Sunday, March 30, 2008
For me, making mixes in college was frequently a procrastination technique, something to do when I really should have been doing something else. It was also often a chance to re-discover music I loved but hadn’t listened to in a while. That much still holds true, and the first song on my muxtape is from one of my all-time favorite albums, but I probably hadn’t listened to that song in years.
Also, making mixes back in the days of cassette tapes had complications that CD mix-making doesn’t have, like wanting to fill up each side of the tape as much as possible, without leaving too much dead space at the end, and while maintaining the flow and momentum of the songs. Oh, the agonizing decisions about what to include and what had to be cut! Looking back, I think these limitations somehow actually made the process more fun, since I had to think that much more about what I was doing. It certainly made the process more time-consuming, which was a definite plus. I feel sorry for college kids these days with nothing to do but drag the songs onto an iTunes playlist and hit Burn Disc. It takes no time at all! No thought! Where’s the art, the craft?!
Anyway, here's a little something I threw together. 12 songs isn't a whole lot to work with, but I had fun with it anyway. If you make one yourself, post the link for me to check out.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
In the original game, you played as Ethan Thomas, an SCU agent who was tracking a serial killer who had framed him for murder. Also, there was some goofball nonsense about Ethan maybe having some sort of superhuman powers, but the game didn't really develop this too much so I kinda forgot about it. The second game goes way more into this sort of comic book territory than the first game did, culminating in a final confrontation with a villain whose lair would make a Bond villain proud. You wind up taking on the Oro, a secret organization who believe that sounds can cause people to commit evil acts, and, having heard Avril Lavigne's song "Girlfriend" about a thousand times while playing Burnout Paradise and now wanting to kill Avril Lavigne myself, I can see their point. Personally, I wish the series had stayed closer to the realm of reality, as I think a series of games about a forensics officer who actually solves somewhat realistic crimes would have been a whole lot more interesting than a series about a cop who discovers he can emit noises that kill people. But maybe that's just me. In any case, while the first game's story certainly had its shortcomings, your pursuit of Serial Killer X made for a strong throughline. The plot here feels really weak by comparison.
When the game starts, 11 months after the conclusion of the first, Ethan is just a shadow of his former self. A very drunk shadow. He's such a drunk that you actually benefit from drinking liquor from bottles you just find lying around, as this steadies your shaky hands while aiming a gun. Condemned 2 is probably the first game in which at one point your objective is "Defeat Alcohol Demon." Lots of people struggle with their personal demons when it comes to alcohol, but none quite as literally as Ethan Thomas. Perhaps to go along with Ethan's new hardcore image, he is no longer voiced by the likable Greg Grunberg of TV's Heroes. That's too bad, as the new guy (Andre Sogliuzzo) just tries too hard to convey what a nihilistic, alcoholic badass the new, unimproved Ethan Thomas is.
Throughout the game, you'll explore a bunch of dimly lit places, including a creepy museum, a creepy doll factory and a creepy bowling alley, though none of the places in the game are quite as creepy as the coolest locations from the first game. (Creepy department store, anyone?) In these places you'll encounter plenty of drunken hobos and people who fight like drunken hobos. Even the museum security guards fight like drunken hobos. The people you fight make all kinds of awesome guttural exclamations and swearing noises that sound so authentic, you'll almost think they got actual crazy people to provide these voices. And the combat itself is as good as the sound effects that accompany it. You can clobber people with your bare fists, but you're usually better off picking up something lying around, be it a steam pipe, battle axe, bowling pin, or what have you. Each item you grab can only dish out so much punishment to the homicidal homeless people of the city before it breaks, so you'll have to keep picking up new items as you progress. The combat in Condemned 2 hits as hard as ever, and there are a number of nifty combos you can now pull off if you can avoid being hit by your wildly flailing foes. There are also brutal new finishing moves which allow you to use aspects of the environment to finish off weakened enemies. Many players felt that the combat in the original game was too basic, and that as a result it got repetitive by game's end. The added depth to the combat in Condemned 2 helps keep the combat enjoyable throughout.
