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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 £11 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 remember all my experiences with Half-Life 2. Borrowing £5 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.

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 £5 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!

Today I completed Assassins Creed II and I have to say, I’m very impressed by it.

Assassins creed 2 cover

Most of my views on the original AC were the same as those expressed by almost everyone that played it; too repetitive, the story was silly, the cutscenes and death monologues boring, and the combat a bit dull, and I think Ubisoft have improved on every aspect of that.

Lets talk about the story first. AC II picks up where the original left off, with Desmond locked up in the Templars (or whatever the corporation was called) and within the first few minutes you’re breaking out. Soon enough you’re back in the animus and into the memories of Ezio Auditore in 14 century Italy. Though I felt at several points the story seemed pointless and often padded out with unnecessary missions and details, it was put together much better than the original, with everything eventually coming together towards the final mission. Because of the seemingly padded out story, however, I did find myself getting frustrated. Every time I came close to what I thought was the end, something happened to add another level or another plot twist. In some ways this is a good story telling device, showing you your goal before taking it away in order to keep you interested, keep your eyes on the prize, but I felt it detracted from the experience. Though AC was repetitive, the fact that you had a clear objective, assassinate 9 (was it 9? it’s been a while since I played it) important figures in order to reach your nemesis and regain your honour, and the story was wound around that. However, when I reached the ending it all felt worth it. A disappointing final showdown but the final cutscene followed by the little bit in the credits really sealed the story.

The gameplay has been improved somewhat as well, though many features have lost something in the transition. I felt that the combat and free-running, though much more varied, were much less flowing. I often found myself feeling detached from the awesome rooftop chases or simply getting from A to B due to the sketchyness of the direction sensitivity and difficult in limiting your jumps. More often than not I found myself jumping to my death when all I wanted to do was jump to the next rooftop or ledge, either by jumping in a completely unintended direction or through Ezio simply jumping as far as he can when all I want him to do is hop down. However, towards the end of the game I found myself working around this, following the flow of the rooftops much better, and better judging where I need to aim myself in order to land on that small flagpole, and in many ways this made the game feel much fuller. Through my own improvement at playing the game it felt as if it was part of Ezio’s journey towards becoming a fully fledged assassin. The combat however, still remained disjointed and slow.

New assassinations utilise Ezio's ability to scale buildings and jump from roof to roof

I may be wrongly remembering the combat of the original, but I felt that, despite the new options with disarming opponents and extra assassination techniques, I spent even more time standing around waiting for people to attack me so I could counter and do some damage. Speaking of assassinations, the new techniques did eventually lead to some entertaining kills and tense moments of sneaking, but they too felt disjointed. The unresponsiveness of them meant that often I’d be running towards an archer hoping to jump on him and make the kill only to find myself running in circles waving my arms about like an idiot. Or I’d be hoping to take out two guards in one go in order to avoid being seen, only for Ezio to grab the one right in plain view of the other. The gun, rather than feeling as cool as it looked in the trailers, felt like a cheat and I ended up only using it for situations where I couldn’t be bothered to figure out a way of sneaking past guards. Despite all this though, there were many ‘epic’ battles and assassinations which satiated my blood lust for the day.

An example of one of the cool looking battles.

Other aspects of the game have been improved too, the voice acting, graphics, and music have all been improved upon. And the extras are pretty good too. Having  completed the game I’m finding myself wanting to play more to find all the ‘glyphs’ and unlock ‘the truth’ if only to find out what it is. I often found myself distracted from missions in order to run off in search of the codex pages, which paid off in the end as you have to find any you haven’t already found in order to progress eventually.

One side quest that I did get annoyed about, but only through my own failings, was the armour of Altair. I managed to unlock it before the final mission, and equipped it, but then before leaving to go to Rome, I went to the armourer to buy the Sword of Altair and found myself figuring I might as well buy everything, including all the other swords and armour. Though I remembered to get the sword from the villa armoury, I forgot to get the armour, as I’d ended up equipping the armour I’d bought without realising, and went off to Rome wearing a mixture of leather and metal, meaning I had almost half the health I’d had before. However this proved only to be detrimental to the aesthetics of the final levels and I got through it without any extra trouble.

The inclusion of extra characters was a welcome addition too. Ezios friendship with Leonardo Da Vinci, and his relationships with the people he meets along the way and how they develop were a nice break from the killing.

All in all, Assassins Creed II is a fun game. Though I wouldn’t recommend going off and buying it new, I reckon it would make a nice second hand or sale purchase.

