Monthly Archives: November 2011

Pandora ruins all the worst Christmas songs

With sincerest apologies to my friends and former co-workers in radio, I think it’s not all that ground-breaking to say that mobile devices are killing the format. Or at least maiming it. When it was just iPods and listening to your own music, that was damaging enough. Now that iPhones and streaming 3G is a thing, that extends to services like Pandora and Spotify.

Which is not to mention podcasts, which is most of what I listen to these days. I never got the appeal of talk radio, and now I’m all about it.

At any rate, it’s a yearly tradition that at Christmas time, you listen to the holiday radio stations. And at least once, you’ll get the terrible Christmas songs. Songs like Christmas Shoes that are just so bad you revel in it. I used to feel offended by how utterly stupid and pandering that song is, but now I’m just amused. I laugh and I sing along with all the faux-deep-throated bravado that the lead vocalist infuses it with. It’s not just a crappy, pretentious song. It’s a tradition.

But with Pandora, you don’t really get that. Their holiday stations seem to avoid that song, and all of my beloved crappy Christmas melodies. No Christmas Shoes. No Crabs for Christmas. No Christmas Eve in Washington. Those last two are a bit more regional, if you don’t recognize the names.

I could turn on the terrestrial radio to catch them, but they’re unpredictable. The nature of the beast is just finding them organically. And I could pull them up by inputting incredibly specific search terms on Pandora, but that ruins the “surprise in the moment” nature of it.

Any other favorite crappy Christmas songs? Reply to me here or on Twitter (@sporkyreeve). I’m particularly curious if other regions have their own geographically-specific crap.

  • This unofficial Skyrim app actually sounds pretty cool, so I might pick it up. I want to venture back into the land again once my gaming schedule clears up a bit, so it sounds like this would help.
  • I actually didn’t realize that Mario Kart 7 aims for 60 FPS. Considering it’s 3D, that’s pretty cool.
  • My favorite part of this Dante’s Inferno sequel rumor is how the guy who spilled the beans did it so blatantly.
  • Speaking of frank honesty, I like how the lead writer for Mass Effect 3 is being pretty open about how they backed themselves in a corner with that final mission. The branches in ME3 will be either underwhelming, or so complex you would need a flowchart for each character to figure it out.
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Rayman: Origins first impressions

Annual gorging day is over and with it the various day-themed sales. Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. Is Sunday anything? If not, I suggest Snake-Oil Sunday, when retailers give deep discounts on crap that doesn’t work as advertised.

Ten-buck Tuesday, where everything can be had for ten dollars. I could go on like this.

As I mentioned before, I picked up Rayman Origins on Black Friday. I stand behind my assessment of the demo; it’s incredibly charming with tight controls and a beautiful art style. If it didn’t release the same year as Mario 3D Land, it’d be a shoo-in for Best Platformer. Even as it stands it’s a strong standing at second place, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Strangely, I missed the Uplay thing. I know it’s a silly extra feature, but I always have leftover points, so it’s nice to just unlock some stuff right from the start. This game doesn’t feature it at all for some reason.

It’s funny coming onto this directly after Assassin’s Creed Revelations. I’m in the tank for AC, and I love Renaissance Batman as much as the next guy, but it felt so much like a paint-by-numbers sequel with a few frills added. Comparatively Rayman, also from Ubisoft, is just crackling with originality.

I got some more time in with Skyward Sword, and I’m loving it — for the most part. The dungeons are great and the overworld stuff plays like a mini-dungeon. My only reservation is the Dowsing, which isn’t really fun, and the necessity of Dowsing in the first place. I just got to the second temple only to be told I need to look around for some MacGuffins. It would’ve been nice not to have to collect them at all, but if it’s a necessity, at least let me collect them before I make it all the way to the stupid temple. It feels a little like artificial lengthening for a game that, from what I’ve heard about its 50-100 hour playtime, simply does not need it.

  • Of these settings, I think I’d have to go with Tsar Empire. It just seems so different from anything we’ve seen before. Some of the others seem a little too familiar, or similar to the various Renaissance settings from Ezio’s stories.
  • I don’t exactly buy this excuse not to remake FF7, but it is interesting to hear Square admit pretty directly that their older games had a broader scope. That may be a little more telling than he meant it to be.
  • Looks like come Wednesday I’ll have to fight off the old itch again. I want to play more Skyrim, but there’s just so much else I want to tick off my to-play list first. I know if I start it up intending to play for a few minutes it will inevitably take over my night.

Old Comic Friday

I didn’t actively work today, but a few of my pieces went up on Shacknews. And since this blog is meant to chronicle my writings all in one convenient place, I figured I should give a quick update.

