Wednesday, April 29, 2015

MIDI Week Singles - "Cosmo Canyon" - Final Fantasy VII (PS1)

"Cosmo Canyon" from Final Fantasy VII (PS1).
Composed by: Nobuo Uematsu
Final Fantasy VII original Soundtrack
Publisher:  DigiCube and SquarEnix

Today I took some joy in humming the Cosmo Canyon theme all day at work.  Cosmo Canyon was the first song from Final Fantasy VII that really got me excited.  Jaconian and I have both talked about our conflicted relationships with Final Fantasy VII, and one of the points of conflict was once the soundtrack.  In my first playthrough, I didn't find the music interesting.  I may have been biased, because Square had chosen to leave Nintendo.  I'm confident this is the case because when I imagine FFVII coming out on a Nintendo console, I am pleased at the thought.  Anyhow, despite this bias, when I got to Cosmo Canyon, I really dug the theme.

I love the whole tone of the song.  The banjo line repeating in the background, and the rotation of the bass.  It's really nice, steady groove.  And then the whistle melody comes in, and it's just so damned catchy.  And cool.  The song builds and gets pretty dramatic while never losing that cool groove.  Like the desert at twilight.  No, really, that's what this song makes me think of, the coolness of the shade in a hot, dry climate.  I love this song, and it sounds even better in my mind.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Video Game Maps: Turok, Dinosaur Hunter

When Turok the Dinosaur Hunter came out, there really weren't very many first person shooters (FPS) available for consoles.  And, compared to today, there weren't very many FPS in existence.  Turok was the first in the genre to be released for the Nintendo 64.  It featured over-the-top violence, combat vs dinosaurs and really cool weapons.  However, I think the most important feature, and most innovative, was the map overlay.  

Unlike other common map features, which might require you to pause the game and bring up a subscreen, or be confined to a circle in the corner of the screen, Turok's map was drawn over the screen while you played.  The small arrow representing the player was located in the center of the screen, and could also perform the role of an aiming reticle.    

Oddly enough, the method never seemed to take, and I don't know of any games outside the Turok series that used this map style since.  I really love this map.  When I play Turok, I find a really cool mental zone where I'm watching the scenery and watching the map at the same time.  It's almost like playing two games simultaneously, and it's really cool.  

It helps that Turok is full of wide open spaces not too many enemies. When I get into that meditative zone, it doesn't seem to take that long to traverse the enormous levels.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Game Review: Dead Space 2 (PC)

I decided that, similar to what I did with the first Dead Space article, rather than do our semi-standard Full Review, I would simply talk about how I personally played the game as well as expanding upon my impressions from my first article.  There will be spoilers to some degree, so be warned that I may cover some story elements which, as far as I knew, were not common knowledge about the game.

Just your average run-of-the-mill space station city. . .smeared with the blood of convergence.
Since the first article and finishing Dead Space 2, I think I have come to a reason as to why I seemed to have enjoyed the first game more than the second.  In the first game, there was a fair amount of build up as to what was happening.  Yes, there was the initial sprinting through the Ishimura to escape from the necromorphs, but listening to people not know what was going on through their audio journals and text journals is what I loved and what drew me into the world.  In Dead Space 2, I did not get the same or similar sense of confusion on the part of the populace, which saddened me a bit considering that the majority of the game takes place in a metropolitan-style space station.  I felt that since Isaac had already been through a necromorph outbreak, there didn't need to be that same feeling  of confusion and slow build on the part of the populace.

Throughout the majority of the game, I felt lost.  With DS2 starting in a location that was unfamiliar to the player (as Isaac Clarke), it is only natural to feel a sense of disorientation, especially in Isaac's case having been in an induced coma/stasis for the last three years, but having a map function would have made the game more palatable. Even with the game being linear (walking through hallways, going down elevators and occasionally searching through a room on my way to another elevator, which I went down to exit into another hallway), it would have been nice at the very least to have seen a map to see where your destination was in relation to your current location.  Without a map, I might as well have been travelling in a straight line. At first I thought that the lack of map was part of the story, that I would come across a map function on my RIG (seeing as how you picked up the stasis field emitter and the kinesis  module), but the map was never a thing and this I feel is where the game began to lose me.

