Monday, January 30, 2012

A Quick Note on Video Game Music

In "Unsung Heroes" - and once more in this post - I noted some excellent soundtracks and how fun it is to listen to them even outside of the gaming atmosphere.

I just want to take the time to note two more soundtracks that are totally worth noticing and giving a listen to. And they're both from Rockstar Games.

The first is the slightly eerie and intriguing soundtrack to Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, a zombies and cowboys epic. The music is the right mix of western and zombie movie and worth giving a listen - especially since the soundtrack is a huge part of both of those cinematic genres.

The second is L.A. Noire, a visually stunning and fun game set in 1947. So, as you can imagine, the music is jazzy-noir and very of the time. Noir, too, is a genre wherein the music is a radically important part of the cinema, so this faithful soundtrack is definitely worth it for lovers of jazz, noir and video-gaming.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Xbox "720" Rumours

Thanks to Huffington Post, IGN, Kotaku and a few other gaming sources, some rumours about the next generation Xbox - the "720" (not what it will be called, but it is what people have dubbed it for the moment) - are starting to be solidified.

There are a couple that are intriguing, but the most argued over seems to be the release date. The most recent guess, according to the aforementioned sites, seems to be in the late quarter of 2013. Sure this is a year after Nintendo releases it's new Wii U later this year, but that's no biggie.
This means we have a full year to enjoy our current games before, basically, we never play them again and use only things for the new console - which is, unfortunately, really seems to be how all this ends up working.

Another intriguing development, according to a Kotaku insider, is that the new console will come equipped with a Blu-Ray player and the "Kinect 2", a new version of the motion-detector gaming add-on for Xbox 360. It's said that it will have an on-board processor that "would enable a new Kinect to more effectively detect users' motions". So, you know, be better at doing what it's supposed to do. Good news. Not that the original Kinect is bad, mind new, but it is limited.

Numbers and letters concerning the new consoles power are also being thrown around, some saying that the "720" will be 6 times more powerful than the 360, with Kotaku's source saying that that's "the right ballpark and that Microsoft is estimating they might even get to 8x the Xbox 360". 8 times the power. The thing is already pretty damn powerful, I can only imagine what's coming next! And, knowing Xboxes (Xboxs? Xboxi?) as I do, the size of the power supply that comes with it with need its own liquid cooling system.

It is also said that the processor is being based off the Radeon HD 6670, which is currently released, which asks the question of whether the graphics on the machine will be out of date before it even hits the market. I have to trust the team at Microsoft that they know what they're doing, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Here's hoping they address that issue instead and be more like, you know, every other home electronic device currently on the market and won't need an external power supply at all. I have to tip my hat to Sony on this one in making an amazingly powerful and advanced gaming machine - with arguably better graphics than the 360 - that does not require an external power supply have the size of the console itself. Kudos.

By far the biggest development, however, has to be the fact that a purportedly reputable source from within Microsoft has said that they are working on software (or maybe its hardware, it's unclear) that will prevent the console from playing used games. This would kill business like Game Stop and reduce revenue from your local game stores like Game, JB Hi-Fi and EB. They are "unsure how they will implement the system" but Luke Plunkett of Kotaku seems to find that he understands the movement towards this kind of technology.

"In fact, if it ends up being correct, it makes total sense. Why? Over the past year we’ve seen developers, publishers and then even platform holders like Sony embrace the idea of the “online pass”, a concept designed to either prevent game trade-ins or get more money out of those skipping new purchases," he writes.

"It’s a movement that, as time goes on, will only pick up steam. And now that nearly all major publishers are on-board with the idea in one form or another, the next logical step is to embed the practice in gaming hardware."
 While he's right, it would severely limit your ability to lend your games to friends and family or any of the behaviours that gamers have so embraced in our culture.

Wired's Chris Kohler says it's possible that the games will be a hybrid of the disk, which will contain the content and likely a unique access code, and downloadable, one-user-only games like for phones and tablets.

No one knows for certain that any of this is spot on but, as the speculation of commenters is being slowly confirmed in one way or another by their contacts in the industry, I am certain that what is true is that when the "720" does come out, it will be an entirely new gaming experience to what we are used to now.


