Monday, April 23, 2018

#GameStruck4: Defining Myself with Video Games

Sometime last week I began seeing posts pop up on the Twitter with the hashtag #GameStruck4 with four games listed.  After a bit of research a few days later (because work), I found out about the original "#FilmStruck4" asking people to define themselves by listing only four movies.

Now, being me, I tend to like lists, or at the very least, listing things that I like.  So I thought this was a neat idea (do people still use "neat"?) to replace video games with movies and I quickly came up with the first three, then became stuck on the fourth.  I'm not sure why that last one struck me as a difficult choice, but it wasn't until six days later (being today), that I decided upon the fourth and final game to include.

Now since this is a site where we like to hear the sound of our own keyboards, I felt a little bit of explanation would be in order rather than just putting up pictures on Twitter, but to give a bit of explanation as to the reasoning behind my personal choices.

Deciding upon Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III when I bought it on the SNES) was an easy and immediate choice.  I have played through this game more times than probably any other game on any system.  I have maxed out the game timer, I have gone through the last stage with everyone as Imps (because why not apparently), I have gone through the game renaming everyone as "FF I," "FF II", "FF III", and so on until I reached what I thought was the ridiculous sounding "FF XIV."  As a graduation present from Jr. High, I had asked for the soundtrack which, to date, is easily one of my all time favorite video game soundtracks.  There is just simply so much that I love about this game and anything that I may not have liked anytime during the last 24 years has either been forgotten or forgiven to the point of forgetfulness.  

So much of how I view not only JRPGs, but nearly all RPGs is how I subsciousness compare it to nearly every aspect of Final Fantasy VI.  How is the character development?  How is the world constructed and its histories?  Are the character motivations believable?  Do I even care about the characters?  How does the music fit with each character?  Is there generic "sad" music or are themes tailored to specific characters during melancholic moments?

Another game that I am positive I have brought up in the past, I first played Final Fantasy Tactics sometime around 2000 while living with Dr. Potts et all in our collectively first apartment.  This was my first foray into a non-numbered Final Fantasy game as well as my first tactics game so I was not quite sure what it was that I was expecting.  What I definitely was not expecting was a complex and in depth story with themes that I had never experienced before in a video game.  Maybe because I had recently gone through (as in a year and-a-half prior) my own conflicting thoughts about my own religiousness, but the events surrounding the Glabados Church and those affiliated with the church, as well as your character's roll in those events are what I love about this game.  I have since become a sucker for the Final Fantasy Tactics semi-franchise, the world of Ivalice, and severely hope for another entry to be released on the Switch.

And speaking of character depth (as mentioned above in FF VI) and complexity.  I love how Ramza is not the hero that history remembers, that his name is essentially wiped from history and is only known as a heretic for his eventual stance against the church.  You play the main character in their own story, but not the story that the histories remember.  That is something that I am drawn to, and it possibly started here.

There is so much that I love about Eternal Darkness and only a little bit that I don't particularly like, but that has faded over time.  Initially, I was not fond of the events that took place under the Rovias estate.  I felt that the game had suddenly taken a science fiction turn that I was neither prepared for nor looking for.  This was also before I was right before I was introduced to H.P. Lovecraft, so I was missing a lot in the way of homage.  That being said, Eternal Darkness and their brilliant crafted sanity effects were things that Dr. Potts and I had been talking about to some extent for a number of years.  I had always thought it would be interesting to have, during a boss fight, the boss pause the game in order to formulate their plan while the player watched on in horror.  

This game does do so much right in the way that they handle horror, replayability, and even the challenge of the game does not seem to get in the way of the storytelling.  And the voice acting!  The Game Cube generation was probably the time when I became more accustomed to voice acting and the voice acting in this game (RIP William Hootkins) was beyond anything that I had experienced to that point.

There is so much that I love about Morrowind.  The storytelling, the setting, the learning curve (getting killed by a bug can be pretty humbling), the lore, the music are all amazing here.  I can recall the moment in the game where I felt everything click.  Story-wise, there is a question as to whether or not you are the reincarnation of a beloved folk hero (very simplified explanation mind you), and it was not until over half way through the game that events and character traits fell into place.  All of a sudden I felt that everything that I had been working towards made sense.  My role in the story felt like it was of my own doing, not one that was scripted to happen, even though it was.

