Saturday, October 27, 2012

Literary Pandora

Borderlands 2 fans have been quick to point out the video-game Easter eggs spread throughout Pandora. So far, we have MinecraftDark Souls, and Bioshock. Also, we have a subtle reference to Donkey Kong in the name of a bullymong found in Eridium Blight, Donkey Mong. I'm sure there are more, but what I'm wondering is, has anyone noticed any of the literary references in the game? Take the jump to read about a few that I have found.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lost on Pandora

I am 115 hours into Borderlands 2, and I'm loving it (obviously). There have been a few angry moments, but, overall, I have had great fun shootin', lootin', and causing chaos on my own and, especially, with my co-op partner Oatmeal25.

Last night, though, (Saturday, Oct. 13th) Oatmeal was not available, so I decided to do a side mission solo to collect a little XP, some eridium, and some cash (that I lost due to several deaths and much ammo-purchasing the night before that). I equipped my level-39 Siren with a Merciful Nurse mod (essentially, a team health regeneration mod) and a relic that increases the chance of rare loot-drops, and headed out to Frostburn Canyon to pursue the side mission called Cult of the Firehawk. The mission description had it listed as "normal" difficulty, so I figured it would pretty straightforward. I was wrong.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Monday Music

New Exit Calm is out, and it is excellent.

The new SULK disc should be out soon, too. The future of music looks good.

And here is something from the past. It was played at the end of an episode of Fringe that I saw on Saturday night. It's a simple, yet powerful and evocative song. When I heard those first few notes again, I was transported back to another time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Borderlands 2

Well, Borderlands 2 is out, and I'm around 5 hours into it. It looks great (on the PC, at least) and it's a blast to play. There have been a few changes from the first game --- new playable characters, smoother character UI, new enemy AI-behaviour --- but overall, it's not much different. But, you know what? That suits me just fine, because it's a great game to get into, especially with friends in co-op.

I always buy my disc-based games here

(I apologise for the blurriness. I'm a terrible, shakey photographer, and I don't have the patience to do any editing.)
And this morning, at midnight, I went in to pick up my pre-ordered copy. When I arrived there were already 8 dudes there, all in their early 20s, all picking up their copies for the 360 --- the poor fools. Like them, though, I received a few gifts for pre-ordering. One was a download code for the Borderlands 2 Premier Club. The code got me nothing more than some shitty guns and a relic hunter's key that will grant me access to some special in-game loot. Apparently, the higher my level, the better the loot. So, I think I'll wait a while before collecting it. I also received a sweet Borderlands shirt. Check it out below.

That stylish, attractive neon-orange is bound to make the babes run to me. If it doesn't, then I'm sure the logos on the right arm will.

Of course, they'll all have to wait until I finish playing the game. At the rate I'm going, though, they'll probably be gone by the time I'm finished.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Articles You Should Read

I'm always on the lookout for smart videogame journalism (if you want to call it that). It seems, though, that most of the writing out there is either pretentious (The Brainy Gamer, Sexyvideogameland) or dumbed down to appeal to teenagers and college kids (Joystiq, Kotaku, Gamesrader). I do enjoy the work of Giantbomb, but the reviews there can be too formulaic and the Bombcast sometimes turns into a dudefest (especially during E3).

I'm not interested in a basic review that breaks a game down into its constituent parts with the purpose of telling me whether or not I should buy it. Nor am I interested in a review that attaches a number-score to itself, thus nullifying everything that was just written. I want writing that is mature, critical, and smart; that treats video games as an expressive, artistic medium; that looks at the issues within and that surround the games themselves. But I don't want it to sound like a chapter out of a critical or literary theory textbook. There are a few writers who have accomplished this, and I'm posting links to their articles. I'll do this from time to time when I feel that you should be directed to an important or interesting article. Check them out after the page jump.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


In my previous post I dismissed the Steam Summer Sale. I had found the sale to be somewhat underwhelming in its early days. So, I got my game fix by spending a tiny bit of money on some titles at my local bricks-and-mortar store. Well, it turns out that one of those titles is not so good --- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed --- and I have yet to play either of the remaining two. Also, the Steam sale got better; it taunted me with deal after deal after deal. Steam is like that hot woman who knows that I want her, and also that my male pride won't let me reveal my true weakness by giving in at the first sign of skin. So she gradually reveals herself little by little until I can resist no longer.

I resisted as long as I could, but I finally cracked. I put $100 in my Steam wallet and promptly proceeded to spend it on games that I probably won't be able to play for several months. More on that later. First, the games I bought after the jump.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Physical Copy

Steam Summer Sale be damned! I just picked up three PS3 games from my local bricks-and-mortar store for $7.11.

