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This is my new blog that I’m attempting to start up with a couple of mates. Go check it out 🙂

First Impression Reviews

I don’t know much about Steve Vai. I found out about him through watching a youtube video of G3 playing way back when I was just discovering the amazingness of guitar solos for the first time but never really followed up on that. Since then I’ve seen a couple of other videos and listened to a couple of other songs but never really listened to a full album… until now.

The Story of Light. First song, slow epic beginning gets right into the song, I feel like I can tell where this album is going to go from here. Hell of a lot of synth and some cool chorusy effects on the guitar giving it a very prog rock feeling. The guitar almost feels like it’s taking a backseat, just focusing on the rhythm rather than anything else. Some weird voice has come in, speaking in some other language…

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So I last made a post on here over a year ago and I thought it was time to take it up again, so here we go, an attempt at a review of From Dust! Lets do this.

From Dust is an adventure/simulation game from designed by Eric Chahi who made some games I’ve heard of but never played. This first caught my eye on an episode of Inside Gaming where they briefly mentioned it and I was instantly hooked in. So I followed it’s release date until it appeared for pre-order on steam, happy days! Release day rolls around and I log in to install it but tragedy strikes when I realise the release has been pushed back 3 weeks to make way for the console releases. This is probably the only REAL bad thing I have to say about From Dust, this game is AMAZING.

Lets start with the gameplay. You are ‘The Breath’, effectively the hand of god, and your goal is to help this tribe of villagers found villages to allow them to control the elements and follow the footsteps of their ancient ancestors to find their memories and a promised land. You do this through the manipulation of earth, water, and lava in order to alter the landscape to create paths through obstacles or protect villages from disaster. The latter of these is perhaps the most entertaining part of the game. You can find yourself altering the pathways of streams of lava and water to create elaborate streams that guide these forces of nature away from villages, however the dynamic and evolving environment frequently thwarts these attempts. One example I can think of is a level halfway through the game where I diverted a water spring to protect a village from a nearby volcano, however the result of this was the wall of rock formed by the cooling lava diverted the water stream straight into another village, washing it into the sea. Did I care? No, I just sat there thinking ‘holy crap, that was awesome’. There are some minor control issues on the PC, with The Breath being very much a console orientated being, the camera is moved by moving your cursor around and centres on it, requiring smoothing of the camera movement, resulting in some awkward moments where it takes a few moments for you to correctly aim your giant ball of lava which will occasionally cause some frustration.

It helps that the game looks fantastic, volcanoes form mountains which teem with life, streams carve paths through the earth, forming all the river features you learnt about in primary school. And all this unites for form amazing looking landscapes in which you become thoroughly invested. I found myself playing a level for far longer than I needed to simply to see how the landscape would change if I diverted a stream through some hills or built a wall of rock at the bottom of a lava flow.

The result of me trying to create a lake through blocking a river.

The only problem I had with the game was it was a little too easy, that is, up until the penultimate level. I completed each challenge without having to restart or spending too much time, up until the final level, where it took me around 10 goes to even figure out how to last more than 10 minutes. However, the game rewards you significantly for this final effort by allowing you to “make the world in your image”, giving you the power to create land, spawn lava flows and water springs, and do whatever you want with a blank slate. Trust me, experiment, press every button it says you can to see what you can make, I’ve already spent as much time on this level as I did on the rest of the game.

There is some extra play time to be had in the challenge mode too.

All in all, this is a damn good game. It’s a little short and the control issues can be infuriating, but for ÂŁ11 I had a damn good few hours and would recommend it to anyone. It’s really refreshing to play a game which doesn’t involve explosions, no matter how much I love explosions.

I’m home for the summer and finally have some non-hungover time to spare. Hopefully over the next few weeks I’ll get back into the swing of writing stuff here. Woo!

I just watched this with a friend. I currently don’t know what to think about it. It’s amazing but it is so far from the original series that I am in more than just two minds about it.

I’ll discuss it properly tomorrow when I’m not drunk. I just wanted to mention it now.

I don’t really have the time or energy to talk about anything in detail so here’s a couple of brief reviews to keep things going.

The Dillinger Escape Plan – Option Paralysis

Current top picture on Dillinger's Last.fm

Dillinger’s new album is yet another extension of their recent foray into the realms of melody and I must say they’re getting better at it. Since ‘Miss Machine’ they’ve been experimenting with various different musical elements from dark progressive moments to elements seeming to take influence from some of the more standard ‘metalcore’ themes of modern metal. However they still manage to keep their sound distinct from anything else out there.

