A Thing About Dieter Rams

A Bunch of Work from 2013

I did less work than I would have liked in 2013. Various factors led to this, but mostly I spent the year either chasing client work that never came through, planning & putting work into personal projects that have yet to be realised (ahem, the webcomic, mostly), or actually enjoying myself with extended family. There […]

A Bunch of Work from 2012

I did a whole bunch of work last year, most of which I didn’t blog about here. So here is a roundup of some of the good stuff that came out of my brain in twenty-twelve. Though I spent most of January & February in India, I was also working on The Sarcastic Voyage Guide […]

A 10-minute Business Card Design

10 minute business card design
The other day, I had literally 10 minutes to design a business card. My dad needed to go to a trade show, and with no cards on hand, and no time to get a design offset-printed, we decided to just get it done from a copy shop, five sheets (50 cards) of 300gsm paper that I hand-cut later at home. I’ve used this method before, for my own business cards. It’s mainly because I don’t usually need many cards (I give out, maybe a few dozen a year), and because I can quickly and easily change info and designs, keep it fresh.

So, coming back to this card, with 10 minutes there really isn’t a lot of time for fancy graphics or elaborate illustration. It needs to be strong, sharp and get the job done. But one needn’t stick to simply printing the name & info in a basic font against white, and being done with it. As you can see, there is a little bit of mood and identity to it, even without a logo. And judging by the very staid, sober cards I’ve seen from most Water Treatment industry types, it certainly stands out, a key factor with the identity of a consultant — and individual — as opposed to someone representing a corporation.

It’s not the greatest piece of work I’ve done, but for 10 minutes, I’m satisfied, and most importantly, it did its job: to be given out at a trade show to the kind of people who still keep stacks of cards rather than some fancy digital solution.

Already, I am told, at least one staid, sober water treatment industry type who saw this card remarked that it was ‘too bold’. I think he’s the kind that prefers plain Times New Roman on a white piece of paper.

He’s probably Patrick Bateman, too.

My Favourite Word

my favourite word infographic venn diagram

Cheer Up It’s Only Robot Flu

Design Doodle 0001 - Cheer Up It's Only Robot Flu

It’s been a while since I just did something for the heck of it. Designers usually like to make such work sound important by labeling it a ‘personal project’, but I like to think of it more like a sketch or drawing practice — a Design Doodle!

This piece resulted from a process that is the essence of doodling. There was no plan, no idea, no concept in my head. I simply looked through a random folder of photos I’d taken, picked one, cross-processed it in the GIMP until it looked nice, then imported it into inkscape and went from there. After about an hour of work on it there was a ‘click’ in my head that said it was done, and that was that.

It was stream-of-consciousness design!

I hope to do more of these, probably one a week, maybe more. It always helps to keep practicing, to keep the gears of your mind charged, and client work or large projects can sometimes be too serious for that. It also feels great to start and finish something in one sitting.

Go out and play, just spend and hour doing ‘nothing’ — and you may end up with something you like very much.


My New Friendly Business Card

My new hand-cut, self-designed, friendly business cards

There’s nothing like a small stack of freshly cut business cards. I have so far, in my eight-year-old(!) design career, had about five or six designs for my business card. I change them about every year or so, and that’s not just to keep them fresh and interesting (mostly to me) but because I’ve never printed more than twenty or thirty of any one design.

No, there is no pack of five hundred or one thousand little rectangles of card stock with my name on it sitting around gathering dust. I take my design with crop marks to an ordinary copy shop and get a page or two (holding eight to ten cards each) printed on their good laser printer with card stock (250 gsm). It’s cheap, effective, and means I don’t have to be stuck to a single design for long.

This is a good thing for a small business or freelancer, as we don’t have the kinds of numbers of clients that a person in an agency might field. If I’m not going to meet more than a dozen or two potential clients a year, why bother with hundreds of cards?

It’s also a lot of fun to come home and cut them up (use adult supervision, kids!). You always feel that that 250 gsm paper is too floppy, but once cut into individual shapes believe me, they behave and feel just like any normal business card should.