There's also a bit more emphasis on gunplay this time around than there was in the original, particularly during a few sections where you have to fight off assault-rifle-wielding agents. These sections, while not quite as hard-hitting as the close-range combat in the game, are competently done. The fact that you can blow dudes' heads clean off, though, seems like an unnecessary byproduct of the game's desire to come across as even more brutally violent than its predecessor. Also, your opponents will make good use of cover, kicking tables over and crouching behind them and so forth, and while this is kinda cool, it also calls attention to the fact that you can't do anything like that yourself.
In between all the fighting, you'll also periodically have to examine crime scenes. Sometimes these sections are fun, and sometimes they involve a bit too much pixel-hunting as you try to figure out exactly what it is you're supposed to look at. Sometimes they're humorously easy, as when looking at a victim's cap and needing to decide if it's a policeman's cap, fireman's cap, hard hat, or baseball cap, and at other times they're a good bit tougher. (Blood spatter analysis? Do I look like Dexter to you?) Also, you'll sometimes be given a choice between three possible questions to ask your partner Rosa to advance the investigation, and some of the choices are so boneheadedly hilarious that I wanted to select them just to see how Rosa would react. "Have human beings even been around for 2000 years?" "How do you spell Oro?" You're rated on the accuracy of your investigation, as well as your performance in completing other objectives throughout the level, and as you progress through the game you earn upgrades based on your performance like added health, a stun gun, and so on.
The game will probably take you about 12 hours or so to complete. After that, you unlock FPS mode, which lets you use guns throughout the game, but that kind of seems to take away a huge part of what makes Condemned Condemned. If you want to play a first-person shooter, play Call of Duty 4. There are also some multiplayer modes available, but they leave a lot to be desired. If you want to play a good multiplayer game, play Call of Duty 4.
Many players will probably find Condemned 2 to be an improvement on its predecessor thanks to the deeper combat system. For me personally, aspects like mood and story were at least as crucial to making the first one a great experience, and because this one can't match up in terms of creepiness and because the plot goes so far into typical video-game sci-fi you-are-the-prophesied-hero territory when I was hoping for a series about a cop who hunts serial killers, I came away from Bloodshot a bit disappointed overall. But there's still a good deal of impact to the game's combat, making it a worthwhile playthrough for anyone who wants to punch people in the face without actually punching people in the face.
7/10 whacks with a foosball rod
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Anyway, it's no joke that I am in a challenging situation at the moment. Still job-hunting, and putting lots of effort into it, but it's taking a lot longer than I would have liked. I've even found myself in the humbling position of asking friends for a little money to help until I'm on my feet again. How did I get into this position? It's not a particularly interesting story, but I'll tell it anyway.
Woooooooooooooooooooosh! (That's the Lost flashback sound effect.)
By last summer, I'd been working for the same company for nearly three years. Things at work were pretty okay, I guess. I basically liked the company and the people I worked with, and I was good at my job.
Then, sometime in July, I got hit by a pretty nasty case of depression. To be frank, being depressed isn't something particularly new or unusual for me. I think that I've struggled with depression in greater or lesser degrees for a large part of my life as a result of my gender issues. I mean, there's just no getting around the fact that not being able to be the person you feel you really are every single day kinda sucks, and some days the weight in my chest when I wake up in the mornings is heavier than it is on other days. My least favorite thing about being depressed is the way it makes me feel kind of self-absorbed. It's harder to focus out on other things when you're depressed, much like, if you have a knife in your chest, it's probably hard to think about much other than the fact that you've got a knife in your chest. And I know I'd be better at everything if I didn't feel this way. I'd be a better writer, a better employee, a better friend. But still, at least I've always managed to pull through, to do what needed to be done, to force myself to get out of bed no matter how tough it was.
But this was an unusually rough period, where getting out of bed was suddenly more difficult than it had ever been before. And I found myself running a few minutes late to work on a few occasions. I was promptly pulled aside and warned about this, and I apologized, sincerely feeling bad about what had happened, and communicated to my managers that I was struggling with depression and was seeking help for it, which I was.
Then it happened one more time, and they let me go. That was that.
That sucked, no doubt about it. But I immediately tried to see it as something that could end up being for the best. The reality was that, while I liked the company and my coworkers, I'd started to find the job a bit dull. It was rare for anything at work to really challenge or stimulate me anymore. What's more, I wasn't seeing opportunities for growth in the workplace, and I really didn't feel that the company was paying me what I should have been making considering the amount of time I'd been with them. There was certainly no doubt that my next job could be a considerable improvement.
