Humble Book Review: Silk Road

My partner has recently been holding a curious fascination with what is known as the dark web. In turn, I delved into the available information in the ‘safe’ internet we all are familiar with, also known as the clear web. The more I had read, the more I wanted to know about it. The internet we know comprises of only 4% of all web pages – 96% resides in the dark web. Think of that unsettling iceberg metaphor – most of it you can’t even see. And the services provided on the dark web range from the subjectively illegal such as drug trafficking, to the downright morally abhorrent such as human experimentation, child pornography, and torture.

Silk Road by Eileen Ormsby details the rise and fall of one of the more tame sections of the dark web; encrypted online drug vending. It explains how another critical invention – the purely digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin – allowed Silk Road, the first of it’s kind, to flourish into the ‘eBay of Drugs’ with a dedicated fan base that may have come for the safer drug purchases, but stayed for the libertarian revolution, helmed by the infamous online persona Dread Pirate Roberts.

This was a great read, primarily because the author held a very level and informative tone about the overall drug trafficking trade that didn’t slip into a manic fever, like the majority of columnists and television news reporters so often do. And there was good reason to not wear the loud critic’s hat, because against the mainstream media’s expectations, Silk Road actually flourished into a civil online community with helpful advice on overcoming addiction, safe use of drugs, and the site even had a resident qualified doctor to answer user questions for free (or very small voluntary donations).

However, nothing lasts forever, and the combined efforts of the LEO (Law Enforcement Officers) scouring for human mistakes, the big-time scammers misusing customer trust, and the crippling hacking events, had all played a part in the original movement’s downfall.

The supposed capture of the enigmatic Dread Pirate Roberts, the man behind it all, accelerated the site’s demise. But in a world centred on anonymity, is the man the police captured so easily the same man that was so very careful and paranoid online?

Ormsby, Silk Road’s community, and I all have our doubts. Hence, the book doesn’t really reach a satisfying conclusion, because it seems to suggest that the Silk Road story is far from over. But the inclusions of interviews and quotes from people who were a part of the community, and letters from Dread Pirate Roberts himself, all make for Silk Road to be a great insight into a world few know about and fewer visit themselves.

Check it out for yourself here.

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WOTH: Platinum #13 – The Walking Dead (PS4)

In this episode of the Well Overdue Trophy Hunt…

Telltale Games, the makers of The Walking Dead game, certainly know how to tell a gripping story. When this first came out, there were doubts whether this really was a game at all, instead of simply a set of dialogue choices and quicktime events.

To me, it doesn’t matter what the classification is. Many more games have been released since The Walking Dead’s first season, and quite a few of them have had even less interactivity than Telltale’s dialogue heavy games. What it tells us, is that fictional experiences sit on a spectrum, and there’s a place for everything. Movies, TV and books fall on the passive side, then as you include more player/reader involvement, you come across Visual Novels, Dialogue-tree style games, your free-to-move FPS or Action-Adventure games, then finally games which rely solely on the user to make up stories, like Minecraft.

So as an experience, The Walking Dead is an incredible one. Protagonist Lee stumbled across little girl Clementine, both scared and confused of the new zombie-addled world they’ve found themselves in. As they move along, they come across other survivors, and try to determine a plan for survival.

All the characters you meet are amazing, and are fleshed out quite well. It makes it all the more difficult, then, when you must make difficult choices regarding who you side with, or even who lives and who dies. Trust me, when things go wrong and it’s because of a seemingly innocent choice you made earlier, it hurts.

The choices you do make throughout the 5 episodes have long lasting impact, too. Saved someone at the cost of another? They will still be actively involved several episodes in, and add to the story in very different ways, depending on who’s still around. And when you’ve tried to say something innocently only for a notification to pop up saying “X will remember that”, you worry just how much impact your statement has made.

Regarding the platinum trophy, there isn’t really anything to be said. It’s one of the easiest to obtain, simply because one playthrough is needed. No trophies are miss-able, except for a couple in the DLC which aren’t needed for the platinum. I had played this on the PC, but I enjoyed it even the second time around on PS4, just to see the impact of different choices I could make.


Still on the platinum list:

  • Dark Souls III (PS4)
  • Split/Second (PS3)
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)
  • The Wolf Among Us (PS Vita)

What are you playing?