This year’s business card for Primordial Soop (the little design monster my brother & I run) turned out to be a bit strange. I’ve wanted to put something other than the usual biz card staples of name, contact and services offered, and came up with a bit of conversation. I hope you like it.


Book Review – Perdido Street Station

Fanart book cover of Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, cover design by Vishal K Bharadwaj

It’s a fairly well-known fact to anybody who’s read this blog that I’m poorly read, and that fact has always been something I’ve been trying to change (not going to be much of a writer if you haven’t read anything). So with the aim of developing a reading habit, I decided to start picking up books I’d always wanted to read but had never bought, waiting for that mythical
‘someday’ when I would be in a relaxed mental state to kick back and read a bit. ‘Someday’ turned out to be when I walked by the Fantasy section in Kinokuniya and spotted a paperback of China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station recently, not horrendously overpriced as books in Dubai tend to be, and picked it up. Instead of relegating it to the bookshelf like several previous purchases, I cracked the thick tome open and started reading the second I got home.

Perdido Street Station is a book I have been hearing about almost since it first came out in 2000, mostly through the lavish praise and the awards & nominations it was starting to rack up back then. Online friends raved about it (What? My real life friends, and read? Not bloody likely), and I’d hear it or Miéville’s name mentioned every now and then, so it was rarely out of my mind. Alas, I almost never saw it sitting on a shelf at any bookstore I frequented, and nine years passed before I picked it up (there are far too many unread books sitting in my house for me to even dare open up the Pandora’s Box that is easy online shopping, so I tend to limit myself to retail, brick-and-mortar purchases). And in all that time I managed to glean very little about the plot, other than that it was set in a strange, highly detailed Victorian-era steampunk-style city on a world called Bas-Lag.

That city, New Crobuzon, is at the very heart of Perdido Street Station. It permeates every page, described in loving (and often excessive) detail by Miéville. But such is the baroque style of the book’s prose, and as an exercise in worldbuilding it is a sumptuous, if indulgent treat (no wonder there’s a New Crobuzon-set RPG in the works). From the mysterious Glasshouse, home of the Cactacae plant people, to The Ribs — literally the towering bones of some long-demised creature — to the leviathan-like presence of the station itself, and all points in-between, New Crobuzon is a gloomy, rotting hulk of a city. An old city where life just seems to keep on chugging. It becomes less a setting and more a character in itself, its various burroughs and neighbourhoods forming a weird anatomy on which its protaginists and antagonists scurry like insects, rather than inhabit, scarcely in control of events and the city’s whims.

We get to know some of the city through the eyes of Yagharek, a garuda (roughly a bird-man — the name comes from Hindu mythology) from the far desert of the Cymek, who has come to New Crobuzon seeking the solution to a peculiar problem that afflicts him. He zeroes in on the scientist Isaac Dan de Grimnebulin, a maverick, his head brimming with ideas of tapping ‘crisis energy’. Isaac’s cricle of friends is similarly radical; anti-government magazine journalists like Derkhan, and his Khepri sculptor girlfriend Lin (she has a human’s body but the head of a scarab beetle). Isaac’s investigations into Yagharek’s problem inadvertantly leads to him unleashing a near-unstoppable, deadly force upon the city. With everyone from the shadowy government to drug-baron gangsters on his tail — and with the help of some very unusual allies — he must rid New Crobuzon of this threat.

You’d think that a plot as simple as this couldn’t possibly fill out seven hundred pages, and you’d be right. So much of the book is spent in worldbuilding, in laying down the structure of the city, the peculiarities of each neighbourhood (oddly enough they all end up sounding pretty-much the same, with only a little less or a little more gloom here and there), and the characteristics of its myriad non-human races, that the plot and the characters tend to get lost.

Frequently, a character will commute from one part of the city to another, and we get a long, detailed account of every area and lane and neighbourhood the person passed through to get there. After about the fifth time you start to glaze over. It often reminded me of a Monty Python sketch about train timings, but I don’t think Miéville is trying to be funny.

