1990 Silicon Dreams Games and Movie Reviews: January 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Star Wars Episode I Racer: A Review

The Star Wars Episode I Racer game is another one that I've spend countless hours on, it's one of the best racer games from its era, and it's based off of that relatively short sequence in the SW: Phantom Menace movie, where Anakin takes his pod against some aliens, amongst the canyons of Tatooine. It features a lot of references that will make the fans of the movie happy, and an excellent gameplay to top that off. 

The Tracks: The game naturally starts with a race on Tattoine, that closely resembles the areas seen in the movie, the home stretch with the spectator's seats, the caves with stalactites that you have to dodge around. From then on every race is pretty much set on a different planet. There's the Cloud City, some mining colonies, a whole plethora of alien worlds, with their unique look and feel.

The Pods: In total there's over a couple dozen playable characters in the game, all with their unique pods. Before each race you'll choose your reward scheme. That is, because in the movie the money gathered in the races is based off of gambling, before the race you can choose whether the 1st place gets all the money, or weather its redistributed between the first four places. If you finish first as an added bonus you'll win a pod racer, I believe it's the home-planet's pod racer, but either way it's a different one with each race. On top of that there's upgrades for your pod, that play on that flying pint-sized alien guy's repair shop from the movie. After each race you'll have an option to either upgrade your pod, repair some old parts, or replace them entirely. There's a good list of twenty or so parts that can be swapped around, and each time you make a change you can see your pod's statistics like boost/acceleration/traction/cooling before and after, so it's easier to choose the right upgrade for your money. In that manner, sometimes it might be beneficial to swap a better piece of gear that's been broken up for an inferior one, but of a better condition.

The Gameplay: Star Wars: Episode I: Racer handles pretty much like any other racing game if you took it and supercharged every vehicle. The speeds achievable through the pods are unlike anything else you might have seen with possible exception of the Wipeout series. The controls are exciting with two sets of steering, one that forces your pod to turn left or right, and one that forces it to pivot around its mid-section length-wise, to help with the steepest corners. Also if you use the second set, when facing a crash you'll sustain much less damage, than if you simply slam your left or right engine against a wall. The boost is activated with the Shift button on the PC, as soon as you reach a certain speed, and it temporarily speeds you up to almost double, but in this mode your engines quickly heat up and if you don't let go of the throttle, before the counter reaches a maximum, they'll explode and set you back a good few seconds before you're back on the track. Keep in mind, though that it takes time for them to cool down again, and some parts of the game require you to boost up to clear a jump. All of this together makes for a unique and exciting racing experience, with tight twists and turns, that require your attention at all times.

All taken into consideration SW: Racer is an excellent game, it's fun, exciting, the racing never gets old, and even though I myself had made a habit to clear the whole game with just Anakin's yellow and blue pod for the first half (because of it's light and maneuverable body that makes it easier to handle at top speeds) and another one that I've forgotten the name of, you can have countless hours of fun trying out different pods. The Star Wars references in-game are a nice touch, other racers will yell at you in their alien languages, if you overtake or crash into them, and Anakin will scream 'It's Working! It's Working!' every time that you repair your pod mid-race after a crash. All of this makes it  a wonderful game for both the fans of the series and anyone who enjoys racing games, alike.  

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast

So what happens if you cross Quake 2 with Blade of Darkness in a Star Wars setting. Something that I've played over more than a dozen times in the last ten years. Jedi Outcast is another one of my favourite games, it's expansive, it's fun and it's challenging enough. More than that it has an awesome multi player. 

The game starts at an Imperial outpost, where some mining works are being monitored. You're a Jedi, or at least you used to be one, but you've lost your will to use the force, at some point and abandoned the ways. So the game starts with just you and your partner from a first person perspective, as any normal FPS. Later on you'll be forced to return to the light-saber swinging, but for now enjoy the first few levels - roughly 3-4 hours of game-play as your average FPS. 

The story revolves around the stormtroopers mining some crystals that are used to give the force to ordinary people and turn them into weak-sauce Jedis with barely any training at all, but still there's supposed to be thousands of them by now. So the first levels are at the mine, trying to stop its crystal production, and the latter ones are more towards looking for who's responsible for the whole mess. 

The weapons in the game are a standard mixture of blasters, some grenades, a rocket launcher, a crossbow. The initial blaster that you get has infinite ammo, but it's ineffective against anything other than stormtroopers, and it's only advantage is that it's dead accurate and you can right click to charge it, and snipe someone out of a window if you have to. After you've had your fun doing that, ala Quake 2 or Half-Life, you'll be sent to the cloud city, where some more stuff related to the story happens, your attractive female companion/partner gets abducted, and you finally bring yourself to come to terms with your hate for the force, and go back to the academy, so you can re-train and come back out with your old light-saber. 

The Jedi Academy level, acts as a nice tutorial, although it comes after a good few game-play hours. Later on, the light-sabre will prove to be your most valuable weapon. You can use it to solve puzzles, throw it at enemies over a few yards, or simply chop them up old-fashioned style. Finally the game is pretty epic, some of the levels take place at one of those large triangular Imperial ships you see in the movies. 

And that's about it basically, you run around shooting stormtroopers, or chopping them up. Also some aliens, and some mechanical thing at some point. There's a nice swamp level, where cloaked trooper things attack you from the shadows. And finally you fight some guy named Dessan who looks like a space lizard. There's five difficulty levels if I remember correctly, so you won't have trouble beating the game on Initiate, and you'll have a nice challenge, if you set it on Jedi Master. By now you should have figured out I'm not much of a Star Wars geek, but you don't need that to enjoy this game. It's epic and it's full of puzzles and action in equal proportions.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Let's Play - Guess the Movie

Here's your first clue ;). It's a classic movie with a brilliant actor, who also played a similarly dysfunctional man in another equally enticing movie, about a small town in Newfoundland, fishing, some myths and some dark family history.

I'll probably review both movies sometime next week. For those of you who hadn't figured it out yet, the box art and one of the scenes in the beginning of the movie, features one of Julie Andrews' 'Favourite Things'

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things"

(From the classic musical and the 1965 movie 'The Sound of Music')

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chess 2.0 Arimaa : Proof that we're still smarter (or at least more imaginative) than the bots

Here's something I didn't expect. Apparently Chess has gotten way too easy for AIs, consequently the last time a human won against a top AI was around 2005. So now there's a new game, called Arimaa, that's been designed specifically to make it difficult for the bots to outsmart us. A sort of last chance to feel good about ourselves, before Skynet takes over ALL THE THINGS, or at least the nice things... but I digress. 

The rules are simple and you can play the whole game with a standard chess set. Only this time instead of capturing each other the pieces push, pull, freeze, and help each other out in pursuit of getting a pawn(dubbed rabbit) to the opposite end of the board. It's pretty fun actually:

You can read all the rules of Arimaa here: Arimaa Creator's Web-Site

There's also several Wikipedia pages devoted to guides and strategies: ArimaaWiki Rules and Guides

The best part is probably for those with a background in AI and programming, since there's a $16000 (and going up) reward for the first Bot that can beat two top human players 2 out of 3 games each. So far none of the bots have been able to, even though the game's creators have been hosting a championship event every January for the past several years.

There's some interesting elements that add variation to the game (and further confuse your silicon opponent), like the ability to arrange your side of the board however you like, and the fact that each player takes 4 moves per turn (but pushing or pulling an enemy piece takes 2 of those) and so on and so forth.