I took advantage of a choose-three-get-one-free promotion on used games, and put a $24.51 credit, from a previous trade-in, towards the cost of the remaining two. Sure, I had to leave my apartment and walk under the hot sun for 40 minutes (each way), but by doing so I avoided protracted downloads and quick consumption of my Internet connection's limited bandwidth. I also picked up an iced-coffee along the way. The great outdoors are wonderful, aren't they?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Backlog Update

Since my last post I have managed to finish Dead Island, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, and Sniper Elite V2.  I have also put just over 20 hours into Dragon Age: Origins, and I'm enjoying it. I usually don't go for RPGs because I don't have the patience for protracted dialog and gameplay, but this game has a good story, a deep and interesting levelling system, and an easy and straight-forward combat system. I do sometimes get annoyed with the necessity of going through dialog choices, as some of them seem to go on forever, but I find myself otherwise engaged by plot, story, and character. Sometimes, I'll even stop what I'm doing to listen to the random conversations that occur between the characters in my party. Just like the person in this video

Another game that I have gotten back into is Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising (PC). It was gifted to me by a friend during a Steam sale, and I'm starting to think he did it as some kind of cruel joke. Why? Well, this game is infuriatingly difficult. Even on normal difficulty I am averaging 2 hours per mission because of one-shot kills; long, slow walks across the fields, over the hills, and through the woods just to reach objective points; AI-squadmates that don't know how to take cover; glitches that cause friendly and enemy-AI to misbehave or simply not appear when they should; a shitty checkpoint system; and no quicksave option!

These last two points are causing most of the time consumption. A checkpoint usually occurs after mission briefing, but you might not get another one for another 25 minutes, unless you complete a major objective. The problem is, though, it could take 20 minutes just to walk to the objective-point. Just as you're about to reach it, your screen suddenly goes black. When it comes back, there is your character lying on the ground, dead. As the screen goes red, and begins to fade out, you hear gunfire and your squadmates yelling, "One's down, One's down". Then, you choose "Continue From Last Checkpoint", and you're right back where you started ---- 20 fucking minutes ago. If there were a quicksave option, the one shot kills wouldn't be so bad, but there isn't. It doesn't make sense to me that a developer wouldn't include it in a PC game.

Nevertheless, I find myself wanting to play and finish it. This is no Call of Duty, Ghost Recon, or Medal of Honor --- and I like that. It requires the use of tactics, pacing, and a great deal of patience. The player character moves slowly, as he is weighted down with equipment, and will run out of breath if he sprints for too long. If he gets shot in the leg or arm, he can treat it with a field-dressing, but he never gets back to 100% health, and this slows him down even more. He can also give orders to the squad or individuals in the squad to cover everything from Rules of Engagement --- Weapons Free, Return Fire Only, Fire on My Mark, etc. --- to squad formation and movement, and defensive or offensive posture. (Presumably, one can use them to flank the enemy, but since they get themselves shot up --- or dead --- a lot, I find I have to keep them close together to concentrate fire on one area.) It's not flashy, quick, or cinematic but it is interesting and challenging, in that it challenges me to control my patience and temper.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Oh man, I've got so many games to get through. Even though I still have to finish Dead Island and Catherine, I have started, and am close to finishing, Sniper Elite V2. Meanwhile, waiting in the wings I have Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Awakenings, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. Yet, for the past few nights I have put them off in favour of a few books, Beat Hazard (PC), and music listening. Here's hoping I finish them before the fall season; Halo 4, Borderlands 2, and a host of others await me. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012


The big presentations at E3 were largely underwhelming and sometimes silly --- PS3 Wonderbook, Nintendo Land, Reggie Fils Aime --- but there were a few exciting games that caught my eye.

Halo 4
The graphics are impressive, the music is cool, and the weapons sound great. I'm not so sure about the enemy, though; it looked a little silly to me. I hope more demos will emerge before the game is released so I can get a better look at it.

Watch Dogs (Ubisoft)
This is a great looking game in which there is a seemless transition from cut-scenes to gameplay. The voice acting is quite good and there are some impressive wind and coat-physics, too. The gunfight near the end showcases destructible vehicles and bullet-time, which is cool, but what I don't understand is why the target just sits in his vehicle while all his bodyguards are being gunned down. Why doesn't he get out and run while his killer is occupied?

Beyond: Two Souls (Quantic Dream)
From the developers of Heavy Rain and that excellent Kara tech demo comes Beyond: Two Souls. Now, this is just a cinematic trailer, and trailers sometimes give a flase impression of the final game (e.g., Heavy Rain, Killzone 2) but I have to say that it looks interesting. It's creepy and tense, has some flashes of action-packed events, and features the voice and acting of Canadian actress Ellen Page. As in the Kara demo, it also displays some excellent face rendering and lip-synching. I hope it doesn't disappoint.

The Last of Us (Naughty Dog)
Here we have more seemless transitions, great lighting, great motion capture, and brutal hand-to-hand combat. When the lead character, Joel, punches or smashes someone's face in with the butt or barrel of a gun I cringe a little; it seems weighty, visceral, and consequential, unlike the combat in most modern games. Also, I am really impressed by the actions of Joel's AI-partner, Ellie. She remains an integral and effective part of the action, rather than just a scared, passive bystander --- check out what she does at the 5:16 mark. And that final shotgun blast always makes me jump and wince. This is the game I am looking forward to the most.

There were more games shown, but these 4 are the ones that truly interest me. I have no interest in anything that Nintendo does; I'll wait for Black Ops 2 to find its way to the bargain bin; Tomb Raider and Splinter Cell --- meh; and I'll pass on Assassin's Creed III. Call me crazy, but I don't think I would enjoy killing British soldiers.

