Tag Archives: stone soup

Good things I experienced this year

Some of the various things this year that moved me the most.

Music:

rockettothesky: Medea

Easily the album that meant the most to me this year, though I’m struggling to put into words why that is. It’s partly her use of greek mythology, maybe. Or it’s her voice. Or the curiously ethereal music. It inspired a game (I stole a couple of lyrics to build the story around).

See also.

Broadcast & the Focus Group: Investigate Witch Cults of the radio age.

I’ve been a bit slow to really get excited by hauntology, but this is pretty special. Ghost music from a future that never came.

See also.

Richard Skelton: Landings

I’d been aware of Richard Skelton for a while, but every time I went to his website it seemed all his releases were out of stock. This is the recent reprint of the music and writings he (I think) started Sustain-Release with. It’s a gorgeous thing – a large paperback book and a CD wrapped in really high quality paper. All tangled up with memories of his late wife and rooted in the Pennines. It reminds me heavily of Alan Garner; the landscape and the ghosts.

Warpaint: The Fool

Definitely the best thing Craig’s ever introduced me to. The video above maybe explains part of the appeal – the way it hints at far more than it ever gives away – but for me it was that gig at stereo that really won me over. And I’m sure it was a once in a lifetime thing. Getting to see a band who are just on the cusp of breaking through is pretty special.

Sonically it’s the bass that really makes the album for me. The dreamy vocals, light-touch drums and textural guitars are pretty great, but the bass just continually surprises me. I’ve never heard anything like it, and it turns these dreamy pop songs into something far more exciting, more vital than you’d ever expect.

Books:

Alan Garner: Thursbitch, The Owl Service

Having read Elidor and the two Brisingamen books as a teenager, I finally got round to checking out some of his more critically-acclaimed books (Red Shift as well as these two) this year. I started with The Owl Service, and he instantly became one of my favourite authors. It’s the spare poetry in his prose:

he is hurt too much she wants to be flowers and you make her owls and she is at the hunting

…it just sends chills down my spine. The way he uses the landscape to channel ghosts and loves. And good as The Owl Service is, I think Thursbitch probably took a greater hold on my imagination. The sense of place is just so strong. And it heavily inspired my own work this year.

Jeff Vandermeer: City of Saints & Madmen

Vandermeer’s city of Ambergris is easily the most vivid, entrancing (fictional) location I visited this year. His incredible descriptions of fungi, graycaps, an underground world feared and little-understood just captured my imagination completely for a good couple of months. The first book’s the best, I think. Shriek’s very good too, but I found Finch a disappointment; it gave too much away, told all of the graycaps’ secrets. And in doing so, it made them normal, understandable. What made the first two books so remarkable was that there were no explanations, only conjectures. Finch more or less threw that approach out the window. It failed in the same way that, in seeking to explain the universe, science generally only succeeds in making it more mundane. City of Saints & Madmen also inspired a game.

Octavia E. Butler: Seed to Harvest (the Patternmaster series)

I came across Butler in an article on Janelle Monae, which drew Butler in for similarly being a black, feminist, science fiction author. I love feminist science fiction, so tracked this down. It’s a collection of the four Patternmaster stories, but the one which really blew me away was the first book: Wild Seed. It’s an account of two immortals, a man and a woman, and it’s the most powerful depiction of domestic abuse I’ve ever experienced. The sense of being utterly trapped, of having no way out, is completely suffocating. And a perfect example of the kind of thing feminist science fiction can do so well.

Catherynne Valente: The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden

A gorgeous collection of stories within stories within stories… I’ve got In the Cities of Coin and Spice waiting for me on the bookshelf, and can’t wait to open it.

Games:

Minecraft

(this series of videos is hilarious, and largely representative of how a typical minecraft game will go, well, until things get weird, anyway) Most people’s game of the year, and for good reason. RPS’ group write-up is as good a place as any to start. Some pictures of my main single player world:

VVVVVV

The most perfectly-crafted, outright beautiful platformer I played all year. I’m getting increasingly tired of all the rote metroidvanias the indie scene seems determined to produce, but this was something else. And the music!

Fuel

Not a good game, exactly, but according to Steam, I’ve played this more than any game other than Plants vs. Zombies. The racing’s kind of fiddly, and the music’s rubbish, but that enormous expanse of continent you get to drive around in just kept calling me back. It’s a game that seems to constantly hint at something incredible, but never quite musters the confidence to fulfil it’s ambitions.  Limited as it is though, I’ve driven so many miles in this game…

Crawl Stone Soup

I’m utterly terrible at this, but it’s my current roguelike of choice. I’m playing a Spriggan Enchanter because that’s meant to be the easiest race/class to win with, but I’m lucky if I even make it to the Ecumenical Temple in most games.