Speaking of buying it, there’s been a lot of fuss about the fact that you have to stay connected to the internet in order to play and save your games. To be honest, most of the fuss has come from the hacking community and people who download their games illegally, but I can see both sides of the argument. This effectively cuts the game off from anyone who has a dodgy internet connection or no internet at all. I also understand that despite all this anti piracy protection, the crackers have already developed a work around by simply creating a program which creates a server simulation and redirects all traffic from the game to that, allowing you to save your games to your computer and play the game with or without an internet connection, and only after a month or so delay. Pointless really. I have a lot of opinions on piracy which I won’t go into here, in many cases I support it, as with the huge number of games coming out nowadays it is impossible to afford to play all the ones you want to, especially for a student like me. However piracy is slowly beginning to drive developers away from the PC, meaning big titles that I’ve been looking forward to, such as Alan Wake, have abandoned the PC in favour of consoles. It also prevents smaller developers from making games for the PC as they can’t afford for people to not buy their games. However, I believe the best anti-piracy policy is to include a decent multiplayer with the game. Look at Modern Warfare 2 and Bad Company 2. My opinions extend to music too, but I won’t go into this any more.

Glad I managed to get this review done today, especially having just made a post saying that I wouldn’t do any for a few days. Just shows what playing a good game can do for the soul.

Also I laughed like an idiot at this bit.

Ok so yesterday I didn’t have time to do a review of anything properly but I wanted to post something, so I did. Now that I have a bit of time I’ll tell you why The Great Misdirect is the best album of all time.

I’ve been a fan of Between the Buried and Me for about a year, having got their discography from a friend in my first year of university in his attempt to get me to listen to something other than power metal. I was initially drawn to their latest album at the time, Colors, through the immense guitar solos, riffs, and truly epic vocal sections, though the progress was slow due to the fact that I did not enjoy the screamy growly vocals of Tommy Rogers. However, over time I found myself enjoying and appreciating the depth that they gave the music, adding an element of aggression and allowing them not to be constrained by typical vocal arrangements, freeing the lyrical structure to be more experimental.

I slowly worked my way back from Colors, through Alaska (arguably their weakest album, though they did say that it was them experimenting with a new sound), The Silent Circus (taking more hardcore elements into their music), and their self titled album (taking metalcore in a different direction). Eventually I began branching out, following all the different elements of their music, taking in hardcore bands such as converge and the dillinger escape plan, prog bands such as pink floyd and jethro tull, and post rock bands such as this will destroy you and 65daysofstatic, the latter of which introduced me to electronica and eventually dubstep. So you can see why I feel so attached to btbam’s music, as they introduced me to music I would never have considered listening to before.

After the release of Colors I saw btbam on their UK tour twice. Then not long after their tour they released a live album, taking in the whole of Colors along with a selection of older songs voted for on their myspace page. Obviously I bought this and have since watched/listened to it many times. According to my last.fm account I have listened to Colors at least 100 times, if not more. And that doesn’t include on my ipod, phone, or on CD or DVD. Then they announced The Great Misdirect.

Screamy vocals

In January I discovered btbam had signed up for a twitter account, which they stated was there purely to keep fans updated on the progress of their new album which they announced they had started writing not long before. So for half a year I watched them update their fans with various random posts and the occasional announcement that they had recorded a song or a drum track. Then finally they announced the album was finished and would be out in October. When the release date came round I had a shiny new copy of The Great Misdirect along with 3 bottles of Hobgoblin and a couple of mates to listen to it with.

This is where the review gets difficult, as I could simply rant about how awesome it is, but I don’t want to do that, I want to try and be objective about it. So first let me talk about what a lot of people find to be the put off with bands like btbam, the screaming. I’m not quite sure what it is that drew me towards finding it one of the main pluses about btbam’s music, but it is as integral to their sound as the guitars or drums. Perhaps it stems from the lyrics. When you read the lyrics you really get a feel for the meaning of the music and the use of harsh vocals to convey that meaning.

I awake with a cool breeze blowing through my dirty hair.
Rested, stable… a first.
A caffeine junkie’s longest wish: peace and quiet…
No wake-ups, no expectations…
A strange feeling… suddenly drifting…
This “as seen on T.V.” anchor is just another lie I guess…
hoping for something not there.
Filling a void that I can’t quite put my finger on.

