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w/e 20 May 2018

When I bought my PlayStation 4 about 18 months ago it came with Battlefield 1 and I’ve been sporadically plodding through it. It’s good but a lot of it is dark and grim and not somewhere I’m keen to spend time. Which I suppose is how a simulation of World War I should be. I made it through most of the solo campaign to the last story, which at least was set in a sunny desert and I hoped to finish it all off this week.

But, starting the game up, I found it had ignored some of the progress I’d made — the chapter (or whatever it’s called) that I was on was made up of three parts and last time I played I’d got through two of them, after several attempts, and got stuck on the third. Now it wanted me to do all three again. A lot of games have a certain percentage of tedious, grinding repetition in them, which comes and goes, hopefully balanced out by joy, satisfaction, and losing oneself in the story and action. But the thought of repeating all that again sent the tedium percentage too high and I doubt I’ll go back to Battlefield 1 again.

Instead, given it was only £6.49, I gave the first Uncharted a try, having heard good things. That’s been good Indiana Jones-style fun and, unusually for me, I’ve done a lot of playing this week and got through two-thirds of it. I’ve been using a walk-through, behaviour which I’m sure is unconscionable cheating in the eyes of some but, for me, helps reduce a game’s tedium percentage considerably. I know some people like solving puzzles but I play computer games for action, spectacle and attempting to be nimbly skilful.

This week I finished reading Elmore Leonard’s Glitz which I enjoyed a lot. I hadn’t read anything by him before but while browsing the library I thought I’d give it a go. A while back, reading this article about Leonard in the New York Review of Books, I noted down what Joan Acocella said were his “five best”:

In the eleven years from 1985 to 1996, he produces his five best novels: Glitz, with Vincent Mora and the father in the sky; Freaky Deaky, with Mr. Woody on the raft; Get Shorty, with Chili Palmer; Maximum Bob, with Elvin killing the man he thought was the one had got the woman to kill Roland; and Out of Sight (1996), whose hero has robbed over two hundred banks.

I think I’ll be reading the rest of them. It was nice to read something that rattles along for a change; I tend towards reading “worthy” novels, which tend not to be too gripping. I liked how one character was written, who was obviously a bit dumb, but thought he was clever. His thoughts are presented in third-person as if they were great ideas, while the reader knows better. My one, tiny, difficulty with it (leaving aside the male-focused guys’n’dolls world as something one just has to accept) was that for some time I confused the characters “Tommy” and “Teddy”. Why would you give characters such similar names?! Anyway, otherwise, a good read.

I also read Chamberlin, Powell and Bon by Elain Harwood, about the architects of the Barbican, the Golden Lane Estate and more. It’s not very long — 160 pages — so it doesn’t get bogged down in the kind of details that I imagine books about architects could do (exactly which people were involved in precisely which aspects of every single building). But then I also wanted to know more about a lot of the buildings and plans mentioned… I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some day I’d like to see New Hall (now Murray Edwards College), Cambridge and their work at the University of Leeds. Here’s the lecture theatres building there:

Photo of the Roger Stevens Building, Leeds
The Roger Stevens Building at the University of Leeds. By Michael Taylor. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Oof. The book emphasised how good they were at creating masterplans. Not buildings in isolation, but how a collection of buildings could work together, which I guess I hadn’t quite registered as a thing before, thinking only of architecture (of individual buildings) and town planning on a larger scale.

We finished watching the third season of Silicon Valley this week, which we’ve been enjoying. I find it excruciating to watch at times. It’s not like I’m intimately connected with the world of Valley start-ups but it feels close enough, like at a connection-or-two’s distance, or a decade-or-two’s distance, that some of the ridiculousness, or the difficult situations, are almost painful at times. No bullets hit home but they’re certainly whizzing by alarmingly close. Aside from that it’s funny and generous, full of (mostly) well-meaning fools. The eternally optimistic Jared (Zach Woods) is a delight.

I think the only problem, three seasons in, is that it feels a bit stuck. Because the situation is so reliant on a specific point in a process — attempting to go from start-up to major success — it feels like nothing is allowed to progress. They can’t succeed too much or the show changes. So even if they show signs of progress and success, everything must revert back to being a struggling start-up.

If a comedy’s situation is focused on a place (The Office), or a thing that just continues (30 Rock‘s show), or even just a set of characters (Seinfeld) then it seems OK, “realistic”, for there to be no learning. The situation can remain steady, series after series, because that’s natural. But if the situation is about the characters desperately trying to move through a process, hoping to change everything about their work and lives, it starts to feel a bit artificial if they never succeed. Maybe. So far. If you’re one or two seasons ahead of us you may be thinking, “just wait, you’ll see!”

That’s all. Have a good week. It’s nearly another bank holiday! (For some of us.)

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