The 14th February marks the day when my PlayStation Network account turns five. The ingredients for the cake are in the cupboard and ready to go, but since Musical Monday has been feeling left out recently, I thought it would be neat to run through some of my favourite games and most memorable pieces of music that my PS3 has allowed me to bring into my home. If everything works out these posts will all be finished by the dawn of February 14th and this month will take the title of most active month of posting for me on here.
Let’s start with the game that began my PS3 gaming experience, Ridge Racer 7. This is a game that takes all the physics of driving and drops them in the trashcan outside the studio. What you’re left with is a brilliantly unrealistic masterclass in the art of drifting. Cars flying around corners sideways is normal for this game, and for this reason both singleplayer and multiplayer were never unable to provide enjoyment. Progress far enough in this game and you were rewarded with a rocket-powered limo and a vehicle that’s closest comparison I can think of is the Shagohod from Metal Gear Solid 3. It lacked the missile launcher of the Shagohod, but it didn’t look much like your average car either. Let’s call it the happy medium for now. The soundtrack was brilliant throughout, and here we have one of my favourites. My ‘lucky music’ as it were.
My second choice for year 1 is still my favourite third-person shooter, and was the first game that I put any significant amount of time into playing multiplayer. Please welcome Warhawk to the spotlight. During my time playing I reached the lofty rank of Command Sergeant and was somehow able to obtain the Master Tank Medal, the game’s mid-level commendation. Warhawk may have been criticised in some camps for being an multiplayer only game, but I had many fantastic evenings playing it with my friends. In my opinion it also has the best capture the flag model on the PS3. Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten around to buying Starhawk, but the happy memories of the shenanigans me and my friends got up to while playing Warhawk will remain forever more.
The music I have chosen comes from the pre-1.3 version of the game. The old main menu music still makes me smile today.
My final choice for year 1 comes from one of my favourite video game developers, Naughty Dog. Having already won me over during the PS1 and PS2 days with the Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter series, it went without saying that their PS3 newcomer Nathan Drake would be finding his way into my home. Uncharted didn’t disappoint. It had my favourite video game setting, hidden away in the islands and jungles of lands far sunnier than my home. It had three brilliant protagonists in Nathan, Sully and Elena Fisher. And to top it all Naughty Dog had even included a few trinkets to remind us of their past games. The soundtrack fitted beautifully with the game, and I still don’t think it’s possible to listen to the title music without having an urge for adventure surging through your veins. This was my favourite of all the games I played in year one, and here’s Nate’s theme in all its adventurous glory. Please give us more, Naughty Dog.
Today a new (and hopefully fairly regular) series of posts begins here on the Formula Magician. I’ll be writing more about my personal life, and all going to plan, these will be posted alongside my returning game ramblings to add a touch of variety to what I post here. The goal of these posts will be, as the title suggests, to chart my journey through my A Level studies and on to university.
These posts begin where I hope they will end – on the subject of university. I booked a place on my first university open day last week, so in June I will be heading eastwards for my first ever visit to the town of Norwich to look around what is currently the university I’d most like to attend – the University of East Anglia. I first looked at this university when it was the first result on a Google search for ‘Chemistry degrees’ or something similar. I loved the look of the website, and soon after I ordered a prospectus, and everything it contained helped me to set my heart on studying there. Needless to say the 22nd of June can’t come fast enough.
Chemistry and biology are both very practical-heavy at the moment. So far I’ve done three assessed practicals in chemistry – two ‘real’ quantitative and one practice qualitative. My best score for the quantitative assessment was 14/15, which I was very happy with. I hope to receive my marks for the practice one I did in chemistry tomorrow, alongside my mark for the qualitative and evaluative assessments I have done in biology. I’m looking forward to getting all these practicals out of the way so I can pretend I’ve never met those two horrible-to-type words ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ until next year.
I’ve been thinking back to how much I used to love playing The Settlers as a child over the weekend. That game ate a chunk of my childhood. I was never particularly brilliant at it, but it’s still to this day one of the few games I’ve spent a whole day playing almost non-stop. I started looking for games that are similar to Settlers I and II, the two games that focused more on the strategic building and resource gathering aspects rather than the more combat-heavy sequels. This search brought me to a free game called Widelands. I’ve watched a few gameplay videos today and it seems to be exactly what I was looking for. I can’t wait to play this game myself and feel the nostalgia of all those happy memories flooding back.