But I usually ramble about something unrelated first, so this time it will be Old Comic Friday. My local comic shop was having a nice Black Friday sale, and though I’ve already bought all the new I wanted this week, I thought I’d support them and pick up a couple of others on the cheap. So I looked through the back issues and bought the New 52 intros to a few I had missed.

Aquaman #1 – I can see why everyone was raving about this book. It did a lot to address the stereotypes about the character, little in-jokes, etc. I’m not sure if that’s enough to sustain an entire book, but it was a really fun first entry and just a nice issue by itself.

Superman #1 – I heard mixed things about this, but I rather liked it. All of the character development bits were interesting takes on the world with a few new wrinkles on the old Superman stories. I’d say the one weak point was the “monster” — it seemed like the first issue should’ve dealt with a larger or more recognizable threat than just some Kryptonian fire something-something.

I also grabbed Rayman Origins today, but I might not get to it for a while. Now that I’ve stockpiled my games, I’m trying to get through some before moving on into others. I probably have 10 on my shelf to finish, not counting digital downloads, so if I tried to dip a toe in all of them it’d just be impossible. At the moment I’m working most on Assassin’s Creed Revelations, particularly since it’s a rental.

As for my articles that went up today, we all contributed our Holiday Guides with a little twist on how to arrange them this year. Plus for a little bit of content on a slow news day I came up with and wrote the Gaming Leftovers piece. If you’re curious for more picks, Indie Jeff chimed in with some additional indie choices.

Muppets, NCW, and giving thanks

We went and saw the Muppets tonight, and it was an absolute joy. It was sincere, funny, cute, and touching without resorting to being sappy. I was afraid it couldn’t live up to the hype after seeing all the critical success, but it really did. So thank you, Jason Segel, for getting what the Muppets are supposed to be.

Also, New Comic Wednesday! Let’s dig right into this. But first: thanks, Bryan Carr, for getting me into comics. After years of prodding, I finally fell in, so thanks for the shoves.

Invincible Iron Man #510 – I like Iron Man and I’ve wanted to try this book out, and Bryan said this week might be a good time to give it a try now that a major arc just ended. It had some good banter and clever set-ups, even if the whole Mandarin / Zeke Stane thing is a bit above my head. I’m not entirely decided if I’ll give it another try, but it certainly wasn’t the worst of this week’s picks.

Batman: The Dark Knight #3 – This was! And to be honest I’m not surprised. I had decided to give this book one more shot after two frustrating issues. Both so far had been entertaining throughout but included incredibly stupid twists. This issue didn’t have a stupid twist ending — or any twist ending at all, really. It just kind of hung. But rather than being entertaining through most of the book, it was just kind of dull. Even a Flash cameo was pretty much wasted. He just checked in to say hi and complain about hurting his thumb. Yes, seriously. Also, the resolution of last week’s twist was a little too familiar for reasons I won’t go into. Plus, the “White Rabbit” lingerie model is just obnoxiously sexualized and not an interesting villain. However, there was one great line, when a cop asked if Batman was protecting Bruce Wayne. His reply: “Bruce Wayne means nothing to me. I’m Batman with or without him.” Yes.

Flash #3 – Best of the week. They’re iterating on Flash’s powers in a lot of really interesting ways, and his character had a nice moment of determination to save everybody. It’s this impossible task, and he’s only human, but it’s kind of nice. He’s got a bit of Superman’s boy-scout qualities, but without the alien-kindly-couple backstory. Plus, the cliffhanger ending relies on human drama instead of a cheap twist. It’s got some of the best art out there, with some really creative paneling. I’m fairly new to the character, but I’m really enjoying it.

All-Star Western #3 – I think this series is suffering from stuffing a bit too much plot into it. The book is dense, and they aren’t taking their time, and the art isn’t exactly clear on what’s what in some panels. The first issue blew me away, and the second took a serious nosedive. This one recovers some of its artistic merit despite some ugly panels, but the story just isn’t grabbing me right now.

And now, today’s video game stories. So it’s appropriate now to say thanks, Garnett Lee, for being a great editor and encouraging voice as I’ve become more involved in game journalism this year.

  • My mixed thoughts on FFXIII are well-documented, but I want to try the sequel. This trailer actually got me kind of excited, based on how absolutely bat-poop gonzo crazy it is. It’s hyper-melodrama and proud of it.
  • Inside baseball talk about Max Payne 3.
  • I can’t wait to hardly ever use the Join Game feature on the 3DS.

Everything’s coming up Milhouse

You ever have one of those days that your pitches seem to go off without a hitch and personal things work out for the best? Those are rare, but much appreciated. It’s an Everything’s Coming Up Milhouse kind of day.

