Sunday, 25 July 2010

Some hippie 'games are art' thing

Just recently I’ve been playing a lot more video games, due to an increase in time and ability to spend money online easily. As such I’ve started using Steam a lot more. Three games in particular have been taking up my time of late, BioShock, Half-Life 2 and Psychonauts. All three of which are really excellent games that you should all go and play if you haven’t already. And if you haven’t I warn you that this blog contains some spoilers for them.

Now these games have gotten me thinking about videogames as a story-telling medium. All three have really great stories (well not Half-Life so much, but it’s not bad), but I have issues with how they are told. Indeed I have issues with the way that stories are told in videogames as a whole. There seems to be fundamental flaws in the way games work that make it very hard to tell a story in a satisfactory way.

Video games are, by nature, an interactive medium. They player controls the main character’s actions and, in some cases, choices. The main character moves through the story, controlled by the player; the player is essentially acting vicariously through the on-screen protagonist. This creates a unique level of immersion – the emotional connection to the main character can potentially be much greater than in any other medium because the player is acting through him (or her). However, with this level of control and immersion, it becomes very difficult to characterise the protagonist. I think Half-Life 2 suffers most of the three games I mentioned at the beginning from this. Gordon Freeman never talks, never interacts with the other characters and never actually makes any decision beyond which gun to use. Freeman simply does as he’s told by Alyx and the other members of the resistance. This is particularly obvious at the end of the game (or is it at the start of episode 1? I can’t remember), when Alyx is talking about how thankful she is that Freeman came to save her father and that he didn’t have to do it. The thing I couldn’t stop thinking through that scene was ‘yes he did’. Freeman never actually made the choice to go to Nova Prospekt, he was just sent there by Alyx to save her father. Freeman is little more than a puppet. He kills the Combine because he is told to do so. I can’t name one character trait of Gordon Freeman’s because he is not really a character at all; he’s an empty shell, a plot device that gets things done by shooting it. He does not drive the plot; the plot drives him, and thus the player, through the game. BioShock has exactly the same problem, but then the principle twist is built upon this fact. The protagonist is actually a puppet. He does what he is told because he is told to do it. He is, in the words of Andrew Ryan, a slave. The writers of BioShock had the self-awareness to play on this fundamental flaw, which is why it is one of the best written games I have ever played. Most games however fail miserably to do this, leaving them unapologetically lacking a main character.

There are a number of well trodden solutions to this problem, some of which are more effective than others. The first and most obvious is to wrestle control of the main character from the player and put all the characterisation and story development into cutscenes. The problem with this is that it’s just like putting scrolling text or voiceover into films – it’s not making use of the medium. You don’t go to the cinema to read a book or listen to an audiobook, you don’t sit down at your computer and fire up steam to watch a film. Japanese games are particularly at fault here – I’m looking at your Hideo Kojima. When gameplay gets interrupted for hours on end so you can sit and watch the story being told to you, things are going wrong. This leads to games being divided into gameplay and story – your task as the player is to safely take the protagonist from one segment of the story to another, the player is not involved or immersed in the story at all. Video games are an interactive media, so the story should be told in an interactive way, not by taking control away from the player. This completely breaks emersion and means that the player is no longer experiencing the story in the same way as he is when playing BioShock for example. I don’t think that cutscenes should necessarily be completely removed from videogames, but I think they should be used with extreme caution and very infrequently. The confrontation with Andrew Ryan in BioShock is a perfect example of when taking control away from the player works really well. When a cutscene there is a place in gaming for cutscenes, but they should be short and used sparing. A good example of well used cutscenes is Psychonauts, in which they are short and occasionally require you to make dialogue choices, which keeps some player involvement, not that these choices actually influences the game in any meaningful way.

This leads me neatly into the second solution to this problem – the RPG. Rather than taking control away from the player, RPGs give him altogether too much control. The player now creates the character entirely; looks, personality, gender, character traits. They make all the choices within the game; the main character, created by the player, decides which way the story goes by making choices based on the character he is playing. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Well the problem of characterising the main character is solved, but in a way that raises completely new problems.

The thing about a well written, interesting character is that he has to have a character flaw that leads him to making mistakes, which are what drive the story. As the character tries to resolve the problems of his own making, he realises the errors of his ways and develops as a character. When you let people create their own characters, this character development cannot happen. The character will not act according to his nature, but according to the whim of the player. One minute the character may be an angel, the next he may be a complete bastard, depending on how the players is feeling at the time. Through most RPGs you get the chance to help various people out, or kill them and take their money (ok it can be more complex than that, but you get the idea). A good character would always do one, or other of these things, whereas it is perfectly possibly for a character in a RPG to help one person and then shoot the next for no reason whatsoever.