This was also the first game where I noticed that I favored traveling on foot rather than either using the fast traveling mechanic, or traveling on roads; granted I traveled as much off road as I could when I was going through The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim a few months earlier, but this is when I recognized that it was something that I would rather not do.  Being able to explore the land is something that I love to do to this day, currently with Breath of the Wild.  

So those are my four video games that I feel do a decent job of defining who I am.  Kind of.  I could probably turn each of these entries into their own article, but I would rather not burden you all with a two week long project that I could sum up in a paragraph or two.  The point is, when I thought about what four games might define me, these are the games that I thought of and I know that there are a great many more that I could have included (and you can read about them in the Games of the Year series I posted last year).


Friday, April 20, 2018

Game EXP: Xeodrifter (NS)

Xeodrifter from Atooi, the same company (guy) who developed Mutant Mudds, Chicken Wiggle, and Totes the Goat, is the brainchild behind this wonderful Metroid-esque game (I guess you could say Metroidvania, except that this game is already pulls more from Metroid than it does from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which took a lot from Super Metroid, but anyway) that has been released on the 3DS, Wii U, and recently, the Nintendo Switch.  I picked it up during their most recent sale for and very happy about everything about this game.

Except the frustration I felt when I realized, after defeating one of the bosses, that checkpoints do not function the same as saving your game when you turn the system off.  Thankfully by that point, I had managed a pretty decent system of killing these bastards off.

Something that may not be talked about too often, is that even though Xeodrifter is pretty light on story, that does not mean that it takes anything away from the game.  You play as an unnamed, un-gendered astronaut whose ship breaks down and you have to scour four planets in a small system for the part that will fix your ship.  That is basically it.  There is no further explanation as to the planets, why the inhabitants are as hostile as they are, or why you're gung-ho in killing everything you come across.  And honestly, it was kind of refreshing not to have to worry about if I was missing some deeper, hidden meaning somewhere.  You have your goal, and you go for it. 

So almost right off the bat, as you enter one of the four stages, it is pretty obvious that Xeodrifter was designed with the 3DS in mind, using the similar background and foreground jumping mechanic that was used in Mutant Mudds.  However, not having a 3D effect when you jump back and forth between screens in no way deterred from my enjoyment of the game.  There were a few times when you had to jump to the background area and your vision was partially obscured by creatures or terrain in the foreground, but it was never so bad that it felt like Mr. Watsham was being unfair in his level design.

Easily my favorite feature of Xeodrifter was the weapon customization.  Throughout the game, you find nodes that you use to modify your gun, and here is where it gets wacky so try to keep up.  You have five different types of ways your weapon fires.  From a larger shot that increases damage, to increasing your rate of fire (in two different ways mind you!), to a scatter shot (which I didn't really explore too much), to a wave beam type shot.  Each type of shot has up to five slots for the nodes which increases its prevalence in your shot.  In the above screenshot, I have one node each in damage, rate of fire, and wave beam; although looking at this now, I think that the damage beam requires two nodes to actually have any effect, but oh well.  Then, you are able to have not just one, but three different weapon loadouts.  And at anytime during the game, you can change the layout of any of the loadouts, so you are never stuck with a weapon customization that you are not happy with.  By the end of the game, I had my exploration loadout, boss loadout, and random silly/experimental loadout.  The other great thing, or at least I thought so, was that there was only minor explanation as to how to use this screen and modify your weapons, unless it went into detail in the digital manual that I have not bothered to look at (if it even exists).

I feel like I should also mention the music, because it fit the visual aesthetic perfectly.  I cannot be sure, but the sounded a lot like SNES era music, but had a lot of NES-ness about it, especially the title theme which reminded me a lot of the music from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  There was also a lot of similarities to Hirokazu Tanaka's music from the original Metroid, which is always a good thing.  Re-listening to the soundtrack, some tracks stick out more than others, but all-in-all, it is a perfectly composed soundtrack for what the game is.

