Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 16th

Behind today's door on the Blogvent Calendar, I've hidden something pretty special. You may remember that on Day 12 I shared a bit of information about some songs I've been working on, under the umbrella of a concept album called Project 17. Well, today I bit the bullet and released them. Yep, the album I've spent all this time working on is now finally a thing that you can listen to, download, and even pay for, if you're one of those crazy people who pays for music on the internet.

Project 17 is the culmination of almost two years of work on my part. I started writing the lyrics to the project in early 2012, and when it became apparent I wouldn't be able to bring my old band back together to set it to music, I started composing my own at the start of 2013. For the ideas and concepts that I've spent the last couple of years honing and crafting to finally be available as fifty minutes of actual music is still pretty mind-blowing to me. Considering I am self-taught on every instrument I play and know next to nothing about music theory, the fact that it is fairly listenable is even more mind-blowing. I am intensely proud of this accomplishment, and I'm very excited to finally be sharing it with the rest of the world.

I've included a link to my Bandcamp page in this blog post, where you can pick up a copy of Project 17, if you wish. It's available on a 'pay-what-you-want' basis, with no minimum spend. I don't expect people to pay for it - in fact, I fully encourage you to download it for free, so there's no chance of anyone feeling like they've paid over the odds for a dozen tracks recorded ad-hoc in a British dude's bedroom. To be honest, I just want as many people as possible to hear what I've been working on and recognise how proud I am of it. If you want to throw some comments my way I'll happily receive them. If any of this has piqued your interest, you can find Project 17 available to stream and download here.

Thanks very much for reading (and hopefully listening) guys. Take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Assassin's Creed: Revelations (X360)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 15th

Once again, I've left it ridiculously late to throw anything up here for Blogvent. I've spent the evening with a group of good friends, doing our pre-Christmas gift exchange. For lack of anything else to write about tonight, I thought I'd just share some of the awesome presents that I got from them. Maybe tomorrow I'll be able to get some photos of the gifts to put up here as well.

  • My friend Jon got me what appeared on first glance to be a Game Boy cartridge, an out-dated handheld version of Earthworm Jim. On closer inspection, though, it wasn't a game cartridge at all, but a bar of hand soap shaped to look like one. A really awesome little novelty gift.
  • Another friend, Dean, gifted me a book full of extraordinary facts about cricket. I'm a player of the sport, and casual follower of the national team (although not so much right now - all that stuff going on in Australia at the moment is a little bit embarrassing), so it was a nice thoughtful gift on his part. There's no sport better suited to weird and wonderful happenings than cricket, so I'm sure it will be a very interesting read as well.
  • A third friend, Tom, presented me with a Simpsons DVD containing an episode featuring The Who. They're my favourite band by a huge margin, and I've never seen the episode before, so I'll definitely be putting that on some time soon. He also got me a T-shirt modelled after the 'Keep Calm & Carry On' slogan, but with a highly appropriate twist - it's Pokémon-themed. The shirt reads 'Keep Calm &', and underneath has a picture of a sleeping Snorlax. I'll definitely be wearing that to darts tomorrow night.
  • A fourth friend, Duncan, hit me with a double-whammy of games to add to my collection. He bought me copies of Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate for the 3DS, and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance on Xbox 360. I hope to tackle both in 2014, although given my Metal Gear Madness run earlier this year, Metal Gear Rising is probably the highest priority of the two.

We had an awesome evening, as we always do at our gatherings. Lots of Mario Kart Wii was played, and plenty of discussions about Pokémon X and Y were had (Tom recently got a 3DS and a copy of Y, so we're on hand to answer any questions he might have). I already can't wait for next year.

Dan

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Currently playing - Assassin's Creed: Revelations (X360)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 14th

It is late. I've just got back from an awesome night playing music I love to an audience that seemed to love us. I am also rather drunk. So for tonight, I'm afraid there won't be a sizeable contribution to Blogvent. I'll write something substantial tomorrow. Instead, have this cool picture of us being a band and playing songs quite well. You can't see me, but I am doing awesome drums just behind the singer in the middle:

Good night guys. You're awesome.

Dan

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Currently playing - Drums in Sudden Gunfire (and fucking loving it)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 13th

It's been a long week. I'm absolutely exhausted and fit to drop, but first I'm going to muster up the last few ounces of my waking strength to put together today's Blogvent contribution. It'll be a short one, structured with bullet points and not really about anything in particular. As long as you're prepared for nonsensical rambling, let's continue, shall we?