WOTH: Platinum #12 – Reality Fighters (PS Vita)

Have you ever wanted to fight like a world champion boxer, dominate opponents with Muay Thai, or perhaps… the brutal world of ballet? But, instead of peak physical fitness or any related fighting skills at all, you only had a face able to be captured onto a standard 3D game model? Well, you’re in luck with this incredibly average augmented reality game!

Reality Fighters was one of the launch titles for the PS Vita back in early 2012. The main idea is for you to capture your face and place it on a model fighter, and you would then go and fight a variety of characters each with distinct fighting styles, ranging from the ridiculous ‘Disco’ style right up to Muay Thai. This can be done through a standard Story Mode, where you gradually unlock clothes, fighting styles, and characters; through the overdone fighting genre challenges such as Time Attack or Survivor modes, or even online against other creations (or abominations) other players have made.

The punchline for this game is that it utilises the Vita’s inbuilt motion sensor and cameras to place these fighters in your world. You could be out in the park, and they’d fight on the grass right in front of you. Or, more likely, you’ll watch them fight on the bathroom floor while you’re on the can. Anything is possible! However, if you don’t feel like waving your Vita around, pointing it at a landmark you can fight on, there are quite a few presets of real world places you can fight near instead. The camera will still slightly move around depending on how you hold your Vita.

Just your standard fight between a breakdancer and a superhero in front of road works.

Just your standard fight between a breakdancer and a superhero in front of road works in Dubai.

Getting back to my button-mashing roots was pretty fun for a while, and some of the fighting styles have some reality cool ‘ultimate moves’, which are fun to see play out. Additionally, it was great to see so many of the unique functions of the Vita utilised. And the sheer amount of customisation unlocks is pretty good, if you want to make sure your fighter looks their best (or most ridiculous). But in order for your fighter to look its best, you must make sure the face capture works well. I’m not sure if I’d let my abomination out for the public to see..

Got my game face on.

Got my game face on.

Unfortunately, there are many reasons why I wouldn’t pick this up again. Each fighting styles only has perhaps 8 distinct moves, whereas you’d expect a lot more. The main feature of having the scene move around while you play can be infuriating, as if you’re like me and wave the controller around in tense situations, at times you won’t be able to see what’s going on since you’re not pointing the camera at it, only to see the You Lose text pop up. Also, since I’m playing this over four years after release, the servers are pretty much deserted. A fighting game loses most of its replay-ability when there’s no real people to fight.

Regarding the road to the platinum, there are only three distinct pillars of difficulty. Achieving 30 wins in survivor will be tough, so you must equip yourself with the best gear and weapons, and follow online guides. Beating 5 friends online will require scouring forums for help, and some trickery, since you won’t see 5 within the hour. Contact others who need the trophy, and before each fight, set your Vita clock back to within the hour of your prior wins. Finally, the trophy for unlocking every item can be particularly grindy, so make sure you’ve popped a movie on or something in the background.

This was essentially a platinum only achieved because it was there, free, from PlayStation Plus. Onward to better things!


 

Platinum Trophies currently vying for:

  • Dark Souls III (PS4)
  • Split/Second (PS3)
  • The Walking Dead: S1 (PS4)
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)

What are you aiming for?

Humble Book Review: End of Watch

Well, this is it. End of Watch is an end to the Bill Hodges trilogy that started in 2014 with Mr Mercedes, and was followed up with Finders Keepers in 2015. If this tells us anything, it’s that King writes like the devil. This whole trilogy was completed in only three years, and that’s not mentioning the small fact that he published Revival and The Bazaar of Bad Dreams in between. The man is on fire, perhaps trying to get as much done as he can before that robed skeletal figure pays him a more final visit than in 1999.

In the novel, Bill Hodges is still running his private detective agency alongside Holly Gibney, you’ll recall from the first two novels. While battling his own life-threatening issues, he gets drawn into a string of suicide cases, all somehow linking back to his nemesis from Mr Mercedes, Brady Hartsfield. A seemingly impossible notion, as he was left in a vegetative state after their first major encounter.

So, what role, if any, does Brady have with these suicides connected to him and his past? Is everything as it seems, or are there extraordinary abilities at play? And what do the pink fish and the numbers have to do with all of it?