You ever wonder whose job it is to light all those damned candles?

I think what it boils down to is that in DS1, the necromorphs have had some time to calm down a bit.  The Ishimura had been attacked quite a while before Isaac and company arrive, but on Titan Station, the outbreak is happening right then and there.  I didn't get the feeling that stragglers/survivors had time to hang around in corridors banging their heads against walls or mumbling to themselves about seeing their dead grandmother crawling up their leg with a knife in her teeth.  In DS2, there was not time for that, so people were just running around screaming.  This all means that DS2 is to DS1 what Resident Evil 4 was to Resident Evil 1.

About a third of the way through the game, Isaac finds himself in a massive Unitology church, which is even commented upon in-game as being itself an obscenely large church and adjoining buildings/rooms even for Unitology standards.  This area was one of the highlights for me.  You started out passing through the main doors and as you progressed through this stage, you unlocked previously closed doors and emerged in a familiar area so that you were able to get your bearings and you knew where you were within the confines of the church.  However, with your knowledge about the Marker from Aegis VII, Isaac Clarke even mentions that being surrounded by anything Unitology is about the last place that he wants to find himself and I could not agree more.

For at least the first half of the game, Isaac is following the directions of a woman whom I cannot even tell you her name it seems so unimportant.  Early on (maybe Chapter 3, I am not sure), I had forgotten why I was even trying to get to the woman.  All I knew was that she thought I was important somehow, but that seemed like an easy and cliched way to get the player to go along a set path.  Maybe it was to help me off of Titan Station, but I was not even  100% sure.  Since there was only one direction to go in, I figured she knew better than I did.  It was not a good feeling to have.

One last criticism about DS2 was that the diagnosis of "dementia" was thrown around a lot.  It is stated on a number of occasions that both Isaac Clarke and Nolan Stross (another escaped patient who received "treatments" along with Isaac) suffer from dementia, one of the affects of The Marker.  All of the symptoms that both Clarke and Stross exhibit, are not dementia.  While some of those experiencing influence from the Marker exhibit common symptoms of dementia such as restlessness, memory distortion (hallucination based), anxiety and agitation, I would not classify their diagnosis as dementia.  You could even say that they exhibit common symptoms of schizophrenia, but that word is never used (from what I could tell) throughout any of the games.  Something closer to "Marker Sickness" would be more appropriate, except that not believing that the Marker is the cause of the events is part of the lore in the game.  I do not have any answers, just criticisms it turns out.

Don't worry, it's all in your head. . .
Which brings me to how Isaac Clarke's hallucinations are manifested in-game.  Most of the time, there will be a flash, the screen will take on a yellowish-orange hue along with a shaky-cam effect and I would immediately think, "Oh, I'm hallucinating now."  What I liked about Dead Space Mobile was that it was not always apparent to Vandal that the hallucinations were indeed hallucinations.  Sure, when you see someone who looks to be you walking towards yourself in a hallway, there is a good chance that you are hallucinating.  But, without a visual and auditory cue, there is that split second where you are not sure if that person is you, or if it is a veiled necromorph slowly walking towards you.  Maybe it's another engineer in the same situation and they need your help?  Nope, it's a necromorph who needs it's limbs cut off.  Right?  A necromorph and. . . not another. . .fellow. . . engineer. . .right?  Sure some of the visuals were unsettling in DS2, like when Nicole would appear in an elevator right next to you with eyes and mouth flaring light and static while screaming about how you killed her, but again, you knew it was a hallucination.

Nolan Stross on the other hand was apparently having believable hallucinations.  Maybe subtlety was the key here and what Isaac Clarke was seeing was not subtle.  Sure, if that happened to any one of us in reality, I would need an entire wardrobe of brown pants, but in the context of a video game, someone decided that a visual cue was needed for the majority of Isaac's hallucinations.

