Tag Archives: Skyrim

2018 in Review (For Want of a Better Title)

It’s now almost a year since I submitted my revised thesis and around nine months since graduation, and things are going fairly well. Have I recovered from the PhD ordeal, I hear you ask? Not by a long shot. Hearing you ask my rhetorical questions is probably a sign that further recovery is still required. But I’m working full time (in a non-academic capacity), I’ve got a few projects on the boil, and I’m occasionally getting time for some hobbies.

My part-time-during-study job has transitioned into a full-time job. It’s at the university I studied at, and a perk of the job is full library access, so my access to research tools is basically uninterrupted. This is fantastic for the writing projects I’m working on, and generally helps me maintain my academic career while squabbling over the bottom rung of the academic job market. There has been talk around town of academic career trajectories being suboptimal, and I suppose I’m getting a taste of what some have suggested as an alternative. It is hard to shift between work and academic mindsets, particularly when work is stressful (be kind to your IT support folk, everyone – if your IT is obstructing your work, get angry at your university’s cost-cutting leadership not the people who are specifically there to help you), but it is both possible and rewarding.

I’ve been told that it can take a year or so to recover from something as big as writing a PhD thesis. Thankfully, the wellbeing of postgrad students is getting more attention these days — we’re starting to speak about and speak out about it. I wish I’d read some of the articles and posts out there in the first half of my studies, rather than when I was almost through. I think the wellbeing of recently-post-postgrads is just as vital, particularly when the reality of underwhelming job prospects and the absence of familiar work patterns hit home. I’m hopeful that some of the discussions around academic careers, workloads, and alternatives translate into helping prepare postgrads for reality during their studies, but I think widespread institutional change is a long way off. Universities are too busy chasing ratings and funding to care about humans right now.

Anyhow, it’s new year’s eve and there are more positive things to reflect on. In late July, the Ludomusicology Society of Australia held its inaugural Winter Symposium at the University of Adelaide. The two-day conference was held in a seminar room in a Chemistry building, which I loved — it stirred memories of my science background and of the methodical thought processes required for science laboratory work, which are strong influences on how I do my research. We heard papers from Sebastian Diaz-Gasca on the evolution of musical themes in cutscenes in Final Fantasy X, Barnabas Smith (with Brendan Lamb) on tavern music in Skyrim and The Witcher 3, Mary Broughton (with Jane Davidson) on the physical behaviours of players of music video games like Rock Band 4, and Callum Kennedy on notation practices for chiptune music, among others. We also had the best roundtable discussion I’ve ever been part of, rambling around questions of terminology (diegetic/non-diegetic/extra-diegetic, ludomusicology/video game music studies, etc.), discussions of research methods, and more than a little gushing about various video games. All told, great conference, and I’m very much looking forward to next year’s iteration.

This year also saw the SSSMG launch the Journal of Sound and Music in Games, “an academic peer-reviewed journal presenting high-quality research on video game music and sound”. This is long-awaited and very exciting – I’m very much looking forward to the high-quality research this journal will produce and inspire.

My gaming highlights for the year would be:

  • Superflight – incredibly fun wingsuit simulator with generative landscapes to fly through. A single flight can last seconds so it’s relatively easy to play for a short time, but you won’t want to stop.
  • Oxygen Not Included – a much more complex game than it appears on the surface, but hugely engrossing. Also, not many games include fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and microbiology as gameplay mechanisms/threats.
  • Skyrim – seven years on, still one of the most beautiful games ever (and I’m not even playing the shiny new versions). I went deeper into some of the soundtrack for one of my writing projects this year and I love it even more now. Jeremy Soule is my hero.

 

What’s coming up:

  • A couple more writing projects
  • More work stress
  • Parenthood
  • Photography
  • Who knows, probably games?

 

Hamlet, Spaceships and Shiny Things

I haven’t had much time for gaming lately, but here are some notes on some of the games I have been playing.

To Be or Not To Be

My wife and I have both been playing this adorable little choose-your-own-Shakespeare-adventure mobile game by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics) and developed by Australian company Tin Man Games. It’s brilliant. I must admit that I’m a Dinosaur Comics fan (though I’ve been trying to read through to current day for several years now) and I’ve noticed that it reads enough like DC and has enough DC in-jokes that I suspect people who haven’t read DC might not get what’s going on half the time. But it’s a refreshing take on Shakespeare and I like how they’ve implemented the music: simply, but responsively enough for the kind of game it is, and it’s really quite pretty.

EVE Online

I’ve jumped back in to EVE recently after a disheartened absence following my corp losing our POS in wormhole space. And now that I’m back in highsec I’m really paranoid. In w-space you get used to spamming the scanner to make sure you’re not about to be killed, and it’s not a habit that’s easy to let slip — nor is really the kind of habit that you should let slip, because in EVE, as in Game of Thrones, everybody is going to die all of the time. Except that in EVE, “everybody” is you. The relatively chilled highsec music doesn’t really allay any of those fears, and I’m a bit surprised at that. I may have been subconsciously expecting highsec to be like a warm fuzzy blanket after the cold emptiness of w-space. I guess losing a ship full of stuff in your first trek back in the game shatters that expectation. Oh well.