In the end, I spent around four hours playing through Xeodrifter, and I felt that that was a perfect amount of time with this game.  I did not find/acquire all of the health nodes, but I did have all of the weapon nodes; so I guess you could say that I did not 100% the game. Could it have been a few hours more?  Sure, but it did not need to be, and maybe a few more hours might have made the game less fun.  However, I would be very excited if Atooi began development on a Xeodrifter 2 in the future, and I might even pay retail for the game (I blame Steam for my penchant for only buying games on sale these days).


P.S.  I just wanted to add, which I do not feel is a spoiler, that at the end of the game after the credits, there was something that I grew up seeing a lot of in NES games, but feel like I have not seen in a long time.  A "thank you" from the developer.  It just gave me a warm feeling, deep down in the cockles to see something that I apparently had unconsciously attached meaning to.  

And thank you Jools Watsham for creating a fun game.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

MIDI Week Singles: "Small Boss Room (I) ~ Kraid" - Metroid (NES)

"Small Boss Room (I) ~ Kraid" from Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System (1986)

I decided to use "Small Boss Room (I) ~ Kraid" from Metroid partly because I just finished Xeodrifter, which is a great Metroid-esque game on multiple Nintendo systems and the music from that game reminded me a lot of Hirokazu's compositions for Metroid, but also because this is a great song!  At the point when this song comes up in Metroid, you have already been playing for a while, you might even have an extra energy tank or two and are armed with a handful of missiles.  Then the music changes to this.  

Honestly, when the music begins, it sounds like pretty standard fare when I think of science fiction music that may or may not have been composed for a video game.  Then at about 32 seconds hits and this song takes on what a layman might describe as baroque music in a science fiction setting; maybe that is not 100% accurate, but if Bach were composing music for a science fiction video game. . .maybe?

Either way, as frequently as I would get lost within Kraid's lair in the game, I really like this track and harbor no ill will towards it whenever it comes up.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: Blood Merdian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

This week, yesterday in fact, I finished listening to Richard Poe reading Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West.  This was my second time starting this book, with the first time being a few years back, but I stopped because I was feeling that I was lost in the story and that I wasn't able to focus as much attention as I felt the book deserved.  So the middle-end of last month, while at work, I decided to get back into Blood Meridian.

I first acquired the audio book through, surprisingly enough, or perhaps not, the "Humble Audio Book Bundle featuring Recorded Books" back in February 2014.  I picked it up mainly for The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, True Grit by Charles Portis, Junky by William S. Burroughs, and of course, Blood Meridian.  At the time I had never listened to an audio book, but I had listened to both the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings radio dramas a number of years back when I was helping Delaños in the archaeology lab sifting through bins of mid 19th century garbage; this was seriously a lot of fun.  So with that in mind, I thought dipping my toe into the realm of audio books would be a good idea.

Just a word of warning before I go much further, I should say that there might be spoilers, although I genuinely feel that there is not a whole lot to spoil in this book.  I also want to say that I only looked up information about the plot after I was finished with the story because I was worrying that there was something very significant that I was missing.  At this point I would like to say that for the most part, I was apparently able to follow along with the story a lot more than I had thought.

One of the reasons why I felt that I had a hard time tracking the events, were because there seemed to be no central plot.  The story follows an unnamed main character simply called The Kid, and events that happen and around him during his life in 1850s, primarily in the southwestern United States.  There is no, "The Kid sets out trying to discover why his Mother never named him," or "The unnamed kid sets out to make a name for himself," or "The Kid, wronged by one Ernest Griswald, sets out on a path of revenge."  There is The Kid, and things happen to and around him.  It is almost like he is a passive observer in his own story.  It is definitely not a way of storytelling that I am used to, and while it did give me the feeling that I was missing something important, by the end of the book, I did not really mind.

