Fused- A Point And Click Adventure

 

A few weeks ago, we all trekked down to the Project Arts Centre in Dublin to take a look at Dan Bergin’s show Fused. This week, we have Andy McLoughlin giving his two cents on the show, which premiered last year as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival.

Fused is probably the best video game I’ve played all year. Which is pretty impressive when you consider that it’s a play. The premise is simple: selected members of the audience are called to the front row and asked to guide the show’s bumbling protagonist, Ste (Ste Murray), through a series of challenges in which he must interact with the on-stage props and characters, (played by Barry Morgan, Annie Gill, Eddie Murphy, and Camille Lucy Ross)to progress the story. In the show’s introduction, we are given a brief history of the point-and-click video-games that inspired the show’s format. People who see Fused will have different experiences of the show depending on their familiarity with the medium, and this definitely came across in the behaviour of the different audience members- henceforth known as “players”- who were brought up from the audience.

Being a sort of strange love letter to an era gone by, there are plenty of quirks and idiosyncrasies in the production that will resonate with people who are a little more au fait with the art of video games. Most notable of these is the economical set design by Zia Holly, which was a great marriage between the basic, almost ugly design typical of these games, and the charming and cartoonish world of the main story. These quirks could be as obvious as a giant “LOADING” screen being pushed across the stage during transitions, or as covert as a non-interactive prop having an “out of order” sign slapped across it.

These allusions could be found in the play itself as well. Point and Click adventures are characterised by moments of frustration and there were certainly a lot of these to be found in Fused. The actors would often imitate the pedantic programming of these games, almost to fault, saying “I can’t do two things at once,” or “I can’t pick it up, my hands are full”, which we must have heard about 3,000 times during the show. For me, this demonstrated a faithfulness that was admirable, but for others, less experienced in the mannerisms of the late-nineties subculture, it was a persistent irritant.

These issues were amplified for any of those unfortunate players tasked with guiding the actors through the story line that had been presented to them. There was a time-limit for each scene and this meant the pressure on the players was ratcheted up as time went on. As the play progressed, it quickly emerged that there were two kinds of players who came to see this show: those who knew what they were doing and those who didn’t. Of course, as anybody who’s ever watched a horror movie knows, there’s a certain pleasure in watching on in terror as somebody stumbles into increasingly disastrous decisions.

In terms of acting, this play is notable for what I’ve always felt was one of the less appreciated theatrical virtues: balance. Not in the characters themselves, mind you. No, the acting there was every bit as deliciously awful as we’ve come to expect from video games. It’s in the moments of improvisation where we see the actors make a split-second decision. Be it between following a bad command from the audience and giving them a hint that would move along the story, or between playing something up for laughs and keeping focus on the task at hand. In a show where the user is in control, they manage to create the illusion of a world where anything can happen, without turning it into an aimless train wreck.

Fused is theatre at its most accessible- and indeed, perhaps the show’s most impressive feat was being completely reliant on audience interaction without missing a beat or feeling forced. The thing that gets said most often about interactive theatre is that it brings the audience into the production. Video games are the opposite. A developer makes a game, creates a set of characters, releases it into the world and from there they are done. From the moment a player turns on their console, it’s their responsibility and theirs alone to bring the work to its conclusion. Fused isn’t just interactive in a way that plays rarely are, it’s malleable in a way that video games, by their definition, can never be.

I told a friend about this play before I wrote the review and he told me that it sounds like it could be either really really terrible, or really really great. And from the very start, this play is really about potential. The audience members who are picked to control the characters will either roll with the story, or miss the point entirely; the actors on-stage can either follow the rules of audience interaction set out at the start, or learn and adapt to the audience on the night; When we leave the show we can view it through one lens or another. We can either look at this as an imperfect, dumbed down version of theatre and an imitation of video-games; or a complete piece in and of itself, with its own rules, its own potential, and its own future, different in its own way from anything that’s come before. I know which one I’d prefer.

