Thursday, January 31, 2013

Global Gaming: Machinarium (Czech Republic)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

Machinarium - Amanita Design, 2009

Speaking of games of Czech origin, nothing exemplifies the quiet Eastern European beauty of Czech design than the work of Brno-based studio Amanita Design. At the cutting edge of the point-and-click revival we've seen in recent years, Amanita is known for its free browser-based game Samorost and its sequel, but its most iconic title is their first full-length game, 2009's Machinarium.

Machinarium is a classic point-and-click puzzle adventure, the story of a robot named Josef (named after Josef Čapek, creator of the word "robot") who explores a mystery-filled city populated by robots. There's no language barrier here, as there are no words through the entire game. The plot is moved forward purely through visual cues.

Since it's a "classic" point-and-click game, Machinarium also features some "classic" point-and-click difficulty with a few obtuse puzzles as frustrating as anything from the '90s. The hint system is helpful, but I can't help but feel like that's cheating a bit. Regardless, Machinarium is a gorgeous hand-drawn game with a soundtrack I still listen to nightly when I'm in bed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Are retro videogame stores the future of games retail?

Last Tuesday, I wrote about one of San Diego's few remaining independent game shops shutting its doors. Then on Sunday, I stopped by SD's other game store, Luna. By contrast, Luna was doing decent business. So much so that they've even got two locations in the city. I stopped by the one in Ocean Beach, right on one of the neighborhood's busiest streets.

When I asked how they've been able to stay in business while Games On bit the dust, the owner told me the reason behind his success was simple: old games. Games On tried to compete with GameStop--and more importantly in the future, digital distribution channels like Steam--with new game sales. Independent shops will never be able to keep up with Steam and GameStop when it comes to new releases, pre-order bonuses, and day-one sales.

But as games mature as a medium, the niche for old games is growing. When I was in college (2008 through 2012, mind you), I saw almost as many students playing Nintendo 64 as Xbox 360. And this demand for physical copies of old games and consoles will never be digitized in the same way new games are. Yes, there are emulators and old games released through PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, but the market for physical retro games isn't going away.

It's similar to the increased popularity of vinyl records over the past few years. As iTunes has negated the need for CDs, people who care about physical albums have opted to go for the big-picture format of vinyl. Most devoted music enthusiasts in 2013 own records. The same thing is happening with games. What do you think?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Cultural discovery and soccer in Tijuana

Driving to Mexico for the day made me feel self-conscious as an American. Heading from San Diego down Interstate 5 towards the border with my dad, we were met by a caution sign, warning “GUNS ILLEGAL IN MEXICO.”

Does that say more about us or them? A country infamous for gun violence with stricter firearm regulation than we do, warning gun-loving gringos not to bring ours down to México. I wonder if there’s anywhere on the Mexican side of the border warning “GUNS LEGAL IN UNITED STATES.”

Once you get to the border crossing, the Mexican customs facility is super fancy and modern. It even had that new car smell! There was a nice big “MÉXICO” sign with a giant Mexican flag. Crossing took less than five minutes.
Spoiler alert: crossing back into the U.S. that night would not be nearly as fun.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Capitals Fan in Anaheim

Ducks forward Matt Beleskey punches himself in the head

I went to my first non-Washington Capitals NHL game last night. My parents live in San Diego now, so the Anaheim Ducks are the closest thing they have to a local team. Austin and I drove up Interstate 5 for their home opener against the Vancouver Canucks. What followed was a hilarious 5-0 rout by Vancouver that featured not one, but three fights.

The first thing we noticed upon reaching the Ducks' home arena of Honda Center was how classy and modern it is. The jumbotron may not be as great as Verizon Center's HD wonder in DC, but the concourses look like an upscale hotel. I was amazed to discover when Wikiing the arena afterwards that it's actually twenty years old. I also discovered its first-ever event was a Barry Manilow concert--that's a little embarrassing. Interesting that the exterior of Honda Center still retains a very teal color scheme, reminiscent of the team's days as the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Speaking of the Mighty Ducks, I was a little bummed out by the lack of classic Mighty Ducks jerseys in the crowd. There were a handful, but the bulk of fans at the game were wearing their current boring black sweater. The team seems to know it's boring, since they handed out glowing orange styrofoam sticks to make the stands look more colorful. They realize that while an arena full of fans wearing a bright color looks awesome, an arena full of fans wearing black makes the place look empty. So they handed out these bright orange sticks for people to wave around to make the crowd look lively on TV. The fans were loud, but as a Caps fan, I was a little disappointed compared to crowd volume levels at Verizon Center back home. True, their team got spanked, but even when it was close in the first period, the energy level didn't quite measure up to DC.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Global gaming: DayZ (New Zealand)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

DayZ - Dean Hall, 2012

DayZ isn't quite its own game. It's in fact a free mod for military shooter ArmA II, developed by Czech studio Bohemia Interactive. But DayZ has transcended its source game as an internet phenomenon, a persistent-world permanent-death zombie shooter MMO with a colossal following. You can download it here, although it requires a copy of the (not free) ArmA II to play.