My PS3 and Xbox gaming has pretty much ground to a halt since my January exams. The only game I’ve really been playing is Persona 4 on the PS2. It’s been great to get back into playing this. I’m pleased to say I still love listening to the soundtrack as much as I did back when I featured it on Musical Monday. I’ve made it one of my gaming targets to finish the story this year. The extended hiatus it’s been on really didn’t do it justice.
Hope everyone has had a good weekend. I’m off to get my hands on Widelands now. Have any of you played Widelands or Settlers? If so, please comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on those games or any similar games you enjoy.
When I started my A Levels back in September it was one of the things that all my lecturers, along with my tutor, could not stress enough. “January might seem a long time from now, but it will be here quicker than you could ever imagine.” They were words to take notice of because it was a statement that was dripping with truth. The autumn term flew by faster than I can ever remember it being kind enough to do during my school years, and we were in the Christmas break before I knew it. The speed in which the autumn term went was most likely thanks to the fact that I am enjoying being back in education so much. The three subjects I have chosen: maths, biology and chemistry, are all very interesting and, for maths especially, not short of challenging ideads to find my way around. My only real regret from when I started was taking ICT as my fourth subject. It’s an area where my interest has plummeted since leaving school, and a few weeks worth of lessons told me my fondness of this subject wasn’t going to be rekindled anytime soon. If I did it all again I would have thrown caution to the wind and took law instead of ICT.
Now, I guess I should move onto the topic of this post – my thoughts on the January exams I took.
Chemistry (OCR) – I figured starting with my favourite subject is as good a place as any. Overall, I feel this exam went the best of the three I took. There’s one thing that didn’t go well which I will get on to in a moment; it’s a little embarassing and for that reason I think that it deserves a section of its own. I was very relieved to find that the questions were all on topics I am pretty confident with – trends down and across the periodic table, ionisation energy, intermolecular forces etc. Nothing really jumped out and made me panic, which I was grateful for – there have been some nasties hidden away in the past exam papers I have practiced with. Overall, I think I did well enough in this exam to get at least a B grade, but I do have my heart set on getting an A because it’s the subject I want to take at university.
Biology (OCR) – In class I am generally quite confident with the majority of topics we have covered in biology, but I don’t think this exam really gave a chance to showcase this knowledge. My favourite topics like the heart, cell ultrastructure, transpiration and translocation were either skipped over with little more than a two mark question or missed out entirely. They found my weak point though with questions on cell signalling. My knowledge on that subject was left at home; why can I never remember that definition? Overall, I’d be happy with a C for this exam. I don’t think I did enough to get a higher grade here. This exam also joins the chemistry one with a question-specific note in a moment.
Maths (OCR) – This exam went much better than I was scared it was going to. I was dreading a question on the application of differentiation similar to the one in our end-of-term test. Whilst I’m confident enough with the concept of differentiation and can (finally) convert functions into indices ready to differentiate, I go to pieces when asked to apply that idea to a theoretical scenario. Thankfully, nothing but basic skills in this area were tested. Except for the last question I think I answered everything else reasonably well. Similar to biology I’m hoping I did enough to get a C in this exam, then I might try to improve this grade in the summer. Higher than a C would obviously be absolutely fantastic, and would be better than anything I’ve managed in a maths exam thus far.
Now for the specific points I raised with chemistry and biology.
The ‘stupid mistake’ award – Without a doubt I give this for my answer to one of the chemistry exam questions. The question was simple enough; just give the formula of a molecule with 90° bond angles. I knew that 90° bond angles meant six atoms bonded to a central atom. SF6 is a good example. One mark in the bag for most people, I imagine. Unfortunately I wasn’t most people, favouring instead to write BF6 for some reason known only to exam-sitting logic. I had the right idea, but poor boron lacks the six electrons required to make such a molecule possible. This was just as bad as when I put that oxygen makes six bonds in my first biology lesson after Christmas. Six outer electrons, six bonds? Not quite. Let’s hope my chemistry lecturer doesn’t find out.