Actually, I’m pretty sure he isn’t trying to be funny, because this is possibly the most humourless novel I’ve ever read. On the surface of it, a book about ravenous flying beasties terrorising a city of weird fantasy folk should be funny, but I can’t for the life of me recall anything in the book that wasn’t meant to be taken in a deathly serious manner. Pretty-much everything in Bas-Lag is horrible, a lurid tabloid newspaper version of life, and this fact is repeatedly brow-beaten into the reader. It doesn’t matter if you forget how hot it’s supposed to be in the city, because there are going to be fifteen more times when the heat will be described — usually in very pretty sentences that should be blown up and stuck on a wall. And yet this enormous mudslide of style is employed in the service of what is the plot equivalent of a Michael Bay movie, and you end up scratching your head wondering, “Is that it?” By the time the plot has cleared away its considerable mountain of clutter, all that it amounts to is an action thriller with overegged production design.

It might be acceptable had Perdido Street Station billed itself as a straight thriller set in a well-decorated fantasy world, but the book tries very hard to seem important. It should be a treat: a book that folds hard Science Fiction and Fantasy with Literary Fiction, Dystopia, Steampunk, Clockpunk, Biopunk and perhaps more variations of punk that I’m not even aware of into one big, juicy steak of a tome — but like most dishes that play with too many ingredients, it just ends up an indifferent heap.

Every interesting thread that you think is going somewhere — Isaac’s crisis engine, the weird Mr. Motley — are turned into the most facile of MacGuffins and deus ex machina solutions later on. So maybe Miéville has some grand plan to use all of these elements ten books down the line (two more Bas-Lag set books have already been released, The Scar & Iron Council) but really, do I need any of this information right now? No, of course not.

There are moments when I really wanted to love Perdido Street Station. Every now and then a beautifully-wrought passage or sequence would make me smile, but then there would be another five pages of how much grime that bit of the city had, or how polluted the river was. And then some bits just made my eyes glaze over; there’s a mid-air fight between flying monsters and people flying in pairs strapped to each other’s backs that was complicated enough without trying to remember what a Sinsitral and a Dextral was, and why I should care.

And caring is something I never did for the protagonists either; whom, despite all the text devoted to their actions (and which route they took through which lane & over which bridge to get there), I barely felt I knew as people. They do a lot, and talk a lot, but even I wasn’t sure even they believed any of it. And then there’s the ending, where suddenly everyone who had no problem killing folk left right and centre up until that point suddenly took the moral high ground on things (like I said, Michael Bay movie).

It’s a shame to come to the end of a seven hundred page book, a book of great ideas and occasional beauty, and then conclude that you probably shouldn’t have bothered, but that’s exactly how I felt. Perdido Street Station has everything a fan of speculative fiction could want, from clockwork robots & quantum mechanics to wizards and brain-drinking beasties.

And all of it just seems far less than the sum of its parts.

Section of Fanart book cover of Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, cover design by Vishal K Bharadwaj


This post was included in Book Review Blog Carnival #32. Check it out for more great book review links!

The Dubai Mall: Postcards From The Biggest Mall in The World

Ever since stone-age man first propped up a palm-leaf awning between two commercial mud huts, stuck a fountain in the centre and posted a sign for ‘toilet’ and ‘food court’ next to it, mankind has had malls to go to. A civic space that provides some place for Madame to shop, Sir to ogle, Young Master to gorge and fourteen-year-olds to stand around in groups trying to look cool (and failing en masse to do so).

There are of course the ubiquitous palm treesAnd, like most things we’ve invented, over the subsequent thousands of years we have been attempting to make ever greater, more elaborate versions of the two-shop-fountain-and-food-court model we know as the shopping mall. Take the great pyramids of Giza, for instance; a quirky design whose unique architecture and indecipherable signage had led to it long being mislabeled as a place of worship, and even a tomb! Well let me tell you, the pyramids now have serious competition.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have been to the Dubai Mall, and I have lived to tell the tale — with pictures!

1.Kinda, Sorta The Biggest Mall* Evah!

By now the legends of Dubai Mall have spread far and wide. Its gargantuan size, the unending traffic leading up to its arcane parking, its humongous goldfish bow–er, aquarium. This, my friends, is The Biggest Mall in the World™.

Or is it?