Creator Dean "Rocket" Hall worked on the concept for DayZ while serving in the New Zealand army, "as a suggestion for training soldiers through exposure to situations provoking emotion and relevant thought processes." At first I wanted to overlook DayZ as another entry in the over-saturated zombie fad of recent years, but its focus on emergent gameplay and permadeath made me realize it's probably one of the most important videogames of this decade.

Hall announced in August that he would work together with ArmA's original developer Bohemia to work on a standalone DayZ game, slated for release sometime this year. If it's anything like Counter-Strike or Dear Esther's transitions from mods to full products, it should be revolutionary.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Requiem for an independent games shop

When I visited my parents in their new home of San Diego a year ago, I was pleasantly surprised by this little independent videogame store, Games On. It had a great selection of games, a friendly laid-back staff, and a huge collection of playable demos and pinball machines. Its Yelp page reveals fantastic 5-star reviews. It's everything you would want in a videogame shop, and it was right on the main street of San Diego's hip Pacific Beach neighborhood.

Today I finally got back to San Diego, and one of the first things I did was head back to Games On. And... it's gone:

It's easy to understand why. Today the game retail industry in the United States is completely monopolized by big corporations like GameStop and Best Buy. When I visited Games On a year ago I thought it was too good to be true, and unfortunately, I was right.

Of course with modern digital distribution, independent game developers have more power and visibility than ever. Even GameStop is probably on the way out the door unless they can successfully transition to a fully-digital model. It's inevitable that physical game shops will no longer exist a few years from now, and I'm not trying to deny progress. But it's nevertheless heartbreaking to see warm places like Games On bite the dust.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Thoughts on President Obama's second inauguration

Four years ago, I woke up at 3:30 in the morning to get on the Metro. Every station, every train was packed. My friends and I waited for hours huddled on the National Mall in January cold to watch a speck of a nominee in the distance become the first black president of the United States. It must’ve been the most people I’ve ever seen in one place in my life.

Every newspaper is publishing a story about how four years ago, Barack Obama was a concept, and today he is merely a man. An idealistic candidate eroded down to a graying mortal by four years of stunted Change. Everyone’s pointing out that while D.C. was completely packed for his first swearing-in ceremony, today no one had to wake up at 3:30 to get a spot on the Mall.

On Inauguration Day 2013, I’m nowhere near DC. I type these words on a plane flying from Kansas City to San Diego. I’m four years older and four years more bitter. Is it a dream deferred? Has my enthusiasm for the President waned since 2008, when I was a young student excited to vote in my first election?

He hasn’t closed Guantanamo Bay. He hasn’t ended our Cold War-level military spending. He hasn’t passed comprehensive-enough health care or worked enough on immigration reform. Gay couples in most states still can’t marry, and police still waste time busting pot smokers. Planned Parenthood is still under attack in many parts of the country, and the 600,000 Americans who call Washington, DC their hometown still don’t get any representation in Congress.

I should be the prime demographic for cynicism. I’m a recent college graduate working two jobs I could’ve done in high school to pay rent. As an angry straight white male, I’m exactly the sort of person Republicans (and punk bands?) bank on. But I still believe. Ironically, President Obama may have a better chance of achieving his idealistic goals after his subdued second inauguration than he did after his enthusiastic first.

We’re making slow-but-steady progress on marriage equality and marijuana decriminalization. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, the President is embracing gun control. This past week, Obama finally put DC’s “TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION” license plates on his presidential limousine, giving hope to over half a million Americans that they can finally have their voices heard. During his inaugural speech today, the President reaffirmed his activist stances on nearly every important issue, including the oft-overlooked crisis of climate change.

I have hope in America. After the reactionary surge of far-right politicians in 2010, I believe today most Americans have come around to the idea of working together for progress. The change we can believe in may be taking longer than anticipated, but Barack Obama still has my support just as much as he did four years ago.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Global Gaming: The Secret World (Norway)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

The Secret World - Funcom, 2012

While Northern Europe has seen a huge boom in game production recently, Norway has struggled the past few years. Oslo-based Funcom remain the only major developer in the country. Their focus on massively-multiplayer games has produced some interesting results with unfortunate commercial reaction.

