Friday, October 30, 2015

Podcasts via You Tube via Roku

I want to talk about three things in this post.  Podcasts, Youtube and Roku.  Lately I've been listening to some of my favorite podcasts on my TV, because the already-crappy speakers on my laptop have become crappier with age.  My brand new TV, on the other hand, boasts comparably robust speakers.  I love podcasts for multi-tasking, and tend to listen while playing Mario Maker, washing dishes or cooking meals.  

My preferred streaming device at this time is Roku.  I got to try one out at my previous room rental, and I found it intuitive.  So when my computer lost its ability to transmit sound to my TV, I decided that, rather than fight with the thing, I'll just buy a Roku for fifty bucks.  Since that purchase, I've watched the entirety of both Farscape and Fringe on Netflix, along with Welcome to Nightvale on Youtube, and lately: Judge John Hodgman.   The funny thing is,  Youtube is pretty terrible on Roku.  The interface is slow and clunky, with at least a second delay every time I press an arrow button to choose what I want to listen to.  Nonetheless, I persist, because it is the best option I have at this time.

I am finally caught up with Welcome to Nightvale.  It's been a great ride.  While some of the intrigue wore off after the first season, the show has introduced so many fun characters that I am always completely entertained.  Additionally, the shows core value of celebrating weirdness resonates with me deeply.  Also, the lead narrator, Cecil, has such a fantastic voice, I have never gotten tired of it.  And some of his very best soliloquies have come in some of the later episodes.  I'd like to share one with you now. 

Now, let’s have a look at traffic.

There are roads. Upon those roads are cars. Some moving, in straight or gently-curved lines. Some idling, in long, narrow crowds. And inside those cars are people. People who are moving, or idling, with their cars. One with their vehicles, sitting quietly, peacefully in plush chairs, hands resting outward on a circle that dictates direction. From the side, and seen without the car, they would look almost fetal. So vulnerable, these people, nestled in their protective outer shells.
Are we living a life that is safe from harm?
Of course not. We never are. But that’s not the right question. The question is are we living a life that is worth the harm?
We are all driving toward something. We are all driving away from something else. It is…the simplicity of physics. The simplicity of free will.
Expect delays as you near the parade day exit, but do not change route.
Stay your course.

This has been traffic.

That segment comes from episode 46, parade day.  Makes me shiver a bit. Of course, I have the benefit of being able to channel Cecil's spooky voice when reading it. I recommend everyone give Welcome to Night Vale a few listens so that you, too, can channel Cecil's voice at will.  



Wednesday, October 28, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Moongrains" - Plants vs. Zombies (Everything)

"Moongrains" from Plants vs. Zombies (PC, DS, Mac, Android, Windows, iOS, Brains)
Composer: Laura Shigihara
Record Label: Self Released through Bandcamp
Album: Plants vs. Zombies Soundtrack
Game Developer: PopCap Games

I kind of felt that I needed to have a track from Plants vs. Zombies even though the music isn't particularly scary.  And although not traditionally scary, Conklederp can attest to the fact that she'll start feeling anxious before she realizes that Laura Shigihara's score is playing in the background.  I decided upon "Moongrains" because it's the song that's played during the first night level in the game.  It's also the first level that introduces fungi.  I guess it just seemed appropriate to have the music up for our MIDI Week Singles.

And now I just realized that Halloween is this Saturday which means that I will be no longer obligated to post horror game related songs (which will hot be true), so why not go out with a song from a game that I've played on I've forgotten how many systems I've played the game on.

But yes, the music.  Another reason I went with "Moongrains" instead of "Grasswalk" or the equally iconic "Zombies On Your Lawn" was because I like how in the game you are forced to change the strategy that you've been using for the past 10 levels and that's what this music reminds me of.  That it's familiar and similar enough to "Grasswalk," but different enough that everything's just slightly new again.


Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pak Watch: Fugl

One more flying game, and this one is a doozy!  Uses voxels and looks so pretty in motion!  it's amazing how much better they look than polygons, even though they're all big and clunky.  The creator of the game has been answering questions on the Touch Arcade forums.  He says that he focused on voxels and 60fps in order to simulate a good flying experience.  Check out the Touch Arcade article on the game to see a video of Fugl in action.

