genre that seems to be par for the course.

Killzone 2

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The writing is so bad that you seriously wonder where they get it. The target audience for these kind of games does not seem to want much more. Thankfully the science fiction setting where you fight a pure evil removes some of the moral issues that other games in the genre carry.

Console gaming after the fact: The Last of Us

Massive spoilers for The Last of Us follow. Normally I’d encourage you to read on but with this game I recommend renting, borrowing, procuring, house-sitting, whatever is necessary to play it. I played most of the game in a single twelve hour sitting until nine in the morning. That may well be the best way to experience this: one weekend, little sleep and feverishly playing.

I was sceptical at first (I was promised that this game has the best writing that exists) but this was a singular experience despite its shortcomings. It takes a bit to get going and break out of the survival horror shooting game trope even though the beginning is executed very well. Another game where I’m not sure there is anything else to play after you’ve finished it. A sequel has been tentatively announced and there’s a DLC “Left Behind” that I can buy for €15.

The plot isn’t the best thing about the writing in this game and honestly in many examples of good writing the plot isn’t the best part. The atmospheric environments in The Last of Us have a coherence and detail that gives them much more depth than in any of the other games I’ve played since then. These provide a convincing backdrop on which Joel and Ellie play out their relationship and that is the real strength of the writing in this game. Out of a shared experience consisting of horror and idleness they forge a bond that carries over through the screen.

In broad strokes it The Last of Us is a retelling of The Road made stomachable for a mainstream audience. All the other characters are mostly forgettable and their losses however close they had gotten do not really count for much.

The biggest issue in the game is the moral one and not so much the one in the game as it is players’ reactions to it. The game forces you to save Ellie who is going to be cut up to potentially create a cure against the plague. What scares me is the vast number of players who take issues with this choice. I shot the entire OR staff without blinking (also partially because I knew it was coming) because I don’t think there is a real moral issue here. Sacrificing a person to save humanity is unacceptable. It turns out that (too) many gamers are in favour of moral consequentialism and medical experiments on human beings.

Another shortcoming in the game for me was that you don’t play as Ellie enough. I enjoyed her physical disadvantages and her true grit when running through a snowstorm and jumping up on huge dudes to slaughter them with a switch blade.

The bit where Ellie is hunting the buck is meditative and by that time it was seven in the morning, I had been playing for ten hours and it took me a good half hour of chasing the buck through the snowfields. That was a near meditative experience and in fact those were the most enjoyable parts of the game. Not those where you are on edge because you could be attacked at any moment. The best parts of the game were those where Joel and Ellie are hiking through a forest or on an abandoned highway and shooting the shit with each other. I would have happily played a game consisting of nothing but that.

The upside down fight is amazing.

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Capitalism is magical

A story I meant to write up for a while is my discovery of the German rap formation K.I.Z. (Kapitalismus ist Zauberhaft) and with that German pop culture that is actually worthwhile and fun.

I was cycling through Berlin when at a traffic light a car full of women next to me was bouncing to some heavy beats. The lyric I caught through the open window was “Sie klatschen aneinander bei der Double Penetration”. That of course piqued my interest.

The story does not end well. I overtook them at the next traffic light and I was sure that they would not appreciate my vehicular cycling. Indeed they didn’t and they honked at me when they overtook (a particularly bad habit of Berlin drivers). In the spur of the moment I shouted the F-word back at them and I didn’t expect it but that did shut them up.

After that incident I listened to a bunch of K.I.Z. and found their lyrics to be funny and smart. Their general modus operandi seems to be lots of clowning and ironizing topics by taking them to their utter extremes.

A great example of this is the song “Ich bin Adolf Hitler”. I actually had to look up whether K.I.Z. were nazis or not. Irony in Germany can be difficult to gauge. They also had a song about Jörg Haider called Straight outta Kärnten. I was on holiday in Kärnten this summer blissfully unaware of its dubious reputation.

K.I.Z. is a breath of fresh air in German popular culture. It does not take itself or anything particularly seriously and that is something Germany could use a great deal more of.

Give Da Vinci’s Demons a shot

I’m really into the series Da Vinci’s Demons right now (thanks to Kevin Slavin) which is a light hearted affair for the off season when there’s no Game of Thrones, True Detective or Sherlock.

The trailer for the first season is kinda messed up, try the one for season two otherwise.

I had been clamoring for Game of Thrones inspired historical fiction for a while now. There are lots of dark nooks of history which with a decent treatment could excite large audiences. So many topics to choose from but how about an epic series on Khublai Khan or about Charlemagne?

With Da Vinci’s Demons this is becoming reality at least for Leonardo da Vinci’s life in Florence. This Italian city and the papal intrigue of its time proves to be a great backdrop for an occult story set around this artist/engineer/inventor. The drawn overlays are a bit reminiscent of Sherlock and the premise of Da Vinci creating outrageous contraptions in no time at all is a lot like MacGyver. Its anachronistic depiction and juiciness are like Game of Thrones though people in da Vinci’s world seem even more cruel. In its depiction of a young incarnation of a well-known figure it even reminds me of Young Indiana Jones. Maybe there’s even a bit of Dan Brown in there but I wouldn’t know because I don’t touch that crap.

As a series it may be too trivial to function as a social status signifier, but even its pulpiness has found its bearings after the first couple of episodes. The initially more evil characters are rounding out nicely with depth and conflicting interests of their own.

I was happily surprised to see that it has been renewed. After eight episodes in the first season there are at least two more seasons awaiting. Just by watching it I want to read more about Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and go to Florence. History education has never been as fun and if this isn’t the education, it’s a great gateway drug.

(All art from the show’s brilliant accompanying tumblr.)