Advertisements

Nuts! by Niall Gibbons

nuts 4

Staring into my aluminium cup, I watch as the milk swirls into the tea, before the mixture turns to a colour reminiscent of the inside of a pensioner’s sitting room. A sad brown colour. Oh! What’s that floating atop the warm mess? Ah, it’s dirt. Of course it is. My hands are covered in dirt, my boots caked in a muddy mess. There is dirt everywhere. Under fingernails and in hair. And what’s that smell? Aha, it’s the milk. Last week’s milk, precisely.

I couldn’t be happier. It was the 29th of November of this year. I was no longer young Niall Gibbons, Mild-Mannered Sex God. I had become an equally young soldier, among the 101st Airborne Division, under siege in Bastogne, Belgium. Caught off-guard by a last-ditch German offensive through the Ardennes in Winter 1944, we were surrounded on all sided by Adolf Hitler’s finest Krauts. “Nuts!”, Brigadier General McAuliffe famously uttered in defiance of the German ultimatum for the surrender of the Americans. Those words weighed heavily in our minds as we awaited contact.


This had been my third re-enactment since my first in February of this year. Each re-enactment better than the one before, I set off filled with excitement that morning. Countless hours had been spent acquiring period correct kit and uniforms, researching the battle, and preparing suitable rations. At long last, I was ready.


Organised by the hard-working WWII Airsoft Re-enactors, who work to make the battles as realistic as possible; and by the marshals and the owners of Sim-Tac, the site of my three re-enactments, who have gone as far as changing Irish airsoft legislation to acquire pyrotechnics to improve our experience. Each battle is re-enacted through the medium of airsoft, which provides for realistic use of period tactics. Airsoft is a sport which involves teams of players using replica firearms which use harmless plastic pellets as projectiles. Making them the only viable option for the re-enactor on a budget, i.e. myself.


You may be thinking that none of this has anything to do with drama. But au contraire, drama and re-enacting are inextricably linked. The two share a number of core similarities. In both disciplines, we take on a role, be it a fictitious character or a real one. We play the role of a soldier fighting in the war. In some cases, we adopt a persona. We may be conscripts, unwilling to fight, or professional soldiers, with no aversion to war. We may fight for different motives, political beliefs, patriotism, or the King’s Shilling. We are both the actors and audience in this grandiose performance. We aim for realism, for pretence, and ultimately, the suspension of disbelief- the core attraction of any fiction.


I arrive at the event and greet my fellow re-enactors, some old, some new, all soon to become friends. The sides are evenly matched, with newcomers welcomed by both the Germans and the Americans. A thorough safety briefing by site Marshals Paddy, Jonathan and Bren ensures no one is hurt and that the game stays enjoyable throughout. We then receive a game briefing by one of the game organisers, Mike. Battle-ready, we leave the Germans (with a few words of “encouragement” in our ears) and head to our Command Post (CP).


We chat jovially as we march, all excited for the game. After a short hike, we arrive at the CP and ditch half our gear, which had been weighing down on our shoulders. We set to work and before long our ramshackle CP has been turned into a fortress of sorts. Our next preparation was the gruelling task of digging a foxhole in the sweltering heat. Slashing at roots as thick as arms, and excavating compacted dirt to form a trench. Our hands were left blistered, and our backs coated in sweat. We looked upon our work with pride. We had constructed an effective defence, completely concealed unless and until the enemy climbed on top of us- a legitimate fear.


Soon after came the call to arms. Helmets were donned, belts hooked, weapons loaded and squads assembled. Each squad had a leader, a medic, a rifleman and an engineer. I chose to be a medic, my preferred role, and it was my job to “tend” to any of my allies who had been hit, as well as any Germans captured along the way.

The game started about 4. While the daylight lasted, the engineers defused a bridge which had been mined, allowing either side to advance, but rapidly approaching darkness prohibited us from de-mining the field. This left us with two routes of attack, two roads from the forest where we were stationed, to the urban section, the town of Foy, where the Germans were entrenched.


