Back to porridge…literally

As you may have guessed, the title represents not only the start of the university semester, but also my return to porridge as an alternative to breakfast cereal. It’s all part of my grander scheme to stay off milk as much as possible; which is in turn part of another even grander scheme. But that’s for another day, and another blog. For now, back to the usual stuff. I’m starting to develop the perfect porridge, with the aid of peanut butter and chocolate spread (negating most of the healthiness, which is important of course) to make the texture perfect. The best thing is, it’s actually palatable!

The letter 'A' in BSL

This week has been really busy, but really enjoyable too. It was my first foray into sign language and deaf culture in general, as I chose it as my student selected component. Challenging, but fun, and it’s something that will hopefully be useful in the future. They really threw me in at the deep end, expecting me to know whole alphabet straight away, and pick up words after practicing them only a couple times, but I’m starting to get a bit better. It’s a bit daunting at first, because you’re learning a whole new language with it’s own letters, words and grammar, but it is incredibly intuitive. You wouldn’t believe how much you probably use it in everyday life/conversation. I hadn’t realised how many barriers deaf people face in everyday life. I highly recommend learning British Sign Language to anyone who is interested.

The media centre is still a work in progress despite being working and fully assembled. Now it’s the remote giving me hassle, as I managed to buy just about the only non-Windows XP compatible media remote on the market. I’m working on it, using various registry changes and alternative drivers, but I’m still struggling. It’s sad to say that the cheapie Hong Kong remote worked perfectly straight away, and had an excellent array of functions, and has left me considering reselling the Dell media remote. If anyone is looking for an excellent media remote, and has Windows Vista or 7, then get in touch! It even has backlit keys, and works with laptop IR receivers and anything that uses a Windows MCE remote.

I said I would write about Grim Fandango, and now I will! So what it is? It’s a 1998 adventure game by Tim Schafer, which is also one of the best games ever, and that is most definitely not an exaggeration. It’s also heavily influenced by the Mexican Día de Muertos (or Day of the Dead) festival. You play Manny Calavera, stuck in a dead-end job at the Department of Death as a travel agent, working off your time before passing on to the Ninth Underworld. How you get to the Ninth Underworld after you die depends on how virtuous your life was, and the journey can take from 4 days to 4 years. Modes of transport vary too, from the Number Nine train, a cruise liner, a luxury sports car, to just a walking stick to help your foot journey across the land (which is particularly treacherous thanks to fire beavers!).

Manny Calavera!

Grim Fandango is particularly special to me thanks to a demo way back in 1998, in my formative gaming years. I had a lot of good memories, but in no way did I remember how bloody difficult this game is. I have, ashamedly, availed of a walkthrough to help me through some of the harder parts, but the puzzles are all ingenious (if long winded). I’ve never actually played through the game completely, but I’m working on it at the moment.

I love the art style and all the pre-rendered backgrounds, and the characters are modelled after Mexican calaca figures, giving them an unsettling appearance. The dialogue and voice acting in general are also superb, and unlike most games which try too hard, it’s efforlessly funny. It really is a timeless experience, and despite having aged somewhat, it is still really playable. The only issue I’ve encountered so far was a rather strange one. I was walking down the hall of a building, and managed to walk onto a ship in the next chapter of the game, skipping about three hours worth of game time. The transition was so smooth that I didn’t notice anything was wrong for a couple of minutes – it almost looked like a dream or flashback, but it didn’t tally up. After going back to just before that point everything worked fine again, and I haven’t had any problems since. It was more of a quirk than a genuine issue, and at least it wasn’t game breaking even if I didn’t have any backup saves. Most of the time I’m an overly cautious game player. Take Skyrim, or even Oblivion for an example. I have saved around 800 times, not including autos, and as soon as anything changes or there’s a remote risk of an unexpected event, I save. So when that happened in Grim Fandango, I had a lot to fall back on. It’s one of the reasons I can’t gel with games without a voluntary save feature – you know the ones where getting to the next checkpoint is all that really matters. Having said that, it’s not always a big issue but it’s nice to have the security.

The conclusion of that rather roundabout summary – go out and buy Grim Fandango. Even if you don’t usually partake of the adventure game genre it’s highly worth a look, as a really well written, witty, funny, and well executed gaming experience.

The poster for Little Big Man. Look how young Dustin Hoffman is!

Need you ask? Of course I’ve been playing Skyrim, and it just will not leave me alone. I’ve been trying to overcome a bug which stopping me from finishing the Companions questline but I’ve had no luck so far. I find it really frustrating that such an excellent game can be ruined by a trivial problem, and from my research it is a pretty frequent problem, that still hasn’t been patched. This might be a sign to take a break from Skyrim, and hopefully by the time I return it will all be fine and dandy. Overlord is a case in point. I managed to be afflicted with a game breaking glitch stopping all progress on to the next area of a particular level, and I abandoned it completely. It took them the guts of six months to release a patch, but by then I had completely lost the will to play it, and only returned to finish it a year or so later. That’s another game on my list to play, if you haven’t tried it yet. I’m going to have to compile a list of good games, and write a bit about them as I’d like to see for myself how much ground I’ve covered.

This entry is getting a bit long, as is often the case with two nights work in one, but I’d like to say thanks to Mark as well for the movie night on Friday. Little Big Man was a good movie – Dustin Hoffman really has been around forever though! I also watched the Princess Bride again on Saturday night, and it’s still as good as I remember. The first time I watched it was way back in Primary 4, and I had to write a review way back then. I’m sure it was pretty hilarious – I’m half tempted to find it and post it up on here for a laugh. I better wrap this up anyway, and as usual, I hope this has been an experience. I know I’ve enjoyed writing it, even if it has taken unusually long. But hey; that’s what planning is for…


One response to “Back to porridge…literally”

  1. […] idea. I was going to be Manny Calavera, the protagonist of Grim Fandango, which I wrote about here. As far as adventure games go, it has to be my favourite, and up there with my all time favourite […]

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