And it was. I found a job that was more stimulating and challenging, and that paid considerably more. The job was a seasonal position with a company that's significantly busier around the holidays than it is throughout the rest of the year, but I was told from the beginning that there was a chance I would be hired on full-time after the holidays were over. I knew this wasn't something I could count on, but I busted my ass at this job, and I know I impressed the managers, because many of them started talking to me in ways that made it clear they felt I'd be sticking around.
But alas, things didn't go as expected, and when news came down that I wasn't being kept on permanently, many of those managers seemed as surprised and upset about it as I felt. Every last one of them offered to give me a glowing reference and wished me the best of luck in my job search.
My search got off to a promising start. Almost immediately, I had the interview for a technical writing position that I mentioned in an earlier blog post. Of course, that didn't end as well as I would have liked, but still, it was encouraging. However, since then, I've had a lot of phone interviews and face-to-face interviews and I really feel like I'm putting my best foot forward, but landing a job just hasn't happened yet. On Thursday I have another phone interview for a job that sounds pretty cool, but tomorrow I'll also be dropping off applications at a nearby Starbucks and other retail stores, as I'm at the point now where I absolutely positively need to start pulling in some money.
Admittedly I feel pretty desperate--I wouldn't be applying at places like Starbucks otherwise--but I still feel like in the long run all of this might end up being for the best. I'd gotten complacent in my job, but I wasn't really happy, nor was I earning what I should have been, so at this point, even if I have to earn even less for a while, I think I have the motivation to keep looking until I find a job I'm a bit more satisfied with. This is certainly the biggest failure of my adult life, and I admit I've felt some shame and embarrassment about it all, but I know that it's not really a reflection of who I am, but rather of something I was struggling with. I think I've learned a lot from this experience, and that when I do get back on my feet, I'll be better than ever.
And as bad as things get, I can always be thankful that at least my dad has never conned me into giving him one of my kidneys.
As an aside, a friend recently recommended getrichslowly.org, and I wanted to take a moment to recommend it myself, as it's quickly become a favorite of mine. Interestingly, not long before I lost my job, I'd really started to try getting a hold on my finances, and I think I was applying a lot of the common-sense stuff that J.D. talks about on Get Rich Slowly, but it's really nice to have it reinforced and expanded on by someone who's done a lot more reading about finances than I have. The website is really readable because J.D. doesn't talk down to the reader about this stuff. He comes across as just a regular guy who, like many of us, had struggled with money, and he talks about how he got things under control. There's also just enough of his own personality in the pieces to make things interesting. It's obvious that he's struggled with social anxiety and other challenges, for instance, and that in some ways tackling his money issues and tackling his personal issues have been related endeavors, and I really like that idea, that personal growth can come out of, or is necessary for, better money management.
I've made a lot of progress in terms of how I handle money, I think. I've cut out lots of unnecessary expenses, cut way down on expenses that aren't unnecessary, and I had started saving and tackling debt, as well as starting to think realistically about how I'm going to pay for this whole ridiculously expensive gender thing that I really need to deal with sooner rather than later. Of course, now that I'm not really making any money at all, things are kind of on hold, but I'm confident that I'm more ready and better equipped to deal with these issues now than I was before.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
The movie did make me want to play some arcade-perfect Donkey Kong. DK was always one of my favorite arcade games, and I still think it's one of the very best games of all time. It's so rare for games these days to test one's skill on anything resembling that level. For instance, I got 100% completion in Burnout Paradise this past week as well, but as much as I love that game, I don't feel there's any sort of accomplishment involved there. Just about anyone, if they put enough (read: way too much) time into it, can get 100% completion in Paradise. But you and I could play Donkey Kong for hundreds of hours and never get to the level of play at which people like Wiebe and Mitchell compete. Still, I'd love to have a go and see what my own personal best high score could be.
