Friday, November 8, 2013

Vinyl Report: Arch Enemy - Black Earth

Before I go any further, let me just do the standard introductory drivel. Vinyl Report is a new article series devoted to reviewing albums as well as the quality of their pressings as vinyl records. So pretty much, it's just me ripping off Metal-Fi wholesale. LET'S GET TO IT.

Original year of release: 1996
First vinyl pressing release: 2002, Regain Records (1xLP, Black Vinyl, 33RPM)
Version used for review: 2010, Back On Black/Regain Records (1xLP, Clear Vinyl, 33 RPM)

I could just open this review with all the standard ranting about how Arch Enemy was so much better before they switched vocalists and replaced songwriting with tits, but for the sake of this review, I'll just stick to this album on its own merits. Back when they first formed, Arch Enemy was something of a melodic death metal supergroup, with Michael Amott (guitarist of Carcass), his brother Christopher (making his debut appearance on this album playing guitar alongside Michael), Daniel Erlandsson on drums (having previously played on In Flames' seminal EP, Subterranean) and Johan Liiva (of Carnage, another band he performed in with Michael Amott) on vocals. With all of this previous experience, you couldn't really go wrong, and for the most part, this album succeeds on that front. It's a solid melodeath release that still holds up today.

The biggest issue that some listeners will hold with the album are Liiva's vocals, which, admittedly, take a bit of time to get used to. There's points on the album that his vocals are just "uh what", like his laugh-inducing outburst of "OH" on Idolatress, or his out-speeding the verse riff of Transmigration Macabre, leaving an awkward period in the middle of the verse with no vocals. Ultimately, though, the music itself surpasses these occasional screwups. Memorable riffs and hooks, accompanied with great solo-work courtesy of the Amotts is a constant throughout. Black Earth is a good album on its own, and is a great debut album for Arch Enemy, such as they were until the 2000s.

Black Earth wasn't pressed onto vinyl upon its inception, with its first release being in a limited run on standard black vinyl by Regain Records back in 2002. Since then, Back On Black has repressed the album (including a Japanese bonus track and two Iron Maiden covers) onto clear vinyl, with a gatefold sleeve including lyrics. I've always had a sweet spot for clear vinyl (and how can you not?), and this release, although a bit barebones, is relatively slick looking. The production of the album shines on the LP as well, with the guitar tone sounding extra crisp and the bass being more audible, as one would expect from a good vinyl pressing. Despite supposedly being a limited pressing, you can find this release going for around $15 on Amazon, which is shockingly cheap for the product. If you like good ol'-fashioned melodeath, you won't regret picking this one up.

NOTE: Century Media is pressing a 2xLP edition on black and yellow vinyl that includes the same tracks as this release, as well as a second LP of a live performance in Japan from 1997. This release is supposedly "remastered" and features new artwork, but given Century Media's idea of "production", I'd take a more cynical standpoint towards it until the final product is released.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Video Games as Social Commentary

I am reminded time and time again, by people on the sites I visit, that video games should be treated like other established mediums.  That their depictions of violence, sexual content, and other subjects should be regarded the same as their movie, radio, and print brethren.

Yet time and again, we see video games come under fire the same things that have been presented in the media for centuries.  I won't go into detail, because people far more eloquent than I have already talked at length about it.  What I do want to talk about is what role can and should video games play in in relation to sensitive issues.

First off, to me, it's important to have a variety of people working on something that could be viewed as delicate.  You need as many different viewpoints to cover more of the spectrum of who you're trying to reach.  If you're going to write a story about rape, you damn well better not be a team of straight white males (that was an arbitrary distinction, relax).  having different perspectives gives you such a wealth of valuable information in order to fully realize how different groups react to different situations.

We'll touch back with that later, but I'd like to make my first point on the main subject here.  Bioware released Dragon Age 2 in March of 2011, and they quickly came under fire by some groups on the internet.

They were attacked because the character you played as, your custom made avatar, could be gay.

The following is a single post in an entire thread dedicated to this topic on Bioware's official forums.  Forums that the staff routinely check.

To summarize, in the case of Dragon Age 2, BioWare neglected their main demographic: The Straight Male Gamer.
I don’t think many would argue with the fact that the overwhelming majority of RPG gamers are indeed straight and male. Sure, there are a substantial amount of women who play video games, but they’re usually gamers who play games like The Sims, rather than games like Dragon Age. That’s not to say there isn’t a significant number of women who play Dragon Age and that BioWare should forgo the option of playing as a women altogether, but there should have been much more focus in on making sure us male gamers were happy.
Now immediately I’m sure that some male gamers are going to be like “YOU DON’T SPEAK FOR ME! I LOVE DRAGON AGE 2!”, but you have to understand, the Straight Male Gamer, cannot be just lumped into a single category.
Its ridiculous that I even have to use a term like Straight Male Gamer, when in the past I would only have to say fans, …”

To sum it up, this is why we can't have nice things.  Bioware, who has been one of the better game companies when it deals with more sensitive issues, is being ridiculed by an entitled group of gamers who think that an entire genre should be catered to them.

At this point, I'd like to point out that video games, as a medium, were originally designed to be a child's play thing, but has since evolved to accommodate players of all ages.  So why couldn't genre's evolve in the same way?  He says that the 'overwhelming majority' of RPG players are straight males, but has no statistics to back up his claim, apart from his small sample size of people surrounding him.  While gaming was predominately males at one point, the female gaming population has risen.  According to the Entertainment Software Association, 45% of gamers are women.   Following that up, the US Census Bureau's International Data Base has the global female population around 49%.  In one fell swoop, this man has marginalized three and a half billion people by saying that his group, and his group alone should be made happy.

Of course, that last statement is hyperbole, and of course, I'm detracting from my main issue to personally laugh at this guy's expense, but it brings me around to this.  How can non-gamers take video games as a legitimate medium for thoughtful discussion if we have people like this as ambassadors for video games?  It seems funny to say right now, but the biggest thing in the way of gaming being more inclusive to people of all creeds and lifestyles, is the fans of the games themselves.

I mean, maybe I'm looking in the wrong place, but I don't really see people in bookstores glaring as anyone walks through the doors.  I don't see anyone getting up in arms about a movie that depicts homosexuals.  It's a really strange phenomenon that games are almost handcuffed to being about fantastical things that aren't supposed to intersect with the real world social issues.  I do feel that there's a lot of room in this medium to grow and incorporate or teach us about different cultures or sensitive issues that may be too uncomfortable to talk about in person.  Even if you're not teaching outright, you can teach through subtlety and background events.  It's like having those different sexual orientation options in Bioware games.  It can teach people, who may have no interaction with homosexual people in his daily life, that people are the same regardless of their orientation.  Gay, straight, or neither, any of them can be heroic enough to save the universe.