Funcom's single-player 1999 adventure title The Longest Journey was perhaps the swan song of a dying genre, an under-appreciated classic. Their first major MMORPG release, 2001's Anarchy Online, never become the sci-fi superhit they wanted it to be, but it retains a committed following twelve years later, making it one of the longest-lasting MMOs in existence.

Age of Conan was a flop in 2008, so when the studio prepared for their new MMO project The Secret World last year, they made sure it was as original as possible. While the vast majority of massively-multiplayer games fall into either the generic science fiction or Tolkien-derived "fantasy" settings, The Secret World is placed in a modern-day location with a story revolving around conspiracy theories and the Illuminati.

"Free-to-play" has been the hot new buzzword of online gaming, and Funcom took a huge risk when they decided The Secret World would retain the traditional (and perhaps outdated) monthly-subscription payment structure. Of course, no online gamers in 2012 wanted to pay for their games, so the game struggled commercially despite a warm critical reception. Now the game has given in and gone free-to-play, much like other historic MMO flops of recent years like The Old Republic.

Hopefully this doesn't keep Funcom from creating big games in the future. Maybe it'll even motivate them to return to their single-player roots.

Friday, January 18, 2013

2013 in hockey jerseys

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a bit of a jersey enthusiast. Heck, despite all my videogame journalism, four of my five most-read articles of all time are all about jerseys (and the other is about a team logo).

I cannot deny my love for hockey uniforms, and the NHL season starts tomorrow! The new season is the most stagnant in recent memory when it comes to new get-ups. So all we can do now is speculate about the future. For reference, my two go-to websites for everything related to hockey sweaters are Icethetics and the NHL Uniform Database.

Dallas Stars reboot

The most drastic overhaul is coming next season in 2013-14 when the Dallas Stars will redo their entire look. Their current sweaters are unremarkable, a product of the Edgy Black Jerseys fad of the 1990s. But with the revamp, the predominant color will be green--the most underappreciated color in the NHL, only appearing today in the Minnesota Wild's third jersey.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Austin's Fave Five Games of 2012

5*. Street Fighter X Tekken

SFXT takes Street Fighter's two dimensional fighting game mechanics and combines that with Tekken Tag's multiple fighter system, meaning it's a 2 vs. 2 fight but the round ends after one character is knocked out. Nothing is incredibly groundbreaking despite arguably the two top fighting game developers working in conjunction, but inter-company crossovers are always exciting.  In a word, it is familiar, so there is something for the hardcore fighting game community as well as casual appeal. 
I like me some fightan games. I would even like to believe I possess at least mediocre talent on the sticks (I prefer a Dreamcast controller though), yet this title appears with a major caveat. The co-op mode is perhaps my favorite innovation in the tag fighter genre.  As previously stated the game doesn't push the boundary and the latest Capcom fighting games haven't tickled my fancy, but the co-op mode is something I greatly enjoyed.  The addition seems rather simple but it drastically improves the experience when you are physically gathered to play the game.  A feature like this has allowed my brother and I to utilize the team of King and Cammy like a true tag team as we Frakensteiner and Kinniku Buster all comers.

Global Gaming: Super Hexagon (Ireland)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

Super Hexagon - Distractionware, 2012

When it comes to Irish games, I knew I had to pick something by Terry Cavanagh, aka Distractionware. He's produced some of the most original 2D indie games of the past few years, whether it's Don't Look Back or VVVVVV, or even the world's first cat MMO, ChatChat.

But speaking of mobile gaming, Cavanagh's real breakthrough has been his first iPhone/iPad game, Super Hexagon. Based on his original (free) non-super Hexagon, Super Hexagon is a mind-bendingly simple game about techno music and hexagons. Its only controls are "left" and "right," and it's unbelievably hard. Just take a gander:

Beautiful, isn't it?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Austin's Fave Five Films of 2012

5. Looper

Time travel is a tricky subject almost never handled well in any medium.  Looper skirts this issue by having a clearly defined set of rules that are not explored too deeply.  This allows Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis to play the same person but two separate characters, which forces one man's past and future to come into conflict.  The dystopian world that this all plays out in helps augment the tension.  The ultimate climax leaves you feeling a bit unsettled and questioning whether or not the events of the film even took place.
The major tension of the is something that would perhaps play out as an internal conflict in other stories, but due to the unique setting it is an external one that plays out as one man has a series of moral conflicts. There are a few nice action sequences: one that plays out from two different viewpoints and one where Bruce Willis demonstrates his badass status, and the suspense is palatable throughout the entire piece crafting a riveting story. Room for deeper enjoyment is present, too, as the film is full of moral quandries that are sure to give anyone pause.  If you can only see one movie with Bruce Willis traveling back in time to stop some horrible events, see Looper. That's not to say 12 Monkeys isn't a good film, too.