Unfortunately, inexplicably, there's pretty much no legal way to play arcade-perfect Donkey Kong short of dropping upwards of a thousand bucks on buying a DK machine. You'd think, especially with the film, that there'd be some level of interest in the game that Nintendo could capitalize on to make a few bucks, but the only version readily available right now, via the Wii's Virtual Console, is the NES version, which sucks. It doesn't have the How High Can You Get? screen or the "pie factory" level, so it ain't really Donkey Kong. Of course, plenty of people have bought Donkey Kong on the Virtual Console, because they don't know any better or don't care. It's the same reason so many people go to Starbucks. (The arcade version of Donkey Kong was included in Rare's 1999 Nintendo 64 game Donkey Kong 64, but even that version alters the flow of the game's levels a bit.)
Ah well. I have at least spent some time today playing a Nintendo game, the insanely hyped Super Smash Bros. Brawl. If you're not familiar with this series, the SSB games involve a roster of characters from Nintendo's storied history...Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and so on...smacking and kicking each other in environments that are also taken from Nintendo's storied history. They're basically Nintendo's big love letter to itself, and as fan service, they're outstanding. As a Nintendo fan myself, I admit I got caught up in the hype and excitement leading up to the game's release. The thing is, as games, despite a multitude of rabid fanboys across the internets declaring Brawl the best game ever, they're just so-so. Playing SSB has reminded me of David Cross' story about having a good time at a Harlow concert until he had a realization. "Wait a second. I hate Harlow."
I don't hate Smash Bros., but it's just really basic. There isn't enough depth to the gameplay to make it rewarding or interesting for me. The only fun I really had with the previous game in the series was when I had a few friends over who were up for some mindless button-mashing fun, because the games are definitely good for some laughs. Especially if a few drinks have been had. Brawl does bring online play to the series so perhaps I'll wrassle up a few friends online and get some mindless enjoyment out of the game that way. And the game is full of awesome unlockables, like the ability to play the lame NES version of Donkey Kong for THIRTY SECONDS! Rad!
Anyway, Lost. Yeah, I finally decided to see what all the fuss is about with that show, seeing as how ABC has put all the episodes up for viewing on their website. The only drawback of watching them on the website is that I have to keep sitting through an ad that makes the mind-boggling claim that, with the inclusion of "stars" like Adam Carolla and Steve Guttenberg, this season of Dancing With the Stars is going to be HOTTER! STEAMIER! SEXIER! than ever before. Yeah, that Adam Carolla is a sexy, sexy man.
What I like most about Lost, not surprisingly, are the elements that feel like something out of an adventure game: the Dharma Initiative stations on the island, the button that may or may not need to be pushed every 108 minutes to save the world, stuff like that. (Also not surprisingly, Lost has just been turned into an adventure game. By all accounts it's a middling game, but I'll probably give it the ol' GameFly whirl anyway once I'm all caught up with the show.) What I don't like about it is how maddeningly little information it doles out in any given episode, but I guess that's how you keep people tuning in.
In other news, I'm stoked about giantbomb.com, the new site from former GameSpot dudes Jeff Gerstmann and Ryan Davis. Not much there yet, but I think when it explodes onto the scene this summer, it's gonna be pretty awesome.
Finally, the job hunt continues. I've had two interviews recently. One of the two jobs is considerably better than the other but beggars can't be choosers. Thank-you cards have been sent, follow-up phone calls placed, and the scouring of craigslist goes on.
Monday, March 03, 2008
Gordon Freeman’s neutrality of dialogue and lack of overt personality within the game do not make him a non-character, but are in fact his strength. His lack of preconcieved identity provides not a single barrier with which to distance him from the player’s own personality, making him a blank canvas on which they can imprint their own values and outlook. Valve have even made it impossible for the player to ever see Gordon from a third-person perspective, either through cut-scene or reflection, meaning that in no instance does the effect of seeing a character who does not look like themselves pull the player out of the experience of ‘being’ him.
This higher level of scrutiny is similar, it seems to me, to what many transgendered people experience, when they're held to a different standard of masculinity or femininity than, for lack of a better term, "cissexual" men and women. One might attempt to deny a transsexual woman her femaleness, for instance, by saying, "He's not really female, he likes video games too much," but wouldn't dream of applying this same logic to those cissexual women who love video games.
Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle. Let’s laugh and learn with him on a journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against lonliness in a quiet American suburb.