It’s been shocking seeing these Muppets reviews stacking up. When it was 8 or 10 reviews at 100%, I was cautiously optimistic. Then it became 20, then 35. Current tally is at 58, and not a single one has been negative. I could be setting myself up for a massive amount of disappointment, but here’s hoping it lives up to that level of hype. The mop-puppets deserve it.

  • So that footage from two years ago was legit. Remember that? No? Well it was fo’ reals.
  • Miyamoto is pretty blunt about how little innovation is in this next Mario Kart. That might be why I’m not super-psyched for it. I’ll probably ask for it for Christmas, but it’s not a day-one purchase for me. “More Mario Kart” is reliable, but not something I need to get right away.

Skyward Sword first impressions

I got in an hour or so with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword last night. Ordinarily an hour would cover your first dungeon, but not Skyward Sword! No. I’ve confronted a school bully, chased a snitch, spent quality time with Zelda, rescued a raccoon-cat, and swung my sword at some bats.

But yeah, it took a solid 30-45 minutes before I got my sword.

Suffice it to say it opens a tad on the slow side. That said, the extra time gives you a little more focus on Link and Zelda’s relationship. It’s actually very sweet, and they give it a nice tone in only a short amount of time with minimal dialogue. Zelda is the only one who talks, but the facial animations are really expressive.

Once the game does start breaking out nostalgia, it’s flying left and right. Prequels are always fun for their ability to play around with the mythos, and this one introduces the Master Sword and the reasoning for Link’s traditional garb within ten minutes of each other.

I figure I’ll get more time in tonight, maybe actually go to a dungeon. But so far, I’m enjoying it despite the sluggishness.

NaNoWriMo and Falling Action

This is the first year I’ve done NaNoWriMo, so I wouldn’t profess myself to be an expert in any way. But I think I’ve learned a lot from this first go-round, and my biggest lesson is: the middle is both the hardest and most rewarding part.

The beginning is easy. In the first few chapters you’re establishing setting, mood, and introducing new characters. That’s more than enough to make your word count without a sweat for probably the first 3-5 days. Writing a sci-fi novel like mine likely makes that even easier, since you can spend so much time describing what’s different about this world.

Then you hit the middle. You have a loose outline of where you’re going, but you don’t want to get there too fast. You also can’t just drag things out, because that will make the novel boring. You need to keep things exciting while also providing enough plot. That’s what makes it hard.

It’s rewarding, though, because this is the time you’re most likely to come up with surprising connections that you didn’t see coming. Until I was almost 1/3 of the way through my novel, I hadn’t decided that two major characters are blood relatives. Now that plot point, which I wasn’t planning on at all, has become a major character motivation lynchpin.

That must be what novelists talk about when they say to let the story live. I’m not on the level of a professional novelist, but it’s nice to see these small glimpses at what it feels like to have a story organically grow as it goes along — following the steps you’ve chosen in loose terms, but occasionally following unexpected tangents and twists that surprise the writer.

Now I’m in more of a falling action stage. Not literally — the book hasn’t hit its climax yet, because that would be insane. But I have a better idea of where things are going, and all my chess pieces are on the board. Now I’m moving them around, and writing is a bit easier at this point. I have a basic outline in mind of what has to happen and by when. Still, that week or so that I would be surprising myself was kind of amazing.

I recommend anyone with an interest in writing try NaNoWriMo at least once.

  • Today was the anniversary of the GameCube, and we thought we should do it up right like we did for the Xbox. Happy 10 years you crazy little lunchbox.
  • If you don’t own Super Meat Boy, or some of the 8 other indie games, this is a good deal.
  • Did you see any other sites covering Murder, She Wrote 2? No. No you did not. Also, that screenshot features Jessica Fletcher staring at you like a judgmental mother.
  • Entirely unsurprising but awesome news.

AC Revelations first impressions

I’m writing up the blog entry tonight a bit later than usual because I wanted to have some time to get impressions in for Assassin’s Creed Revelations. These are just initial responses, of course, and keep in mind I’ve got a bit of a love affair with the series.

It opens pretty darn slow. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that it opens very narrow. These are open world games, and for the first hour or so you’re on a very set path. I’ve only just gotten to the point that I feel like the world has opened up and I can go explore, which is really what I like to do in these games.

It’s getting a little buried under its own weight, it seems. They’re adding new features here like the hook, but giving you a tutorial on all the old stuff plus all the new stuff is probably what made the introductory bits take so long.

I’ve only done one “tower defense” challenge so far, and my response is: meh. It isn’t patently offensive, but it feels tacked on and unnecessary. The payout is nice and big, though, so maybe I’ll do a few extras to get more money. I like eventually becoming a high-roller.

The new setting is nice and colorful, and most of the new characters seem well animated and have cool designs — particularly Yusef, the leader of the Constantine Assassins. Story-wise, I’ve heard this doesn’t push the plot as much as it could have, but it does put a face to a character we’ve been hearing about for a while, and a voice to another one we’ve only heard mentioned. So that’s progress, I guess.