Our most trusted source for modern information tells us that while the Dubai Mall is a massive 12.7 million square feet big — the term ‘50 football fields’ is bandied about here and there — the actual shop space (Gross Leasable Area) is only 3.8, the same as the once-largest West Edmonton Mall, and paling in comparison to the South China Mall’s 6.5 million (if only in theory and not in practice).

A typical hallway in Dubai Mall, with vast spaces over several levels and colourful LED screens everywhereBut getting back to Dubai Mall, you can’t help but be reminded of this ratio of 3.8 to 12.7 when you’re walking around it massive hallways. And I do mean massive. The ground floor hallways are as wide as the city street I live on. This is the kind of place where you soon start to plot out your route to maximise efficiency, favouring corridors on the inside curve of the direction you’re headed. Take the wrong path and your destination might be an additional few hunded metres away than you expected. A lot of this is down to how the place is laid out, but more on that later.

Of the 1200 stores set to open, about half are ready right now, but despite this there are entire sections and stretches where all you can see is boarded-up shopfronts with the words ‘opening soon’ painted on them. Several stores aren’t even booked yet, with a generic ‘new store’ sign stuck on the plywood. Right now, the chief function of these unopened storefronts is as signage, such as, ‘Aquarium’, ‘Gold Souk’ and — my favourite — ‘More Shops’.

No, really.

2.Big Fish Story

The Dubai Mall Aquarium, home to over 33,000 creatures and tourists.
It’s safe to say that the big attraction that draws crowds to the Dubai Mall is its aquarium. Since the mall was announced the aquarium has featured heavily in the hype, and indeed in the finished mall it is set dead centre in the structure. At this point I should rattle off the usual list of achievements like it housing 33,000 marine creatures behind the world’s largest single acrylic panel that keeps 10 million litres of water from flushing unuspecting tourists away. There’s that done with.

The acrylic panel has a wicked level of distortion when you get up close to it. I’m sure I’d end up with a headache if I stared at it for too long. There’s even a clear-walled tunnel that goes through the tank, but they charge Dhs 15 (nearly $4) or something for it and it most definitely seems like it isn’t worth it, because it’s a scant few metres from the other (publicly accessible) side. Despite this there was a healthy crowd waiting in line, so what do I know?

For a feature that’s meant to be a showstopper, there’s very little sense of drama to it. “Oh look, some fish,” you say as you pass by a darkened part of the mall. Sure, when you step back and take it all in for the first time it is impressive, but doesn’t take your breath away. Then that shark you saw swimming by twenty seconds ago comes back from doing a lap of the tank, and if you stay for a few minutes longer you’ll see it again a half dozen times. It’s then that you realise just how small the tank must be to a creature used to dozens if not hundreds of square miles of territory to swim around in. And it’s not just the sharks, everything in the aquarium just sort of swims around in a circle, aimlessly and endlessly (and with 33K things in there, trust me, it’s quite crowded).

Maybe it’s because I’m particularly biased: I detest zoos and aquariums, and even feel uneasy with the idea of keeping dogs and cats as pets. The hundreds of people around me were ooh-ing and aah-ing no end, so I’m sure it’s quite a treat for most folk.

It’s just not for me.

Crowds of people view the Dubai Mall AquariumA close up of the reef structures within the Dubai Mall Aquarium

3.Fashionably Late

A panoramic shot of the atrium in Fashion Catwalk
The other big concept that defines Dubai Mall is that it’s not just one gigantic monstrosity — oh no — it’s six or seven of them. Malls within a Mall, the building split into several architecturally distinct sections, some of which are semi-detached from the main flow of things. One of these is the haute-couture hub, Fashion Avenue and Catwalk.

Very few stores in this section are open (even compared to the rest of the mall), and you go there just to marvel at the cavernous hallway. Being off the beaten track means that this section is — save for a couple of very bored-looking security guards — completely empty and quiet as a tomb. The interiors are straight out of a science fiction film, with white light panels everywhere. It’s like being transported to an Imperial hangar bay in Star Wars — The Death Star Mall!

