dot dot dot - one: New beginning! And stuff.

Hey, duders. To break in the new year properly, I'm taking it upon myself to reset my blog. I tried to run a regular(ish) series last year that didn't exactly pan out because the format I restricted myself to made it so that I needed to invest more time into it than I really had. More often than not, it'd result in me not really bothering in writing or proof-reading the small bits I had written. Some of you over on the beta site might have seen the exciting, fantastic, brilliant, award-winning prologue entry to this blog series. To those of you returning: yo. To those of you who are new: Double yo. To those of you wondering about the name: I didn't know what to call the new blog series, so I named it after the unfortunate silence that rang through my head when trying to come up with a title. The parentheses are because the title didn't look good design-wise without them. SUPER INTERESTING FACTS, YO.

Maybe the reality of my anxiety will just be me crying over this.

The idea is to give myself a spot where I can vent on stuff, more-so than I can on Twitter or Tumblr. Neither of my accounts there are places where I can do that in proper comfort, so to the wonderful community of Giant Bomb it is! I'll (hopefully) still be talking some about games but there's most likely going to be a mess of off-topic stuff going on up in hurr.

So, what do I want to talk about? ... I don't know. My head's in a bit of a stir because of a couple things, the more notable ones being the return to class tomorrow and the really dumb situation I've put myself in with a close friend. The two make me feel anxious for different reasons and both being problems at once is less than ideal. I'm slightly terrified of returning to school because I worry I lack the creativity to make it through this final semester. What comes after I graduate scares me just as much, if not more.

How do you not fall for such a wonderfully goofy person, man. :
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Aura's Top 10 Games of 2012

The actual awards! Yay! No categories, only raw numbers. The way I like ‘em.

I didn’t get to play as many games this year as I’d have ultimately liked. Being unbelievably busy with school and running into a few monetary issues certainly helped in draining my gaming time. What I did get to play, though, made up for one of the strongest years in games that I’ve had. The omissions are worth praising alone. Hotline Miami, FTL, Black Ops II, SSX, Phantasy Star Online 2-- a lot of really great stuff got cut and I think it speaks volumes to the overall quality this year. Regardless of taste, opinions, or preferences, 2012 was a fucking kick-ass year for videogames.

Hold onto your reading glasses and reading hats, people, because this might get a little long.

Forza Horizon is a terrific racing game. I love it for both what it is and the promise it shows, because its quality means we can expect great things from Playground in the future. The driving mechanics are rock solid, the car list is varied and great, the events are dealt out and organized in an intelligent manner, and the features you’d expect out of a Forza game are present and as good as ever.

I wasn’t sure how well an open-world Forza game would work out but I’m really happy it works as well as it does. Playground found a way to cleverly balance the arcadey nature of their pedigree with Forza’s smart accessibility mechanics and car tuning. There’s depth to the actual driving in the game and there’s a lot to do in the world with it. Events and challenges are everywhere and they are, for the most part, a lot of fun to do. It also helps that Forza Horizon is absolutely beautiful to look at. The world of Colorado that they’ve rendered is a picturesque one, for sure.

I haven’t completed everything in it, far from it, but it’s something I see myself returning to every now and again. It’s a terrific game to go back to and just drive around for some fun.

Achieving anything in Super Hexagon dwarfs any other feelings of achievement I’ve had in games this year. The lightning-fast pace at which the game plays is addictive and very quickly starts to be one of those “Just one more.” games. The grind of repeatedly smashing into a wall, the process of learning the few randomised patterns, and the eventual mastery of successfully chaining multiple patterns together at the end of those 60 seconds is the best of feelings.

Super Hexagon also deserves credit for breaking the laws of physics, as it redefined the amount of time it takes for 60 seconds to wind down. Changing it from “60 individual seconds” to “FUCKING FOREVER” is a feat worthy of praise.

Borderlands 2 is, more or less, the perfect sequel. The soundtrack is better, the story is better, the characters are better, the skill trees are better, the guns are better, the gunplay is better, the side-missions are better, the main story quests are better, the world is better, the art direction is better … and so on. It also helps that the game having a central bad-guy gave a lot more direction to its plot. I appreciated the tone Handsome Jack brings to the story and the world. He sells that universe really well.

While that’s all well and good, though, the co-op is really what got me this time. I played through the entirety of Borderlands 2 (and all of both DLC packs so far) with a friend and have had an absolute blast because of it. Grinding out weapons, experimenting with weapons and equipment, fighting raid bosses... It’s the best co-op experience I’ve had this year, for sure. Though truthfully, I feel like Borderlands 2 is hampered by its “more of the same” nature. Everything about it is better than its predecessor, but it could have used something new. If anything, it makes me excited to see what comes next for that franchise.

Fuck me if Rockstar isn’t just the best at making gritty-ass games about really depressing premises. Take a guy who loses his wife and kid, give him a crippling addiction to pills and booze, make him take a private security job in a shithole country to shithole people, and out comes one of the most fun-to-play third-person shooters with a presentation to die for.

The plot twists are what they are and I think, ultimately, the story probably isn’t as well-rounded as I’d like to think it is. But the characters they develop and the places the story takes you, that shit’s pure Rockstar. They managed to make me feel empathy for Max, and I’m far from anywhere near as bad of a shit point in life as he is. From the narrative to the soundtrack, Max Payne 3 has a fantastic neo-noir tone that I couldn’t get enough of and by the time it was over, I was in absolute love with it.

Fez completely took over an entire weekend of my life. The Saturday and Sunday I powered through it existed only for me to play the game. Eating, sleeping, working-- all secondary priorities.

Why? Because I needed to crack that fucking code.

I BET THERE'S SOMETHING HIDDEN HERE THERE JUST HAS TO BE

Its beautiful art and wonderful soundtrack aside, Fez is the ultimate throwback to games of old merely by design, where its many secrets and revelations only come to life through trial and error, pure luck, clever deduction, or repeated discussion with friends. Regardless of how I solved each of the puzzles, they all had me going crazy in my chair, furiously taking notes and talking to friends about what I saw and what I missed.

Yet the even crazier part about all this is where Fez is just supposed to be this silly little platformer. It’s deceptive appearance only fades away once you “beat” it for the first time, and the discovery of what game Fez was all along is one of the best moments I had this year. Discovering your new abilities, cracking the code, solving the most hidden of puzzles, getting the highest completion percentage... it was addicting and I’m thrilled I played through it all in two sittings. It consumed me for an entire weekend and when it was all over, I felt like I had just taken a trip through childhood again. I wish more games did that.

Well, here’s a game I had no idea I was going to like this much. What looked to be a poor-man’s GTA actually turned out to be the best open-world game I’ve played since GTA: San Andreas. With an awesome amount of Hong Kong action film nonsense to boot, Sleeping Dogs was like a direct injection of fun into the pleasure centre of my brain. It captivated me and I wouldn’t let it go until I beat it to absolute completion.

Pew! Pew!

There’s a ton worth praising in Sleeping Dogs, like the fighting mechanics. The brawling combat is a ton of fun. I’d dare to say I even like it more than Batman: Arkham Asylum’s combat, which is what it obviously inspires from. The environmental attacks and the minor upgrades you get always made every encounter unique and fun to experiment with. In an even more impressive feat of balancing multiple mechanics, the guns were fun to use as well. The driving, too, is a lot of fun. So fun, even, that I had no problem completing all of the optional race missions. Despite my love of Midnight Club, I fucking hate open-world checkpoint races and I still managed to like them in Sleeping Dogs. The driving is slippery and snappy, and made exploring the city in cars a lot of fun to do.

But what I liked the most about Sleeping Dogs is its story and tone. It’s a pure Hong Kong action flick. The plot points are as cookie-cutter as they come. Cop who has childhood connections to Triad goes undercover. Cop gains trust of Triad. Cop struggles with priorities. Cop wonders who he should be fighting for. So on and so on. It’s all there and sticks to the formula right up until the end, but it does it in a really intelligent way. The game is a little blockbuster in nature but has no problem playing it serious. Its ability to walk the line between the two made experiencing the game’s story so much more enjoyable. It was a consistent reminder of why I didn’t like GTA IV’s story so much. Whereas GTA IV was taking itself seriously in a world that did not, Sleeping Dogs just... kind of does both in a world that does both, too. It would have been really easy for the game to come off as cheesy when it was trying to be serious, but it didn’t. It’s enjoyable and likeable cast of characters did a whole lot to aid this, as well.

Its tone and incredibly well-refined mechanics kept me hooked. I didn’t want to stop playing and purposely beat it to 100% completion because I wanted to stay in that world for as long as I could. My time with Sleeping Dogs was some of the most memorable I’ve had with an open-world game, even if it was an incredibly short 35 hours.

It’s really interesting to see the experiences of others who either played all the episodes in one shot or played them alone, weeks apart. My experience with The Walking Dead was a shared one, where my friends and I gathered on the release of each episode at one of our houses to sit down and play together. It was a social activity... one that was usually comprised of complete silence. Rarely did someone speak, usually only to suggest a decision when one would arise. It was an experience we shared together and I feel like the biggest moments in that game had a significant impact on all of us because of it. It felt like we were a group along for the ride. Partners to the group featured throughout Telltale’s incredible narrative.

There’s little I can say about The Walking Dead that hasn’t already been said by the dozens upon dozens of sites, blogs, and users who have picked it as their favorite game this year. The characters are some of the most well-realised to have ever been introduced into the medium, the story has some of the finest examples of suspense and character development, and the presentation and delivery of the episodic content is the new standard for games of that format.

There’s an intensity to the game’s story that I don’t think I’ll be able to find in another game to come for a long, long time. I cried, I got scared, I jumped out of my seat in absolute horror, and I clenched at more controller handles and couch cushions than I ever have before. The Walking Dead is an absolutely fantastic adventure game. I really hope it inspires Telltale to expand and explore the ideas it brought to the table with this series, because they really did accomplish a lot.

It fucking breaks my heart to even have to write anything about Analogue: A Hate Story. Like Digital: A Love Story, I’m sitting here just thinking about what I read through and can’t process the amount of shit it’s making me feel. My heart sank when I looked up a screenshot to put into the banner, of all things.

Analogue’s story about a once-prosperous, now-deserted ship in space is a haunting one, and the AI that accompanies and elaborates on the lore is an infectious personality I grew to love. *Hyun-ae is funny, a bit scary, adorable, and intriguing, offering a unique insight into the game’s central plot of “uncover why the hell this entire ship is now desolate”. It has multiple plot twists and revelations, some of which are so heartwrenching that I had to double take or would end up speaking out loud to myself in shock. It’s not a long game, it took me close to an hour and 45 minutes to finish, but the story it tells is a fascinating one. There are themes and concepts explored throughout Analogue that you don’t really get to see in games. The feminine perspective on the events it presents are every bit as interesting as they are haunting. They are definitely worth experiencing for yourself.

