RANDOM REVIEW: 2010

The most telling thing that I can say about 2010 is that I spent the last third of it without a full-time job, after getting canned back in August. I’ll be honest, I have nobody but myself to blame for that; a friend asked me if my bosses had been looking for a reason to get rid of me awhile back.  I sheepishly replied: “Well, if they were, they didn’t have to look very hard!”

Thus, the whole “what am I going to do with myself” debate I’d been having since 2009 (and heck, probably earlier than that) took on a whole new meaning as I applied for tech writer, tech support, and even editing jobs in an attempt to get away from programming.  I am currently scheduled to start a new programming job on the January 24th…well, so much for that.

Of course, sitting behind a desk for 40-something hours a week hating my job was not the only thing I did all year.  I also continued to be involved in First Storm Manga, handing out flyers and manga at a couple of anime cons throughout the year and keeping the website humming.  We are also going to be hosting our first event, the “Mezasu mini-con” on January 22nd.  While I enjoy hanging out with the guys, and it is fun going to events, I’m not sure that I want to be as involved in First Storm next year.  I’m just not sure that I’m getting a lot out of it, but I’ll bottle up that angst and save it for a future blog.

Another new ‘side job’ that I picked up was that of Writer/Editor/Voice Guy for video game website Original-Gamer.com. I started out just providing narration for some of their videos but eventually got more involved in the site, editing articles for readability and even writing reviews.  Because of that involvement, I was able to attend the 2010 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in July, and it completely blew me away.  I also had the privilege of attending the “Distant Worlds: Music From Final Fantasy” concert in Houston, and the pleasure of interviewing famed video game music luminaries Nobou Uematsu and Arnie Roth.

Speaking of music, I was invited to join a band called The Loliholix. It turns out they needed a drummer, and I just happened to know how to play drums and have way too much time on my hands.  After getting an electric drum kit and an big ol’ honkin’ PA to use as an amp, I was ready to rock.  Practicing and hanging out the band was fun, but playing our first big gig at San Japan was awesome.  Being part of a show, even if it is a small one, is just incredible.  The audience feeds off of your energy and gives more back to you.

All the while, I have continued with my creative endeavors, namely writing.  I completed some very short stories, even entering one into a writing contest, and am working with my friend Chris Holm on some comics.  I also have some longer works that I hope to finish soon.  I am hoping to get my stories, and even some non-fiction, onto the various e-readers and phones and pads that are all the rage these days.  Hopefully, I can make a few bucks on the side that way.

As if being a part time musician and writer wasn’t enough, I also read for a part in a short film that my friend Carey Martell is currently working on called “Deathfist Ninja GKaiser.” Now, I won’t be too disappointed if I end up as Man in Suit #6 but having a speaking part and being the first person in the show to get fried by the Big Bad Guy would be cool, too.

All the while, I managed to post to this blog and keep up a somewhat-regular schedule with my podcast: “300 Seconds.”  I figure that if I can get out one blog post a week and two podcasts a month on top of all the other stuff I’m doing, then I’m doing alright.

Overall, 2010 was a great year for me.  I got to meet a lot of cool people and had a lot of really neat experiences.  Sure, it sucked to lose my job, but with the help and support of family and friends (and some creative budgeting) I’m hanging in there, in fact, I already have a job lined up in a few weeks so things are looking up!. I have faith that things will turn around soon and 2011 will rock even harder.

Farewell and Godspeed, 2010.  You were one to remember.

RANDOM REVIEW: Tron Legacy

The original Tron was a seminal part of growing up nerdy for me.  I actually saw it in the the theater back in the day and loved the (to me, anyway) oh-so-cool visuals, music and jargon, and I still enjoy it today on DVD.  Sure, its a little less impressive now that I actually know about computers and electronics (you could imagine my disappointment upon finding out what a Logic Probe actually does) but it’ll always have a special place in this nerd’s heart nonetheless.  Minor spoilers ahead, though nothing too major.