Monday, May 28, 2012

London Music: Happy Mondays, Black Market Karma, SULK

I'm back after a fantastic holiday in London, England, where I passed the time with some good friends, drank a few pints, and saw many, many fascinating things. Amongst them were a few bands. The first were The Inspiral Carpets and The Happy Mondays at the O2 Brixton Academy on May 11th. The crowd was lively, but well behaved, and the bands sounded great. Although the Mondays were the headliners --- and were excellent, mind you --- I felt that The Carpets put in a stronger performance. There's something about Clint Boon's Farfisa that just gets everyone rocking. I couldn't find a decent clip of The Carpets, so here's one of The Mondays perfroming Step On

The following evening I saw Black Market Karma at Paper Dress Vintage, a dress shop that doubles as a bar and band venue during the evening; the band was set up in the front window, facing the back of the store. It seemed like an odd, and very small, venue to me. The crowd was quite small, too (maybe 50 people), but that didn't seem to deter the band --- whose average age is around 18 --- because they put in an excellent performance. They played 5 or 6 songs, and then quickly packed up and departed. Check out the band's bio here, and click on "free downloads" for a code to download their 4 song EP All That I've Made and their full-length album Comatose. Both are great, and I can't wait for the new one, Cocoon, due out in late-June.

Around a week later I saw SULK at The Purple Turtle in Camden. Unlike the Paper Dress Vintage it was a proper band venue, with a stage and everything. Unfortunately, the crowd was quite small, but, like Black Market Karma, the band wasn't put off by that, and showed us all why they've created such a big buzz around England. They played 8 songs and quickly packed up because they had to vacate the stage for the next band. My friends and I left shortly after that; we had seen what we had wanted to see, and went away happy. SULK is a great band, and I'm sure they are going to be huge.
I'm going to post two videos here. The first is a tune called "Marian Shrine" which was done with a slightly different line-up and under the band's former name, The Ruling Class. It is songs like this one which garner them comparisons to The Stone Roses. It has a cool groove and some great guitar work. The second song, "Wishes", was, I believe, their first single under the name SULK. This one has a stronger pop influence, but retains that late-80s/early-90s Manchester feel, similar to that of The Charlatans.

This is great stuff, and I'm glad I was witness to it. The world needs more music like this to save it from the likes of Nickelback, Lady Gaga, and Kanye West.

I did manage to take some (blurry) photos at the SULK gig, and I'll try to get them up with my next post. Until then, enjoy the tunes, and share them with others.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Game Update

The games I've been playing over the past four and a half weeks or so.

Medal of Honor (PS3)

For me this was a competent, yet uninspired shooter. I played through it in around 5 hours and couldn't shake the feeling that I had done it all before. It was a bit glitchy in parts and, in Jeff Gerstmann's words "intensely scripted". And those scripted events, I believe, took too much control from me, the player, and dampened the intensity of what should have been a more exciting shooter. Mind you, there were some good firefights that were nicely enhanced by the excellent gun sounds (and the weighty, powerful feel to them) but ultimately they all fell flat.
I did enjoy the headshot indicator, the very effective slide-to-cover mechanic, and the ambiguous ending, but, overall, I was underwhelmed, if that's a word. According to a co-worker of mine, though, the multi-player is quite good, but that's something I don't intend to discover for myself.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (PS3)

In most post-apocalyptic scenarios ruined cities are grey, dusty, and dirty piles of rubble. This game, though, envisions a ruined New York, 150 years into the future, as a city being reclaimed by nature. It is bright, lush, and vivid with foliage and flora; a nice change from the usual depressing environments.

It took me a while to play through Enslaved because I'm not a big fan of, nor am I particularly good at, melee combat and boss battles. I really dislike being surround by 5 or 6 enemies and being expected to eliminate all of them with ducking, dodging, and myriad button combos. So, I die several times before I figure out how to get through the situation. As for boss battles, well, I think they are a weak and lazy way to resolve conflict --- and I suck at them. The button combos and combat in Enslaved are pretty straight-forward, but, I'm an impatient man, and I just wanted to get through the fighting so I could see the rest of the story. That impatience resulted in many deaths and much wasted time.

I did have a great time with the climbing and platforming, and with the interaction between the two protagonists Trip and Monkey. As the story and game progressed I could see that Trip's connection to Monkey became less of an enslavement and more of a mutually beneficial romantic, and practical, connection; but there was also the suggestion that they had become too mutually dependant. (The pitfalls of human relationships, I guess). All of this, of course, is symbolic of the relationship between the enslaved and the enslaver that is discovered at the end of the game. Did Trip make the right choice? I think she did, but we may never find out what the developer (Ninja Theory) thought because, apparently, Enslaved didn't sell enough to warrant a sequel.

Catherine (PS3)

This is certainly unlike any other game I've ever played. It's weird, quirky, and, at times, just plain creepy.
Although I am enjoying the puzzles, I haven't been back to the game since I entered the sixth night of Vincent's ordeal (some three weeks ago). I find some of the interactive parts to be a little dull and I feel the story makes assumptions about how men and women view relationships to justify Vincent's nightmares. According to the story, all men are ambitionless, weak liars and cheaters while women are emasculating bitches who want to trap men in soul-sucking, unfulfilling relationships. A bit simplistic, if you ask me. And walking Vincent around the bar to talk to the other patrons is not at all enlightening.