Tracks such as Widower are a perfect example of this. Being heavily piano based and much slower than many of the other songs on the album, Dillinger turn it into a pivotal point of the album, stepping away from the faster, more manic songs of the first half, and introducing harmonized vocals, massive synthesized sections, and a more emotional feel to the music. The song is then lead into a heavy breakdown reminding us what the band are about before crashing down into an epic finish.

Though as an album Option Paralysis is not as strong as Calculating Infinity or Miss Machine, it feels like a much more well thought out and coherent musical experience. Dillinger’s new drummer hasn’t let them down at all either.

Garden State (2004)

One of my favourite films of all time I first saw Garden State in the cinema when it first came out purely because my friend and I had heard it was written by, directed by, and starring Zach Braff. I enjoyed it but ultimately forgot about it until I came across it in my second year of uni and sat down to watch it on my own with a couple of beers to take my mind of exams. It was then that it suddenly clicked for me and became amazing.

Garden State isn’t your standard ‘feel good’ film, the story focusses around Andrew Largeman as he comes home for the first time in 10 years to go to his mothers funeral. However in doing so he leaves the many drugs he has been prescribed for his ‘mental condition’ since he was 10 at home and decides, with a doctors permission, to explore the possibility of living a normal life. In the process he meets Sam, a pretty weird girl with an even weirder family, and the story kicks off from there.

One of the pivotal scenes

The best thing about the film, or so I have found, is how the multiple story lines and character backgrounds merge together to allow the story and character progression to continue seamlessly, ultimately coming together at the end to be generally awesome.

Split Second

Split Second is awesome. That’s pretty much all you can really say about it.

A racing game which allows you to trigger events which destroy the environment and alter the track in order  to wreck your opponents. Yeah. Explosions. Woop.

WOO! 'SPLOSIONS!

The best thing about this game by far is not just that it’s on the PC but that you can play split screen using the keyboard. This has lead to a number of hours of sitting uncomfortably, far too close to the screen, looking like absolute nerds, but having a LOT of fun with it.

Not much more you can really say about it.

Not the most in depth set of reviews here but I’m currently running on pure exam tension right now. In 9 days I will have finished my degree.

Hopefully I’ll have more time to continue this blog after I finish.

The chances of me posting anything of any substance this week is looking decidedly slim due to the fact that I have 4 days left to write a 3000 word essay which constitutes 8% of my entire degree. It’s all about transposons. Turns out our DNA is approximately 45% transposon, which is pretty cool when you think about it. Especially as transposons don’t actually have a role in cell function per se. What are they for? That’s what I’m trying to find out.

I remember all my experiences with Half-Life 2. Borrowing ÂŁ5 from my friend so I could buy the PC Gamer special edition with the uber early preview of it, then again for the review issue a couple of years later. I must have read each of those more times than people have this blog (which tbh isn’t that hard). Then release day, and being only 15 at the time I didn’t have enough money to buy it. Sucks to be me. Christmas comes round and we’re staying up near Scotland with family when lo and behold, my Grandma has been tipped off by my parents and bought it for me for christmas! So a week later when we  get back home I put the DVD into my PC to find out that we DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE A DVD DRIVE in it. A week of moaning later and my dad turns up with one which I install into the computer and away we go. After waiting several hours for our dial up modem to update steam, unlock half life, and update half life, I start to play. A week later a resounding “HOLY FUCKING SHIT” was heard around the house as I completed the game for the first time.

Dog battling a strider in Episode 2

A year later I had completed Half-Life 2 far more times than I care to count, encompassing each of the difficulty levels, and most recently in my exam procrastination sessions over the last week I have just once again completed the whole series so far.

Half-Life 2 to me defines the genre of fps. It is perfection, polished to a sparkly sheen. And yet it is much more than that as well, it is one of the most involving stories ever to grace the fps, no the pc gaming platform. Over the years this has been the topic of much discussion and an argument both for and against the storytelling ability of games. As the mute hero Gordon Freeman you are placed into a world with no understanding of what has gone on and are provided with little explanation even as the game progresses, with the storytelling appearing to take a backseat to the explosions and shooting. Yet why did I feel the need to swear so loudly at the ending? Because somewhere along the way, valve have sneaked in a story that sucked me in without me even realising.