I feel like the best way we can work on this is by adding more choices to our video games.  We need meaningful choices in our games, to see them have consequences.  I would love to see a game where how you interact with one person could affect how other people view you, based off hearsay, gossip, or overhearing the conversations.  The point of this is, when we play Video Games, it seems like we lose touch with reality in such a way, that we try to justify being a jerk in the game.  There are, of course, certain people who respond well to it, but I'd like to see your character's personality have that affect on other people.

If video games can make us care about other people, I feel like they've done their jobs.  I'm not saying that every game needs to be more conscious.  We need our games like Grand Theft Auto to be an escape, something where we can tune things out for awhile and relax.  I'd just like to see more games handle these issues like race, gender, sexuality, and even just tough decisions.  Just, games that make you feel things, that's what I want to see.

You may think I'm full of shit, and that's fine.  This article probably is all over the place content wise, but if you take anything from it, it's this.  I think games can be a great medium for exploring the human condition, and actually could be used to build empathy towards other people.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Board Game Corner: Epic Spell Wars Of The Battle Wizards: Duel At Mt. Skullzfyre

This is a real game.


This is most certainly a real thing.

First off, this game is not really a children's game.  While bright and colorful, the game also has some humorous, over-the-top gore involved.  In fact, the art style of this game is very reminiscent of the art style of the show SuperJail.  Continuing on with the whole "Not for children" thing, this is the first paragraph of the rules booklet.

Once upon a time, there was a world filled to the brim with radical magic.  And not pussy magic, like rabbits in hats or shit like that.  No, it was kick-ass magic, where one guy blows another guy's head off with like, a fireball or something!  You know, BALL-ROCKING MAGIC!
The background of the game goes on for a few more paragraphs, but you get the idea.  While yes, some would think this kind of violence and language is juvenile, well, they're probably right, but it's still presented in a way that made me laugh out loud while I read it.  A rule book for a game has never done that before.

The premise of this game is pretty simple... Construct a spell from cards in your hand, and kill the other players.

At the start of each round, each player draws to their hand limit, which is by default 8 cards.  They then set one, two, or three cards face down.  There are three main types of cards in this game that'll be in your hand: Source cards, Quality cards, and Delivery cards.  When you play your 'spell' of cards, you can only play up to one of each.  So a spell can contain an S, Q and D, or just a D, or any other type combination.

You play the D.

The turn order is determined like this: The player who played the fewest cards plays first.  Any people who've played the same number of cards determine the order by the number on the Delivery, in this image, 16.  That's your initiative.  If you don't play a Delivery, you have an initiative of 0.  A 0 of two cards though is still faster than an initiative 0 of three cards.

We'll take two example spell here from the internet...

Sir Lootzor's Mysterious Dragon-Horde.

Hagatha the Heifer's Crushazorian Godstorm.

This game sounds like it could be used to create a metal album...

Anyways, in these two examples, we see that all three cards share the same glyph typing.  The glyph is the symbol in the lower left hand corner.  So this means, that for each power roll, you get a die for each card that share a typing with it.  For for the Godstorm, you get the one minimum, and you get one for each of the other two cards.  If you flipped the delivery in the two spells, you'd only get one die per delivery, since no other cards in the spells share a typing with it.  Wit treasures, and added cards to spells through effects, the maximum number of dice you can roll on a power role is four.  

The cards are all designed so they  reasonably fit together design wise.  You always resolve from left to right as well.  Now before, when i mentioned initiative, I said that there's a way to get 0 initiative with your delivery, which is normally never the case.  There are cards though, that act as wildcards.  They're called Wild Magic cards.  They can take the part of a Source, Quality, or Delivery.  If used as a delivery, they're considered initiative 0.  What you do then, is reveal cards from the top of the deck until you reveal the part of your spell the Wild Magic is replacing.  Then resolve the spell as normal.  

The Sir Lootzor card above mentions treasures, so let's dive into those next.

Why yes that's a Shit Wand.  Yes, it IS terrifying in game.

So we're going to look at these three.  The middle one is actually pretty scary, despite it's name.  If you're playing with just one other person, it's pretty useless, since, well, once they die, the match is over.  But in a larger game, you could be adding +2, +4, +6, or even +8 to your power roles.  If you're rolling two dice or more, that's a guaranteed max damage or effect on your delivery.  Another important treasure type is the shoe category of treasures.  There's one shoe treasure for each glyph type (Arcane, Nature, Elemental, Dark, Illusion), and the shoe treasure acts like an extra glyph in all your spells.  This means, if you have the Dark shoes, and a spell of three Dark glyphs, you get 4 dice.  If you have a card that says "Deal 1 damage for each different glyph in your spell", it counts as an extra glyph, and thus extra damage.  The effects vary but almost every treasure is useful.  One of my favorite treasures gives all your spells +10 to initiative.  Now, the highest, naturally occurring, initiative is 20.  Normally, stronger spells have slower initiative scores, so having this treasure could jump your initiative 2 spell to an initiative 12 spell, which could mean the difference between you getting blasted and you wiping out a few pesky opponents.

The last card type is called the Dead Wizard Card.  These cards don't affect the current match, but the next one.  When you are killed, you draw one of these.  Each time a new round in the match starts, all the dead wizards draw another Dead Wizard Card.  The point of this is to give you a handicap for being killed.  The longer you've been dead, the more of these you accrue.  The effects of them are things like starting with more HP, drawing a treasure at the beginning of the next game, adding a Wild Magic Card to your hand... or even having nothing happen.  There are only a few cards that go into spells that let you draw Dead Wizard Cards, so they're usually reserved for the deceased.

When I play, normally we play to 3 wins before declaring a victor, but you could almost play this game as long as you felt like.

The game ran me $30 at retail at a local gaming store, and I got the above Hagatha spell as a promotional extra.

All in all, the game is tons of fun, and something that has a decent balance of skill and chance to keep it interesting.  If you have any more questions about it, feel free to leave a comment and I'll try to answer as best I can.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Deus Ex Effect

This post is going to be twofold.  First, it's going to be an in-progress review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  Following that, it's going to be a small expansion on one of the main themes in the game.

First off, I'm going to say that I'm a huge fan of the Deus Ex games I've played, those being the original, and now Human Revolution.

"What about..."  No.

Smarmy jabs at Invisible War aside, the series has always been great at a few things: Alternative paths through levels, options to fit a vast array of play styles, and absolutely nailing their setting.  

So, for the uninformed, the Deus Ex series is a hybrid First Person Shooter Role Playing Game.  The original released in 2000, and is a graphical mess by today's standards, but it was an ambitious game at the time.  When I play Deus Ex games, my first playthrough is always as a hacker who opts for non-lethal takedowns, and tries to stay out of view.  Granted, sometimes I fall on my face in the attempt, but you get the drift.  The main setting of the series is a dystopian future, where cybernetic augmentations are all the rage, and conspiracies are abound.  

The timeline goes Human Revolution > Deus Ex > Invisible War, so the prequel is what I'm in the midst of playing now.  