*Hyun-ae goes from being a little off-putting to really charming a lot faster than I expected.

The visual novel’s writing is, like in Digital, fantastic. Christine Love has a way with casual conversation that I admire and wish I could duplicate for myself. The dialogue feels natural and is easy to read, without sacrificing the complexity of what’s being presented. The interface to read the narrative with is also much improved. I appreciate Digital’s throwback look, but it made reading for an extended amount of time a little strenuous. Analogue’s interface is clean, concise, and easy to navigate when unlocking multiple text ‘blocks’.

The music in Analogue is terrific, too. The originally composed soundtrack compliments the inviting nature of the interface and its AI incredibly well. It knows when to set a mood, and it knows when to be nothing other than minimalist background music to let you concentrate on the reading in front of you. I suppose my only gripe with the game overall is the art. Though this is largely my own nitpicking, I think the lines on Raide’s character work is a little unrefined. The character design and the coloring is great, but the final linework lacks polish that I feel it could really use. The expressions and overall look of the characters end up being a little flatter than I’d like because of it. Though again, this is merely my own nitpicking. As someone who does almost nothing other than draw characters in his spare time, it’s something I couldn’t avoid seeing and pointing out.

That little bit aside, I adore everything about Analogue. It’s a terrific follow-up to Digital and it makes me realise that I have an appreciation for these types of games I did not know I had. Christine Love’s untraditional approach to visual novels are great, and Analogue is a prime example why. It’s story is gripping, it’s characters are loveable, and the way it presented is unique and fun. As if it wasn’t enough that the narrative is absolutely excellent, the act of having to dig and discover it is a rewarding and interesting experience. Analogue: A Hate Story is well worth your time and it stands in a respectable company of games that really affected me.

More importantly, though, is its placement on my list. I fucking love Analogue. It did not hit as hard as Digital: A Love Story did, (mostly because I related to the latter, whereas I have yet to live in Space Korea like Analogue portrays) but I fucking adore it none-the-less. Both are easily some of my favorite games of all time, yet I cannot place it higher because I did, ultimately, enjoy the following games more. Like Digital back in 2010, I have to add this weird addendum where I’ll say that, realistically, Analogue might be a game to stick in my head enough to merit being at a spot like #3, but I know in my heart that I had more fun with the games above it.

But save for the top two, no game this year made me think like Analogue did. I just... see, it’s becoming this weird thing again like the end of my Best of 2010 list. God dammit, Christine Love. Why do you do this to me.

Well, there. My list is re-organised to reflect how I truly feel about the game.

Fuck man, now I just can’t stop thinking about what happened on the Mugunghwa ship. Argh. This is fucking me up so bad. I’m gonna go … eat... or something. Fuck.

You got to see the end of the Genophage.

A conclusion was brought to the Quarian/Geth conflict.

A Thresher Queen headbutted a Reaper to death.

Shepard got to revisit and re-explore relationships and events from the entire series, as well as some from additional lore like the books.

Mass Effect 3 is every bit as meaningful a game as it is a closure to the trilogy. Regardless to what you think of the ending, the journey to complete Mass Effect 3 is one of the most satisfying and personal experiences I’ve ever had in videogames. The always-incredible narrative and dialogue is there to form an engaging and awesome story, and the refined gameplay is there to make the combat the best it’s ever been in the series. The characters and the interactions you have with them, the scenarios you get to see during the invasion of the Reapers, and the way it finally all comes to a close makes Mass Effect 3 one of my absolute favorites this year.

It’s worth mentioning that it also features some of the most fun multiplayer I’ve had in 2012. Who knew that wave-based, class-driven multiplayer could be so much fun? In Mass Effect, of all games! The improvements that Bioware has made to the shooting mechanics shine bright in the multiplayer and it makes it something I continually want to revisit.

Instead of writing why I picked Journey merely on what I think of it is as a game, I’d rather explain the experience I had whilst playing it. I could talk about the beautiful soundtrack, the absolutely breathtaking art direction, or the simplicity of its design, but I won’t. Instead, I want to talk about one of my playthroughs.

My first playthrough of Journey was fantastic. I got to share my time with a bunch of different users and it made for a magical experience that I completely fell in love with.

My second playthrough, however, was the one. I paired up with another player in the usual area (the one where you need to connect the three pillars with the cloth bridges) and we promptly chirped at each other and continued on our adventure together. As the game progressed, however, we began to develop a means of communicating. If one of us found a symbol, we’d quickly chirp at each other. The other would then chirp twice to say thank you. The same applied for any other secrets like the flOw creature or glyphs. If we wanted to call each other, we’d chirp three times. If we were walking along, we’d occasionally count. One chirp, the next would do two, then three, and so on. I made a friend, and we developed our own way of communicating.

We stuck close to each other to make sure we always found the same secrets, and stuck by even closer when trying to avoid the floating creature underground. We endured the harsh winds of the mountain climb together and we both fell near the peak of the mountain. A tragic moment, as he fell to his knees seconds before I did. When the end sequence began, the two of us weren’t near each other. I couldn’t find my friend. This was it. The end. He had to be there! We have to finish this together! I couldn’t find him, where did he go? I tried to impede my progress in the level for as much as I could, afraid I might have overshot my partner.

Suddenly, out of the blue, he appeared. He bursted out of the ground, leaping into the sky above me and chirped at me incessantly. He was trying to find me, too! I leaped towards him and got as close as I could, as we both repeatedly chirped at each other, the skies filling with the endless symbols we were casting into it. We climbed, flew, and jumped together towards the end, where the light grew and the credits sequence started to roll.

I sat there, conflicted and full of emotion. I was in tears. I was so happy that I had found this friend. This one person, whom I’ve never met, felt as close to me as any of my closest, longest-lasting friends. We had seen everything together. We had been through everything together. He was everything I had just put myself though. We both depended on each other. We were there for each other, and now it’s over. He’s gone, forever. I’ll never see him again. I couldn’t bear the thought. I just cried instead, happy and sad at what I just realised.

At the end of the credits, the list of usernames appeared. Expecting two or three names, I was shocked to only find one. The other player, who I knew could be multiple people, really was just a single person. I created a PSN message and wrote a thank you note to the player. I thanked them for being the most amazing partner. I was so grateful they had made my experience what it was.

A few minutes later, the player replied. What was in his reply was some of the most broken, poorly put together English I have ever seen. And then it hit me: this person clearly didn’t speak English. Their sentence wasn’t hard to read because their English was full of slang or internet shorthand. No, it was because they just didn’t speak it. This person with which I formed an actual connection, with which I had developed a means of communication, and with which I had shared an experience I felt was deep and meaningful, most likely doesn’t speak the same language I do. If we met in the street, we wouldn’t even be able to say anything to each other. Yet through Journey, we got to experience what we did.

For that playthrough, I pick Journey as my Game of the Year. Nothing else has ever come close to giving me that kind of experience, and I am not sure anything else ever will. Journey is something unfathomably special and the videogame medium is incredibly fortunate to have it, as are we.

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And that's it! Thanks for reading, and have a great end of holiday! :'D

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Aura's Annual Award Bonanza: 2013 Edition - Day Three

The final day! Despite my award calendar running out, awards will continue next year. Don’t worry, you guys.

See that? Mayan joke. Hilarious, right? That doctorate I got at Comedy College is paying out in fucking cash, man.

As someone who enjoys employing sarcasm whenever I can, this might come off as a little hypocritical, but I am starting to get really fucking tired about everyone in the game industry being so cynical about everything. Watching E3 unfold this year was an unfortunately shitty experience, with seemingly every game critic using their various mediums of communication to elaborate how boring and uninteresting anything was. Whatever happened to being excited about videogames? So what if there were a bunch of sequels. So what if a bunch of them were shooters. Didn’t you feel like it was even remotely cool to see new things? That maybe some of them would have potential down the line to be larger than the sum of its parts? Look at Spec Ops or Black Ops II’s campaign, for example. Is every person so unbelievably jaded that everything just sucks by default, now? New IPs were announced and shown, and people still found a reason to complain about them.

2012 ended up being almost a full year of watching my Twitter feed during any important gaming-related (sometimes unrelated, even) event and having everyone try to be a fucking comedian like it was brick-wall amateur night at the Chuckle Hut. It made this year feel like it was significantly less exciting than it really was and that is a depressing thought. An absolute deluge of quality games came out this year, and all anyone had to do or say was fucking complain or make fun of them.

Now that the world didn’t actually end, maybe we can all try and be a bit more positive during 2013, yeah? That’d be fun!

Runners Up: I want nothing more to end other than Bronies or Cynicism in gaming. Wait no, maybe end the X-Factor forever so Top Gear doesn't ever have to start a season later again, I guess.

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It’s not in my final top 10, so I made it’s own little category because I feel like Black Ops II’s campaign is really something worth talking about. I knew ahead of time Treyarch was going to try something different with branching paths and the like, but I don’t think I could have foreseen how much the changes they made would affect the story’s actual outcome. Player choice is an extremely prominent mechanic in the campaign and it’s used with an incredible effectiveness. The choices it presents to you upfront are what they are and some will affect the story more strongly than others, but it’s the choices it hides from you that are super interesting. There are situations and outcomes in the game that I had no idea I ever had a role in and each one affects the possible ending you will get differently. It was fascinating to me that my friends and I could have an extended conversation about the story’s campaign, and all discuss how different the story we experienced was. It’s always great when I can do that with any game, but that I could do with a Call of Duty game... it’s exciting. Super exciting. If there’s something new worth bringing to the table with single-player first person shooters, it’s how Treyarch handled player choice in Black Ops II.

Also, more games should have explosions.

Runners Up: Blink mechanic in Dishonored, uncovering a narrative like in Analogue

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There’s not really much to say here other than I have little interest in playing Assassin’s Creed III. I had an absolutely fantastic time with Brotherhood and skipped Revelations because it seemed like it would burn me out on the franchise. Then ACIII was announced and it looked fucking awesome, yet I sit here, a few months post-release, and I’m just... completely uninterested by it. It just seems like the same. The story seems neat, but hearing that the Desmond stuff closes out in a less-than-satisfactory matter is really unappealing, considering that is the real story I care about.

I just... maybe I’ll wait when it’s dirt cheap. Maybe. I don’t even know. Maybe I just want to move onto something else. Maybe one of you has a reason for me to get excited about it, or something.

Runners Up: Xenosaga 1-3. Those games are just gonna sit there, unplayed forever. At least they look nice on my shelf.