This leads onto another problem, specifically morality systems. If you choose to help the person, you get good karma (or some equivalent), if you chose the kill the person, you get bad karma. Often the resolution of the story will depend on how nice you’ve been to everyone through the game. Oddly enough, this is not how morality works in the real world. Evil people are not evil for the hell of it. Usually in such situations you don’t get much more reward for being a bad guy than for being a good guy, neither is the bad guy option any easier (indeed in many cases it’s harder, as in Knights of the Old Republic. Because of this there is no reason, as a player, to be evil other than just being a dick. People do evil because it is easier than doing the right thing, or for selfish reasons of wanting, or even needed something that another person has. BioShock is slightly better done in this regard – the decision to rescue the Little Sisters or harvest them for Adam – however it is slightly ruined by all the lovely gifts that you get for rescuing the little buggers every now and then. There’s no reason to mercilessly harvest them because you get the same amount of Adam either way. If games are going to have morality systems, they have to make doing the wrong thing pay better than doing the right thing, so people have to chose between an easier ride in the game or actually doing what is right.

Characters in RPGs are, by necessity, simplistic. When it comes to character creation, game developers have to give players a limited number of options as to what kind of person the character is, in order for all the different character archetypes to fit with the story. Take as an example Mass Effect, in which you are given 3 different character histories and resulting traits to chose from. In terms of creating a unique and personal character this is pretty sparse. Often you don’t even get this option at the beginning (meaning games have to play the ‘I lost all my memory’ card at the start, which is one of the most tired and unoriginal tropes out there), but you get the odd dialogue choice which serves for characterisation. Again these tend to be pretty wooden, boring and lacking in variation. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve not really liked any of the choices I’ve been given.

RPGs also create a massive problem in storytelling. Specifically pacing becomes neigh on impossible, especially in games like Fallout 3 or Mass Effect. It is so easy to get bogged down doing side quests and gaining experience that you lose track of the plot. It becomes almost comic when you get told that you need to hurry before the token bad guy destroys the universe, but you then go off to dick around is not backwater planet or town helping locals to dig plantations or collecting animal heads, yet you still get to the bad guy’s lair just in time to save the universe. This is much more of a problem with more recent RPGs, which give the player far too much freedom to do what he wills. Sure this allows developers to show off the beautiful setting they’ve created, but at the expense of a well paced story. Some RPGs do get around this problem by being far less open – games like Knights of the Old Republic have a number of different locations you can go to, but it’s pretty limited and occasionally you get taken off to somewhere to complete something necessary to the plot that you don’t get any choice over. You still end up with a bit at the end where you can go finish off all your side quests, before finishing the game, but at least you do get some semblance of pacing. Either way you still end up with a poorly paced game – you tend to get a compulsory bit at the start, which tends to be quite well paced, then it opens out so you have a massive chunk in the middle which just meanders as you complete all the disjointed plot points between dicking about on side quests, then it all rushes to a conclusion. Hardly a steady acceleration to a climax.

I’m not trying to say that RPGs are bad games, or even a bad way of storytelling, just that it is not completely satisfactory. You get really big problems with characterisation and pacing which really need addressing. Small changes to the format could easily make RPGs a much better way of telling a story. For example the options you get need to be limited by what you have already chosen – so if you have been evil previously, you get more evil options and fewer good ones until you get to the point where you have a really evil option and a slightly less evil option and vice versa. In many cases morality systems need to be far more ambiguous, so it’s less clear what the ‘good’ and ‘evil’ options are – the player has the think of the consequences of a certain action and decide whether that is right for the situation, you know, like how the real world works. More importantly games need to be less open. It is very bad narrative progression to allow the player to go wherever he likes whenever he wants. Sure have different choices and options, but this should be along fairly linear paths, rather than being completely open. Games like Fallout 3 tend to focus too much on the absolutely fantastic setting, rather than the story. It works in Fallout because the setting is so good, but I think the game would be much improved if you simply experienced the world while completing the story, rather than completing the story while experiencing the world. Knights of the Old Republic tends to get this just about right, although it could benefit from being even more linear.