Darkness came, and play continued. Pyrotechnics were used, alongside ambient combat sounds being played over a speaker. We had simulated mortar fire, simulated machine gun fire and flares for signalling and lighting up a battlefield. During the night, I was assigned as mortar-man. It was my job to accompany the mortar where it went, to be used against the Germans when they came near. These explosions were deafening enough to make us wonder how the brave young men of the war are not all stone deaf as a result….


In the dead of night, we made a major assault. Our entire strength, aided by mortar fire and flares, advanced. It was a scene from a war movie. Advancing in the crimson cloud of the flare ahead of us, we advanced silently in a staggered formation, each soldier in front of us silhouetted in eerie red smoke. Communicating with hand signals, we advanced. Silence! The silent command rang louder than any shout, the power of a single hand movement. A step, two, three, four. Darkness turned to light, a German mortar had caught the lead of our assault and our ears shook! Disaster! The Germans opened up with a hail of plastic hellfire. We remaining troops launched ourselves into the hedgerow, shielding ourselves from enemy machine-gun fire with whatever cover we could find.


We pressed ourselves against the damp grass bank, flattening ourselves against it. Movement meant an untimely end. My heart beat rapidly, pulsing against the solitary snowdrop crushed under the weight of my gun. An epic fire fight erupted both sides, firing volley after volley in confusion. We could see nothing definite. We were shooting the darkness and it was shooting us in return. There was no clear enemy and those we were fighting lay behind a fog of anonymity. How’s that for metaphorical resonance?


Cries of “medic” grew in both frequency and volume. Tossing my helmet and weapon aside to lighten my colossal load, I scurried across from bank to bank, bandaging whoever called out for it. Seven men were bandaged, but it was to come to an end. I had advanced so close to the Germans that I could smell Schnapps, and I was soon finished. The attack had failed, and we marched back to our foxholes; defeated, but far from finished.

Despite all the action, it was the more mundane which made the experience real. Mealtimes, guard duty and watches filled the gaps. These gave us a true representation of what it was like for those unfortunates. Myself and two fellow soldiers lay in a foxhole. One fiddled with a gas cooker, which in the darkness had become a device for which the secrets if operation had been lost to history. It was eventually running. We enjoyed some sweetcorn and beans from our mess kits. We sat, talking like old friends, eating dirty food with dirty hands.

The game ended for the night around 2am. We went to the main “office”, and lay about on sofas. Tea and coffee warmed our hands, but our hearts were warmed enough. Camaraderie was key, and opposing sides, US and German, still in uniform, sat down and indulged in some casual banter. We slept where we lay till about 8. The game finished at around 11 and it was time to leave. Cold, slightly ill, caked in dirt and with blistered hands, I left with a smile that threatened to split my face in two.

I took a bow and departed. My performance over, the curtain called and my part to be put to rest. Stage managers cleaned up what was left behind (God bless their souls), props were collected, and costumes were bundled up. Not quite a Broadway dramatic classic, but more enjoyment for all involved, surely. And cheaper, longer, and more interactive of course.

Overall, the re-enactment was fantastic, both the WWII Airsoft Re-Enactors and Sim-Tac did a stellar job at organising the game. New and old enjoyed the game. Fair play and respect was the rule of thumb. New members are always welcome at the WWII Airsoft Re-Enactors, and perfect kit is never expected of newcomers.

 We play our part, we drink our tea, and we attack our “foe.” But we do all of this out of respect. We do this to honour the sacrifice of 60 million people. We do not endorse any political ideology, we do not glorify war. War is hell, that we do not contest. Most of us have some connection to the war. Through re-enactment, through drama, we remember. Lest we forget.