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Continuing the annual tradition that began two years ago, this award is dedicated to the best sound effect in a game this year. While I was originally going to award it to Jenn Frank’s wonderful role as the announcer in Super Hexagon, I find it far too unfair not to award it to the reloading sound for Tediore weapons in Borderlands 2. It’s such a good sound. It sounds like it should. Mechanical, digital, both together like a gun that’s cloning itself should. Good stuff.

Runners Up: Announcer voice in Super Hexagon

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Let me be clear: I really like Dishonored. I just feel that the game plays it far too safe with its story. Nearly every plot point I’ve encountered has been incredibly predictable and the characters just seem so... flat. Emily and the Empress seem like the ones to have any sort of actual “character” to them, while the others all seem like total stereotypes or cookie-cutter secondary NPCs provided by the NPC Cookie FactoryTM.

Dishonored still has me largely in its favor because the gameplay is fucking terrific, the level design is some of the best I’ve seen, and the world it’s set in is wonderfully realised. I just wish the story was there to cement all of them together, because right now it’s being a rickety axel on what could be an otherwise incredibly smooth and satisfying ride.

Runners Up: Roller Coaster Rampage, The last few months of my life jesus christ man. Girls, am I right?

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And that's it, folks! The award categories are done. Hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed sitting here, furiously typing out these really dumb opinions that I have. Make sure to come back tomorrow for my full Top 10 list!

Did you miss Day 1? Maybe Day 2, even? Shit! Better click the links I gave there to make sure you can read them, too!

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Aura's Annual Award Bonanza : 2012 Edition - Day Two

Little late today. And by "today", I really mean "Oops, Day 2 and Day 3 will actually happen the same day". Sorry! Holiday family plans and whatnot. Regardless, Day 2 is upon us! Welcome to the dark middle chapter of my awards. There will be blood.

And Shepherd’s Pie. But mostly blood.

From the simple concept of the Wanderer to the iconic depiction of the Mountain in the background, the art in Journey is creatively and emotionally inspiring. The environment designs are simple yet rich, and the symbolic nature of its world says more than most big-budget, developed universes do. There’s little more I can say about Journey’s artwork when it is one of the few examples where a picture of it fortunately says a thousand words.

Runners Up: Forza Horizon, Susan Coffey

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God dammit, man. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD should have been something wonderful. It should of been the nostalgia pull for me. The dumb Sonic fans get dumb Sonic games every dumb year that caters to their dumb wishes, and what do we get? Shred? Fuck!

But wait! RoboModo (ugh) was there! It promised to save the day! It promised to deliver a game that had some the best levels, the best music, the best skaters, and the best idea: bring back the classic Tony Hawk formula. Two-minute runs; complete goals to win.

And what did we get instead? We got a game that had seven-levels, with four of them being absolute trash. Downhill Jam? I know Tony Hawk wanted it in the game, but maybe some of you GAME DEVELOPERS thought it’d be cool to tell him that maybe a level that isn’t THE WORST would be a better idea to feature? Where’s School I? Or Minneapolis? Skate Heaven? YOU GUYS DIDN’T EVEN PUT IN PHILLY, JESUS CHRIST. Put that in the pile of “Things That Should Have Been Included”, alongside Split-Screen multiplayer or H-O-R-S-E. Oh, and Create-a-Skater. I can deal with not including the Park Editor, even if I love it, but not having a skater creator? Come on, man! YOU DIDN’T GIVE US PHILLY, AT LEAST GIVE US THIS.

Yet even more appalling are the absolutely busted physics. It’s haunting how frequent a combo or trick will come to an end because of a freak physics bug that will make you fall through the level or slingshot you into the sun. Did you want to take that rail? Ha, fuck you. Here, hit this wall sideways instead. Oh, that’s broken? Hold on, I’ll get to it when I’m done counting your $15 over and over again and then laughing. Maniacally. Like the asshole I am.

It could have been so great, man. It could have been the fucking light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. Instead, there was a cliff at the end of the tunnel, one where we all fucking fell off. Every. Last. One of us.

Runner Up: None. There is literally nothing more disappointing this year than Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. Fuck you, RoboModo.

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Nier is both something special and something tragic. It’s something special as in it is something I had almost no expectations going into and left with a sense of wonder at what I had seen. Nier was nothing remotely close to what I was expecting. I never could have foreseen it implementing bullet-hell shooter mechanics into third-person combat, or that it could have such a fantastic group of characters, or that its soundtrack would be the best of its kind, or that it would have plot twists that threw my jaw to the floor, or thrown in mechanics half-way through the game that I still don’t even understand how no one has never thought of doing before. Nier is a game with so many damn curveballs in its design and it makes it one of the most refreshing JRPG experiences I’ve had the pleasure of playing.

But it’s equally tragic because where Cavia saw a chance to do something different, unique, and, for once, exciting with the JRPG genre, the general market saw a chance to ignore it. It’s sub-par presentation made for a game unappealing to the eye’s first glance and it seems like many ignored it because of that reason. It sold poorly and was ultimately responsible for Cavia’s demise. The first Square game to be likeable in ages, and the studio responsible for it is shut down. It makes me really thankful Atlus is still around (although its handheld focus this generation is worrysome) because the number of developers willing to try something different grows smaller by the year.

At the very least, we’ll always have Nier to remind us what a design doc filled absolute craziness and creativity can look like.

Runners Up: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon, Parasite Eve

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Okay, now is the time to talk about the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle. Now is the time to talk about it and why I think it’s fucking ridiculous that so many of you got so angry in the first place. I’ll throw in the caveat here that I beat Mass Effect 3, for the first time, with both the From Ashes and Extended Cut DLC, so my arguments might be a little skewed here, but I believe the core will stay true.

I don’t have a problem with players disagreeing with how the ending was handled. That’s all fine and good. It’s your opinion and, to some extent, you have the right to voice it. What I do have a problem with, however, is the kerfuffle that came about from players demanding Bioware to change the ending.

Mass Effect 3 is a creative work by a group of individuals. Like any other creative work, you are in your right to interpret it however you want, but it remains their creative work. Let’s say you are an illustrator, like myself. You make an illustration of, I don’t know, cats. Cats dancing in the rain. You finish it, proud of your work, and your fans fucking hate it. They hate it so much, they demand you change it to something else. The cats shouldn’t be dancing, they should be walking! Do you change it? Do you cave in to the pressure of your fanbase to alter the vision of your creative work? Fuck no, you don’t. It’s your work. It’s yours alone and while they are free to interpret it however they want, it is not up to them to decide what the subject of your artwork should be.

And even more to the point, why would you be so focused on a singular aspect of a larger image? Why does it bother you so that the cats are dancing? Is there nothing else to appreciate in that illustration? Just like with Mass Effect 3, I feel like many let the ending completely blind them as to what made the rest of that game great. Like I explained on Day 1, there is so much more to Mass Effect 3 that makes it worthy of being the best RPG of the year, yet so many felt the need to ignore these events because of a single moment in the game. It’s juvenile. It’s close to resembling a fourteen year-old girl dropping her popsicle on the ground and crying because “her entire fucking day is ruined omg”.

Get real, folks. Re-adjust yourselves a bit and re-examine what exactly you are criticising, and why you are criticising it. You might find there is a lot more to love than there is to hate.

Runners Up: #1ReasonWhy existing in the first place, being exposed to more MLP shit

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I fucking exploded when I saw Dark Souls II being announced at the VGAs this year. I am so god-damn excited, you guys. Not just because it’s a sequel to one of the best games of 2011, but because it also means there’s finally room in mainstream gaming for something as incredibly unique as Dark Souls. Narrative and lore that is never explicitly told to the player, difficulty that is aggressive but rewarding, art design that is dark and subdued. These ideas should be exclusive to some niche but they aren’t anymore. They’re enjoyed by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and it makes me so happy.

While all we got was a trailer and a few shots of concept art, I am unbelievably excited for Dark Souls II. Everything I’ve seen, heard, and read of it sounds like it’s heading in a great direction and I cannot wait to see the finished product.

… man. They made a sequel to Dark Souls. Fuckkkkkk that’s so rad.

Runners Up: Black Ops II’s campaign, Finding out I didn’t fail painting class

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And that's a wrap for Day Two! Did you miss Day One? Shit! Check it out here. Come back tomorrow for the final award categories! Err... well, more like later today, I suppose. At least, if you're on the East Coast.

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Aura's Annual Award Bonanza: 2012 Edition - Day One

Hey guys! Have a great Christmas? Rad! Get anything good? … No? Oh. Bummer. Well, like first-degree murder, it’s the thought that counts, right? At least I’ve got these shiny awards here, just for you.

And so, another year, another set of stupid awards for me to express a bunch of opinions I really feel the need to voice. Well, that, and also because I like to design things and it gives me an excuse to make a bunch of pretty banners so that these blogs are some fun kind of presentable. You guys like that, right? Presentability? Maybe I’ll throw in some clipart and WordArt next time. It’ll be so fab. Just you wait! 2013 WILL BE MY YEAR.

For now, though, enjoy the fun little categories I’ve come up with for this year. The schedule for the award-givings will be split across five days. Day 1, 2, and 3 will be the Annual Award Bonanza. Day 4 and 5 will be my Game of the Year awards, though that might end up being a single day. I haven’t decided yet. I get pretty long-winded with some games and I don’t know if it’s worth splitting into two separate blogs or not. Probably not. We’ll see, I suppose! But that comes Saturday. Today, enjoy the inaugural award ceremonies. Make sure to tip your waiter.

FEELS.

When playing through The Walking Dead, my friends and I would crowdsource each other’s opinions to know what the person controlling the game should pick as a dialogue option whenever one came up. We’d sometimes argue, but we’d usually come to a pretty unanimous consensus because all of us adopted the same goal: protect Clementine. It’s one thing for a character to be well-written and likeable, but it’s on an entirely different level to have one that nestles in you an absolute imperative to do whatever it takes for them. I can like a character for the fun, and sometimes haunting, quirks that make up their personality, but to feel a need deep down in my heart to save them? That comes few and far between, if ever.

Runners Up: Lee Everett, The guy in Black Ops II who asks you if you wanna get paid, then tells you to move it.

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Oh, you do like, more damage than my guys have hit points? Yeah, that's fun.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown is not on my Game of the Year list for a reason that is entirely my point of view, I suppose. To me, XCOM is completely broken. The core that makes up that game is fucking terrific and had me glued to the screen for the first few hours. The crew management, the streamlining of battlefield tactics, the R&D sub-game--all of it brilliant. But a few hours in, the game turns. The difficulty spikes, and does so in the most unfair and unbalanced manner. The enemies get stronger (much stronger) and your soldiers seem to be nothing other than heavily-armored imbeciles. The hit percentages get lower and lower and even then, the numbers feel like complete lies. 80% Chance to Hit? Fuck you, more like 40%! How does a heavily-trained soldier meant to defend Earth from unknown forces miss an enemy with a shotgun when the enemy is standing so close that the shotgun’s geometry is CLIPPING THROUGH THE ENEMY? How does a sniper miss when the target is not behind cover, ever? How does how does how does how does how does ajhsfalskjfdhlasdkjfh. It’s infuriating. I understand that dice rolls are in the nature of turn-based strategy, but you need to tailor the numbers when taking into account what you are playing as and what weaponry you are using to fight. There are shots I would take that I know no soldier would ever miss, and it would happen turn after turn after turn.