  • I'm now six badges to the good in Pokémon White, and well on track to finish the game in time for the launch of Pokémon Bank on the 27th of this month. When I've beaten the Elite Four I can migrate everything I caught in LeafGreen, SoulSilver, Emerald and Platinum into my White cartridge, ready to make the all-important journey into Y so I can finally keep track of all my owned Pokémon in one place. I still stand by my original opinion of White from when I first played it nearly three years ago, by the way - it's a pretty underwhelming journey as far as the archetypal Pokémon quest goes. This time though, I plan to get stuck into some of the post-game content, and I'm told that's where these fifth generation games really shine.
  • I am still really liking A Link Between Worlds (whenever I can put down Pokémon for long enough to remember that I'm playing it). I don't really have anything else to add. Just wanted to remind you all that I'm playing it, and it's great.
  • I haven't played any more of Assassin's Creed: Revelations since I started it over a week ago. I don't really have anything else to add. Just wanted to remind myself that I should be playing it, because it's probably great.
  • I managed to get tickets today to go and see a band called The Temperance Movement in April of next year. They're an awesome British blues-rock band with shades of artists like The Black Crowes and the Eagles in their sound. Their self-titled debut is one of my favourite albums of this year, and I cannot wait to see the band performing them live.
  • It's now less than twenty-four hours until my band Sudden Gunfire take to an actual stage for the first time ever, to play as part of a huge local charity event. Excitement is still outweighing nerves at the moment, but that's likely to have changed by early afternoon tomorrow. Hopefully come Sunday I'll have a few videos of the evening to share.

That will do. Tired. Sleepy time. Thanks. Reading. See. Around.

Dan

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Currently playing - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 12th

As a rule, I try to keep any piece of writing that isn't video game related off of Giant Bomb these days. This is a website about video games, after all, and I have a personal writer's blog for all that other stuff. Over the last couple of weeks, though, this self-imposed and horribly titled Blogvent thing has forced me to re-think that rule slightly. Results, it's fair to say, have been mixed. Yesterday's post, a tedious diatribe about the woes of writing Christmas cards, is one prime example of how not to write off-topic on a video game website. Hopefully today's post will make amends. It's not video game related, but hopefully it's still pretty cool.

Two years ago, not long after breaking up with my last girlfriend, I met up with an old school friend for dinner. We used to be in a band together back in school - nothing impressive, just a trio of teenagers with instruments and a modicum of talent that in no way matched our delusions of grandeur. Over what I still remember being the best roast pork dinner I've ever had, my friend offered me some advice on how to start fixing up my newly-broken heart. "Write about it," he said. "Write songs, if you can. Then we'll try and get the old band back together and do something with them."

So I did.

Through 2012 I gradually built up a lyrical repertoire of about twenty songs, most of them inspired by the three-year-relationship I'd come out of, partly hoping that getting those feelings down on paper might bring about a bit of cathartic release. When it became apparent that the old band wasn't getting back together on the back of this new material, I decided to go the rest of the way on my own too. I picked up a guitar at the beginning of this year and started learning - nothing complicated, just enough simple chord progressions to start putting songs together. By October I'd whittled down the running order to twelve tracks, all with fully composed musical accompaniment, and set about recording everything one instrument at a time.

The result, a full-length album I'm calling Project 17, is now almost finished. I have a few more tweaks to make, and some vocals I'm not happy with to re-record, but those issues aside it's pretty much good to go. And do you know what? I'm pretty damn proud of it. Sure, it's no Dark Side of the Moon or OK Computer, but for a one-guy-in-his-bedroom job, I think it's turned out alright. I'm hoping to have it out before year's end as a pay-what-you-want digital download on Bandcamp. Until then, I'm going to let Project 17 take that tentative first step into the waters of the internet right here on Giant Bomb. I've linked to The Wicker Man, one of the songs on the album, below (I wanted to embed it, but apparently Giant Bomb's 'insert HTML' button has disappeared). If you'd care to share any thoughts or constructive criticism, feel free. There probably won't be a sophomore album I can apply it to, but it's still good to get feedback.

The Wicker Man, by Dan Kempster

Thanks for reading (and listening) guys. Take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 11th

Today, when I finished work, I came home, sat down and made the list.