So of the three different ways in which stories are told in games: the RPG, the game with cutscenes and the game with the silent protagonist, neither is ideal. I think the solution probably lies in some fusion of all three. Control of the character should very rarely be taken from the player, however the protagonist needs to be characterised, so he needs to be able to talk and interact. There have to be conversations and confrontations with other characters, his choices need to drive the plot, not those of others, but these need to be done so that the player can still control the main character – very rarely should the player be sitting and watching things happen. There should be choices which effect gameplay and the resolution of the plot, but this needs to be done in a linear way.

Obviously this is would be a very difficult sort of game to make, but I think that, as technology improves and as games develop, storytelling will get better. The games industry is still young and working out what works. I hope sometime in the future we get it right, but in order for that to happen we have to realise that it is possible and focus on video games as a storytelling medium, rather than simply focusing on making gameplay as entertaining as possible. We can do both, but at the moment we are mostly doing the latter, and it seems to be working, so I don’t see a major shift in focus any time soon. We can but hope.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

6 mini-reviews from a long-haul flight

So as you can imagine this last week or so has been rather busy what with moving to the other side of the world and all! As such I’ve not really got a lot of blog about. However, what with spending all of about 2 days travelling, I’ve spent rather a long time on long-haul flights in the last week. With long-haul flights comes a chance to catch up on some films that I didn’t get the opportunity to watch when they were in the cinema. These films are no longer in cinemas and there are quite a few of them, so I’ll keep each of these reviews short.

Fantastic Mr Fox

I love Fantastic Mr Fox, the original Roald Dahl story that is. I had it as an audio book when I was younger and listened to it to death. Given the strength of the source material I had high hopes for this film. Inevitably I was disappointed. The problem with the Fantastic Mr Fox is that it is a short story, a very short story in fact, the sort of short story that would only take half an hour or so to tell through the medium of film. This is of course a massive problem when films are expected to last well over an hour. To get over this problem the story was embellished somewhat – Mr Fox was given a family and a much more complex back story and a significant chunk of plot was added to the end.

Up until the end of the original plot I was happy to go along with the additions – the extra bits were charming and complemented the source material. Indeed it served to further develop and examine the character at the heart of the story. However the half an hour or so of material that came after conclusion of the original story turned me against the film – whoever wrote the extra bit was nothing like as good a story teller as Dahl and it showed. Roald Dahl’s stories have always relied on being just absurd enough to be enjoyable without going so far as just to be plain silly. Unfortunately the added bit failed miserably to treat this line and so the story really fell apart. It became increasingly hard go alone with the plot as the character’s motivations stopped being convincing and dialogue got increasingly poor.

If you love Fantastic Mr Fox like I do then this is an excellent adaptation of the story with a very charming style and a decent amount of respect for the source material, but switch it off where the story originally ended and pretend the last half an hour or so of the film didn’t exist.

Law-Abiding Citizen

I went into this film expecting very little. From what I could gather it was a run of the mill revenge flick – short on motivation and characterisation and relying too heavily on big explosions. I was very surprised when I was actually genuinely interested in the plot and characters. I was able to go along with what was, on reflection, a rather farfetched plot which bordered on the absurd because the characters were so strong that I wanted to know what happened to them. The film’s great advantage was that it was very well written (unlike many revenge films), so the pacing was such that the lead characters had time to develop. The viewer was able to get to grips with their motivations and their weaknesses. We understood why the killer did what he was doing and could even sympathise with him, but we still understood that what he was doing was wrong. Similarly we could see the flaw in the main protagonist and how that led to the tragedy that befell him, but this didn’t cause us to resent him because we understood his motivations and even sympathised with them.

Looking back however the plot was slightly too absurd to quite stand up to deeper analysis. The problem was that the major twist was somewhat too farfetched for anyone to guess it. A good twist will be one which comes as a surprise because it is so simple and obvious and yet no-one cottoned onto it. For the viewer it has to have been foreshadowed well enough that he could potentially have guessed it before it is revealed. Unfortunately for Law-Abiding Citizen, the twist was not well foreshadowed so it seemed to come out of nowhere. This meant that the entire plot after the twist fell a little flat. The build up was fantastic, but the end was not all that satisfactory.

I would recommend that you see this film. For a revenge flick it is very well written and much deeper than most. It ends poorly, but it’s still a really good film and well worth seeing. Probably one you should rent rather than buy.