Tron Legacy picks up a few years after the events of the first movie.  Kevin Flynn is enjoying his “happy ever after” running Encom and spending time with his son, Sam.  Kevin suddenly falls off the map and we catch up to Sam years later being a typical rebel wihout a cause, albeit one that is a 1337 hacker, rides motorcycles like a madman, and apparently does BASE jumping.

Sam gets a sign that leads him back to the “Flynn’s” arcade of the first movie where he finds his father’s secret lab and gets zapped into the Electronic World (now called The Grid) just like dear old dad.

I was disappointed with the look of The Grid, the exteriors looked like the real world with a neon coat of paint, and the Recognizers were a let down. I mean, sure, they were more ‘realistic’ but come on, did they really need to have jets? We’re inside a computer, people!

Unlike the original, Legacy dives right into the action.  Sam has barely had enough time to get comfy in his new neon duds when he is tossed into a disc duel and a lightcycle battle.  The vehicles (Recognizers nonwithstanding, yeah I know, I’ll let it go now) look more “Tron-like” than anything  else and the action sequences are easily the highlight of the movie.

Sam soon escapes and finds Kevin with the aid of smexy program Quorra and they all race to escape The Grid and stop a nefarious plot from unfolding before the door to our world shuts again.

I thought Tron Legacy was a fun ride, the action sequences were exciting and visually breathtaking.  There were plenty of clever in-jokes for geeks and for fans of the first movie.  Some of the dialogue appeared to have been lifted word-for-word from the original, and the technical stuff made a bit more sense this time around.  For example, in an early scene, a programmer stops a hack with the Unix kill command.

While there are some philosophical statements sprinkled throughout about free software and the pursuit of perfection, they play second fiddle to the action.  I was a little disappointed in the climax which felt a bit  ‘deus ex machina’ to me, but to be fair, so was the climax of the original.

I enjoyed Tron Legacy; much like the original, it isn’t going to win any awards for its story, but the acting is good and the visuals and music are great.  I think other fans of the original will like it, but it’ll be a toss-up for newbies.

4 out of 5 Identity Discs.

END OF LINE.

My PlayStation 3 Died, and I Don’t Really Care

I finally succumbed to temptation last August and bought a PlayStation 3.  I tried my best to hold out, but with the release of the third Ratchet and Clank game for the system and the price drop to $300, I finally cracked.  God of War 3 was on the way, and I also thought it would be nice to have a Blu-ray player.

Fast forward two Novembers, and I have six boxed Playstation 3 games, a few downloaded games, twenty-six Blu-Ray movies, and a busted PS3.  The damn thing won’t start.  I press the power button; hear a beep and the power light turns green.  Yay.  A few seconds later, I hear a click, the system shuts down, and I hear three beeps.  Crap.

Of course, after realizing something was wrong, I tried turning it on and off, held down the power button while turning it on a few times, but still nothing.  The Internets proved to be less than useful; I found plenty of ads for repair services or repair instructions, but very little as far as DIY fixing.  My PlayStation 3 was also just out of warranty.  Sending it to Sony would mean a repair bill of at least $100, not to mention shipping costs.  The repairs would also only be covered for 90 days…forget that.

I have now had one of each generation of PlayStation go kerplotz on me: an older ‘box’ PlayStation (remember how dependable those were?), a launch PlayStation 2 (which, to be fair, did last five years), and now a PlayStation 3 that lasted just long enough to be out of warranty.

My only ‘good’ option would appear to be dropping $300 on a new and hopefully more reliable PlayStation 3.  I’m not sure I want to, though.  It’s not the money (well, okay, maybe a little) but to be honest, I haven’t really missed it.  After the awesomeness that was God of War 3, there just haven’t been many games exclusive to the PlayStation 3 that I’m interested in playing.  I sadly never got around to playing some of the good exclusives like Resistance and Uncharted, and I certainly won’t be anytime soon.  The Xbox 360 continues to be my game console of choice because the online experience is better, and most of my friends also own Xbox 360s.  Lots of big games are also multiplatform these days, so it doesn’t make that big of a difference which system you own.  Unless you own a Wii, which means you’re boned as far as M-rated games are concerned.