So far, what I like about the game is a few simple nods to how the technology will advance in the series.  In Deus Ex, all grenades can be tossed or thrown as normal, or they could be affixed to walls or floors and become mines.  In Human Revolution, the grenades have to be combined with a mine template in order to be used as a mine.  Second, we get to see the rise of augmentation in the series, as it played a plot point in the original.  In the original, you play a new type of Augmented soldier.  You are more biomechanical then mechanical.  By that I mean, you don't have gaudy metal limbs, and you look more human than machine.  Because of this, other members of the military organization, UNATCO, despise you because of it.  In fact, when you fight those two older edition cyborgs, you can defeat them using their deficiencies instead of in straight combat.  

The augmentations in Human Revolution are very obvious, yet they are extremely practical.  I don't the augments in Human Revolution are more advanced than the ones in Deus Ex, but I suppose some continuity issues must be accepted for gamplay changes over ten years.  

The biggest hiccup I've come across in this game has been the boss fights.  Now, in the original Deus Ex, there were usually some alternatives to figuring out how to beat the bosses, but in Human Revolution, the first Boss Fight I've come across was purely a single's combat with a huge mercenary with a giant assault rifle.  This forced me to do more cover shooting that normal, but this guy wasn't completely stupid.  He could throw 1, two, or even 3 grenades at once from his apparently inexhaustible supply of them.  Because of my habit for playing shadow-lurky, hacky, non-lethal takedowny character, I had some issue here.  It took me about 10 attempts to finally get a plan that worked (which was exploding gas barrel followed up by a few grenades), but getting around the room to get all that stuff was really difficult with his eagle eye.

Apart from that gripe, the game is absolutely absorbing.  I find myself reading emails that have no bearing on anything, I read some of the materials that are just lying around, like the newspapers and eBooks.  This does a great job of making the world feel lived in.  You see emails for maintenance work, or ones about inboxes being full.  You see actual employees wandering a building and carrying on work, and personal conversations.  It doesn't feel like people are spouting the same two lines over and over automatically.  

So that's the review portion of the game.  You should play it, if you're a fan of engrossing worlds and a fairly fun plot.

I really want to talk about human augmentation though.  Throughout the course of the game, you'll find people are split on the issue if human augmentation is either the next step of human evolution, or that it's an abomination to the natural order of things.  You can kind of see that happening in reality too, if augmentation technology advanced.  You can even see this a little bit today.

For example, in the last Summer Olympics, there was a sprinter who had prosthetic legs.  Oscar Pistorius had both of his legs amputated below the knees when he was a child.  The issue with him running with people who have natural legs, is that studies showed that his prosthetic legs provided an advantage to him over other runners.  His legs used less energy than a meaty limb would use, and part of that was attributed to less vertical movement when he ran.  You know when you run, your body bobs up and down a little, with the lifting and falling of your legs.  With his legs, he didn't have to use that extra energy, so his endurance went further.  

Now, some people supported him because he was this inspirational story that someone disabled and who suffered a tragedy when he was young is beating able bodied people.  Others feel like his running with other people isn't as impressive, because his limbs give an advantage.  Some people might even be worried that if people with prosthetic are allowed to use these technologies with non-augmented people, that it could lead to a slippery slope where people are cutting off their own limbs to get more efficient limbs for athletic competition.  

It's a fine line to draw, between how much of your performance is due to the person's skill, and how much is due to the technology.  This is a predominant issue in sports, but imagine it like this.  Imagine if you're working a data entry job, and you can type about 40 words per minute.  Somebody gets hired with a prosthetic hands that can type 90 words per minute.  If your typing speed is the sole basis for your performance, then you would be obsolete.  

I really can't say which is the right answer, because there's merits in both.  Do we make separate leagues for augmented athletes?  Do we prevent people with them from working certain jobs?  If we do that, will they be able to press discrimination issues?  if the augs aren't affordable enough many people to get them, then it just becomes another way for the rich to become more powerful, in a sense, than the poorer.  I'd like to hear some more opinions on this interesting topic, if anyone is willing to share.   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Warning: Disturbing Content - Silent Hill

Whew, back to vidya games. It feels good man, it really does. Been playing a lot of video games lately. Not like it makes a difference I guess, but I've been playing them a lot more than usual. Going back to Marvel vs. Capcom for the arcades, to Spider-Man on PSX, Castlevania... Some off shoot PC games like I Wanna Be The Guy, which if you haven't played it, you should. Sadists would love it instantly, being mind-numbingly difficult as it is, but there's a certain addictiveness about it that keeps you coming back for more, even when it becomes so frustrating that you'd rather nail your hand to the wall.

No, there's no picture for that. I'd rather not check.

Anyway, I remember part of my childhood just getting into playing Resident Evil: Director's Cut on PSX, and being terrified of it for months. It was something I had never experienced before. The atmosphere of the old mansion was perfect, and hearing any kind of noise made me jump like a little girl. I played the sequels after adjusting, and still, every time, those games would find a way to creep the living shit out of me. Eventually, I got used to it and bested those games because FUCK YEAH I KNEW I COULD!

Fuck. Yeeeeeaaahhhhhhh.
Until I rented Silent Hill.

I wish I had known at my tender age of 9 that this game was not meant for children. It's incredibly scary, and not in a "there's a scary monster down the dark hallway hurry up and shoot it" way, but in the "what the fuck i don't even" way. I honestly don't know how to describe the fear I felt experiencing that game from start to finish. It's definitely nothing normal and not something a 9 year old should be playing.

But my mom didn't give a shit. She rented it for me and single handedly fucked me up for life. Maybe that was her plan. Maybe my mom is evil. MAYBE MY MOM IS SILENT HILL. How fucking creepy would that be?

Well, if you haven't played any of the games in the long running series, then you wouldn't know. I'll start with the first entry, and hopefully I'll retain my sanity throughout this writing. Hey, did you hear something?

Silent Hill - Playstation - 1999 - Please end this madness for Christ's sake!

Am I being too liberal with titles already? Anyway, Silent Hill marked Konami's entry into the Survival Horror realm that had long been dominated by Resident Evil, and boy did it really put it's ugly foot in the door. Resident Evil had a cheesy plot, cheesy characters, cheesy dialog... it was just cheese. As revolutionary as it was at the time, Silent Hill came and took it so many steps further.

For starters, the game doesn't use a fixed camera and pre-rendered backgrounds. It's all rendered in glorious, blocky 3D, courtesy of the Playstation's limited hardware. However, for the time the game was pretty amazing. It's one of the first games I know of to use dynamic lighting, and do it incredibly well. One minute you're in the foggy daylit streets, and the next minute you're in engulfing darkness with a flashlight illuminating the way. I CANNOT STRESS THAT ENOUGH. The atmosphere that little flashlight builds is absolutely crazy. It really makes you question what is around the next corner.

Yep. 9 years old right here.

Building to the atmosphere, we have the radio. Basically, it emits white noise when there are enemies around, but it's enough to make you stop in your tracks. It starts as a small little noise, but as you get closer to your enemy, the fucking thing starts going crazy, getting louder and louder. It's one of the reasons this game still scares the living piss out of me. If I ever saw one in real life and it started making that noise I would probably die from shock. It's just one of the mainstays of this game and one that would go on to the later games in the series.