All of that being said, Blood Meridian was far from boring or uninteresting.  During the first handful of chapters, I could only digest a chapter or two at a time before I had to step away and listen to something else.  The writing and the delivery were so powerful and equally disturbing in parts that I felt a sense of sensory overload, which, at least for me, is a good thing.

Now, I could probably come up with something that sounded like drivel compared to, what I would assume, are hundreds of analyses of Blood Meridian that were the basis of literary dissertations.  Also, not having actually read the book, I feel like I have only experienced a few facets of the book.  As pointed out in the Wikipedia article, as well as Conklederp reminding me about how Cormac McCarthy wrote The Road, in Blood Meridian, there was no quotation marks to designate when people were speaking, and there were no apostrophes for contractions.  As this was a conscious decision, there is no way I could have known this listening to the book being read to me.

And let me tell you, Richard Poe did a fantastic job narrating the book and slightly changing his voice to suite the various characters.  Granted there were times when the voice he used for The Kid and Toadvine sounded pretty similar, but only if they were not talking to each other or in the same scene.  I do not know if there are other professional recordings available of other people reading Blood Meridian, but if you have the chance, I highly recommend listening to Richard Poe read this.  Just a word of warning though, this is a pretty violent book in many definitions of the word.  There are also more than a few utterances of racial slurs which I do not feel the need to put into words here.

I definitely want to actually read this book after having listened to it one and-a-half times.  Presently I have only read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but from this audio book alone, I can feel the power of how he writes.  I had considered starting another audio book at work after finishing Blood Meridian, but I am sure that most will pale in comparison.  Either way, I am now a fan of Richard Poe and eagerly look forward to hearing another book read by him, preferably a western, or anything else written by Cormac McCarthy.  Or Joyce Carol Oates now that I think about it.  Hell, Stephen King's The Stand: Complete & Uncut!


I Should Have Known That It Was Coming To This

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

MIDI Week Singles: "Battle - Large" - Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark (PC)

"Battle - Large" from Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark on the PC (2003)
Composer: Jeremy Soule
Album: No Official Album Release
Developer: BioWare

By now, it should be no surprise that the music that we are featuring on MIDI Week Singles is by Jeremy Soule, but this might (?) be a track you happen to not be as familiar with.  And despite having played the main game and the first expansion pack (Shadows of Undrentide), it was not until Hordes of the Underdark that I actively began looking for who wrote the music to this series.  That was the first time I came upon Jeremy Soule's name, although admittedly, it was not until The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim that I discovered that I was already a fan.

It was one of the large battles in the Underdark, during what Neverwinter Nights considered a cut scene that this music played.  I was blown away by the size of this song and I feel that if I were to ever be so lucky as to see it performed by an orchestra, that I would be watching the percussion section the whole time. I mean, those drums that run the entirety of the song scream war drums!  

For years afterwards I tried locating this soundtrack and only recently discovered that no official soundtrack was released.  Because this track runs six and-a-half minutes (the actual song runs roughly two minutes and seven seconds), it is one of my go-to tracks for playing during battles with our local Dungeons & Dragons group.

So if you happen to need some intense battle music for anything, "Battle - Large" (so titled until Mr. Soule reaches out and corrects me and the rest of the internet) is a great choice.


Friday, April 6, 2018

Show Review: Jurassic Park in Concert

Over this last weekend, Conklederp and I went and saw the 1993 theatrical version of Jurassic Park.  That in and of itself would not be noteworthy except that tickets to see Jurassic Park were $30 and up.  The reason of such a high price was that the Oregon Symphony Orchestra performed the music to the movie live.  Sure, if you figure that 1/3rd of the ticket prices for the cost of the movie, which meant that we were able to listen to an orchestra perform the entirety of the Jurassic Park soundtrack for only $20.  I would have paid $30 to listen to just the soundtrack performed,

Before going into the movie, both Conklederp and I were wondering how it would actually work, beyond just having the symphony there playing the music while the movie aired.  Knowing only what I've gathered from watching special features on DVD's, there seems to be a fair amount of audio mixing going on, making sure that the music doesn't overpower the dialogue, swells here, or just plays quietly in the background almost as if you don't notice it at all.  So how much live/on-the-spot-mixing could occur with a live orchestra?