Vincent's nightmares, which contain the puzzles, are, I must admit, pretty cool, though. They each contain a horrifying representation of Vincent's --- and, by extension, every man's --- fears. (I think my favourite has to be The Immoral Beast, which to me is the vagina dentata of myth and psychology.) Vincent must reach the top of the puzzle before it collapses or before he is killed by whatever nightmarish vision is pursuing him. The puzzles collapse more quickly and the monster pursuing him becomes more violent and faster with successive nightmares. It is this requirement to think and move more quickly that gets me every time. I dawdle too much as I try to figure out how and where to move the blocks necessary to proceed; death is frequent (and sometimes intentional).

Before each nightmare, Vincent is asked a relationship question, and the answer the player chooses is compared to how other players have answered. So far, I'm on the good (or blue) side of the answers. So, I'm anxious to finish the game, just to see how I compare overall with other players, and to see whether I get the good ending or the bad ending. I am also dreading having to go back into the remaining puzzles to experience more nightmares and virtual deaths --- but I guess that's what relationships are all about.

Dead Island (PS3)

I was surprised by how much I liked this game because, as I pointed out above, I'm not a big fan of melee combat; this game is all melee combat with mostly improvised, homemade weapons. It totally works, though. Having assault rifles, machine guns, and shotguns woud make this game too much of a cakewalk. The scarcity of firearms fits the setting too, and forces the player to be more cautious about his actions.
Also, the kick and melee combo, for me at least, balances the combat and makes it easier for me to manage large groups of enemies. I'm still cautious, and I try to avoid combat when I can, but when I am forced into a fight, I am more confident here than I would be in any other game.

That confidence extends when I modify weapons and level up my skills. My current favourite weapon is a fully upgraded machete with an electrical mod (a couple of batteries and wires). A perfectly placed strike on an enemy knocks him to the ground with an overpowering electrical shock. I still need a few more parts for the sticky bomb mod, which will be wonderful to use against stronger enemies like the Thug, the Ram, and the Floater.

The story is pretty simple --- mysterious infection overruns island, chaos ensues, survivors try to escape --- but the game is mostly about the fun of the combat and the reward provided by mission completion. And the combat itself is rewarding. There is nothing quite as satisfying as slicing off the limbs of a Walker; or beheading an Infected with a single strike of a machete; or taking down an enemy with several stabs to the face with a simple kitchen knife. When those weapons are upgraded and modified the fun gets even better.

The game was clearly designed for co-op, but I've been playing through it as a single, and it still is quite cool. Playing as a single makes for some weird cutscenes, too. They always show the four main characters deciding what to do about their current situation, but when they end, I'm alone again, fighting enemies without any help. (Hey, where'd my dudes go?) Also, I've been sticking to the main story missions, just to save myself a little time. Too many side missions will distract me and, eventually, bore me right out of the game. I'm hoping I can go back to some of those after I finish the game because I want to explore more of the island and do some more zombie killin'. That should be soon, as I am just about to make my way to the final section of the game.

After I have finished Catherine and Dead Island, I have two more games to start and finish. This weekend I bought Sniper Elite: V2 (PS3) and Dragon Age: Origins (PS3). I loved the original Sniper Elite, and I enjoyed the demo for V2. So, I don't think I'll be disappointed by this version. Dragon Age is not my usual type of game, but it was only $10, and I'm curious about it.
So, I'll have a little bit of sniping and slashing to do in the next few weeks. I'll let you know how it all came out.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A sad day

Man, was I shocked and saddened by the death of Adam Yauch, co-founder of the Beastie Boys, hip-hop innovator, activist, film-maker, producer, and all-around good guy, at the young age of 47. In the words of EZ-Mode forum member Strider, "Fuck Cancer".

I spent much of yesterday evening watching Beastie Boys videos. Here are some of my favs.

Finally, this kick-ass version of Sabotage. I remember watching the original broadcast of this performance and being blown away by it. It's still amazing.

Rest in peace, Adam. You will be, and, indeed already are, greatly missed.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Our Video-Game Trials

Everyone on my XBL friends list played that masochistic motorcycle-platformer Trials HD way back in August 2009, and they all raved about it. I played the demo and immediately recognised it as the excellent game they said it was, but also as one I would not enjoy. There were some parts of that demo that I played over and over and over and over again. I knew that if I couldn't get through a simple demo, I would most certainly be subjecting myself to hours of anger, frustration, and creative cursing with the full game. So, I didn't download  it, and just enjoyed reading my friends' postings about it on the EZ-Mode forums.

Now, there is Trials Evolution, and once again, everyone but me is playing it. The basics of Trials are still there, but developer RedLynx has taken the puzzles out of the confines of the factory and into the great outdoors. It looks great and (deceptively) enjoyable. Still, it is definitely something I would not be happy to play, and this GiantBomb Quicklook, in which Brad Shoemaker and Ryan Davis subject themselves to the unlockable extreme tracks, vividly illustrates why.