If Resident Evil is the king of horror games, then Silent Hill surely takes the cake for psychological horror. It explored new avenues that made it stand out. Fans still theorize about the game's story, but the general consensus goes something like this:

Silent Hill has a way of summoning people to it. In this case, it happens to be Harry Mason and his adopted daughter Cheryl. While driving to Silent Hill, a girl appears in the road and causes Harry to swerve off, crashing somewhere into the town. Cheryl goes missing, and Harry sets off to find her, meeting a few characters along the way. I say summoned because, 7 years before this all takes place, um, fuck this I'll just paste the wikipedia entry:

"Harry Mason had woken up in a cafe and meets police officer named Cybil Bennet--an officer from Brahms, the next town over. Cybil Bennett and realizes that Cheryl is missing. Silent Hill is deserted and foggy, with snow falling out of season. Harry also meets Dahlia Gillespie, who gives him a charm she calls the "Flauros"; Doctor Michael Kaufmann, director of Silent Hill's Alchemilla Hospital; and nurse Lisa Garland, who worked at Alchemilla.

Harry encounters a symbol marked throughout Silent Hill; Dahlia tells him that the girl from the road is a demon spreading the symbol, and urges him to stop her to prevent the darkness spreading with the symbol, and thereby save his daughter. Harry later encounters Cybil, who is possessed and attacks him. The player may be able to save her if they retrieved a particular item earlier, but if not they are forced to kill her or die.

The girl appears again, and is put under Dahlia's control by the Flauros. Dahlia arrives and explains that she manipulated Harry into trapping it, since only he could approach it. It is a phantasm of her daughter Alessa, who possesses vast supernatural powers. Harry awakens in a logicless void known officially only as "nowhere". He encounters Lisa, who realizes she is dead and begins bleeding; Harry flees, horrified. Her diary reveals that she nursed Alessa during a secret forced hospitalization of the latter in Alchemilla.

Harry soon finds Dahlia along with the apparition of Cheryl and Alessa, charred. Seven years earlier, Dahlia had conducted a ritual that impregnated Alessa with the cult's deity through immolation; Alessa survived because her status as the deity's "vessel" rendered her immortal. Alessa's resistance to the ritual caused her soul to be bisected, preventing the birth. One half of her soul went to baby Cheryl, whom Harry and his wife had adopted. Dahlia then cast a spell that would draw it back to Alessa. Sensing Cheryl's return, Alessa manifested the symbols in the town to prevent the birth. During the endings in which Cybil survives, Dahlia reveals these symbols to be repellent. With Alessa's plan thwarted and her soul rejoined, the deity is revived and possesses her."
...Did you get all that? Can we agree that Silent Hill goes much farther than Resident Evil ever has? And guess what?! The game has 5 endings depending on what you do. While Silent Hill certainly doesn't please in the voice acting category, it still does it much better than other games at the time did. All the characters sound the way they should; Harry being the "everyman", he sounds like it. He's clumsy, he's soft-spoken, and he says "Huh?" a lot. The more devious characters, again, sound perfect for their roles. It's a pretty well-crafted game for a first release.

But damn is it fucking twisted. There is gore, and lots of it. Silent Hill takes gore to a new level. When the world changes and goes to what fans call the "Otherworld" is when the game really shines. Walls turn to rusty, bloody, fecal (?), fleshy counter-parts of their regular forms. The floors change to rusted steel chain link fencing, or something else that isn't right. Here's a video of it, happening at only 5 minutes into the game!

You will also notice the music, if you want to call it that. It's more of an ambient rhythm. Sometimes you will have music, but most of the time it's either silence (hur hur hur) or some kind of heart-pounding, disturbing... ambiance. I don't really know how to explain it. All I know is it freaks me the fuck out. It took me until I was about 17 years old to play this game from start to finish because of all of this shit. It just fits together in a nice visceral package. It has to be played and experienced. It begs you to play it.

If you can handle that sort of thing.
Silent Hill 2 - Playstation 2, Xbox  - 2001 - Turn the mind fucks up to 11.

A Spinal Tap reference in this kind of post? How dare me! Anyway, released 2 years later on the much more powerful Playstation 2, Silent Hill 2 returned to once again scare the living fuck out of gamers worldwide. Except the Japanese. Nothing scares the Japanese. They probably play Silent Hill 2 when the family is all there, like a little bonding moment.

Silent Hill 2 doesn't continue the first. If we were to piece the games in chronological order, you wouldn't be able to. The first and third games go together loosely, and the second and fourth games go together loosely. THE SERIES ARE IT'S OWN MINDFUCK. Anyway, Silent Hill 2 stars James Sunderland as he travels to Silent Hill to find his dead wife Mary. Sounds pretty sketchy already doesn't it? Well, that's for you to find out as you play along.

Silent Hill 2 is a classic. It's even better than the first one. Not only are the graphics much improved to make the experience that much more real, but it's story is much better. You'll meet a new cast of characters this time around, and they all have their own issues that go much deeper than the first game. For example, the first person you meet is a girl named Angela. She seems pretty shy and a little afraid at first, and explains she's there to find her parents.

Why is this relevant to you? Because you find out that her father raped and abused her numerous times. There's even an enemy that hints towards this. And the place you fight this enemy?

Those holes? Yeah, a metal rod goes in and out of them. Notice the fleshy textures of the walls and floor. That's just a little taste of what you can expect from Silent Hill 2. It's that fucked up and it doesn't hesitate to let you know.

And lets not forget Pyramid Head, the game's villain. If ever there was a fucked up design for a monster, this one certainly takes the cake:

Wait a second, do I really need a picture? Everyone knows who he is! Even if you haven't played this game or watched that shitty movie. He's the ultimate punisher. He wields the biggest knife I've ever seen. He's just plain creepy. Oh, and he rapes a monster. Yeeeeaaaahhhhhhhh........

Graphically, the game is gorgeous. The locales this time around are much more sinister. The sound department did a great job in making you jump out of your seat as well. Here's what you can expect from this game. Little moments like that fill this game, and are bound to make you uneasy, or just frighten you to death.

The music is also something to behold. Silent Hill 2 is widely recognized for it's soundtrack, which is just excellent. You'll find some eerie tunes as you explore a hospital, a hotel, and an apartment building, and all of them are so unsettling that you'll want to escape as fast as possible.

All in all, from the atmosphere, the locales, the characters, and the best graphics yet, Silent Hill 2 marks the go-to title if you want to mess with your own head. It also has 5 endings that fans have argued about, and still do to this day. Just reading about the theories behind them is interesting and extremely disturbing in itself. A must for any gamer. It's that damn good. Also, it has a side scenario which adds to the story, and it's pretty interesting too.

Being one of my favorite franchises, Silent Hill still manages to make me uneasy. Just having me explain this to you doesn't do it justice; you need to play these games and find out for yourself. Think of creepypastas you've read, or whatever thing that scares you the most. Silent Hill evokes that feeling and does it so well. Just talking about it is making me uneasy here in my dark, quiet, empty house....

