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I succumbed to the lure of rock guitar stardom

I’ve never owned a games console in my life. Despite vastly enjoying computer games, I have always thought that spending a whole heap of money on a computer-like device that serves only one purpose was a waste. And games on the PC are so much more flexible – the mouse is a much better controller for first person shooter, strategy and adventure games (my three favourite genres of game); people make great modifications for some popular titles, which you don’t get on a console; and it’s much easier to communicate over the net when you have a keyboard. In short, I use computers for so many things and while games are a priority for me, they don’t absolutely dominate my electronics purchasing decisions (obviously, since my last three computer purchases (between Tegan and I) were Macs, which are terrible for gaming).

So, it was something of a surprise that I bought a Playstation 2 on the weekend.

There is some context: my Windows PC is starting to die as far as gaming is concerned. I can’t play a lot of games created within the last couple of years and there’s some problem with the graphics card which causes it to over-heat terribly in hot weather rendering the screen un-watchable, shortly before my computer crashes. More to the point though, on Saturday I had just come off the most stressful fortnight at work I had ever experienced and was looking for some pure fun.

Enter Guitar Hero.

Guitar Hero is a game I’d had my eye on for a little while, particularly since having a test-play of it in JB Hi-Fi a month or two back. Even Tegan, while we were watching other people play it, thought it looked like great fun. The game has a really simple concept: the controller is like a miniature guitar, with 5 buttons on the neck (corresponding to frets on a normal guitar and notes in the game), it has a little bar that you move up and down to ‘strum’ and a whammy bar. As a song progresses in the game, you have to hit the right notes and strum in time with the music. The song sounds right and you get points when you hit the notes properly. Sounds simple, although playing it is a bit more complex, and there are lots of little, interesting touches here and there in the game which add to the overall effect – such as watching the antics of the ‘band’ you’re playing on stage and the audience reaction depending on whether you’re really rocking along, or failing miserably (going wild and booing, respectively).

Our rationale for buying it this weekend was to have some fun after a really dreary week, but our greater rationale is that we think it will be a really fun social game.  For a number of years I used to whip out a game with friends called ‘You Don’t Know Jack’ (YDKJ). This was a really humorous and fun trivia game – a three player game on the computer which takes place in a TV show-like context. Everyone who played had enormous fun – it was always a hit at little gatherings. However, in recent years my Windows PC has been relegated out of sight to the study and I can’t play YDKJ on the Mac. We still have requests for it every now and then, but tend to play board games instead (like Settlers of Cataan, Puerto Rico and Munchkin). I think that Guitar Hero might well fill the gap left by the absence of YDKJ and provide an interactive game that can be played socially, that you can enjoy watching even if you’re not playing, that has a mildly competitive element and that’s just really great fun. The couple of our friends I’ve mentioned it to have also said that it sounds quite fun and they’re looking forward to playing it as well. And if we get Guitar Hero 2 when it comes out sometime this year, we might well have a second guitar to play it with and can get immersed in the collaborative mode that will be part of the sequel.

As for the game itself (and note, we own no other PS2 games) – it’s so much fun! It’s a great feeling when you hit the notes properly and feel yourself rocking along to great classics like ‘Smoke on the Water’ and ‘More Than a Feeling’. In fact, playing ‘More Than a Feeling’ (originally by Boston) for the first time last night was just about the most fun I’ve had in a game for a long time. Of course, when you completely stuff up a song it feels terrible – especially when you miss enough notes and can’t quite get yourself back on track or your fingers working properly and you fail the song entirely – as happened to Tegan last night (although she did recover the next time round and do quite well). Overall, I think the game still appeals to me more than Tegan – she never really had the aspirations to become a rock guitar god that I did, and even though it has been years since I played guitar, I find I still have some residual muscle memory in my left hand and I find it easier to move it into position over the ‘notes’ than does Tegan, therefore I find it easier to pick up new songs and therefore the whole game is more fun.

To those friends and family who find themselves at our place from time to time – we’re looking forward to sharing the fun with you.

Another year over, a new one just begun (sort of)

Well, it’s pretty late in 2006 to be writing about the start of the year, but despite it being the end of February it still feels as though the year is just beginning.

The year has already brought a lot of busy-ness. Tegan’s work has been absolutely flat out following a Ministerial reshuffle in late January and her work becoming massively busy supporting a new Minister and Tegan being the only member of her office to remain in the transition from the old Minister to the new. Not to mention that her work simply became busier anyway with the new Minister, since it meant a whole lot of extra administration, organising new briefings, etc.

My work has also been very busy – not as bad as it was in December, but relatively busy nonetheless. It has been good returning to subject matter that I studied at uni – in fact, it’s quite interesting since my current job has some connection with the subject matter of my honours thesis.