So what was it? The groundbreaking facial animations betraying the characters emotions despite their brave personas? The little snippets of information gleaned from Dr Breens announcements about the combine administration, or the newspaper clippings and photographs in the Black Mesa East lab accompanied by Eli Vance’s brief descriptions of each? To be honest, I can’t really say. Many of the elements of the game which provoke these reactions aren’t even that obvious, and come in the form of the scenery. A boarded up house with a hole in the wall and Combine patrol outside is filled with mattresses and portable cooking equipment tells the tale of people who have tried to escape. The desolate and ruined Nova Prospekt filled with massive combine prisons and technology. The citadel boaring  almost as deep into the ground as it extends above it, why? These unmentioned and seemingly unimportant details are what brings the storytelling ability of Half-Life 2 to the level of modern ‘pioneers’ of the gaming storytelling uprising. And don’t forget G-man, appearing throughout the game, observing, and in some cases potentially assisting, your progress.

It's even creepier when you know the story

This is taken even further in the sequals. Episode One adds new dimensions to the characters. Barney goes from being the clean cut hero soldier, to beaten up and desperate, taking all the help he can get. Alyx too reveals a more fragile side, no longer able to constantly be the strong and unflinching character she is initially portrayed to be in the face of the Stalkers.

If you thought this was good however, you’ve seen nothing until you’ve seen Episode Two. This is where the ambient storytelling through scenery and snippets of information that Valve had previously adopted takes a back seat in favour of a more structured and compelling approach, with the first third of the game being a race to help the Vortigaunts save the life of a mortally wounded Alyx. Not only this but the game even adds more layers to the original Half Life, taking the passing references made in HL2 and creating whole plotlines around the events, ranging from massive revelations, to a certain microwaveable casserole. The fact that you are accompanied by Alyx for the majority of Episodes One and Two also provides Valve with an easy route to the emotional strings of gamers, as well as making the segments of the game where you are left to perform tasks alone much more tense.

Enough with the story though, this is an FPS, there’s GAMEPLAY to be had! And none of the HL2 games fail to impress here. The scripted combat scenes equal the storytelling scenes in terms of orchestration and effect, offering some truly epic moments, especially when Dog is involved. The enemies are varied and each provide a different challenge. Fighting the combine can be fast paced and adrenalin fuelled but encounters with headcrab zombies require a more persistent approach and some clever conservation of ammo, especially in Ravenholm. However this is all mixed up with the involvement of the antlions which first provide a jumpy, twitchy, test of your reactions but later become the most deadly weapon in your arsenal. The attack on Nova Prospekt with the antlions is probably my favourite section of the whole game.

This mix of scripted action with straight combat only improves through the episodes, with episode 2 making some quite drastic changes to the game in terms of appearance and playability. The constant polishing of the source engine by Valve means that episode 2 looks old but by no means outdated, with some truly epic visuals dotted throughout the game. Every time I play I still find myself amazed by the character models, with their incredibly well designed facial expressions and actions. Combined with the brilliantly talented voice acting this provokes a really strong emotional reaction to the twists and turns of the story. I am seriously looking forward to episode 3.

Combine soldiers battling antlions in Nova Prospekt

The only thing that has disappointed me with the Half Life 2 series has been the range of weaponry. The original Half Life offered out an impressive spread of various standard and futuristic weapons, with the add-ons only expanding on these. Half Life 2 on the other hand has a stripped down and basic selection which in some ways suits the games style, but it does feel somewhat lacking when you realise you have every weapon the game has to offer about half way through.

If I had to, I would say episode 2 is the strongest of the series, being the newest and released 3 after HL2 Valve have had a lot of time to perfect their formula, and I can only see it getting better. If you haven’t played this series, then you are seriously missing out.

Here’s a machinima music video I came across not long after playing HL2 for the first time.

I’m right in the middle of my final 5 weeks of uni at the moment so things are a little slow. I’ve got a couple of reviews I’m working on at the moment, nothing big though. A comparison of the two main band practice rooms in York, and a review of my laptop. Watching a film tonight as well so may give that a try. Gonna try and stick to doing at least one review a week, then hopefully once my finals are over I’ll get some more done.

Right now though I’m tired and cba with thinking.