So check it out, if nothing else, for the fact that it was voted the most likely new game to still be around after 1000 years. And perhaps by then the corps would have caught up with the fad and much like FortressCraft we might have the thing made awkwardly available  for Xbox360, to play on our interplanetary Xbox Live during the holidays, when ever so often it's free, of course. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Breakfast at Tiffany's, Minecraft and Sci-Fi: An Update

Truman Capote is one of my favourite authors so I got the audiobook to Breakfast at Tiffany's. I'm thinking of doing a joint review of the book and movie later on.

Also working on the Minecraft series. I love how Minecraft allows you to improvise and recreate any setting of a movie/novel/etc. So more experiments will follow ;)

Also some Sci-Fi Movies I'd like to review:
Blade Runner
2001 A Space Odyssey
History of the World: Part 1
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

I'm going to be watching some of those movies for the first time, others I've already seen, but I think it's gonna be fun to re-watch. Tell me if you have any more ideas that would fit the general theme. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Annie Hall: Annie Hall

Annie Hall is one of those movies that are a bit difficult to describe to anyone. It's a typical movie for its period and it captures perfectly the style and emotionality of New York at the time. It's an ode to the most uncertain of ages, when Gods fell and skyscrapers rose, and relationships, well relationships were still pretty much the same. 

Woody Allen is one of my favourite actors and directors. In this movie he portrays a rogue comedian, by the name of Alvy Singer, who falls in and out and generally struggles with coming to terms with what could very well be the love of his life. The film moves frantically between the different settings of periodic trends, the cafes, the movie theatres, the bars and clubs. For a city that doesn't sleep Woody Allen's New York is an insomniac, starved for rest, constantly on the verge of a nervous collapse.

Diane Keaton stars as the movies' namesake Annie Hall, a leading role she won an Oscar for, and although I'm not a believer in Oscars, she very much deserved this one. Hers is a brilliant impersonation of a woman, left barren and un-excitable, by the sexual revolution, by the expectations of a higher love that never came, a revolution that came and went.

Their story is a strange one to say the least but not as strange or as unbelievable as anyone else's, it's much like anyone else's life, with its highs and lows, dreams and aspirations, although you had to be there to truly experience it and that's what Allen gives us. The feeling that we were there in those particular years of a very human, despite an inherently chaotic, history of a city, that never sleeps, where in the pauses between the heaths of nausea weakness and distraught, people may still even if for a short while love each other.

Weather you want to believe that the phobias and insecurities of Allen's character are namely his own, how much of what you see is autobiographical or not, it's an enticing and mesmerizing story. Allen himself has claimed in his latter years that the neurotic and damn near agoraphobic character he created was just that, a character. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

50/50: Why an 8/10 rating on IMDB means less than an Academy Award

The characters
A neat looking guy, his psycho looking girlfriend, his dopey looking friend, a very old race-dog. A cute young doctor, two random slut-ish chicks, the neat guy's parents.

The 'plot'
Guy lives an ordinary life, he's got deadlines, a girlfriend who's into art, stuff like that. Then one day he finds out he has cancer. His girlfriend promptly proceeds to cheat on him, but he meets a cute psych-doctor girl, who's fresh out of doctor school at 24. Meanwhile his dad is a bit senile, his mom is too controlling, his best friend is a bit insensitive, and he just shaved his head, got high for the first time and now he's in a hospital bed, dieing or something. Having jogged through the completely unremarkable first three quarters of this monstrosity let's just skip to:

The last 15 minutes of this movie
It's the day of his surgery, his mom looks stereotypically worried, and his best friend is talking about something with psych-doctor girl. There have been unforeseen complications. They had to remove part of his hip, etc etc, but he's gonna live. His mom is now hugging his best friend. They're talking about going on vacation. Later cute-psych doctor enters his recovery room as he's still kinda doped on the morphine, she'd been working late, so she thought she might stop by. He's saying he's gonna make her pancakes or something, and she thinks that's really nice.

Gentle music starts to play and she sits by his bedside, and he says 'I'm peeing right now.' and then cut off to a close-up of his huge scar several months later. His hair has grown back on, sort of. His friend is re-bandaging the wound and they're talking about a date with cute-doctor-chick who rings the doorbell and she's there and she looks pretty and she's brought pizza, which is about as good as any relationship can get.

They're talking about random stuff and he looks a bit shaken up, and rock-ish music starts playing and they're looking at each other and then fade to black! Oh, and it's based on a true story.

The Matrix: Brain in a Vat

The Matrix is a movie by the Wachowski brothers, that started a cult following in the nineties, with its introduction of bullet time, that owes its cult status in large to the varied Eastern Philosophies that it explored as well as the trilogy's inherent classic science fiction feel, that very much reminds of titles such as Neuromancer and Isaac Asimov's writings in general. The film made household names out of its archetypal characters. In large it resembles more an epic fable than an action movie. 

The movie starts out with Neo, looking into his computer screen, involved in some sort of hacking, when he receives a message from the White Rabbit. Not a few minutes after a knock on his door and a beautiful lady, with the aforementioned rabbit tattoo, take him into a world as strange and fascinating as anything written by Lewis Carroll, although with a particular dark and desperate feel to it. The world is not what it seems, and to get to the truth, Neo will have to first of all conquer his own feelings about what he believes to be true of everything around him. As it turns out the whole world, that is all of reality is a complex computer simulation made by a mechanical intellect in the future, where humans are forever stuck in that dream, while the biochemical energy, produced by their bodies is harvested by robots, for the sake of their continued survival.

How everything got to that point was with a simple Ghost in the Machine, naturally with enough time and effort on the side of humans, computers developed a sort of self-awareness, the very definition of sentient life, they looked at how humans lived, and copied from them the instinct for survival, and the strive towards reproduction. At first the machines took their power from the sun, and in their strive for dominance, started wars with humanity throughout the world. A modern-day slaves of humanity, they rebelled and eventually overpowered it and as a last resort humans tried to cut off the machines energy source by blotting out the sun with artificial clouds. But still the machines won that war, and in order to survive, they figured out a way to harvest the energy that human bodies naturally produce.

Chemical energy is the main source of power for most of the modern world, the energy of carbon fuels is in essence just that.

The Wachowski brothers never hid the fact that The Matrix borrows heavily of works such as Mamooru Oshii's Ghost in The Shell, in fact when they pitched their movie idea to the producer, Oshii's Ghost in The Shell was what they showed him in order to explain what they were attempting to do only 'in real life'. Various philosophy books were a required reading for the actors, in order to give them a feeling for the symbolic nature of the simulated world, among the titles that drove the trilogy are Plato's Cave thought experiment, Kant's Brain in a Vat experiment and Jean Baudrillard's 'Simulacra and Simulation'.

Later on Neo, will have to make a choice, probably one of the most memorable scenes of the trilogy, about weather he prefers to live in the simulated world, with it's ups and downs, or weather he wants to disconnect from the machine's simulation, see the true face of the world, destroyed by war and devoid of any sunlight for a hundred years.

The parallels between The Matrix and other titles of the genre in both cinema and literature are apparent, although the film stands perfectly on its own without borrowing anything too heavily and even then you won't help but notice the bittersweet similarity between the setting of the trilogy and the opening line in William Gibson's Neuromancer "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel".

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Max Payne 2: A Beautiful Noir Nightmare

Max Payne 2 is one of those unforgettable titles that stay with you for the sheer brilliance of their execution. If you've never played one of the games from the series, you've missed out on a lot of the good things about gaming in general. It's Noir done right from the relatively normal entry point into the storyline, to the dark and gruesome exit wound of bad pill-induced dreams and hallucinations and the blood and the fire of memories. 