Other than that, it’s definitely Assassin’s Creed. You cut dudes. And Old Ezio is a cool character model to see after having so much time with the character, even if his body animations don’t act old at all.

  • Shocker: MW3 sells a bunch.
  • It seems like a strange choice to lock a major selling point of your game. I imagine when people bring it home they might just want to jump into the single-player.
  • I enjoyed Torchlight a lot, but I preferred it with a controller. Torchlight 2 probably won’t come out for consoles, at least according to what they’ve said so far, and I don’t think the Mac version would support a 360-USB pad. Oh well.

NCW: Wonder Woman fails at Wonder Woman

Another Wednesday, another batch of comics. One of the highlights of my week, really. This week was odd, because the juxtaposition of two comics made for an unexpected observation.

Wonder Woman #3: On the whole this was a pretty dull issue. My tastes in comics tend to favor sharp dialogue over big action scenes, but some action will do in a pinch. This one didn’t really have either. The dialogue is usually a lot more clever and interesting, and this felt like a lot of necessary exposition. We needed WW to leave her home, so this comic got us there. In pretty much the most awkward and uninteresting way possible. Still, as a tent-pole to get us where we need to be, it sets up interesting enough stakes for the next issue.

Batman #3: Though I prefer the Bruce/Damien dynamic, this may be the best of the plain-vanilla “Batman” books so far. He had a really great fight scene at the opener, some nice detective work monologue, and the primary threat of this arc has been fleshed out enough to feel like a credible threat. It feels like they’re setting up a diametric opposite to Bats in a way that they haven’t quite done before, and all the best Batman villains are inverted versions of himself in some way.

Justice League #3: This is what I was referring to in my title. The JL comic this week actually had much more interesting Wonder Woman dialogue than the actual comic called “Wonder Woman.” It was her introduction to the League, which provided some amusing moments. This was basically one gigantic fight scene, but they managed to squeeze in some crackling dialogue as well, along with a great button at the end. My one complaint is that Cyborg’s origin story felt a bit shoehorned in and broke up the pacing, but it didn’t detract too much.

  • I respect Will Wright a lot. His next venture sounds totally insane. Kind of Big-Brother creepy, but super-ambitious in a way that only someone like him could conjure up.
  • Skyrim might go down as this year’s surprise success. Not surprising in its critical response — it had a good buzz before launch — but I’m not sure anyone expected it to totally blow up like this. Apparently it’s topping a lot of metrics on various sites to boot. People like good RPGs. And I stand by my position that a snowy world to explore makes the perfect Christmas gift.
  • If you want the Sly Collection, buy the disc. Save ten bucks.

Halo Anniversary first impressions

That’s right, it’s another first impressions post. Expect one later this week on Assassin’s Creed Revelations, and then one next week on Skyward Sword. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

I’ve never actually played all the way through the original Halo. I didn’t really “get” Halo until Halo 3, and going back to the original never felt right. Once it clicked, I felt like I really understood the pace and tone of the game, but I just didn’t feel inclined to go back.

Shallow as it may sound, the visual overhaul really does help. And switching between the old style and new one really accents how much better it looks now. The geometry still seems a little simplistic in places, but the textures do a good job of hiding it. The gameplay is as solid as ever, and this time I knew to turn it to Heroic from the start. Having a little experience makes that opening stage feel extremely badass, as Chief rolls around taking down Covenant left and right. Which is, you know, how that opener should feel.

I’m not a dictionary of Halo lore, but it seems like some things have been ret-conned. Chief and Cortana talk like they’ve known each other a long time, when I thought Reach established that she had just been discovered and taken to the Pillar of Autumn. And she references that she used to have fingers? Like she was a human? And she’s referred to simply as a shipboard AI instead of this incredibly important relic that’s the key to everything.

There might be some explanation for all this. I’m willing to just chalk it up to the story team expanding the fiction as they go. I’m okay with that.

Apparently today was the 10th anniversary of the Xbox. You can read our collective thoughts over at Shack.

And I’ve officially hit the halfway point in NaNoWriMo. If nothing else, this is the point of no return, because it would be downright stupid to go this far and then not finish it.

  • I don’t mind running Skyrim off the disc, but it will be nice to get that patch so I can have it installed and get the good textures. I actually think I need to swear off of it for a little while; I intended to play it for a few minutes last night and it ended up dominating my gaming time. This is a busy season for games, and if I keep going down that path I’ll never finish anything else.
  • Today was an odd time for COD Elite. Their tweet seemed pretty open-and-shut, but then the denial came. I suppose I’ll just take them at their (most recent) word.