Alice in Wonderland

To my great shame I have to admit that I’ve never actually read Alice in Wonderland. Given that it was one of the ground-breakers in the fantasy genre – a genre of which I am a huge fan – I really should have read it by now. Having seen this film I am resolved to go and read it as soon as possible. The film really is a must see; brilliantly dark, very witty, wonderfully acted and superbly written. Sure the source material is very strong, but Tim Burton works wonders with it. There is no better example of the wonderful aesthetic than the climax, which felt like being hurled head first through a Baroque painting. In it, the shining armour-clad heroin battles a lightening bolt breathing dragon around Neoclassical ruins while white chess pieces do battle with animated heats-suited playing cards on a giant chess board below. Add to this, non-corporeal felines, insane hat-makers, fencing dormice and a love-heart themed palace and you have a truly brilliant film. I’m not sure how much of this is down to the strength of the source material, but even if it is, Burton has adapted it to film brilliantly.

I do, inevitably, have a few criticisms; at times the film felt just a little bit rushed. Some of the minor human characters were not characterised all that well and the ‘good’ side was not really established properly. Indeed there seemed no real reason why the side with the chess pieces should win beyond the fact that the other side were all quite clearly insane. Alice only seems to side with them because she quite likes the hatter, rather than that she sees any real reason to like the queen or support her cause. This might be intentional of course, but it is left too ambiguous to be sure. The film almost seems a little undecided itself – I was left wondering whether we were supposed to like the white guys or not.

Despite a few issues, this is probably one of the best film I’m reviewing today. It really is a must see.

Sherlock Holmes

I love a good murder mystery, so it’s a shame this film is not one. For a film based on one of the most brilliant detectives in the history of fiction, there really is very little detecting done in this film. There’s never really an issue over ‘who dun it’ because it is never in doubt. If you go into this film expecting a murder mystery you will be sorely disappointed. However if you go into this film expecting a clever, well written action film you certainly will not be disappointed. The character of Sherlock Holmes is pretty similar to the original, which is great because he is an absolutely wonderful character. Indeed the film’s real strong point is its characters, which is really unusual for an action film and really good to see. Another good thing is the fairly low key nature of the action. There are no explosions or high octane car chases, no raging gun battles or increasingly unlikely stunts. It’s all hand to hand fights with the occasional pistol in varying locations across 19th century London. This lack of pulse-raging actions leaves room for the important things, like story and characters, both of which are very strong.

As you’ve probably noticed I’ve been tending to put things I didn’t like in this second paragraph, but for Sherlock Holmes I really can’t think of anything. For what it is, it’s really good. What it is, is a plot and character driven action film with a hint of the supernatural (or supposed supernatural anyway). Don’t expect clever twists and turns or hunts for elusive killers, do expect good pacing, superb writing, well thought out characters who actually develop, an interesting plot and a sequel because it was clearly written with another one in mind. Another must-see.

Astro-Boy

Are you a fan of charming, well-told morality tales set in witty and all-too-shiny dystopian future sky cities? If so then Astro-boy is the film for you. In fact even if you’re not a fan of the above you should still watch Astro-boy because it’s good fun. Yet another adaptation (from a Manga of all things), Astro-boy has a strong story and setting with some interesting characters. It’s well written and witty, but the main thing that sets it apart is the film’s message. The film subtly deals with the issues of what it is to be human by having a robot become so advanced that he becomes essentially no different from any human – he has the same motivations, the same emotions, the same responses to stimuli, the difference is that he can fly and has machine guns in his butt. The film is also about the seductive nature of power and the dangers of playing with forces beyond one’s control. The great thing is that none of these issues are ever actually explained or examined explicitly in the film. There is an old writing mantra that goes ‘show, don’t tell’; Astro-boy does this perfectly. All the issues are raised implicitly; we are shown the issue and pushed gently towards the conclusion the films wants us to draw, without ever being told about it. That is basically the definition of a well told story.

However Atro-boy does suffer from being Japanese in origin. I know that sounds like a terrible thing to say, but hear me out. Anyone who has ever played a JRPG knows what I mean here. The film is far too unambiguous and idyllic; the good guys are all virtuous, peace-loving flower-children, whereas the bad guys are all unquestioningly evil, selfish madmen. Sure the good guys make mistakes, but they all realise them immediately and try to rectify them, whereas the bad guys fail entirely to see the evil of their ways even when they’re staring them in the face. The conclusion is that everyone lives happily ever after in perfect harmony. Essentially this lack of ambiguity gets a little hard to swallow by the end.