After hours of fiddling around, trying to win fights that I couldn’t because the game actively made me feel like it was all up to luck, I stopped. I took the disc out, and quit the game. I’ve never, ever done that with a single-player game before. Ever. It especially sucks that I had to do with a game of such high-quality.

Runners Up: Hotline Miami, My soul

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I was originally going to award this solely to Journey’s Soundtrack (which I already gave props to on my Favorite Albums of 2012 list) but felt I needed to talk about so many other soundtracks that I started to realise... man, 2012 was a fucking great year for videogame soundtracks.

Journey’s soundtrack is an absolute masterpiece, being as integral to the experience as the online partner is. It’s theme, and its various interpretations throughout the game, are beautiful, memorable, and take you through the most amazing emotions as it builds into a serene, emotional, and breathtaking climax.

Black Ops II: The poster boy for "A Terrific Year for Wubs".

Fez’s soundtrack is both a terrific accompaniment to the game and a great standalone chiptune album. Melodic and haunting, calming and cheery, Fez’s soundtrack helps lock in the wonderfully retro appeal of Fez’s design with some intelligent, minimalist sounds that will make you get chills when revisiting.

Max Payne 3’s soundtrack is something I am baffled to like, considering HEALTH is not a band I am particularly excited about. Their Get Color album sits in my iTunes library with little plays. Their brand of post-rock, experimental yang is not my thing. Clearly, however, they are a bunch of talented dudes who can make something worthwhile. Not only is Max Payne 3’s soundtrack a great standalone listen, but no OST this year establishes its game’s tone like MP3’s soundtrack does. And that airport song, oh my god.

Borderlands 2’s soundtrack could have been a serviceable mix of beats, synths, loud noises, and guitar riffs to set an aggressive and playful tone to accompany the game’s badassitude and whatnot. Instead, it’s a surprisingly well-composed mix of clever, interesting rhythms and atmospheres that complement the game’s environments extremely well. There are no clichés in the soundtrack-- it all sounds genuine and fun. Some of the tracks are downright groovy, even. It fits the areas it accompanies well, and complements the game’s tone even more so.

Hotline Miami’s soundtrack, while not entirely originally composed, is still a terrific collection of 80’s-like synths and loops. The addictive and bass-heavy soundtrack strikes strongly with the game’s tone, alongside creating a bizarre atmosphere when playing for longer than a few minutes. The simple, repetitive nature of the tracks starts to blend in with the non-stop murderfest, and it nestled a drone-like feeling in me that began to make me feel really weird when I thought about it.

There’s more that I could bring up, both those five are my favorites of them all. As a whole, 2012 is a pretty memorable year for game music.

Especially Black Ops II, for its terrific use of dubstep.

Runners Up: Apart from nominees mentioned above, FTL: Faster Than Light, Black Ops II, NiER, Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

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This is a disheartening award to give, because I think Black Ops II accomplished a lot this year that are seriously meaningful changes for first-person shooters. At least, for their single-player campaigns. The way the narrative is presented, the choices you make, and how the game hides/presents those choices to you are seriously some of the most interesting things I’ve seen done in a first-person shooter. It’s great.

The multiplayer, on the other hand, was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be new. A reinvention of the tired formula that’s been used in five games now. It isn’t. The Pick 10 system is great, the scorestreak system works much better than traditional killstreaks, and League Play is an interesting idea. The persistence, the leveling, the unlocking, and the grind are all the same. It’s still, ultimately, the same god-damn multiplayer game we’ve been playing and sinking our teeth into this whole time. It’s... kind of a bummer. It’s a bummer in a way that I’m having a hard time dealing with. This is the most robust multiplayer experience yet, so I’m having a lot of fun with it. I’m having even more fun with it when I play it with friends. But I know I can’t keep doing this. When the ride is over, I don’t know if I’m on board next time.

And the problem with that? Infinity Ward is making the next Call of Duty game. If Modern Warfare 3 is any indication, I’m completely unexcited to see how much of a step back their next game will be as well.

The series’ multiplayer needs to change. They need to make something different. The game needs a new “persistent leveling” or “perk system”. It needs that new “thing” that will change the stage for console multiplayer. I’m just not sure, at this point, if Call of Duty itself will be the one to bring that change.

Runner Up: Assassin's Creed-- woops, too late.

//

Now is not the time to discuss the kerfuffle that came about from Mass Effect 3’s ending. That comes later. Now, I want to talk about the effort that was put into all three games, into the universe of the series, and into how fucking amazing it is that a single studio in Edmonton crafted a sci-fi universe to rival, I believe, that of Star Wars and Star Trek. Shit, there are probably a good amount of people that have experience neither of those, but love Mass Effect to the core and recognise it as the only one worth giving a shit about. Also, SPOILERS.

One of gaming's greatest moments.

Look at Mass Effect 1 and what the game was. Actually, not even just that-- think about what that game promised. It established a universe where humanity had prospered and colonised space, met multiple alien races, established itself as a dominant force in the galaxy, and was consequently under threat of absolute extinction by a race of sentient robots of unknown origin. The gradual knowledge you gained of the universe and the locales you visited were absolutely dwarfed by the time you learned who the Reapers were and what Ilos and the Protheans were. And when it was over, you learned it wasn’t. It was very fucking far from over. And better yet? The actions you took in this game would carry over to the next, as would your character. Crazy!

And then came Mass Effect 2, a game that improved on nearly every single aspect of the original game. It presented a haunting threat as an opponent, established a group of characters that will forever be remembered as greats, and coupled the two with some of the best gameplay, side-missions, and storytelling we’ve seen this generation.

Mass Effect 3 had the arguably impossible task of living up to the first two games and while the ending may have faulted with some, the journey to that ending is comprised of some of the most meaningful events to happen in that entire series. The genophage ends. The war between the Quarians and the Geth is resolved. You learn who the Protheans truly were and the role they played. You get to see a fucking Thresher Queen headbutt a fucking Reaper into the fucking dirt jesus fucking christ. Regardless of its faults, what you play through in the game with the characters that you do comprise some of the most exciting and memorable sequence of events that I can recall this side of the last few years. That I played through it as my character, the character I’ve had since the start, alongside the friendships and companions I’ve endured years of events with... I can’t even begin to express how incredible it is, and how absolutely insurmountable it must have felt for the Bioware team to have to make all of that happen.

The sheer volume of collaboration and effort put into it is immeasurable. It’s nothing short of astonishing that it even happened and it feels insane that it culminated into something so incredibly awesome. Mass Effect is, without a doubt, my favorite videogame series. The lore, the games, the universe... everything about it is breathtaking in scope, and I am absolutely thrilled I got to be a part of it.

Runners Up: Sleeping Dogs for actually seeing the light of day, scrubbing yo momma down.

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And that's a wrap for today, folks! Come back tomorrow for Day 2, where five more categories will be named and awarded to their respective "winners".

14 Comments

My Top 10 Albums of 2012

Oh god, this is the first thing I've posted here since June. :| Uh... hey, guys. How's it going? Good? Great! I've been busy. Really busy. I'm in the final semester of my program and it's fucking killing us. Fortunately, it's winter break (5 weeks!) and though I've spent some of it sick, I also have been writing/making stuff for end-year listings. Hooray!

I've been meaning to do this for a while now but haven't because, previous to this year, my library has been lacking in the variety required for this. I'd find it a little shortsighted to compose a top 10 list if all I listened to was 10 albums and all of them were electro/dubstep. Alas, this year has brought many changes, some better than others, and one of them is that I've expanded my taste in music by leaps and bounds. It's made for an incredible year of discovery, one which I really want to share with everyone. Maybe I can introduce you to some really cool stuff, too! For each album, you'll find a Youtube vid of a song I find noteworthy on the album and a link to where you can purchase it. Have fun reading!

I originally did not want to include soundtracks on my list because OSTs work a little differently than a traditional album does. While some soundtracks can stand on their own really well, (see: Shatter’s soundtrack) the score is usually there to accompany and support a game, not to be the star of it. This year has some soundtracks I found to be really notable, so I included a few on my collective list (see: bottom of post later on) to make sure they got their due recognition.

It should probably speak some amount to how much I love the Journey soundtrack that I would place it above nearly every other album I've listened to this year. The multiple renditions of Journey’s cello theme is as beautiful a listen as you’ll have with any soundtrack this year, and the closing theme’s vocals will haunt you in the most profound way. The feeling will resonate so much more if you have played the game but even if you have not, the closing tracks of the soundtrack will bring emotion in you unlike anything else you could listen to this year.

That it is the best soundtrack this year in gaming alone is worth as much praise as it can get. That it can stand alone as a beautiful composition of music despite being an original score... that’s something special, and something I find to be incredibly deserving of the spot it’s at.

You can purchase the Journey Soundtrack digitally through iTunes for the fucking bargain-theft price of $4.99.

I cannot express how happy I am that my most anticipated album of the year turned out to be every bit as awesome as I expected it to be. I found out about Caster through Reddit, where one of the two band members posted their first ever track on r/electronicmusic. I rarely listen to self-posts on there because most people’s work is, well, average at best. It’s cool they’re trying but you can only hear so many FL Studio stems before you start to lose it.

That said, Caster’s post of “Wayward Youth” had a ton of upvotes and comments, despite the “this is our first track” title. Curiosity made me check it out and, like the rest of the community, I was absolutely floored. It was good. Really good. With that one track, I was excited at the prospect of a full album and, three months later, it is here.

The arid, atmospheric tracks on Caster have a texture and sound unlike anything else I've heard this year. The dark, electronic, low-frequency-filled melodies of the album are what I was missing from other artists in the electronic/idm genre this year and I couldn't be happier to have found it in the debut of two very obviously talented musicians.

You can download Caster's debut album at a pay-what-you-want rate (with no minimum) on their official Bandcamp. For the love of Christ, do so.

Here's an album where I feel slightly conflicted with in a way that doesn’t really affect how terrific it is. Army of Mushrooms is significantly more reserved than any other Infected Mushroom album before it, with sounds and rhythm a bit more reminiscent of modern electronic music. The beats are more straightforward, there’s less complexity in most of the tracks, and there’s probably more hints at dubstep than one might expect or appreciate.