Newt Gingrich: A Lizard in a Suit

I know this is straying from my usual light entertainment talk, but this is just blood-angering. According to a recent Huffington Post article, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich compared gay marriage to paganism. Here is the quote:

"It's pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it's a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization."

 Yeah, what? This coming from a guy with "three marriages and repeated infidelity under his belt"? To quote his favourite book - 

"Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." (Hebrews 13:4) 

Okay, so adultery is bad. Thanks bible. Wait, it's one of the TEN COMMANDMENTS. Okay. So, Newt is obviously a very trustworthy commentator on marriage.

There's always this gem from the Old Testament:

"If a man be found lying with a woman married to a husband, then they shall both of them die, the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away the evil from Israel." (Deuteronomy, Chapter 22:22)

But, okay,  maybe he didn't sleep with a married woman - though I am sure that the reverse applies (if a married man sleeps with a woman) - and maybe he doesn't take stock in the Old Testament books, which would be weird, but then there mustn't be anything on marriage in the New Testament other than the above quote from Hebrews, right? Oh, wait,  
"And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”(Matthew 19:19). 

So, that's pretty clear, whoever divorces a wife - who hasn't committed adultery - is committing adultery themselves.

So, so far, Newt is a pretty bad source for how marriage should be.

I'm not going to do a whole piece on gay marriage in the Bible, because this website - Christian Gays - has done a study for it already, examining different quotes from a whole range of books. If you like, there is also this article from the Huffington Post covering what the Bible actually says about gay marriage.

I'm not religious and would consider myself secular - a Jewish Humanist, really - but even I know that Jesus' message seems to be "love everyone and don't be a dick". Also, who's business is it who you marry, as long as you love each other? It's no one's business but your own, that's who. It's no one's business but your own what you do in the bedroom, either. You can share it if you want, though. Most of us are up for the stories.

And those of you who aren't and are offended by such things? Don't be a jerk and start raining damnation and hell on people - even (especially?) if you think you're "saving" them (ProTip: Most people will become more averse to it this way. No one ever found religion by having a friend yell at them for telling a sexy story) - just say, "I'm sorry, I'm not comfortable with this conversation topic" and either walk away or your friends will be understanding.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Look! you even noticed.

I kid! I kid 'coz I love! Of course you noticed the brand spankin' new, shiny look to my blog!

I figured it was time for a change. Hopefully for the better. If'n you like, you can let me know what you think of it. Or not, whatever, your choice.

Really, I just wanted this blog to stop looking so much like a "blog" and more like a "website". Well, we'll see. Time will tell. Cliché, etc.

Wow, an exciting first post on the new look - keep going, man, you'll be holding people off with THIS kinda content!


Monday, January 23, 2012

Another Note on Video Game Music

I know I mentioned it briefly in "Unsung Heroes" but I think it deserves further elaboration on just how amazing the Halo soundtrack really is.

With an amazingly written orchestral theme, drumming and the use of Gregorian chanting, Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori have created, throughout the suite of games, a fantastic atmosphere and just truly stunning music using real instruments and synthesized sounds.

Also, probably unintentionally as it's meant for an adventuring, game-based atmosphere, the music is exceptional to work to. Seriously, give it a try.


Borderlands 2? Yes F#$%ing Please!

When I play a video game, there are certain experiences that I look for. I want to be greeted with something visually enticing, preferably something new and, in its own way, beautiful. There needs to be a decent storyline, or at the very least, if its a mission-based game, the concepts behind each mission needs to be decent. Clever characters, well-written dialogue and encapsulating atmosphere need to abound. Borderlands was the perfect offering on that alter of pretty high expectations. It exceeded every single one of my expectations for both first person shooters and role-playing games.

The original Borderlands "trailers" were short films featuring one of our little robot friends from the original Borderlands, the Claptrap. He is acting as a director and host for little informative videos on the making of Borderlands. Here are two of them. Not really kid-appropriate, but highly entertaining and very much in the feel of the original.

So, when I tell you I'm excited about Borderlands 2, you know this is serious.

