2 great video games to try

In England, Summers are for Biking. Winters are for Gaming.

With the weather getting chillier by the passing day, nothing remotely beats sprawling on the sofa and firing up the xbox  with a hot cup of coffee parked next to you.

The game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing this year : ASSASSIN’S CREED – BLACK FLAG. What fun playing a pirate is!

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The game is open world, which means you can roam pretty much wherever you want and totally ignore the linear narrative and plot. Which I did. Did not even bother with finishing the main plot till now and I don’t think I ever will. This is the cool thing with open world games like GTA, Fallout etc. You can totally ignore the main plot of the game and just do your thing. And in Black Flag the “thing” is Piracy! And believe me, hunting ships in the open sea is bloody darn fun. And I went deeeep into looting Spanish and English ships on the Atlantic to capture money and supplies to upgrade my ship (`The Jackdaw’). Gorgeous graphics makes it a quite an experience too. No hyperbole : Watching a massive blue whale suddenly emerge from the water, next to your ship and then do a flip. Memorable. Completely recommend a buy.

Metro Last Light : first person shooter. Meh. Started playing. Not a baaad game per se but nothing that stands out from the million other FPS out there. Gave up about 15% in.
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Now gamers around the world right now are very pumped about ‘Fallout 4‘. I am staying away from playing it only because my personal gaming philosophy is ‘Wait for the reviews from the first lot of folks who play it‘. I am rear echelon infantry in gaming.

And that is why the game I am getting into this winter here is a game that won a lot of `GAME OF THE YEAR` awards in 2014. I engaged with it earlier in the year but this RPG has such a high learning curve I gave up about 2% in. Seriously. This is the type of game where the accompanying “slim” strategy guide is 500 pages of arcane details. The Game in question is  : Dragon Age Inquisition
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I picked up where I left it and now, about 10% in, I am obsessively hooked. This game is so damn massive, people have played it for 200 hours and still not finished it. That is like playing a game from 9 AM to 5 PM for 25 days straight and still leaving it incomplete. These type of games are like digital heroine and the last 2 times I was this sucked in comprehensively was when I came across Civilization 5 on my PC in 2013 and Final Fantasy XI on the PS2 in 2008.

Like Mass Effect, another brilliant RPG, Dragon Age Inquisition has a in game team you slowly develop over multiple missions and you tend to become very attached a few of them and the more skilled they become, the more ambitious your missions become.

By the time the chilling xmas the newspapers are predicting is here, I am going to go kill some Dragons with my team mates.

 

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Games as Portal to Learning

Even now in my late 30s I regularly play games on my Xbox and relish it. Most dismiss it as a silly distraction. But Gamers know just how good, immersive and addictive these new age games are. But even fewer realize how educational video games can be.

Yes. EDUCATIONAL. And not in the vague weasel-politician-word sense but in the real sense the word implies.

Allow me this anecdote to elaborate.

In early 2014 gaming website, Gamespot, released the list of the best XBOX 360 Games reviewed the previous year.

Much to my delight one of the games on that list was part of a series I have thoroughly enjoyed – ASSASSINS CREED. So I promptly purchased the game :

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a historical fiction action-adventure open world stealth video game. Players have praised its massive open world gameplay, numerous side-quests, beautiful graphics and very cool naval combat. The story is set in the early 18th century Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, and follows notorious pirate Edward Kenway. Unlike previous games, gameplay elements focus more on ship-based exploration in the open world map, while also retaining the series’ third-person land-based exploration, melee combat, and stealth system. The game spans across the Caribbean with the three main cities of Havana, Nassau and Kingston along with numerous islands, sunken ships, and forts. For the first time in the series, naval exploration became a major part of an Assassin’s Creed game, where Edward Kenway captains the Jackdaw, a ship he captures from a Spanish fleet.

I am about 50% into the game and totally absolutely love it. Piracy is so much fun!

There is a sequence about midway into the game story when I found myself swimming to a British ship to kill a bad guy on-board and it was almost sunset in the game. The ship was HUGE and there is a moment, when the light caught the ship as I was swimming to it, capturing it’s full massive frame. For a deliciously brief second or two I understood the shock and awe the new world people must have experienced when they saw these ships off their cost in the 15th century. Like I REALLY got it. It was the most immersive experience I have ever had playing a game and I have been playing them for 15+ years.

Something else I noticed when playing was that the Spanish ships always attacked British ships and vice versa. I got used to seeing these sea battles all the time and remember these are Game A.I controlled which means someone while designing the game programmed this into the game. And I wondered Why…? .