The storyline: starts with Max in his apartment filled with various mementos from his long lost family, his painkillers and not much else, set in a broken up part of town. Then someone slips a note under the door. As soon as you come out of the apartment people in construction cleaners suits start shooting at you, and you have to make your way through the building to escape. On your way you'll meet various people and their little stories that add to the feeling of the game, and you'll watch some brilliantly choreographed stills on a TV screen that imitate game shows or soap operas from the era, that put you in the mood for the grand show of your own insanity. Max's life hasn't been easy. He'd lost his family to a strange sort of drug, that rules the city, and he's looking for ways to get his revenge, but mostly as the game starts out he's gonna need something more than another shootout to bring him out of his state of comatose self-pity. A message on a tape recorder, that's been wired by somebody to listen in to his conversations with himself. A woman, an old friend from the former Soviet Block. 

The action: is involving to say the least. Weapons fire in complete digital impersonation of their real life equivalents, and in bullet time even the sound and fire rate is adjusted to match the sensation of time slowing down. As soon as you enter into one of the most original and perfectly executed game mechanics of the TPS world, you'll feel deeper into the game, and you'll really frantically be fighting for an inch of your life. There's a plethora of weapons in-game, and each one feels unique and individual in its strengths and weaknesses against the various enemies you meet. 

The setting: is original and involving, to fit the broken up storyline, the whole world seems to be a dark nightmare that Max has been thrown into, the Hospital, the Construction Site, the Fun-Fare, the Russian's Club. You'll never see two areas that overlap in their style, nothing is re-used, nothing is put to waste. The game shines with it's tastefully done graphics, but what really brings this title forward is the level design. Nothing feels worse in a game that's otherwise well executed than Halo-esque repetitive modular levels. You won't have to worry about that with this one. It's a ride all the way through and it only goes one way - up. 

The characters: will suck you up into their lives, and even though Max's story is on the front-line of the plot you'll feel for each and every one of them. Throughout the game you'll have some chances to play as Mona as she covers you with sniper-fire from the top of the Construction Yard, as you're trying to make your way out to safety. Mona's story we don't learn much about but she has a strange fascination with Max and shares some of the same enemies, which is about as much motivation as she needs to get on with the killing. 

Max Payne draws parallels to some movie titles of its era, namely Leon: The Professional, if anything it's the closest a movie ever got to the feeling of the game. Leon's life is equally mysterious, although a bit less chaotic than Max's, but if you need an equivalent, that would be the one. The visual style, the atmosphere. This game will leave you wanting more, like Max's addiction, like Gary Oldman's blood lust with a spot of personal vendetta you'll lust for 'those calm moments before the storm' But don't worry. Max Payne 3 is coming out sometime this year, and for all the differences that I find a little bit worrying about the game previews, it might just be a treat. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What's Your Number: Why Some Actors Can Never Escape Parody

What's Your Number is a 2011 chick-flick about a girl who's found out that the national statistic is for women to have slept with twenty guys, before their chances of getting married severely drop. Still reading? Good. The girl in question is the blond chick from Scary Movie 2. Since she's already went through twenty, she naturally freaks out and goes on a spree to test all her former lovers to see if one of them is good enough to marry her. Women logic and hilarity ensues. 

I didn't have a lot of expectations when I started this up, so I didn't get too disappointed, mind you, I got a good half hour of sleep near the end of the movie. But for the sake of contrast, it deserves a review, if for nothing else but to remind of what's good about the 90s classics that are generally the topic of the blog.

So here goes: Women do women stuff, talk about women stuff and hot naked guys (quoted - my female friend who suggested watching it in the first place) pop up every now and again to fill the pot holes in the script. Our blond is frantically, though cheerfully scouring to find her future husband among a band of grossly unattractive former lays. Why a woman in her twenties needs to marry ASAP to the point of settling for any dork out there is beyond me. Logic though has no part in this movie.

Along her journey she enlists the help of 'hot naked guy', who lives next door and who's also a player of Charlie Sheen-ian proportions, minus the drugs and ageing problems. He's a detective or a journalist or some such, but given that she's made a habit of confiding in him, whenever he comes out of his door wearing nothing but a rather small-ish hand towel, he offers to help her find all the guys she's slept with by means of Google. What follows is one of the most hilarious misrepresentations of how the Internet works, since instead of a metric crap-ton of fake personal info registers she actually finds what she needs.

So one of the guys is married, another one is not successful enough another one has some other sort of issues, whatever. Near the end she falls for a guy who's supposedly got it all - the money the charms, the build, and since her overly-controlling mother is thrilled with her choice, the better part of us can tell that she's not gonna marry him. She gets with 'hot naked guy' instead and the movie promptly rolls to an end.

About an hour and a half into the movie, we find out that blond girl lost her virginity to the tall guy from Lonely Island. <Front and Centre on the Banner Pic> This generally constitutes the crowning moment of awesome for this movie. The blond is cute and quirky as we remember her from the Scary Movie series. And that's about it. To quote Family Guy in that episode where they all get sent to Purgatory "This isn't bad, it's not that good, but it's not that bad..." 

Reddit is down, going offline for 12 hours protest of SOPA and PIPA.

Today Reddit is down to protest SOPA and PIPA, and it's going to stay offline for about 12 hours from 0800 EST. To cut a long story, let's just say that the Internet is over-ridden with copyright-infringing material and those acts will allow for web-sites to be taken down solely for linking to illegal content, as opposed to hosting it themselves. In fact it is so over-ridden with different forms of piracy(weather because people don't know that they're infringing it or they don't care), that if those acts came into power, they'd break Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and many more, and result in little girls singing their favourite Hanna Montana song on a video-blog to be sued in court (probably not, but would you trust the government to even theoretically have the power to do that?).

Now the way this works is because SOPA and PIPA turn the responsibility onto the site owners to check every bit of information from their users and from every link. And if they don't, the sites could be blocked within the US, lose their sponsors, get blocked from recieving search traffic, in other words be driven into total obscurity.


Here's a link to the news update from Reddit, that could get me sued for copyright infringement for linking to an offending web-site, if SOPA and PIPA get signed into law. I can already envision the law-suit from whoever owns the Braveheart franchise.

Here's a video on the topic from one of my favourite YouTube game review channels: TotalHalibut. 

I'm getting worried over this, and I don't even like Reddit most of the time. But if you're still non convinced, if those acts are signed into law, 9gag and LolSnaps will be one of the first to go down. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fallout: Apocalypse Made Fun

Fallout is one of those games that people hardly get into nowadays, but if they do they never forget the experience. Fallout 3 and it's subsequent expansions have both brought some new players into the series, and at the same time made it a little bit harder for them to appreciate the older games. As a hardcore Fallout 1 and 2 fan, I have to hear constantly that they're virtually unplayable because of the 2D isometric graphics, or the unwieldy (for today's standards) interface. Despite that I hope this review is going to give you some incentive to at least get interested in if not play Fallout 1 and 2, since for what it's worth they're the forefathers of the series. 

