Sunday, November 30, 2003

Well I needn't have worried about "Master and Commander", it was magnificent. My default attitude towards film adaptations of much-loved books is hostility. But this film really won me over. I was worried that Russell Crowe was just going to do his moody killbot routine, but he actually managed to produce a passable impersonation of a real human being. And Paul Bettany, although not small and ugly enough for Stephen Maturin, did get his pale unnerving gaze, his social awkwardness, and his ability to inspire devotion from unlikely people. Of course a film based on 20 novels has to leave many things out, but I marvelled at how much was included - the frequent boozy dinners, Jack Aubrey's heavy-handed sense of humour, his love of clambering about the rigging, the musical evenings in the great cabin, Killick's insolence and efficiency, Stephen's manic enthusiasm for natural history, his ragings at the ceaseless hurry of naval life, and his prickly hostility to authoritarianism. And the ship, the ship.....recreated in all it's beautiful , overcrowded complexity. HMS Surprise was the real star of the film.....

And I have to mention the superb soundtrack, with it's incredibly evocative use of water and wind sounds - huge windy silences as the camera soars away from the ship to take in the immensity of the twilight ocean.

Yes, I liked it. Give me a week and I will probably be back in the cinema to see it again.....

Friday, November 28, 2003

Jacob Davenport, the designer of Gnostica, has a Home Page with some interesting articles including: "Extreme Game Design", "Demoing Zendo", "Icehouse List Frequently Asked Questions" etc
Top 10 Dangers of Living in the Blog Space:

1. You think everyone cares about your opinions: They don't. They care about mine.

2. You stop having normal experiences: Every event you participate following your initial blog post will be constantly interrupted as you simultaneously live the adventure and write the corresponding blog post in your head.......

(via jonny baker)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Today is my birthday! 45 years, but I would rather not think about that....

I celebrated yesterday with a day in London, exploring the Great Court at the British Museum, happily pottering in "Playin Games" on Museum Street, where I eventually bought myself Zendo, then lunching in a wonderfully old-fashioned pub called the Sun on Arne Street, then more shopping on Long Acre, including Stanfords, and finally The Twilight of the Gods (how appropriate is that?) at the Barbican.

I'm very pleased with Zendo - I've had a paper IceHouse set for a few years, but it's great to have the proper shiny colourful plastic and above all stacking set at last. Even if you don't want to play Zendo (which I do) this is a good purchase because of the rich inventory of other games which can be played with IceHouse pieces. You never know, perhaps the nice shiny stashes will help me persuade my benighted friends to give IceHouse games another try.

Monday, November 24, 2003

My son Phil has started a new weblog (again) called Phil's Brains (limited subject matter, obviously). I'm happy to post a link to it, but it's not going on my blogroll until he has shown us a few weeks of regular posting.....

Thursday, November 20, 2003

I probably will go and see "Master and Commander" inspite of naysayers like those quoted below. Russell Crowe will almost certainly make a complete hash of Jack Aubrey, but I can't resist the lure of seeing life on board HMS Surprise lovingly recreated with a big Hollywood budget. And I will probably regret it, just like I did with "The Lord of the Rings" movies (the other literary love of my life). With an adaptation of a much-loved book, a 95% effort is in some ways more upsetting than a 50% would have been. "The Lord of the Rings" came so very very close to perfection, so many people put so much creativity and talent and time and money into the project - which is why it still baffles and infuriates me that they decided to muck about with the plot at critical points in a way that very nearly makes a nonsense of the whole story. For example Aragorn's encounter with Frodo at the breaking of the Fellowship, or Frodo and Sam's pointless detour to Osgiliath where they are detected by a RingWraith with no discernible consequences. Still makes me cross, but..........

I probably will go and see "Master and Commander".

