Spoiler Sport and the Art of Avoidance

Spoilers: Not just a way of life; also a catchphrase.

I have a strong attachment to my many books, but every so often I do lend them out. When I do, I often sell that loan by saying what makes it worth recommending: characters, plot, setting, etc. What I don’t do is say anything along the lines of “Well, it’s the tale of a group of small folk who come into possession of a evil magic ring, and they have to travel across half the world, accompanied by allies from different races, in a quest to destroy it.” Not that I’d be giving away all of “The Lord of the Rings” by doing so, but I’d be depriving the loanee of some of the joy of discovery.

So why do movie studios seem determined to go a lot further in spoiling their wares ahead of time?

Last night I had the pleasure of watching “The Cabin in the Woods,” the new film from the fertile brains of Buffy alumni Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. Partly due to the long gap between its filming and release, but mostly due to the creators’ determination to keep as much of it as possible under wraps, I managed to go into the cinema knowing very little of what it was about. This was a very good thing, and I’ll say no more about that film other than that it’s not so much as slasher movie as a movie about slasher movies (and manages to be a lot more fun than its meta-horror precursor Scream).

However, it’s getting harder and harder to avoid learning most of what a film has to offer long before its release. I already know more about Whedon’s next movie, The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble if you don’t live in the U.S.) than I’d prefer, and I’ve resorted to sticking my fingers in my ears and shutting my eyes to avoid seeing trailers for Ridley Scott’s forthcoming Prometheus.

I do accept a portion of the blame for this. Anyone who trawls the internet habitually can at any moment be enticed by a rumour, press release or teaser trailer. On the other hand, movie studios are always eager to attract more attention for their releases, and media outlets are just as eager to scoop their rivals with the latest unrevealed details of films just over the horizon. The only thing standing in the way of a tidal wave of spoilers is a common awareness that revealing everything ahead of time defeats the purpose of marketing the film in the first place.

It’s good to be surprised by a film. When a trailer shows clips from a film’s climax, or an article leaks details of the plot, then the person thus spoiled loses something. The best movies bear repeated viewing, but there’s a reason why we feel envious of those about to experience something exceptional for the first time. (This is also the case for other forms of entertainment: witness the recent tortured efforts to discuss the ending of Mass Effect 3 without actually talking about it.)

After years of being a happy consumer of rumours and spoilers, I’ve become a convert to the art of avoidance. I’ll happily watch trailers for, and read about, movies I’ve never heard of in the hope of finding something worth watching, but if it’s something I’m already looking forward to, it goes on my interdicted list. I’d definitely recommend it as a habit to get into. If nothing else, it offers a chance to enjoy a movie twice over: once for the new experience and once again to appreciate the artistry with which it was put together.

Tiny Tower – An Addictive Experience

The tip-top of my Tiny Tower.

Tiny Tower on iOS isn’t so much a game as it is a drug for obsessive-compulsive completists (people like me, in other words). As is the way with most drugs, I was introduced to it by a friend, and even though they’ve had the sense to wean themselves off it, I haven’t quit just yet. Maybe tomorrow

The purpose of the game is to build a tower up to the heavens, filling it with shops and apartments full of “bitizens”. The 8-bit graphics are almost terminally cute, and there’s a quirky sense of humour at work, but just how much game is there here?

The game itself runs on two currencies. The first, money, is used to build floors and stock shops and can be gained through selling goods from those shops and giving lifts to bitizens. The second currency, towerbux, is used throughout the game to speed up the sometimes slow process of stocking floors and gaining new bitizens, as well as to spruce up floors with new paint jobs and bitizens with costumes.

Importantly, players can purchase towerbux for real money, which is where the profit part of the equation comes in for the developer NimbleBit. It’s perfectly possible to play without ever paying for towerbux, and the more attention you pay to the game, the more towerbux you’ll pick up from in-game sources, such as completing tasks and fully stocking floors, but in order to make towerbux an attractive option, the game has to tweak players’ impatience, and it does so by getting slower and harder to build floors as it goes along.