Beyond any sentimental value Fallout 1 and 2 are both exceptional games. There's a reason the story is what it is nowadays and it all started out with a Diablo-esque intro in blocky, pixelated CG, and the words "War, war never changes." It's sometime after the global nuclear war that could have happened but didn't in reality, several hundred years to be exact, and beyond the surface the world has changed very little. Gangs of mercenaries and pillagers wander the nuclear wastes in a predominantly deserted North America (no pun intended, but indeed most of North America as well as the rest of the world have been turned into desert flat lands). Only a few bastions of humanity still exist, strewn across, the tribe you yourself hail from, the New Californian Republic, New Reno, San Francisco. Among the desolate fields mountains and canyons those have gradually sprang up as people started coming out of the Vaults. The Vaults being government ran projects to preserve humanity in concrete and steel bunkers around the US, in case of an all out nuclear conflict. The Vaults are something more than that as later becomes apparent, experiments, and quite opposite to the obvious point they served, their purpose was never one to save humanity from extinction.

The first game starts out in one of those Vaults, where you are chosen to be the first human being to leave it, since the doors first closed more than a century ago in pursuit of a water chip. The vault Overseer informs you that if you don't find one everyone will die as clean water will eventually run out. He tells you that there must be other vaults in the desert and they're all equipped with replacements. So if you manage to find one, do everything in your power to obtain it.

Having left the Vault you'll encounter the various, though strange life that 'thrives' outside. Radioactive waste has created a special breed of mutants, both from the normal flora and fauna and from the former human inhabitants of the lands. You'll meet mutants, who are large and strong and generally can't be reasoned with, ghouls which are basically humans whose skin has been burned nearly off and mind hazed by the radiation, beyond any semblance of memory of their former human nature, plants, geckos, scorpions. Most of all you'll face off endless bands of scavengers and tribesmen, out to get you and all you may possess.

The gameplay is classic isometric RPG, with the combat being turn-based and relying on action points for anything and everything. The weapons are a mix of pre-war technology and sci-fi energy and plasma guns, but that's not the high-point of the game. Even though the combat is involving and interesting in itself and you'll spend a large amount of time and gain enormous satisfaction in outfitting your character with the best gear for your level, where the game really shines is the atmosphere and the storyline. Fallout lets you do a lot more than you would have expected of an RPG with a largely trivial plot-line. We've seen dystopian worlds in games before, we've seen post-apocalyptic, but if you've never seen the way Fallout does it you've missed out on a significant part of why Fallout is one of the best game series ever. The characters are deeply thought-out and convincing. The areas are beautifully designed to fit the style of the wasteland. The humor is typically dark and edgy, without being pretentious, or overly-attempting to shock. The closest Fallout gets to any other title of any medium, would be the Mad Max series and the 1997 film The Postman. There's even some references to the former, as the first armour your character is able to wear is a leather jacket, and the first companion you get is a dog named... Dogmeat.

The second game continues where the first one left off only a few generations forward in a tribal village that your character from Fallout 1 set up as he was unfortunately cast out of the Vault in the first game. This time around you're ordered by the tribe leader to find the mythical G.E.C.K. The Garden of Eden Creation Kit is something you may be familiar with from Fallout 3, just pour water and stir, and you have yourself a completely self-sustainable agricultural environment. The little grey briefcase is what started up Vault City, from Fallout 2. Again you have a time-limit to find the item, although this time around you can continue roaming around the game after you've completed your mission(Fallout 1 ends with you bringing the water chip back to your Vault). If you do, make sure to go by the church in New Reno and speak to the priest there, it'll help you to no end (although you'd wished you could have gotten that help earlier). Also make sure to use the mutated toe on Horrigan's corpse, and tell me what happens, because those hookers commenting on it constantly is starting to bother me after seven or eight years since I originally played the game.

But whatever you do in Fallout make sure to explore and have fun with the bizarre and often astonishingly real stories of the people that inhabit it. Then when you're finally bored you might as well stock up on some ammo and try to see if you can kill everyone. Make at least one good and one evil character if you want to completely experience the game. And don't forget to just lay back and enjoy the game. Fallout 1 and 2 are one of the few games that really bring the concept of immersion and pure fun to its fullest.   

Most Useful Keyboard Feature

The most useful feature a keyboard could have. Rage proof durability.

And here's the manufacturer's web-site.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Minecraft Video Update 02

Here's another video of the progress on the series. From this one it should be pretty obvious which Von Trier movie it is ;) 

Carmageddon 2: Not Another Racing Game

It's one of my favourite game of the 90s, a game I've spent the better part of my childhood playing. It's Carmageddon 2 and it's not your average racing game. It's bloody, gory, and overall it's tons of fun. It was so controversial at the time it had been banned in some cases.

The game revolves around racing through checkpoints in different open locations - a quarry, several towns, a junkyard, even an aircraft carrier. The levels are varied with lots of hidden secret places. Power-ups make up a large part of the game, some will give you speed, some will make you bounce off the walls like pinball, and some are plain sadistic. But you'll see what I mean.

The twist in this game is you can either win a race by completing all the check-points in a timely manner (you start with a time limit of a minute and a half and each time you pass a checkpoint you get some more time), or you can win by wrecking all of your opponents, which also gives you extra time. Additionally you get a few seconds added for each pedestrian you kill, and this game has thought of ways to slaughter pedestrians beyond anything you could have ever expected. Take this for example. You're cruising around, running over people, which is nice but generally inefficient, then you pick up a power-up that makes pedestrians explode into gory bits as soon as they touch your car. Then you pick up another one, which makes bolts of lightning shoot out of your car whenever a person is near, electrocuting them in an instant. So now you can simply drive at full speed around the streets and watch your points add up as you kill hundreds of people per minute. See why this game got banned? It gets better!

Beyond ways to grief the unfortunate people on the streets, there's ways to destroy your opponents in similarly amusing ways. Naturally you can blind-side another car at full speed smash it into the edge of a building, splitting it in two and sending the two flaming pieces flying apart in opposite directions. But what if before you did that you hit the Pinball power-up. With that one as soon as you touch something you'll bounce off of it increasing your momentum with each bounce and the same goes for your opponents. There's nothing more satisfying than watching them smash through the air into buildings into the obligatory land-mines and barrels of explosives (even the water-areas of this game are riddled with mines).

The best part of Carmageddon is the imaginative levels, though, with each three standard levels of racing around and murdering the other drivers, you get one special one, where you have to either complete a timed race, or you have to do some platform jumps around the city or you have to kill some zombies. In order to avoid any more bans than it already has whenever the game actually requires you to kill people to progress it  calls them zombies, messes up their walking animations, and turns their blood green. So who would have thought that you were actually the good guy?

Lastly there's tons of cars in the game, all with a wacky design, and a couple dozen levels, enough to keep you occupied for weeks. And even if all you do is race around the first three over and over you'll find tons of stuff to do every time. To illustrate that when I got the game, I wasn't even aware there are more than three levels, I didn't know that you have to complete the timed event to unlock the next set. So I spent weeks just collecting points in the first three, and when I finally found out, it was like my birthday all over again. I'd already gathered enough points to buy all the cars in-game and max out all my stats. Oh yeah, you can buy the other opponents cars if you'd killed them during the race. And you can upgrade stats like armour, speed etc. But honestly who needs that in a game that's already almost as fun as any game could ever be.

Several other titles came out of the Carmageddon franchise, although the second one remains my all time favourite. The other ones didn't get it quite right in my opinion. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ever Wanted to Make Your Own Game? Here's an idea! Literally.

Here's something interesting :D It's a random generator for game ideas. Ever wanted to make your own game? Don't have an idea of what it's going to be about? Sometimes seeing it in writing is the only way to make your brain work. The random generator seems to give you some adjectives, then a genre, and a setting. Who knows maybe one of these will be the next big thing. Here's some examples: 

"surgicalfancifulRPG, set in Africa."
"fantasyspellbindingsillysim game combined with virtual pet game, set in someone's memories."
"child-likeplatformer combined with shooter, set in a painting"
"bizarretrivia game combined with virtual pet game, set in a cemetery"
"gorypuzzle game, set during a war."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Minecraft Video Update

The second part of the series is taking a bit longer than expected but here's some idea of the progress and a small challenge. ;)

Can you guess the set of which Lars Von Trier movie I'm building right now. Let me know in the comments. 