4. The Man with the Iron Fists

It is clear from the outset that the RZA is a fan of the kung fu and wuxia genre, something that should come as a surprise to no one considering the Wu-Tang Clan's influences are explicitly stated.  Not only did the RZA write and direct the film, he also has the leading role of a blacksmith stuck in the middle of a power struggle.  Storywise TMwtIF isn't necessarily anything new to the genre, but it's a genre not seen much in mainstream American cinema so it remains fresh.  This doesn't stop the film from being a well crafted and executed story full of revenge and intrigue.  The fights are all top notch too, with an array of distinct fighting styles being used.
I like me some kung fu flicks--Kung Pow is one of my alltime favorite movies after all--and who isn't down with the Wu?  So naturally I enjoyed The Man with the Iron Fists.  This movie probably won't win over any skeptics of this style, but then again, it wasn't made for those people.  It's a throwback that shows a great respect for its predecessors while infusing a new style and flair to some of the oldest stories.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Lion Clan's awesome hair, Batista being Batista, and a charmingly ecentric performance by Russell Crowe.

3. Redline

One man's journey to win the fastest and most dangerous race in the galaxy.  This sure sounds familiar.  Oh right it's Redline.  The story isn't what drives this picture, but it's serviceable and allows for some nice character moments along the way.  It's all about the art style and the animation.
Once again, slick animation + cohesive story + kickin' soundtrack = one hell of a ride.  That's exactly what Redline  is too, a hell of a fun ride.

2. The Expendables 2

All your favorite action stars in one place kicking ass. What's not to love?  If I need to explain why this is an appealing concept then this clearly isn't the movie for you.  The Expendables 2, much like its predecessor, is all about the spectacle, but unlike its predecessor it doesn't have an unnecessarily long segment with no action focusing on the "old age" or "loneliness" of the gathered action heroes.  The sequel improved upon everything the first one did right and fixed what it did wrong by simply cutting out what didn't work and replacing it with even more action.
There is not much criticism I can offer the movie besides it's a little simple, which is a moot point because it is conscious decision to be that way. My only other gripe is that when compared to the legendary statuses of Arnold Schwarzeneger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Jean-Claude Van Damme and the awesomeness that is Terry Crews, Liam Hemsworth comes across as an unnecessary and unwanted addition to the cast.  Thankfully JCVD solves this problem quite quickly and with his usual panache. Overall The Expendables 2 is a big loud conglomeration of action, which is exactly what I wanted.  

1. The Avengers

And there came a day unlike any other when Earth's mightiest heroes found themselves united on the silver screen.  The fact that an Avengers movie exist is reason enough to be at the top of my fave five.  Stop and think about that for a minute.  That is crazy.  The previous entry is a good indication of my enjoyment of crossovers; when paired with my somewhat obsessive appreciation for shared continuity, it should further explain this film's position on the list.
My obsessive geekery also found much to gripe about in The Avengers.  A number of cinematic shortcomings are present in the film, but the biggest grievance is one directed at an action of Captain America's.  At one point Loki, the bad guy, mind controls some of the SHIELD agents, good guys, and has them attack the Avengers, really good guys.  This fight occurs on a giant flying aircraft carrier and Captain America, the heart and soul of the Avengers, just throws one of these mind controlled dudes right off of it.  That is not something Cap needed to do or should have done.  He could have just knocked the guy unconscious or made a rousing speech that would have brought the poor schmuck to his senses.  He's Captain America; saying a collection of heartfelt and moving words is like 50% of what he does, the other 50% being punching Nazis and their subsidiaries.  To be honest though, I went in with the mindset that there would be a number of things I'd find to complain about, as is the state of nature for geeks.  I still loved The Avengers, and it sets a powerful precedent.  I can only hope that this paves the way for bigger and better superhero stories to be told on film. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

A beginner's guide to game studies literature

Having just graduated from college, I've got a lot of friends who grew up playing video games and are deeply interested in the medium, but it never quite hit them until recently that "game studies is a thing." For anyone curious about exploring games on the same level we explore literature and film in school, here are a few recommendations of books you should read. Some of these come from college courses I've taken, and others I've simply stumbled upon.

This is a must-read entry-level book for game analysis, and it's nearing its tenth anniversary. A Theory of Fun is a quick read that introduces audiences to many of the basic concepts of game design. Author Raph Koster is an MMO veteran; he was the lead designer on Ultima Online. Koster's other work includes Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest II.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thoughts on Oscar nominations

The Academy Award nominees have just been announced. So what do they look like?