The ‘why are we doing this’ award – I can’t think of a time before now when I’ve learnt more about something sitting the actual exam that during the lessons preceding it. That was the case in this biology exam though. The topic in question was… yeast. Now, we learn that yeast undergoes mitosis by budding. Fair enough. We learn how the budding process differs from how other cells replicate. In the question we were greeted with we were given the formula for working out the area of a circle and a sphere and, using the measurement of a yeast cell and a budding scab (they do this?) calculate the number of times an average yeast cell could replicate. I think I worked it out right, but to say I wasn’t expecting a question like this is an understatement. Almost one-sixth of the paper’s marks dedicated to a topic that has less than half a page to itself in the OCR textbook.
Now we start the process again on our new modules ready for the exam-heavy summer. Have any of you taken exams this January? If so I’d certainly be interested to hear what exams you took and how you feel you did in a comment. I’m not sure yet if I’m looking forward to March 7th and the results that will come with it.
Thanks as always for visiting and reading. To close the post, here’s a picture of one of my Christmas presents from my Mum, and my new hobby of 2013.
We’re now approaching the middle of November, which in most respects is a good thing: we’re closer to Christmas; closer to the release of Far Cry 3; it’s more likely to snow (not too much more though!). It also means that we are half way through NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. This is my first attempt at participating in this event this year and so far I think it’s been going really well. I have a general idea of where I want my story to go, but I’ve been lacking slightly in the whole putting fingertips to keyboard department. I currently have just under 10,000 words written, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to catch up with that par bar on the NaNoWriMo website over the weekend.
I thought it would be a nice idea to post the first chapter of my novel on here, to add some new content and to give friends and family a chance to see where my novel’s story may be heading. Please enjoy.
The wrong side of the portcullis by Stephan C
Following the twisting path my imagination has forged, never looking back until the 1st December.
Chapter 1 – The decision we made
The great oak tree that Edward had perched himself up against was starting to hurt his back; the rough bark digging into his skin. He was only vaguely aware of how long he had been sitting there, staring up into the sky. It was still dark when he resigned the idea of being able to get any sleep, and now the morning sun was piercing through the tree canopy. If his friends had seen him they would probably wonder what was so fascinating about a cloudless morning sky. His thoughts were not with them though; he couldn’t even remember their names. All he could do was revisit that moment two evenings prior. The site of that great, unfamiliar army stood outside the gates of his home. He remembered that sickening feeling of his heart plummeting when he knew from the size of that army all hope must be lost for those trapped inside the settlement’s walls. He was grateful that they had remained undetected; he didn’t dare to think what may have happened if they had been spotted, but with this relief came an incredible pang of guilt. He had abandoned everyone he had grew up with, his princes, and Lord and Lady Manson in favour of his own survival. While he knew there was almost certainly nothing he could have done, it didn’t stop the guilt from eating away at his heart and stealing any desire to get some rest away from him. He had been sat there all morning and his friends were beginning to worry.
“Edward?” The voice brought his senses crashing back to him with a start. It was Lysa, he could tell by the drained look in her eyes that her quest for sleep had only been slightly more successful than his own. On another day he might have been jealous, but today? Today, only death’s calling could bring him the gift of sleep. She sat down beside him and started to brush the morning tangles out of her long chocolate-brown hair. It was exactly the same colour as his own, but while his stopped just short of his shoulders, Lysa’s hair flowed down in a silky smooth stream ending at the base of her back. “I share your pain,” she said sympathetically “but there’s nothing we could have done. There’s only four of us, and we have two good swords. I doubt we can count that ceremonial longbow.” Edward felt his mood lift a little away from the pit of resentment he had placed himself in back when the moon was sitting proudly in the sky as he thought about this comment. He visioned himself standing back on the fields surrounding Merehill, the great silver and ruby encrusted longbow gifted to Lord Manson by the court of Tymaria to honour to eighteenth birthday of his eldest son Matthew. In reality he knew a longbow made from silver would never work, but this was his vision with his rules. The arrows were flying true into the hearts of nameless figures from an unknown land. One by one his enemies fell; he felt great, the surge on adrenaline coursing through his veins. Nothing could stop him from saving his friends and family trapped inside the palisade walls of Merehill – he was back leaning against the base of the oak tree. Lysa had given him a prod on the arm, bringing him back to reality. She giggled, “you always drift off like that,” she said smiling “off on another of your little flights of fancy, leaving me here alone.” Edward smiled back. He was so grateful that Lysa had caught him in time to declare her intentions to accompany his caravan to Tymaria to collect the supplies for the upcoming celebrations. Normally she would wish him well, but always remain at home. Tymaria was a city that she had always wanted to visit though. The market was known across the land as the place to visit for exotic goods from far off lands and high quality local produce alike. The thoughts of what may have happened if she had stayed at home in Merehill didn’t bare thinking about.