In the hands of others, this could have made for a potentially disastrous follow-up to a terrific line of work. Infected Mushroom has, however, made an album that’s not only a good refresh of their sound but stands out in electronic music on its own. Their previous work is a bit less approachable than Army of Mushrooms is and if you’ve ever been curious to know about the magic of psytrance at work, this is the perfect entry point for you. “Never Mind” is about as tricky as the album gets and the remake of “The Messenger” puts a new take on one of their best songs to make it a version I like infinitely more.

The speed and general intensity of the album might be a little intimidating but it’s definitely worth checking out if you never have. If you’re not accustomed to psytrance, you’ll still enjoy the energy of the album. It’s frantic and fun, if not a bit ridiculous at times. And even better? Fans of Infected Mushroom won’t be disappointed by this either. It’s a terrific follow-up and even if it does play it a little safer than older albums, it still has their mark on it. That it can pull in a new direction and please two different crowds in such a niche genre is... well, that’s pretty rad.

You can buy Army of Mushrooms for $8.99 on Amazon MP3.

Only two years coming! Supposed to be a “sequel” of sorts to Orion, she finally decided to release Electric Girl in November and... yo, it’s pretty great. It’s a bit lacking in the creativity department, but it’s a lot punchier than his previous work-- something I appreciate much more this time around.

My problem with it, though, is the same reason why I love it. It’s pretty straight-forward, meaning there are essentially no interludes whatsoever. It’s one track after another, one full of the same energy as the last. There’s little-to-no downtime in the album, which Orion and Coloris both had plenty of. It helped establish a bit of a pace throughout them, but also made the harder hits fall flatter than they should have. Electric Girl does the complete opposite, omitting interludes to give a much more energetic pace... but the composition of it feels messy because of it. There’s little structure to the album, and the lack of breathing room in it makes it feel like a mish-mash of sounds, albeit all of them being great. The individual tracks are all, really, pretty terrific. Headshot is easily one of my favorite tunes this year, but as an album, it’s a little disorganised.

Which isn’t to say I don’t like it. Like I said, the individual tracks are all terrific. It’s not some of his best work, but it’s up there. I just wish the album were a bit more structured. If it had that, it’d probably be in my top 3.

You can buy Electric Girl on Amazon MP3 for $8.91.

I’d be lying if I said how to write anything about Eighty One. It’s an album that was thrown to me saying I needed to listen to it, so I did. And I loved it. It’s a pretty album in a genre I can’t exactly say I’m fluent in. ... Seriously, I’m struggling for words, here. It’s a really nice listen, especially if you’re travelling. I tend to flip to something else if I have it on whilst working, but most of my listens with it were either on public transit or in a car, and it suits both really well. There’s an airiness to it that makes it equate more to those situations, to me.

Really, it’s kind of an impressive feat that the entire thing is composed by a single person. Despite being the softest type of electronic rock, there’s plenty of reason in Eighty One to be excited for Yppah’s next album. The quality of work here is nothing short of stunning.

You can buy Eighty One on Ninja Tune's (its label) website digitally for around $8 USD, as well as a bunch of other formats suited to your liking.

The first of two white knights in the electronic umbrella of music. When I started the list, I had originally omitted EPs from it because, well, they aren't really albums. And this was supposed to be an album list. Only even back in its original form, I still included Metropolis Pt. 1 on this list, pretty much in the same spot. If anything else, The M Machine are a clear example of why electronic music is doing just fine and will continue to do just fine, despite the sore spot it’s in right now.

What I mean by that is relatively simple. As it stands now, there are three dominant sounds in popular electronic music. 1: Your typical dubstep (or brostep, if you’re an asshole) like Skrillex, Datsik, and Knife Party. 2: Your typical complextro like Mord Fustang, Archie, and Farleon. 3: Your typical electro house like Wolfgang Gartner, Zedd, and Gemini. The problem with all three of those is that while there are still its breakouts like Feed Me, Porter Robinson, and Madeon, they stick to their respective guns and don’t explore very much, if at all. This year has been a notoriously repetitive year, with some of the brightest artists releasing middling records that recycle the same sounds and flow as their previous work. It’s tiring and it’s occurring far too frequently. It’s effectively making me loathe a genre I really, really loved.

But then in came Metropolis Pt. 1. Having formed a little over a year ago, The M Machine delivers what is the most creatively inspired release of any of the aforementioned genres. Although exploring similar territory to their peers, Metropolis Pt. 1 has a variety of freshness to the familiar sounds that I found incredibly comforting and reassuring. From the aggressive start of “Immigrants” to the wobbly end of “A Shadow in the Rose Garden”, the six-track EP feeds the need of its respective genres while bringing creativity and melody to increasingly tired ideas. It’s not perfectly executed, with the middle falling short of its start and end, but it’s easily worth the listen if, like me, you feel electro is quickly becoming a shadow of its former self.

You can purchase Metropolis Pt. 1 on iTunes for $5.99.

And in comes the second white knight! In a year where I realised I’ve officially become really fucking tired with complextro comes a complextro album that completely fucking rocks my socks. I’d be lying if I said I was expecting much out of Nhato after the bevy of average remixes he’s produced over the years. Maybe it’s the lowered expectations that’s made the its mark on me so prominent, but even still, Etude is an album well worth listening to if you’re a fan of anything electronic, aggressive, punchy, and synthy.

There’s an energy to all of the tracks on Etude that I’ve had trouble finding in any other album this year. From the start, it just fucking goes and doesn’t stop ‘till it’s over. Even in tracks like “Asuka” where the music starts to die down a bit, it immediately resumes the pace tenfold with a sound that will just refuse to let go until your feet are tapping. That energy comes in a variety of sounds, some bordering a bit more of the trancey side, especially with tracks like “Chameleonic” and “Moonquake”, but the end result is an album that will inject some of the most infectious sounds into your brain. The long-form tracks all evolve, ending in a completely different manner from which they started, opting to get you moving instead of introducing subtlety where it’s not necessary.

I can only hope all of Nhato’s future productions are as powerful as Etude is. The 10-track album is, alongside the previous list item, one of the strongest arguments in favor of electronic music’s constant evolution. The critical mass may be drowning in a sea of repetitive dubstep and sample-heavy electro house, but there’s still hope.

You can purchase Nhato's Etude album on Beatport for $9.99.

I can’t say much of 2012 has been strong for IDM to me. Either by being a little disappointing or simply not being released, the genre’s left a weird mark on this year and it’s made me have to dig a bit to find stuff to listen to. Fortunately, this is the path that led me to Kashiwa Daisuke’s Re: album.

I missed his first album, 88, (Which should also be checked out. It’s a terrific piano album.) and Re: comes as his first full IDM release. It features some re-works of older compositions (namely, the “april” tracks) and some completely original ones, and both form together to make what is the most well-composed album I’ve listened to all year. It ends with a finish just as strong as its opening, both seamlessly transitioning from piano to glitch. Everything in between is a transition from the start to the end, with the album becoming more and more complex with hints of experimenting along the way. What starts as “Jazz pour une infante defunte” ends in a much more aggressive “Ajanagar”, before coming to a close “april.#20”.

… ouf. I sound pretentious. The album is beautiful. Here’s an example of it. Go listen to it, especially if you like some glitchiness amidst your piano compositions. You won’t be disappointed.

You can purchase Re: on iTunes for $9.99.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t really much care for metal, or variations thereof. I’ve always preferred synths and plugins over actual instruments, and that preference has made it so that the severity of the instrumentation found on a metal album has always been lost on me. Who cares if it sounds heavy, right? It’s just a louder sound with dudes yelling. Whatever.

That preference is probably what made my absolute love for Epicloud even more poignant to me. It’s obviously not as intense as most other metal I could be introduced to, (which, please, don’t) but that’s not why I enjoy Epicloud. Why the album is so goddamn amazing to me is because it’s fun. It’s an absolute blast to listen to because of how it’s structured, how it’s mixed, and how it’s presented. It’s not a metal album about metal shit. It’s a metal album love, emotions, life, fear, and confidence. “True North” immediately lets you know what you’re in for, “Lucky Animals” lets you know how serious it is, and “Liberation” lets you know how loud it’s going to be. The instrumentation is not something to run home about, but it’s the presentation that makes everything with Epicloud. Every track is mixed to sound massive, like you’re listening to it on a sound stage the size of a city block next to a crowd of 300,000 people. It’s just so energetic. Every time I hear the chorus in “Grace”, I want to just jump out of my chair and yell with my hands in the air in time to the shouts.

I don’t know if I could really like anything else other in the genre, because what I love about Epicloud seems so very specific to the album itself, but I am also perfectly fine with that. I don’t know if I would want anything else to be like it, really.

You can buy Epicloud for $9.49 on Amazon MP3.

I don’t think I could have ever fathomed that I would place an album like Shrines so high up on my list, let one take the top spot. There’s an appeal to indie-like electronic music that’s never really catered to me until about halfway into this year, where I just found some albums that really clicked with me. Out of all of them, however, Purity Ring’s debut stands above the rest. The 38 minute-long album is one of the best full listens I’ve had in recent memory, with an atmosphere and sound I just can’t stop listening to. It’s a sound I could see some find a little repetitive by the end, but it doesn’t work like a regular album would to me. Instead of extending through a variety of sounds to form one cohesive listen like a regular album would, it feels like a single image to me. It’s just one that’s interpreted multiple ways throughout its run. The end of the album feels like the start, only with the distinct sense that you’ve fully examined what was presented to you. The percussion, vocals, synths... they all have a striking resemblance with one another from song to song, yet it always feels like a different and new take on what you’ve been introduced to previously. It’s... like repetitiveness done the right way? I suppose that’s what makes a full, non-stop listen to it so incredibly enjoyable.

(Alternative youtube link for those with country restrictions)

That’s probably an awful way of describing it. Regardless, I absolutely adore it. The vocal work is masterful and it is mixed perfectly throughout its entirety. Some of its percussion work could be a bit more creative, and it has its low-points, (one track, thankfully) but Shrines is about as close to a masterpiece as I can think of for this year.

You can buy Shrines for $5.00 on Amazon MP3.

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And that's my top 10! Woo! Hope you've found something interesting in there, and if not, then... eh. Wh'evs. Opinions! I'd love to hear what were your favorites of the year-- I'm always up for discovering new stuff. If you'd like a look at my actual (and relatively long with 66 items on it) list of favorite albums this year, I have a list up on RateYourMusic that you can gawk at.

Thanks for reading, and see you guys next week for really stupid game of the year stuff! :'D

19 Comments

Device Connected - Episode 14 (25/06/2012)

Oh hey, somehow updating within a month’s time frame. RADICAL. Let's celebrate with a banner redesign.

Sorry I haven’t been keeping up with proper updating. I’ve been busy, fortunately with good things. I like being too busy with good things to do something else I enjoy doing. It’s like putting aside cake to eat delicious ice cream.

