Fit to Print – The Newsroom Season 1

The first television series I actually cared about was The West Wing. I enjoyed it enough to watch all of Sports Night, and one day I will wade though the dirty-laundry of Studio 60 for long enough to watch the season finale.

The new Sorkin series, The Newsroom, ended its first season recently.

It’s not real.

Attacking a TV show, novel, or any other kind of non-documentary for characters whose dialogue is far from real life has never seemed to me like a fair thing to judge it on. In real life workplaces, people very rarely monologue on the theme of Don Quixote and now it relates to their life (News Room), have arguments in iambic pentameter (West Wing). In fact, while I take a great delight in very occasionally acting like a character written by Aaron Sorkin, a month in which I get to do it twice is a big deal. It’s not real, it’s not supposed to be real, it’s high contrast, and it’s televison. I’m not going to hit Batman over the head with how very quickly he recovers from losing a fight *really badly* in the Dark Knight, either.

There’s stuff I’d like to change. He’s not great at giving the women the articulatory high-ground (When he does it in the last News Room, it’s notably on the subject of living up to Sex in the City), his non-white characters could do with a bit more limelight (Dev Patel, in particular, deserves a little less comic relief), and the stuffing is poking out of a number of his favourite strawmen. His “Honourable Enemy” republican spends more time bashing his own side (Who may deserve it, and I don’t expect balance, but still). I still like it a lot, though.

The season finale feels very much like a series finale, which is a good act of anti-hubris, wrapping up – or at least drawing a “for now” line under – most of the story arcs of the season, but the weaker areas of the storylines aren’t magically fixed – the four-way interpersonal complexigon becomes five-way for no apparent reason – the series is at its strongest when it’s dealing with the fallout and the decisions of the making of an actual News program, and the biggest “this is awesome” moments of the series have all revolved around those, but with any luck the 10 months until the next season will give the writing team (Who am I kidding, I mean Sorkin) a chance to react to the biggest criticisms of the last ten weeks, shore up on the strengths, and come out swinging with the new series in the spring. Until then, I can always rewatch The West Wing and Sports Night, again.

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Computer Games

Mann vs Machinations

In five days, just at the start of the Bank Holiday weekend, Guild Wars 2 launches.

I have, as my girlfriend will confirm with some resignation, been spending an awful lot of time in The Secret World (4 days, 14 hours since launch, says the depressingly accurate /played), and this week the long-rumoured Co-Op Horde Mode for Team Fortress 2, Mann vs Machine, was released to some fanfare. So many games, so little time.

It’s not a perfect thing. The new mode appears to have brought with it a great deal more crash-happy client, which is making a hard game – and MvM is really quite hard – even more difficult.

Steam reports that – again, since launch, I’ve dumped almost 200 hours into Team Fortress 2. Almost all of which is concentrated into three phases. When the game launched I played mostly Engineer, setting up defensive encampments and fallback positions for the team. After a while, game balance started to shift, and when a few patches down the line it stopped being fun, so I switched to Heavy/Medic, swapping roles as teams required. Later, I switched to Pyro, which is my general class.

MvM has made it fun to play an engineer again.

Last night, with a few friends, I spent around six hours playing MvM, making our way though all three of the main maps (Though we didn’t finish Decoy). When TF2 was announced, there was a bit in the Classes trainer which, to me, typified the role of an engineer. It’s the first 40 seconds or so of this:

Now, doing that with a level one turret is probably overkill, but the tag on the intro slide “Area Denial” is what I like the Engineer to do. The MvM Engineer is support, but also area denial. It’s all about placement and – crucially – getting the turret out before it gets sentry bombed.

MvM, with its inline upgrades system that reset each match, brings a lot of the Rock Paper Scissors of the original TF2 balance back to the game. Spybots are vulnerable to AoE, Pyros can’t do long range, Snipers can’t react quickly, Scouts can get there before you can aim, Engineers need to be bombed from afar or snuck up on, Heavies are slow but pack a punch. For being a lot more complicated at launch, it’s a lot purer a game to play, much more so than the confusion of weapon-drops and hats that is a newbie’s introduction to plain TF2.

