Tuesday, 27 October 2009

So, about that PDF...

Oh hey, you’re still here? Woah, would you look at that date. How can it be the 26th already? Hmm, wasn’t that final Permanent Death thing supposed to be out by now?

Why, yes, yes it was. And it very nearly was too… except that I decided it would be cooler and a much better package overall if (drum roll please) I waited for Clint Hocking to finish writing a short foreword/endorsement of the PD story that he said he probably would, maybe someday, when he’s not busy lecturing all around the world.

So yes, Permanent Death is late and there’s something you can do about it. If you follow this link, it will take you to the twitter homepage with a pre-set message for you to send to Clint. This way, he’ll know just how many people care about a) the ending to his game, and b) how many people want to read his foreword. So do that, follow the link and maybe, just maybe, when he’s on his next flight to his next speaking engagement as part of the Click Nothing 2009 Tour, just maybe he’ll get out his laptop and write something cool.

And that means, you all get Permanent Death. If you want it that is.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Permanent Death, Interstitial: End of the Line

I have (in the real world) reached the conclusion of the Permanent Death story. All is on track for the release of the final PDF on October 23. In the mean time, here is an excerpt from George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia", in which he talks about the experience of being shot. I found it singularly illuminating.

“Roughly speaking it was the sensation of being at the centre of an explosion. There seemed to be a loud bang and blinding flash of light all around me, and I felt a tremendous shock – no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shrivelled up to nothing. The sand-bags in front of me receded into immense distance. I fancy you would feel much the same if you were struck by lightning. I knew immediately that I was hit, but because of the seeming bang and flash I thought it was a rifle nearby that had gone off accidentally and shot me. All this happened in a space of time much less than a second. The next moment my knees crumpled up and I was falling, my head hitting the ground with a violent bang which, to my relief, did not hurt. I had a numb, dazed feeling, a consciousness of being very badly hurt, but no pain in the ordinary sense.

…not being in pain, I felt a vague satisfaction. This ought to please my wife, I thought; she had always wanted me to be wounded, which would save me from being killed when the great battle came. It was only now that it occurred to me to wonder where I was hit, and how badly; I could feel nothing, but I was conscious that the bullet had struck me somewhere in the front of the body. When I tried to speak I found that I had no voice, only a faint squeak, but at the second attempt I managed to ask where I was hit. In the throat, they said.

…As soon as I knew that the bullet had gone clean through my neck I took it for granted that I was done for. I have never heard of a man or animal getting a bullet through the middle of the neck and surviving it. The blood was dribbling out the corner of my mouth. ‘The artery is gone,’ I thought. I wondered how long you last when your carotid artery is cut; not many minutes, presumably. Everything was very blurry. There must have been about two minutes during which I assumed that I was killed. And that too was interesting – I mean it is interesting to know what your thoughts would be at such a time. My first thought, conventionally enough, was for my wife. My second was a violent resentment at having to leave this world which, when all is said and done, suits me so well. I had time to feel this vividly. The stupid mischance of it infuriated me. The meaninglessness of it! To be bumped off, not even in battle, but in this stale corner of the trenches thanks to a moment’s carelessness!

…It may be, though, that if you were really dying your thoughts would be quite different."

- George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, from p.177 onwards.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Permanent Death, Episode 10: Plausible Deniability

The sky was a glary white colour and rain spattered the ground in thick, uneven drops. Holding my map up to the sky to keep the face of it dry, I planned my route.

The mission the APR commander Tambossa had given me was to blow the Mertens-Segolo pipeline – the one that pumps water out of the lake and into a neighbouring country. Greaves seemed to have reservations about cutting off the water supply to a neighbouring country. That could just be because he is getting kickbacks from the company, but I have no way of knowing. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me. Tambossa has more gold on his chest than many small African nations and Greaves, his mercenary advisor, seems to equally enjoy the spoils of war.

Even after taking a bus to the south-western corner of the map the morning’s glare is still hanging around, as is the rain. Perhaps it came with me from Pala.

Going inside a safe-house I slept out the rain and the sunshine that followed it. Leaving at dusk, I stepped out into a dusky, orange haze.