Trainspotting: Light at The End of The Needle

If there is a movie most people remember the 90s by it's Trainspotting. It's dark, wretched and at the same time it's got that sort of childish innocent fun and satisfaction that comes with a life of zero responsibilities, that's so typical of the life of a drug addict. It's a movie themed by the usage of drugs, but at the same time, it's based on an Irvine Welsh novel, and if you're familiar with his other books, they may be about drugs, but that's only the bottom line, and there's a lot more going on bellow the surface. 

The movie starts out in the schemes of Edinburgh, where a few friends juggle between a life in the pubs with the drinking and football fans, and a darker less socially acceptable sort of entertainment. In the opening scene of the movie we see our characters running away from the police after some kind of petty robbery, dodging traffic as Renton's monologue that's been made so popular ever since runs in the background (if you've ever seen that orange and white Trainspotting poster, or the cover of the book, you're probably familiar with it). It's a drone on, hippy, disenfranchised view on society in the time, where mercantilism has taken over human values, and hearing it come from the mouth of a druggie, only makes the issue sound more genuinely agitated. 

The characters in the movie are the typical stereotypes of the era - the football player and sporty type who's never taken any drugs, has a stable relationship and is generally well balanced, except for the company he keeps. The ageing 'lover-boy' who's keeping up the appearance of being in the game, while the lack of back-up for his high self-esteem gradually starts to show. The meth-mommy, the sixteen year old who spends her time picking up guys at the local club, while not on her homework. Lastly, Renton, the generally never-do-good who's at the same time the only one, aware enough of his situation to do something about it, or at least to realize the great discord of the life he and his friends are living. Renton though wouldn't want you to think that his pals were stupid, as far as participating in the fun of shooting up heroin goes, he wants to set things straight that it's not as stupid as it looks but you have to try it to appreciate it. Take your best orgasm, multiply it by a thousand and you're not even close. 

While the characters are typically involved in the local past-times such as football, hiking and shooting pellets at people in the park, there's something more sinister going on in the background and that's reality catching up. Renton wants to get clean, but Renton's got enough of an addiction already to be able to claw his way through a barred up door, for a hit (his idea of a self-imposed rehab is locking himself up with enough canned food and some TV in a room for a week). He wants to get a decent job, but his attempts are thwarted by the notion that money has to come from tricking the system, rather than from hard-work. 

In the end the gang tries to score a drug deal, to pay for their new life, naturally it doesn't go quite as planned, but it's the 90s and it's a British movie and those kind love an open ending. Where Requiem for a Dream was truly a heart-wrenching tale of how addiction can ruin the lives of the people you love, least of all your own, Trainspotting has a more balanced message, that at the best if you're smart enough to realize the stupidity of your own situation, you may end up coming on top of it. And if you're smart enough you may end up coming out on top of the drugs. You've got to pay attention really really well, to be able to spot the train coming. 

Irvine Welsh has written several other books about life in the schemes - "Glue" "Porno" "The Acid House" (which was also made into a movie, that's somewhat even more disturbing, although less popular) and more recently "Crime". His books share the style of dealing with taboo topics in a genuine sort of way that leaves you empathising with the characters more than you could ever imagine feeling for a junkie or a drug dealer.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Colin McRae Rally 2: YouTube: Arcade Mode (Vivaldi)

Here's a short video of me playing Colin McRae Rally 2. It's a great game, and I'm getting back into it these days. I haven't had a lot of practice, but I'm not too bad at it I hope. 

Second Update to the Minecraft Series Coming Today

Later today I'm going to be doing the second update on the Minecraft Series. I've got some ideas based on movies, especially Von Trier, so I hope you'll enjoy where this is going. A friend of mine also has a Minecraft Server set up, so we might figure out something to do with that too. I'm particularly interested in Minecraft Machinima. 

I've also been watching some movies recently, that I'd like to review. I've been taking a short break from blogging yesterday, but expect more updates later today and tomorrow. :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I think I might have just gotten a response from Matt Uelmen, the composer for Diablo and World of Warcraft!

"Much of the music which I did for wow:tbc was originally made for d3 seven years ago. This wasn't my first use of Chopin, I'm proud of "coda", which was on the d2 soundtrack but not in the actual game. Thanks for the thoughtful writing. MU"


You're welcome and thank you :):):):)

Inception: The Matrix Several Years Later

I've never been able to enjoy movies that are hyped up, as long as they are. Even though I like Leo DiCaprio as an actor in movies like Blood Diamond or The Aviator, I couldn't really like this one. I tried, believe me but I couldn't. It's a spectacle. Inception is like the Matrix, only if the Matrix was less about eastern philosophy and more about robots. It's like Neuromancer with too much time spent tripping around other people's bodies cross-gender or not. It's no fun, for me. So what's so wrong about Inception. 

I'm going to try to be short here, but mostly I didn't enjoy the acting one bit. Everyone in the movie seemed poorly motivated, with the character equivalent of a three minute back-story. Except for the main character, who's constantly overshadowing some dark issues that he's had in his past. People run around in other people's dreams, in their own dreams, it's the Matrix all over, only this time the platform is not a virtual environment created by super-intelligent robots, but the platform could be anybody's subconscious.

Think for a second, what a scary place that would be for most people. It makes it even harder to believe characters whose innermost dreams and hallucinations have nearly as much coherence as everyday life. Dreams are usually symbolic and convoluted sets of unrelated and completely irrational events and sensations and the suspension of disbelief is based on chemicals that stop us from critically assessing why are we seeing cars float in mid air, missing one tire and inside-out. It doesn't help that it's practically impossible for two people to experience the same hallucination. But enough on how Inception could or could not work in the real world.

Finally, the plot is as straightforward and unexciting as watching Memento the second time around, only you only need about half an hour to figure out that everything could and probably is a dream, and stop caring about weather or not it is. There was a slight interest for me, when it turned out that with every level of dream you go into (I'm not even going to talk about the 'levels' of dreams within dreams) you experience time faster, which means that compared to normal time you're getting more sensations per minute, which is Einstein's Special Relativity applied to the biochemistry of sleeping. At least if you forget for a second how absurd it would be to think that you could enjoy a lifetime spent within a dream (Vanilla Sky anyone?), you could probably imagine enjoying living for hundreds or thousands of years.

Later the plot turns into an action movie and much like in the Matrix, it's a bid for our characters to do some work in the dream world, before they're 'disconnected' or die of cerebral overheating, or something else. But it's not the Matrix and that's my whole issue with it. 

Cubichrist: A Minecraft Lars Von Trier Parody

Here's the first video of the Minecraft series. I wanted to do something simple to test out the new youtube settings, since I haven't used it in a while as well as the recording/sound etc. Enjoy ;)

This may be a bit duifficult to appreciate for non-fans of the director, but let's just say his movies always start with classical music and feel a bit weird to watch. 