So – 2005 the year that was and has now passed. In reviewing last year, I could easily talk about work and other boring things like that, but I think that holidays, pop media and gadgets are far more interesting. So…

1. Hong Kong (March)
2. Rutherglen and Milawa (June)

In fact, I can’t remember any real holidays other than those two, which makes for an easy to create top two list.

I really thought that Hong Kong was an amazing city, but it’s not somewhere you would go for your usual holiday – it was neither a particularly relaxing place nor a particularly tourist-y place. That said, I loved it (I’m really a big city person at heart) and I’d love to go back.

We also had a great road trip in June with the same bunch that we went to Hong Kong with – Richard, Kathryn and Cora – down to Northern Victoria in June. The trip was primarily to visit the Epicurean Centre at Brown Brothers winery in Milawa, as well as the Milawa Cheese factory and more wine tasting in the Rutherglen. The trip to that region has become something that we now do almost every year as we love it so much. Brown Brothers and, even moreso, All Saint and St Leonard’s wineries in the Rutherglen produce some of our absolute favourite wines. Yum yum yum.

1. Emiliana Torrini
2. Tim – Louis XIV
2. Tegan – The Kaiser Chiefs

Emiliana Torrini was by far our standout pick of the year in every way – best artist we’d never heard before, album of the year, concert of the year for us – in fact, I’d almost go so far to say that her conccert in November was the best I’ve ever been to.

Louis XIV are, as one of my friends put it, quite naughty – including lyrically. But they’re quite sexy and quite fun.

Tegan found the Kaiser Chiefs as her pick of the year, mainly because they’re just so much fun. She particularly liked the “Na na na na na” song. They’re a great fun band.

Since we love music so much, I’ll give a bit of a shout out to some of my other picks and finds including Tecoma (out of Alice Springs of all places), the new White Stripes album, the “She Will Have Her Way” album of Finn Bros covers, and (to a lesser extent) the Nine Inch Nails album. On the other hand, there were some real disappointments, like the new Franz Ferdinand, Black Eyed Peas and Gorilaz albums – all disappointing compared to previous offerings from those bands. On the other hand, I was initally down on the Wolfmother and Bernard Fanning albums, but am coming around.
Finally – the Big Day Out was great last year, particularly the Beastie Boys and the Polyphonic Spree.

Can’t really think of a top two for the year, but some standouts were “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card, “American Gods” and “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman, “Uncommon Grounds” a history of coffee, “The Confusion” by Neal Stephenson, “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick and the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde – none of them new books, but all good.

1. Kung Fu Hustle
2. Sin City

Kung Fu Hustle was abssolutely hilarious – one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen – I can’t even remember how many times I’ve already watched it already. Just a great film.

Sin City was true to the comics it was based on, which was great. I’ve never seen a movie based on any book that was so faithful – it was great. I can’t wait to see 300, which looks like it’s coming out maybe this year. 300 is my favourite comic of all time and is by the same author as Sin City – so I hope that movie will be as good.

Computer games
I got into Eve Online in a big way at the end of the year. I’ve never played an MMORPG before, but this has got me quite interested. I don’t know that I’ll be into it forever, but it is quite interesting – I might write more about why this is another time.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, despite the controversy, it was excellent. One of the best single player games I’ve ever played.

Unfortunately, I also played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords – it was one of the most disappointing games I’ve ever played. The first one was so good – one of my favourite games of all time. However, it’s sequel was terrible – it had so mucch potential and just blew it. It was half-baked, felt incomplete and just fell flat. I really wanted to enjoy it, I really wanted it to be so good – but it just didn’t make it.

And on all these fronts, I’m looking forward to what 2006 has to offer.

Stormy evening

We had quite a stormy evening here tonight – thunder, lightning, hail – the lot. It also made for a bit of interesting sunset photography:
Sunset photo taken from front yard


The one advantage to still being awake at 2:30am is that it gives one more time to read Umberto Eco. And an opportunity to respond to email when you’ve been otherwise busy in the evening. Sorry, the TWO advantages to insomnia are the reading of more Umberto Eco and more time to respond to email. And an excuse to drink more coffee during long meetings the following day. The THREE advantages… Amongst the advantages are such diverse elements as…
Hmmm, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition?

We’ve moved!

We moved house last Tuesday – just four days before Christmas, and only three day before my parents and sister came to stay with us on Christmas Eve. It’s amazing how much you can get done when you have a short deadline – we had unpacked most of the house, or at least enough for dinner plus sleeping accommodation for three guests. Now, there’s really only the study and library left to finish unpacking (i.e. the rooms with the most books). It’s all good.