A guard post is across from me, separated by a small valley and about 100 yards. I approach from the east as the darkness lengthens and get off a couple of dart rifle shots before drawing the attention of the soldiers. A number of explosives went off in the ensuing fight and before long the whole checkpoint was going up in smoke.

I walked down the path to the Taemoco Diamond mine where I was to get the explosives powerful enough to sever the pipeline. Starting with the guard in the tower, I made use of my dart rifle again before swapping to the always handy shotgun.

It was getting a lot of use, however, so while in the middle of fighting my way down some stairs it promptly jammed and I had to hammer the stuck cartridge loose.

Grenades and Molotov’s were applied to the problem of soldiers and when the coast was clear I picked up the explosives and fielded a call from Andre. I had noted his failure to call when I first picked up the mission. He wanted to meet, so I obliged, trekking through the bush to another nondescript safehouse.

Andre’s plan (he’s always got a plan) was to really mess the pipeline up by busting the emergency stop valves or something so that when the real damage was done to the pipe it would rupture and overflow more than just the water that was already in the pipe. Or something like that anyway.

I made my way to the pump control shed by climbing up onto the overhead pipe itself, sneakily taking the guards out with my dart rifle from a safe distance. Getting inside the small shed and blowing up the controls alerted a mortar crew on a nearby island, and I had to run to get away. Only by crouching in the jungle did I lose his attentions, his eyes like a hawk. How he could see enough of anything in the dark to land a range-finding mortar clean next to me, I’ll never know.

Off to the main pipeline, I approached using stealth. Taking down the first guard I saw, I attracted a number of others, one of which decided to throw a grenade into the bush I was using for cover. Seeing it coming plain at my face, I sprinted to get away and it exploded quite close behind me.

Having lost my cover by diving into the open ground of the road, the soldiers proceeded to try and add ventilation to my body with their bullets. Needless to say, I hurriedly got back into the cover of the bushes and returned the favour.

Strangely enough, the guards never rushed my position and instead chose to pepper me with near misses and wild shots from an inordinate distance. I’m not sure if they were trying to stay close to guard the pipeline, fearful of an attack from multiple directions by multiple assailants, or if they just weren’t sure where I was because my weapon was silenced.

Either way, they stood around in a big, unmissable line so much like soccer players defending a penalty shootout. Except I wasn’t kicking a ball at them, and they weren’t falling to the ground from simple groin injuries.

Eventually there was only the sniper on the tower left – and I’d saved my last dart rifle shot for him. I aimed and pulled the trigger only to have the rifle mis-fire and jam. I duck back behind cover and batter at the rifle to eject the cartridge. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to re-use a dart that has already gotten stuck in the chamber already, but I give it a shot, making sure not to miss. I don’t.

With no one else around I gather up some supplies and plant the explosive on the pipe, standing back to watch the sparks fly. It goes off with a happy bang and my mission is complete. Andre calls from the mine, saying that he can see the water rushing in to fill up the diamond pit.

I dive off the side and into the water and realise just a second too late that I have done something incredibly stupid. Even falling into water from high enough can kill, and there are also rocks at the bottom of the cliff. A sinking feeling comes over me but the fall blessedly isn’t long enough to either kill me or leave me in suspense for long. I make it safely, but it was close. Damn close.

I take a boat down the newly formed creek – formed by my own actions with the pipeline, no less, and it is a little bit empowering to know that I can have such an effect on the environment.

At the mine I spot the soldiers attacking Andre and quietly take some out with my dart rifle.

I swim over to his side of the diamond mine as the centre of the pit is now completely flooded. Using my silenced MP5 to take out the rest of the soldiers, I hear some moans of pain and purple smoke – Andre is down. I’ve been waiting for just a moment like this to have a plausible reason to take him out, so I reach for his side arm and place it against his head.

But then I hesitate. This isn’t the way I want this to happen.

Instead, I put some morphine into him and get him on his feet again. He thanks me and goes back to his usual jocular self. Still the feeling of wrongness persists, and I realise that I still need to kill Andre. I tell myself that now I’ve placed a gun against his head he won’t forget it. I can’t turn my back on him so he needs to be eliminated.