You know which list I'm talking about. The list. The one made up of names, every one of which corresponds to a person or family to which you're planning to send a Christmas card this year. The list.

I haven't made the list for about eight or nine years now. The last time I handed out Christmas cards en masse was in secondary school, when card-giving was less of a genuine well-wishing sentiment and more of a popularity contest. Back then making the list was a cinch, because it essentially amounted to your classmates. Sure, there were a few outlying friends from other classes, and you tended not to bother with the girl who was never there, but for the most part the list was identical to the register your form tutor used to read at morning roll call.

Unsurprisingly, I move in different circles these days. Multiple circles. There are old school friends, sure, but they only make up one sub-category in the wider context of the list these days. Now there are work colleagues, those who I play darts with (two different teams on two different nights), the folks in my band, extended family that I can no longer get away with by proxy when my parents do their Christmas cards... the list has pervaded every facet of my life. Partners, spouses, children - all have to be included within this modernised version of the list.

With this new-found diversity comes the realisation that distributing these cards is also going to be a much bigger chore. Gone are the days when I could lug all thirty of my written Christmas cards into school in my backpack and hand them out in a single day. Just as the list has to be sub-categorised, so too must the cards themselves - sorted into different piles, which must be taken to different places and handed out at different times. The apparently simple, well-meaning act of sending Christmas cards has become a strategic operation requiring military planning precision.

I am due to sit down and write all of the cards outlined on the list. After that, I think I may not bother for another eight or nine years. Thanks for reading guys, take care and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon White (DS)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 10th

Hey guys. I'm at a bit of a loss for a single specific thing to write about at length for the tenth day of Blogvent (a pun that I feel more ashamed of every time I type it), so today's blog is going to be a jumble of different things. I'll try to keep it somewhat organised. Now where'd I put those bullet points...?

  • I finally trained my first level 100 Pokémon in Pokémon Y on Sunday. My Blaziken crossed that esteemed threshold during a series of rematches with the Elite Four. Incredibly, this isn't just my first maxed-out Pokémon in the latest game in the series, but my first maxed-out Pokémon ever. Yep, despite making my way through a total of five Pokémon games this year (and counting), I haven't trained a single Pokémon to its fullest. I have owned lv100 Pokémon in the past, but they were obtained way back in Blue through the fabled 'Missingno./Infinite Rare Candies' glitch, so I'm not counting those as legitimately trained. It's a cool feeling, and if my tendency to relapse into Y is any indication, I'm sure little ol' Blaziken will be the first of many lv100s to grace this gamesave.
  • A Link Between Worlds moves on a-pace, when I remember it's on my 3DS and elect to play it instead of Pokémon. I've now arrived in Lorule, the pseudo-Dark World that houses the back end of the game's seven dungeons. With so much of the game world open to me, I'm a bit daunted as to which of those dungeons to tackle first (if anybody here cares to recommend a good starting point, I'd be grateful). I am still loving everything about the game, and unless some aspect of it takes a nose-dive beyond this point, I don't see that changing.
  • Assassin's Creed: Revelations is still a thing that is a game which I am playing. I just haven't picked it up in almost a week. Man, I really need to put some time into that, I don't want to break the upheld tradition of beating one Assassin's Creed game a year since 2010.
  • Having finished listening to The Stand over the weekend, I've decided to return to physical books for my next read, and have picked up my tattered old copy of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights (American readers may know it better as The Golden Compass). The His Dark Materials trilogy was one of my favourite series as a kid, but it's been a long time since I last read it, and I've been meaning to return to it for a while. I'm only four chapters in, but I'm already feeling nostalgic comfort at being reunited with Lyra, Lord Asriel and their daemons. I'm looking forward to getting swept up in that epic journey to the North all over again.
  • Tonight is the last band practice before the upcoming gig I mentioned on Day 4 of Blogvent. I think we're completely settled on a set list now, which is set to include Creedence Clearwater Revival's Fortunate Son, Clutch's Cypress Grove, and a rip-roaring AC/DC medley to close. The nerves are starting to bed in now, as the prospect of playing to almost four hundred people becomes a bit more real, but I'm still hugely excited to get up there and show the whole town what we can do.

Right, that's yer lot. I start work at 2, so I'd better go and get ready. Thanks for reading guys, take care, and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon White (DS)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 9th

Buying gifts for family is a nightmare.