The video is both frustrating and hilarious to watch, and makes me wonder why we gamers subject ourselves to such things. I remember playing Halo and Halo 2 on Legendary difficulty, and taking a week to complete each of them. In particular, the battle against five waves of grunts and dual plasma-rifle-wielding Elites in the first hangar (skip to 2:48 of the video) of the Cairo Station mission, of Halo 2, kicked my ass all over the place, innumerable times. After much rage and graphic, colourful language, I finally got through it, and felt a great deal of relief (and even accomplishment) for having done so.

To this day, though, I still wonder why I did it, because I recall I didn't actually have any fun. I love those two games, and still play them from time to time, but damn are they tough on Legendary. Did I have something to prove? If so, what., exactly, was that? I certainly didn't learn anything from those difficult experiences either, as I went on in later years to play Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 3, and Call of Duty 4 --- including the infamous Mile High Club achievement --- on Veteran through many expletive and anger filled hours. I'm proud of those achievements, but, as with Halo and Halo 2, I still wonder why I put myself through them. Where is the value in raising my blood pressure or taking myself to the point of throwing the controller across the room?

These days I am less likely to subject myself to the kind of insanity you see in the above video. With the exception of any Halo game, which I always play on Heroic, I will play a game either on easy or normal, and I will always shut a game down if I find myself getting angry or frustrated while repeating and re-repeating the same mistakes. I want to enjoy the games that I play, and remember them with fondness instead of resentment or ambivalence. That's why I won't buy Trials Evolution, and will again enjoy just reading about it or watching videos of much better players play it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

First-world problem

So, my friends over at EZ-Mode Unlocked have been discussing the latest next-generation console rumours. It's a smart, well-mannered debate, but, as with most debates on new technology, it seems to skip over the affordability issue. In this case, for me at least, it is the affordability of Internet service packages, and games, as it relates to digital distribution.

The rumours say that the next Xbox will eliminate the disc-drive in favour of a digital distribution model, while the next PlayStation will retain the blu-ray drive and implement some kind of DRM to prevent the playing of used games. Essentially, the consoles are becoming more like PCs as they attempt to create a more efficient distribution system and eliminate the used games market. If these rumours are true, I may have to give up console gaming altogether and limit my PC gaming habits.

Digital distribution is nothing new. Valve Software's Steam has been around since 2002 and there are many other similar services (Origin, Gamefly,, Gamersgate, Gamestop PC downloads) that serve the PC market. And it's true that Steam sometimes has great sales, but the AAA titles and some "lesser" titles are still overpriced. Gamers can also download games through PSN or XBL, but they, too, can be costly. I myself make use of Steam --- only when there is a sale, though --- but because of slow download speed and limited bandwidth, I maintain a small library of PC games and a much, much larger library of used Xbox and Playstation games.

I'm not the type of person who can afford to pay full retail for every new release. I love video games, and I appreciate the work that goes into them, but if I can get a game for 25-75% off the original retail, I will do so. I don't mind waiting for used copies to come into my favourite bricks-and-mortar store because I couldn't care less about multiplayer and I find the features offered by limited editions, collectors editions, and online passes lame and useless. The hype surrounding a game has usually died down by the time I pick it up, but I don't feel I've missed anything by waiting for it to become affordable.
I have to be very selective about the PC games I buy and download because the Internet service package I have gives me only 3Mbps download speed and 25GB/month of bandwidth usage at a cost of $47/month; this is reasonable for my budget. The next package offered by my ISP gives 18Mbps and a bandwidth cap of 70GB for $48.99. With taxes and modem rental I would be looking at a monthly bill of around $60; this is not reasonable for my budget. I can't imagine having to pay either of these prices and full retail for games on two consoles and a PC.

So, if the XBOX goes all-digital, and the PlayStation features anti-used games DRM, I may have to give up both of them and stick with my PC. Many big titles are now cross-platform; there are few platform exclusive games that I play (Halo, for example); and I don't use any of the so-called social features of XBLA and PSN. So switching to PC-only wouldn't be a problem. Also, not playing console games could save me some money, and that money could be put towards a better Internet service package, but I would still have to be picky about the titles I download because, as I mentioned above, they are overpriced (and there is no guarantee that digital distribution will change that). But this is all speculation based on rumours. And the next-gen is due to be released until the 2013 holiday season. So, I'll have some time to play used games and think about what to do about this first-world problem.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Friday Music

Some (all-Canadian) music for you while I finish off my next post. First, Rush with "Subdivisions". I love this song for its ominous feel, but also for its musicianship. Neil Peart, of course, schools us all with his complex, yet groovy, drumming; Geddy Lee's aggressive bass attack makes that Rickenbacker growl; and Alex Lifeson displays a perfect, subtle rhythm style until he blows it wide open with a killer solo. Check out the arcade game that appears at the end of the video --- it was one of my favourites.

Next, Hamilton, Ontario's The Arkells with "Oh, The Boss Is Coming". This is a great rock tune with a cool bassline and some fine guitar work.