It feels wrong, but I pull the trigger, aimed square at his head. Further wrongness – the shot doesn’t kill him, and instead he just limps lamely away from me, a desperate and pitiable thing. The second shot succeeds where the first failed and Andre lands awkwardly, face down into the dirt and grass.

It still feels very wrong to me, which is appropriate I suppose, since there’s nothing right about death, but I didn’t want it to be like this. I feel annoyed that it was such a lame ending to his life – no epic battle, no blaze of glory. Just another meaningless death in a meaningless place.

To make myself feel a bit better, I blow up my jeep on the way back to the bus depot, reprising my earlier premature memorial to Andre’s death.

It makes me feel better.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Interview: Justin Keverne of 'Groping the Elephant'

Justin Keverne is a gentlemen currently residing in the United Kingdom and a fellow blogger about games. He recently interviewed me about my Permanent Death experiment. I agreed to answer his questions on the condition that I get to ask some of my own, mainly to do with blogging about games, cultural differences between the UK and North America, as well as some more general questions. Here are his responses in full:

1) What is it like living in the UK and writing about games?

I can’t say I’ve known anything else so there’s not a great deal I can compare it too. Living in the UK can be frustrating at times, a lot of Publishers forget that people outside the US play their games, and so they make a big deal of release dates, or special offers that are simply inaccurate or unavailable to me. I doubt I have to explain that aspect of it to you as by all accounts the situation in Australia is even worse.

As for the writing about games aspect, well its part of who I am, I don’t think that would change wherever I lived. I’m not sure how much of it is influenced directly by my living in the UK. Actually no, on reflection I think not being in the US does have an effect; when almost everything you play is created by somebody in another country you can sometimes feel a little safer picking holes in it. As a Designer looking for a professional job I’m torn between being overly critical and playing things safe in case I end up interviewing for a job with a company I torn into. Since most companies are not in the UK I think I’m maybe liable to grant myself more freedom when discussing their games.

2) What sort of cultural acceptance is there of games, and games writing, in the UK?

Well everybody knows what video games are which something, I suppose. I’d imagine everybody under forty here has played a video game at some point and has some pleasant memories of them.

Because of the Spectrum ZX and BBC Micro, there was a huge home computer gaming, and amateur game development, scene in the early eighties; the heyday of the 16K era.

I don’t think it would be a lie to say that most people with high level positions in the tech sector probably started their careers copying code for games out of magazines and manually typing them into their Spectrums and BBC Micros. After that it was the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST. Growing up I had the latter and it was not uncommon for significant portions of large retail shops to be dedicated to shelves and shelves of Amiga, and Atari games. Moving into the PC era, the UK used to be at the forefront of development, with companies like Bullfrog and Core Design. Games, gaming and game development, are a huge part of the cultural history of the UK though I doubt many people are actually aware of it anymore.

Gaming magazines have been a stable of UK culture for years, growing up there was a running conflict between the magazines for the Amiga and the Atari, Amiga Power, ST Format and other magazines with similar titles. Then there’s PCZone which has been running since 1993, a number of successful writers in the UK have cut their teeth on such magazines, including Charlie Brooker (Writer of Big Brother Zombie cross over Dead Set) who wrote for PCZone in its early years.

Television dedicated to video games were also very popular and successful throughout the 90s, with people like Peter Molyneux appearing on Bad Influence and Games Master. There was also the superb, if utter mental Bits, which featured three women discussing and reviewing video games, Aleks Krotoski who now writes for The Guardian newspaper, and the BBC started her career there. At one time Games Master had a cultural cachet approaching that of something like Top Gear. [While US readers may not get this reference, I’m sure fellow Oz readers will. Top Gear is fantastic – Ed]

Recently though such shows have started to disappear, they’ve become increasingly marginalized until the only place you can find them is on select satellite channels, usually those described as being “For men”.

