21 February 2012

A (Pointless?) Formality, Being a Post Concerning Apostasy

It's been a while since I've written here about about any spiritual topics, mostly because I don't want to bore people with my meanderings which are, frankly, quite personal. However, I thought a quick post might be in order to commemorate an event, which in the grand scheme is, more or less, utterly insignificant.

First of all, I'd like to emphasise that nothing below is intended as a criticism of Christianity or Christians. I believe strongly in the concept of freedom of religion and in the potential all religions have for being a positive force in people's lives (as long as people stop taking scripture too literally and accept other viewpoints as equally valid).

Like the majority of Finns, I was baptised as a baby by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. As churches go, this is (mostly) a fairly moderate, modern, tolerant institution.

Today, though, I finally received a letter from the local magistrate's office confirming my resignation from the Church.

This was a mere formality. It has been a long time since I've considered myself a Christian. Now (despite some rotten apples that seem to do their darnedest to spoil the reputation of religions worldwide), I do respect the faith, as I respect any faith that can be used as a positive force in the lives of individuals. However, the reality is it simply holds no personal appeal for me. And that's the gist of it.

The only reason I hadn't quit years ago was simply not getting around to it. Which speaks volumes about how significant Church membership really is in the hearts of many Finns. Or, rather, isn't. Church membership is a tradition, a mere formality. Christenings, weddings and funerals are about the extent of religion for many these days. Few of us go to Sunday services any more or in other ways actively participate in worship. Regardless of the fact that we have a so-called national Church that the vast majority of the population nominally belongs to, Finland is a modern, western, and increasingly secular society (which, in my mind, is as it should be; religion is for individuals, not societies).

And there's the rub, of course. Religion should have nothing to do with formalities. It is not something that happens on paper. It should come from the heart. And while I don't hold any kind of grudge against society or my family for my baptism, in general I do find the practise of baptising children somewhat questionable. (Even confirmation at 15, as it is practised here, is too early in my mind. How much can a teenager truly understand about religion?) Religion ought to be a personal choice, not just a matter of tradition.

I should also perhaps state that, unlike many people in recent years, I didn't quit the Church as any kind of protest. Quite the contrary, I'd say it was more about respect for religions in general. I am not a Christian, ergo I should not be a member of a Christian church in name only. (What exactly I am, is a much more difficult question, that I myself am rarely quite clear on, and not really a matter for this blog post. But as I've written before, I tend to lean towards neopaganism.)

15 February 2012

Current State of the Fighting Game, or, Expectations for Skullgirls

I've written before about fighting games (mostly complaining how much I suck at them). They interest me as a phenomenon, and an aesthetic style.

The mid-90's were of course the golden age of fighting games. Capcom's Street Fighter and Darkstalkers series, SNK's King of Fighters series and other titles, the first Guilty Gear for the PlayStation... But what about the current status of the genre? Many of the old games, after all, are becoming harder to obtain (apart from a handful of re-releases), and, frankly, the low-res sprites are beginning to look a little dated...

Guilty Gear XX was released in 2002. It is still surely one of the finest fighting games around. Not only does it have a solid system, but, perhaps most importantly, it has tons of style. The characters are some of the most interesting and original in the genre. The story mode as well in home versions was, for a fighting game, fairly cool.

Over the last decade since GGXX, however, precious little has happened in the fighting game genre. A few revisions of GGXX, yeah, but no truly new releases in the series, nor anything for the current console generation. Street Fighter IV was probably the most significant release of the genre in recent years. And it was an OK game, but the Street Fighter franchise has never been one of my favourites. The setting and characters just aren't all that impressive. And the art style of SFIV, 3D graphics imitating a 2D look, just didn't really... 'do it for me'.

A decade without an interesting fighting game of any real originality. Really? Have I totally missed out on some rare gem there somewhere along the way?

Sometime last autumn I heard of a game in the works called Skullgirls, slated for release sometime in 'early 2012' on PS3 and XBOX networks. (Here's one trailer.) I was initially sceptical when I discovered it was being developed by westerners, a concept tantamount to sacrilegious. But once I started seeing footage of the game... I was intrigued. There's some crazy, original characters, that appear to draw influence from the likes of Guilty Gear and Darkstalkers. The art is quite pretty, hand drawn in high definition. There's a big name composer, Michiru Yamane. (I'm not 100% sure of the musical style, though. What I've heard isn't bad, but I like my fighting game music with a little more... rock.) And the system looks pretty solid, designed by fighting game enthusiasts.

I find myself rather looking forward to trying out this title. Even though I'm quite certain I will, again, absolutely suck at it, possibly spiralling into frustration and depression (but that's a risk I'm willing to take). Whether Skullgirls will be a saviour for a dying genre is too early to say, of course...

(EDIT: Oh yeah, some of you may wonder why I haven't mentioned the likes of Tekken or Soulcalibur. Those 3D games can be sort of fun in their own way, I guess, but I just can't bring myself to think of them as true fighting games. 2D games are just way cooler.)

(EDIT 2: BlazBlue from Arc System Works was brought to my attention. It looks like a potentially interesting game, something of a spiritual successor to Guilty Gear from what I can tell. I'll have to try to get my hands on it sooner or later...)

1 February 2012

R.I.P. Google Wave

As of some time last night, Google Wave became read only. In a few months it will go offline entirely. This is a sad moment.

Frankly, I have a hard time understanding how the service could have been so unpopular that Google decided to pull the plug. Me and many of my friends found it a very useful tool. Primarily we used it for planning our RPG's.

And there's simply no straightforward replacement for it. Its combination of realtime discussion and persistent information was unique. Sure, I can use things like wikis or Google Docs to store information, but they lack the discussion element, so important in the planning stages of a project. Forums and social networking sites, on the other hand, are too public for many of the discussions we have, while I've always found email very awkward for longer discussions. Meanwhile, the open source versions of Wave are still pretty raw, and I don't really have the server capability to run my own instance of one.

So what I need is a tool for private small group discussions. Something that feels a little more simple and immediate than email, but lighter and more private than a forum.

I've been half-heartedly playing around with a little JavaScript and PHP, just to see how hard it would be to create a very simple discussion platform. The working title for this project is 'BeeSAW' (originally derived from 'Bee Sure Ain't Wave'). In my current ideas it would be extremely minimalist, maybe work a little like comment threads on social networking sites, but with discussions limited to a small number of people. It is pretty doubtful any actual usable tool will come out of it, of course. But one has to have these little pet projects.