So I looked it up. Turns out in history The Spanish and The British have a LONG history of sparring on the high seas.

Went to GoodReads.com and researched that bit. A book ‘Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy’ has some solid reviews and seemed best poised to answer my question. So I hit the buy button. 56 chapters and 720 pages of naval history awaited me. Niceee! As now I write this blog I just hit chapter 13 : The famous 1588 Battle between the Spanish Armada and British Navy. Its gripping stuff.

The only problem is visualization. The author paints a picture with words of all the ships of the era but it is a bit difficult to visualize correctly. I don’t know the difference between a Caravel, A Galley and a Brig. Makes full immersion difficult. Very luckily, while browsing a BHF charity book-store I stumbled into this Hardcover Gem : ‘Empire of the Seas: How the Navy Forged the Modern World‘ by Brian Lavery. Like a Playboy magazine, I didn’t buy it for the content but for the PICTURES. Gorgeous sketches of naval history from the Medieval ages onwards.

The xbox game also got me interested in SHIP BUILDING as an activity since you find yourself constantly using your loot in the game to buy ship upgrades and I wanted to understand that a bit more. And Discovery Channel came to the rescue. The were selling this DVD documentary on ship building : “The World’s Biggest Ship: Building the Triple-E” – The 2 Disc documentary gives you an idea of how the Danish and South Koreans built the world’s most massive ships. And as luck would have it, an hour away from my flat is the best place in Earth to fully quench my thirst for understanding this naval history : The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London is the leading maritime museum of the United Kingdom and may be the largest museum of its kind in the world. IN THE WORLD! Living in London is coincidentally convenient! I am going there soon, after I finish the book, the game and the documentary.

All this, everything you read above, started from one question in the middle of a game : ‘Why are those two ships in the distance sparring?’

So when someone you know starts really getting into gaming don’t just dismiss it as a silly distraction. It could be a portal to so much more.

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“May you live in Interesting times”

If you are reading this blog post the odds are you are an adult, well over the age of 16 (at least chronologically). This means you were likely born somewhere between the 1960s and 1980s. And while reading this very absorbing wikipedia entry I was stuck by an astoundingly cool fact.

You and I, without effort, just by the accident of birth, have done something that’s rare in human history : When we happily toasted to the new year on 1st Jan 2001, we not only cheerfully crossed over from one century to another (from the 20th to 21st century), we are crossed from one millennia to another (more specifically from the 2nd millennium to the 3rd millennium, or from 11th to 12th if you like me believe the Human Calendar Idea is better).

This kind of jump is not a boast the majority of humans from the past can make. 1 of 10 centuries in a millennia allows for the opportunity. With the rapid mind boggling way technology and human progress has accelerated in the last few decades, the vinegar in this realisation comes from the hard reality that you and I were grew up and were educated in one millennia but work, play and live in a different millennia. So if you ever live to see your great-grand-kids/nieces/nephews you can wheeze to them that you have seen and experienced life across centuries and millennia. The next grandfather/grandma who can claim so is 900 odd years away so they better pay attention to the pearls you are dispensing. Because that statement would be factually a 100% correct.

The Chinese Blessing/Curse is “May you live in Interesting times”. And looks like we all are blessed/cursed to.

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Bullshit Marketing 101

I may not have scraped too much off the passing wisdom iceberg but if asked to dispense something memorable in the here and now, a week into my 37th birthday, here it is :

NEVER TRUST ANY ADVERTISEMENT THAT FEATURES CUTE ANIMALS OR KIDS.

American novelist Sinclair Lewis wryly noted early on that ‘Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless.’

imageIn the 21st century most sellers of un-needed goods (and 99% are that) are guilty of the wasteful crime of producing worthless same-as-the-next one-in-the-aisle products. They know this. The ad team they desperately hire to peddle the product knows this. Much more alarmingly for them both, the buyers are catching on.

The real solution of making something genuinely needed and nice is a hard tough route. That’s too much effort. So now the lazy ad team injects a cute baby or a adorable puppy, hoping the idiot consumer (that’s YOU by the way) is distracted enough by the ‘awwww‘ feeling long enough to reach into his purse and hand over the money. The only time this rule is invalid is when the end user of the product is an actual baby or puppy.

image Ads like these are an immediate insulting inadvertent revelation by the seller and her ad team of how little they all think of your general intelligence. For the ad is obliquely saying that a list of real benefits or features won’t convince you as much as a aww prop. Or maybe when they don’t have any REAL benefits or distinguishing feature, this shameful tactic is EVEN more useful.