I think, also, that knowing that the whole CODE. thing happened while I was away from highsec makes me expect a whole lot more ganking than before. So far, I haven’t seen any (except for the aforementioned gank I experienced that was unrelated to CODE.), but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

Maybe now that VR is a thing and we’re all wearing headsets we can figure out a way to read brain activity to determine emotional state and adjust music accordingly. This would almost certainly be terribly annoying (particularly if you’re multitasking) but if you’re fully immersed and expecting to be ganked it could enhance the heck out of that paranoia.

Skyrim

As mentioned very briefly in an earlier post, I’ve finally got through Skyrim‘s main quest. Such dragons! And it’s such a beautiful game world. I really enjoyed Blackreach just for its unexpected vastness and the prettiness of all the shiny things. So many shiny things.

But Skyrim, much like Oblivion before it, is easy. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of like making my character near-invincible just by existing. My sneaking skills are top shelf, which is sort of weird for a battleaxe-wielding, heavily-armoured Nord. But quite aside from the fact that my character is a sneaky beefcake, the missions just don’t challenge. Over Christmas I watched my bro-in-law play Bloodborne quite a lot, and played it a little myself. Learning enemy moves, jumping out of the way in the nick of time and spending hours trying to beat one boss are par for the course. Then I came home, jumped in to Skyrim and accidentally became Archmage of the Mages’ Guild. A few quests and then suddenly the Archmage dies, all the mages avenge him, and they tell me that I’m Archmage… because the guy with the battleaxe is clearly the best mage. Never mind that he can only cast Apprentice level spells. A mere technicality.

But the game is pretty and the music is nice, both of which Skyrim a lovely place to explore. And those dragons are really quite good dragons.

Catching up

Wow. Busy semester. I’ve never been a particularly good blog updater type, but my tardiness has been quite annoying this time around. Here are a few things I’ve been meaning to write about.

Skype
I’ve recently had the opportunity to give the same paper in two very different contexts. Once via Skype to the Ludo 2014 conference in the UK, and once in person to an in-house symposium for students at Sydney Conservatorium of Music. The excellent folks at the Ludo 2014 conference set up a Google Hangout for a few of us long-distance “attendees”, in addition to Skype link-ups for presenting conferences. Really nice of them to do both, as it allowed me to sidestep that pesky other-side-of-the-world thing, and not just to say my piece and then leave. I could engage with the conference and the other speakers despite being at home in Sydney, which I found quite rewarding.

Presenting a paper via Skype is actually quite challenging. With the audience on the other side of the world, the Skype window small enough on my screen that it doesn’t obstruct my paper, and the low-fi sound quality of Skype, there’s remarkably little feedback to be received. No turning pages of notebooks to be heard, no amused grins or muted chuckles at jokes, not even a bored expression to let you know how you’re going. You’ve just got to forge ahead, trusting that your microphone isn’t broken and that Skype hasn’t dropped out and left you with a frozen image or something. And you notice all this in your first ten seconds, and by twenty seconds in you realise it’s going to be like this for the next twenty minutes. But then they clap politely at the end, you realise it all went fine, and you answer some questions while breathing deeply and pondering a walk to the kitchen for a large glass of wine. Giving the paper in person at the Con felt substantially easier, but I’m grateful for the chance to be able to present to Ludo 2014. I think being able to telecommute is a pretty important skill for someone conducting research in such an isolated country.

The Wolf Among Us
This game (well, the first four episodes of it at least) is superb, almost to the point of being annoying. Having recently spent a considerable amount of time analysing L.A. Noire and a considerable amount of effort trying to place it within the noir tradition, it grates to see a game that fits the tradition so easily. But it only grates a little, because it’s awesome.

And something I’ve noticed about this game is how surprisingly well the music works considering it’s the second least noir thing about the game (after the fairytales). It’s very synthy, and more “artificial” than “gritty”, but to my mind it fits the game rather well. I’ll try to figure out why when the fifth episode comes out 

The Walking Dead
Never shed a tear in a video game before. That’s something new. I’ve recently bought Season 2 in the Steam Summer Sales so no spoilers.

EVE Online
My corp and I have moved out into wormhole space (as of a few months ago). EVE feels and sounds quite different out there. It’s got a brooding, ominous soundtrack – at least for the first little while, then the distinct lack of variance becomes the crushing loneliness of empty space. I’ve been listening to New Eden Radio a lot, put it that way. I know that nullsec has an adaptive soundtrack that gets “darker” according to the number of ships killed in the last 24 hours, but I’m yet to see whether wormhole space has a similar mechanic because there’s nobody there. And, to be fair, when there is someone there it’s usually me that’s on the dying side.

Skyrim
I’ve never gotten into Skyrim as deeply as I got into Oblivion, but I’ve been playing it sporadically lately and am yet again impressed by how beautiful a world it is. Top marks.