What I experienced (as I won't speak on Conklederp's behalf) was me leaving The Schnitz wondering why I don't just see every movie with a live orchestra?  That way-back in the day, seeing a silent movie (because there was no other option), meant that maybe you had a live pianist playing along with the movie, which must have been something like our experience, but on a less grand scale.  There were only a few times during the movie that I noticed that the music played was ever so slightly different than what was on the soundtrack.  Specifically with "Dennis Steals the Embryos" scene, the marimba (I think it's the marimba) didn't sound as clean as it is performed on both the soundtrack and in the movie itself.  Conklederp later said that she noticed the lack of choir, which I didn't even think about, especially during the scene when the group first comes upon the Brachiosaurs.  The rest of the time, I was so engrossed in the whole experience that I either did not realize that there was a live orchestra playing, or that I was so into the music that I was not paying attention to the music.

The only other odd occurrence was that there was an intermission, which I probably should have anticipated as those musicians probably needed a rest, both mentally and physically.  And the conductor too I guess.  The fact that there was an intermission was not so much the oddness, but where they placed it.  Right after Dennis Nedry crashes his jeep, the screen went black, which I know is something that does not happen at that moment, the "Intermission" screen came up and the house lights came on.  An added bonus though of having the intermission was that after the 20 minutes were up and the house lights flashed, the orchestra played the entr'acte, which just meant that there was more music from the film to listen to.

As the movie ended and the credits rolled, Conklederp and I noticed people getting up and leaving.  Why would you do this!?  I mean sure, we spent 40 minutes getting out of the parking garage at night because we stayed until after the credits had finished.  Oh, and after the LIVE ORCHESTRA HAD FINISHED PERFORMING MUSIC FROM THE FILM JURASSIC PARK.  I would have paid money (which we did) to hear music from this film performed by an orchestra, and here we were, and I'll be snookered if I would leave as the credits were rolling because that is perfectly acceptable to do in a movie theatre.

Anyway, it was an amazing experience that I would highly recommend to anyone who is able to attend a performance; although I do recognize that ticket prices vary by venue.  In my opinion though, completely worth the cost of seeing Jurassic Park for the 47,000,000 time.  Now to plan our next experience when Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is performed in September; tickets go on sale May 4th.

Well Son You Got A Statement You'd Like To Make

P.S.  Something that I have noticed in the past, is that anytime the end credits theme from Jurassic Park is played, at least since about 1997, is that the music from The Lost World: Jurassic Park is used instead of what was written for the original film.  You can tell because the at about 2:12 in the original, there isn't the music that was used for The Lost World.  

You could say that I was a mix of emotions 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

MIDI Week Singles: "The Mall" - Skate or Die 2: The Search for Double Trouble (NES)

"The Mall" from Skate or Die 2: The Search for Double Trouble on the Nintendo Entertainment System (1990)
Composer: Rob Hubbard
Album: No Official Release
Developer: Electronic Arts

I played Skate or Die 2 quite a bit in the early '90s with my friend Flex and like a lot of skateboarding games that I have played since, I was not particularly good at it.  And what I actually recall about the game was the that the second stage took place in a mall, where you took on jobs as a delivery person.  It was a combination of having good in-game dexterity as well as remembering where individual shops were once you delivered a package and were immediately given a new timed assignment.  I do not recall if we (we meaning I) ever got passed the Mall stage so my nostalgic knowledge of this soundtrack as a whole is fairly limited.

I like this track because while it does not immediately conjure up the image of a mall, when I hear it, I do feel a twinge in the back on my brain that is telling me that I'm not moving fast enough, that the security guard is probably waiting just a few pixels away, and can't people just walk bloody damn faster already!?  I find "The Mall" to be a good song for its location.  It's not too frantic or off putting considering how apparently deadly the mall can be, and the melody is memorable enough so that having heard it for the first time in nearly 25 years, my brain is still able to bring back feelings of inadequacy in my ability to out maneuver a pixelated shopper.

Thanks Rob.