Predictable, mostly.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Best Picture category is much less exciting now that the number of nominees has grown from five to ten the past few years. The only film from my personal Best of 2012 article last week that made the cut is Beasts of the Southern Wild. If it doesn't win, I will lose faith in humanity. But last year we were all pleasantly surprised when the brilliant silent film The Artist cleaned up nearly all the major awards, so I haven't given up hope. And speaking of Beasts, 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis becomes the youngest person ever to be nominated for Best Actress!

It's nice to see Django Unchained's Christoph Waltz nominated for Best Supporting Actor and the videogame-themed Wreck-It Ralph nominated for Best Animated Film, but neither of those are surprises. Speaking of Wreck-It Ralph, though, the beautiful short accompanying it in theaters was Paperman, nominated for Best Animated Short Film.

Searching for Sugar Man
After watching a ton of documentaries lately, it's nice to see How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, AND Searching for Sugar Man nominated for Best Documentary. The Invisible War is probably a more important film, but Searching for Sugar Man--about a forgotten Detroit folk singer who discovers he's a rock star in South Africa--is my favorite of those nominated. But where's MY personal Best Documentary of 2012, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry?!

Best Foreign Language Film is the category I get most excited about, but unfortunately most of the films nominated haven't actually seen a real release in American theaters yet! The only one I've seen is the great Danish period piece A Royal Affair, starring Mads "I'm in Every Danish Movie Ever" Mikkelsen. I'm really interested in the Norwegian nominee Kon-Tiki, Chilean nominee No, and Canadian nominee War Witch, but right now I haven't found anywhere to see them.

A Royal Affair
My favorite movie of the year, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was only nominated for three awards: Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Makeup & Hairstyling. Alas, it was not meant to be. But I still love it.

Many people are upset Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom was only nominated for one award (Best Writing for an Original Screenplay), but that's okay with me.

I'm really not looking forward to new Oscars host Seth MacFarlane, one of my least favorite comedians. But at the end of the day, the biggest news may be one total snub. What's that? You can hear the fanboys whining from a mile away? Thank you, Academy, for acknowledging The Dark Knight Rises is a mediocre film.

Throwback games - why they are the most original additions to contemporary games

It is common knowledge that nothing completely new has been invented since the year 1997 (I make the assumption that the smartphone is the latest invention - which is ridiculous, since it is not an invention in itself). Hence, there have always been a need to reinvent (or just revive) old products. In the gaming industry this means making titles in 8-bit, 16-bit, and so forth.

Whether it is sandbox games, like Minecraft, or hybrid side-scrollers like mari0, or even the newer horror puzzle games like The Witch's House and Ib - and for your own sake do not get me started on all the tasty stuff just waiting for me on Steam - retrospective titles have been more than due in this era of commercial games that are only aiming to have bigger and better graphics than their predecessors.

Game cover. Kindly borrowed from

Although this is not the newest addition to the throwback indie games, this Swedish indie game is my latest discovery, so if you already know of this game, I would probably switch to some of the other articles on this blog. I hear the Global Gaming articles are most enlightening -  I would also highly recommend Alex Metcalf's entries.

So what is Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf?

You are playing the protagonist... or maybe he is the antagonist... I don't really know, this is all so very confusing! Anyway, he is a fucking werewolf!

Run, puny humans, run!
There is this song playing in the background, you want to hear it in it's entirety, but to do so you progress through all seven, only seconds-long levels standing in your way.
  • Level 1: You are still human. You must climb up the icy platforms whilst collecting energycubes. If you do not collect enough before the time is up, you lose. If you fall down the platforms, you still get a chance to collect the cubes in free fall. If you do not collect enough here, you lose.
  • Level 2: It is time to turn... into a fucking werewolf, that is! Manically, and repeatedly press the Z and X buttons until your transformation is complete. If you fail to transform before time runs out, you lose.
  • Level 3: You are hungry, and you want blood. You chase the humans, but they are fast plus they are throwing fucking crates at you! Avoid the crates. If you get hit three times, you lose.
  • Level 4: The humans aren't very observant of where they are running (since they are being chased by a fucking werewolf!) so they start tripping and falling. Use your special saw-move attack to slice them into pieces. If you fail to slice enough people, you lose.
  • Level 5: Since you are a morbid bones collector you decide to gather in the bones lying around from your mutilated victims. If you fail to collect all the bones, that's right, you guessed it, you lose.
  • Level 6: The humans have had it up to here with you, and your shenanigans. They send the military on you, some of which are even prepared to suicide bomb just to be rid of you. Rage on through the masses of flying bullets and explosives. If you get hit three times or a bomb goes off, you lose.
  • Level 7: You must prepare for the final boss battle. Quickly, assemble the bones you collected earlier to make your weapon. If you fail to do so, you lose.
  • Level 8, Final Battle: The mythological Unicrush reveals itself. Shoot it, shoot it before it kills you! If it does so, you lose. If you defeat it, you get to hear the climatic ending of the soundtrack!
  • That's it! You've won! You cannot believe you've just wasted approximately three minutes of your life on this game (given you beat the game in one take), but gosh dangit, was it awesome!