Moving on.

It's always a good idea to check your ammunition stores before going through doors.  Always.
Like any good survival horror video game, ammunition in Dead Space 2 always seemed to be scarce.  For this playthrough, I focused on using the Plasma Cutter, Line Gun and the Ripper, although I did also purchase the Pulse Rifle, but mainly to take care of the numerous and annoying Swarmers and to conserve ammunition on the three primary weapons that I was modding with the Power Nodes.  Because of how much fun (and understanding) I had with the Ripper in Dead Space Mobile, I knew that I wanted to give this weapon/tool a go here and I was not disappointed.  The Line Gun I really only used when I needed to produce a wide beam of damaging plasma or throw, basically, a timed grenade that was more powerful than the one chucked out by the Plasma Rifle.  The Plasma Cutter was my go-to weapon for most of the game, but only when I had enough ammunition, which I always seemed to be running out of near save stations.  Bloody hell.

There was one other area aside from the Unitology Church area that I loved.  I felt that it recaptured what the feeling that was missing in this game.  I will not go into it because I feel that it is too much of a spoiler, but I will say that it was a great part of the game.

In closing, I think it is pretty apparent that I did not like Dead Space 2 as much as the first Dead Space, but I can promise you that I will be going through the game again in the future.  Maybe after I make my through Dead Space 3, which apparently is only available on PC through Origin, which is fine with me, because that is where I have it awaiting my attention.

. . . Well fuck. . .

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "Left 4 Dead" - Left 4 Dead (PC)

"Left 4 Dead" from Left 4 Dead on the PC (2008).
Composed by: Mike Morasky
No official soundtrack release

I love how simple this song is.  Back when I was working, I would find myself whistling this song as I walked down hallways, while folding laundry, waiting for people to finish using the bathroom to I could go in and assist them (typical assisted living stuff).  It's just a sad little melancholy (redundant I know) diddy that has just a smidgen of hope left.  Considering that Left 4 Dead is a first person shooter involving infected/zombie-types, "Left 4 Dead" is a rather peaceful and calming track, wonderfully juxtaposed with all the mayhem that takes place shortly after this music stops.

I specifically chose the Left 4 Dead theme from the first game as opposed to one of the many variations from Left 4 Dead 2 because I just wanted the theme without any twangy embellishments, although I do love how the theme was molded to suit each location in L4D2.  But for today, the end of three straight weeks of Dead Space posts, I thought this vocally sung song would be perfect.


P.S. Holy shit!  Did you know that Mike Morasky was the lead/senior crowd technical director on the Lord of the Rings trilogy!?  Yeah, neither did I.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

First Impressions: Dead Space 2 (PC)

I've started Dead Space 2 twice.  The first time, I made it 1h48m in then discovered that the Dead Space 2 game sold through Steam comes with three DLC packs pre-installed, which I did not know about, although it does not contain the Severed DLC which is a standalone prequel to Dead Space 2; Severed was apparently only released on PS3 and XBox 360 with no word as to a PC release.  The reason I restarted was because I had thought that all of the free items in the store (as a result of the DLC weapon/armor packs) were supposed to be there and I equipped myself to the teeth right before a mini-boss fight.  I would rather not play the game that way, so I started over with the intent of only buying items from the store as they become available in-game.

Always be wary when the best items for sale are free.
Dead Space 2 is fun at the present.  There are a number of jump scares with necromorphs bursting through walls or environmental elements springing to life as you walk by, minding your own business.  There are a number of modifications from the original Dead Space that I feel like I have to come to terms with in order to fully like this game.  

