Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Seen and heard: January 2016

Tales from the Borderlands – episodic narrative game. When first reading a review, I was sceptical: I didn’t see how a highly-determinate story, with carefully planned twists, turns and surprises, could possibly be blended with interactive gameplay without the thing becoming a mess: unsatisfactory as either an animated film or a game. Well, I was wrong, and I haven’t had so much fun with a game for a long time. The dialogue, voice-acting and animation are all first rate, and the decision-making and QuickTime elements are perfectly integrated with the story to deepen your involvement while giving you real, not illusory, influence over how events unfold (though not over the overall story arc). The strong animation style and witty dialogue reminded me of the Hanna-Barbera adventure cartoons such as Jonny Quest which I used to love when growing up; in short, this made me feel like a kid again. (Though note: the violence in TFTB, especially the first episode, rightly earns it a rating of 17+ or Mature.)

War and Peace – BBC TV drama series. Sterling service by Andrew Davies (adapter), the cast and the locations manager, and some lovely moments; but it doesn’t replace in my affections the Jack Pulman 20-episode version which captivated me and my schoolmates (okay, we were a bit nerdy) when it aired on Saturday night prime time in 1972.

Endeavour, Midsomer Murders, Young Montalbano, Vera – so many great location-based detective series on the box at the moment, it’s sometimes hard to keep the storylines distinct. Isn’t this episode of Endeavour like the one we had last week? No, wait, that was in Young Montalbano. Highlights for me include a Jaws homage in Endeavour ('Prey'), a heart-warming story about an honest third in Montalbano, and Vera showing she’s the sharpest knife in the box in interrogation scenes ('Tuesday's Child'). I used to want to be as clever as Jim Phelps in Mission Impossible; now I think I’d like to be as clever as Vera Stanhope.

The Story of China – BBC TV series presented by Michael Wood. Like David Attenborough, Michael Wood is a presenter who’s worth watching whatever his programme is on, because of his infectious enthusiasm and his ability to relate, not to animals in his case, but people: scholars gathering at the birthplace of Confucius (“We know why we’re here, but you: why are you here?”), schoolchildren studying Tang dynasty poetry, the museum keeper of the relics of China’s first ocean-going vessels.

Hack Day 'Designing online learning for the future' – a creative workshop in staff-student teams organised by our Learning Innovation team on 20 January, about which I’ve already blogged. All the team’s pitches are also up for viewing, though I don’t know that the videos really capture the intensity of the day. You had to be there…

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