Thoughts On: Halloween

spooky

Not long before All Hallows’ Eve! Everyone tonight must be finishing the touches on their decorations, and getting their larders stocked up with lollies ready for trick-or-treaters. Well, that’s if you’re in the southern hemisphere anyways. I don’t find myself fussed with Halloween though, I stopped celebrating it not long after I turned 11 or 12 – not because I grew too mature or anything. I just never liked spooky themed celebrations.

I remember going to all the parties, and running out in the evenings to knock on doors for sweets. But the one thing I couldn’t shake off was this queasy feeling, when I saw someone dressed in a believably gory costume. Or when you were given Halloween themed food that looked a bit too much like brains, zombie heads or spiders. I remember when I was really young and my Mum had made (or bought) these biscuits, and the icing was done to make it look like an eyeball, and the iris was made of green and blue jelly. I felt sick to my stomach thinking about it. I’d argue to say I would still be like this now.

The thing is, it got me thinking. Why do we celebrate Halloween, and why do we celebrate it in such a ghoulish fashion?

Well as it turns out, Halloween – like most public celebrations prominent in the Anglosphere – originates from a Christian tradition (which some scholars believe to originate from western and pre-biblical Pagan traditions). In the Christian context, All Hallows’ Eve is the first part of the three day event knows as Allhallowtide, which is an event in which to remember the dead: the martyrs, the saints and the faithful souls.  During All Hallows’ Eve, one is supposed to fast, abstain from meat and pray for the wandering souls which are thought to manifest themselves during that night. The reason to dress up in costume is so that the souls don’t recognize you, and the tradition of sweetened fruits and treats like toffee apple and soul cakes is because of the abstinence from meat. In the next two days come All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, whereby you honour the Saints and Souls through feast and celebration.

It’s a long and interesting history, and one we see morph into the secular celebration we see today. Most neighborhoods across the world clamour to gather treats, costumes and party decorations during the week before Halloween. It’s usually a competition to see who can give or take the most sweets, who has the most ghoulish looking costume, and who comes up with the best party games (pumpkin carving, apple dunking, find-the-sweet-in-the-spaghetti, etc). You come to realize it really doesn’t have any relation to its origin, because the celebration starts and ends on that All Hallows’ Eve. No remembrance, no respecting the dead. But then again, that’s how most of these celebrations go. For most it’s usually an excuse for a piss-up – not that I want to sound like a miserable bastard. I already said that I like history, so I like finding out the origins of things like this.

There won’t be any Halloween celebration for me tonight, as I’m not Christian, so I won’t pray for the dead. And I’m too squeamish to dive into the celebration of ghosts and monsters. No, I will be having my biscuits without eyeball jelly tonight.

Thoughts On: Fallout 3 & Fallout: New Vegas

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Anyone who knows me well, will most likely know my position on the Fallout 3 vs Fallout: New Vegas debate. And that position is that I prefer New Vegas. I want to discuss a little as to why I prefer it, but before I do I’d like to confess something to the hardcore fans of the franchise: I haven’t yet played Fallout 1 or Fallout 2. Yes I know, utter blasphemy, and I’m ashamed for not trying it. I’ve played quite a bit of Wasteland 2, which is actually made up from a majority of the team who made the original Fallouts, and I’ve been told Wasteland 2 is merely a modern echo of the richness that is the old Fallouts. So, someday I will get around to playing them. I would just like to point this out, as I know how frustrating it can be to read the opinions of somebody who acts as an authority figure on a franchise when they barely know anything.

Okay! Fallout: New Vegas, what to say?

I believe it was somewhere in mid-2009 I played Fallout 3. I was even more ignorant of the franchise back then, but I went out and rented it for my Xbox 360. My reason for renting it was because I noticed it was developed by Bethesda Game Studios, who had made The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – a game which I had played to death. I thought I’d get the same experience when it came to the engagement aspect. But going into Fallout 3, the first thing I noticed – and disliked – was its faded, dreary and sickly looking colour palette. I know this was intentional, to go with the style of radioactive decay and all that, but combined with Bethesda’s pitiful Gamebryo game engine the results were nauseating. I think the only way they got away with it in TES III and TES IV was due to their use of varied colour palettes and fantastical art styles.

Washington D.C. - as depicted in Fallout 3

Washington D.C. – as depicted in Fallout 3

The thing is, normally this is exactly what you want for a post-apocalyptic game. But the problem I felt was that the way Fallout 3 approached the wasteland made it clash with the world they were trying to depict. The main feature of the series is the fantastical setting of a 1950s United States that never ended. Even after the bombs dropped, you’ve still got the ballrooms boogieing and the fedoras tipping. It’s like time had stopped after the apocalypse and no one is moving on. The biggest disappointment for me was the way most of the quests just dealt with resurrecting aspects of the pre-war world in order to survive the limbo that is the post-war world. I personally never felt like I was able to experience the wasteland as anything other than looking back on the pre-war era with a sense of loss I never even had in the first place. Fallout 3‘s Capital Wasteland feels like a world you shouldn’t exist in – compare that to the post-apocalyptic worlds seen in Mad Max or A Boy and His Dog, where everyone knows the end but not the world before it, all that exists in their world is the will to survive. The Capital Wasteland is like nostalgia manifest, despite Fallout 3 taking place roughly 200 years after the world was destroyed in Nuclear hellfire.