The first major change is that the game is no longer told in separate chapters.  In the first game, each time you boarded a tram to a different part of the USG Ishimura, you began a new chapter and you knew what your objective was.  In DS2, at least up to chapter 4, you are following the guidance of a voice on the other end of your radio as you make your way through Titan Station (built around the remnants of Saturn's moon Titan) with no clear break between chapters.  I recall seeing a "Chapter 2" pop up at one point, but I have not seen anything to denote that I had entered a chapter 3 or 4.  I personally liked the individual chapters as part of a larger whole that made up the first game as well as the mobile game.  The current less structured narrative makes me feel like I am just going from one area to another and killing hordes of necromorphs along the way, because that is what you are supposed to be doing in a video game.

"Oh hai dere!"
I do like the present variety in necromorphs compared to those in DS1.  It would make sense too (does it really!?) that not all off the mutated/transfigured humans would look like the same sprinting blood thirsty brute.  You are on a space station that is full of residential living areas as well as industrial, religious and private sectors so the population is going to be different, which is something that I appreciate.

Maybe it's just me, but so far, I am getting a very Bioshock feeling from wandering around the Titan Station residential and commercial areas.  It could be due to wandering through living quarters and that a space station with super-security-gorilla-glass would be somewhat akin to the glass used in an underwater city and the necromorphs are more perverted than the splicers, but they are still often sprinting monsters that jump out and want to annihilate you just because you have a prettier face.  The point is, I don't want to be playing Bioshock, I want to play the sequel to Dead Space and I am not getting that feeling with only four hours in.

A physical representation of a Marker that size is never a good thing to come across in this universe.
I was talking to Conklederp the other day about this and I decided that I am going to reserve my final judgement of the game until after I reach the end.  I am still enjoying the game, despite how I have sounded through half of this article and I am also interested to find out if I have been intentionally mislead and that my impressions of the game will change later on.  I am also interested to see how the previous stories from Dead Space: Aftermath, Ignition and Mobile all fit together and how they are presented, if at all, in this game that is a cumulation of all of those individual parts.

I Awake From Madness

Friday, April 17, 2015

Game Review: Dead Space Mobile (Android)

I was planning on doing a full on review for Dead Space Mobile, but the more I thought about it, I felt that I was too close to this story and franchise.  If you've been reading our miniscule particle of the internet, you'll know that I love the first Dead Space game, which I came to five years after the rest of the world.  After finishing the game, I wanted to consume everything in the Dead Space universe although I was a little worried about the touch screen control scheme when I heard there was a mobile game.

Let me get this out of the way before I start gushing.  The touch screen controls work.  There were a number few times when I couldn't get Vandal (the main protagonist) to run, possibly because of the grease/sweat that found its way to the screen causing my thumb to slide or much up the contact.  I also chalk it up to the point of my thumb, as to its face only being in contact with the invisible directional pad.  It took some getting used to, but that is really my only criticism.  The point is, Dead Space Mobile is a great game.

"In Your Hands." Eh, eh!  Now that's, comedy.
Now, why I think it's a great game, but first some context.  You play as an engineer with the code name Vandal (given by a voice over the radio whom you are forced to take orders from through a series of events), is a recent convert to the Church of Unitology and is employed as an engineer on Titan Station (aka The Sprawl) prior to the events of Dead Space 2.

Being on a mobile device, I knew that the graphics were not going to be PC/console quality, but for a mobile game, the graphics looked good with smooth animations, the sound quality was crisp when it needed to be and muffled when it was supposed to be.  The only other negative thing I really have to say (aside from my sweaty palms) was a graphics/engine glitch that happened in the end of the game that I will get to later.

What I really want to talk about is how the game messed with the player in a way that I haven't felt since Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, but in a less fun but not less entertaining way.  In Eternal Darkness, you had a visible sanity meter and you immediately knew (in most cases) that the game was messing with you.  Dead Space Mobile does not have a meter and all of the sanity events are programed to happen at a specific time and place.  Some of the events happen for a specific amount of time while others are triggered by your location and last until you leave that location.