The next time you see these type of bullshit ads, don’t fall for it.

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The charade of interviews and resumes

Paul Graham is a programmer, writer, and famous investor and this blog on Start Up Ideas was a terrific read. Here is a quote from it worth repeating here : “One of my tricks for generating startup ideas is to imagine the ways in which we’ll seem backward to future generations.”

“Ways in which we’ll seem backward to future generations”

If you ever wanted to get into business you could spend a whole summer mind-mapping ideas just from that phrase.

How about we modify it to be more contemporary in the here and now ? Like how about “Ways in which this X practice will seem backward to people from that Y Country ?”

Example : In London, if you have an Oyster Card you can travel on any public train, tube, bus, tram within city limits. Idea is self obviously smart and logical. But if you went to Delhi you cannot use the Metro Card anywhere else in the city. Seems so backward once one has used the former. This situation additionally embodies that famous quote by scifi writer Gibson : THE FUTURE IS ALREADY HERE. IT’S JUST NOT VERY EVENLY DISTRIBUTED.

Now take Resumes and Interviews. I am going to take a wager that we’ll seem backward to future generations about this inane, needlessly convoluted and very artificial process.

A resume is a piece of paper, composed by the author, with information cherry picked by the author, given to a future employer who cannot ever verify ALL the data in this piece of paper, with the purpose of getting employment by the author who cherry picked the information. Anyone see a bias here ? It’s like someone asking you to buy a Car/TV using only and only the brochure for information about the object. No peeking anywhere else for data!

An interview is a short 1 hour, tightly controlled, unnaturally stressed process to find out if the interviewee can perform certain tasks over the next 2000 to 10000 to 20000 hours with the employer/interviewer.

This is how the majority get selected into white collar desk jobs even today in most parts of the world. I cannot be the only guy who finds this whole thing in massive need of re-engineering or even outright elimination. I am going to wager these two twentieth century practices will not survive the end of this progressive century.

Yûgen

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I liked this word Yûgen the moment I stumbled into it.

Yūgen is a Japanese word pertaining to ‘a profound awareness of the universe which evokes feelings that are inexplicably deep and too mysterious for words.’

Want to get a quick fix and feel for this word ? See a good space documentary, in HD, on a wide screen TV.

Even better, go to the nearest planetarium and watch some shows there. (J and I were were happily reeling after watching ‘HUBBLE 3D’ on IMAX)

Watch a clear sunset after to really rub it in.

I get this fix from reading some good sci-fi. Because good sci-fi is no just about cool future tech but opening your mind to new possibilities of human conduct and living. For example before I read ‘The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia‘ I always thought Anarchy, defined as an absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual was totally for the loonies only. But after reading that book and many many Culture Novels by Banks I am now a believer.

This is one of the true gifts of good sci-fi. It shows you the world and the rules you live in is not preordained but one among many possibilities. The Foundation Series by Asimov, that I read in my early teens blew my young mind into the next star system.

The Culture Series by Ian Banks absolutely screwed with my already fragile sense of this world we live in. Imperialism, Militarism and Democracy needs not be the permanent narrative. Was this even possible ? Yes. Banks shows you how that would turn out. Brilliantly. The best two books if you want this 2015 summer to be one where you deliberately read something that inspires YUGEN are :

Consider Phlebas
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This current post is directly inspired by a long article I read today, a brilliant primer on THE CULTURE.

Read it to understand a little of both the world Ian builds and what Yugen tastes like.

How I came to love the UK

I fully remember my first brush with Cider.

I was 29 and in Bristol on a project.
It was a chilled Magners in a tall broad glass with 4 ice cubes floating in it.
I was in a pub that had some with outdoor seating.
It was a weekend and  I was with some colleagues from work.

4 years of a pointless hotel management degree where they all they taught you was how to manage a hotel in 1965 India in case you invented a time machine and REALLY were keen on extracting some value from the degree.
They never ever ever mentioned the existence of Cider as a drink that humanity has invented, when this drink could have BEEN the whole point of progress by humanity.

Back at the pub I thought “This sounds interesting…..WHY NOT !?!?!” (95% of everything GOOD that has happened to me started off with these 5 sentences, as did 66% of everything horrible)

I sipped some of the drink.
My eyes popped.
I sipped some more of the drink.
My skin tingled in a tingly way
I sipped even more of the drink.
My brain did happy somersaults.

I just could not believe I had been denied THIS MAGICAL LIQUID for 29 years of my time on Earth!

That was the moment when I became a lifetime fan of this amazing country.

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