A Most Conventional Day

eirkon 3

What is Eirtakon? That’s a question I’d imagine many of our readers here today may ask themselves. Ask no longer, for Eirtakon is a convention, often shortened to con, hence the “kon” of the title, held in Ireland, explaining the “eir” of the title. So, its a convention and that’s a get together of people who share similar interests, in this case popular culture, mostly centred on anime and manga, and popular films akin to Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and the ilk. The premier convention in Ireland, ahead of such competitors as Nomcon and Dublin Comic-con, Eirtakon was held this year in the illustrious venue of Croke Park. Stretching out in a loop, it provided easy access. A prominent feature of these conventions is the dressing up, or “cos-playing” as popular characters from pop culture such as say, Anna from Frozen as an example. Perhaps a simpler way to describe Eirtakon is pure joy condensed into one building brimming with giddy euphoria. Of course, don’t just take my word for it….. – Orla O’Callaghan Smith 

The morning of a convention is always pretty hectic, and the morning of Eirtakon was no different. After some procrastination we pulled ourselves out of bed and began the struggle that is getting ready for cosplay. And let me tell you, the struggle is real! I was cosplaying Anna from Frozen, and since I like to keep a safe distance from sewing machines, I ordered the costume online. It took hours to get her makeup right, down to every last freckle. After a few final touches (and a few selfies of course) we set off for Croke Park. As we made our way down to the convention we noticed many people staring and whispers of ‘Frozen!’ from a few children, but after cosplaying for a while you get used to it, and you start to get a kick out of being recognised as the character you’re cosplaying. Upon entering the venue we were met with the noise of a vast array of cosplayers and anime-fans alike. We spent most of the day exploring the con and taking pictures with others. There were so many amazing cosplays, one of my favourites was the Jack Skellington cosplay, and one of my friends did an awesome cosplay of Cat Woman. I was asked to do the Cosplay Masquerade, where you are given the chance to show-off your cosplay on stage, which was pretty cool. Another highlight of the day was meeting a famous YouTuber at the con, VenusAngelic (it was an excellent opportunity to practise my fan-girling for Spilled Ink). If you’ve never been to a con before, I totally recommend checking them out, as they have a few on throughout the year, and definitely consider cosplaying too! As someone who’s tried and tested it, I can confirm that being a princess is by far the best thing ever. – Evie McCloughan 

Eirtakon is downright fabulous. Upon arriving you are met with the most extravagant outfits. From just one glance you can tell how much effort has been put into that wonderful Jafar cosplay (he was my favourite. There was also a cross-play Jasmine, but unfortunately I didn’t see her). The countless Homestuck cosplays right up to the magnificent Maleficent cosplay. There were two of those, both people had taken a different approach – yet both of them looked equally as breathtaking. A Bellatrix here and an Hermione there. Seas of anime characters and the odd Mutant (Beast to be precise – he was awesome), Spiderman, Harley Quinn, Catwoman, numerous Doctor Whos and Katniss and Peeta (he had a baguette in his apron – too cool!). A ginormous Jack Skellington alongside the beautiful Sally being haunted by the creepy Oogie Boogie. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t even planned and these three stunning cosplayers came separately. – Anna McLoughlin 

Eirtakon seemed to have been the place to be, Saturday last. The corridors were filled to the brink with anime enthusiasts, some of whom adorned themselves in the costumes of their favourite character. I met so many friendly people there and saw numerous characters from my favourite TV series come to life, including Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen, self proclaimed rightful Queen of the Andals, the Unburnt, the Kinslayer from Game of Thrones, Spider-Man and Dr who. The costumes were amazing and it was certainly evident that these people went all out! I was so surprised to learn that some people make their very own costumes. The cosplays were so perfect and expertly made that one could have hardly guessed that it was hand crafted. I remember seeing one person who cosplayed Young Maleficent, her costume was so detailed and realistic, not to mention the fact that she had gone to the lengths to make a set of wings to enrich her character’s image. I mean, wow! That’s impressive! The crowd present on Saturday afternoon indeed, set an extremely high standard for us mere mundane observers.From the moment of our entrance, we could sense the heightened buzz and energy of Eirtakon. Between being asked to pose for a picture to people complimenting our cosplays, it really was a spectacular event. I truly believe it’s the people that come to Eirtakon that really make the event an extraordinary experience.

So, all in all, Eirtakon was exuberance, joy and fan-fuelled mania, all “con”tributing to a wonderful day out! In “con”clusion, heartily recommended, bring your friends. Be sure to check out DYT’s “con”tinuing adventures in future blogs!

(sorry for the puns) – Thomas Caffrey