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

How 'Master and Commander' gets Patrick O'Brian wrong. By Christopher Hitchens:

The summa of O'Brian's genius was the invention of Dr. Stephen Maturin. He is the ship's gifted surgeon, but he is also a scientist, an espionage agent for the Admiralty, a man of part Irish and part Catalan birth—and a revolutionary. He joins the British side, having earlier fought against it, because of his hatred for Bonaparte's betrayal of the principles of 1789—principles that are perfectly obscure to bluff Capt. Jack Aubrey. Any cinematic adaptation of O'Brian must stand or fall by its success in representing this figure. On this the film doesn't even fall, let alone stand. It skips the whole project.
What would O'Brian have thought of 'Commander'?:

Most writers, of course, cringe at the way their books are adapted for the screen. But O'Brian, whose series of 20 novels were the inspiration for the box-office blockbuster, would have taken 'Master and Commander' as a personal affront. He would have felt, in a deeply visceral way, that his characters -- his friends -- had been short-changed, misunderstood, misused by the moviemakers. And he along with them.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Last night I had the worst night's sleep I have had for several years. Every time I arranged myself in anything but a vertical position I was kept awake by my own violent coughing. The worst of it was, whenever I did manage to fall asleep I dreamed exclusively about the iPod. Now what does that mean? Have Apple reverse engineered the flu virus to carry marketing messages?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Harnham Free Church in Salisbury has been my Christian community for the last 18 years or so. Yesterday afternoon they laid on a farewell tea for me and for Mike and Kath Hitchings who are also planning to move away in the near future. A lot of people turned out. After sandwiches and piles of home-made cake Cliff (one of the elders) made a little speech about my contribution to HFC. This felt weird, it was a bit like attending my own funeral! Then they gave me a card and a gift of books. It was a touching occasion and I did feel a bit choked by the end.

Harnham is quite a staid church, conservative evangelical, averse to charismatic display, light on men, and quite elderly - at 44 I'm one of the youngsters! They've been through rough times in the last few years, but things are looking up at the moment, with a steady trickle of new people quietly coming to faith. I'm fairly optimistic about their future.

I've heard several times recently that divorced Christian men often feel marginalized and left out of church life. This was not my experience at Harnham. To their credit they continued to make use of me and ask me to serve in various ways, they even invited me onto the leadership team a mere year after my divorce. I'll always be grateful for their support and continued belief in me through those difficult years.
Looking back at previous entries I see that my cold started on the 4th. 13 days later and I am still waking up feeling awful, coughing and sneezing and blowing my nose. Am I ever going to get better??

Still, diseased or not I managed to beat Dave at Wilderness War on Saturday evening. We were playing the Annus Mirabilis scenario, billed as 2 or 3 hours long, which nevertheless took us two full evenings. Dave came within one point of a sudden death victory for the French at the end the first year, but I managed to slowly claw things back. A big amphibious landing at Louisburg distracted his attention from the West, and in year 3 Bradstreet finally captured Fort Duqesne after several disasters. At the same time Johnson made a lightning strike on Niagara and took the fort with the Surrender card. The French were just not able to recover from that before the winter.

One thing I would have done differently in Dave's shoes would be to use the Indians for raiding. Dave didn't do any raiding - instead he used his Indians in piecemeal attacks on Bradstreet's force. This was very effective in the short-term, but threw away his Indians for any longer term use in raiding operations.

This is a terrific game, just the right level of rules complexity, loads of historical flavour, and a dynamic and unscripted strategic situation. Excellent stuff.

Friday, November 14, 2003

This is a slightly girlie thing to say, I know, but...My Bloginality is INFJ!!!

As a weblogger, you are a perfectionist. Even though you have artistic thoughts, you may change designs frequently because of this perfectionistic insticts. You appreciate order and systems, and so you may stay with the same weblog program for a long time to keep things constant. Your personality type is rare, and so you are very special!

(via Sashinka)

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Phil took delivery of his new iBook about an hour ago. Here is the first of several text messages in the same vein that I have received:

Oh wow oh wow oh wow! It's life changing. Why hasn't the world woken up to Apple yet?

And so another Mac bigot is born......
Bruno Faidutti's new game Terra is a semi-cooperative game with a worthy (if not very subtle) message. But I wonder if it's any good as a game? Interestingly, it is sponsored by Barcelona Forum, the big eco-peace-fest planned for 2004: Terra puts the players in front of ecological, socio-economical and diplomatic-military crises where all must collaborate to save the Earth's fragile equilibrium while moving their own interests forward. Players score points for solving a crisis for the common good, but at the same time keeping as many scarce resources to themselves as they can.