I thought seeking out presents for my friends would be difficult, and to an extent it was, but I found that potential ideas came much more easily there. We're friends for a reason - we know each other well, we have similar likes and dislikes (to an extent), and that's an advantage when it comes to looking for things to get them. I can source gifts that represent the common ground we share, safe in the knowledge that if I'd be happy to receive them, chances are my friends will be too. Hell, half the presents sitting wrapped up in the corner of my room with friends' names on them are things that I'm tempted to tear the wrapping off and claim as my own. I won't, of course (time for giving, and all that), but it serves to illustrate my point - people you know well are actually pretty easy to buy for.

Based on this logic, you'd think that family would be even easier to buy for. Especially my immediate family - these are the people I've been in the more-or-less constant company of for pretty much my whole life. But when it comes to searching for the 'perfect present' for my parents and sisters, I hit a complete mental block. Sure, I know these people, but we lack those common interests that make buying for friends that little bit easier. For example, my mother loves to read, but I never know what kind of book she's looking to pick up next. My youngest sister watches a lot of TV and movies, but her DVD collection is so extensive and kept ritualistically current that I doubt there are any gaps I could fill in. My other sister, the middle child of us three, has said she would like 'a nice bath set', but as a clueless bloke I have no idea which bath sets qualify as 'nice'. Even my two-month-old niece, whose only immediate desire is to be kept out of soiled nappies and topped-up with formula milk, is proving difficult to buy for.

Easily the most problematic proposition this year is finding a gift for my father. I know him fairly well, I'd like to think - I know what kind of books he likes (historical non-fiction and sporting biographies), what TV programmes he watches (Spartacus, Band of Brothers and Ice Road Truckers are his favourites), what music he likes to listen to (The Who, The Jam, Madness, and *ugh* Adele), and how he likes to pass his free time (playing darts in the winter and cricket in the summer). But despite this fairly comprehensive knowledge of his preferences, he's impossible to buy for. In recent years I've bought him books, DVDs, music albums and clothing, none of which have seen the light of day since they were given. The impossibility of buying for my dad has even started to manifest itself physically in a cupboard in the dining room, a shrine built of holiday gifts left to gather dust without ever being sampled. This year I'm determined to make sure my gift doesn't end up on that pile, but that determination only serves to make the act of choosing a gift to give him even harder.

Christmas is a time when families are supposed to feel closer to each other. It's a little ironic that it's one of the times of year when I feel most distant from my own, purely off the back of this ridiculous desire to present everyone close to me with their own personal Holy Grail. If this goes on much longer, I may just give in, take the easy way out and put some money in their Christmas cards instead. Thanks for reading guys, take care and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 8th

I found myself once more returning to Pokémon Y today. One of my friends got a 3DS for his birthday, so I justified this most recent relapse with the excuse that it would be cool to check out his Friend Safari and see if I could grab anything new to add to my slowly-filling National Pokédex. Fast-forward an hour and I was once again camping on the outskirts of Camphrier Town, riding back and forth outside the Daycare in the hopes of hatching yet another egg.

Ditto be pimpin', yo

Despite all the time I've spent with Pokémon this year, I hadn't put too many hours into the whole breeding meta-game. My experience with it didn't really stretch beyond sticking a hapless Ditto in the Daycare in SoulSilver and watching as it whored itself out to whatever I happened to put in there with it. It was a handy way to pick up pre-evolutions and baby Pokémon in an effort to fill out the Pokédex and not a lot else. I did spend a little bit of time attempting to breed a Charmander with a beneficial nature for EV training, but apart from that, you could say my interest in Pokémon breeding was purely scientific.

Then Pokémon Y came along, and everything changed. Maybe it's because of the addition of Super Training, which makes the previously laborious process of EV training much less of a grind, but I've found myself a lot more invested in breeding than I've ever been before. Simply breeding a Trevenant to obtain that elusive Phantump is no longer enough - I'm grabbing and hatching multiple eggs, five at a time, in search of favourable Natures and Abilities. I even spent one afternoon teetering on the edge of the wormhole that is breeding for 'egg moves', a way to breed Pokémon resulting in them being born with moves that they simply couldn't learn otherwise. Thankfully some invisible force pulled me back from the brink of that abyss, but does it really matter how far away the ground is when you're already free-falling?

