Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tri: Of Friendship and Madness

About 36 hours of total play time, and I finally beat Tri: Of Friendship and Madness. Though the game is heavily derivative of Portal, it quickly goes in its own direction with the puzzles.

And difficulty.

After a tutorial level, you're given a Tri, a device that makes triangles which you can use to bridge gaps and make pathways up the walls and along the ceiling. In later levels you use them to reflect light beams, guide lasers, and more! And then you are told to find the fox.

The first ten levels or so are tantalizing and brain-teasing enough, and then level 11 hits. From 11 to the end, the puzzles are MEAN! Multi-step, thinking outside the box, taking these game mechanics and stretching what you can do with them to the very edge of reason! There are some strange maneuvers you have to pull off, and figuring out what you have to do requires paying close attention to the environment.

The puzzles are mean in a good way. Everything you need to solve them is right in front of you. Learning to recognize what is possible with all these devices, how they behave, and how you must use the triangles to make them work together is mind-stretching. This is not for casual players, and I like that.

These are expertly-designed levels. Nothing is unfair, nothing is obtuse. I finished the game without consulting a walkthrough, or taking any hints, and I am proud to have figured everything out by myself. Those last two levels are a doozy--each taking me two sittings to figure out--but everything is logical.

The story is a bit thin. It's told between levels instead of experienced as you progress, but that's a minor gripe. I can see how the foxes went mad with this kind of freedom of movement. I almost went mad figuring this stuff out. Forget thinking with portals. Thinking with Tris will kick your butt!

I have only one real complaint: the music. It's not bad music, but the way it's used is. Each level has a segment of music which lasts one to two minutes, and this clip plays over and over and over, with about 30 seconds of silence in between. On some levels, I heard the same 1-minute loop a hundred times, and it became so tiresome I often switched off the music and played my own. The soundtrack is so much better when it's not broken up and looped. I bought it as a symbol of my triumph!

Other than this flaw, it's a wonderful game. Superbly crafted levels, excellent use of its game mechanic, and foxes!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie

Finally watched the Angry Video Game Nerd Movie. Much like Kooky, it's a filmmaker's movie, meaning it's more of an exercise to show off what the filmmakers are capable of. If it happens to be watchable, that's all the better. AVGN the movie is watchable, though not perfect.

The acting is decent, the special effects are surprisingly numerous. A lot of it is deliberately cheesy, while quite a bit more is superbly well-done.

The story is pretty clever, too. The Nerd takes a trip to prove the great myth of the landfill of Atari E. T. games is false, and the timing of its release couldn't have been better, with the real life digging of the landfill and proving the myth of the Atari E. T. cartridges "burried" (:-)) in a landfill was true this whole time. I enjoyed that half of the story.

But there's a second half of the story that kinda muddles the whole thing. Apparently there's some supreme deity named Death Mwauthzyx trapped inside of Mount Fuji, and he is released and starts destroying stuff. What did that supreme being have to do with anything? I still don't quite get why that monster was there, or what it had to do with the E. T. game. Its presence seems unnecessary, as if the whole thing was included just to spend the movie's budget.

I think the story should have focused on the quest for the truth behind the Atari E. T. game instead of trying to justify why this giant robot thing is in the movie. I kinda wanted to see more of Area 51 and the significance of the floor plan being built into the game. From a story perspective (because that's how I look at everything), it needed to focus on that, as it was far more interesting. From a special effects perspective, however, I can see how Mwauthzyx would be more interesting.

I liked the little references to some of the bad games the Nerd has reviewed over the years, and I think the bad game logic could have been used in the real world to more comic effect. The Humvee being stopped by plate glass, and landing the Top Gun plane for example. More game logic in the real world, please! The movie could have done so much more with that, but it seemed to settle halfway between lampooning bad game logic and referencing B-movie logic. It works well enough, but it could have taken both so much further.

So is it perfect? No, but after all the time and the long wait, I didn't expect it to be. I think the story could have been stronger and more focused, but story isn't really the point of the film. This was James Rolfe's coming out as a filmmaker, and what an entrance! His first theatrical movie, and it's an action comedy with a special effects shot in almost every scene! Watching the VFX before/after feature is astounding--how many VFX went by and I didn't even notice! A tremendous amount of work, and story issues aside, I am still impressed! I don't regret buying it, and I'm happy to support him.

I will say that I think the Nerd has probably gone as far as he can go. James' reviews as the Nerd have been getting calmer and tamer as the years go by, which tells me he's outgrowing the character. If this is the Nerd's farewell, it's a good sendoff. I look forward to whatever he comes up with next.

Available on Amazon.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Aging Status Report 2

Everything I do hurts me.