Note:  Apparently Fugl means 'Bird' in Danish and other Norwegian languages. 

Fugl is still in production, and I believe it will be released on iPhone.  Fingers crossed for a wider release. I definitely think it is one to watch!


Monday, October 26, 2015

Game Reviews: All is Dust, Only If, Serena.

This is going to be a very short review of three games that I attempted to play over the last couple of weeks: Only If, Serena, and All is Dust.  I stress the "tried" since with Serena, I turned the game on, hit the Esc. key to go to the options menu to invert the y-axis as I found that moving the mouse up make the POV camera look up and I was exited out of the game.

This will be a theme for the rest of this post.

All three of these games were free through Steam and all looked like they would have some promise.  All is Dust is a POV atmospheric horror that takes place during the dust bowl era.  That alone has captured my attention so I was excited to play a game in an era that I don't think I've played in yet.  The first time I gave up when I found out I couldn't invert the y-axis.  After looking up the game on How Long To Beat, I discovered that since it's supposed to only take me about 15 minutes I would give it another try.  That's when the game crashed without opening up.  Naturally I tried opening the game again but to no avail.  I even tried once more the following day and I was unable to open the game.  So after 12 minutes I gave up on All is Dust.

What makes me sad about not being able to play All is Dust, is that what little of the game I was able to experience, I liked.  The visuals looked pretty decent for what I assumed was a Half-Life 2 mod and the voice acting (that was coming out of the old-timey radio) sounded pretty legit and was appropriately crackly.

With Only If, this was another premise that intrigued, being a "surrealistic first person puzzle adventure game."  However, just like All is Dust, I was unable to change the y-axis on the mouse.  I tried playing but I felt handicapped.  According to HLtB, Only If is a two hour game.  So I gave up.  Plus, I'm pretty sure that this was one of those games that when you hit Esc. or "M" to bring up a menu, nothing happens.  There is no menu and no way to change any of the settings.  Once again, I gave up after playing for 4 minutes.

Lastly, I tried playing Serena, a Half-Life 2: Episode 2 mod.  Thankfully there is a menu option, but nowhere is there an option to invert the y-axis.  All I can tell you about Serena is that the voice acting sounded pretty decent and the visuals, being a HL2:E2 mod looked fitting for 2007.  I quit the game after only one minute.  HLtB says that Serena would only take ~48 minutes, but at that point, I was just too frustrated and annoyed to give the game even that much of my time.  Maybe I should give the game another chance, it does look like the story is regulated to a single space, so there wouldn't be as much need for aiming/strafing.  I might be able to garner enough will power to figure out a non-inverted (or "normal" apparently) mouse scheme.

I realize how nit-picky and spoiled I sound with my "but I cannot invert the y-axis, so I'm not going to play this game," and even reading a lot of the requests on the forums with people asking for inverted y-axis controls makes me feel bad/guilty for having the same sentiment, although over half are people simply asking for an inverted y-axis.  And yet I still wonder if I come across sounding like the "All the best FPS players use inverted mouse :)" guy.  But it genuinely feels like a hinderance that should be relatively easy to fix.  And I don't know if it is an issue with the Unity Engine, which both All is Dust and Only If were made with, but maybe it just is a coincidence that inverting the y-axis is more of an issue than just flipping a switch.

I think I will go back, maybe sometime in the coming weeks and give Serena another try and attempt to train my brain to accept a non-inverted setup as I was able to do it somewhat with the static speaks my name, and that game didn't have any monsters to run away from or guns to shoot.  I think I can do it.


Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pak Watch: Racing The Sun (PC) (Wii-U)

Race the Sun
Race the Sun is a  minimalist polygonal flying game that we all missed our chance to download for free.  Oh well.  I may just have to buy it for full price after reading this great little article about the creators in their young days playing SNES, the influence of Star Fox on their game design, and their letter-writing relationship with Nintendo of America.  As someone who wrote Nintendo dozens of times, I am touched reading their story.  