I’ve mentioned The Guardian and that is maybe one of the few serious newspapers to include intelligent and mature commentary on video games, from the likes of Charlie Booker, Aleks Krotoski and Kieron Gillen. You can find video game reviews in almost every newspaper and “men’s magazine” (FHM, Maxim etc) but they are usually extremely poorly written and styled as pure reviews. The Guardian actually includes editorials and more critical pieces dedicated to games and gaming culture.

I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a huge history of talking about games and treating them as another part of our culture that is being lost. A lot of the really smart games writers who have been around since the Amiga and Atari years are starting to move on to different things and the quality of new writing about games seems to have decreased dramatically.

I think that’s in no small way due to the fact the UK has lost the position it once had, the death of Bullfrog and the relative failure of the studios that formed out of it was a big blow to the UK game development scene.

It’s tragic really when one of the most known gaming franchises in the world, Grand Theft Auto is created in Scotland and most people don’t realize. The UK still has some incredible talent but I think a lot of it overlooked as the big Publishers have mostly abandoned their offices in London for continental Europe and New York.

Anyway, I’m not bitter at all... Ahem.

3) What kind of cultural differences do you think there are between the US and UK games press?

That history with the Spectrum through to the Amiga and the PC, has given a lot of the more established UK games journalists a distinct home computer bias and it can be clear in their work. The SNES was never as big here as it was in the US and other countries and the associated love for Zelda and Mario doesn’t seem as strong.

Also as a culture the English in particular (Can’t speak for Scots or Welsh) have an overriding sense of wry cynicism, I think it’s probably a post-colonial attitude. We used to own most of the world and now we don’t and as a culture I think we’re still a little bitter about that and can act like we’ve seen it all and done it all before and that nothing is new to us.

What I’m basically saying is I think UK, and specifically English, gaming press are a jaded and hard to impress bunch, who still long for the days when the UK ruled the gaming world with the likes of Bullfrog, Core Design and Psygnosis.

That’s a general attitude I feel is shared by UK gaming press and it’s one I can’t help but share. I didn’t really think I was so nationalistic in my tastes but I have realised that as much as I respect Garnett Lee I find it difficult to pay attention to a ListenUP podcast if John Davison is not on it. In fact I think John and Garnett are a good example of the differences between US and UK press. Garnet seems easy to impress and loves almost everything, where as John is cynical, cautious and only really impressed by something that’s significantly new or different.

4) Do you think UK game design differs significantly from US game design?

I think the ingrained cultural cynicism pushes UK designers to try and do things differently. I also think there’s a tendency to focus on ensuring a game has a strong central fantasy, being a hero in Fable, exploring ancient tombs in Tomb Raider or cyber punk paramilitaries in Syndicate. I think the aesthetic idea usually comes first and then a game is built to create that sensation and fulfil that fantasy.

I’d say in comparison US game design has a strong focus on iteration and refining an idea over time.

Also the attitude to sex and a humorous approach to sex and sexual activity is something shared by most people in the UK, we grew up with Benny Hill after all, and that can clearly be seen in most games developed here.

In terms of the pure creativity I think UK developers have a tendency to look to literature and subjects outside the field of gaming for their inspiration. A lot of that is probably because they learn programming as a hobby growing up with their Spectrums and Ataris so what formal education most UK designers have was not focused on games at all, they have degrees in Chemistry and Engineering instead of Computer Science.

I think US develops rely more on movies and television for their inspiration. I’m not trying to make a judgement call here as I think both approaches are valid, and after all I still think Halo is fantastic even if it is basically ripping off most of Aliens.

5) Do you feel more of an identification with UK writers than with US writers?

That previously described home computer bias is certainly something I share having grown up gaming on an Atari ST, as is the cultural cynicism. Also I find the type of references used by UK games journalists are ones I’m more likely to have some awareness of, using Football as a metaphor is something I can understand more than using Baseball.

That’s a general attitude element that I share, however on a person level I actually find myself identifying with the folks from Rebel FM more than anybody. Anthony Gallegos in particular seems to share a lot of my tastes on games, and it probably helps we are both sexually frustrated Star Wars geeks. I also appreciate his frank honesty which I think can be rare in games journalism.