This afternoon I spent over an hour in Santalune Forest, just to hunt down a Pikachu holding a Light Ball. I haven't yet embarked on the crazy breeding adventure this item invites, the end result of which will hopefully be a favourably-Natured Pichu born knowing the powerful-but-elusive move Volt Tackle. Should it materialise, I'll no doubt EV train it and evolve it into a Pikachu. From there I'm not sure if I'd evolve it further to Raichu, or leave it as-is and make it hold the Light Ball. Either way, I'll have to decide on a moveset for it, one that takes full advantage of its strengths and attempts to account for its weaknesses, and...

...you see how simply it starts, and how quickly it escalates?

Will all of this result in me attempting to build a team for competitive battling? I can't say for certain, although between this compulsion and my desire to hunt down every one of the game's one-hundred TMs, the seeds have definitely been sown. If nothing else, I'd like to have a well-trained, well-balanced squad of critters to place in my Battle Box, so I can fall back on them if any random Passersby should challenge me to a battle. Anyway, thanks for reading guys. Take care and I'll see you around. In the meantime, I'm going to try and find something else to do, if only so my Ditto can catch a much-needed break...

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon White (DS)

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Dan's Blogvent Calendar - December 7th

As someone who works in a customer-facing role, I know what it's like to get the occasional 'problem customer'. You know the people I'm talking about - people who complain when things go wrong, who put on that passive-aggressive stance or get verbally abusive when they don't get their way. I live in a pretty pleasant part of the UK, so thankfully I don't have to engage with problem patients at work too often, but that doesn't mean I find them any less tiresome to deal with. I appreciate there may be reasons for it - in my line of work, it's a given that a significant portion of the people I encounter at the service hatch are likely to be ill, and that can affect a person's mood - but I still don't think there's a legitimate excuse for not being nice to another person in a professional environment. When the roles are reversed and I'm on the other side of the counter, I do my utmost to be the kind of customer I'd be happy to deal with.

Today, I went out with a few friends to the cinema to see the new animated Disney flick, Frozen. Beforehand, we all stopped by McDonalds to grab a bite to eat before the movie. I ordered my meal, which included the limited edition Festive Pie - a mincemeat-and-custard alternative to their year-round apple pie that's been a staple part of the McDonalds winter menu for a few years now. When the guy who served me handed me my food, he said, "Sorry, but there's a delay of about eight minutes on the Festive Pie at the moment. Did you want a refund, or are you happy to wait?"

"I'll wait," I said, after rationalising the situation in my head - I had a full meal in front of me, so I was still going to be in the restaurant in eight minutes time. He told me he'd bring the pie over to me when it was ready. I thanked him, took my food and went to sit with my friends.

I worked my way through my meal, enjoying the chicken burger, fries and non-specific cola beverage I'd ordered. After twenty minutes had passed, with my main course now finished, there was still no sign of my intended dessert. "Go and complain," one of my friends suggested, but I shrugged off the suggestion. I had no desire to be one of those 'problem customers', kicking up a fuss over something so trivial as a bit of mincemeat and custard encased in pastry. Instead, I joined the back of the queue and waited. When I got to the counter, I was fortunate enough to be served by the same guy as before. I didn't make a big deal out of it, I didn't sigh or complain. I just asked, "Excuse me, are the Festive Pies ready yet?"

The guy seemed to recognise me, apologised for the delay and dropped something into a bag which he then handed to me. I thanked him, assured him it was nothing to worry about, and wished him a good day (something I do in every transaction, no matter which side of the counter I'm on) as I left the establishment with the bag in hand. Imagine my surprise when I opened it up en route to the cinema to find not one, but two Festive Pies inside. The guy hadn't needed to compensate me, but he had done it anyway. I couldn't help but smile as I dipped a hand into the bag and retrieved the two pies, one bought and one complimentary, from within.

If there's a moral in all this, then I think it's to not be a dick in these kinds of situations. To inquire rather than complain. To be helpful and co-operative rather than deliberately difficult. To be the kind of customer you'd be happy to serve. To know that a complaint is something best reserved for a situation that genuinely demands it, lest the overuse of complaint and protest cause them to lose all impact and meaning. And on a somewhat related note, to not eat two McDonalds Festive Pies in quick succession.

Oh, and Frozen is pretty good. You should probably see it if you like family films with happy endings. Thanks for reading guys, take care and I'll see you around.

Dan

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Currently playing - Pokémon White (DS)

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