Nothing to See

There was not a man in a black suit driving a white van away from a crime scene.

This man did not speed through a red light without stopping. There was no man to do so.

There was not a man in a grey track suit driving a silver Mercedes away from a crime scene.

There was not a woman dressed head to toe in black.

There was not an elderly lady dressed in florals.

Was there a crime scene? What was the crime?

I was told a young woman was attacked by an ex. Ex-boyfriend, husband, platonic friend? I don’t know. An ex.

She’s in hospital now, alive, just about. That’s what I heard anyway.

The man escaped. He was not wearing a black suit. He was not wearing anything. He was wearing something, but no one can remember what. If he was actually wearing nothing it would not have been forgotten.

I saw it all happen. Not it all, not the cause, not their relationship, whatever it may have been, before the attack.

I know what could have happened or should have happened.

The man is wearing a black suit, no tie, a white shirt with navy buttons. He has a generic short back and sides haircut, a number two I’d say. His shoes are black and dull, in need of a polish. He has no visible scars, tattoos, or piercings, which is not to say he doesn’t have any at all just that they’re not visible. The eyes are blue, almost grey, milky but not quite. Dark circles lie below both of them. The nose is distinct, strong, powerful, foreboding, worrying. The mouth turns downwards. The weight of all this causes the chin to sag.

The man calls the woman’s name. ‘Milly!’ he says in a voice that is not normally his. It all sounds quite absurd, the frilliness of ‘Milly’ and this artificially gruff voice. It’s all phony, fake, fraudulent.

She turns, her face is obscured. It is frightened. He approaches. His mouth moves. He says something I can’t hear in the absurd voice. They are half a foot away from one another. The back of the man tenses, the head lurches forward, collides with the other head, a body falls, legs flail, there are cries, the man his nose, head and legs all evacuate.

I did not see this. It did happen just like this.

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A Wasted Day

Bryan woke up at 11:48am. It was Sunday and after a long week of work he deserved a lie-in. The house was silent as he walked to the shower. He showered for a long time, exactly how long I don’t know, didn’t think to check; I don’t time his showers, the room filled with steam, the mirrors fogged up. Byran got dressed; it was the first warm day of the year so he decided he could go without a coat. He didn’t really have anywhere to go but it would a shame to waste such a nice day. Even by going out he was wasting it, truth be told.

It was quiet out, windless; there was a distant sound of cars and other sounds that were not cars: the two great categories of sound in any city – transport and other. Quiet, too quiet, Bryan thought jokingly. It wasn’t too quiet; rather, all the sound was being made elsewhere, out of sight, and too far away for the direction to be pinpointed. He kept on walking and made it to the main road. Whitstable Road, I think, it was, I guess it was. The road was empty. I mean there were no cars. It wasn’t literally empty; the signs were still there and houses still lined the street. It was probably just road works or something like that. You never go straight to the worst option, like say there was a nuclear holocaust and our Bryan was the last man on earth (couldn’t imagine anyone worse), and if you do you don’t let yourself believe it completely. Anyway, there had not been a nuclear holocaust yet. At the end of the road walking towards the city centre was the usual crowd of people. There were men, women, and children; some were young, some old, some had brown hair, some had none at all; some walked on two legs, some did not; some people were there and some were absent. Just like a normal day.

“I’ll go look in the book shop then go get some lunch”, Bryan might have thought to himself.  He walked into the small bookshop with the small wonky door, ducking as he always did. A noise that resembled ‘hi’ but was not quite right left his mouth and fell limply on the floor near the elderly lady working the till. She did not notice him and carried on doing nothing. He walked to the back of the shop and scoured the same shelves that had some slightly different books as he always did. He had not developed an efficient process for searching the shelves and tended to look arbitrarily until he found a name he recognised. Today, he grabbed a copy of B.S Johnson’s ‘Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry’, a book he had read and adored, and read the first few lines before putting it back. ‘Christie Malry was a simple person’ begins Johnson’s book, not as simple as Bryan, of course, who does not even have a surname. He looked at these books for a good ten minutes. He picked up Bolano’s ‘The Savage Detectives’, put it down again, picked it up again, this was the moment of truth: for if he put it down again he could not pick it up again, one just does not do that three times. £1.99 was too good a deal to pass up for a book that might be or should be great, he’d never read any Bolano but he was sure he was good because smarter people than he had said so. He paid, said ‘cheers’ in an assertive tone that did not fit the situation at all, and left the shop, not before banging his head on the door frame.