He had always thought of Lysa like a sister. Ever since the age of five they had always been spending time together. Their parents were always working closely together while they were children. Their fathers co-owned the Lord’s caravan business and therefore would often have to travel to towns and cities up and down the land. Occasionally, when they were a little older, they had travelled with their fathers on some of the journeys to more local, neighbouring towns. Edward’s father had told him numerous times that he wanted him to take the reigns of the company after he had retired. Edward had always been excited by this; the idea of always being able to travel to the distant cities and islands that he knew he would never be able to visit as a child.
The opportunity to join Edward had been offered to Lysa, but she had her heart set on moving south to Tymaria to run a stable. She had always had a great love of horses, and once she had learnt that she could make a living breeding and looking after them her mind was made up and Edward could see no going back.
Their mothers had worked together to give the town its relatively well-known inn, The Jolly Blacksmith. Lysa had been told that they named it in homage to her grandfather Walter, who had passed away a year before her birth. He had been the settlement’s blacksmith for thirty-five years and the quality of his metalwork customers from most of the nearby towns, and the inn named in his honour continued to have this appeal to residents across the region. During the evenings the inn would always get relatively busy so Edward and Lysa were always happy to help out. They were sometimes mistaken for being siblings by travelers from neighbouring towns while helping their mothers. People saw their similar hairstyles, heights and judged from how well they got along that they must be brother and sister. When asked the pair just giggled and agreed. They weren’t blood related, but they were damned if they weren’t just like brother and sister in every other way. He wondered how much, if any, of that old life could be salvaged after that army marched on Merehill. They had to go back and check to see what remained of their home. It had to be tonight, he couldn’t let all the possibilities fight amongst themselves in his mind. He had to know for sure, one way or another, whether the others wanted to come with him or not.
Edward opened his eyes. He noticed the temperature had dropped compared to earlier when Lysa had joined him under the tree that had been his home all morning. The clear blue sky that greeted him this morning had been replaced by stone coloured clouds which looked ready to drop their payload onto the forest where they had sought shelter last night. He looked down and saw that Lysa had fell asleep on top of his leg. The early morning warmth must have sent them both off to sleep. In the distance he heard the crackling of a fire, which told him that his other companions must be awake now. Edward tried his best to move his leg from under Lysa’s head, but he knew this would be a tough challenge. She was always a light sleeper and, sure enough, she awoke the moment he started moving. “So much for that sunny day I was hoping for,” she said after a long yawn, “we should probably start making our way back to the others before these clouds give us what it looks like they are promising.” She picked herself up from the floor and started brushing the fallen leaves from her clothes. She was wearing an emerald coloured dress today, which contrasted with his own sky blue attire. Her dress matched her deep green eyes, which he had always been a little jealous of.
“We should.” Edward replied, “It sounds like they are preparing a meal.” Which meal he could not say; he had no idea how long he had been asleep for under that tree. As he got to his feet he cursed aloud. His legs had become numb due to the length of time he had been sat there. Lysa offered him a shoulder and they started making their way back to the camp. The numb feeling in Edward’s leg soon began to give way to the hot stabbing pains of a thousand pins being poked up and down his legs. Edward started to wish he could have the numbness back, but thankfully, after a few minutes the pain started to subside and he could move his toes freely again.