Article:  We wouldn't be making games if it weren't for Nintendo answering our letters.    <-- how cool is that?!

Available on Steam and Wii-U


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Tooth & Claw" - Killer Instinct (N64)

"Tooth & Claw" from Killer Instinct on the Nintendo 64 (1994)
Composer: Robin Beanland
Record Label: Nintendo of America
Album: Killer Cuts
Game Developer: Rareware (Rare)

It might be expected that I choose this particular track from Killer Instinct, one of the few fighting games that I grew attached to.  When the game was released on the SNES back in 1995, the first run cartridges came packaged with a physical CD copy of the soundtrack, which I promptly went out to our local video rental store (Placer TV/Video) and bought the soundtrack for a whopping $1; this was because my parents were not too keen on video games where you could beat up a woman (who could also kick the ever loving shit out of you too, but that's beside the point).

The music for Saberwulf's stage is something that I don't recall really paying attention to until after I bought the soundtrack and actually listened to the music.  The various sound effects (Church bells, wind blowing, door slamming, creepy laughter, Saberwulf's howl, Spinal's laughter) are all a little bit on the cheesy side, but they don't take anything away from the Baroque/Bach inspired pipe organ and orchestra arrangement of this wonderful piece.  It's as if to acknowledge how absurd the story is behind Killer Instinct as well as the possible idea of a werewolf and skeleton fighting each other (among many other characters).

It has always been a dream of mine to hear this performed by live musicians, but sadly I think this music is too far out of the mainstream (having been composed 21 years ago) for this to happen, but I can always hope.  But more importantly, it's a great song that fits with the sad/creepy/cheesiness that is the month of October.


Monday, October 19, 2015

3 Things to improve about Mario Maker

I've said it before, and I'll say it again - When I really love a game/book/tv series, I will come up with ideas to improve it, or expand on it in a sequel.  This is true of Super Mario Maker and not just for me; there are countless social media postings on the subject.  In the case of Mario Maker, Nintendo has teased about forthcoming Downloadable Content to be released at some undisclosed time.  This really stirred the pot, and now we all have our suggestions or demands for what we would like to see added to Mario Maker. 

I've managed to boil my requests down to three.  It seems clear to me that the things I want most in any downloadable content are the following:  a checkpoint,  some system of alternate goal, be it 5 yoshi coins to collect or the key/keyhole from Super Mario World, and lastly, the ability to make an overworld map, populated with your custom levels. 

Currently, the replay value of a given level seems to be localized in the 'tough to beat' genre and nothing else.  This creates a schism among gamers.  For my part, I will spend a few lives to beat a level, but a good amount of the time, I will just give up and skip the level (which Mario Maker generously lets you do).  Mostly because I get tired of repeating the same motions over and again.
This problem could be easily fixed with the inclusion of a checkpoint.  The 'expert' level of difficulty would lose some of it's obnoxious frustration and preserve the thrill of the challenge, if we weren't forced to execute it from start to finish every time, but could pick up at a half-way point. 
I only want challenge if it increases my fun.  Otherwise it will severely hamper the replay value.  Why play a level over and again when I can just move on to one of the thousands of other available levels to play?  A billion facebook commenters agree.

Another way to add challenge that isn't a brick-to-the-face is by having alternate goals.  Playing levels just to get to the end isn't so interesting, but if there is more than one way to complete it, it increases replay value.  Super Mario World, for example, featured Yoshi coins to collect and also key-hole challenges.  Some levels could be beaten two different ways, usually one was quite trickier than the other, and would make a different path on the overworld map.  

Which brings me to world sculpting.  If we were able to make our own little worlds, then it would increase replay value.  if I like a particular creator, then I would have reason to pull up his world and play through it, even if I'd already done so before.  
People have chosen to arrange their levels into custom worlds, giving them an arbitrary order of 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, etc.  And that is a nice idea, but it isn't quite the same as having an overworld map, a-la Mario 3 or Super Mario World.  The order is imposed manually, by choice, and some of the fun and immersion is lost in choosing levels one-by-one in the suggested order rather than playing through them in an overworld map.  
Many users complain endlessly about items and monsters that were not included in Super Mario Maker.  I am much less interested in increasing the item set, which I think is still pretty exhaustive.  Chargin' Chuck is cool and all, and I'm sure the Ice Flower from New Super Mario is as well.  But I think that the game elements I've mentioned would do more to improve the overall experience than any new item or enemy could.  