I stretch my arm, and I hurt myself.

I walk and I hurt myself.

I tear a cardboard box and bend a fingernail backwards.

Even doing small things hurts me, and it's happening more and more.

It's what happens when you get older. It's easier than ever to hurt myself.

Bending from the knees is more and more uncomfortable. Lifting heavy things is unpleasant. Exerting myself isn't as easy as it once was.

My diet is hyper-healthy and I exercise weekly, but i still go long stretches where I just feel bad. Nothing I do, nothing I ate. I just feel bad for no apparent reason.

I think I fear aging more than I fear death.

Friday, February 6, 2015

My Patent Office

I wonder if my brain would be free to construct the story if I didn't have the day job.

Would Einstein have constructed his ideas if he had been in academia instead of the patent office?

My job gives me something mindless to do and gives my brain time to wander.

Perhaps I need [retail].

Doesn't mean I won't try to escape. I'm sure I'll find a way to bloom no matter where I'm planted. If I am free of [retail], I will likely have to take a crappy part-time job just to give my mind a chance to wander. But at least then it will be on my terms, not theirs.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

It's been a long time since I looked at Binding of Isaac, and why should I bother, since a couple thousand people have already put in their opinion on the recent remake of the original flash game? Seeing as though I finally killed mom's heart ten times, it's time for me to say something. It's time for the good and the bad.

The good
It is the same game, but with a proper game engine. That's the major plus--the whole reason to remake the game in the first place. No more flash. No more lag. No more sprite slowdown. Really, what's up with that? Computers have multi-gigahertz, multi-core processors now! There is no reason a little flash game should lag ANY system!

The new game engine is silky smooth, with no lag, bigger rooms, more enemies on screen at once, more stuff happening. Technically, it's a huge improvement.

The bad
I don't care for the new pixel art look. I much prefer the hand-drawn look of the original. I don't mind the new look of the game, and I understand the creator was not satisfied with the art style of the original Binding of Isaac because he thought it was too rushed and careless, but I liked the original. I thought it gave the game a look and feel of its own. So what if Isaac's head was not symmetrical? It didn't need to be. The art in Rebirth looks a little too perfect, and the pixel art style takes away from the mood. It's a minor gripe though, because there is a hand-drawn filter that makes it look a little more like the original. The illusion is enough to keep me happy.

The good
The new items are great. They interact with one another better, they stack better, they balance out very well. One of the dangers of doubling the number of collectibles is that the game will become unbalanced, but after 30 hours I think the game is very well-balanced. The items are designed to interact this time, and some collectibles do not make the game easier or harder, but different, which is a welcome change.

The bad
Mom's heart is now ridiculously difficult--the projectiles are so numerous and so close together it's damn near impossible to dodge them!

Original Binding of Isaac:


What the hell?! The original version of Mom's heart/It Lives was tough, but not ridiculous. Rebirth makes it so you can't move half an inch without being hit there are so many projectiles everywhere!

Rebirth was made for expert players of the flash version, and as a result the game doesn't build up like it used to. Before, you had to beat Mom ten times before the Womb opened up. Now you unlock the womb after beating Mom just once. Because of the flash game was released in installments, there was time for players to conquer the game, and then a few months later an update would add some new features. Now there's no gradual progression--the game throws all this stuff at you at once now, and I think the pacing is too fast, the difficulty too steep too soon.

The good
The new enemies add much needed variety to the game. The new graphics engine also allows each area to have more personality. The Womb, for example, has this red filter covering the screen, and now it feels like you're... inside!

The bad
The music in Rebirth is not nearly as memorable as the music in the flash version. It's not bad music, but it's not as iconic.

Danny Baranowsky's soundtrack was good for about 60 hours of gameplay before I muted it and started playing my own music. Ridiculon's soundtrack got old after just ten hours or so. Apart from the Basement theme, there aren't any memorable tunes in it. I still hum Danny's songs because all of them are memorable and instantly identifiable as Binding of Isaac.

Of course, Rebirth NEEDED new music, so I'm not suggesting he should have used Baranowsky's music in Rebirth, but the new soundtrack simply couldn't live up to the special bond the original and I forged.

The good
More stuff in the store! More chances for Angel Rooms! More good stuff in the Angel Room! More good stuff in the Devil Room! Things just feel more balanced this time, and now there are hidden bonus rooms under random blocks! The game may be harder, but it also gives you way more chances to find special items.

The bad
Rebirth still feels like a slot machine. There is a great deal of skill involved, and the alluring aspect of the game is trying to make a bad setup work. My biggest complaint about the flash game was how it felt like a slot machine--that no matter how good you are, you mostly just keep playing until a randomly-generated setup comes along that happens to allow you to win.

