Buyer’s remorse, broken promises and something else that starts with ‘b’

I’m perennially late to the party when it comes to videogames, despite often buying key titles on the day of release. My shelves are littered with games from yesteryear that I haven’t got around to because I’m too easily swept up by the hype surrounding the ‘next big thing’. Case in point: I eagerly pre-ordered the ‘collector’s edition’ of Lost Planet: Extreme Condition for the Xbox 360 after finding enough in the demo to warrant further investigation. It cost £44.99 and arrived with me in mid-January, 2007. It’s on my shelf, still sealed, more than three years later. It can also be bought new today for less than £7. In short, I’m a dolt.

It’s one thing wasting money on games that I don’t get around to playing for years, but worse than that is my compulsion to plump for the shiny special editions. I’m a little better than I used to be in that respect but I’m still swayed far too often – despite the fact that I don’t remember the last time I actually checked out any of the extra content that comes with such packages. I guess I’m just a magpie; offer me a nice cardboard sleeve or a shiny tin for £5 more than the ‘normal’ edition and I have to fight hard to resist.

I lost that particular battle when I cracked and bought Heavy Rain on release a few weeks back. It’s not so bad on this occasion; I likely would have bought the bundled DLC separately and the soundtrack seems right up my alley, so to speak. In an unusual turn of events I started the game this week – within a month of purchase; look at me, ma! – and it’s currently treading a fine line between beauty and big, hairy ballsacks.

I’ve been fascinated with Quantic Dream’s output ever since I picked up The Nomad Soul/Omikron for the Dreamcast way back when. The involvement of David Bowie was probably more than enough to pique my interest but the main mechanic of the game itself knocked me for six; if your character died it didn’t necessarily mean game over. Instead, you could be reincarnated in a new body and continue the story from where you left off – albeit with all your stats reset.

It was a flawed game, sure. But it had enough exciting ideas to leave me eagerly anticipating follow-up Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. My expectations for the game shot further through the roof with the release of an outstanding demo that promised untold branching storylines offering the player genuine choice in crafting ‘their’ story. Unfortunately, the scene featured in the demo – the opening scene of the full game – turned out to be by far the best part. From there on in the few highlights were unfortunately counterbalanced by several ill-advised sections and a narrative that completely lost its way halfway through. Even worse, the scale of influence the player could have on proceedings was nowhere near what was promised in the lead-up to the game’s release.

And so while I was naturally interested in checking out the PS3-exclusive Heavy Rain, I was also extremely cautious about Quantic Dream head David Cage’s claims about the ways in which players’ choices could dramatically alter their experience of the game with each runthrough. Nevertheless, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. Having put a good few hours into it now I can offer up a relatively considered opinion.

It’s a buggy mess; numerous sound drop-outs have blighted my play so far along with one total freeze-up. The control configuration is on the wrong side of horrific. The script is frequently poor – “It’s a painkiller… It’ll help reduce the pain.” – and the voice acting, so important in a game that places such an emphasis on drama and storytelling , is mediocre at best and often terrible.

And yet I can honestly say that this is one of the most absorbing games I’ve played in a long time. The broken parts somehow come together to form a hypnotic whole. After a slow start to proceedings I came to scenes in the game that had me literally inching my way to the edge of my seat, filled with tension and genuinely caring about the fate of the character I was controlling.

And, most unexpected of all, the game has thrown up some legitimately tough choices along the way – one of which in particular resulted in a pressured decision I regretted even as I was pressing the relevant button. I knew I was doing the ‘wrong’ thing but felt that I didn’t have a choice at that moment in time. It was an inspired scenario that triggered such an emotional response following the aftermath that I had to turn off the machine and reflect on my actions.

That’s something that’s only ever happened once before to me in around 20 years of videogaming, strangely enough while playing Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, of all games – but I fear that’s a subject for another day.


Risk and reward

Despite initial job-hunting disappointment I was pleased to be invited to an interview for an SEO Copywriter position with a digital marketing agency in the local area. This was much more the kind of thing I wanted to land — close enough to what I had been doing previously to mean that I felt like I was progressing my career, while still being different enough to take me out of my comfort zone.  I went along determined to come out with a positive result.

While I felt I started the interview well and performed strongly in the written task at the end, there were some technical questions in the middle that I fumbled over. I was told at the start that these would be coming up and that I shouldn’t worry at all if I didn’t know them. Despite the reassurance, though, when I get a few questions in a row in the middle of an interview where I’m really struggling to come up with the goods, it puts me off my stride somewhat. Nevertheless, I answered as best I could and looked to pull it around further down the line.

I came away worried that I had blown it but to my surprise I was offered the role the next day. The money’s still not amazing — a good £10k less than I was earning at the place I walked away from — but the work is interesting and it’s far and away the best office atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. People are happy to share their knowledge and, importantly,  for the first time since I worked for a year at HMV in 2001, I’m working with people who I  genuinely looking forward to socialising with out of office hours.

I’ve been there for just over a month now and assuming I make it past the 12 week trial period, it means that things are all starting to fit into place. We moved out of the in-laws’ place and into our new house on Christmas Eve and, while there are still things to do to get it how we want,  it’s really starting to feel like home now. Now that we’ve got some money coming in, we can truly start to enjoy our new life safe in the knowledge that we made the right decision to move to the South West.

So many people stick rather than twist when it comes to that kind of big decision, worried that the risks outweigh the potential benefits. I know, I’ve been there before and sided with caution. And this particular decision was a huge gamble, make no mistake about it; even with my newly-found job, we’re currently bringing in roughly £50k less as a household than we were in Kent. But you can’t put a price on happiness.