Finally, Nova Scotia's Joel Plaskett Emergency with "Fashionable People".  This song has a very interesting arrangement that features elements of disco, pop, and rock. The refrain, "Fashionable, fashionable, fashionable. People", is quite catchy.

Enjoy, everyone, and Feliz Pascua/Happy Easter.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

In the Game Store

I've been quite bored with my current crop of games, and have all but abandoned many of them, unfinished. Gerbil Physics, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom, Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, Resistance: Fall of Man, and a few others have failed to maintain my interest long enough to see them through to completion. It's not that they're bad games. I just think I'm just suffering some kind of ennui; that is to say, I'm in a rut of boredom.

So, I decided to visit my favourite bricks-and-mortar video game store to seek out something new. Specifically, I went to look for Catherine because the demo I played on XBox Live intrigued me enough to get the full game. I did find it; I bought it (new, for PS3) and three other used games (there was a buy-two-get-one-free sale going on), but more on that at another time. Right now I want to mention something that went on at the store while I was there.

Now, this place is small. So, if there are more than four people there, it's busy. I walked in to discover that it was indeed busy. Amongst the patrons were a boy, around 17 years old, and his mom. While he perused the games, she stayed by the entrance, like she was anxious to make a quick exit. Every now and then, though, she came over to him to see how he was progressing with his choices and, as I soon found out, to (indirectly) express her displeasure at his decision to buy some games. The first time she came over he showed her the two games he had chosen so far. Then came the inevitable question, "Are these games violent?" I just rolled my eyes as he explained to her that the one game wasn't, but the other one might be. "Might be!?" she said. She gave him that I'm-so-disappointed-in-you-now look, sighed deeply, and walked away. I guess she was worried that these silly, violent games would turn him into a lazy, anti-social loner who would eventually give up girls and then go on a killing spree.

As I wandered back and forth between the PS3 games and the 360 games I heard one of the clerks say to the mom, "Is there something I can help you with, ma'am?". She responded with, "No, I'm just here with my boy --- the overgrown one over there." I glanced at the kid and could see that he was embarrassed, and a little cowed, by her narrow-minded comments. She then came over to him and said, "Wouldn't you rather buy some workout equipment? Are you sure you want to spend your money on this? Are you sure?" I believe I heard her ask that at least three times before they left: "Are you sure you want to spend your money on this?" Then, just before they approached the counter, there was a variation on that: "Well, if you're sure that's what you want? If you're sure that's what you want to spend your money on?"

To his credit, the kid --- who, by the way stood at least 190cm (6') and probably weighed around 80kgs (approx. 175lbs) --- never raised his voice, talked back, or whined in protest; he just made his choices and stuck with them, even after his mom said, "How much is this going to cost me?". After they left, I had a bit of a chuckle about it with the three clerks, one of whom mentioned that of the three games the kid had chosen, the most violent was a Castlevania title. I neglected to ask them if they witness situations like that frequently. I think I'll do that the next time I'm there.

I wish I could have said something to that woman, but as I do not have kids of my own and am not aware of the dynamic in that family, it was not my place to do so. I felt sorry for the kid for having to deal with his mom's attitude, but I also was exasperated by the mom's failure to understand and support her son's interest and for falling back on stereotypes of games and gamers (games are violent and played by overgrown boys). Did she not notice the diversity of people who came in to shop while she was there?  Didn't she see the other mom and her two young children, probably 10-12 years of age looking for a Wii game; the couple in their early-30s looking for a singing game; the couple in their mid-20s looking for a game that featured co-op play (whose flirtatious banter about previous games they'd played together was quite cute); the couple in their late-30s looking for a game they could play together, but which could also be played by their kids; the 43-year-old man (me) chosing games for himself; the young kids looking to buy some Microsoft points; the early-20s couple looking for another controller? The world of video games is populated by all kinds of smart, interesting, well-adjusted people who do not feel they're wasting time or money playing them. You just have to open your eyes and your mind to see and understand them.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Game time

I recently played a charming, artful platformer called One and One Story after reading about it on Joystiq. It is quite brief --- 15 minutes, maybe --- but it has some unexpected mechanics, excellent music, and a strong, touching lovestory that make it more substantial than some AAA retail games. Also, the ending is wonderful. It made me smile and say, "Awww, that's so cute and clever". You can find it on Kongregate or Armor Games.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


It seems GiantBomb is joining Gamespot, again.  When I heard this news, I believe I was as stunned as everyone else, and felt wary of such a move. How could Gerstmann do this after what happened back in 2007? How will GiantBomb maintain its independence? Will GiantBomb continue to be cool and reliable and accessible? These questions and more crossed my mind, but I think they were largely answered, and most of my suspicions put to rest, after watching Gerstmann's talk with CBS Interactive vice president of games programming John Davison. It seems GiantBomb was becoming huge, and needed a partner that could help it grow further. According to Gerstmann, who still respects the editorial board at Gamespot, CBS Interactive was the best partner for that. Check out his comments in the video below. The juicy stuff comes at around the 5-minute mark, when he addresses the issues behind his firing from Gamespot 5 years ago.