What does KDFW bring to the table?

Werewolf does not care about political correctness!
Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf (I know it is not very P.C. with the F-word, but hey, it's a title. You can't censor a title, man) utilises almost every aspect of the classic side-scroll, and first person games in its eight levels. One could even to some extend make the argument that KDFW is an 8-Bit Greatest Hits Collection.

There is no doubt KDFW is a giant slap in the face to all contemporary commercial titles - the title is absolutely absurd, the soundtrack is an insult to all available professional and even freeware sound-making programs, the graphics are borderline epileptic, and last, but definitely not least, the plot is nowhere from this world. You could have had the plot about the man turning into the werewolf and killing everybody, but of course you only have that as the subplot - the main plot is the soundtrack.

It's refreshing to see a new title completely distance itself from the overly animated, overly complex, multi-weapon based games. Admittedly, I am a sucker for retro-style games. Go ahead and call me a hipster, though it has recently become socially illegal to use that word in Denmark. I will stick to calling myself old-fashioned, because even though I like many new games, the grass just was greener in the old days.

So was this a review, a stroll down memory lane or what? To tell you the truth, I do not know. I just wanted to show you this adorable (and I use the word 'adorable' very loosely here) game, which you, by the way, can try on for yourself here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Global Gaming: September 12th (Uruguay)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

September 12th: A Toy World - Newsgaming, 2003 (play it here)

I've been neglecting the non-European game industry for a while. It's simply easier to write about Europe because it's so many countries clustered together with a fair amount of income. Game development in South America, on the other hand, is hard to come by.

I've only covered one South American game in this series so far; there are plenty of aspiring Latin American game designers but many of them move elsewhere to pursue their careers, such as Vander Caballero's Montréal-based studio and their debut game Papo y Yo.

"Newsgaming" is both a developer and a concept, of making small, timely games that address current world issues. September 12th: A Toy World was made in 2003 in response to the U.S. military's "War on Terror." It's a simple, quick-to-play "simulation" of the war. We're slowly starting to see more indie games embrace this activist approach, but it'll be a while before mainstream publishers support it.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I've watched 13 movies in the past 13 days. Here are 13 reviews in 13 sentences.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) Unless you're a hardcore David Lynch or Twin Peaks fan, stay way from this unnecessarily dark and humorless tale that's vastly inferior to the genius television show it comes from... and why'd they have to replace Donna?!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Global Gaming: Angry Birds (Finland)

With each post in this mini-feature, I highlight a game from a different country around the world. Keep in mind these aren't necessarily the best or most popular games from each nation, but simply a fitting representative.

Angry Birds - Rovio Entertainment, 2009

When thinking about Finnish game design, I really wanted to include Remedy Enertainment's pivotal 2001 third-person action title Max Payne, or their more recent thriller Alan Wake. But at the end of the day if I was going to pick one game to represent Finland, I knew it had to be Angry Birds. With the infamous animal-tossing game, Espoo-based developer Rovio Entertainment not only put Finland on the gaming map, but showed the industry that mobile gaming could be just as profitable as any AAA blockbuster.

At this point, Angry Birds is ubiquitous on smartphones and iPads. The eponymous grumpy poultry have grown into a merchandizing powerhouse with toys and clothing. There's even an Angry Birds-themed amusement park in its home country, with another one in China on the way.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Jake's five favorite videogames of 2012

I've done "best of 2012" lists for music, Lego, sports, and film, but at the end of the day this is really a gaming blog. So without further ado, my final Five Favorite list for 2012:

5. I Am Alive (game site)

All the other games on this list have gained some sort of cult following and are widely respected by the independent gaming community. I Am Alive, though, is underrappreciated by just about everyone. The game was in development at Ubisoft for nearly nine years, and although it gained attention with the glimpses shown during production, by the time it finally released on Xbox Live Arcade in March, it was completely overlooked. Although it's a downloadable title, you can tell I Am Alive had ambitions beyond what it could ever actually achieve.