Despite this Astro-boy is well worth watching. It really is a charming little film with many more good points than bad.

Invictus

It’s tempting just to write that this film has got Morgan Freeman in it so you should watch it just for his brilliant performance as Nelson Mandela and finish there, but I like to think that I’m more professional than that. If you’re a rugby fan then you have to take this film with a pinch of salt, because the rugby really is pretty poor, but the film is not really about the rugby, it’s about the events surrounding it and for that it’s a must-watch. It’s a really great feel good film about the people of South Africa trying to adapt to a post-apartheid world. Both blacks and whites are at fault and both blacks and whites reconcile each other by the end. A heart warming true story which is really, really well told, even if the accents are a little sketchy here and there. As you can probably tell I’m rushing through this last one because this post is long enough already so I’ll simply end by telling you to watch this film along with all of the others on this list (if not all of them to their conclusion). Overall it was a rather enjoyable plane journey.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Times, they are a'changing

As of next week (Thursday in fact) I will be a temporary resident of Australia. For the next year I will be living and working Down Under in my Gap Year. I will be working in a School called Kinross Wolaroi, which is in Orange, about 4 hours drive from Sydney. Why am I telling you this? I hear you ask. Well mostly in the name of context because I expect that my entries over the next year will be slightly more personal and related what I’m up to. I feel that I should explain exactly what it is I’m doing first so you don’t all get horribly confused.

Don’t worry however, this will not mean a radical change from what I’ve been doing for the last 2 years (almost). I will still be updating weekly on weekends, although bare in mind that I will be in a wildly different time zone, so update schedules will be odd (not that I have much of a schedule anyway). Most of my entries will still be a selection of rants, reviews, fiction, current affairs and what-not, but there will be a little more about me for the next year or so. I’ll be tweeting my updates anyway so be sure to follow me if you don’t already. I don’t doubt that I’ll be busy, so I may start getting even later than I usually am and there may be the odd no-show, but don’t worry, I will try as hard as I can to post something every week.

If you know me or are particularly quick witted you will note that me going on a Gap Year means that I must have finished school. For those that don’t know, I have been at school at Kind Edward’s in Birmingham for the last 7 years. This era has now come to a close and I am moving onto pastures new. Inevitably this is an interesting time and often emotional time, but it is also a time for reflection and remembering.

I am incredibly lucky that I have had the chance to go to one of the best school’s in the area, if not the country. I am also incredibly lucky that I have met some truly wonderful people, some of whom may even be reading this right now! Although the school has done much for me and given me the opportunity to have some truly memorably experiences, it is the people who have made my last 7 years so fantastic. Indeed it is the people who make the memories so memorable.

I have been asked in the last few days whether I would take another year at school if I could. My answer has always been a very immediate no. I am frankly bored of the regimented days, the institutionalised, petty self-obsession that those who rule the school like their own little kingdoms display, the fa├žade of relevance that is showered over sports results and the general attitude that there is little of importance in the world beyond school itself. As a young boy of 11 with 7 years at the place ahead of me these things mattered, but now it all seems rather false and painfully irrelevant. I feel that I am ready to move on.

However I always add onto my prompt rejection of another year at school that I would gladly have another year with the people, indeed I would gladly and other lifetime with the people because I have made some truly wonderful friends. All my fantastic memories of the last 7 years have been made by the people around me creating those moments that will stay with me forever. Inevitably my mind filters out the mediocre and only holds the best and the worst of times, but I am deeply thankful that there are for more of the best of times than there are of the worst.

So the defining movement of my childhood has come to a climactic and devastatingly enjoyably end. I do not doubt that a unique and memorable interlude is about to begin. Like all great symphonies this movement has gone by far too quickly and I regret that it is over, but I have been swept up in the torrent of time and so I am ready and willing to move on. If these last 7 years have taught me anything (and I should hope that they have given that I’ve been in a bloody school), they have taught me that no matter what you do, no matter how much money you spend, no matter how well you plan something, what makes an experience memorable, what makes your life wonderful is the people you surround yourself with. Happiness is not bought it is reciprocated by people with whom you share a common interest, passion and friendship. As with a great work of art, it is the people, not the piece, who really make life what it is.