6) Do you think there is a hierarchy in videogame critics blogging? If so, what does it look like, where would you place yourself, and why?

I think there probably is and I’m not sure I’m particular happy about that. I think there’s a hierarchy based on who you know, who you link to and who links to you, and I think that can be problematic. There are some really intelligent writers around who I didn’t know about until very recently, Alex Raymond, Simon Ferrari and several others, and I think the way blogs are set up can be rather incestuous, with discussion staying within that circle of linkage.

I also think it’s too easy for the “cult of personality” to take over and people are praised for who they are more than what they write. I think Michael Abbott is a prime example of this, I really do think he’s probably one of the nicest human beings I’ve had the fortunate to talk to. At the same time I think some of what he writes can feel obvious and of little interest to me, on the other hand some of it is also borderline profound, so it’s swings and roundabouts. However I see a lot of people treating his work as sacrosanct as if he can say no wrong, or that his opinion somehow carries more weight than others. His recent post about Scribblenauts and Bowser’s Inside Story seemed to have provoked ire disproportional to its content because I feel a lot of people somehow expected something else from him. Personally I agree with him on this particular issue, but I fear readers have been using his work as validation of their own opinions and that can be damaging to the discussion of video games.

Furthermore I think disproportional worth is given to the opinions of professional game designers... Oh wow I really am bitter aren’t I, jeez. [No, not really. Angry, maybe…– Ed]

What I mean by that is that from my own perspective I disagree with EVERY game designer I’ve ever heard speak, I mean EVERY ONE. The designer I share the most opinions with is Warren Spector but even he has said some things that just make me shake my head. As for Raph Koster and Will Wright, well suffice to say I don’t agree with pretty much anything Raph says and Will scares me with his intellect but his opinions on stories in games make me laugh derisively. I’m not saying these people haven’t earned some respect, but I do think with such individuals everybody needs to be careful to avoid the “cult of personality”, which isn’t helped by some designers apparent unwillingness to discuss ideas with those they don’t consider their peers.

Yeah I can do the CLINT HOCKING joke as much as anybody else, but I am eternally grateful for his willingness to actually discuss his design philosophy and defend it when necessary. I agree with him on a lot of things, and it’s great to actually debate with him on the parts I don’t.

Discussion of video games needs to take place in an arena where opinions are judged on content and insight not on whose idea it was, and any form of hierarchy can all too easily lead to the unjustified assignment of worth to an opinion even when it’s patently dumb. Everybody has stupid ideas and if our barometer for worth is the individual not the idea we could easily let those occasional stupid ideas be given worth they haven’t earned.

7) What do you like about English weather?

In all seriousness I actually really like rain, I have a strange tendency to actively go out in it and stand staring up and the sky getting soaking wet. It’s such a wonderfully tactile experience having weather you can touch. Sadly we don’t get too much torrential rain, it’s usually just drizzle (Is that a colloquialism?) [We call it drizzle in Oz too – Ed] and mist.

I think what all English like about the weather, and the simply reason we do discuss it so much, is that it’s unpredictable and rarely the same two days in a row. It’s an easy discussion to have as there’s always something to say about the weather when you live here.

8) What is a gerund, and why did your people invent them?

I actually had to check Google for that so I’m really not the right person to ask.

9) Do you tell people that “I’m famous on the net” as a videogame writer? Why/Why not?


I suppose you want something more than that, well I don’t and I probably never would because I consider that a lie. I don’t think I am famous on the net, and I also don’t think I’m a video game writer. I’m a designer and everything I write is an extension of that, some of what I’ve written might have a critical bent but it’s always written, at least from my perspective as a design piece.

I’ve discussed the representation of the mentally ill in Batman: Arkham Asylum but I also made a point of providing an example of how I’d have modified the design. I make no bones about saying clearly that I want to be a professional game designer. It’s a position I’ve interviewed for twice and been unsuccessful but I still call myself a designer if anybody asks what I do. Of course you could argue that’s just as much a lie as saying I’m a video game writer. Either way I hardly think I’m famous.