So, after watching, I'm more confident about the move. I like Jeff Gerstmann. He's a smart, insightful, articulate game critic who understands not only gamers, but also the business of games and game criticism. I don't think he would enter into a partnership like this if he felt it would go badly for himself and the other Giantbombers. I'm sure there will be some glitches along the way, but I think this is a good move for both GiantBomb and Gamespot. The Bombcrew can comfortably grow its site and influence, and Gamespot could, possibly, regain the respect it lost when Gerstmann left all those years ago.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's Uncanny

Video gamers are a fickle, dissatisfied bunch. If our favourite developers don't have a new title every 18 months or so, we go a little batty. So, developers tease and appease us by releasing in-game footage, screen shots, or developer's diaries of their latest titles to keep us calm until the big day. They also like to release tech demos to show us all the shiny new features of their fabulous new graphics engines. They're usually impressive, but I've never been more impressed by a tech demo than I have by Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream's Kara.

The demo begins with this disclaimer: "The following footage is a prototype running in real-time on PlayStation 3. It is a concept only and is not taken from any software title currently in development." It would be a shame, though, if Quantic Dream did not pursue it further because it is stunning, not only because of the obvious technical aspects of it, but also because of its emotional characteristics.

The lighting, the texture detail, the subtle shadowing, and the sound are all amazing. But what really struck me were Kara's eyes and facial animations. Video game characters --- and their cut-scene counterparts --- usually have those lifeless, motionless doll-eyes, but Kara's have that sparkle and depth that we all have. Her facial animations, too, indicate that she is more than just a machine. The first time I watched the video, I was transfixed by her when she said, "My name is Kara". It's a wonderful moment of self-awareness that gets me everytime I watch it. It was at that moment that I began to feel a connection with her and, I have to admit, I got a little choked up as she begged for her life with the operator (and I still do). It's rare for a computer-animated character to make me react this way, and it may seem odd to you while reading this, but once you watch the video, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

There are so many wonderful things in this video that I could go on and on about it. There's the excellent voice acting by Valorie Curry, after whom Kara is modelled, and the themes of Man as Creator, the relationship between Men and Women, and the relationship between Creator and that which is created. But I'll just let you watch the video. Pay close attention to it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Games I Play

I've had several games on the go over the past few months or so. I recently finished both Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary's co-op campaign and Portal (PC). Of course, Halo is still fantastic and Portal is just about perfect. I can replay both games a hundred times over and never get tired of them. Then there is Resistance: Fall of Man. I'm just over halfway through the campaign, but I doubt I'll finish it because I don't find the story or gameplay compelling enough to do so. It is definitely not a Halo killer.

The two other games I have been playing are a little bit different from the ones mentioned above, and are not my typical type of game. They are The Longest Journey and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom; the former a point-and-click adventure, the latter a 2-D puzzle-platformer.

I find The Longest Journey terribly boring and slow moving, while Winterbottom is amusing and a good deal of fun. With both games, though, I am often confounded and frustrated by the puzzles and situations that I must solve to move forward. The clues and paths I have to take are not immediately obvious, and these games certainly don't hold my hand to guide me to or through them.  So, of course, I become impatient and either give up or open up the in-game browser to find a walkthrough that will.

This reaction to these titles has caused me to question how I play games and how that relates to the type of games that I play. You see, I am more likely to go for shooters and racing games. According to Raptr, 73% of my game collection consists of Action games --- 53% of that is composed of first-person shooters, while platformers make up a mere 8%. Racing games account for 16%, puzzle games 6%, and RPGs 4%.

Obviously, then, I like Action games. They move quickly, there is little dialog, and no character development. In these games, my objectives, and the paths to them, are clearly defined. If I get lost, forget my objective, or can't figure out how to do something there is usually some kind of in-game helper to guide me (nav points, on-screen prompts, QTEs, etc.). Also, I start the game with everything I need: a vehicle, a gun, and a few grenades. It's just a matter of going from start to finish or from point A to point B to win a race or to blow something up. I never ask myself the question, "How the fuck am I supposed to do this?" with such games because everything is given to me from the outset. I don't have to worry about dialog trees or managing inventories or about solving mysteries or puzzles. I don't even have to concern myself with backstories, plot points, or character development. I just drive it, shoot it, punch it, or blow it up.

Perhaps my game preference has made me a passive player who expects everything to be spelled out for him from the very beginning. Then, when I go into a game like The Longest Journey (or Winterbottom or any RPG) and I find that everything is not obvious or given to me outright, my impatience rises and my frustration fogs my mind. Or, perhaps, it could have something to do with the type of person I am. I'll explore this further in a later post.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Video Games

One of my favourite pastimes is video games. The technology, artwork, level design, gameplay mechanics, etc., fascinate me no end.  I wish, though, I could say the same for video game storylines. Mostly, they are mediocre and forgettable, and usually are overshadowed by spectacle, graphics, and multiplayer considerations. There have been a few bright spots since the beginning of the current generation way back in 2005 --- Portal, Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, for example --- but, for the most part, the big studios have been releasing a steady stream of samey games and undifferentiated sequels (some of which, I must admit, I have enjoyed).

I used to think it would be quite a while before the video games industry matured enough to develop solid, memorable stories. But, after looking through Gamesradar's 100 Most anticipated games of 2012, I am hopeful this will happen sooner than I expected.  Titles such as I Am AliveThe Last of UsPapo y Yo, and The Last Guardian look quite interesting from a story point of view, and also seem to employ some very cool gameplay mechanics.