On that soppy note I shall finish my final entry from England for 12 months. Next week I shall be in Australia. It is a scary thought, but one that also holds a great opportunity. I cant wait to tell you all about it!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Voice, part 4

Here's the final part of the short story I've been writing recently. Enjoy

He surmounted the hill. He didn’t know why he thought that she would be here, but he didn’t know where else to look. The park was exactly like it had been in his dream, the lake of grass rippled in the wind behind him. The almost constant game of football raged playfully and children swung carefreely on the contorted metal and wood of the climbing frames. It was the same paradise that he knew so well.

Today however he was not concerned with sitting and watching the world slowly unfold. He was not in the mood to doze on the grass. He feared that, if he slept again, he would be subjected to the same torture as last night. The torture of remembering. He ran from the torture towards that which caused it. His hands shook and his stomach danced. His heartbeat rang in his ears.

He crested the hill and saw the gaggle of trees, leaves rustling in the breeze and birds shouting tunefully at one another. His eyes desperately scanned the bases of the trees under which collections of individuals sat and talked in twos and threes and fours. One tree stood out for having only one person under it, talking to no-one and looking, with her head in her hands, as though she wanted no-one to talk to.

He walked towards her slowly, his heart raged in his chest. He forced every step as though he was forcing down a meal he did not want out of courtesy. He knew who it was, he had seen the exact same image before. He blinked.

He got down on his haunches and looked more closely at her. He dared not touch her. His voice had done nothing, he was not expecting his touch to do anything more. He looked at her slender arms; they seemed paler now, lacking the natural tan that comes to one who loved nature as she did. Despite the summer’s sunshine, she was ghostly pale. Her anaemic complexion was not the only thing amiss. As he examined her arms, he saw the ends of pink scars, standing out like throbbing veins as they curved around her forearm. He gasped and as he did he inhaled the thick cloud of alcohol that hung like a pall around her.

Banishing the memory from his mind he moved closer, taking deep breaths. She did not move, she only sat there, back against the tree, shoulders slumped and head bowed. The pose and the emotions that it betrayed was one he knew well. They had been his for the past few weeks. They still were. She showed no sign that she ha heard him approach. He blinked again.

“Shut up!” Emily’s voice betrayed barely withheld tears. The crunch of the cereal hitting the floor was the only sound and she turned to the door. She wrenched it open, almost pulling it from its hinges and left, muttering something about collecting her things tomorrow. There was dead silence after the door slammed shut.

The memory of the last time he had seen her was burned into his mind. He did not need any dreams to remind him. Again he shook off the memory. He looked down at her, the sun danced through the rustling leaves off her golden-brown hair. Taking a deep breath, he steeled himself and spoke.

“Emily?” his voice chocked on fear and grief.

She looked up and those beautiful emerald eyes gazed questioningly into his. He could see anger dancing in her eyes as the light danced in her hair.

“What are you doing here?” she curled her lip in contempt, her voice was gruff with rage and grief.

“I need to talk to you.”

“I have nothing to say to you, and I don’t want to hear anything you might have to say.” Her voice was as spiteful as his was desperate.

“Well I have some things I need to say to you.” He sat down beside her and she glared at him.

“So this is all about you?”

“Yes. I am a shallow, selfish, stupid person, but I need you to know that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I did. I can’t say why I did it, there is no excuse, no reason, except that I am a fool, that could possibly diminish my responsibility for what I did to you. I know I hurt you and I’m son so sorry for what I did. I need you to know that I still love you. My actions might not reflect that, but what I did was an awful, stupid mistake and I wish I’d never done it. I know I can’t expect you to love me back, or even to forgive me, I just want you to know that I’m sorry.”

She did not reply. She just started at him; grief overtook anger as he spoke. He looked deeply into her eyes, silently begging her to say something. Instead she just stared back. A lone tear rolled from the corner of her eye as she blinked. It gathered pace down her cheek and came to a quivering stop on her chin. It paused there for a moment, before gravity took it and it plummeted onto her dress.

His eyes followed it. When it burst onto the fabric, his gaze settled on her arms. He remembered the stark pink lines slashed into her skin, but did not see them. He blinked and smiled weakly, inhaling the fresh, unalcoholic air the surround her. He felt a warm tear rolling down his own cheek. Opening his eyes he say that she gazed at him, sadness, regret and love painted her face as the sunlight danced playfully across her features.

They collapsed into each other and wept for the times they had shared and the love they had lost. The mistakes they had made and the grief they both endured. They sat in their corner of the despoiled paradise and wept the past away while the birds sang oblivious and the sunlight danced silently.