It's a survival game in the truest sense of the word--you play as a man searching for his family in post-apocalyptic American city. He's not a typical superhuman game protagonist; he can climb abandoned buildings, but can only hold his weight for a certain amount of time before he wears out. He finds a gun, but he typically never has more than one bullet. As a result, the player is forced to bluff their way through hostile situations, threatening enemies with a gun that they know is empty. While most games today are about empowerment, I Am Alive is about weakness. I wish we could see more small games from major publishers like this in the future.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Austin's Fave Five Anime of 2012

Being decisive is not my forte, so determining whether something is the greatest of all time or even game of the year is much more challenging than even a timed underwater escort mission for me.  Thankfully my love of professional wrestling presented a solution to my issue of making declarative statements about my preferences for things.  Booker T, the five time WCW champ, has gifted unto me the “Fave Five, dawg,” a collection of 5, really this is just a broad approximation because who is to say how many five really is dawg, things he likes most at any given time.  In this case I shall borrow the concept of the Fave Five and apply it to the year 2012 and the media of various types released therein.


One of the things that fills my life with meaning and gives me reason enough to wake up the next morning are giant robots, and few mediums provide the necessary daily dosage of mecha quite like Japanese animation.  So allow me to present my Fave Five shows of 2012, oddly enough a list pretty lite on the mecha front.

5. Aquarion Evol

Osore!  The story begins 12,000 years after the events of Genesis of Aquarion, a series more notabable for its theme song than anything else, and follows a somewhat similar format.  An academy of gifted youngsters is tasked with the mission of defending their home planet from invaders.  To accomplish this task they utilize 3 jets that can combine into the titular mech the Aquarion.  The show is a twisting tale of gender relations and previous lives, which causes nearly all the conflict that occurs in love and war.  It is even more ridiculous than it sounds as it is quickly established that there are no rails where we are going, this unsurprisingly leads to a trainwreck of an ending.

Jake's five favorite films of 2012

5. Monsieur Lazhar

This Canadian movie came out in its home country in 2011--it was actually nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at last year's Oscars--but didn't get a Stateside theatrical release until 2012. Monsieur Lazhar is the story of an Algerian political refugee who becomes a schoolteacher in Montréal. The film explores the protagonist's relationship with his students, and how that reflects his insecurities about his home and his past.

It's very much a Debbie Downer kind of movie, in a good way. The film is understated and quiet. If you or someone close to you is a teacher, you'll appreciate Monsieur Lazhar. The movie also deals with the anxieties of immigration in a new and interesting way that I hadn't really seen in any film before. And the cinematography of wintry Montréal is gorgeous--my mom told me it reminded her of iconic Canadian children's book The Hockey Sweater.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My five favorite sporting events of 2012

5. Tottenham Hotspur defeat Manchester United in Manchester for the first time in 23 years

Tottenham have had a very up-and-down year, but this 3-2 win at Old Trafford was a huge deal. Just look at the disgruntled United fans in that photograph! Any time Spurs can defeat one of the biggest clubs in the world in an away match is fun times. What may have been even more significant was that the three Tottenham goalscorers--Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen, Welsh wunderkind Gareth Bale, and American Hero Clint Dempsey--are the stepping stones for the club moving forward. Unfortunately, with European soccer how it is, there are no video highlights of the match online other than guys recording shaky video straight off their televisions using their camera phones. Which decade are we in?

Three trends in gaming: 2012

Well, 2012 is finally over and done with, and quite a lot happened.  To be honest, I didn't play that many new video games in 2012 (you'll see that pop up later), so I figured a more important article I could actually write about would be a brief analysis of three trends in the larger "gaming community". Here they are, in no particular order:

Feminism in gaming finally gets some news, or "Why I don't want to identify as a gamer"

Gaming and gamer culture in the past have been particularly patriarchal, and despite a few important improvements remains strongly in thrall to the straight white male demographic.  Incidentally, I am a part of this demographic, and in addition haven't really done serious research into these topics, so MASSIVE DISCLAIMER, I can't really speak for any of this other than my perspective.  However, they were definitely big news in the gaming community this year, which should be a good sign.  Anita Sarkeesian and Tropes vs Women  caused a firestorm of controversy basically by existing, and showed everyone who had forgotten just how disgusting "gaming culture" truly is.  Ditto for some of the backlash towards Jennifer Hepler, a writer at BioWare, whose opinions on the state of gaming were for the most part attacked not for their validity, but because of her gender (yes, yes, there were several valid critiques, but they were exceptions to the rule).

The idea that lauched a thousand hateful comments

On the gaming side of things, the big problem seems to be trailers.  The truly skeevy new Tomb Raider trailer, and the information released by the developers.  Apparently, you make female characters more interesting by shrinking their chest size and putting all those extra pixels into making sexual assault (nice try, PR department, nobody bought it) an integral part of character development.  Lovely.  And of course, who could forget the Hitman: Absolution trailer with the infamous naughty nunsploitation?