(via Terminal City Gamers)
Trying to maintain the illusion that my life revolves around games, perhaps I should describe a great game of Euphrat & Tigris I had with Simon last Sunday. This classic comes up fresh every time, there's always a different flavour to each game, and it is just as much fun two-player as multi-player. Last Sunday my plan was to dig in on the edge of the board and build a little monopoly for myself. Simon immediately discerned my intentions and completely disrupted them with a constant stream of internal conficts. He also built three, yes three, monuments and generally had the initiative for the first half of the game. By the time I had got things under control and started to produce a decent income it was too late. Final score was 14/10. Simon is developing a very aggressive style of play which makes for quick, violent games with lots of exciting swings of fortune!

More gaming is planned tonight: Wilderness War against Dave, who hasn't killed me yet, but then tonight will be his first opportunity to do so in person since the infamous poll. Scary....

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Another cynical attempt to recruit new hobby members from the most vulnerable members of society - my boss mentioned that his boys are interested in D-Day so I lent him my copy of Breakout Normandy for them to have a look at. Maybe they will get sucked into this toxic, addictive, homework-postponing pastime of ours, in which case I will have alienated my boss big time......oops, maybe I haven't thought this through properly.

Talking of Breakout Normandy, I've just found this excellent website with copies of every article/scenario ever written for the game. Rats, now I'm getting all interested again, just when I've lent my copy out for a few weeks.

Monday, November 10, 2003

An amusing look at how chess might have been handled by a computer game company: We'd like to thank all our fans for making Chess the success it is - can't do it without you, guys! Anyway, we're having a few game balance issues, so we're issuing another patch to Chess. Please see details inside.

Friday, November 07, 2003

It's not many days that you can say: I nearly got burned alive today!

My colleague Nick and I were planning to head down to Newport for the day in a company van with a Compaq server in the back. The van didn't look cared for but I thought - I have to trust the fleet department to maintain their vehicles properly. First stop was the garage where I filled up with diesel. After paying I went back to the van where my colleague was in the back seat chatting on his mobile. He looked up from his conversation to say "I think there's a problem mate." Yes there was - the forecourt was flooding with litres of fuel pouring rapidly from the bottom of the van. Pausing only to admire Nick's cool, I ran back to warn the forecourt staff who rapidly got everyone to switch off engines and mobiles while they spread sand over the spill. Dangerous situation. I'm just thankful it was diesel not petrol.

But I swear I am never using a company pool car again.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Just played my first ever game of RA on BrettSpielWelt, and I won 54,40,28! It was really good fun. Now to crawl under my quilt and watch some more cable TV....
Sick Leave Diary: Day 2

I don't know how much longer I can hold out like this, surviving on LemSips and Cable TV. Soon I will have to leave my shelter and go looking for chocolate. Does the sudden chocolate craving mean I am getting better, or that death is imminent?

Cable TV - I've heard people say how great Babylon 5 is. But it's not, is it? I mean, how come every alien looks just like a human with a big lump of latex glued to its head? And there is only one word for the barrage of "Equity Release" adverts in the all too frequent breaks - evil.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Well it's one thing to be stood up by a woman - you get used to that - but it's another thing to be stood up by your own flesh and blood. I was supposed to be introducing Gavin to Ceroc at the club in Clapham last night, but he got an attack of the vapours at the last moment, so I ended up going on my own. It was a good evening though, a friendly bunch of people, and enough dancers worse than me so that I felt comfortable.

I've woken up with a fresh cold this morning, and decided to take a sick day. It's well over a year since my last sickie. I am sneezing a lot - which would be unpleasant for my colleagues - and I feel ill - which is unpleasant for me! Now I need to muster the self-discipline to actually rest properly today, and not attempt to clean the house/put my administrative affairs in order/play games on BrettSpielWelt all day.