04 September 2009

The Meme Cloud, Part 1

'You are what you eat', or so says the old saw. There's a bit of truth to it - in many ways, you are the sum of your inputs, the random bits of culture you've absorbed during your lifetime. I say this strictly as a generalisation. To be sure, we are more than the mere sum of our experiences. The order in which we are exposed to them, the mood we are in at the time of exposure, the person or place responsible - all of these things also heavily influence us. And there is almost certainly a genetic component as well. However, it remains my opinion that a good way to gain insight into one's personality is to discover what bits of culture have had a lasting impact on them. In some ways you get to know them better, and in other ways, you find you know them less, as they dig deep into their pasts and pull out more and more obscure influences. One way or another, as a means to catalogue one's unique blend of constituents, or just a stream-of-consciousness to perhaps turn others on to one's more eclectic tastes, the exercise of compiling a 'meme cloud' can be entertaining. Thus I present to you this running series of posts. In each will be one of my memes, a strand of my culture that comprises my idiosyncratic whole. They will be accompanied by short descriptions of how I came by them and what I think of them, and how they have influenced me, however slightly. These will be things that have some detectable impact on how I behave (my choice of words, creative style, my tastes in other entertainment, etc). With them will be a secondary list of 5 things that I happen to like, but that have little impact on my personality overall. I will also be purposely making the lists as unrelated and varied as possible, to demonstrate the sheer disparity of tastes that a mind can accomodate. Here goes - in no particular order:

Video Game: Chrono Trigger

Having missed Chrono Trigger when it first came out on the SNES (which is okay, since I was too young to properly appreciate it at the time, anyway), I only played this masterpiece comparatively recently on the Playstation.

Yes, the disc-based technology of the PS results in frustrating loadtimes before each battle, but fortunately the battles are not random, and the smattering of anime styled cutscenes and other little extras make up for this. Furthermore, even if the game dropped heavy stones on your toes after every ten seconds of play, it would still be worth playing, such is the level of this game's greatness.

As a joint effort between Squaresoft and Enix, before the companies officially merged, the game has the unique flavour of a grand collabourative undertaking, a meeting of the best minds in the industry. Hironobu Sakaguchi, of Final Fantasy fame, and Yuuji Horii, of Dragon Quest fame, combine their talents to create a tale that is the perfect mix of complexity and simplicity.

For someone raised on action games, and the comparatively user-friendly RPG elements of the Phantasy Star series, Final Fantasy was always a little overwhelming. Sure, I loved Final Fantasy VI (III in the West), but there is a feeling pervasive of all the major Final Fantasy titles of mad genius on a little too long of a leash. To have that tempered by a stone simple Dragon Quest sensibility transforms Chrono Trigger into a romp with the grandeur of a Final Fantasy, but the earthy familiarity and consistent tone of a more laid back RPG. This, along with fantastic characters and localisation, and a score by the incredible (though outrageously uncredited) Yasunori Mitsuda with a little help from Final Fantasy maestro Nobuo Uematsu, makes Chrono Trigger, in my opinion, the best Square RPG there is.

But how has it influenced me? Aside from sucking hours from my life, that is. Well, the primary influence it has had on how I design my own RPG's, and other types of games, for that matter, is the manner in which the enemies are presented.

Almost every enemy in the game has a different introduction. Instead of random battles that accost you every couple of steps, battles are initiated in a much more natural way - an enemy will leap out from behind foliage, or descend from concealment on the ceiling. Being attacked turns from a chore into a surprise, every time.

These events aren't even limited to enemy type - sometimes enemies of the same type will ambush you in different ways. This goes a long way to improve immersiveness, and give the enemies personalities beyond multicoloured blobs that must be repeatedly struck. It also appeals to the action gamer in me, who wants to be surprised around every corner, and grows impatient with the repetition of traditional RPG's.

Film: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Though continually overshadowed by another, somewhat similar, Disney film, I feel Bedknobs and Broomsticks suffers from the comparison. It seems unfair to uncharitably compare two movies because of an accident of birth.

Watching the movie as though it stood alone, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a delight. I must here admit that I saw it long before Mary Poppins, due to the random and chaotic nature of a life lived long after the release of either. There is plenty of the Disney magic present in the film, the kind that catches you later lustily singing Portabello Road before you become aware of all eyes disapprovingly upon you.

It is not without its faults, but I wish people would shed the ingrained unfair contrast with Mary Poppins and just appreciate it for the wonderful adventure that it is.

Television: Have Gun - Will Travel

I must first admit to you that I have never liked westerns. Or cowboys. Or anything of the sort. But after watching Have Gun - Will Travel on a recommendation, I fell in love with it immediately. In particular, the episodes written by Gene Roddenberry are great. Just as Star Trek uses the milieu of outer space to frame universal and timeless human stories, so Have Gun - Will Travel uses the wild west. Though it is now a very old show, set in a period yet older, it is not mired in the dusty obsolete whooping, yee-hawing and cowboy singing that scar the other westerns I've been subjected to.

Paladin is a hero as timeless as Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes, and I can only wonder at the fact that he has not had further adventures. Remake, anyone?

Video Game: Seiklus

This is not a professional video game, but an independent Estonian game by cly5m, distributed through the internet. It stands as testament to the fact that a single person can still make a video game that's worth playing, whether they work for a company or not.

It has shades of early Commodore games, the first Myst, and has an atmosphere that is at once compelling, and even moving. Very few games draw you in, and make you feel like you have been transformed into the character on the screen, but Seiklus has this elusive property. Shigeru Miyamoto couldn't have made it better himself, and Seiklus belongs on your shelf of games as much as if not more than any title you payed good money to put there.

Seiklus Wikipedia entry

Seiklus Official Page

Music (Band): Eiffel 65

I was, of course, introduced to Eiffel 65 by their repetitive and slightly annoying, though still lovable, anthem, 'Blue (Da Ba Dee)'. However, to dismiss them as a one hit wonder capable of nothing more complex would be a mistake.

Sadly, they are no longer together, to my knowledge, but their short career has resulted in such gems as 'Your Clown', 'Crazy', 'Now Is Forever', 'Losing You', and 'Brightly Shines' (which sounds like it could be a Tears for Fears track), all of which top 'Blue' for me.

Of all the modern dance music I've heard, they recapture a little of that spirit that I had though lost when the 80's ended.

Film: Young Einstein

Firstly, you must understand one thing. Though I am by no means a trained or professional scientist, I grew up reading the likes of Isaac Asimov (not his fiction, primarily, though I do like it, too), and Carl Sagan. True, their message of the supremacy of the scientific method only began to sink in as I matured, but their other major point - that the universe is big, beautiful, and largely beyond us set the stage for my mindset.

Thus, to watch a film that flagrantly throws science out the window to recast Albert Einstein as a Tasmanian who invents rock and roll would seem anathema for me.

But it's not. I love it. For someone who loves science, and the history of it, it just makes the movie all the more enjoyable. While most everyone else might be struggling with the sheer bizarre nature of the central concept, I can sit back and enjoy it for what it is. It's like a parody of science and its heroes, a loving ode to their quirks and senses of humour. It's similar to how 'Murder by Death' is a send-up of the whodunit genre.

Science and scientists are a vast repository of true characters, and if we didn't get to have a little fun with them every once in a while, things would get boring. And a kicking Icehouse song doesn't hurt, either.

Young Einstein Wikipedia entry

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