It’s hard to define this album in relation to 65days’ previous work. Is it a triumphant return the their more electronic glitch-rock days or is it an evolution away from their more melodic post rock releases? When you compare it to the Dance Parties remixes however it feels a lot more like 65days have taken a look at what they’ve done so far and decided to move into less explored musical territory.

Cover art

We Were Exploding Anyway takes a much more electronic look at the post rock soundscape, with sharper and more hard hitting sounds and tones brought in through the increased use of synths, becoming at times more prominant than the guitar work. However this is by far not a step into what people would consider the realms of more popular electronica, the post rock themes cropping up throughout keeping it thoroughly grounded.

What I found most striking about the album is the feel of relentlessness to the music. It is rare that the music takes a moment to let you rest and prepare for the next song, with any slow build ups being followed by crushing bass lines and drums (Dance Dance Dance being a prime example of this). You can almost see the rave happening during these songs. This unrelenting feel is the main driving force of the album, flinging you from one song to the next while still maintaining the distinction between them. The only downside to this instant fix of fast, heavy synths is it does rely more on the breaking down of the melody and song structure in order to provide variation to each song, as many of the main riffs are introduced right at the start. This fits in nicely with the view of this being a progression away from post rock, which focuses mainly on the slow introduction of riffs and melodies to build the song up. However it does mean that some of the longer songs, such as Tiger Girl, feel forced and repetitive. I also found the use of synth to be quite unvarying throughout the album as well, with many of the same sounds seeming to be reused, though 65days overcome this with a few interesting additions to their repertoire, such as the use of vocals.

65 live

One criticism of this album is one that I’ve had with most of 65days’ more synth based songs is the reliance on treble. In many of the songs I found the bass to be lacking, and even during the ‘crushing bass lines’ I mentioned you find that what makes them appear crushing is the treble distortion which punctuates it. The same can be said for the guitar and synth melodies, which often descend into noisy chaos. Though this noisy chaos has been a staple of many 65days song crescendos I have begun to find it a little tiresome, especially when listening to it in my own room.

As an album, We Were Exploding Anyway stands out from 65days’ earlier work and is both better and worse for it. Each song is an exhilarating experience but by the end of the album it has left me wondering whether or not I’ve enjoyed listening to the whole thing. That being said I have listened to it almost 4 times through today already as background music to my revision so I guess I must be enjoying it. Whether this is a progression forward or a return to their roots, 65days have once again made a very good album.

Here’s a video from an earlier tune.

That’s right! The showdown! The classic (well, classic enough) “play your music” game Audiosurf, vs the brand new Beat Hazard. Which is better? You’re about to find out!

I’ll start off talking about Audiosurf. Released a couple of years ago this was the first game (that I was aware of) to rave reviews, with a Metacritic score of 88. Coinciding with the rise of ‘casual’ gaming, yet including increased difficulty levels and modes that only those with the fastest reactions can beat, Audiosurf was immensely popular, and with good reason. The gameplay is fast, frantic, and flashy (YES! I finally used alliteration in a review!) and will have you sitting hunched over your keyboard for hours trying to get the gold medal and a high score, it certainly did me. The general idea is race down a track generated based on the pacing, volume, and intensity of your music collecting bricks which correspond loosely to the tune. “Hotter” colour bricks reward the most points with “cooler” colours being more common but less rewarding. In order to score you have to collect a column or row of 3 bricks of an identical colour, the more adjacent bricks, the higher the score. A pretty simple concept yet one that is strangely addictive. The addition of a 2 player co-op mode made this accessible to my friends as well, as it meant they could join in and we could have competitions.

An interesting feature is the different game modes available. You can choose to play as one of several classes, ranging from one which turns all bricks into grey or coloured, only rewarding you for collecting coloured bricks and having to grey ones fill up and get in the way of your columns. Or eraser, allowing you to remove specific colours from your columns in order to allow you to create connections. These vary in difficulty and usefulness, but it is fun to explore the different gameplay methods involved in these.

However the real gem in the mix is the online score tables. If you create an account, Audiosurf logs your score in a worldwide rankings table. Not only that but it uses the mp3 ID tag to include the name of the band and song, in order to create rankings for each and every song that anyone plays. Soon you find yourself not playing to beat your own top score, but to beat that of ‘mrcool666’ and take the number 1 place on your favourite song. When you do reach #1 Audiosurf then alerts you if anyone takes your crown, allowing you to get back in there and try again. Sadly all my #1 spots were taken months ago but it’s satisfying while you have them.