Or something.

Between doing a truck-load of artwork in both personal and professional capacities, gaming, discovering music, finishing my recovery from my wisdom teeth removal, and catching up on TV, I’ve had a busy time over this past June.

I’ve been doing a ton of artwork for various reasons, the biggest of which is the upcoming Otakuthon convention here in Montreal. From August 3rd to 5th, I will have a table at the artist’s alley for the first time! I’ll be selling a bunch of prints and posters, some of which I already completed!

I’m also working on a Diablo III piece which I plan on finishing by the start of next week. It’s a bit more involved and is taking me considerably more time than the Journey and Fez pieces did. After that comes some Persona 4, Portal 2, Batman, and Deus Ex stuff. I think. Not sure about Deus Ex yet. I’d do some actual anime stuff, but I literally haven’t watched any anime at all recently. People seem to be shitting themselves over The Legend of Korra, though. Maybe I should watch that. Maybe.

On the personal side of things, I’ve been doing a metric ton of birthday drawings because it seems everyone is born in the summer. Can’t complain--I love to draw--but it’s awfully bizarre to finish a drawing and have to do one the next day. Maybe parents secretly talk to each other to organize this type of shit.

I also drew myself again. A new playthrough of MGS 4 prompted me to attempt to draw something silly, and I ended up drawing what is probably my favorite drawing of me that I have ever done.

You should also check out Color Corrupt, the tumblr blog I have set up for art. I post there pretty often with art-related nonsense. Sketches, full drawings, commission work. It's a fun place. CHECK IT OUT, Y'ALL.

HEY VIDEOGAMES. I play those. I beat Shadow of the Colossus, which was awesome. The end of that game is something else. The last boss fight was easily one of the coolest monsters I have seen in a game recently. The mood, the music, the design--all of it tops.

But stupidly enough, what I have been playing most is Modern Warfare 3. Why? Face-Off maps came out on PS3 not too long ago. I would very seriously like to know who took the reigns over at Infinity Ward because they deserve a considerable amount of credit. The Face-Off maps are terrific and the game mode is a ton of fun. Oasis, the new multiplayer map, is also a ton of fun to play on in both TDM and Domination. It’s well-designed, flows well, and has a bunch of great spots to hawk over.

The content they’re also releasing later on (some of it already out for 360) is also terrific. The three new FO maps (Vortex, U-Turn, and Intersection) are all looking like a ton of fun too. Alongside that is the now-official news that a remake of Terminal is coming to the game for free, which I am ecstatic for. It was easily my favorite map from Modern Warfare 2. But seriously guys--free. FREE. In a Call of Duty game. Rumors of new guns and more new game modes are also very exciting. It’s a good time to be a Call of Duty fan, it seems.

I’ve also started playing through MGS 4 again. What a batshit crazy game that is. I had completely forgotten about the TV channels and shit at the start of the game, Drebin, nanomachines... you’d think the most insane people made that game, yet it plays so fucking well. I can’t wait to keep playing. If only I didn’t have so much art to make, argh!

I’m also thinking of selling my DSi and its some-twenty games I own for it.. I haven’t touched it in ages, and don’t plan to in the future. I need the money and I’m hardly dying to play anything on it. Then I could finally get Mass Effect 3, especially in lieu of the incoming Extended Cut DLC.

The past month has also been a terrific time to love music. Some killer releases and some discoveries have made June a ton of fun to listen to music. For starters, Starkey released a four-track EP called Nucleus this month for free on his Facebook page. I had been listening to Ear Drums and Black Holes a whole bunch that week, and then I saw him post on his Twitter of his new EP. It’s not bad. I can’t say I’m a fan of “Nucleus” (the song) but “Fantasy” is super-addictive. Proper Starkey right there. The two other tracks on the EP are alright, but “Fantasy” is the real star. I'd post a Youtube link, but no one has even posted the song. Bummer. :c You can get the EP for free, though, at his Facebook site.

The biggest of this month’s releases though is easily Netsky’s new album, 2. I... S... Li... Guys, this album is fucking amazing. I have no idea how he fucking does it, but I never could have imagined that a follow-up to his self-titled debut would have completely exceeded all of my expectations. It’s a fucking incredible DnB album with touches of dubstep, electro house, and drumstep--all of them insane. Here are my two favorite tracks off the album.

“Puppy” is so fucking pro. I can’t get it out of my head. I pause other albums just to have a quick listen because I compulsively need to listen to it. It’s amazing, just like the rest of the album. So good. SO GOOD.

I’ve also been going through stuff I should of really listened to earlier, like Skream and edIT. I don’t really need to dabble on Skream a lot because he’s such a known capacity, but it’s worth saying Outside the Box and Skream! are both incredible albums. Terrific to listen to. I’m particularly fond of this track off Outside the Box:

I should have also really listened to edIT way earlier than I have. I’ve only been recently starting to explore IDM (save for The Flashbulb’s stuff which I adore) so I decided to give Crying Over Pros for No Reason a try and my god, what an album. I don’t dislike a single track off it. So very strong.

His Certified Air Raid Material is also absolutely boss, despite the incredibly large difference in sound from Crying Over. Loud, heavy beats with killer vocal work. I love it! I think I like Crying Over a little bit more, but if I would want to see more of either, it’d be CARM. Easily. Here’s one of my favorites off the album:

What a season it’s been for F1! I should have written up a blog for Canada, as my hometown race was unbelievably exciting. Unpredictable all the way through and one of the most exciting ends I’ve seen. Kimi lasted 40 fucking laps on his tires! 40! Nuts. Iceman do what Iceman do, I guess!

But if there’s a race that everyone is going to talk about at the end of this year, it’s going to be Valencia. Street circuits are always a complete bore thanks to narrow roads, slow corners, and little overtaking, but last weekend’s race proved everyone wrong. A ton of contact, crazy position changes with Alonso, Webber, and Schumacher moving from the bottom of the grid up into the points, heart-racing battles for podium places, and a flurry of mechanical issues that heavily changed the end-outcome of the race.

But some of it... man. As much as I like Kobayashi, he pulled off some shameful shit in the race. I feel like his incident with Senna was a little of both’s faults, but his incident with Massa was clearly on him. Both those incidents were hardly as shameful as Maldonado’s, though. He continues to be a fucking embarrassment to Williams. His on-track performance can simply not make up for what an ass he is. Sending Hamilton off-track because he was too arrogant to back off when he was OFF THE TRACK is absolutely inexcusable.

I’m also pretty bummed that my man Grosjean had technical issues. :c He had a real fighting chance at first place, but I suppose that will have to wait for Britain. DOMINATE SILVERSTONE MAN. DO IT. For me. Please?

_______________________

That’s about all I can think of that I have to talk about right now. At least, I think.

Oh wait, no, there’s other stuff. But I can’t talk about that yet. Maybe next week. :)

See you then! (I hope)

___________

I'd also like to add the addendum: Thank you to everyone who posted on my last blog about IGTM. You are seriously the best. I fucking adore the Giant Bomb community. Thank you. <3

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Indie Game: The Movie, and the fan art that changed my life.

For those used to my usual blog posts: this is going to be a long one. It’s a heavily personal story, and is something I've held back on telling for a while now. To be fully honest, I wasn't sure how I’d even approach it, so I just never bothered. I was dealing with personal issues that prevented me from organizing my thoughts and making the effort needed to write this whole thing. However, with the public release of Indie Game: The Movie, I feel like now is as good a time as ever to tackle it. I am sorry if this is not the most well-written of stories, but I’ll certainly put as much of that B-grade college writing skill to use as possible. This is the story of how I went from being in a severe, crippling depression to a completely revitalisation of my outlook on life, friends, and future--all because I have an unabashed love for videogames.

It’s 2AM on a Sunday night (or Monday morning, if you’re a jerk about it) and I am sitting in front of my TV attempting to beat the last level of Super Meat Boy for the 500th time. I’ve been at it for close to two hours. I’m no longer wearing a shirt because I am sweating too much. My girlfriend is in the other room, infuriated that she can’t sleep because I keep yelling at my TV. My blood is boiling. I’ve never been so fucking angry at a game before, and yet I’ve never been so unable to let go of the controller. Figuring out the exact method to get over the smallest obstacle is intoxicating. After an additional hour of continued struggling, anger, venting, and perseverance, I beat the level. It’s finally over. One of the most rewarding and exciting experiences of my gaming life came to a close. Damn, what a great game.

SMB is all that is on my mind. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Shortly after the game’s launch, I sat in history class bored to tears and day dreamt of imaginary levels that I could be playing in the game. I needed to take the boredom out, and my fortunate position as an art student had a sketchbook and pencil already in my hands, so I got to drawing. Out of obsession towards the game and complete disregard for the Renaissance era of art, I drew a silly drawing of Meat Boy running and jumping off a platform. I even drew the game’s title card, because that was awesome to me. I finished it a few classes later, and showed it to my friends. They loved it! His silly grin is funny, and Dr. Fetus provided equal amounts of chuckles by flipping everyone off in the background. I loved the drawing. My friends loved it. My usual boredom in class had me checking my Twitter feed, scrolling through the enormous amount of praise Team Meat were receiving post-release. I told myself “You know what? I’m gonna show them the drawing. Maybe I’ll get an RT or something! Man, that’d be awesome!”, so I scanned the drawing when I got home and sent it to them. Moments later, I was greeted with this in my feed:

I was ecstatic. It’s their first fan art link! They linked it to everyone who watches them, and they replied to me! They told me they think it’s awesome, too! I felt so giddy! Of course, much better and crazier fanart has come since, but I still felt so special. It’s such a wonderful feeling to have people you admire applaud something you did out of love. It was exactly what I could have asked for, and I was thrilled.

A year passes since then. I continued my studies, I continued to play video games, and I continued to be in a struggling relationship. My partner was having doubts, yet I was growing more attached to her day by day. I went from being in a serious relationship mindset to something I wanted to commit to. Yes, that kind of commitment. However, she did not feel the same. I still think I secretly knew this, but chose to either ignore it, or talk about it as if it were a temporary issue. Her insecurities are for another story, but it is worth saying that they are reasonable. Shit, they are insecurities I am surprised she did not develop earlier. Just... normal stuff. But stuff I would not have ever expected out of her. Unfortunately, the great Brian Altano (Brrapp brrapp!) rang true when he said: “I’ve seen people who enter and exit a relationship as two completely different persons.” The problems came and went, which brought severe tone and mood swings to our relationship. It was wonderful at times, stressful in others. I managed, because I loved everything about her, but I am not sure she was able to manage anymore.