I just heard that noise again....

I'll be talking about more Silent Hill in the future. Don't worry, I'll cover three and four, as well as the newer ones!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

3 Things I Hate About The Restaurant Business

This post doesn't even need all this text really. Anyone could just read the title and figure it all out. Restaurants suck to work in. It's a fact. However, they are awesome to be fat in, and spend money. Chinese restaurants are great bang for your buck.

In more ways than one.
You can spend about 15 bucks and eat until you're fatter than fat, until they start asking you to work there to be Buddha. Then you might want to consider a different career path than eating like a slob.

If they offer you an actual job, by all means take it if you absolutely have to. Otherwise, I don't recommend it. In any restaurant for that matter. AT ALL.

This is funnier if you are a chef.
Not every restaurant is bad. Chain restaurants are much more stable and steady. I work in a little family owned restaurant and these are 3 reasons I dread it sometimes.

3. Your boss is usually an asshole.

You could argue this about every job, but in the restaurant business this is usually what you deal with, especially in little mom and pop joints. Not only do their moods swing on a dime, but they are also always looking to save as many as possible. (C WAT I DID THER??)

For example, my boss would insist on paying me under the table, because fuck waiting for payday. Sure it's convenient because you get your money now, but not when he fucks you for some of it. If you work 5 hours for $7.25, you should make about $36. Not if he fucks you over. I've been shorted as much as $30, which I might have well have just worked for free.

Its overcooked! You're fired!
I'm not saying every boss is like this, but in the places I've worked in, that's how they roll. They care more about saving a couple bucks by selling 3 year old hotdogs (true story by the way) than buying new ones. Or by sorting through rotten long hot peppers and saving any good parts of it, then serving them to customers (also a true story).

Is that not fucking horrifying? I could go on and on but I'd be typing here all day and I can only waste my awesome talents on you people sparingly. Not that I would ever run out, but I don't want to take the chances.

2. Your customers are usually assholes too!

Wow! Everybody is an asshole! Well, again, like the boss thing, customers can be incredibly rude for what I believe is the stupidest reason. It's like when they walk into the place they get this assumption that because we are waiting on your every demand that it gives them reason to act like they are your master or something.

Fuck that. That's not what that means, in any way, shape, or form. Yes, we are here to serve you a nice dinner. That does not mean we are robots that you can bark orders at.

I asked for a white zinfandel. YOU HAD ONE JOB.
Yet, there seems to be this ignorance barrier as soon as that asshole comes in. "Oh, were in a restaurant. These people serve for a living, so might as well treat them like servants." It's people like that that should work just one week in the restaurant business and see how it is to deal with asshole fuck head pricks.

The worst thing about these types of customers is that they often leave you nothing after the bill is payed. If you wait tables for a living, then you know that tips are your fucking life bread. Your actual pay rate might as well get donated to starving children because it's jack shit compared to making tips. So say you serve 10 asshole customers out of 40 and all 10 leave you a shitty tip. Congratulations, you've made almost nothing and worked your ass off to please a stranger who could care less.

And the best part? You have to split those tips. If you work with 3 other wait staff, you can dwindle that money right down. It really doesn't seem like a big deal, but the contrast between a good night and a bad experience is so great it borders on morbid depression. If you add to that the horrible days business is slow, you have a really shitty job.

1. There is no room for growth.

There's a slight room for growth, but it's nothing too contrasting. For example I used to wash dishes and finally I worked my way up to head chef. Oh, yeah, I forgot the part where I did both at the same time for $7 an hour by myself with no training.

Basically, my boss thought we would be slow, so he got rid of the dishwasher and told me I could handle both jobs at the same time. Let's get one thing straight here: I'm now in charge of a full dining room, which could easily fill up faster than you can work. I have to keep track of a broad range of inventory, and wash every dish that comes back.

For someone like me to start that fast cooking and having that much more responsibility than "wash this dish, put it away" it's pretty fucking daunting. I'm also 1 of 2 people who's had to do that at my work. That's the only growth you get. There is no management position. You can do dishes, bus tables, wait, or cook. Each pay exceptionally shitty, especially in mom and pop joints like my work, and each have their own headaches.

Also, be prepared to do a lot of things out of your job description. As a dishwasher for 2 years, I also helped prep a bunch of shit you don't even realize. It's cool to some extent because you get to learn a lot of new things, but in the end you don't get anything for it. So what you prepped food and desserts for a party of 150 people. So what you got it down like the back of your hand. You don't get any credit! The boss does, even when he didn't do a damn thing. The best part is the whole time you were making it happen  he was ordering you around like you've never done it before.

This happens regularly where I work. Say we serve a party and they want for example, chicken, sausage and peppers, and pasta on a buffet. I can do that all day long like it's nothing. Does that mean I get to do it and ensure it goes the way I want? Not at all. Every little fucking detail, right down to boiling the fucking pasta will be OKAYED by my boss first.

"Make sure that pasta goes in the water in about a half hour, because the party is eating at 5." NO FUCKING SHIT. It makes me feel like a retard, like I'm incapable of handling my job, and it happens all the time.

THIS. Someone out there shares this exact pain...
It's probably more personal angst than anything, but these are my reasons I hate the restaurant business. Don't get me wrong, I love cooking and I'm glad I got to learn it as a trade, but there's better places to use it. At least I have a job I guess...

I hope my boss doesn't know how to read a blog.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Take on RPG Classes

So I've been bouncing between Final Fantasy XIII and XIV lately, and a thought occurs to me.  I love the ability to change your character's class.

In Final Fantasy XIII, for those who don't know, you can change your characters from one "paradigm" to another.  A paradigm is a preset class set for your characters.  For example: Tri-Disaster has all three of your characters in their Ravanger roles.  Relentless Assault has One Commando and Two Ravangers.  The point of this allows you to alter your battle strategy mid-fight, in order to heal, rack up damage, debuff, etc.

The downside to this system is that you have to A) Preset your paradigms beforehand, B) Have a limited number of slots for paradigms (not that bad though, since it covers a wide spectrum of possibilities), and C) For a good chunk of the game, some classes are locked to certain characters, so say, character B can't be a commando.

All in all, it's a very interesting combat systems, and it keeps things interesting.

Onto Final Fantasy XIV, and how it contributes to this topic.

In Square Enix's latest MMORPG venture, you have a class that is determined by what type of weapon you are holding.  Holding a spear?  You're a lancer.  Holding a sword?  Gladiator.  The benefits of this is that it allows you to change what you can bring to a group immediately, instead of running back to town and changing your class there.  Actually, other, non Final Fantasy MMOs I've played lock you into your class at character creation, which is a huge bummer, and just forces you to have multiple characters, thus pay more, in order to see different playstyles.  In addition to this fluid class system, you can also equip some skills from other classes you've leveled up.  This means, you can have a Lancer who has Cure and Fire spells queued up to deal with monsters in your area.  The trade off of this is that it might not always gel well, what with Lancer's not having amazing spellcasting stats.  I'm willing to trade optimal synergy though for flexibility with my characters.