A short walk later they arrived back at their makeshift camp where Edward’s quest for sleep the night before had been so unsuccessful. Maxwell was standing over their metal cooking pot, a fire crackling away with a happiness that couldn’t be found anywhere else underneath. “Edward. Lysa.” he said nodding his head in a curt welcome. “Beef stew will be ready in a few more minutes.” Much like himself, Maxwell had also been a man of few words since they retreated into the forest. It didn’t surprise Edward, they were all worried about what fate may have become their loved ones. Maxwell was both taller and older than Edward. A man of twenty-four years, Edward liked to think of him as the group’s bodyguard. He had short black hair and Edward had noticed that he never seemed to wear any vibrant clothing. Today he was dressed in his usual grey, covered by a boiled leather vest. Even now he still had one of the group’s swords sheathed at his side; ever prepared Edward thought to himself. He was friendly enough, but often hid his emotions behind a stern looking face, making it difficult to work out how he was feeling. But today that mattered not, he knew that all four of them felt the same.
Edward joined Lysa who had taken a seat at the front of one of their two caravans. They had let their horses roam free in this part of the forest for the time being, Edward could see the head and front legs of one of them through the trees when he looked to his left. It was happily grazing on the long grass that was abundant here. We should be grateful we were returning from a trade mission and have two caravans full of goods to sustain us comfortably, he thought to himself while they waited for the stew to finish.
About twenty minutes later Maxwell announced that the stew was ready. He knew that no-one would particularly feel like eating, himself included, but starving yourself wasn’t going to accomplish anything. Just as Edward to climbing down from the caravan he felt a spot of rain hit his lower arm. The clouds had promised to open earlier, and now they were ready to deliver. Maxwell had served the stew up into four bowls already. Lysa and Maxwell grabbed their bowls and Edward picked up one for himself and one for Peter, who didn’t seem to have come out of the tent. They all headed inside one of the two modestly sized tents they had brought with them before they fell foul of the weather’s promise of a heavy storm.
Inside the tents everything was very basic. Two makeshift mattresses made of leaves and grass stretched out down each length of the tent and in the centre was a lantern, which was no giving off a bright glow in stark contrast to the now dull outside. Edward didn’t mind; if he had his way they would only be stopping there one more night. The fourth member of their group, Peter, was sat cross-legged on one of the mattresses reading one of his books by the light of the lantern. Peter looked up from his book when they came in and smiled “Feeling any better?” he asked to everyone in general as Edward gave him his bowl of stew, and they each joined him sitting on the mattresses.
“Better than earlier.” Edward replied.
“I guess so.” said Maxwell.
“I just wish there was something we could do.” said Lysa.
Edward had wanted to leave bringing up his wish to return to Merehill until they had all eaten something, but Lysa had presented him with the perfect opportunity.
“I want to go back to Merehill tomorrow.” he said after a few spoonfuls of his stew. There was a few moments silence before Peter replied “Is that wise? What if it has been garrisoned, you saw how many of them there were outside the walls. That doesn’t even include any that were doing goodness knows what inside—”
“We’ll never know for sure if we don’t go,” Lysa interrupted “if there is nothing we can do when we’ve seen the situation, then I guess I can live with that, but good or bad I hate not knowing. What if Mother and Father and everyone else can be saved?”
After that Peter quitely agreed. It was quiet for a few minutes afterwards. The rain had started to get heavier, and the sounds of the droplets hitting the top of the tent and the trees was the only music that broke the silence that filled the tent. Edward didn’t feel particularly hungry, but the beef stew was very tasty and he found it easy to enjoy. Most of this food they have with them was meant for Prince Matthew’s birthday feast – he stopped that train of thought right there, refusing to acknowledge the dark possibilities that he kept hoping wasn’t the reality. Lysa and Maxwell were the first to finish their stew, Peter chose to have some of the crusty bread with his, and Edward was just cleaning out the last few chunks of beef with his spoon. After they were all finished Maxwell offered to take the bowls down to the stream about ten minutes walk from their tent to give them a wash. Edward followed him out of the tent. The rain greeted him like an old friend, and within a few minutes he was soaked through. He walked towards their horses, which were taking shelter stood under one of the larger trees he could see. They both looked calm and content, if rather wet, and one of them neighed happily as he stroked their manes. As he was standing there the rain started to subside a little, but he could tell the sun was setting because the light was fading fast in the forest. Now what little light made it through the clouds was blocked from completing its journey to the ground by the tree canopy.