Of course I'm also looking forward to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier and Halo 4, as I am a long time fan of both franchises, and I'm very curious about Quantum Conundrum, a game developed by Kim Swift, the lead designer on the original Portal. Much like Portal, its gameplay mechanics are physics-based, and I can't wait to see how they are employed in puzzle-solving, without the assistance of portals. I'm also excited about Metro: Last Light, the sequel to Metro 2033, a solid FPS, with some excruciating stealth sections, a pretty tough ammo conservation mechanic, and a wonderful, creepy atmosphere. Even though it taxed my GTX560Ti, I loved it. (I recommend playing it with the Russian audio and English subtitles for that extra, realistic grittiness.)

Before I found Gamesradar's list, I had my own list of 4 or 5 games to play this year. Now, that list has ballooned to 14. It looks to be a busy, expensive year of gaming for me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

You never know what you'll find

From experience I know that second-hand stores are hit-and-miss with great book finds. You could go through the store's book collection once a week for a month or two and find absolutely nothing of value. It's all cookbooks, out-of-date home renovation guides, romance novels, coffee table books, and children's stories. But then, after several months of diligent searching, there is that one book you've been looking for, or, even, that one book you haven't been looking for, that makes your heart jump when you find it.

Last weekend I went to my local second-hand store to find a pair of pants for work. While there I decided to peruse the book section, and found a title I couldn't pass up.

It's a 2001 (now out-of-print) edition of The Oxford English Reference Dictionary. The lower-left corner is slightly bent, but it is otherwise in perfect condition. For me, this is great find because I love words and, therefore, dictionaries.
A particularly interesting feature of the book is the "illustrated factfinder". It includes illustrations of the human body, musical notation, the solar system; playing surfaces of various sports, basic architecture, church architecture; and a glossy 16-page, colour atlas. There are also flow charts that show the structure of the English political system, the US government, the UN, and the history of English Kings and Queens. There is even a "chronology of world events" and many other helpful charts of weights and measures, Prime Ministers and Presidents, planets and astrology, and the periodic table of the elements. I love the "Terms for Groups of Animals, etc." Who knew that a group of larks was called an exaltation? I think my favourite is "a kindle of kittens".
It's also a great find because of what I paid for it --- a mere $4.99. Indigo lists the newer edition at $54.95 new and $30.93 used. But Amazon lists it at (US)$119 new! So, even though it is out of print (and, admittedly, has some out-of-date facts) It's a wonderful find for me. I'm sure I'll be leafing through it frequently.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Music

If you hate Mondays, here's some music to take you away. I'll start with two bands you should know. The first is South Yorkshire, UK outfit Exit Calm. They've been compared to A Storm in Heaven-era Verve, but I think their sound is heavier and more evocative, not only because of the vastness of the multi-layered, effect-laden guitars, but also because of the raw, ragged vocals.

That guitar that swirls, builds, and explodes from 2:00 - 2:28 gives me goosebumps. I also recommend checking out "We're On Our Own".

Next is London- based SULK. They have a sound that is reminiscent of late-80s britpop bands such as The Stone Roses, Ride, Suede, The Charlatans, etc. You know, great bands that had swagger and talent.

The opening of that song always blows me away. This band should be huge.

Finally, two bands I will be seeing in May, in London, England. Madchester veterans Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays.

Don't you just love that Farfisa?

I'm as giddy as a schoolboy to see these two bands. I just hope Ryder and company are sober enough to put on a good show. The last time I saw them was in 1990 at The Diamond in Toronto. They took the stage late, in front of an angry, drunken crowd, and Ryder was so wasted, he could hardly remember the words to the songs; the words he did remember were slurred. He also stumbled all over the stage. At one point, he fell into a stack of speakers and almost knocked them, and himself, over and off the stage. Good times, I guess

Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's about time

Finally, the first real day of winter this winter. We were lightly dusted with 10cm of snow last night, and the temperature is around -9C (-17 with the windchill) --- and I love it. Unfortunately, most Canadians aren't like me. As they become more urbanized and, therefore, less connected to the land that formed them, they spend most of their lives trying to deny its existence and, ironically, complaining about it.

Believe me, from the end of summer to the beginning of spring, my fellow countrymen do nothing but whine and bitch about the cold and the snow and the ice and the slush and the grey skies. I try to convince them that if they just accepted winter as a part of who they are as Canadians; that if they just embraced it; that if they didn't view it as a hostile force bent on limiting their lives they would ski through it memorably year after year. But, I'm never successful. They all want this country to be more like Florida.

Yes, when it comes to winter, Canada is a nation of wimps. The CBC documentary Life Below Zero proves this. It discusses Canadians' relationship to winter as compared to that of Russians and Scandanavians. Now they know how to deal with winter.

A Start

I've started this blog on a whim. Since I don't yet have a real plan for it, I'll begin by posting a photo of a city in which I lived from 1999-2003, Bogota, Colombia.

Photo Credit: Diana Hernandez Brijaldo

I'll post more later.