So, I kind of want to hybridize these systems with a few alterations.  I want you to have set classes you can level to learn the abilities, but then, after you hit a certain level, or reach an arbitrary story point, you can create your own class.  You could choose what stat bonuses you wanted for your class, so you can sort of spec your class to mimic main ones.  So for example, if the default Black Mage class gives you a bonus to Magic Damage and Magic Resist, you could make your homebrew Mystic Knight gain a bonus to Magic Damage and Vitality.

to determine your abilities, you would either have a set number of resource points to spend on abilities, or limited slots, either or could work.  Take some abilities from your Warrior class for an HP boost, ability from Thief class for increased Critical Hit Chance as passives, then take Thunder, Ice, and Fire from Black Mage, and then Guard, Provoke, and say, a special blade attack from Warrior to craft your custom class.

Do this for all your characters.  And now you add the Paradigm system from Final Fantasy XIII, and you can now flow between preset classes, custom classes, and other things on the fly.  This will allow the enemies to either be more difficult to compensate for increased player coverage, and you could even introduce new things like locking a character into a class as a status ailment.

This is just something I thought up.  I know the programming and implementation for this would be tricky as all hell, but it's something i could see people sinking tons of time into tinkering their characters to match how they like to play.

Enthusia Review

In 1997 one of the first console racing simulators, known as Gran Turismo, came out for the original PlayStation. The physics were, for the time, amazingly realistic, to the point where its tagline, "The Real Driving Simulator," didn't make people chuckle. From then on Polyphony Digital ruled the PlayStation's racing game world, but their throne was not uncontested. In 2005, the same year Gran Turismo 4 was released, a new game crashed into the scene from the likes of Konami. But unfortunately, not a single person noticed.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. You're looking at the cover for Enthusia, the greatest console racing simulator that nobody knew existed. This game does not have nearly the amount of cars and tracks that Gran Turismo 4 has, and Polyphony Digital easily outdid Konami in the graphics department, but what this game lacks in content and graphics, it easily makes up for in gameplay. There are a few major aspects I want to discuss, so I split this review as such.

Enthusia Life

Enthusia life is basically the name of the "career mode". It is very different in that instead of a monetary system like most other games in the genre, you have "enthu points". Enthu points are sortof like your health; if you collide with a wall or cars, go off course, etc., you lose Enthu points. If you lose all of your points, you have to miss the next race. You can also obtain experience points (calculated from your enthu points) which you use to upgrade your car or your driver (upgrading your driver allows you to hold more or gain more points). You obtain cars via a "lottery" of cars that you have beaten in a race. Overall it is a very unique system.

There was also speculation that the game was initially planned to have an actual story. This rumor is fueled by the intro sequence, which would be easier for me to show via a video than explanation.

Driving Revolution

Driving revolution is probably my favorite mode in this game. Konami is well known for their Dance Dance Revolution series, and they actually managed to incorporate similar gameplay mechanics into a racing game. I am not joking. In fact, to prove I am not joking, here is a video of one of the stages:

This game mode is an awesome twist on the license tests in the Gran Turismo series that is equally challenging and occasionally frustrating. There are these gates that you have to drive through (which may or may not be on the optimal racing line) and they have little bars that go up and down based on your speed. You have to match the correct speed when passing through these gates. You're given points for each gate based on how well you match the speed, docked points for missing gates or hitting barriers, and if you gain enough points you move on to the next stage. Utterly brilliant! I have spent countless hours in this game mode, particularly on the challenge level. The challenge level is unique (unique level in a unique mode in a unique game. uniqueception? We must go deeper...) because it has you complete 4 tests where it has the car going full throttle and you cannot use the brakes (though on two of them you do have access to the e-brake). These were a bitch to complete, but it felt so great once I beat them. I love this mode, and it alone makes the game worth it.


As much as I love Polyphony Digital's series, this game drives much better than Gran Turismo 4. GT4 has an issue where there is too much rear grip, which induces understeer (some drivers refer to it as "tight") in cars that don't actually have it. Enthusia essentially nailed the grip balance compared to other console racers of the era. The other thing that gives Enthusia an edge is the force feedback given to racing wheels. Force feedback in GT4 was poorly implemented. In the turns it felt fine, but at very high speed on straightaways the wheel simply rattled back and forth in a very unrealistic fashion. Konami did not do such a half-assed thing, and it really makes the driving experience so much better. It also actually penalizes you for driving like a dumbass. If you hit something or go off course, it knows and tells you "hey, you screwed up". In these days, damage was not a major feature to consider, but this was definitely a step forward.


I did say Enthusia lacked content. It did.  Compared to Gran Turismo 4's astonishing 722 cars, Enthusia makes you feel like a kid looking at a grown man's hotwheels collection when your mother only occasionally bought you one or two at the Target checkout line just to shut you up.
what an asshole. I would have played the shit out of those
However the catch is that a lot of Enthusia's cars are not in Gran Turismo 4, and these "exclusives" were some damn good icons. BMW M1, De Tomaso Pantera, Bugatti EB110...
Right. The game also lacks tracks, especially real ones, but the fantasy tracks that it has are pretty cool and are just as fun and interesting to drive as the competitor's offering, so there isn't too much problem there.

Final Thoughts

So what Konami did was create a damn good racing game engine, infused elements from RPGs and music games, did it really well, and not promote it hardly at all. The result is an amazing game that will never see a sequel (apparently a sequel was in the works at one time, but never actually came to fruition). That said, the masterminds were not suddenly lost. One of the physics developers from Konami has their name in the Gran Turismo 5 credits, which explains why there was so much improvement in that aspect over 4. I'm going to give this game a rating of 8.5/10. They nailed the physics and made the game very unique, but the lack of content and unappealing graphics compared to competitors brought the score down. This game really did not get the popularity it deserved, but it has become a bit of a cult classic, much like old Volkswagen Beetles and Reliant Robins are in the automotive world.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ingress Review

I'm not sure how many people can relate, but I used to be a very secluded person. I would wake up, go to school, come home, and go straight to my room to play video games and do other stuff on my computer, only coming out for the bathroom and food. I had a small, close-knit group of friends, and overall I didn't get out much. That changed when I got my requested invite code to Ingress in late January.

Ingress is an augmented reality MMO game for Android phones (official iPhone port is apparently in the works, though there are some unofficial ones) which some people may consider like "geocaching on steroids". It was created by Niantic Labs, which has a tie to google of some sort (I forget the details on that, you can look it up yourself). The game has little markers scattered around everywhere known as portals. These portals are associated with public attractions and other places of interest. This includes things like statues, historical buildings, murals, historical markers, etc. The whole point of the game is to gain mind units for your faction, which is done by capturing portals and linking them together into triangles.