She returned from a trip with her friends at the start of the new year. It was the 2nd of the month, and we got together after being away from each other for about a week. It was a dreadful experience for me. I missed her every second she wasn’t there. I unfortunately learned she did not think the same that night, as she said it’s time for us to part ways. Within instants, my entire world was pulled out from underneath my feet. Over the years we were together, I had grown to appreciate everything in life because of the color she added to it. Within a single night, a single hour through a single sentence, all of that was taken away. Any reason I had to enjoy life vanished, along with any hope I had for our future. Instead of staring at a path that branched off into different directions, I was standing at the edge of a cliff, and land mines suddenly popped up from the ground behind me.

My friends sharing stupid garbage like this with me to make light of the situation... it helped. A lot.

The following days after that night did not help, either. It is, unfortunately, only in a dire situation that you will truly know which friends will always be there for you. An entire social circle abruptly closed when everyone who was friends with my girlfriend abandoned communication with me, with some even developing extreme hostility towards me. Fortunately, I had a very small group of friends who did stick by. They were there to talk to--to help me, and distract me. Some there to talk me out of very serious discussions regarding suicide, and others there to make me laugh, despite an unshakable urge to hate everything around me. Even with the few remaining friends I had left, never had I wanted so many people to leave me alone.

The real struggle I had to face was realising that I couldn’t rely on someone to fulfill my own happiness. I couldn’t have a single person be the center of my world, leaving myself and my friends out to dry. Having spent two years as happy as I had ever felt, it felt alien to me that one could enjoy life on its own merits. That I could enjoy a movie, or a walk outside, because of what I took from it, instead of what the person I loved took from it. I couldn’t understand it and, even when I had it explained to me, refused to because it just seemed crazy to me. How could I not want to feel happy through the channeled happiness of someone I truly cared for? I spent weeks thinking like this, hoping that the situation would somehow find a way to fix itself. When a semblance of acceptance would cross my mind, I would fall asleep at night and wake up from dreams where my girlfriend and I were still together. That everything was fine, or that things magically repaired themselves. I would wake up from a world I desperately wished existed, and would refuse to get out of bed because I knew the day had already started ruined. Nothing was clearly going to make me happy that day, so why even bother getting out of bed. My subconscious was actively trying to depress me, no matter the effort I made.

School started near the end of January, forcing me to actually get off my ass and approach the outside world. Everything reminded me of her. I suppose that comes naturally from spending almost every day with a person. I dislike how stupid hard it is to move on when things as trivial as a bus stop or street sign remind you of someone.

The depression continued for another month until my friends and family told me I should seek counselling. My past experiences with therapy were sub-par at best, boiling down to an overpaid housemaid telling me “Well, just get better.” Fortunately, the wonderful educational system here in Quebec (thanks to the tuition fees we pay--hurr hurr social commentary) allowed me to see a professional psychiatrist for free, scheduled on my own time in between classes. My plan was to go into the meetings and try to get my work, school, and home life back on track without really touching much on my relationship troubles. I suppose it is no surprise that I was trying to piece myself together as I explained what happened with my ex-girlfriend 20 minutes in.

This silly style I've made for myself... born out of a dumb joke between classmates.

Counselling continued on once a week for two months. One of the key things I needed to do to recover during that time was rebuild my social life. I had spent the past few years shutting myself in with a single person, failing to realize that there were other people I could connect with and open up with. I got closer to the friends that stuck by me, and opened up a bit more to the friends I had at school. I closed myself off from them for the longest time, fearing the complexity of having to juggle between time with friends at school and time with my girlfriend. I love them and they are great people, but that is something I know now because I made the effort to get closer. I was rebuilding, and it did wonders. By the end of April, I was already starting to forget things like her address or what kind of clothes she’d wear. The process was, finally, beginning.

During this time is when I also started talking with some fellow Giant Bomb users, Ossi and CommodoreGroovy, about a project they were working on. They’ve been wanting to make this game for some time, and they needed an artist. We all hang out in an IRC chat pretty often, so I was asked if I want to be the guy they need. I have this free time now to chase my ambitions, so why not! I mean, shit, this is kind of what I had always dreamt of doing. Now was certainly a good time to start, especially if it’s with a group of friends I trust. We continued talking, and I was eventually onboard. Radical!

Somewhere in the tail end of April, my friend Paul and I went to see The Raid: Redemption (which was fucking awesome, by the way) and as we left the theatre, I noticed a sign advertising a one-night only screening of Indie Game: The Movie, on May 3rd, at the movie theatre we were just in. I flipped. Finally, my chance had come to see the documentary I had heard the Giant Bomb crew, along with other game journalists, raving about after seeing the premiere US screening in San Francisco. I let one of my friends from class know, since we both share a strong love of all things indie. We bought our tickets in advance, the conversation to do so prompting another friend from class to ask if she could join. May 3rd eventually rolled around, and the three of us stayed after class downtown to wait for the movie’s screening at 9PM. We met up with another friend from class along the way, who we invited to see the movie with us. It’s late, we had a long day, why not go see a movie? He gladly joined, and we were off to the theatre.

An accurate portrayal of the first five minutes of our showing.

The screening of the movie was a special event across all of Canada. They were showing the movie in person in Toronto and projected it in other movie theatres across Canada... via satellite. You know, the most reliable of technologies. It baffled me that they couldn’t just use broadband or something, since we were plagued with A/V breakup the whole night. The movie was, thankfully, still watchable.

Indie Game: The Movie is great. It is a well-executed, directed, edited, and structured documentary about the trials and tribulations of independent development. I’m not a movie critic, or a critic at all, really, so I’ll avoid that stuff. All you need to know about the movie from a critical standpoint is that if you have any kind of interest in games, especially game development, you should watch it. If you haven’t already, that is.

The drawing that started it all.

About half-way through the movie, the focus switches to Team Meat and the release of their game on XBLA. The reception is universally positive and the movie accurately reflects it. Silly clips from Giant Bomb and incredibly high scores on aggregate sites are all displayed on the screen. The scene continues on to show Edmund staring at his monitor as he excitedly remarks about “this fan art they just got”. The camera cuts away to the monitor and shows a Twitter post. My post. Full screen. I saw, for the first time in my life, my artwork across a 22-feet tall movie screen. I fucking instantly lost it. I flipped out, shouting “Oh my god!!” as loud as I could without alerting the entire audience. I glanced over to my right and saw my friends also flipping out, recognizing the artwork. My heart was racing. It was beating faster than I could count. My coat got really warm all of a sudden. Way too excited. I just saw my artwork on a fucking movie screen in a fucking movie about fucking video games holy shit fuck shit.

I continued to watch the movie, wearing an uncontrollably excited grin on my face the whole time. It begins to close out, turning to Edmund once last time to finish the Team Meat chapter. He talks about the surreal experience of the game’s development and how he wishes that he can do to others what those who inspired him did for his work. That if he’s able to inspire someone from the work he does, then it’s worth it all. The movie cuts to the artwork again, properly displayed across the full screen once more. The Team Meat chapter ends, and I sat in my chair just completely speechless. Well, speechless in both mind and body. I couldn’t really talk during the movie. … You know what I mean, shut up.

As the movie ended and we all get up to leave, a man tapped my shoulder from behind me and asked me “Hey, was that really your artwork? I saw you flip out when they showed it.” I excitedly told him yes, that I drew the silly thing in history class this one day. He smiled from ear to ear and said “That’s fucking awesome, dude!” and gave the best high-five. My friends and I regrouped in the lobby from the disorderly exit, and we all instantly jumped to the art. I was standing and pacing, unable to contain what I just saw as they all shared the excitement of seeing a friend’s art in a movie. One of my friends, Kaifu, was flipping out and took it out on me by hugging me, as did my other friend Marysa. We started leaving the theatre with smiles across all our faces. I opened the door to the outside world and after taking a few steps on the sidewalk, I closed my eyes and just thought about what had happened. I thought back on everything I’d been through for the past few months. How shitty I’d felt, how much self-loathing and regret and pain I put myself through through because of stupid actions and stupider reactions. I thought about all of that, the movie, the hugs--all within a split second--and I breathed in. I took a deep breath in, and I said: “The air has never felt so fresh.”

I spent the next few days intermittently thinking about what had just happened, continuously realising how much more insane the reality of it actually was. Not only was my artwork was in a movie, but it was in a Sundance award-winning movie. Fucking whoa. (Mind you, my art had nothing to do with it winning the award, but still holy shit.)

When I got home the night after the movie, I sent an email to the filmmakers, James and Lisanne. I contacted them telling them I was at the screening and that I was absolutely ecstatic about seeing my art in the movie. Three days later, I got a reply from James. He’s thrilled! They had actually tried tracking me down, but Twitter unfortunately auto-deletes posts after two-three months so tracking down the post (if you are not, you know, the guy who posted it) is near-impossible. They were thrilled to hear from me and made the changes to the movie, putting my name in the credits for the DVD/Steam version. (Oh no, now you all know my real name. Drat!)

Holy shit holy shit holy shit.

Then I got another email from James. He had missed a part in my email, which he felt like re-reading. I wrote in my letter:

The movie was amazing, and I can't commend the both of you enough on just how much of a moral boost it was for me. Both as someone who was really waiting for a feel good moment after losing someone incredibly important earlier this year, and as someone who aspires to one day play the role of those featured in the documentary.

I would honestly really like to direct-quote the email he sent to me, but I feel like it would invade a certain amount of privacy I’m not comfortable doing. What he did write, however, was striking. He was unbelievably happy that their movie was able to help me cope and recover with a difficult situation, because the drawing I posted on Twitter was a part of helping him cope with a difficult situation of his. He told me he had learned of some unfortunate news the morning of the shoot, and that the flood of positive reactions topped off with my fan art “helped turn that scene into something of pure joy & inspiration”.

Fuck yeah ampersand.

I sat in my bed, re-reading the emails over and over, realising the reality of the exchange I just had. Not only was my drawing in a movie, not only did I get to see the true, live reaction of Team Meat towards my drawing, not only did I get to experience complete satisfactory bliss of seeing something of yours on a big screen... but my drawing was also able to affect someone. They created an emotional attachment to it, because they associated it to something that truly helped them. Nothing could have prepared me for realising just how incredible that is. Even now, it still seems kind of crazy to me. Not that anyone who would do such a thing are crazy, but that it could happen to me.

And that’s not the only massive realisation I had. What Edmund said at the end of the movie... it struck a chord. That he wishes he could inspire someone to do what he does through what he loves to do. I sat in the cinema listening to him realising that I am that person. I wouldn’t be working on a game now if I didn’t get the moral boost from the movie. That drive to do something great. As soon as I heard him say those words, I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I’m an artist. I love to draw. I love to draw pretty things. I love to draw silly things. Most importantly, I love to make people happy. I want to be like Edmund. I want to be the artist who pours his soul into something he loves and believes in. I want to make people happy through something I love.