The great news is that Mario Maker has provided a medium for creative expression for thousands of people.  Forgive us Nintendo if we forget our 'Thank you' in exchange for a demand for more.  


P.S.  4th thing not included above, but it can't be said enough:  Mario Maker should be available on the 3DS in some form.  I can't say this enough times.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

Game Review: Fingerbones (PC)

Fingerbones is a very simple game that tells a very disturbing tale.  

I say "simple" because although the lighting effects in the game are very nice, the game looks like it was made in some type of a Minecraft engine.

Seriously though, look at that scene.  That's gorgeous.  But if you look closer at the ceiling and the table, you can see that the table looks like it's only three exaggerated pixels thick.

As for the game, like the static speaks my name, it is a very short game (this one took me 30 minutes) and told in a POV (point of view) mode.  There is no spoken dialogue and all of the story is told through notes from a diary/journal that are scattered around the handful of rooms that exist.  Fingerbones is basically a point-and-click game told in a 3D space which I can understand would be a turn off to some players, which is fine; no judgements here.  The information needed to solve all of the puzzles is located in the various journal pages (although I wasn't able to find the answer to one of the riddles so I cheated. . .and used GameFAQS. . .I apologize).

The story is what will stick with you after finishing the game.  

There were some story elements that are revealed in the pages that I wasn't sure if I was reading them correctly as I had never experienced anything like this in a video game.  While there might be room for interpretation as to the events surrounding the character that the player controls, I feel that the events are pretty hard to misinterpret.  It made me angry and I appreciated the fact that the game had that kind of an effect on me.  I like when games are able to elicit an emotional response from me that isn't frustration or annoyance directed at the game.

Fingerbones was a fairly powerful and effective story in the form of a video game.  So kudos to Mr. Szymanski for writing this disturbing tale of a life in a post apocalyptic setting, that doesn't make a big deal about it being the apocalypse, which is why I just brought it up now.  And it looks like he's working on another game and has a catalogue of a few games that look to be similar in style that might have to be picked up in the future.

So if you have 74 MB on your hard drive and about 30 minutes to spend (maybe a little less if you're smarter than I), I would recommend Fingerbones.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Maridia Underwater" - Super Metroid (SNES)

"Maridia Underwater" from Super Metroid on SNES (1994)
Game Developer: Nintendo

"The last Metroid is in captivity, the galaxy is at peace."  My friend John posted a picture of Samus with that iconic tagline, and I was instantly launched into Super Metroid nostalgia.  Specifically the song that follows that statement at the start of the game Super Metroid.  I can play the whole thing in my head, look, I'm doing it right now just looking at the quote.

I was originally intending to post that song, but then I got to listening to the soundtrack to Super Metroid, and it is so much gold.  Super Metroid brought a level of lush, spooky beauty to 1994 that I had not previously seen in a video game.  Listening to this soundtrack really makes me want to play the game.  Bad.  

I could truly pick any song from it, but I think I will settle with the melodically spooky "Maridia Underwater Rocky Area."  Which sounds like a happier theme played on a busted music box.  Or something.  It's October, I'm into the spooky.   


Monday, October 12, 2015

Game Review: the static speaks my name (PC)

the static speaks my name is a very interesting game.  Partly because the game is free through Steam, but also because it took me 19 minutes to play, being about nine minutes longer than the developer (Jesse Barksdale) says it takes to play the game.  I like to look at things though, although the ceiling and the floor were by far the things that I ended up looking at most frequently and not on purpose either.

First off, my one and only complaint about the game was that I was unable to invert the y-axis on the mouse, which meant that moving the mouse up made me look up and moving the mouse down made me look down.  I've talked a bit about this in past articles so I won't get into it here, aside from what I already said.  And this: I felt somewhat hampered and bothered that when the y-axis is not inverted, I found myself looking up whenever I turned a corner; not sure why, but I noticed it happening pretty frequently.

