Monkeys With Typewriters
This is a blog about a whale. No...
Friday, October 28, 2005
Monday, October 24, 2005
A completely unexpected post on hockey and gaming
Until this weekend, I hadn't attended a live hockey game in almost two years, and I had forgotten how much I miss going regularly. That's one of the (few) things I really miss about Huntsville; season tickets for the UAH Chargers let me spend the fall/winter months waiting excitedly for the next home game.
We took my friend from work Stan and his family to a Spokane Chiefs hockey game Saturday, which was a lot of fun. It was a low-scoring affair, especially since most of both teams' starting lines got game misconduct penalties in the first period for fighting. It was a wonderful brawl, with gloves, helmets, and teeth flying everywhere, but the quality of gameplay suffered a bit. The Chiefs went down 1-0 to the Camloops Blazers (where the hell is Camloops?) despite having some great scoring chances that kept the game exciting.
The Chiefs play in the WHL, which is one of the Canadian "Major Junior" leagues -- all of the players are aged 15-20, and most of them are in school (which the league pays for) when they're not playing. It's an interesting contrast between how Canada and the States view sports; in the NCAA, a hockey player's athletics revolves around his education; in Canada, a young player's education revolves around hockey.
I picked up Shadow of the Colossus for the PS2 over the weekend, and the game is an absolute masterpiece. You play a nameless young man who seeks divine help from an ancient temple while trying to revive his dead love. You're instructed by an oddly cryptic deity to destroy sixteen Colossi that slumber throughout the land. This is a pretty tall order, since the only tools at your disposal are a magic sword, a bow, and a very stubborn horse.
When I say "tall order", I mean that literally. The colossi are huge, and the first time you see each one, it's a new "holy shit" moment. Although it's certainly an action game, there are a heavy puzzle elements as well -- each colossus is nearly invulnerable, and you must not only find each giant's weak spots, but how to exploit them.
Every colossus is different and requires a different method to destroy, whether it involves tricking them into exposing vital spots and sniping away with your bow, or grabbing hold of the odd patch of fur and climbing right up on the colossus as it tries to kill you. What works on one will most certainly not work on the next, and it keeps the game engaging.
The art design is amazing and conveys an incredible feeling of desolation. There are no other people in the vast, ruin-dotted landscape, and your horse is your only companion throughout the game. The colossi themselves are majestic and awe-inspiring; to be honest, I felt kind of guilty after I defeated the first one -- these huge, beautiful, ancient things have to be destroyed just so I can wake up my dead girlfriend? She'd better be worth it.
I'll paraphrase a very fitting description of the game I read over at the SA forums: Shadows of the Colossus is a combination of all of the best action and platform games you've ever played, but with only the boss fights included. I agree with this, and despite not having any NPC's to interact with or hordes of evil minions to mow through, this game is perfect the way it is.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
October good times
My group at work went Geocaching as a team-building exercise this week. It wasn't quite as epic as we were expecting (since it was an easy cache that was found within minutes), but we still had fun. You can see some pictures right over here.
I can't believe the number of good video games that are coming out this month. This could be the best holiday season in recent memory.
So far, I'm excited about:
Stubbs the Zombie - I linked the trailer in a previous post, and you can't help but love the idea. Unfortunately, I'll probably have to wait for the X-Box 360 to play it, because my current X-Box doesn't so much play DVD's as it does eat them.
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland - The Tony Hawk Underground series got a lot of criticism because of its lame storylines (does anyone over the age of 13 think Bam Magera farting is funny?), but the gameplay and level design were excellent. Racking up six-million point combos on THUG2's Barcelona level was great fun. If American Wasteland even comes close in terms of the actual skating, I'm willing to overlook the "OMG SO EXXXXXTREME" plotlines once again.
Civilization IV - Unless you've been living under a rock for the last fifteen years, I shouldn't have to explain this one. Aside from fixing virtually everything that was wrong with Civ3 (spearmen killing tanks!), the new version looks to be infinitely moddable. If someone makes a perfect Alpha Centauri conversion for it, I will never leave my computer room again.
SoulCalibur 3 - More SC goodness, and two new hot girls with weapons. Who doesn't love hot girls with weapons? There's also a "create-a-fighter" feature, which lets you customize your weapons, fighting style, and appearance.
I've also been hearing some good things about Shadows of the Colossus, which is by the same team that created the under-appreciated Ico. From what I can gather, it's an action game with a lot of puzzle-solving elements. Judging from the screenshots, the artistic style is incredible.
Oh, and there's some kind of Metroid pinball game for the Nintendo DS, which I may have to pick up just out of morbid curiosity.
Aside from all of that, the X-Box 360 comes out in a month. None of the release titles look all that amazing, but the hardware is downright sexy, what with all the wireless controller hijinks and the built-in media center. I'm a console whore, so I'll probably pick one up, regardless of which games are available.
Monday, October 17, 2005
That wasn't me. Promise.
A couple of other things...
While I don't know if I'd call it "good", Depeche Mode's new album, "Playing the Angel" marks a nice reversal from the downward spiral of horrible, train-wreck albums they've released since 1990's "Violator". The single, "Precious" is actually very listenable. Hopefully, now that Martin Gore is writing the songs again, the band will be getting back to their old ways.