10) Do you talk about games with your real life friends? If you don’t, would you want to if you could?

All the time, it can actually be a problem. I tend to play a lot of Co-Op with my housemate, or just sit and watch him play something in single or multi player, and I will usually give him a running commentary: “This is a stupidly designed level, why the hell does the enemy spawn there, if they moved it there it’d have a better angle on us as we came through here and let also allow us to see it before we rounded the corner and got insta-killed...”

I can also get very angry as bad game design and I’m sure sometimes he’d rather I just shut up. It also helps that at least three of my friends all have professional game development jobs, two as Programmers and one as a Designer.

11) Tell me what’s so good about this Thief game.

I could use all these phrases like cascading failure states, intentional play, emergent behaviour, shared authorship and a dozen others, but I’ll refrain. All of those statements are accurate but the main reason the Thief games, and in fact everything created by Looking Glass Studios is worthy of attention is that they are intelligent games made by very intelligent people that neither try and hide that fact nor talk down to their players. They expect players to be willing to engage with the world and the design and will reward those players who are.

Playing System Shock 2 and Thief made me smarter, it contained ideas and concepts that I didn’t fully understand but which were presented in such a way as to make me want to go away and find out what they were. Irrational and Ion Storm did the same and 2K Marin, 2K Boston and 2K Australia are continuing that tradition.

Also I adore Looking Glass Studios because they were always willing to discuss the philosophy behind the games they made, there are Post-mortems of Thief: The Dark Project and System Shock 2 available on Gamasutra and the proceedings for the last few years of GDCs are full of presentations by Looking Glass Studios alumni.

For a more specific description of why I adore Thief and System Shock 2, I’ve already written about them on Groping The Elephant: Thief II – The Metal Age; System Shock 2.

Writing those two pieces was pure joy, without doubt the easiest things I’ve ever written. I could write twice as much again and still not say everything I wanted to. If Thief or System Shock 2 is selected for the name Vintage Game Club game I think my head will explode; which is why I’m trying to stay quiet about how excited I really am. [Thief was chosen for the VGC game #8 – Ed.]

See not all UK gamers are jaded and cynical... No wait actually I am as Looking Glass Studios no longer exist and I still blame Eidos even if it was really the fault of the gamers who didn’t realise how much good gaming they were missing.

12) Are you having a nice day?

I am now. Work was once again tiring beyond my capacity to cope with it; I am not designed for manual labour. I also had to come home to my housemate and his girlfriend arguing again which is “nice”. But at least he’s just picked up Halo 3: ODST (Which was part of the reason for the argument), so I’ve been watching him play that this evening.

After finishing off these I’m going to watch the latest GameTrailers TV episode, and then spend most of the night either playing Resident Evil 5 (Just picked it up on PC), or Thief Gold.

Thanks for answering my alternately serious and frivolous questions.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Permanent Death, Episode 9: Bridges, Bombs and Broadcasters

I’m back with the UFLL. Voorhees and his boss want me to kill an arms dealer called Yabek. Voorhees tells me, “I hear that’s a speciality of yours”. Andre calls me up and asks to meet near Sepoko.

On the way out of town, I stop in to see the doctor and pick up some passports to swap with for some malaria pills. After catching the bus up north, I get in a car and am promptly attacked by a bunch of soldiers in jeeps.

I swap my jalopy for one up with a grenade launcher on the turret. It is a silly move and I later end up nearly blowing myself up with it.

Further up the road, I get attacked by an RPG from a nearby hill and swerve off the road to avoid it. I look back over my shoulder in time to see the explosion.

I reach the safe-house and go inside to meet Andre, who wants me to go get a fuse for a 1000 pound bomb he plans to use to drop a bridge on Yabek the arms dealer. As one does.

I picked up a clean new rifle from the weapons crate inside the house, trading it for my dirty and soon to become prone to jamming AR16. Some of soldiers had followed me to the safe-house and had set up an ambush at the front door. As in literally at the front door.

To get to the crash site and the detonator for Andre’s bomb I had to pass through the checkpoint that had previously fired an RPG at me and after sniping the Rocketeer and checkpoint guards, I took down some more soldiers at another safehouse.