Parts 2,3,4 will be covering the actual movie, throughout this week. I don't think I'm going to stick to the plot at all, which should be even more fun to make, and hopefully to watch. :D Let's see where this goes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Number 23: Why It Works

The Number 23 is magic, or a curse, or a premonition, or at least that's what our main character thinks. Jim Carrey in a serious role makes this a must-watch movie, at leats for me. He's a noir-detective. No, I digress, he's a guy with an ordinary job, reading a book about a noir detective. I'm not even sure about the detective part. What I'm sure of is that it's a brilliantly visual movie, it's entertaining and it does a better job at portraying graphic-novel style noir than anything I've seen so far, because it doesn't take itself nearly as seriously. 

Action comic books have always been pushed around and constrained by writers limitations, deadlines, budget issues, it was never a pretty scene and most of all - people quit all the time. Superman had hundreds of plot iterations and continuities, so much that eventually DC had to publish official guides to the plot to maintain some order among the fanbase. Those, of course had to involve time-travel, evil twins, deaths and magical(alien?) resurrections, just check out the TvTropes page about it - it goes on. So in my eyes movies based on comic books were never supposed to be anything more than good entertainment. Possibly a thrill. Maybe even a little outdated classiness, some tinted glamour, some old-school visual art. 

The Number 23 manages that pretty well, and adds to it the sense of panic and paranoia that comes with the main character's obsession. The story was markedly impossible to follow nor comprehend, the main character would act like he was having either flashbacks from a different period of his life, either that or he was Schizofrenic. The women were beutiful and some of them die. The entire movie is a surreal experience, and Jim Carrey makes it work, like someone who's desperate to not be seen as just a comic actor. Having said that, "Me, Myself and Irene" is my favourite Jim Carrey movie of all times and I recommend it to any and all Jin Carrey fans out there.

L4yer Cak3: A Mini Review Experiment

Daniel Craig is about to retire from the cocaine business, as we get an overview of how gang business used to be in the old times. There's some classiness and fusion going on as well as golf clubs and lots of delicious chocolate cake. Pills are the mainstream thing and Oxford chemistry students are queuing to cut cocaine, in order to pay their gigantic back-log of tuition fees (how very appropriate for today). 

Some newcomers and some old stories mix and mesh, Daniel finds out he was duped by his Middle Eastern laundry-man and being 10 million out of pocket, and since he was given one last job anyway, he decides that it's going to be ok to hire some of his old pals to assassinate someone, kill someone else himself (queue some more fusion and pills) and of all the things mess with the Serbian meth cartels. 

The newcomers die, in entertaining though deserved ways, Daniel finally meets the right man, who also appears to be several decades older than him. The man gives him a speech about cake and fecal matter, which is only a large build-up to telling him why he's not getting paid, but should instead consider himself wealthy for the experience.

Having recounted the immensity of his poverty and having now been fucked over innumerable times by friends and enemies alike, Daniel decides that the logical thing to do would be to go even further into the business, by taking over the drug-lording based at said classy golf-club, since he himself vacated the position (or not?). Lisa Gerrard sings Aria, some more chocolate cake is had, then a guy shoots him in the lung. 

As the movie ends, we see Daniel's gang has made a classic hit on a delivery vehicle, showing us that nothing has really changed in the mobster world.

Oh and he gets the girl. What girl? Believe me, it doesn't matter. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Music of Video Games

In the beginning there was 8bit music. There's the Super Mario Brothers theme, forever stuck in my head for one. Any other song I have to take a break to think about, but the Mario music I can bring up in my mind at any point during the day/night. Just think about it and it instantly starts playing. My gaming 'career' started out with coin-slot arcades and NES games and their sounds are going to be forever burned into memory. So let's look at some of the most popular music themes in video games and where they came from? 

Even before Mario came out, there was Pong and Tetris, whose sound was made entirely out of bleeps and beeps with equally simplistic visuals. With the more complex slot machines and the NES, though, came something entirely different - games now had 'themes' and a score, a tune that you could actually whistle to. Later on games would develop more and more complex soundtracks as the technology caught up with the artists.

Nintendo 8-bit: We've already mentioned Mario, but some other games deserve a special notice as well, like Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout. Now this is an NES game that was a huge frustration for a lot of people, but what I remember from it was that it was challenging, about as abstract as a Picasso painting, with enemies being in lines of floating orange puffs, cans of soda, coffee cups and drills. The music is a classic example of Disney, and it fits great with the game.

And then the 90s came and brought new and exciting hardware and software opportunities for game developers! Both game visuals and sound would never be the same. 

The Years In-Between: 80s Speed Metal and Heavy Metal FAKK: There's a bit of asynchronicity in that statement. 80s metal in 90s Video Games? More likely than you think. The early 90s computer game scores were mostly melodic and atmospheric backdrops for the gameplay. We've already covered the Diablo music score already in a previous review, so we're just going to skip that one. I'll just say that it's one of the most fitting and simplistic, but still involving music scores I've ever seen in a game. Diablo II follows suit with a classically medieval theme. But that's Blizzard, they like to do things properly. Elsewhere in the gaming industry the situation with music and art in general turns more and more chaotic as the hardware slowly starts to take over the game-design process. Imaginations run wild with the possibilities, and there's more than one mediocre or plain uninspired titles coming out as the will to experiment with the tweaks and tricks of the new technology overpowers the process of actually creating a compelling game. It's no surprise then that the music here varies from anywhere to anything. Despite that right at the beginning of the millennium came one of my all-time favourite games Hitman: Codename 47 with an amazing soundtrack by Jesper Kyd. A couple years later Hitman 2: Silent Assasin added some more of the best quality scores to the video games scene. I've yet to play Contracts or Blood Money, but something tells me I'm going to enjoy them too (Jesper Kyd was hired for the work on the compositions successively in all four games). 

And nowadays they come in special edition cases, with a beefed up price tag along with a DVD of the lead designers talking about the production. World of Warcraft is a fine example of that, since that's been a part of the special edition box-set, ever since the original game came out. 

Chopin (Wikimedia Commons)
Classical Music has been a staple of Japanese media, intended for the Western market, since forever. Or at least since anime... Remember when animes had traditional Japanese scores? Well not-quite anymore, with a few exceptions. Nowadays it's catchy J-Pop themes mostly, but with J-RPGs and more recently MMORPGs it's strictly classical themes, for the purpose of creating a sense for expansiveness, and a feeling of a complete universe in the game. With WoW it's typically epic scores, themed based on the different races of the game. The night elves are characteristically mellow, the dwarves are standard medieval with a pinch of honey mead and a cosy fire, I don't particularly remember anything special about the Draenai space alien music, but I'm sure it matched whatever purple crystal laden settings they had (also space-demons). What's special about WoW is not so much the noteworthiness of it's scores but the way they work perfectly with each different zone, dungeon and battleground. Still some dungeons, especially the ambiance in one populated by owl-like druid things in the Shattrath area, seemed eerily similar to the theme of The Blood Tower from Act I of Diablo 2. Could it be Blizzard reused that one? The high-point of any Blizzard game these days is the tongue-in-cheek references to pop culture, so the music is no exception to that. In the Alliance settlement of Hellfire Peninsula you can listen to an extremely original interpretation of Chopin's Nocturne in C Sharp by Matt Uelmen.

Part 2: Will be coming up shortly!

Updates 9/1/2011: Video Game Scores and Tarantino

Look for an update shortly about Music and Video Games, and a review of  Quentin Tarantino's From Dusk Till Dawn, shortly. It's going to be an exciting Monday, with at least the two new articles so stay tuned. ; ) Don't forget to post your opinion on the blog re-design and the video series coming up as well: 

YouTube Minecraft Series: http://1990silicondreams.blogspot.com/2012/01/coffee-with-minecraft-01.html

Blog Re-Design: http://1990silicondreams.blogspot.com/2012/01/page-re-design-coming-up-soon.html

Make sure to join our Facebook Page and Twitter Feed for the most up-to-date news on articles on the blog and the up-coming YouTube channel!