Also, the worst game with zombies is better than the best game without zombies. See also: Stubbs the Zombie.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Random Ramblings, or Overuse of Alliteration
It's only a week into the season, and I'm already very happy with my decision to pick up the NHL Center Ice package. I've watched hours of hockey, and the new rules in the NHL are making things really exciting. There's more scoring, less slowdowns, and no ties (although instead of a shootout, I'd prefer they play a second overtime with the goalies strip to their underwear -- who's man enough to stop this puck?).
I'd be playing hockey on my X-Box as well, but both of this year's offerings are buggy messes. EA's NHL 2006 is full of gameplay problems, most of them revolving around being able to score at will if you know the "trick" -- even on the hardest difficulty level. NHL2k6 (now with 100% less ESPN license) has the gameplay down solid, other than the occasional bizarre penalty; last time I played, the other team iced the puck, and when my player touched it, I got called for Delay of Game. Unfortunately, 2k6's menu system has a TON of bugs, like the time I got stuck in the Edit Lines screen because I didn't have enough players dressed. But when I tried to dress a player, it said I had too many dressed. Oops, where's that reset button again?
Hillary and I have been watching Firefly, and it really is as great as people have been saying. I didn't think I'd be able to stomach a "space western" after being a fan of Deep Space Nine and the new Battlestar Galactica, but it works well. There's still the rare cheesy Buffy-esque Joss Whedon Awkward Moment(tm), but overall the show is engaging and fun to watch. So obviously, Fox had to cancel it before the first season was over (which is only slightly less retarded than cancelling Wonderfalls after four episodes).
We've also been playing several new games...
We Love Katamari is a worthy successor to the original Katamari Damacy game, which is the best game ever released for the Playstation 2. I finished gathering all of the royal cousins over the weekend, and I'm now on the gigantic "Roll Up 1,000,000 Roses" stage. I calculated how long it would take by how long it took to get to 5,000 roses, and it was something like a week of continuous playing. I've heard that a lot of people have completed the level by putting rubber bands on their analog sticks, so I may have to go that route.
We finished X-Men Legends over the weekend as well, and it really is a great game. It's rare that I'm inspired to play through the same game twice in a row, but we've been excited about playing through again on Hard difficulty with the new unlocked characters. Iron Man with maxed out Motion Amplifier is a monster (200 damage per melee hit, and he hits twice as fast as anyone else) -- add maxed out Ice Gloves from Iceman, and he starts doing 800+ per hit. The only thing I didn't like was the imbalance between different characters -- sorry, but Iceman should NOT be doing more melee damage than Rogue or Wolverine, let alone ten times as much. Also, there are a couple of icky bugs toward the end of the game, which make me think that the developers ran out of time and had to just ship what they had. There's even a game-stopping bug in the last act that can only be circumvented with one specific character using a certain power (Storm's Whirlwind); if you don't know the trick, you're screwed.
There's a ton of good games coming out later this month, too: Civilization IV, Soulcalibur 3, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland... Good times for a gaming geek like me.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Album of the Unspecified Time Period (Part 2)
I've been enjoying the hell out of the XM Radio I put in my car, but it means I haven't been listening to as much of my own music. I did, however, find a few good new bands on XM's indie rock/college channel. My current pick:
Air, "Talkie Walkie" - If you asked me to categorize this, I'd say it's some kind of weird, etherial, electronic-pop by a couple of French guys. Oh, and it's really good. If you've ever read any of my comments on music, you know that my favorite albums are ones where each song has its own "character" -- this is why I enjoy bands like They Might Be Giants and the Pixies. Air's newest album definitely accomplishes this. From the quirky acoustic guitar and whistling in "Alpha Beta Gaga", to the Portishead-with-minor-chords sound of "Run", to the whispering tones of "Cherry Blossom Girl" (which sounds like it could be a lost song from the Katamari Damacy soundtrack), each piece has its own life and character.
And some other stuff, new and old, that I've been listening to lately:
Supersystem, "Always Never Again" - I heard these guys (previously known as El Guapo) on XMU, and they're pretty great. It's straight indie pop, but they've adopted a bit of the "nouveau-disco" sound that some other bands have been playing with lately (most notably Scissor Sisters, which I think are fairly hit-and-miss). I don't know why I'm drawn to this band's new album, since I don't generally like "poppy" music, but their songs are catchy as hell. Oh, and the pretentious assholes at Pitchfork Media hated it, and that's good enough for me.
Metric, "Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?" - Another band I first heard on XMU, Metric combines interesting harmonies with very simple arrangements. You only have to listen to "Calculation Theme" to know what I'm talking about. The album is a nice mix of mellow electronic (but not exactly "trip hop") and indie "girl rock" -- I've heard similarities to everything from Information Society to Juliana Hatfield. Whatever sound they're going for, the singer's dead sexy voice fits the tone perfectly. They actually have a new album that came out last week called "Live It Out", but I haven't gotten my hands on it yet.
And please, stop recommending The Decemberists to me. I have the album; I just don't like it very much.