The graphics when it came out were pretty impressive too, with all sorts of trippy colours, flashing lights, and crazy patterns flying around, though you’re often too busy staring intently at the track to notice.

All in all this has been a fun game to play, with the added satisfaction of worldwide leader tables giving you that extra reason that keeps you playing slightly longer than you would.

Beat Hazard is a new game by developer Cold Beam Games and takes a new angle on the music influenced game genre. Instead of speeding up and increasing the difficulty as the music gets more intense, Beat Hazard increases your power along with the number of enemies, thus intensifying the action in time to the music. The idea of the game is similar to the classic arcade game (who’s name I can’t remember) where you fly around in 2D space destroying and avoiding anything that flies into your field of view. Getting used to this game is easy, and getting good at it doesn’t take much more than an hour of playing, I myself moved from normal difficulty to hardcore having completed 4 or 5 songs. One problem that I have come across with the gameplay however, is you have to choose your songs carefully. Whereas in Audiosurf, a slow section of a song corresponds to a slow uphill moment and brief respite, a slow section of a song in Beat Hazard reduces your weapon to a pea shooter and makes it almost impossible to take on some of the larger baddies, especially the bosses.

The boss weapons include 2 types of homing missile which, though easy enough to deal with during intense moments of music, are impossible to shoot down during quiet sections, and you find yourself attempting to run away from them while the boss continues to fire more. The other two boss weapons include indestructible bombs which follow a simple path, and a beam type thing which, if you misjudge your movements, will kill you instantly. I feel the latter of the two is slightly overpowered, as you have very little warning to get out of the way, especially when you’re in the midst of explosions and can’t see the pre-firing markings. However this does make the game more challenging, usually in a good way. The survival game mode offers an even more challenging experience, rather than building up the numbers of enemies throughout the song it pits you against a full armada straight away and has you survive for as long as possible, continuing onto the next song on the list when each one is finished. This can be infuriating to start with, but once you start hitting the 10 minute mark you realise ‘hey, i’m listening to my favourite album AND blowing stuff up in bright colours! What more could I want?’.

And this is one the main gameplay aspects of Beat Hazard which gives it a one up on Audiosurf, you can actually lose. Audiosurf has no failure mechanism, sure on the very hardest difficulty, if you fill up a column it tells you you may as well quit as you won’t get a high score, but you technically cannot fail. Whereas Beat Hazard gives you 2-3 lives and throws you in at the deep end, challenging you to survive through the song, and though it gives you a score whether you finish or not, it marks the song as incomplete and a percentage to tell you how far you got, just to remind you to keep playing. On top of this, your play feels like you are in control, even during the more intense moments, and you are able to keep up with the action. Whereas in Audiosurf you are in a constant state of ‘aaaahhh holy crap wtf!’. That made a difference.

The graphics are pretty spectacular. Though they are rather simple in design, with ‘hey lets make things flash and explode and be bright colours’ seeming to be the main theme. During intense moments you find yourself spinning around in a manic craze while the whole screen lights up in all sorts of flashing lights and colours.

Beat Hazard also has a ranking system, though it is based generally on mode rather than individual songs. And this can be slightly off-putting. I had a look at the longest survival time yesterday, and it is over 2 hours, compared to my measly 13 minutes. The same can be said for high scores. And there is no way of playing multiplayer either, meaning Audiosurf’s (limited) capacity for multiplayer gives it a one up on Beat Hazard once again.

So which is better? It’s hard to say. Looking at it now, I would have to say Beat Hazard, purely for the control you feel over where each game is going. Along with it’s improved graphics it is an extremely fun game to play, which is something that I can’t necessarily say about Audiosurf any more. Sure I played it  a huge amount when I got it, but that was a case of high score syndrome, playing simply to beat the score of one of my mates or some random person who had also played my favourite song. Beat Hazard has an advantage in that it has 2 years on Audiosurf, not only in terms of graphical improvements and all that crap, but in that I’ve only just started playing it and am yet to become bored by it.

Either way, Beat Hazard is currently ÂŁ5 on steam so I would recommend you go and buy that and Audiosurf and see for yourself which is better.

I’ll add pictures to this post when I have time, I’ve been writing in breaks between revision sessions and dissertation missions. The dissertation is finished now though! Huzzah!