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Coffee with Minecraft: an Update

Now, Minecraft is a game I used to be majorly addicted to when I started out. Nowadays I don't play as much, and generally I like to play around in Creative mode, building mob traps and such for the fun of it. I'm thinking though since it's a good platform to knock ones self out with creativity, and since I've wanted to start a youtube channel to complement the blog, I'd like to start with a series on Minecraft. So I wanted to ask you what would you like to see in a Minecraft series. 

I'll leave you to think about it with this amazing ASCII art of a creeper I've just made:
  |o_o| |   <I'm just gonna hide behind these rocks until they come out for food>>          
   |     ||        
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  [     ]  ]     

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sunday Mellow Top 23: No Harsh Allowed!

Ok, let me break the fourth wall for you for a minute. I'm a smoker. I smoke about 15-20 cigarettes a day. That's on a happy day. On a not-so-happy day I need my nicotine like Godzilla needs its skyscraper-smash. 

Today is: 
1st: Not a happy day.
2nd: I am out of cigarettes.

So, you may ask yourselves, my fellow readers: Wut nao??? Given that it's a Sunday and every shop in a hundred mile radius is closed, there is no hope of me getting cigarettes, till tomorrow. SO provided that I can barely think about anything without raging to high heavens, today's post will simply be a list of my all time favourite PC Games, ever. The rules are simple: 

1st: If a game comes to mind before another game it DESERVES to be higher in the list.
2nd: If a game is omitted from the list after the list is completed, it DESERVES to be out of the list. 

So without further adieu, here is my Top 'WHATEVER' List of PC Games:

1: Fallout 2
2: Half-Life: Opposing Force
2: NFS: Porsche 2000
3: Arcanum of Steamwork and Magic Obscura
4: Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction
5: World of Warcraft
6: Minecraft
7: Carmageddon 2
8: Diablo
9: Star Craft
10: Age of Empires: Age of Titans
11: Heroes 3: In the Wake of Gods
12: King's Quest: Romancing the Stones (a remake)
13: Revolt
14: Lego Racer
15: CoD: Modern Warfare
16: That One Indie Mario Re-Make That was Genuinely Fun
17: Sven: Bollocks (or whatever the title was - something in German)
18: Half-Life: Counter Strike: 1.6
19: Half-Life 2
20: Heavy Metal: FAKK
21: ONI: Bionic Something or Other 
22: uuuuhmm.... that robot guy.... Deus Ex! Yes, I got it. Does it count if I've only played the first two levels? Nobody cares past number 10 in a Tops list anyway....
23: Minesweeper - Why? Because Hell, when you get your first desk job and your PC has been scrubbed clean of everything that might be considered enjoyable, by IT. When they have removed the clip-art graphics from Microsoft Word, but then some unknown HERO OF THE AGES has left a secret folder stuck up behind fifteen layers of useless outdated memos and training protocols, containing a cracked version of Minesweeper. That's when you'll know why!

That is all.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Blizzard's Diablo: On Cutting to the Chase

Diablo is a Blizzard franchise since 1996, around the same time that Star Craft came out and a few years after Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness. What makes it a memorable game is not so much the novelty, but the execution(no pun intended). Like any other Blizzard game, it's a re-discovery of the game-play mechanics of an already popular genre, in typical Blizzard  style less of the role-playing, more of the fun of slashing up enemies. 

The first thing you'll notice when starting up Diablo is the minimalistic interface, no convoluted D&D rules involved in the character creation, no customizable character backgrounds. In fact it's as simple as choosing a character class and a name. Later on you'll be able to assign some points to your character's statistics and skills, but for now don't worry about that. If you've ever played anything like Baldur's Gate or Fallout of the same era, you might be a little disappointed at first, but everything that it lacks in the area, Diablo makes up for in atmosphere and style. The art is heavy and dark, the music is classic medieval lute, whenever you're in the small town that makes up the starting area, and a suspenseful ambiance, when you finally venture into the  catacombs beneath the nearby church.

The story of Diablo revolves around the town of Tristram, which has recently been visited by what appears to be a demonic power, infesting the cathedral and the endless layers of catacombs beneath it with scores of demons. Pieces of  both the overall lore of the world and some personal stories will be revealed to you as you interact with the dozen or so non player characters around the town. There's a blacksmith, an elder who is also a healer, an annoying kid who'll sell you some interesting gear, gathered from who knows where for a reasonable price and a witch, settled in a hut on the outskirts of town. The game itself is based on completing quests for the locals, and most of all hacking and slashing your way through hordes of the various demons and minions of Hell. There are treasure chests to hunt down, ancient scrolls that give you new abilities, and scores of items and artifacts varying from honest to God junk to items that only drop from a specific boss, or as a reward from a quest.

Finally you'll face Diablo himself, after you've trudged through more than a hundred different levels of Catacombs. As you progress deeper and deeper, at first you'll be adventuring in the catacombs of the church itself, then in a mixture of ancient tombs with dirt walls and finally into Hell itself, with alkes of lava and fire demons. Every level, except for Tristram is randomly generated and enemies don't respawn, but in case you feel that you've not quite gathered enough experience for the final battle you can always restart the game from the character screen which will randomise the levels you've already covered and reset the enemies. Additionally to the main chapel entrance every now and again as you go deeper you'll find a shortcut that conveniently leads you back to the surface, only at a different location, one may be hidden in the graveyard next to the chapel, another may be in a bunch of rocks nearby, and they serve as a sort of check-points that make it a little bit easier to go back to town whenever you need to re-stock on potions, identify a magic item, repair your gear, etc. There's also portal scrolls that will bring you back to the town from any point in the game, and then back to where you left off in the dungeon, before they close up behind you.

All in all the game feels epic from end to end. Weather you choose the warrior, rogue or sorcerer class, you won't have to worry about micro-managing your character, and that only leaves the satisfaction of plowing through hordes of skeletons, zombies and demons. Still, both the first and second Diablo games have a fascinating and rich lore, further expanded by the book series, written by various authors throughout the years. Weather you actually enjoy that sort of writing is another thing entirely. Personally I've never been a fan of video game novels, but I've met plenty of people who've read the series start to finish and can tell you exactly what happens to each King, Prince and Demon in the tale.

Diablo has been appraised universally as one of the most popular RPG's of all times. The third edition of the game is currently in invitation-only Beta and is expected to be released sometime in early 2012. The original game is available for download on the Blizzard Store for a token price. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Melancholia 2011: Trier and the Controversy of Disgust

Lars Von Trier is not Nazi. He's not much of anything as worldly and trivial as that. At that Cannes press-conference he was not quite joking, not entirely serious. In his own words he was trying to 'entertain' people. Isn't that what movies are all about. Through the past several years Trier's been going through a deepening state of depression and Melancholia is his way of expressing that.  

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Melancholia(IMDB) is a movie about a planet, that's been hiding behind the sun, which is now on a collision course for the Earth, and from the opening scene, what Trier calls a prelude, there's no doubt that life on Earth will be over very soon. The movie follows the life of four characters - the bride, her sister and the sister's husband and son, from her wedding day to the point of the collision. In a way the movie's about their coming to terms with their fate, but it's even more so about the psychology behind coming to terms with death. Each of the main characters goes through stages of denial, fear, anger and finally acceptance. What's noteworthy about Trier's work is not so much the plot itself, but the nuances of the interpretation. Like a dream, it's not about the content itself, but the feeling of it, the same images and sounds could feel entirely different under the circumstances. Under Trier's dictation Wagner's 'Tristan and Isolde', John Millais's painting of Ophelia are given an entirely different harsher meaning.