Because the static speaks my name is such a short game, talking about the game without giving anything away will result in a shorter than normal article about reviewing the aforementioned game.  You would almost be better to watch the trailer, which takes up just about 1/10th of the amount of time it would take you (but not me mind you) to play the game.

Shrimp.  Because why not!?
The shrimp actually do play a part in this story, but I will not tell you as it might be a spoiler.  It kind of would be even if I associated an emotion about the above shrimp.  But there are shrimp, which is something that I don't know if I have ever seen before aside from, maybe, an item on a restaurant menu (in game).

But seriously.  Aside from my complaint about the lack of control settings, I really enjoyed and appreciated the story that was being told.  I even had hope that there would be more game, but sadly, 19 minutes was all that was given to play.  And honestly, with how the game ends, I do think that I could actually last playing this game for hours on end. And thinking about it, 20 minutes per sitting, if the game extended beyond that length, would probably be the perfect amount of time.

Now, I don't think that I would classify the static speaks my name as a horror game.  It's definitely disquieting and unnerving, similar to how I felt, for a time, playing Gone Home. And now that I think about it, it is a bit like Gone Home, in that you are a single person exploring a home, presumably your own home. But unlike Gone Home, I didn't feel a sense of joy and relief at the end.

We can always hope.
Oddly enough, I cannot recall anything about the music, although I am 100% positive that there was some type of ambient drone music going on in the background.  I do not think that there was any melody to the music, which would have immediately felt out of place, even without knowing what the game was about when you start playing.  It's just not that type of game, which is probably why I think the music was unobtrusive and ambient.

If you have 67 MB of free space on your hard drive and less than half an hour to spend on playing a game, I would highly recommend the static speaks my name. but for the love of Freya, do not let your children play this game as it is very strongly M rated due to some text/dialogue, or would be if it had been rated by the video game industry.  It's true that the content of this story is very mature although I don't just mean in the R rated sense.  It is a successful attempt at a story that is very rarely covered by video games and there's probably a good reason for it.

You know what, I'm just going to stop "talking."


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Alone in the Dark" - Alone in the Dark (DOS/PC)

"Alone in the Dark" from Alone in the Dark on the PC (1992)
Composer: Philippe Vachey
Record Label/Album: Available through
Game Developer: Infogrames

I chose this song for today for a couple of reasons.  1. It's October and because I'm somewhat of a sucker for gimmicks, I thought a track from a horror game would fit well for a MIDI Week Single.  2.  I like this game and the game (when bought through GOG) comes with the soundtrack.

This track, "Alone in the Dark," while not inherently scary, is probably the most frequently used track in the game, being the default music played while navigating the house, so it's really no wonder that I grew rather fond of the song.  Despite the "nostalgia" of exploring a house, listening to the song I feel a sense of discovering the unknown, sleuthing around bits of information and a cheerfully impending sense of doom.  I can't think of how else to explain this particular track, but I feel like it sums up Alone in the Dark pretty well.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Monthly Update: October

Similarly to when I got into Zelda Classic over a year ago, I am obsessed with Mario Maker.  Of course, Zelda Classic was free, and I spent $375 to buy Mario Maker and a Wii U (and Mario Kart 8).  So, I'm moving up in the world, I guess.

On first glance, I would say that a Nintendo released Zelda editor wouldn't happen.  Zelda is just too complex.  But as I mull it over, I think it might be possible.  Definitely would want to let the Mario Maker community develop a bit.  Currently, you can use pipes and doors and stuff, not unlike a Zelda level.  Hmm.... that gives me an idea for a Mario Maker level: Tower of babel style!  yay :)

Jane and I have developed a pretty system for video game time.  At my house we play Mario Maker.  And eventually Mario Kart 8, when I get a second controller.  Jane's got a better computer than I do, so we play Steam games at her house.  I'm currently walking her through some of my old favorites, like LIMBO and Sword and Sworcery EP.  She doesn't have a high tolerance for high-skill games, but loves good art and stories.  One new game we're playing is called Undertale which is a very cute RPG that gives you the option of not hurting enemies.  So far we both enjoy it thoroughly.  It's often compared with Earthbound because of the graphics and the funky sense of humor.