I’ll probably end up dropping a c-note on a Blu-ray player, but as far as the PlayStation 3 is concerned, I’m done.  Yeah, DONE. That’s it.  Farewell.  Adios.  Sayonara.  Bueno, bye.  No more PS3 for me!

What’s that?  Sly Cooper 4? Well, nuts…just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!!

Reviewing Musings

Reviewing videogames‭ ‬sounds‭ ‬like a‭ ‬really cool thing to do:‭ ‬you get to play games before they are released,‭ ‬you get to keep them if they are downloadable games,‭ ‬and well,‭ getting to play ‬games‭ ‬without having to pay for them is nice, too.‭  ‬I’m not lucky enough to actually get‭ ‬paid to review games‭ (yet‭!) ‬but‭ writing and editing ‬for original-gamer.com gave‭ ‬me the opportunity to attend E3‭ ‬back in July.  Totally worth it.

So yeah, on paper, reviewing‭ ‬games‭ ‬sounds like loads of fun,‭ ‬but in practice,‭ ‬it loses a little bit of its luster.‭  ‬When I’m not playing awesome games like‭ ‬Rock Band‭ ‬3‭ ‬or Kirby’s Epic Yarn‭ ‬I’m struggling through crapfests like Power Gig or enduring kiddie games like EyePet.

Yeah.  EyePet.  That’s hardcore.

The most direct effect of reviewing games is that it has turned playing games into work (albeit volunteer work).  Its a mental thing: instead of playing games because I want to, I now play them because I have to.  It gets a little annoying at times when I have a stack of games I need to plow through or when I get asked to play games in genres I don’t particularly enjoy such as fighting or driving.  The most aggravating bit about the whole thing that it takes time away from games that I want to play, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

The first thing I do when I get assigned a new game to review is I write the review’s introduction.  I like to have it done before I even start playing, and in my opinion it should give the reader some context in regards to my relation to the game.  Is it something I have been looking forward to, or something I’ve never heard of?

When I play a game for review, I keep my laptop handy so that I can take notes while I’m playing it.  That way after I’m done playing the game I just have to flesh out the bullet points I have marked down.  I’m not sure if I should be admitting this, but I don’t always finish games I review.  Usually its because I don’t expect to see anything new after having played a game for so many hours.  Let’s be honest, after a certain point, few games really offer anything surprising in terms of gameplay.

One game that bit that strategy in the pants was Gladiator Begins. I played through about 30 days of the campaign, probably about seventy or eighty nearly-identical fights, figured there was nothing else in the game, and wrote my review.  I went back to the game and soon discovered that the levels did start to occasionally change up, and upon seeing the box in a store, I learned that there were even fights against animals.  D’oh.  It was either my fault for giving up on the game too early or the devs fault for taking too long to open up the game’s interesting parts. Probably a little bit of both, oh well.

Writing reviews is a balancing act.  On the one hand, I don’t want to look like a fanboy by gushing praise all over a good game, nor do I want to simply verbally vomit all over a bad one for the sake of being entertaining.  Great games have minor flaws that have to be explored, and bad games sometimes have good ideas that were not executed well.

Picking out a numerical score can also be a bit of a headache, because I want my score to reflect what I have written.  I still read reviews myself, and I get annoyed just like everyone else when the two don’t jive.  I go by what the site says on the “About” page, supposedly we work on the ‘bell curve’ model where the middle point is average.  Despite the occasional “10” handed out, nobody’s really perfect.

At the end of the day, though, the site editor is the guy that says what goes up on the site, and while I haven’t always agreed with Oscar, I think he’s doing a good job for the most part.  Working with him and the rest of the original-gamer.com crew has been lots of fun.

And now, back to EyePet…whee