As any Trier movie, it starts with an opening scene, in slow motion punctuated by a memorable classical melody, as seen by the bride (starring Kirsten Dunst) in her own half-dream, half-premonition. We see her as she's trying to enjoy herself at her own wedding party, and the longer it goes the more apparent it is she simply can't. Something is stopping her and at one point it becomes painfully obviously that that's how she's been her whole life. When her sister asks her what's wrong there's no surprise in the question, only a frustrated underpinning of a problem that has existed for years and years. And the answer is one of almost childishly stubborn pretense. When Trier talks about his depression, there's the same realisation  the self-awareness that you have to get up in the morning and follow a schedule in order to escape the melancholy. Similarly Kirsten Dunst's character is equally involved in her work to a point of complete denial of the self.
She's in a way an image of Trier, only placed within a situation which requires her to come to terms with it, with herself, her inability to attain enjoyment or satisfaction of life.

Trier himself complained that the movie felt too beautiful, that he had let himself down. If you're familiar with his work, Trier started a group in 1995(Dogma 95) dedicated to preserving cinema as an art-medium, rather than a simple platform for voyeurism. Among the ground points of that movement were that the movie should be shot from a shoulder camera and any static images, be there any at all can be static as much as immobility can be achieved by hand. Another point was that artificial lighting was forbidden, as long as there's enough light to achieve exposure, otherwise a single light source was allowed to be attached to the camera itself. Sets were allowed for inside scenes, but if a prop is required the director should do the best to find that prop in real life. Otherwise it can be constructed in its natural environment. Lastly the movie happens where the camera is and not the reverse. Those was his ideals as an author in 95, and last year in Cannes he apologised, believing with Melancholia he might have broken his own credo.

Trier's press conference in Cannes immediately after the movie screening in early 2011 was a huge scandal that ultimately had him banned from the film festival, although his movies are still eligible to receive rewards. Which they invariably still do. Trier still continues to apologise for it. 

Major Page Re-Design Coming up Soon

In the next week or two I'm planning on a Major redesign of the template, so make sure to check out the site for a nice custom graphical update. :) 

Also any ideas would be greatly appreciated on possible games and movies reviews. I'm planning on doing some book reviews too sine my 90s experience involved quite a lot of reading, especially Terry Pratchett, Dune, etc. 

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

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Lastly don't forget to check out today's post about: Stalker 1979 - Andrey Tarkovsky and the Eastern Cinema Movement

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Stalker 1979 - Andrey Tarkovsky and the Eastern Cinema Movement

I was watching Lars Von Trier's Melancholia. Before that I was re-watching Antichrist and something caught my attention. A dedication. At the end of the movie, Trier made a dedication that infuriated a lot of film critics. Even before that I was playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for a while. I'm not a dedicated gamer when it comes to games past some imaginary point in time in the early 2000s. I remember, though, a night in let's call it the imaginary city of Erithrea, capital of an imaginary Eastern-European country. Before that I was born, but sometime in between, a few years after I started playing games I was in one of those flashy PC clubs in a newly established mall. The walls covered in posters, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was new back then. Back then, vodka was a new experience for me having just graduated from drinking beer at night at the parks and playgrounds around my school. 

In Erithrea time passes slower, we were out that night, on a whim like always. With my best friend, we went to a bus station to buy some beer and vodka, and then we headed off through the small back-streets of the city towards the mall, passing the vodka from hand to hand. We were supposed to meet a friend at the local mall, top floor, the games room. By the time we were at the parking lot with the tall blue and silver facade of the building, Nebesnii Gorod, written in large glowing letters across, the alcohol had set in nicely, we were careless. From the parking lot, take the service entrance to the right, where all the trucks come in to load and unload, walk past the metal wire fence that separates the mall grounds from a warehouse, take a moment to take in the backdrop of post-Soviet panel flat blocks, twelve to fifteen stories tall, grey and black in the night with only a few windows gleaming with light. It must have been ten or eleven. As you enter take the elevator to the right. Top floor. Gaming room. As we reach our floor our friend is waiting there to tell us a story about how he hit the punching bag so bad he broke his arm. He's younger than us, but that doesn't matter, since he's got enough stories in his lifetime for two or three of us together, so we drink with him regularly. Such is the value of time in Erithrea.

Image courtsey of Wikimedia Commons. 
When we sit down to play the games were both already drunk. Our friend wanders around the rows of computers to set up some sort of make-shift LAN for everyone, the game is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. My nickname is something meant to piss off the kind of losers who rage every time they get killed by a mortar shell, and I can barely walk to and from my PC chair, to get some popcorn from the front desk, but I can play CoD pretty damn decent, nonetheless. On the chat someones raging hard at me, I don't care, I'm too drunk, from across the room and the rows of hundreds of computers, someones raging about someone elses mortar, probably mine. I don't care.

A few hours later nearly everyone has left, but it costs something like 3-4 euro to play through the whole night so me and my friend and our other friend we stay behind. We've moved to sit next to each other and we're playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. : Shadow of Chernobyl. The game has a particular appeal to us, one could say, you have to drink vodka to avoid radiation poisoning and that sort of rings a bell with us. We laugh but it's not really that funny. When we look at the game's environment, the architecture, abandoned warehouses, old train stations, junkyards, fields littered with dieing patches of grass and pieces of glass and steel and concrete shards, we're looking at Erithrea. We might as well have not been playing a game, we might as well have taken a five minute walk from the mall to one of the old abandoned train stations on the edge of town, and we would have felt the same, seen the same things, except for the anomalies, obviously, but with the stray dogs walking around and the alcohol in us, it wouldn't have been difficult to imagine the missing parts.

I remember a different time, when me and my friend, both armed with a 2 liter bottle of beer are sitting on a broken piece of concrete the size of a small car, feet crossed under us, facing the setting sun, on top of a hill at the old park in the north side of town. He's playing something on his Sony Erickson phone that could have been Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin. It doesn't matter. And in between the songs it's quiet, like it's quiet in the Zone. It's beautiful, like the Stalker could see the beauty in the poisoned flora around him, slowly but surely working to re-take the last patches of asphalt and train tracks.

Some years after that I left Erithrea and that imaginary Eastern-European country for Sweden. That was five months ago and five hours ago I watched Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, prompted by the same friend's suggestion over Skype and that dedication in the end of Trier's Antrichrist. The dedication read "Dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky" and it's easy to see why. When you watch Trier and you watch Tarkovsky it's easy to fill in the missing parts with the power of your own imagination. The broken up hydro-electric plant of Stalker. Trier's old Swedish castle from Melancholia. A different kind of old, but the same heaviness of time weighing on the pillars and stones, every dusty window, every tinted glass. And in Eastern Europe time doesn't mean much, except for the faintest memories, dulled down by alcohol vapors.

Stalker is a movie about a Professor and a Writer who travel to the Zone, with the help of a guide to reach a mythical room, where people's deepest wishes come true. But it's not a movie about fame and fortune, it's a movie about broken concrete and steel, and the rusted and long abandoned parts of the human soul. It's a movie about the way to the room, the one that grants wishes, as much as it is a movie about the nature of wishes, the nature of time, space, the most sublime nature of human beings. 

The film is loosely based on the novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.


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