Fashion Avenue in Dubai Mall. Interiors by Darth VaderAn under-construction shopfront, which actually looks quite pretty in its industrial state

The couple of shops that are open are manned by near-comatose salespersons who look like they haven’t seen a human being all day, let alone made a sale. As you pass by the look at you with a lazy blink, and you wonder if they think you’re even real or some figment of their imagination. An uneasy feeling starts to creep upon your shoulders then. All these lights. All this air-conditioning. All these millions poured into building a place like this, into renting a shop and stocking it and manning it, and there’s just nobody here, and there probably won’t ever be a crowd of thousands descending upon what basically amounts to a side-lane.

It’s just… bonkers.

The floor-level view of Fashion Catwalk Atrium

4.Atrium Overload

The fancy light fixture in the so-called Grand AtriumThe chandelier in Souk Atrium, at one end of the Gold Souk
So you get back into the regular section of the mall, back into the even brighter lights and the corridors which are as wide as a four-lane highway, and consult a map. It looks simple enough, a quarter-circle with a few lines bisecting it. You spot the little ‘]’ shape latched onto the circumference which is Fashion Avenue, and then head to a place called Grand Atrium.

“Oh, this must be it!” you say as a few minutes later you end up in an atrium. Except the Grand Atrium you saw on the map is three whole atriums away, and when you get there it isn’t any bigger — certainly not Grander — than the ones you passed on the way here (actually it’s much smaller than the one in Fashion Catwalk), but it just happens to be near the main taxi-drop. There are around six or eight minor and major atria dotted around the mall, and while each is pretty to look at, they’re scattered around with such abandon as to completely confuse first-time visitors. For instance, if you call someone and tell them to meet you at the Gold Souk atrium, do you mean the one placed at the centre of the Gold Souk area, or the similar looking one that’s at one end of the Gold Souk (and not a short distance away)?

A Dubai Mall atrium with a club themeAnother shot of the same dance-themed atrium

5.The Ice Rink Cometh

The Dubai Mall ice RinkThe Hallway overlooking the Dubai Mall Ice Rink
Most malls find a centre of usage, i.e. a place where people tend to spend most of their time. This is usually the Hypermarket or near the cinemas, the places most likely to see traffic in the hundreds and thousands. For now, it would seem, the Dubai Mall’s centre is the Ice Rink.

Sure, so the aquarium has more people around it at any given moment, but the ice rink is near the (pathetic) food court, and near the eventual 22 screen cinema; it has large, wide corridors with space for retaurants to spill their tables onto, it has ample space for 14-year-olds to mill about and show off their hair to each other. This is even where management has decided to keep the often dozens-long queues for taxis. And most importantly, it has a big-ass TV.

Now, the Dubai Ice Rink is not exactly a handsome looking venue. It’s an olympic size rink set against a bright red yet somehow bland wall, with jello-coloured round nooks in the ceiling above it, and that’s about it. The lighting on the halls around it is so bright and uniform that the one restaurant that is open — the usually sublime Dome cafe — with probably never attract my coin because it’s saddled with the least inviting ambience of any cafe I’ve ever seen. It would be like having coffee in an operating theatre.

You know why it has a big-ass TV? Because something has to relieve the tedium of skating round the most boring rink in the world.

The Big-ass TV overlooking the Dubai Ice Rink


My father goes against all the Rules of the Male by consulting a mapThe floor plan of the Dubai Mall
One of my favourite Dubai malls is called Mall of the Emirates, the largest one before Dubai Mall opened. It’s a model of efficient mall design, with very few wasted or out of the way spaces. The whole thing is set up in a very simple elongated loop with a central atrium. Despite this, I know that hundreds of people find it confusing, and often get lost there.

Boy, would I like to see what they make of Dubai Mall.

I explained its basic structure before, that of a quarter circle with various bits attached to and within it, and that’s basically what you can see in the map above. The scale of it doesn’t quite come through in the image, and I’m sure very few visitors will ever see all of Dubai Mall. They’ve tried to make things easier by providing both interactive touchscreen maps like the one above, as well as large manned wayfinding & info bureaus dotted throughout the complex. The former are clunky to use and their touchscreen systems are both slow to respond and innacurate, (repeatedly selecting W when you want V on a shop-listing, for instance), and the latter are helpful but currently unreliable.