Now that Mom's Heart throws a barrage of projectiles at you, you almost have to get lucky with projectile protection or powerful tears or some other lucky find that allows you to survive that. Not that skill alone can't get you through it, but come on. That's ridiculous.

I had hoped Rebirth would make the game feel less like luck of the draw and rely more heavily on skill of the player. I'm disappointed the game is still mostly random. It's both Isaac's greatest strength and weakness.

The good
Native controller support! Finally, The Binding of Isaac supports gamepads! And now you can save your game! A play-through isn't a commitment anymore. You can do marathon mom-killing sessions, or be casual about it. And now you can play other people's playthrough with seeds!

The bad
I already unlocked all ten endings in the original, and none of my accomplishments transfer to Rebirth! Yeah, all 100+ hours spread out over 3 years to reach the end of the Chest at long last, and now none of that matters because I have to start all over in Rebirth.

Isaac needed a remake, no arguing that. It needed a proper game engine, but after all that effort I put into beating the original, I resent that my only reward is starting over. It'll take me another three years to unlock all the endings in Rebirth.

I'd say aside from a few gripes on progression and the ridiculously unfair fight in the Womb, it's improvement all around. It makes me wish this was the game I had played first. I spent so much time in the original flash version that doing it all over again in the new game does not excite me.

I like the nonlinear story, the parody of all things Christian--the characters and themes are what make this game so memorable! All Edmund McMillen had to do was remake the flash game with a real graphics engine. Naturally he couldn't do just that. I like almost all the changes, but I wish he hadn't decided to ramp up the difficulty, change the pacing at which the different levels unlock, and raise the difficulty the game throws at you from the start. I know he did it because he had to anticipate all the hardcore players of the original would buy this, but I still don't think it was called for. Perhaps I'm just not hardcore enough.

I don't regret buying Rebirth, and it is one of those games you can pick up and play in small doses just to kill a few minutes. The memorable characters and religious themes make this such a fun experience. The original occupied me for over a hundred hours, and that's impressive for a $5 flash game. Perhaps I'll get as much mileage out of Rebirth. Or maybe I'm totally burned out. We'll see.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Modern Author's Dilemma

I can't help myself. I am thinking about a sequel series to new trilogy I just finished. I suppose I would have to. Even when I reached the end of the third book it did not get a feeling that it was "over."

I wrote four novels in a year, not counting my journal. Plus I edited the new novel, Huvek, one last time before it was published. I'm a fairly prolific writer, and my ideas are pretty big much of the time. It's the publishing part that's fucking slow. I'm getting tired of waiting for someone else to decide it's worth publishing, waiting for other people in general. It's the fantasy of self-publishing:

Modern author's situation
I just got rejected again. It was a well-targeted submission, but I got a form letter in return. Tenth one this month. How do I get noticed?!

Modern author's fantasy
Why do I need approval from the establishment? Why should I wait for a publisher to get moving and release my stuff? It's the modern era! I'll take my work to the people and let them decide I'm a wonderful writer!

Modern author's self-published reality
A million other authors are doing the same goddamed thing! Now I'm in the same situation I was in before I self-published! How do I get noticed?

BONUS: Modern author's traditionally-published reality
Yay, I just published a book! But it's still up to me to promote my work? How do I get noticed?

Even with all that said, sometimes I wonder if I should just do it. Get my stuff out there. Don't wait for some authority to decree I'm worth publishing. Don't be at the mercy of a company deciding if my stuff is financially worth publishing, telling me what genre I can write in, or what content sells and doesn't sell.

Damn it, I don't know what to do. Only that I'm starting to feel like time is ticking away and I need to hurry up and get out there before it's too late. It's a dilemma that did not exist for authors of the previous generation. You went through a publisher, or you were not published. Now we have an alternative, and I am leery of it.

The argument is that games and music and comic books have succeeded without big publishers, so why not authors? But writing is not the same as music or games. Indie games have garnered great respect. Indie music has a lot of respect. Indie film has a lot of support. But indie books still carry a stigma of poor quality, lazy, mary-sue-filled writing. If I release my work, it will be into a sea of that. Hard enough to sell a published book. The difficulty of selling an indie book is tenfold and I don't want to kill my chance to reach a large audience by jumping the gun.

I have yet to read a good indie book. Read a couple decent ones, but I still had to take them with a grain of salt, remembering they're indie and to give 'em leeway. Other indie books I read the sample, and was not impressed. So I implore any readers out there to show me a good, quality indie book. Show me that indie authors are not just impatient. Show me that indie books deserve respect, like indie musicians and indie games.