Creeping up to the crash-site, I took out one sniper from distance and used my flare gun to start a pair of fires on both sides of a group of soldiers.

Swapping to my SAW for closer combat, I lobbed two grenades into the group. Two distinct explosions followed by two distinct cries of pain were heard, but I’d seen three in the initial group. Peering over the lip of the rocky-outcropping, I spot the last of the trio standing surrounded by flame and destruction.

I put him down with a quick burst, but he’s not done yet and, getting up he limps away, the flames lapping at his heels.

I stand transfixed in horror as I watch the poor injured man’s fate initially believing that the fire would eventually claim him. However he made it to a burnt patch where the fire was dying down and I had to finish him off with anther quick burst.

The thought of the unknown soldier dying from the flames really shook me up and I wondered why. Really, why should it, and why now? I’ve killed men by fire before. Yet it remained a strange and affecting moment, perhaps a result of some combination of visual verisimilitude and emergent situation. It is exciting to be affected like this by a game.

I picked up the warhead from the middle of the crash site and got a call from Andre – it was time to meet him on the bridge. On the way I picked up a number of Reuben’s recordings with The Jackal.

The quickest way to the bridge was to pass back through the RPG checkpoint from before. I blew up a whole bunch of cars and the enemies using them as cover by putting a grenade under one of them.

I took a bus back to Pala and arrived in the dead of the night. I then drove to the arms dealer and picked up some stealth weaponry to make the most of working in the dark. Taking a boat up the eastern tributary, I made good progress.

On the way, I passed close enough to reach out and touch another patrol boat heading in the opposite direction. It couldn’t identify me as either friend or foe in the gloom and I was past them before they could call out. They followed me a ways down river but by the time they caught up to where I’d beached my swamp boat I was safely hidden in long grass up the bank.

They did a few lazy circles scanning the bushes for me, but eventually gave up and went back to patrolling. It was another moment of intoxicating, unexpected verisimilitude to real-world behaviour.

After watching the boat retreat up the river, I walked up the road to a safe-house on the track to the bridge pausing to stare at two water buffalo by the side of the road.

Spotting two soldiers up ahead I crept up to the edge of the clearing around the safe-house and opened fire with my silenced MP5.

One soldier on the opposing side of the campfire from me wasn’t killed by my initial burst and in the time it took to take down his friends had pulled himself up onto his knees and had drawn his side-arm.

I shot him again and he went down, falling half-into the fire. There’s no predicting which kills are in Far Cry 2 are going to leave a mark in your memory, but this was another one. Perhaps it was the way he collapsed into the fire looked unsettlingly real. It’s certainly been one for affecting moments.

I reached the bridge at the end of the road and spotted Andre down the far end, a truck with the bomb in the back parked over barge below.

I delicately hand over the warhead/fuse. “No sudden moves” he adds, quite unnecessarily I feel. He then tells me to run for it and I realise that he’s armed it – just like that, and no warning. I’m too busy sprinting for my life to get a good look at the best of the fireworks and it kind of annoys me actually – it was a lot of hard work getting that fuse and I expect to be able to enjoy the show.

APR goons swarm towards us like we’ve just stepped on an ant’s nest, since we’ve just put their favourite arms dealer out of action, but they’re easily put down. Kind of suspicious how quickly they arrived – did they let us blow up Yabek’s barge? Was he becoming too greedy even for the APR?

I take a hang-glide and a boat ride to end up back in Pala, searching for more clues.

Tambossa is the only one who will even see me now. I’ve used up all my usefulness to the UFLL with the last job apparently. The APR commander’s formal army attitude puts me on edge and he tells me he knows I’ve been ‘working with the enemy’. Of course he knows, however he must still have some use for me or he’d have had me shot as soon as I stepped into Pala.

This time he and Greaves want me to stop a DJ from speaking anti-APR propaganda on the radio. The problem until now has been that his transmitter was portable and as soon as they could pin him down he’d pack up and leave again. They’ve just spotted him again, however, and now it’s my job to shut him up.