Besides the official world premiere teaser, there is some leaked gameplay footage from what appears to be the E3 official premiere announcement. The game promises to bring back the vicious insanity of the enemies, the same comic-like cel-shading graphic style and the same dark variety of violent humour. Though, the enemies - and NPCs (non-player characters) - are apparently going to be smarter, with the ability to flank and work as a team. The Psychos, Gearbox vice president Steve Gibson says, will still have the same attitude, "Wow that's a gun! I want my face in front of it."

The links provided have all the information I could find that is currently available about the upcoming title, which is rumoured to be released in September this year.

Oh, and if you are so inclined, the game can be pre-ordered from the official website. You're welcome.


Half-Life News and Blues

Odds are, if you are a fan of well-scripted, story-driven games, first person shooters or really have a love for Valve games (who doesn't? Seriously), you have played Half-Life 2 and its subsequent episodic releases, titled of course Half-Life 2: Episode One and Episode Two. Also likely is that you, like everyone else who has played these games, wants to see the series come to a conclusion in the long-anticipated Episode Three, which was announced way back in 2006, supposedly to finish "a trilogy...that will conclude by Christmas of 2007."

Well Valve Boss, Gabe Newell, has recently teased that we should be seeing an Episode Three sometimes pretty soon. Well, we certainly hope so, after it turns out that the Valve employee with the Half-Life 3 t-shirt was only trolling, with comments being made by Cheft from Valve that, "there has been no directive from Gabe [Newell] to leak anything. That is all false."

Let's hope Episode Three comes out soon, because we've all been away from the Half-Life world for too long! No release date has been set, though. Alas.


The Muppets Do It Again!

Last night I had the pleasure of watching the new Muppets flick, co-written, co-executive produced and starring Jason Segel. First, let me say, I never thought that at my age that a Muppets movie would be able to make a tear roll down my cheek. I was sorely mistaken in thinking that.

The movie centres around Gary (Segel) and new Muppet Walter (voiced by Peter Linz). Gary wants to take his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) to LA for their anniversary and they invite Walter with them to go and see the old Muppet Studios. When they find it in disrepair and an evil oil magnate, Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), buying up the plot to tear it down, they decide to seek out Kermit and bring the gang back together for one last show to try and raise money to keep the plot. Hilarity, insanity and self-referential humour ensues!

Segel was seemingly born to play this role. With his enormous smile, happy eyes and a permanent look of childlike wonder on his face, it's amazing how well he seeped into the Muppet universe. Adams, too, was astounding her role, being a beautiful, Smalltown, America kind of girl and performing some wonderful songs alone and with the occasional Muppet.

As is the custom with Muppet films, celebrity cameos abound! Alan Arkin, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris and Bill Cobbs to name a few. I won't spoil them all for you!

If you ever loved the Muppets as a kid or now, you will very much enjoy this trip down nostalgia lane, with its fresh new take on the Muppets and some wonderful songs composed by Bret McKenzie of New Zealand comedy duo Flight of the Conchords. And if you need any further convincing as to seeing this movie, it's purely for the AMAZING casting choice for Walter's human counterpart and these three words: Chris Cooper rapping.

A solid 8 out of 10 for being able to keep The Muppets for both children and adults, keeping it in tune with the original, brilliant Muppet releases.


Next Step, Skynet

I just found out about this and although in ten years this technology will be likely obsolete and smoother, better-working and sturdier version will take its place, I still think this is absolutely amazing.

28-year old Claudia Mitchell lost her left arm in a motorcycle accident in 2004. She now has the world's first mind-controlled bionic arm. It's a bit of a bulky thing and it's a little jerky, but the amazing pure science fiction wonder of it completely overshadows any negatives related to it. This is, in short, a medical and scientific miraculous leap forward.

I can only imagine that in a few years time we will be seeing far better version of this technology - check out the video of her using the arm here! - likely inspired by either movie prostheses like Luke's arm in Star Wars or any of the body enhancements from sci-fi games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

This, along with things like this man's bionic eye, are really bringing us into the science-fiction-like 21st century we were promised.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Unsung Heroes

After listening to them on repeat for the past few days of work, I think it needs to be said that - and a shout out given to - the unsung heroes of the gaming industry are its music composers, without whom the atmosphere, tension and emotion would not be felt in the games we love so much.

I have been listening to the Starcraft 2, Bioshock, Oblivion and Red Dead Redemption soundtracks as I trawl away at my job and I have to say, it makes working feel more epic. It also adds some serious atmosphere.