The game itself, like many other MMOs, consists of trying to level up so that you can be more useful, and "farming" for supplies. The backstory for it never really caught my attention, so I don't have an opinion on it. I've heard mixed thoughts on it. But that's not what makes this game awesome.

What makes Ingress well worth trying to nab an invite for (it's currently in a closed beta, but they've been giving out invite codes like crazy to people; more on this at the end) is that it can really change you as a person. As I said, I used to be very secluded and stuck inside my shell. This game is great to break that, because often times, especially just starting out, it's hard to do things solo. So you get a chance to connect with people that are just as nerdy as you are and interact with them in person.
this was from an event some local faction members did. Long story...
The other benefit to Ingress is that it's almost a fitness game without trying to be. You have to actually get out of your house and visit these locations (which can also cause you to get out and find something new, regardless of how long you've lived somewhere). Admittedly, some people tend to play from their cars, but in many cases it's easier, more legal, and a lot more fun to actually get out and walk from portal to portal. I actually lost 15 pounds in my freshman year of college because I really got into this.

I would give this game a 9 out of 10 simply because while they do still have bugs and balance issues to work out, it's a damn good idea, a damn good game, and it is still in beta so they have time to work it out.
If you want to play (it is free!), first try requesting an invite code to your email address at their website

If that doesn't work after about a week, get onto Google+, join the Ingress community, and make a post asking if any local players have an invite code for you to play. Chances are you'll get plenty of responses from people that want you to join under the condition that you join their faction (either enlightened or resistance). As I said, this game is well worth it, so give it a shot.

Agent belisario93, signing out

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Scale and Gravity

No, no, no, this isn't about space games, where you have to worry about flight trajectory and whatnot.  This is about the plot of a game.

I was recently thinking about what was lacking in Arkham City, and why I couldn't shake this feeling that I'm missing something.  Something about the story in Arkham Asylum immediately sucked you in.  The peril seemed much more dire at the same point I'm at in City.  In Arkham Asylum, we know the score.  Joker has taken control of the island, and now has some control over the villains within.  in Arkham City, Batman was injected with a life threatening virus by the Joker, so he'd be forced to find a cure for the both of them.

The second situation seems more dire, does it not?  For some reason though, it doesn't seem like it.  The only time that the disease seemed like an issue was for a short, few seconds after I chased down this assassin in the underground of Gotham.  Vision got blurry, Batman falls down, and coughs up some blood.  That's the first time we see how serious this illness can be, but you wouldn't know it by the two hours I spent between getting injected with the virus, and getting to Mister Freeze, who was working on the cure before being kidnapped.  In Arkham Asylum, going from story point to story point felt like progress was being made.  Joker would taunt you at every turn, but it Arkham City, the open world actually takes away from story.

While yes, it is fun, and yes, getting around the city via hookshot/gliding, and the characters are very interesting (the villains, natch), but the situation doesn't feel as important.  there is this overlooming "Protocol 10" thing that Dr. Strange keeps yammering on about, but that's been vague.  Maybe that's the way they're trying to get the tension up, with an unknown event lurking on the horizon.  But it just isn't working all that well.  Some games can do intrigue well, but it missed the mark here.

Let me contrast this with Final Fantasy VII.  I'm not huge on the game as some people are, good game, just not 'best ever' category.  What it DID do well though was letting you know EXACTLY what the stakes are. Disk one, Sephiroth is the clear cut villain, starting as a SOLDIER gone manic.  He commits a massacre in the ShinRa building, which is one of your first indicators that he's snapped.  As the game progresses, he gets more and more genocidal.  By the start of disk three, he's turning himself into a god among men, and plans on slamming a Meteor into the planet in order to siphon all the planet's energy into himself to make himself a globetrotting vehicle for Armageddon

Pictured: Sephiroth if he decided to play basketball.

.This is the goal post.  You are shooting to stop him.  This is established in the first few hours of the game.  Every subsequent event in which you see him, aboard a ship, in Nibilheim, Temple of the Ancients, etc, the stakes just keep getting raised.  Not only the whole "save the world" thing, but the main character has reasons for going after him for more reasons than "I go because I must".  Sephiroth messes with Cloud's psyche so much, that the end fight is one of the more cathartic things in video games.

Pointing to another example from the same series, Kefka in Final Fantasy VI.  Here's how grave the situation is.  He succeeds at destroying the world and becoming a god.

Not as a game over, not as a bad ending.

He succeeds.

Final Fantasy: now with 100% more Killer Clowns.

The entire second half of the game is spent regrouping your forces after they've been scattered, and taking him off his pedestal.  Kefka succeeds when you're around, because you get distracted by something else.  He then becomes an omnipotent deity, who as the final boss goes through 3 stages of ascension into godhood, who has a cult worshiping him, and shoots laser beams of death when he gets bored.  Again, this is the scale of events in the second half.  The first half is spent keeping the Empire from obtaining this sort of power.  The effects of the statues, the artifacts that grant the power, are brought up fairly early on, so it's not like this comes out of nowhere.

This breaks so many tropes it's not even funny.  How many times do you see that the villain has succeeded in his huge, grand plans?  It really leads to some great storytelling in the second half.  You don't HAVE to go out and find everyone, but it's recommended.

In Psychonauts, someone is stealing campers' brain. In Red Dead Redemption, your old gang member betrayed you and left you for dead.  Alpha Protocol has you interacting with the 'final villain' throughout the course of the game.  You see Halbech all the time, as he tries to profit off a full scale war.

I'm fine with games going for an intriguing storyline, I really am.  They just need to have enough of a pull or mystery to get you invested.  Being vague, or too avant-garde can just leave me feeling that something is coming out of thin air.

For a quick example of how I feel this worked out well, I'll point you to BioShock.  Wonderfully done game, with an ending that was a bit off, considering the rest of the quality in the game.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Album Review: Krallice - Diotima

The Pretentious Version:

Picture, if you will, the very concept of music. At its core, it is merely arrangements of sound that some may find pleasing. To the listener, however, music transcends what it is composed of to stimulate the listener's mind and even his soul at times. Each piece of music, in its own way, creates a world, some glimpse of another plane within the human mind, some more so than others. Diotima, the third album by New York progressive metal band Krallice, is one such work; each song a piece of the darkly serene world that the work as a whole creates, one of chaos, yet beauty amongst its ruins.

The intro track "-" (This review may be pretentious as hell, but even I can't justify that title) is brief, but sets the scene efficiently, where tremolo picking and blast beats combine to weave a dark tapestry. It gives way to a solemn guitar riff, which itself crossfades into the feedback of Inhume. There are few moments like this on the album, the other two such moments occurring on the title track and Telluric Rings, but these moments are a stark reminder that despite the beauty of the landscape, its jagged mountains and foreboding gloom still render these lands hostile and uninviting. Krallice are not a band known for being "evil" or "brutal", but the atmospheres evoked by these passages are quite dark indeed, and would work well if reworked into a black metal album. (Note: I don't consider Krallice to be black metal, despite their classification as such. If an artist uses the techniques of surrealism in addition to his own skills and vision, the painting is not exclusively a surrealist work.) Despite the overall solemnity of the album, there are still plenty of points at which some hint of celestial essence can be seen, as moonlight penetrating the clouds. The riff at 5:26 on Inhume, which is repeated shortly after, is an example of this, as is the first climax of Telluric Rings at 6:41.