Maxwell returned a few minutes later carrying the now clean bowls and cooking pot. “We should get some sleep if we’re going to be awake in time to make it to Merehill before sunrise tomorrow.” he said as he got close to Edward. Edward nodded his head in agreement. “I just hope I can actually get to sleep tonight.” They walked back to the tents and entered the empty tent opposite the one Lysa and Peter were inside. Once inside Edward unfolded his wool quilt and placed his feather pillow at the head of his leaf mattress. He laid down and placed the quilt over himself, which quickly started to take some of the chill out of his bones. The days had been getting noticeably shorter for weeks now and he knew it wouldn’t be too much longer until the first snowfall of winter. They had to have a course of action before then, which is why Edward felt it was so important to get some closure to the sight they had witnessed a few nights ago at Merehill. As he was laying there, in the dark, Edward was pleasantly surprised to feel his eyelids getting heavier. After a few more minutes the urge to close them had become too great and he had drifted off to sleep.
Musical Monday returns for its 8th episode this evening, hoping that it can bring a little smile as we look back on some great video game music. I found it rather more difficult to choose what games to include this week, due to all of the brilliant games my friend James reminded me of on Saturday. Hopefully I will get around to including all of these games in a Musical Monday post eventually, but for this week I have chosen two franchises that we both love: the ever popular Lemmings, and everyone’s favourite holiday destination Silent Hill.
Let’s start with Lemmings. As far as I can remember this was one of the first franchises that I played when I first started out on my gaming career at the wee age of four. At this age there was a large element of trial and error involved with trying to complete levels, especially in the later stages. I quickly lost count of the number of times I managed to trap my lemmings in a hole I’d told them to dig where the only escape is a perilous drop into some unkind elemental nasties, resulting in certain death. The good thing about Lemmings though was that even in the face of complete level failure you could still have one last bit of fun before retrying. This was to give those poor guys five precious seconds to live before blowing them sky high. I can’t begin to imagine what thoughts went through their minds in these last moments of life, although I think there may have been some curse words in there somewhere. In the later levels failure became a much more common occurrence, and my little end-of-level mini-game was to see how much destruction I could cause to the landscape with the final explosions. It was almost a disappointment if a lemming’s death didn’t take anything else with it. I still enjoy playing Lemmings on my PSP from time to time, and I don’t think any other games have ever allowed you to quit a level in such style.
And now to a world that couldn’t be further from the colourful and jolly lands the lemmings inhabit. My first experience of Silent Hill was when a demo of the first game came with Metal Gear Solid. This was also the only time that I have played any of these games by myself, and after scaring myself silly in that elementary school, I decided that I would only ever play it again if friends or family joined me. I do enjoy playing these games, but even now my imagination always gets the better of me when that radio static kicks in walking down those deserted streets, so I can promise that you will almost certainly never see me playing them when the darkness of their world is shared by our own. So far I have managed to soldier my way through Silent Hill 2, 3 and 4 with my Dad. My favourite of those would have to be Silent Hill 3. Even though it successfully managed to scare me faster than any other game I have ever played with those overly cheerful looking, but blood covered bunny costumes in that theme park. I liked the main protagonist Heather more than her counterparts from the other games, although there isn’t that much between her and James Sunderland. Even though I was almost always too scared to play it alone, I would sometimes brave putting the game on just to listen to the opening music before the days of YouTube made it so much simpler. I wouldn’t venture passed the main menu screen if no-one was willing to join me in playing it though.
I’m not sure why Silent Hill has always had this effect on me. I can play other survival horror games like Dead Space and Resident Evil and do little more than jump at some of those sudden attacks. I haven’t played Slender yet, but I’d like to see which of the two categories that fits into. I have a rough idea.
That’s all for this week’s Musical Monday. As always, I hope you enjoy listening to these soundtracks as much as I do. If you still have an appetite for more video game music goodness after reading this I’d certainly recommend hopping into your boat and setting sail for No Tune Unturned on Twitter, where a new tune hops into the spotlight each day. I definitely think it would be worth the trip.