As you can see from this section of lyrics from ‘Swim to the Moon’ from The Great Misdirect, they structure is not typical. The train of thought that most of their lyrics seem to follow lends itself perfectly to the harsh screams. Repetition of lines and sections in the song but not in the writing is common, another feature allowed by the vocals, the written lyrics tell the story while they can be arranged at will in the song, though in the correct order.

MESMERIZED.
The populations soon follow the clown’s lead.
Death is in the air.
The three adults once again start talking…
They ask questions of faith and love.
“We shall live past these days, rid of all we’ve done.”
I see what they mean now… but the wretched smell has overcome…
I am gone…
THE BABY BORN WITH THE END OF THE WORLD… Awake…
The five of us haven’t spoken in hours.
Sitting alone to our own thoughts.
Only we will know what strange things boredom has created.

Lost Perfection (b): Coulrophobia from The Silent Circus

The harsh vocals also provide a stark contrast to Tommy’s ‘clean’ vocal sections. The acoustic section of Fossil Genera (TGM) followed by an orchestral finale reminiscent of recent Muse songs, leading into what I consider one of the best songs of the album, Desert of Song, an ode to the evolution of music. This one done entirely without screams (the first mid-album song to do this since shevanel take 2, 3 albums prior).

With every album the complexity of the instrumentals has increased, and TGM is no exception. Having written 3 albums with the current band members, btbam are really beginning to perfect their sound. The depth of the lyrics only equalled by the complexity of the music. Taking hardcore metal and turning it into progressive music is no simple task, especially with btbams tendency for excessive guitar solos and riffs. Listening to the album as I write this I can pick out every instrument individually, but cannot separate them from each other, and I’m finding it extremely hard to think of something to write about them. Take the final song of the album, Swim to the Moon as an example. Opening with an oriental sounding mix of synths and percussion the first 2 minutes of the song switch between slow echoey guitar and fast paced complex riffs (using the term riff in its loosest sense) without blinking an eye, with Tommy Roger’s synths providing the perfect background. I would love to see this live as the interaction between Paul Waggoner’s and Dustie Waring’s guitars is mindblowingly intense, especially during the early vocal sections. Dan Briggs’ bass adds yet another depth to the music, rarely following a simple pattern underneath the guitars, but more often becoming the focal point of the melody and driving the music forwards. In the making of DVD they say that dummer Blake Richardson recorded the entire drum track for this album in 2 days. Well, that’s awesome.

Paul Waggoner is my favourite guitarist of ALL TIME

Woah, lots of text, no pictures. Here’s a video of Blake recording the drums to the second track of TGM.

See? Awesome.

There isn’t really anything more productive I can say about this album. I could probably spend a thousand words ranting about how awesome each member of the band is. If you look at their twitter or their youtube channel they seem like they’re just standard awesome people. They don’t drink, most of them are vegan or vegetarian at the least, which is always a downside (lol).

So yeah, I’ll end this review with what I posted yesterday.

THIS ALBUM IS THE GREATEST ALBUM EVER! GO BUY IT!

I bought this pedal in October having spent the whole summer holidays attempting to save and until recently I’ve been very disappointed.

I’ve never been quite happy with guitar equipment I’ve bought, I always seem to go for something that is good but isn’t quite what I was looking for, from my first chorus pedal, to a £160 echo pedal I bought and have only recently found a real use for. The Vox Tonelab LE is one of these. I saved up a good £350 over the holidays and began looking for multieffects pedals to spend it on, finding two contenders, The Boss GT-10 for £350, the other being the Vox for £250. Here is where I made a big mistake, I had recently started learning to write electronica, but it had been a slow process due to the fact that I had to manually click and drag notes to where I wanted them, allowing for no real experimentation, so I wanted to buy a midi keyboard. I found what I thought was a reasonably good one for £90, but it turned out to be shoddy, incompatible with any presets in any of the programs I used, and had a significant delay between playing the keys and hearing the notes. But because of buying this I went for the cheaper of the two pedals.

I scratched my guitar taking this picture 😦

When I first got it, I spent about an hour going through the instruction manual to get a quick insight into its workings, and then started pressing buttons. I was initially impressed with the variation in sound, the ability to emulate different amps and cabs, and the large number of effects. However I quickly began to realise that the preset effects were pretty much the limit of what was available. By this time I had programmed in a metal channel, a noise reduction channel, a clean reverbed channel, and a harmonised channel using pitch shift but none of these really felt right when playing. The metal channel fed back massively during any silence and any attempt to reduce this resulted in a change in the sound and a reduction in it’s… well… awesomeness. The noise reduction channel helped but often cut out sounds when palm muting or hammer ons when soloing. The clean channel constantly felt lacking in depth and warmth, and though the pitch shifted channel (which I titled ‘hum’) was cool, I had no real use for it.