I am Aquarion on Steam.

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A Personal Odyssey

People of the civilized world, listen, for your gods speak!

Alexander of Macedon, he whom you called Great, is dead.

He shall not be remembered as the king who united the Greeks, nor as the conqueror who laid waste to the nations of Egypt and Persia. He shall not be remembered as the mightiest of generals, who gathered the hosts of three empires to battle and threatened the warring powers of Carthage and Rome.

He will be remembered as one who challenged the gods and failed.

Odyssey is a LARP system, based on a custom Mythic setting of gods and heroes. It runs a couple of events a year, with many hundreds of players attending. Central to it is the Great Game, where warbands from the nations of the world (Egypt, Greece, Persia, Carthage, Rome and a brand new one) fight for control of cities and the tribute they bring, and they do so in a giant gladiatorial arena; Where philosophers discover the mysteries of the universe and the World Forge, a complicated machine whose precise mechanisms and controls are almost as strange as the Watcher who oversees it; Where bands of heroes are sent on epic quests to retrieve and protect people and items of great power and importance; Where Priests of all the Gods fight less literally for the attention and favour of those whom they serve, and sometimes more literally too; Where people talk as people, interact, form friendships and rivalries.

Where we spend three days in a muddy field in Banbury waving rubber swords around and pretending to be Heroes and Gods.

Right now, I’m very tired.

I’m a referee for Odyssey. Specifically, I man the Games Operation Desk, primarily the first point of contact with a player who needs to interact with a non-literal game mechanic, along with a small team of “Blue hat”s (Different departments at PD events get different coloured hats. Mine’s yellow). So sacrifices to the Gods come to us (Via the other referees as well as directly), and when a player uses their mystical powers to divine the precise nature of a magical object, they bring their mystical powers and magical object to me. I function as an interface between the players and the back-stage story team, who weave a massive and majestic tapestry of interwoven threads, characters and tales within a detailed metaphysical framework of which I know enough to give the wrong answer with disturbing confidence (Which is why I ask), taking tales of Player derring-do to a Story team member to say “They did *WHAT*” at, and giving out the slips that tell the players what the favour or displeasure of the Gods has done to – or with – them this time.

Odyssey is a 24 hour time-in series, so once we kick off on Friday evening, the entire player field is in-character until Sunday afternoon when we call it a day. A lot of players sleep in character too, in tents on the player field. Others have tents outside the play area and their characters will “Go home” though mystical portals to sleep, and other characters will use the quiet and the cover of darkness to perform their most secret and antisocial acts. Generally the GameOps desk will close around 4am or whenever I decide to go to bed, and reopen at 9am when I’ve had enough sleep to be awake again and enough breakfast to survive the day. I am incredibly bad at sleeping and eating at Odyssey.

During the day, the players will fight their epic battles for control of the cities of the known world, they will be sent on the aforementioned epic quests, their priests will try to get things done for their gods, and the philosophers will solve the riddles of the universe and gather the resources of the world, and I’ll deal with a more or less constant stream of players with new and interesting things they want to play with, answer what I can and pass the rest to the people who write it all. The rest of the ref team are out on the field arbitrating the fights in the arena, making sure everything stays as safe as a full-contact sport leaves possible, and fielding rules queries.

It’s a lot of hard work, even for me just running the Ops desk, and that’s without mentioning the awesome work of the site crews in getting all the tents and the giant arena constructed, and the site set up with working toilets, (HOT!) showers and reliable electricity that makes the hardship of camping a lot easier, and the event to run at all.

Between the lack of sleep since I went up on Thursday (I’m at 12 hours in four hour blocks since Friday morning) and the traveling back to London today, I’m a little wiped. But next year we get to do it all over again for another couple of events. 43 weeks, 89 hours, 30 minutes left.

(Photo by Chiara )