The Short-Lived Adventures of Binkle Splurf, Wannabe Kobold Assasin

Being the tragic tale of an ugly boy and his dream of rescuing the Orb of Zot from the depths of the Stone Soup dungeon.
All his life, Binkle Splurf had listened to his father’s tales of adventure and heroism, and felt nothing but shame at his own lack of physical strength. And good looks. And charisma. And courage. One day though, having yet again endured his father’s withering glares across the dinner table, he made up his mind to do something about it; “I will delve into the depths of the Stone Soup dungeon and return with the fabled Orb of Zot, and win my father’s approval!”

Setting off with his father’s prized dagger, and a blowgun he had made in Craft & Design at school, the courageous young kobold descended into the Dungeon…
Having barely stepped away from the staircase, he spotted the sleeping form of a goblin. Carefully, ever so carefully, he tiptoed up to the ugly creature, raised his knife and…
Stabbed it in the head, before it had a chance to fight back. “Perhaps this will be easier than I had thought,” he pondered. Pocketing the goblin’s dagger, he made his way onwards.

Having taken barely 3 steps forward, he chanced upon another sleeping form, this time a hobgoblin (hobgoblin def.: A goblin wearing hobnail boots). Here though his sneaky stealthiness failed him, and the hobgoblin woke with a shout.
A great and terrible battle followed, but Binkle Splurf was ultimately triumphant (though he did need to rest and regain his strength afterwards).

Having recovered, he set off once more, scuffling briefly with some bats and hobgoblins, before rounding a corner to find:
A fellow kobold and his pet newt. Unfortunately, this kobold did not take kindly to Binkle Splurf creeping up on him, and attacked with a ferocity that left our poor protagonist fighting for his life. Out of desperation, Binkle Splurf opened his pack, took out the mysterious potion he had found lying in a shadowy corner of the dungeon, and quaffed it all in one go…
Oh joyous day! Oh luck! It was a potion of heal wounds; the best possible potion if you’re bleeding from multiple nasty wounds. Biff! Stab! Gouge! With renewed vigour, Binkle Splurf made short work of his traitorous countryman and his newt, and stole his dagger as a reward.

Feeling like a proper adventurer, our brave young kobold made his way through the dungeon, looting and stabbing as he went, getting stronger and more confident with each battle.
Even this encounter with an unruly band of 4 monsters couldn’t slow him down. Within no time he had explored the entire level and was ready to descend yet further into the dungeon. Taking a quick look at the loot he had collected…
…he decided to have a go at identifying those two mysterious scrolls, and with some trepidation, read them aloud.
So, a scroll of detect curse and something still unidentified. Not the most useful of results, but undeterred, Binkle Splurf descended the nearest stairs and continued his quest.
…Only to suddenly and for no reason shout out loud, waking a nearby worm. Switching to his homemade blowgun, he tried to slow the creature with some well placed poison needles, but the beast still managed to take a chunk out of him before it turned tail and tried to flee. Enraged by his wounds though, Binkle Splurf chased it down and stabbed it in the back like the worm it was.
In no time he had explored this level too, and descended once more to the next level, only to come face to face with…
An altar to Jiyva surrounded by 4 jellies and a quokka. Panicked, he ran straight back up the stairs, luckily only followed by the quokka. Dispatching the clumsy marsupial, he set about finding another way down.
Only to get into a misjudged fight with a giant frog, which promptly swallowed him whole…

The stupid kobold’s possessions when he died:
(this was a fairly short, pretty stupid run of crawl; most runs last longer and feature more interesting sights like that Jiyva altar)


Explosions and Bright Lights and Flaming Hammers

Or, games I’ve been playing recently. The first two are Windows-only; Stone Soup’s properly cross-platform.

Hydorah
A fantastic pixelly side scrolling shootemup. A game which has clearly had so much love poured into it that it actually glows. Also, bastard hard.
Link

SYNSO Championship Edition
I am deeply in love with Robert Fearon’s arena shooters. This is the latest (his first being the awesomely-titled War Twat). With each game he’s refined his aesthetic more and more, and this is just one of the most gorgeous things you’ll ever see, hear or play. It’s derived from the pixellated goodies of the arcade’s heyday, but never feels like simple nostalgia; everything’s turned up and streamlined in ways that would never have been possible before. I’m actually making a game heavily inspired by SYNSO2, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match it.
Link

Crawl Stone Soup
This is the one I’ve been really hammering lately. It’s a roguelike with certain aspects considerably streamlined (item identification) and others greatly expanded (race, class selection, gods); well, compared to nethack, which is the only other roguelike I’ve sunk a lot of time into. Like any decent roguelike, there’s a ridiculous amount of stuff in here, as well as a ridiculous number of ways to die (which is probably the link between these three games – you will die repeatedly, and often, and each time you’ll want to start the game over straight away).

The devs recently released v0.60 of Stone Soup and holy crap did they increase the difficulty – my highest score in the previous version was 14000 odd; in 0.60 it’s 400 odd. I’m hoping they ease it off a bit, because I was just starting to think I might have a handle on the game before this latest release. Still can’t stop playing though.

I’m going to do a post documenting one of my plays soon, so look out for that.
Link