Being predominantly a metal guitarist this, combined with the fact that the pedal seemed incompatible with the rest of my pedals (it cut out the lower range of my wah, fed back when run through my echo pedal, and any interaction with the effects built into my amp resulted in just a destruction of any resemblance of music), meant that I quickly came down with a serious case of buyers remorse.

I spent maybe a couple of months experimenting with different sounds and attempting to sell the pedal (only to people in person though, not on ebay, I didn’t want to go that far yet), when finally I had a revelation. I had recently been part of the formation of a classic rock and metal covers band, which gave me the opportunity to use my pedal at its full volume, an this changed everything. The pathetic metal crunch turned into a crushingly heavy tone, the noise reduced channel no longer sounded as if it was cutting out notes, and a ‘clean’ channel I had made using an amp and cab that gave this beautiful slightly distorted tone really came into its own.

I’m not saying it was perfect, but it had gone from something I despised to something I could work with and enjoyed hearing. It was still ‘the next best thing’ but it did its job. Now if I found someone I could sell it to, I still would, and would buy the Boss GT-10, a pedal designed for metal.

The Boss GT-10 looks cooler for a start!

All that said though, if it wasn’t for the fact that I wanted to use this pedal for metal I could see it being quite good. The effects and amps have sounded really good when I’ve used them to play blues and rock and I have even managed to get some good pink floyd esque sounds out of it. If you want a decent enough pedal for rock and blues, give it a go. If you want to play metal, don’t.

So, I’ve decided to start writing a blog. I’ve always thought it would be a good, fun idea but never really got round to it. However, I recently played a couple of mods for Half-Life 2 by Dr. Dan Pinchbeck for part of a research project at the university of Portsmouth having read an interview about his project: thechineseroom at The Escapist, and wanted to share my thoughts on them. I played through Dear Esther yesterday evening and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

To start with I should probably mention that this game contains very little of what many people would say are standard game mechanics. There are no enemies to kill, no obvious goals to follow, no puzzles or real driving force to make you continue playing, yet somehow I felt compelled to persevere. You start off alone on this misty, dark, island with no idea why you’re there or what to do, so you walk, and as you do you’re treated to fragmented excerpts from letters written by the lead character.

The atmosphere of the island is spine chilling. Not only do you have the eerie and occasionally aggressive narration for company, but the music is truly something. The mournful piano playing of the first scene instantly invokes the feeling of isolation and loneliness of the island but at certain sections, and often timed with the more sinister moments of narration, it takes on a tone that brought up the hairs on the back of my neck. The opening ‘Dear Esther, the gulls do not land here anymore’ setting the tone for the rest of the narration, with increasingly dark and disturbing thoughts being vocalised as the game progresses. The focus of the narration on previous inhabitants of the island and their lonely deaths is a constant morbid hint of your own fate. If this wasn’t enough, the island is littered with drawings of various scientific images and circuits, along with huge painted words.

"The gulls do not land here anymore"

Like I said before, having completed this game in under an hour I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I feel there is probably more to see and will most likely play it again this week.

Having completed that I went on to play the second game (that I know of) by thechineseroom, Korsakovia. I haven’t completed this yet so won’t fully review it here but I haven’t been this afraid to continue playing a game since Dead Space. It follows a similar narration form as Dear Esther, and you are treated once again to the voice of your character, this time accompanied by Dr. Greyson. The exchanges between these two are often extremely nerve jangling, often being the reason for most of what scared me.

Unlike Dear Esther, Korsakovia includes enemies and the player can be killed. However what sets this apart from other horror games is the powerlessness of the player to fight them. The speed at which they move coupled with the gut wrenching scream as they do means that as you run through the dark corridors your heart is constantly racing as you pray that you haven’t made a wrong turning. Then you get away and take a look around, at which point you find yourself wishing the weird smoke monsters were still chasing you to give you something to take your mind off the darkness.

Now don’t get me wrong, both these games got my adrenalin pumping and have been the first things to come to mind when I turn my light off at night, but they are not your standard horror games. They are a new breed, and a welcome one. I missed many of the early horror greats such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but from what I have seen of them they do something more than just make you jump. Thechineseroom are onto something here, they’ve really tapped in to what makes people scared, lets hope they stick with it!