What we get with End of Watch is precisely what we expect from the prior two novels; a fun, thrilling piece of ‘quicktion’ (yes, I’ve been known to portmanteau the line from time to time). A great, fast-paced chase to catch a horrible entity before some cataclysmic event occurs. Considering this, I think it comes out on par with the first two books. A formidable antagonist, high stakes, and a satisfying conclusion. Also, it does wrap up the trilogy pretty well.

However, there’s a little something in King’s style here that I can’t get over. There’s a not-so-subtle criticism of current world events and technology that peppers its way through the pages, and it comes across as that ‘crusty old uncle that complains about how the world used’a be without all the gahd-darn computers and slimy politicians’. I don’t mean through dialogue or the thoughts of the protagonist, since he is old and sometimes salty about the world, so it’d make sense. I mean the seemingly out of place metaphors from the author’s voice that creep in. There’s even a reference to Trump, who people reading this in one year’s time won’t remember, because he’ll be a relative nobody once more.

Immersion-breaking metaphoric rants aside, this book gives you exactly what you want from the series. A thrilling hunt with a satisfying conclusion.

WOTH: Platinum #10 and #11 – Sound Shapes (PS4/PS3)

In this episode of the Well Overdue Trophy Hunt, I explored a world of colour and sound – again!

First of all, let’s discuss that elephant-sized shape in the room. The main reason I replayed this after completing it on the PS Vita was for the sweet tones of the trophy pops. I’m not too ashamed about it, since I really enjoyed the game the first time around anyway. Second of all, I actually played through Sound Shapes twice more than most people do, for the same amount of trophies. How, you may ask? Well, from a well-known trick I was not aware of, until I had already deleted my Vita save file.

Sound Shapes is blessed as being cross-platform, and cross-save. What this means, is that you can buy it and download it for any of the three current generation Playstation consoles.

That’s great, you say, a relatively easy platinum, and I can just play it three times from one purchase! Go me!

Well now, what makes this an even better game for the veritable trophy scavenger in all of us, is that you can exploit it even further with a cloud save across platforms. Oh yes, that’s right. You complete it on one, upload your save to the cloud, download the save to another console, and sit back to the dopamine rush of 87 silver trophies coming in all at once, for doing nothing at all.

Coincidentally, this screenshot includes the sound you make as the trophies roll in.

Coincidentally, this screenshot includes the sound you make as the trophies roll in.

The Post PS Vita version of me didn’t know this, but after deleting the file then bragging online about my new platinum, I was quickly brought up to speed. I wasn’t too phased though, as I had enjoyed the journey, except for a few of the Death Mode challenges (looking at you, Beyonder album). So in the end, I finished it again on the PS4, but used the cloud sync trick for the PS3. Again – I’m not ashamed, when most people play it only once and sync twice.

Now onto the game, which is for the most part really artistic and fun. Each of the 5 main albums were designed by different artists and music was provided by various known musicians. Beck, Deadmau5, and even Jim Guthrie, of Sword & Sworcery fame, took part. Jim’s was my favourite, as it told an interesting corporate story through the levels. What makes these levels so great, though, is the realisation that you can create these levels yourself, or any other unique creation if you have the ability. You simply place notes to collect on each screen, and they add to the overall music in the game. Even enemies and obstacles provide their own tones, so you can whip up some fantastic melodic creations, with the help of the Beat School mode – where, incidentally, you’ll get most of your trophies.

Once you complete all of the 5 albums, you are awarded with Death Mode for each level, which is a quick challenge to get x amount of notes in y seconds. A fun twist, however here’s the gripe – the placement of these notes is randomly generated. Different for each attempt. And often, these notes appear very far from each other in succession, eating up precious seconds to get to them. Because of this, for some levels, it will be impossible to succeed based on these irritating placements. So, the game infuriated me when it shifted away from skill, and more into luck of where the notes would be.

Other than than, I still enjoyed revisiting Sound Shapes. It was a… sound decision.

Ugh, I’m sorry.


Currently on the Playing list:

  • The Walking Dead: Season 1 (PS4)
  • Dark Souls III (PS4)
  • Split/Second (PS3)
  • Reality Fighters (PS Vita)
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PS4)

What are you currently playing for the platinum?