For instance, the thing that swayed me to go to Dubai Mall in the first place when I read that a massive bookstore was already open there, from the Japanese chain Kinokuniya. So, not having spotting it yet I approached the desk, and they helpfully pointed me in the right direction, more or less. It helped that I knew which exact atrium I was looking for, because had I taken their basic instructions of left, left, up, up, whatever, I may have ended up somewhere else. Anyway, along the way I spotted several more signs on unopened shops that pointed vaguely towards Kinokuniya, and even noticed an LED display proclaiming “Now Open on Level 3” — only when I actually got there the shop was far from open.

It wasn’t even open on my second or third visit to the mall. The last time I went there it was, and oh boy was it worth it. Enormous, intelligently stocked, well-priced — one of the few things that justifies the Dubai Mall’s existence at this point.

7.Parking Lot Hero

The very large and very empty parking lota helpful sign that isn’t very helpful at all
But all of this is irrelevant if you can’t ever get to the mall in the first place. I’m generally adept at wayfinding, especially in the kind of silly tangle of bridges and loops that comprise most modern city road systems, but Dubai Mall’s parking really does take the cake.

Getting into it through one of several little entry-ways is easy enough. The parking wraps around three sides of the mall on several levels, but once you’re in there, good luck making any sense of it. Because, while parking is ample and the structure big enough, they’ve laid it out in the most bizarre way possible. Instead of simple rows and trunk-roads to get in and out, you enter a series of clusters and nested loops, some containing a hundred spots, some containing a dozen.

And there’s no simple 1,2,3 progression of levels either, with Gm and G and ‘cinema’ written here and there, but not really meaning much. Here too the signage is crazy. Do I really need a sign that cheerfully proclaims ‘More Parking’ every few metres?

Getting out is not exactly easy either. There was one section — I can’t even remember where — after ten minutes of leaving our space where we, following any sign marked ‘exit’, were led into an infinite loop. Luckily that area was empty and I could see where it was we eventually were supposed to go, but if there were cars blocking my view I would probably still be there, stuck in that parking building.

8.The Souk That Sends You Mad

Map of the Dubai Mall Gold Souk
As above so below, we’re told, and I’m fairly sure that extra-twisty section of the parking lot was directly under the area known as the Gold Souk. I have no pictures of this area. I don’t have a picture of the kitsch gold horse statue, or the several more quaint fountains, or the atrium, or the floors, because you couldn’t pay me to go back into that hell-hole.

Look at that map. Look at that twisty mangle of corridors, and imagine yourself at the left end thinking, “Ooh, a gold souk, this looks interesting.” Now imagine youself walking down that infinitely long single corridor of gold shops (most unopened) for fifteen whole minutes, only to emerge at the end and realise that you’re only halfway through. Imagine setting off down the rest of it and wondering with a chill down your spine if you’re just headed back the way you came.

Argh! It’s all the same! And. There’s. No. Way. Out.

9.Waitrose Dungeon

Now Descending to Level Purgatory
All of which makes the dungeon a bit of a breeze, really.

I call it a dungeon because it’s on a level below the ground floor, and unlike the shiny marble floors everywhere else they’ve decided to lay down a drab brown brick job here in this labyrinthine place. There are about three forks that lead off from the easiest way to get there; one of them has a bunch of nondescript stores and promising looking cafe and boulangerie names, and the other ends up in a second food court that is open for business, but is so off the beaten track there were about five people eating there. Signs pointing towards it from the rest of the mall are not going help when it take a fifteen minute walk to just get there.

The main attraction down here is a branch of the British supermarket chain Waitrose. It’s hidden somewhere behind an assortment of less-than-flagship stores (these must be the megamall’s equivalent of the cheap seats) and nick-nack stalls, and looks impressive enough from the outside.

Except it’s a Spinneys. Sure, so it says Waitrose on the outside, and Spinneys has been stocking some Waitrose products on their shelves for years, but this is exactly a big Spinneys. It has the same pasta salad in its deli, the same types of bread in its bakery — it’s a Spinneys (but surprise, surprise, the prices are higher). Why should I trek all the way there when there are dozens of them conveniently dotted throughout the city? And if there is a large stock of specialty Waitrose items in that store alone, why make it so big? Does Dubai really have a burning demand for more greasy, overcooked pasta salad?