I wouldn't have this piece of concept art to post if it wasn't for IGTM.

All of this is thanks to Indie Game: The Movie, and none of this would have happened had I not drawn that silly fan art. I have a direction ahead of me, now. I know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ve recovered, I’m happy, and the future has never seemed so bright. Google themselves don’t have the storage space required to store all the “thank you”s I would need to accurately convey my feelings towards James and Lisanne, Edmund, Tommy, Phil, Jon... all of them. They are inspirations to me, and this entire experience will stick with me forever.

After months of crushing unhappiness, I feel complete. And for the first time, it’s not because I’m eating delicious chips.

__________

Edit: I figure it's worth adding -- the original drawing is no longer in my possession. I've mailed it to James and Lisanne, so that it can be in the hands of someone who holds a true emotional connection with it. It is a better home for it than the bottom of old sketchbook. I also had to pay back their kindness, as they were wonderful enough to send me notebooks, a t-shirt, a poster, and a special edition DVD copy of the movie. :]

__________

Second ninja edit: Thank you so much for your kind words, guys. I've been in tears for the majority of this evening from just how incredible, supportive, kind, and caring some of you really are, both here and on Twitter. I love you all.

Also, I will be attending the Otakuthon 2012 convention in Montreal this year. I will have a table at the artist's alley, and will most likely be wearing a black hat with a blue NASA t-shirt. If you see me, say hi! Shit, mention you're from Giant Bomb, and I'll give you a discount! :D

170 Comments

Device Connected - Episode 13 (8/7/2012)

Well, it certainly has been a while, hasn’t it. I’d make up some excuse but honestly, I have none. I’ve just been busy, and have decided to pay more attention to the thing that deserve it. Or, need it, rather. That said, it’s summer break, so why not actually update for once.

I had the misfortune of having all four of my wisdom teeth pulled out on Wednesday. Pain, guys. So much pain.

On the bright side, the procedure is over and I can forget about it forever. Once the next two weeks have passed, I’ll be clear of having to re-live this misery again. I’m “blessed” with a greater sensitivity to pain, so it’s been a wonderful ride of nerve-damaged torture over here. For once, it’s illegal in Quebec (maybe even Canada) to knock you out with gas for dental procedures. Something about the risk of death being too high. My argument that it’s as likely for me to get hit by a car when going home did not impress the dentist’s assistant. Instead, they freeze the area of operation and let you stay awake for the whole thing. Fun! They froze everything as much as possible, but I still felt inordinate amounts of pain for three of the four teeth. While I didn’t feel “sharp” pain, the pressure from the dentist cramming tools into my mouth and pulling out the teeth was enough to have me shaking the entire time.

Accurate description of me, in pain, in my room.

When I got home, I was white as a sheet. I was in constant pain, and it took hours for my painkillers to kick in. I was pacing back-and-forth in my house, intermittently yelling and shaking because the pain was just too much to deal with. Fortunately, after three hours of awful, awful pain, the painkillers kicked in. And by painkillers, I mean Oxy. Things were pretty... “colorful”, let’s say.

The other unpleasant business was constantly spitting blood every minute. I’m surprised I didn’t faint from loss of blood considering that I was evacuating it by the bucketload. Certainly felt weak, that’s for sure.

A day later, and it’s better now. Pain is still there, though it’s more like a constant nuisance now. Painkillers and ice cream is doing wonders as opposed to yesterday. Though pain or not, I cannot wait to eat solid food again. Dump a fat burger into my mouth... fuck. Can’t wait.

Later edit: It's two days later now. My jaw has swelled up. I look like a chubby teenager, and I can barely open my mouth. It's not very painful, but it feels like my jaw is going to asplode at any moment. Then again, I'm on painkillers, so who knows, really.

School’s also taken up a fuck-load of my time. Second year is done with, finally. The last few months were really taking their toll. I could barely leave my house I had such a massive stack of homework. Designing a classroom layout, reproducing a Vermeer painting in actual paint, building and painting a creature, designing a travel poster... So much work. But, it’s over with, and I passed all my classes. Woo!

I’ve also taken up artwork a lot more, recently. I’ve done some actual work, but I’ve mostly been drawing some silly drawings of myself. What started as me cribbing the Adventure Time style has slowly started turning into my own thing, and I love it. It’s the best way to just... chill out and doodle. I love making complex, pretty pieces, but there’s an entirely different kind of enjoyment out of drawing something I can look at and just laugh and like.

For example, I did this big piece not too long ago. I like it a lot, but it also took me something close to twenty hours to make. I am also fine with investing that time, but I also made this piece that took me about an hour and a half, which I totally love. This one, done for a friend of mine (NSFW), also took me about the same time. They’re fun and silly, look neat, and a ton of fun to draw. I get the same amount of enjoyment out them than I do out of drawing something super complicated, and I don’t know how that makes me feel. I almost want to stop making complicated stuff for a while and just do dumb stuff like this.

But alas, I can’t. I have a table at Otakuthon this year, and some serious fan art is in order. Journey, Diablo 3, FEZ, Persona... A bunch of prints will be drawn, and you can come buy them! :D

Also, I've set myself up a Tumblr for me to post artwork stuff on. There won't be many updates coming within the next few days, because I can't really draw in my wisdom-tooth-pain condition. I can barely lean forward, let alone concentrate on a drawing.

After owning Ico and Shadow of the Colossus on the PS2 for many years and never getting around to beating either, I ended up borrowing the HD collection from a friend. After a surprisingly short 5 hours, I beat Ico. I... I had mixed feelings on the game.

YORDAAAAAAA

I suppose that is partly due to having the game revered as a classic this whole time, and going into it in a time where it probably doesn’t hold up as great as it did back then. I adore the minimalist presentation and the lack of serious story exposition, but the combat is fucking terrible. Early on, I almost completely gave up on playing it it was so infuriating. Fending off hoards of shadow-men for 20 minutes because your stick is a garbage weapon is not fun, and I seriously doubt it ever was. There is just too much combat, and the only way I got to get through it was by getting the two-hit kill mace.

That said, the last sequence is brilliant. The lack of save points is... odd, but I feel like the game would have benefited so much more by taking that approach than its combat-heavy start. The final boss fight was great, and the presentation was just terrific. Loved it. The end certainly made up for the early passings of the game.

Shadow of the Colossus, on the other hand, is just as wonderful as I remembered it being. I played it originally on the PS2 around its launch, and got up to the 9th colossus until I stopped playing for some reason. I’m back to that spot now, and I’m more excited than ever to finish it. The cinematic quality of the game is astounding. The music, the presentation, the camera, and the gameplay mechanics all compliment each other so well. Truly brilliant. While I can appreciate Ico, SOTC is the true classic, here.

Probably at the top of my summer bucket list was Parasite Eve, a game I’ve owned forever and never got around to playing. Unfortunately, I got myself stuck in the game, but I’ve certainly got thoughts about it.

LOOK AT THAT BACKGROUND. SO REAL.

For one, it’s really made me miss the PS1-era of RPG presentation. Where all the backgrounds were pre-rendered in 3DS Max with student-level effects, where the HUD was complex and unnecessary, where gameplay and presentation truly started to balance out in importance. I feel like if something was going to come back in some nostalgia pull, this is the thing that should be it. Quick, everyone! Learn 3DS Max and only use Blinn textures! WE’LL MAKE IT HAPPEN. The gameplay is also a lot of fun. I love the battle system, and the pacing is pretty great. My only real problem with the game is the lack of direction, as the game isn’t always 100% clear on where you should be heading next.

Case in point: where I am stuck. At the start of Day 5, you are given the option to go to either Chinatown or a warehouse, with no clear indication of where the story progresses from there. I went into the warehouse, not knowing that this is actually an optional dungeon that should be entered after the Chinatown area, because you will be too underleveled otherwise. I got into the dungeon, fought the first encounter and ran into a room with a locked door. I saved in that room, stupidly without making a backup save. The key to unlock the door is in the room with the first encounter, which I need to re-fight in order to exit the warehouse/get the key, yet I cannot get past that fight because the enemies just completely decimate me. All of this could've been avoided had I not gone to the warehouse, but such is my luck.

Other than that, though, the game is super cool. I love the story and its bizarre pseudo-science, the characters are pretty cool, and like I said, the gameplay is great. Just a shame I got myself stuck so far in. I don’t know if I’m ready to go ahead and re-start the game just yet, or in a while. :(

The last game I cleared off my bucket list was Midnight Club II. Rockstar recently gave away free copies of the game for PC, and boy, let me tell you: that Midnight Club II sure is a fucking great game.

I’d imagine it’s worth noting that Midnight Club II has been my favorite racing game since I originally played it on PS2. The car selection, the open world, the cities, the characters, the super-tight controls, gameplay mechanics, hidden passages... everything about the game is pure arcade-racer bliss. And the best news? None of that has changed since. Despite coming out almost a decade ago, the game’s strengths continue to be incredibly strong.

The controls on the Tokyo Cop Car are insane. It's like driving on a dime ALL THE TIME. So fun.

I loved playing through it again, and it made me sad that I had completed it so fast. It took me somewhere around 15 hours to complete, but those hours just completely flew by. The game takes a steep difficulty climb when you reach Tokyo, but you’ll have acquired so many skills by then that shortcuts, maneuvers... they all just happen. Like some bizarre sixth sense. Mind you, memorization is also a very strong factor in winning races later on--pure skill can only take you so far. Either way, it’s an insane challenge and it felt so rewarding to beat the game.

There’s just something about it, too... the style of it. That early 2000’s-era of arcade racers, where you needed little context to actually justify anything about the game. Just drive! Why can you control your car in the air? I don’t know, you just can! This car can accelerate faster than an F1 car? Whatever, man! It’s not a sim! That pure, fun-ass arcade experience... I don’t know who’s keeping that alive anymore, and that bums me out some.

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That's it for this edition of the blog. Maybe I'll update next week. Hopefully. That'd be cool, right? I don't know, we'll see. Life's hectic at the moment. A set schedule for this stuff doesn't always work, especially not as of late. Whatever the case, it won't be the last you hear from me. Keep up with me on Twitter or Tumblr for the time being, I suppose. :)

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Device Connected - Epsiode 12 (4/5/2012)

Early update, but not really an actual update.

I'm sincerely sorry for not keeping up with this, but the past few weeks have been insanity. My work load with school has been crazy, and will continue to be crazy for another week. Thankfully though, my semester ends on the 10th. When it's over, I plan on actually making a proper update to the blog, talking about a bunch of neat shit like FEZ, Indie Game: The Movie, and whatever else I can think of. A reflection on my semester, too, maybe.

For now, sit tight. I'll be back soon. Promiiiiiiiiiise. Have a funny video, again, to pass the time. :)

Love you!

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