So, after all that bad news, there are glimmers of hope on the horizon.  For one, the mainstream press has actually been on the ball in expressing condemnation of this blatant asshattery.  If nothing else, the fact that these things are recognized as problems by the establishment is a good thing, and hopefully the article in a years' time will be more positive.  We can all be better.

Alex's Six Favorite Albums of 2012

   Happy 2013 'yall! It seems like this would be the appropriate time where all bloggers take a chance to statistically express their selves by creating a list of some kind. Doing a top 10 video games list would seem like the obvious choice, but I came to a horrid realization looking back this year... not a single game I have played in 2012... came out in 2012. I was having an affiliation with classic NES games and archives of survival horrors for the most part (admitting, I'm also a cheap bastard who's reluctant on blowing 60 bucks on a new title.) Maybe if I do a "Games Released in 2012 that I'm Most Intrigued to Play" list I could redeem myself. But what's to stop me from doing something music related since I've heard plenty of music that came out this year? 

   Thankfully, with much inspiration from my friend, Jake Shapiro (along with the occasional urge to 1up him), it is with much humility and gratitude that I give a piece of mind to what albums made the best influence on my kindred spirit. To live up to that urge of "1-upping" Jake, I will go one step beyond the top five and make it a top six. How is it never a bad thing to have room for one more artist that earns credibility and attention? Take Black Moth Super Rainbow for instance...

6. Black Moth Super Rainbow - "Cobra Juicy"

   Pittsburgh-based neo-psychadelia dream pop hybrid, Black Moth Super Rainbow, gained popularity back in 2007 with the release of Dandelion Gum, an album that founded their signature sound with the use of peculiar instruments like the Novacon, Vocoder, and Rhode's Piano. The band's ways in making their music so vivid, saccharine-sweet, and downright enjoyable for listeners tired anything conventional garnered them enough popularity to run a successful Kickstarter page for their latest album "Cobra Juicy."

   For an album that was driven from charitable causes by their fans, "Cobra Juicy." Was no half-assed effort. This album had more of an edge compared to their previous albums. While some tracks had their benevolent warmth like "Spraypaint" and "Like a Sundae", the album is balanced with abrasive surreality by the use of fuzzy guitars and darker lyrics ("Gangs in The Garden", "I Think I'm Evil"). 

   I should also mention the absurdity of their Kickstarter page, as some of the rewards for donation included rubber masks, round trips to various Halloween haunted forests, prank-call recording premiers, and even a roller disco party hosted by BMSR's front man, Tobacco.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My five favorite Lego sets of 2012

As some of you may know, one of my day jobs is at Lego. While I don't own all the sets on this list, I spend enough hours per week essentially staring at Lego that I feel I'm qualified to make this decision.

Town Hall is the newest addition to Lego's ongoing modular buildings theme. It's the biggest set in the series, which began in 2007 and has become one of the most popular themes for the sizable adult Lego fan community. The past five years or so, Lego has really begun to acknowledge and embrace the fact that they have so many adult Lego fans, creating many new sets like this one that are aimed specifically at older builders.

These sets are some of the only remaining Lego products with minifigures who retain the classic "two dots for eyes and a smile" face, while most modern minifigs feature a wide variety of facial expressions. Town Hall features a ton of figs and interesting building techniques, like the use of croissants for the city's crest. There's also "1891" on the front to signify the year the town hall was built--coincidentally, 1891 is the birth year of Lego founder Ole Kirk Christiansen. The flat townhouse style is reminiscent of Copenhagen architecture. In fact, the pillars and small balcony where the mayor stands reminds me of Christiansborg Palace, the seat of the Danish government where the royal family stands on the balcony to address their constituents. Overall, a timeless set which reminds me of my months living in Copenhagen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Jake's five favorite albums of 2012

"Get Down" by P.O.S

5. We Don't Even Live Here - P.O.S

P.O.S has to be one of the most underrated rappers around. He's part of the Minneapolis-based hip hop collective Doomtree, but all his solo work has been lightyears ahead of his collaborators'. The punk rock aesthetic and clever choice of samples makes this an under-the-radar gem.

It definitely capitalizes on the recent trend of electronic dance music much more than his previous albums, but instead of going in the mindless dubstep direction like so many others, We Don't Even Live Here features some fun "dirty" electronic beats like you'd hear from the Chemical Brothers. I first heard P.O.S when I saw him on a whim at Warped Tour 2009, of all places. He spent the entire show not on the stage, but in the middle of the crowd. It was great.