10.The Good, the Bad and the Retail

It’s hard to really like Dubai Mall. I know it sounds silly to complain that the Biggest Mall in the World is, well, too big but yes, it is.

It’s big, but in the sense that morbidly obese people are big; it’s bafflingly laid out with several features that must have sounded cool in theory, but don’t work in practice; the signage tries to be cute rather than helpful; the food court is underwhelming and there’s a severe dearth of sit-down restaurants and cafes elsewhere in the mall; there’s no real ‘killer app’ sure-fire draw store like IKEA to bring crowds in… and have I mentioned that it’s huge?

For all my love of design I can’t for the life of me imagine spending hours looking at hundreds and hundreds of me-too pret-a-porter dress stores, because that’s what makes up the bulk of shops. The one major attraction, Kinokuniya bookstore, is only really going to satisfy book nerds; it’s set up in one long spiral curve and I swear the end of it is in a different country than the entrance, and that’s just going to annoy anybody who isn’t a complete bibiomaniac (also it doesn’t have 85% of its shop-space dedicated to greeting cards and sparkly pencils like other, real bookstores, harrumph!).

Most of all, there’s just no elegance in it. The lighting is severe, the air-conditioning freezes you to the bone. It’s loud and big and silly and strange — everything a mall should be — but it just doesn’t come together.

Still, one hell of a bookstore.

And you can keep your bloody half-crazed fish.


Prince of Persia Revisited

screenshot of the original Prince of Persia
At the cusp of the 1990s, every home PC had to have one killer app installed. When you’d go round to a friend’s place and they’d show off their new Amstrad or IBM beige behemoth, the first question out of your mouth would be, “How did you convince your parents?” The second would be, “Do you have Prince of Persia?”

Jordan Mechner’s seminal 1989 game (published by Brøderbund) was the high watermark for computer games at the time, a title that combined fluid graphics, exquisite music and challenging gameplay into an astonishing final product. I remember the first time I saw it in 1990, on the PC of one of my parents’ friends. He fired it up for us, to keep us kids busy, I suppose, but I don’t think even he would understand quite the impact the next hour or so of play had on me.


Here was a computer game, until then just a kid’s thing with colourful graphics and tinny bips and bleeps for sound, only it was strangely adult-oriented. The character was humanoid and moved in a lifelike way (thanks to the rotoscoping animation process), the environments were grey and moody — unsettling, even — and there were no guns, no quick-trigger projectiles with which to fell waves of enemies. Come to think of it, there weren’t many enemies either, and the your character started with no weapons. Deadly spike traps, floor switches and a labyrinthine maze of a dungeon was all that lay between you and destiny. If only you could complete it in one single hour.

It’s amazing how well the original Prince of Persia holds up nearly two decades after its initial release. Sure, later versions cleaned up the graphics and gave our hero a makeover (out went the white pyjamas, and in came the turban and vest combo), but the essence of the game has remained intact in every version. The prince is still a tireless acrobat, leaping over pits and scampering up and down ledges. His swordplay is not the quickest — can’t expect much else from a street urchin — but there is an inherent pace and rhythm to the combat that was (and still is) uncommon among games, favouring position and timing over mindless button mashing. Many a heartbeat was skipped in the split-second that both his and the enemy guard’s swords arced through the air and I hoped that I was just that minuscule bit quicker.

I must admit that I never did finish the original Prince. My nascent curiosity about all things design was just forming (even though I wouldn’t realise it for another decade) and I spent most of the one hour of alloted time pootling around the first few levels, exploring every nook and cranny, seeing how it all fit together (I think I ran around the room telling all and sundry that I’d found the alternate way back to the intial starting point of the first level — you could never do that in Mario). I was fascinated by the spike pits that were perfectly harmless when you walked carefully past them — there’s more than one way to skin a cat — and by the mirror prince, by health replenishing and enhancing potions and the copy protection roadblock before level 2 (you had to drink a certain potion of a certain alphabet, a fact only knowable to people to had the game’s manual and had therefore purhcased the game properly).