Most of the fun to be had with Tiny Tower comes early in the game, when you get to add a few new floors every day. There’s a basic community element too, which uses iOS’s Game Center to show your friends’ progress. However, as the pace of the game slows (at the moment, I get a new floor slightly faster than every other day) there’s not much attachment to your tower or bitizens to keep you coming back. Worse, the ability of towerbux to speed your progress diminishes, making them less appealing right at the moment a player might want them most.

There was a lot of fuss not long ago about Zynga’s decision, after being rebuffed in an attempt to buy NimbleBit, to simply copy Tiny Tower wholesale for their own game Dream Heights. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that kerfuffle, I can’t help feeling that NimbleBit missed a trick. Tiny Tower was the iOS game of 2011, but the two main wikis on it haven’t been kept properly updated. Perhaps selling at the height of the market might have been a good idea?

At the moment, this obsessive-compulsive completist is still playing, mostly because I want to get all the available floors. Which, at my current rate of progress, will take perhaps two more months, assuming that NimbleBit don’t release yet another update adding a batch of new floors. Is it really a game? I’m not sure, but I’ve had fun with it. I’m just not sure that I’m still having fun with it.

March Book Reviews

A decent month of reading in March, mostly populated by fantasy, with a bit of Western in there too. Also the month in which I picked up an iPhone app that allowed me to catalogue my library. Not really a good thing to do to someone who has problems keeping his obsessive-compulsive tendencies at bay at the best of times…

Tongues of Serpents, Naomi Novik: Being an even-numbered offering in Novik’s “Temeraire” series, it shouldn’t be too surprising that this book mostly concerns itself with new lands and interesting cultures, nor that it isn’t quite as gripping as the action-oriented, odd-numbered books. Stuck in Australia, far from the Napoleonic wars, Captain Will Laurence and his dragon Temeraire indulge in some personal conflicts and a long chase across the outback, ending in a brief fracas that does more to set up plot points for later stories than provide a satisfying ending in and of itself. Still eminently readable and interesting as an alternate fantasy-history, this series is in danger of becoming just a little too predictable.

The Blade Itself, Joe Abercrombie: Populated with broken, angry, epically flawed characters, the first book in Abercrombie’s “First Law” trilogy is gritty stuff, with hints of high fantasy and ancient powers interspersed with brutal violence and Machiavellian politics. Although very much the first third of a larger story, there’s enough here for the reader to get their teeth into, even if most of it does come by the way of characters who refuse to be as predictable as they might be in another author’s hands. Whether the rest of the trilogy lives up to this impressive start remains to be seen, but Abercrombie has done all that he needed to encourage readers to pick up book two.

The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt: A laconic, darkly humorous tale of the dysfunctional relationship between two hired-killer brothers in the Wild West, this is as much as anything a homage to classic Western tales. Narrated by the philosophical, fatalistic Eli Sisters, it’s packed full of incident and strangeness yet always remains within orbiting distance of reality, or at least as close as Gold Rush-era California ever got to reality. Very deserving of its critical acclaim, it retains an oddly gentle and thoughtful tone throughout, even in the face of the high level of violence and death that accompanies its protagonists.

The Broken Sword, Poul Anderson: Some classic fantasy, born from a melding of Norse and Celtic myth and folklore, telling the tale of a doomed hero, his changeling replacement and the woman caught between them. Anderson wastes no words as he sets up a layered world of gods and faerie creatures, all operating parallel to the course of history, and the passions that drive his characters and full-blooded, whether they are dark or heroic. As with any good mythic tale, there’s an undercurrent of tragedy that emerges to dominate as the tale comes to its end, with a sense of a world coming to an end as myths and legends die, but this is a rich enough offering to stand with the best of the myths that have been hallowed by the centuries.

Before They Are Hanged, Joe Abercrombie: As his “First Law” series continues, Abercrombie takes the characters he’d introduced in the first book and throws them into the deep end, whether it’s war, a siege or a journey to the end of the world. Those characters and their multifarious flaws are what gives this series its punch, though as the author opens up the myth-making behind his world, he increases the sense of real consequence to the wars and struggles he presents. If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s that after two books, the story doesn’t feel like it’s two-thirds over: there’s a lot of wrapping up to be done in the pages to come.