If anybody reading this has a big decision to make, I’d advise you to push yourself. Take a chance. Don’t look back in five or ten years and think “I wish I’d given it a go”. I don’t mean to trivialise such decisions; I realise I’ve been lucky to a certain extent and that things could easily have gone the other way. And that circumstances will need to change in a few years when my boy’s older as we’ll need more money to support him (and any siblings that may or may not come along). But time’s on my side and if things take a turn for the worse then we’ll simply reassess things from there and adjust as necessary. I doubt it’ll happen, but if we have to move back to where the jobs pay better then we’ll do it.

All I know is that I won’t ever regret not having taken the gamble.

Playing catch-up

NB: The most cursory of glances will tell you that this is another rambling post following on from the last entry. It’s a catch-up on my current situation so that I can get on and start updating the blog from my new position as a stranger in far and distant land. If you follow my infrequent and frankly rather banal tweets then you might have read some of this. And let’s face it, it wasn’t overly interesting the first time. So if you decide to skip this post, I won’t blame you. I’ll just hunt you down while you sleep is all.

While ideally I wanted to continue to write in some capacity, I knew I didn’t have the luxury of turning my nose up at anything — and besides, Cornwall isn’t exactly a hotbed of media activity, at least compared to where I had moved from. Hardly anything related to my skill set came up during those first weeks, so I applied for any job I thought I had the remotest chance of landing and still got short shrift.

I had a chat with the owner of a smart little bar in the middle of the small town we’ve moved to about the semi-management vacancy he’d advertised. That appealed to me; it would mean a lot of evening work which would have meant I could spend lots of time with my little boy during the day and then have the perfect opportunity to meet new people in this alien town by night. I have bar experience (albeit from back in my student days) and felt like I got on well with the guy during our back-and-forth. He took me through all the different aspects I’d be taking on, commenting on the fact that he thought I’d be perfect for the role. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

Thankfully I picked up some freelance writing work thanks to previous connections, meaning I could keep a bit of cash coming in during what felt certain to be a long search for permanent employment. Assignments for features on subjects like videogames and poker — and cheese (!) — helped to keep me productive while I trawled the ads for that elusive permanent employment.

Shortly after, I landed an interview for a Marketing Executive role, which I was surprised by. Sure, I covered everything they asked for in the ad, but having been an out-and-out journalist/writer for the previous eight years, I had no marketing experience. My previous role, however, had seen me writing for a number of magazines that were directly relevant to the subject matter I would be covering if I landed the job. I nailed the interview and drove home with a huge smile on my face. Again, I was to be disappointed. (I later found out that I was second choice behind somebody who had more than ten years’ experience in that exact role in a very similar environment, so I’m not quite so upset as I was at the time.)

Dejected, I followed up a lead and called a bank manager in the next town over. He had a couple of entry level jobs going which I would have a superb chance of landing. Banking isn’t really what I had in mind when I moved to Cornwall, and the pay on offer was a how-on-earth-will-I-live-on-that £12k. But I’ve got a kid to support and that’s £12k more than I was earning at that point, so I went along to the interview. Again, it went well — but I was aghast to be told at the end of it all that the new positions weren’t technically confirmed. He’d need to speak to his boss to confirm that he could employ new staff and that I should call him in a couple of weeks if I hadn’t heard anything. That struck me as particularly unprofessional and I was pretty pissed off at what felt like a colossal waste of time. Consequently, I wasn’t at all surprised to find myself a couple of weeks older without having heard from the guy. Thankfully, I never did have to lower myself to chasing him up.

Living the dream?

I know, it’s not fair. To flit in and out of your bloglife like this, appearing briefly to raise hopes, only to dash off again for months and years at a time. I can see the stats page form here; don’t think I’m not aware that you constantly have a spare browser window open, hitting F5 habitually in the fading hope that a new post will magically appear. Can’t you see? I’m an online dealer, getting you hooked on the good shit early on, only to throw increasingly dire efforts in your general direction from then on in.

I’ve said it before; I’ll doubtless say it again. I want to start updating this blog on a regular basis once more — particularly given some of the changes in my life recently. When I posted back in June I had a plan. I was going to give up my job in journalism to stay at home in Kent and look after my newborn son. I’d pitch in where I could with some freelance writing (and play online poker) to supplement the income my wife would earn by going back to her (better-paid) full-time job following maternity leave. Didn’t quite turn out like that.

There was a massive campaign of restructuring at Mrs T’s place of work and, to cut a long story short, her job didn’t exist any more by the time it came to thinking about going back to work. They offered her a different role on the same money, although that would have meant double her previous commute on certain days — and besides, it wasn’t the job she knew and loved. So, with a little prodding, they also offered her an attractive voluntary redundancy package.

Not being ones to think that one life-changing decision is enough, we opted to go balls to the wall. She’d always fancied moving back to Cornwall where she spent an extremely happy childhood, so I posited that the recent turn of events set up an ideal opportunity to do just that. We had no family support nearby when in Kent — my nearest and dearest live oop North and hers are still in the family home in Cornwall — so with a new baby in our possession I could see the attraction of having some help nearby. Plus the idea of a more relaxed lifestyle appealed to me. So she took the payoff, I jacked in my job and we packed for Cornwall.

Now, I mentioned a relaxed lifestyle just there. But by November I found myself living with my in-laws and heading out to deliver a metric fuckton of Thompson directories in the bitter cold to (barely) scrape by, with no contact from any of the several employers my wife and I had contacted about ‘proper’ jobs. The dream was fast becoming a nightmare.