 

Humble Book Review: Gerald’s Game

I think many of us wonder at any given moment what the worst possible situation is, giving rise to anxiety. What if that car speeding down the road veered into me? What if a random stranger just pulled down my pants and everyone laughed? What if, while i’m handcuffed to the bed for some kinky sexy fun time in a cabin away from anyone else, my partner dies of a heart attack?

Well, you’re in luck if you’ve pondered over the last one, because so has Stephen King, with Gerald’s Game.

Jessie and Gerald Burlingame decide to spend a weekend at their lakeside cabin for said kinky sexy fun time. After a heated argument and two swift kicks, Gerald finds himself dead, leaving Jessie stranded in handcuffs with only the voices in her head and the sounds of isolation. Only through her inner voices combating one another do we find out the kind of spirited woman Jessie is, and the shocking childhood memory she had skirted around most of her life.

There is quite a serious theme here, regarding her painful memory involving her father and the day the sky turned dark. It’s a real issue that affects many people, and kudos goes to King for handling it with care, and not trivialising it. I found that when these memories unfolded, at the behest of the “Jessie” voice in her head, I couldn’t put the book down. It was disturbing, much in the same way that you can’t turn away when you witness a car accident. This, and when Jessie was going through realistic situations of survival in that room, were the most compelling chapters.

However, as is par for the King course, after a while there might be a dabble into the supernatural. While usually I don’t mind, it doesn’t work when the first two thirds of the novel sets it up to be nothing but natural. Horrible, but not abnormal. I find it difficult to suspend disbelief when after 200 pages I’ve mostly established the world these events are taking place. Not to spoil the ending – which felt like it overstayed its welcome – but a certain rectification was a little tacked on.

Gerald’s Game shines in character development, though, with much of the book taking place in Jessie’s head. You really begin to understand her hardships and relationships with former friends though the multiple voices not letting her be. As this Saw-like trap bears down on her mentally and physically, you watch her transform into someone else, someone powerful.

A good book, with striking imagery, though it’s a shame some themes felt unnecessary.

And with finishing Gerald’s Game, I think I’m finally over the halfway mark with King’s backlog! That is, until he just released his new book, End of Watch. Well, better get to reading it. I’ll never catch up at the rate he pumps out books.

Humble Book Review: The Dark Half

Rest in peace, Richard Bachman. He passed away tragically in 1985 by a “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia”.

Perhaps, after reading The Dark Half, Stephen King had more involvement in Richard’s passing than we first thought.

It’s relatively well known that for some time in the 80’s, King was writing under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. He published great – and sometimes controversial – novels such as Rage, The Running Man, and Thinner. After the alternate pen-name was outed, King had to put Richard to rest.

It’s crystal clear where King found inspiration for The Dark Half, then. He lived the premise himself – although hopefully not the chilling paranormal elements. In this novel, we find a clumsy yet well meaning author, Thad Beaumont, trying to readjust his life after putting his pseudonym, George Stark, to rest. He and his wife even agreed to a theatrical burial, with a fake tombstone, for an article in People magazine. Thad was outed as Stark by a “creepazoid”, but he didn’t mind terribly much. It was a relief to him and his wife, since although Stark’s run of books was much more successful, the tone was much darker, and Thad became a different, colder man when writing as Stark.

As is King fashion, things put to rest never stay that way. In this case, even something which arguably didn’t exist in the first place – a pseudonym – comes back to haunt Thad, and hunts down those that contributed to his “death”.

There are some incredible moments of tension here with Stark. A cold-blooded killer with nothing to lose, he performed some chilling actions. Posing as a blind man to execute two cops and a victim. Wielding his straight razor as if it’s his talisman, slicing at innocent throats. In particular, when Stark is coddling a baby and tickling it with the muzzle of his loaded gun to intimidate the baby’s parents – horrific images come to mind of worst case scenarios.

Some themes, while initially difficult to make connections with the overall novel, come together nicely. What do the sparrows mean? What is the significance of Thad’s childhood surgery? Why do his baby twins act in sync at times? These concepts do tie in together quite nicely at the end. Although King tried to play on the theme of non-acceptance of paranormal events, I felt that the incremental leaps of faith were too large. If you’re dead-set against things that can’t be explained, why allow yourself to follow the thread, assuming they are right?

Regardless, a great thriller, even if it is yet another notch in the “King protagonist is a struggling author” trope. You know what they say; write what you know.