Where he went for lunch, if he even did, is something of a mystery. I lost track of him. You see, there was this dog… I tried to find him again and failed so I went back to his house and waited there. He came back at 3:37pm and excitedly placed the Bolano on his shelf with his other unread books. That was Sunday. He spent the rest of the day looking at his laptop.

The Witcher 3: Doings Things You Don’t Want To

Sequels are more, they are a continuation, a sign that the previous instalment was not enough, is not finished. More guns, more explosions, more hours, more of everything is something like a mantra for video game sequels, and sequels in general. At what point, however, does more become a surplus, too much?

With The Witcher 2 : Assassins of Kings CD Projekt Red did not give themselves up entirely to simply adding more. The innovation of the The Witcher 2 was a branching story determined by an early game choice which caused there to be two distinct Witcher 2s. Consequently, each path was shorter than the length of the first game; there were fewer areas to explore, fewer quests. The game was simultaneously less and more. To get more you now had to play through the game twice on each side and so repetition, replaying, was coded into this need for more; you had to surmount the old to get to the new.

Now, in the Witcher 3, this repetition is the more. The huge maps are now littered with a seemingly infinite number of question marks that lead to one of four events: typically a monster’s nest or a bandit’s camp, and rarely a place of power or a person in distress (essentially the same as a bandit’s camp but there is a person in a cage to be freed). These small moments can often spark other quests if you find a letter informing you of some nearby treasure, for example, or an encounter with a rare monster. These are rarely satisfying and involve no effort or thought.

This is not an issue exclusive to the side quests. The main quests often falter with dull dialogue, and mundane go-get-this-item-and-come-back actions. Then suddenly, out of the blue, it will turn on a single moment of actually interesting dialogue, or a piece of genuinely beautiful cinematography. This is the central dilemma and intrigue of The Witcher 3: it’s astoundingly inconsistent and, therefore, the absolute inability to know which quests will be worthwhile and which will not. The game hits an early peak with the culmination of the Bloody Baron quest line and then falls into mundanity for quite a while. It cannot sustain a consistent high quality of writing and quest design and so the peaks, the genuinely worthwhile moments, come entirely by surprise.

The most prominent example of this I have discovered is a side quest with Yennefer in which she, with Geralt’s aid, is looking for a djinn. The player must dive into the water three times to look for an item. It is boring and awkward. Geralt, it is revealed, had previously made a wish that he and Yennefer would always be together. The authenticity of their relationship is then doubted by Yennefer. How can she know if it is truly love or simply the djinn’s magic? Intrigue begins to form; there are ideas to play with now. As the item is found they are transported to the djinn’s location: a boat atop a mountain. It is a striking moment so much so that my surprise led me to fall off of the mountain. The djinn is then fought, it is an ephemeral abstract head that looks great, is a new atypical monster. After it is defeated Geralt and Yennefer sit and chat, sitting over the edge of the ship. The camera, for a moment, shows only their feet dangling in the air as if this was an indie film about two teenage lovers. After they announce their love to one and other (if they do, you can choose not to) the camera slowly and lovingly pans over the skyline: we are joined with them in the appreciation of the beauty. Then the quest is over, we are dropped back into the world to find something else to do, something that will hopefully match the quality of that quest, and most likely it won’t.

This leads to periods where nothing provoking is discovered, I begin to skip through the dialogue, sprint to whatever marker is on my map, and return for my reward again skipping the dialogue. I am bored. At these times I wonder if it is really worth going on, if my time would be better served doing anything else at all, but the next quest may be the one with another new conceit, some funny dialogue, or a genuinely touching moment of humanity. The possibility carries me on, helps me to drag myself through the mire of yet another drowner’s nest.

The Witcher 3 is wildly inconsistent, is downright broken in some fundamental cases, and yet I cannot stop, do not want to stop, playing it because the peaks it hits can be dizzyingly high. The pits look particularly low in comparison but I look out of them in the knowledge and trust that it will get better.