But with Fallout: New Vegas, I saw something more. From the moment you leave Doc Mitchell’s home to the final Battle of Hoover Dam, you see in the Mojave Wasteland an unfamiliar world. The memory of the pre-war times isn’t there, instead we as players navigate ourselves through the complex societies, factions, legends and conflicts present within the game’s setting. Fallout: New Vegas for me feels like what you could describe as a post-post-apocalypse. You see manifestations of the old world that existed, but instead of making them the focal point of the story and lore, they’re fed into the lore of Fallout‘s post-war world. They’re given reason beyond simple game mechanics, which I felt Fallout 3 didn’t do because they treated these aspects as outliers to be affected sparingly by the player. Take the Church of the Children of Atom in Megaton for example: in-game the Children of Atom are treated like kooks, barely given notice by the people of Megaton, and it’s the same with Megaton’s settlers as compared to the rest of the Capital Wasteland. The only interaction you have with the Atom Bomb that gave Megaton its existence is to either disarm it – leaving the town as it always was with absolutely no effect on the world at large (no influx of settlers, no rumours within neighboring districts etc.), or destroy it – turning the entire town and surrounding area to glass – all this at the whim of a businessman with barely any investment in the town anyways. To me that felt quite juvenile and pointless beyond the little flash spectacle of a mushroom cloud and the Ghoul’d up Moira we were rewarded with for doing it. I much preferred the approach taken with Fallout: New Vegas, treating these outlying communities as one part of an interwoven tapestry that makes up the Mojave Wasteland, and interacting with any of these factions causes possible consequences within other factions. It’s interesting, and makes you appreciate that the world you’re in isn’t just one of people scraping by, living off the memories of time long gone. You’re in a complicated place, with complicated relationships.

The Burned Man - One of many strange figures in Fallout: New Vegas.

The Burned Man – One of many strange figures in Fallout: New Vegas.

One of the big arguments against Fallout: New Vegas that I’ve noticed, is that it’s too railroaded, and doesn’t offer anywhere the same amount of freedom game play wise as Fallout 3 does. But what I think people tend to forget with Role Playing Games is that you’re not playing a self-insert, free to do whatever they want as reflective of the person playing them. You’re creating and filling a role, meant to interact and grow off the world they’re introduced in, and doing what’s appropriate to the role they’ve made. Fallout: New Vegas does have a more linear focus yes, but it’s needed for your character’s progression – again, from Doc Mitchell’s to Hoover Dam, you the Courier are journeying through the great tapestry of lore that is the Mojave Wasteland, and in that process the Courier integrates themselves into that tapestry.

This is why I preferred Fallout: New Vegas. I appreciated how it made me a character within the world, rather than having it make a world around my character. Sometimes, it’s good to play an RPG that doesn’t make you a self-insert, but rather an established part of the world that forces you to go out and seek answers yourself instead of letting you create answers based on your personal preference. Hopefully, we see this kind of approach taken with the upcoming Fallout 4 – although I really doubt it. Anyways that’s enough rambling, if you enjoyed Fallout 3 but haven’t tried Fallout: New Vegas, or you like lore rich RPGs but haven’t tried the Fallout franchise, give it a go.

And remember,
True to Caesar!

Thoughts On: The Creative Spark

eureka

So, yes… It’s been a while. I suppose I could say it’s down to my schedule or busy life, but I sort of backed myself into a corner by telling you I’m enjoying the spare timetable of an Arts student and all that. Quite frankly I was more concerned with getting my work out of the way, and during my free hours I didn’t feel like talking about anything, so I hung around with friends and played video games instead. However, as well as that I’ve got other projects laid dormant, such as some short stories I’ve been severely procrastinating with. I wanted to work on them, but there’s nothing interesting that comes to mind with which to expand upon; I have these horrible dips in creative energy every now and then, where I simply can’t come up with something to write about. But a few days ago I experienced something great, lying in bed at night I started thinking about things like we all do – life, work, relationships, sexuality, food, the weather – and all of a sudden I was struck with all these weird snippets of ideas, pictures, songs and words. I have it! I’ve got the creative spark!

You know what I mean by the creative spark right? It’s when you get hit with something weird and bizarre, something you want to tell people about – but you never do because you’ll look mad. Like when you last had that dream about everyone you knew from school visiting you at your grandma’s, or when the sky went purple and all you could smell was petrol as you walked through slimy meadows. It’s great. But I think it’s something most people tend to disregard, because they don’t want to come off as weird for keeping record of it. It’s a shame though, because a lot of great art has come out of these instant moments of illumination. I know for a fact that many musicians live by this process, making sure to record any tune, melody or beat that comes to them, lest the idea wither away within the same night they thought of it. Even painters, such as H.R. Giger, whose many ghastly paintings are reminiscent of the constant nightmares he was said to have suffered.

For some people this process is a strange one. In regards to dreams, you hear of people writing dream journals, where they record and reflect on the many odd encounters they find within their slumber. And while I don’t record my dreams, I do sometimes write down snippets of things sprung into my mind: like quotes, phrases, descriptions, scenes and characters. Heck, I even had a scene for a comic panel spring to mind, and tried my hand at it. The results were horrendous, but I wouldn’t mind revisiting it if I ever improve enough to be able to draw a face without it looking like a mix between Quasimodo and John Matuszak in The Goonies. But whatever it is, I highly suggest you find some way to materialise it for safekeeping, you never know when you might want to use it in the future. The creative spark is a beautiful thing, and it would be a shame to see it go to waste.