When I'm on my own, I have a very simple routine this past month:  Play Mario Maker and watch Fringe.  Maybe eat something.  I am flying through Fringe,  it's definitely got its hooks in me.  I'm about half way through season 3, so there's not much left.  I'm pretty bummed that it will be coming to an end in just one more season.  It just seems like there's so much left to explore.  It's the kind of show where literally anything can happen, so no matter what I'll be a little disappointed when I find out what actually *does* happen as opposed to what *could* happen.  I'll just have to wait and see.  Maybe 2 more weeks before I finish the show.  *edit: turns out there are 5 total seasons, so I'll have it for a while longer

I've started playing Magic: The Gathering with a group of Jane's friends.  They get together at least once a week.  It's a lot of fun to be playing paper magic with new people and in a large group and with cheap beer.  Brings me back to my 20s.  It's also helped to curb my Magic Online habit, which was time consuming and getting expensive.

The last two things I want to talk about are things I can't seem to transition well into.  I guess it's all about how I use my time.  Went to Tahoe, it was awesome. Much kayaking and relaxing on the beach. And then we saw a play called "Mr. Burns, a Post-electric play" which was set in a post-apocalyptic world and was full of Simpsons references.   Eventually the play just gets extremely weird and I had a great time with it.  Great music too- I'll get into it more in a different post.

So, that's all the DRPOTTS news that's fit to print,


Friday, October 2, 2015

Monthly Update: October 2015

You know, I don't really have a lot to talk about, which I find rather sad in some respects, but normal in others.  Which others you ask?  The Dungeons  Dragons related kind.  I spent most of September writing an unofficial D&D quest.  It's not a long one (intentionally) and it (presently) comes out to 49 pages, or 25 front and back pages, including a title page, credits, dedication page, the story, numerous pictures, and the monster guide.  And looking at the three D&D books I do have, 49 pages isn't a lot.  But again, it's meant to be a short(ish) quest.  Possibly more on that later.

I think I might temporarily putting the kibosh on Fallout Tactics as I've found that I'm becoming too frustrated with inching people forward to try and draw out an aggressor.  Plus, as was the case with the first Fallout, the game likes to pause/freeze about every minute coinciding with performing an action, (the sound/music doesn't stop mind you) then the game continues again.  The only time this became annoying/aggravating was when I was attacking or being attacked by mutants.  And trust me, I've given Fallout Tactics a fair amount of my time (41 hours).

A few days I was browsing through POV/FPS horror games (Amnesia, Doom 3) and noticed that there were a good number that were short free to play games, some of which I already had installed (which both surprised and pleased me).  I think my plan for October, this month of implied scariness, is to go through as many of these free games.  My list is currently at nine games, three of which I've played, one I've completed, two I've dappled a bit with and one of those two, I cannot alter the y-axis for the mouse, which might be a deal breaker and I seriously cannot move the mouse to look up without feeling like I'm fucking up.  So with four Mondays and four Fridays for the rest of the month, I think I might be able to make this happen, but if it doesn't. . .then I guess it doesn't happen.

Still on the horror front, we saw The Visit earlier in the week and I very much enjoyed the movie.  Despite the fact that both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes (fuck Rotten Tomatoes and their often pretentious ratings by the way) give the movie roughly 65% rating, there was a lot that I liked and provided a couple of days discussion between Conklederp and myself about the role of mental illness, how it was depicted in the film and how we felt that elderly people were not demonized in the way that a lot of people have claimed.  Also, I would like to know the clues/cues that allowed people to figure out the entire plot of the movie within the first 5 minutes the first time they watched the movie.  Anyway, a great film by Mr. Shyamalan with an amazing performance by Deanna Dunagan.

I think that's all I want to talk about right now, but as I said, I feel like I don't have a lot to relate at the moment.  Too much brain workings are focused on what classwork I need to have finished before the weekend commences (because us mid 30 somethings gosta parties too).  Actually we don't.

And now to head back to the real world.