Screenshot from the Opening sequence of Prince of Persia
Mostly I was enthralled by the cinematic nature of it; the sweeping opening music, the stark, simple gestures in the opening sequence. It was the first game I’d encountered that was trying to tell a story rather than a high score. It was the first time I’d seen blood in a game, and I recall with morbid fascination the first time I saw the prince chopped to bits by a steel-jawed door trap, his blood still oozing from its teeth. Looking back now, there was also that fantastic device of having the game played on non-scrolling individual screens; you never knew what was going to meet you on the next one!

Screenshot of Eric Chahi's Another WorldScreenshot of Delphine's Flashback
Prince of Persia spawned a whole genre of single-screen adventure games where the emphasis was on puzzle-solving and mood, and I was a huge fan of two of the most prominent Prince-inspired games, Delphine software’s 2D vector classics Another World (by Eric Chahi) and Flashback. As time passed and technology grew, the 2D side-scroller was rapidly losing its place in the world. It’s amazing to think that just five years after Prince of Persia was released, the original Sony Playstation debuted in 1994, ushering in the age of the 3D polygon videogame that is still with us. There was a 2D sequel to the game in 1994 (the lovely Shadow and the Flame), and in 1999 the flawed Prince of Persia 3D was released, but it wouldn’t be until late 2003 that the world would see a game worthy of the Prince of Persia name.

The orginial is still a classic well deserving of that status, and if you’ve never played it, you’re missing out.

Google Chrome & the Power of Comics

Over the next few days you will hear a lot about Google Chrome, the new web browser from the internet behemoth. I’ve tested it out and am happy to report that it’s quite nice. Of course, I’m a long-time Mozilla Firefox user, so the transition has not been very stark. But if you’re one of the poor people who still use Microsoft Internet Explorer (or worse, if until now you didn’t even know what a web browser is and that there are mutliple available ones), then Chrome will be a revelation.

Even for me, the new browser is an intriguing new beast. It’s very quick, intuitive to use and so far does things well. I can see myself using it for most tasks, at least those that don’t require certain firefox plug-ins that I’m used to (but there will no doubt be equivalents for them in Google Chrome eventually), and I’m very happy that there is now a new robust, polished open-source browser. Competition and choice can only lead to better products in this regard.

But as impressive as the browser is, it is not the thing that I really wanted to blog about here. For you see, the most impressive thing about Google Chrome for me today is the fantastic comic that serves as an introduction to it.

The name Scott McCloud should be familiar to most comic book geeks such as myself. The author of seminal works like Understanding Comics has carved a name for himself as true master and expert of the comics medium. Who better to explain a new web browser; an application that’s so simple to use it’s invisible, but is so complex underneath that entire careers can be dedicated to it? Scott McCloud, of course.

I love how he manages to represent even the most arcane programming concepts in a fun and exciting way (helped, of course, by the words from Google Chrome’s programming staff), how there’s a single narrative thread but multiple voices from members of the team — this is a feat you can’t really achieve as well in video, for instance, but as a comic it works great. Alan Moore has always maintained that comics as a medium are rich beyond measure, that there are things you can do in it that you can’t do in a movie or a book. I can think of several examples of Moore’s own work to support this, but Scott McCloud’s introduction to Google Chrome is a shining example too.

So even if you don’t give Google Chrome a spin (I highly recommend you do), please do check out the comic that goes with it. It’s simply superb.

Lots of Stuff Added to the Work Page!

The last time I updated the Work page was probably sometime in 2005. This was back when the site was still on free hosting and looked all grey and lime green.

Yeah, it’s been a long time. Quite a bit has happened since then, not least of which is this redesign. I’ve always wanted to redo the work page, make it richer and more than just a bunch of images, but then I realised that while I was putting that off for the right time (it would be a good deal of work), two years had gone by.

So, I bit the bullet, sorted through my work and came up with a bunch of stuff — some of which has been posted on the journal before — but much of which is new. So surf on over to the work page and have a look around. There’s about 30 new things in the Design and Illustration sections. I haven’t added anything to photos yet, and might do so in the coming weeks.