A work of art is only as quality as its artist, and on that front Krallice certainly deliver. The twin vocalists, Mick Barr and Nick McMaster, complement the surrounding music perfectly, and, while some may find Barr's higher-pitched vocals grating, the album takes more of a focus on McMaster's growls, which are the deepest they've been throughout their discography on this record. The dual guitarwork of Barr and Colin Marston always strikes a balance between flashy and reserved, with solos used sparingly. Special mention goes to McMaster on bass duty; his playing does not mirror either of the guitars, but cuts its own path to augment the surroundings, often to the effect that lesser bands try to accomplish with over-the-top keyboards or orchestras. His work is the subtle undercurrent to the rest of the band's waves.

The album holds plenty of stand-out moments, but the most interesting of which to my ears is the track "Litany of Regrets". The production is compressed heavily, not to produce a lower sound quality overall, but to create a sort of motion to the song based around the bass drum pedal. The song keeps a consistent up-beat tempo throughout, which combined with the aforementioned compression, lends the track a sort of hypnotic quality. The music itself is heavily focused on repetition, with occasional theme changes, but ultimately returning to the central riff. "Litany of Regrets" is essentially the modern metal realization of an ancient shamanic trance ritual, a theme with the lyrics touch upon as well: "And the anchorite dreams/He dreams a shaman carving blood unto/Darkened cavern ribs/While shadows dance/To the ecstatic rhythms/Of the Pacan/He dreams of pages of gossamer and spider web/Whose words will not survive their altercation back to dust." The repetition may easily be seen as a weakness, but it fits the concept quite well. The album ends with another example of one of the things Krallice does best; taking a moment and building upon it until it envelops the listener. While not as bombastic as the last minutes of "Monolith of Possession" (from their previous album, Dimensional Bleedthrough), the outro of "Dust and Light" is a more than satisfying conclusion to Diotima, providing a fitting end to the sonic journey through forgotten lands.

In conclusion, Diotima must be viewed as a whole work, not on a song-by-song basis. It, like all Krallice albums, is not to be viewed on merits of its status as "metal", although to the patient listener, it has more than enough moments to satisfy those listeners as well. It crafts a world within the listener's mind, and then guides him on a journey, bearing witness to both beauty and savagery. If you are a fan of music as an artistic medium, or simply like quality progressive metal, Krallice is certainly a band to check out, with Diotima as another shining example of their status as craftsmen of sonic landscapes.


Krallice are clearly skilled musicians, with plenty of guitarwork to keep metalheads interested, if they can bear a bit of repetition in "Litany of Regrets" and each song blending together to create a whole instead of simply crafting memorable songs with hooks, choruses, etc. It's worth a listen to see if it's your thing, certainly, but I can't guarantee the appeal of it to a standard metal audience.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Replay Value

So, recently one of my friends has finished a game, and he feels underwhelmed by how it wrapped up because it doesn't have the same replay value as older versions of it.  He's referring to DmC vs the old Devil May Cry games, in this instance.

One one hand, I want to agree with him on his point.

On the other, I can't.

Let's look at some older games, and see why they've become such mainstays in our libraries.

We're gonna start old school with these first games.

Remember these guys?

The replay value from these games comes from, not the complexity of their design, but from their gameplay.  There are a finite number of paths through each of these games.  Of course you can skip levels in Super Mario Bros via world 1-2, but it's not really altering your path through the game.  You'll still end up going through the same levels you would have otherwise.  You can fight Heatman before Crashman in Mega Man 2, but it doesn't really change much beyond what order you get your powers, which you'll still have all of them at the end.

So how do some people get replay from these?  Self-imposed challenges.

Mario Speedruns.  Megaman 2 Buster-Only playthrough.  Hell, there are complicated as HELL playthroughs for Pokemon games.  Clearly, there are ways to make your games last longer.  Mind you, these aren't for everyone.  Personally, I won't ever do any of those playthroughs, but there are some people who want to do this.

So why else do I go back to Super Mario?  Well, just because it's fun to play.  That's all I need.  If a game was fun to play, I will go back to it, despite knowing how it ends, despite knowing all the plot points, or whatever.  I've beaten Final Fantasy VII a few times, but that game doesn't really change with each playthrough.  Most times, your first playthrough is the best one, simply because you're seeing it with new eyes.  What's nice about subsequent playthroughs though is that you can notice new details of the game that you didn't know before.  You pick up on foreshadowing that you may have missed, or subtle nods to other things.  

Now, on the newer game side, I've nearly 100%'d Saints Row the Third (all collectables, just missing some wave defenses), and you can sure as hell bet that I'm going to keep that in my library.  Same with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.  

Onto where I agree with him though.  There have been some companies who have been known to sort of "sever" their core game in favor of making people pay for DLC.  I say "some" for this.  Capcom is notorious for their On-Disk DLC policy that they had for some of their games.  We'll be talking about DLC in a podcast in the future, so keep an eye out for a more comprehensive take on that.  Let's just say I'm fine with DLC made outside of the normal development cycle.

Another thing is that some games have been shortening their single player campaign to about 8-12 hours, which can seem short for the investment.  Then we have to remember that old games from the SNES and NES cost about the same.  Now, I'm not saying that we should be having half hour games, or non-ending games now, because that's what we had in 1990, I'm just putting things into perspective.  Expectations change, as they should, due to the evolving technology.  We also need to look at each genre and how long we expect games to be in them.  An RPG?  I expect 20+ hours from.  An Action game a la God of War?  If the game is satisfying, 10-15 hours.  An FPS?  Well, if it's a straight up one, 10 hours is fine.  Hybrid it with an RPG, jump that number to 15+ (hi there Borderlands, Deus Ex, and from the Third Person Side Alpha Protocol)

Bet you thought this was gonna be an Alpha Protocol picture.

The point is, not every game is going to be a monumental creation.  If we look at other mediums, not every book is going to be read multiple times.  The same goes for movies.  There are things that I've consumed once, and been satisfied with.  Then there are those games that are profound, interesting, or just plain fun enough where I want to keep them in my library, not for an immediate replay, but for one down the line.  That's where real replay is.  The one where you can dust it off after a hiatus, and pop it back in and have it all come rushing back.  The games where you can say "Why have I waited so long to replay this?".  Those are rare, and sadly, many people don't realize it.  

There are games that have a definite replay value, Okami comes to mind with the New Game + option.  In fact, any game with that feature adds a second playthrough.  The Tales series does this incredibly well.  

A good game shouldn't need these though.  When the option to keep your stuff for a second playthrough comes up, it's nice, but a game that sticks with you is one you'll start over to play it again.  

[Edit] Looks like we hit 100 posts on this blog (so what if I'm a tad behind)

Whoo, party.