You don't realize, while you're in a game, how important the music is - not like when you're in a movie. Sure, we can all whistle the Tetris or Mario Bros theme song, but how many of you can do that for the theme of your favourite modern game? Okay, anything outside of Halo. I thought so.

It's amazing how much the screeching violin makes Bioshock such a terrifying game. You just feel naturally pumped or on a mission when you hear the twangy slide acoustic guitar, ripping electric solos and chugging drums of the Starcraft 2 soundtrack. The peace you feel at the wonderfully composed, classic-sounding Oblivion score. How motivated or soothed or pushed to action do you feel when you hear the Western-styled mostly-acoustic music of Red Dead Redemption? For me, extremely.

If you want some music to relax, work, work out, write, read or do anything to, I highly recommend any of your favourite game soundtracks. You will not be disappointed.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Looking forward to 2012? I am.

Hey all!
In a departure from my more recent (and very sparse) posts, I want to take a minute, as a gamer, to tell you why 2012 makes me excited to be such.

With the exciting year that was 2011 that saw the release of Dead Island, Skyrim, Dead Space 2, Dragon Age 2, Portal 2, L.A. Noire, Duke Nukem Forever, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Gears of War 3, Rage, Batman: Arkham City and Halo: Combat Evolved 10th Anniversary Edition, among many, many others, it's hard to see how 2012 will beat that. Well, here are some of my - and the world's! - most anticipated titles.

1) Diablo III:
Need I say any more? Gamers across the globe are looking forward to this tremendous release. Though the release date has been repeatedly, a recent article has shown that that is no longer because of the South Korean Game Ratings Board, but now because Blizzard are still fiddling with the core systems. The various trailers being released make it look as if this game will be an epic return to the world of the first two Diablo titles and I, for one, am desperately looking forward to it. Especially because, hey, let's face it, when has a Blizzard game ever - really - been sub-par?

2) Bioshock: Infinite:
After the sleeper hit, perfectly crafted Bioshock release in 2007, I was hooked. The game's atmosphere and writing were unmatched in most games I had played up until that point - with the notable exclusions being Half-Life 2 (2004) and Portal (2007) - and it created a first person shooter with a seriously intense and well-crafted storyline, which is hard to come by.
Though the sequel, Bioshock 2 (2010), was somewhat less amazing than its predecessor, it was still an en-RAPTURE-ing game (god I am sorry for that).
Now, the third installment in the series - which is neither a direct sequel or prequel, but merely set in the same sort of world - is being released this year. Bioshock: Infinite features similar gameplay concepts in a world seemingly as well crafted and equally as horrifying. With trailers and gameplay footage abounding, this game has shown us that 2K is back with something far more enticing and exciting than Bioshock 2 and one which I am incredibly looking forward to.

3) Halo 4:
I know, I'm full of franchises today, aren't I? Halo, for me, is one of the most important games of my teenage years - barring, of course, Starcraft and Diablo II. I don't know what it is about the game, but it's like my Star Wars. I find every aspect of the world and its characters fun and interesting. I've read the novels, the comics, watched the fan films, seen the short animated films, kept up with a lot of the extra promotional stuff, I have the soundtracks and I've even learned to play the main theme on guitar. What I'm saying is, I like this game. I like the world. It's also the only four-players-on-one-console game that Xbox really has at the moment, and it's killer and the blurb for the new one really says it all.
It's a game franchise that means a lot to me even though I know the story is somewhat lame and cliched. I don't care. I want this game.

These along with films like The Devil Inside, Red Tails, The Grey, Man on a Ledge, Safe House, The Raven, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avenger, Rock of Ages, Prometheus, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Dark Knight Rises, Frankenweenie, The Hobbit, World War Z, Django Unchained and, despite being in 3D, The Great Gatsby, this is going to be a pretty good year.


Shifting Expectations

for Edgar Allen Poe, on his birthday, and to __Nevermore__.

Nothing in time does make us,

Ever conceive of vast expansive darkness,


Exceeding naïve human expectations; for

Remorse does grab us

More and more, as time ticks

Over, further from us, towards the grave,

Relegating our lives to the annals of an

Ever shifting history.