Andre calls me about the job and asks to meet near Sepoko and since it’s near the drop-off for the passports Doctor Obua gave me the day before (and which have since been in the water with me and possibly ruined; I haven’t checked) I decide to detour to meet him. Taking a boat down the western river, I didn’t get far before I felt a wave of illness pass over me and as I tossed back a pill I noticed it was the last in the container. Good thing I’m on my way to get some more.

I’m met with little to no resistance and find Andre in the safe house. I don’t quite know how he got there so fast – he must have gone direct from where I’d left him near the bridge. But as for how he knew where I’d be doing next, I’ll never know. I guess there’s a reason he’s the near-mythical Andre Hypollite.

Andre tells me that, better than just kicking the DJ off the air, I should get him to read something that will incite the local militia into attacking some official that’s in the country. Before I can get the DJ’s altered message on-air, however, I need to get some UFLL censor’s finger off the button that kills the signal. So off to the ranger station it is, and still in the early hours of the morning, I approach and quietly take out a number of guards. I manage to sneak my way underneath the target’s building and shoot him in the head from below. His body goes limp, sliding out of the chair he was sitting in and onto the floor.

I start some fires to act as a diversion while I extricate myself from the ranger station.

Heading over to the phone card shop (as Doctor Obua described it to me) I’m finally delivering the passports. I take out the soldiers peppering the façade of the building and another soldier ends up wounded on the ground, crawling away to lean against a rock. What is it with me and wounded soldiers today? I hate leaving survivors (particularly when they still have a sidearm) and I equally hate killing these soft targets. Like the man in the fire earlier, it kind of wrenches at me as I pull the trigger.

Wanting to put some distance between myself and this latest fight, I quickly hand over the passports, the civilian giving me a look as he gets up.

I leave for my new target – the DJ Lord Haw-Haw. What a stupid name. I’m looking forward to getting a chance to shut this guy up as I’ve been hearing him talk over and over on the radio ever since I came to this country. The sun comes up on the way and I change my load-out, opting for a shiny new super powerful, super automatic shotgun.

To get to the DJ I have to go through a small cluster of buildings pock-marked with soldiers. I charge into the place with my fat Land Rover and charge up the front stairs, blowing up something flammable in the process.

Soon, everything is on fire and obscured by the smoke.

It quickly clears, and it is plain that most soldiers were unfazed by the blaze and are already pressing the attack. To top it off, a jeep appears behind and two or more soldiers begin shooting into my back. I’m now surrounded, and only by popping three syrettes in a row can I stay on my feet. I make it over to a rock formation to the west and take a breather.

With a full magazine and a lungful of air (as opposed to lead) I take down soldiers one at a time from a position of relative safety behind a large rock. I even manage to catch one with my flare gun at 100 paces!

Heading south towards the DJ and his transmitter, a RPG-wielding lookout launches a rocket toward me. I get a dart off but miss and I notice as the rocket is coming in that I’m surrounded by potent explosives.

I high-tail it, sure that I’m not going to make it far enough away, but luckily the rocket ‘packs it in on the surface’ and doesn't hit near enough to do more than singe my eyebrows.

I steady for my second shot and score a hit as he launches off another rocket still aimed at me – however it goes haywire, presumably from the guidance system, as it does a few loops around the hut from which it was fired.

The DJ is no problem once I show him my machete and he spits an ineffectual “Fuck you!” after me as I strode out of his bush-studio.

I threw a grenade under his transmitter to shut him up.

Andre calls and I go to his aid, driving a jeep over three soldiers as they stand in the road shooting. More turn up but I was by then getting the hang of my shotgun so it was no hassle.

I clear out another safe-house on the way to the bus-station and what should happen but more wounded soldiers I fail to kill in my initial shots. Two wounded soldiers survive my attack to get up onto their knees.

Whether it’s from the visceral joy of firing my new toy or I’m just getting inured to euthanizing wounded soldiers, I fail to hesitate on these two.

Back on the road, about 100 metres from the bus station I come across this grisly scene.

There appear to be no survivors.