Take the above screenshot for example.  Here the character Vandal is walking through a medical wing and I notice this other person on the other side of the glass.  I see them moving when I move and I think that it's a reflection, but it doesn't line up with where I am.  And, when I move, the character/reflection moves in the opposite direction.  That is it.  That is all that happens.  You can circle the window all you want and the reflection will always be there moving in the opposite direction, but nothing will happen.  It wasn't so much scary as it was confusing, intriguing and a little unnerving.

Another event happened when I passed through a door into a "plus" shaped room.  Upon looking around with only a single bloodied corpse, I noticed that where once there was only one corpse, three others had appeared.  Additionally, the door I came through had disappeared and was replaced by another corpse with "TAKE US" scrawled in blood above the body.  After taking out a couple of necromorphs in the room (one at a time), the room went dark and I found myself standing outside of the door I thought I had just entered.  It had been all in my head.  No sound cues to let me know that the bloodied room had been an illusion.  Just a shake and a holding of the head by Vandal.

There was another instance while walking down a hallway and directly under where I had my right thumb, the one that controls the aiming and firing of your weapon, a grotesque "evil" looking face faded on/into the screen.  When I noticed this visage, I pulled my right thumb away as if there was something physical on the screen for a few seconds before remembering that it was only an image and nothing physical that could actually do me harm.  And then I thought I was about to be ambushed by one or 73 necromorphs, but no.  Nothing came for me.

There was even a Lost Woods section while trying to get to Point B.  Unless you were to follow your RIG's locater mechanism (follow the glowing line projected onto the floor), you will walk around in circles, entering the same rooms even when going in a straight line.  When this is used in The Legend of Zelda, it somehow makes sense, that the forest is keeping you from finding your way to Point B.  In Dead Space Mobile however, I got the feeling that the ship was not trying to manipulate me (a la Event Horizon) but that this was all happening in my (Vandal) head.  To an observer, I'm sure that I would be seen walking through one door, turning around then come back or just walking around in circles in the same room.  It was very unsettling.

There was another instance where I walked through a door and all of a sudden I was somewhere else, off ship.  I walked forward as far as I could, thinking that the hallucination would eventually pass, but it didn't.  So I turned around the way I came and went back through the door, only to find that I was now on the other side of the hallway that I entered, as if I had walked in a straight line the whole time.

The only other negative thing that I alluded to happened during the boss fight (of all times and places).  About a minute into the fight, something emanated from the boss towards Vandal, but it was looked more like a smear of pixels and it didn't move so much as it shimmered.

By the end of the fight, almost half of the screen was being obscured by whatever glitch this was that kept up its fleshy colored shimmering undulations.  It was very distracting and if I hadn't just spent the last 30 minutes to get there, I would have turned the game off to restart the chapter (12:12).  Thankfully the glitch left enough room for me to be able to attack the boss' obvious glowing yellow puss filled weak points.

I should note that I played the game on whatever the equivalent of "Easy" is since I wasn't sure about the control scheme before starting to play, plus I just wanted to experience the story with just a the right amount of "Oh shit I'm going to die, I'm going to die."  There were still quite a few times that thought I was going to die.

So there!  I can't recommend Dead Space Mobile enough if you are in the market for a survival horror game in the truest sense of the term.  The game is reasonably priced (I happened to buy it when it went on sale) for having 12 chapters which take anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes to complete, depending on your desire to explore.  There is no saving aside from finishing a chapter, which might be a turn off to some people, but it was nice to know that with each chapter's length being fairly consistent, I knew how much time I could invest if I wanted/needed a half hour to kill.

Speaking of killing. . .
Now it is on to Dead Space 2, for which I am eagerly awaiting the same level of craftsmanship when it comes to "sanity effects," something I felt where the first game a bit lacking.

And Life We Joyfully Drink

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "My Heaven" - Silent Hill (PSX)

"My Heaven" from Silent Hill on the Playstation (1999)
Silent Hill Original Soundtrack
Composed By: Akira Yamaoka
Record Label: Konami
Game Developer: Konami

Confession time.  I have not played Silent Hill yet.  I have the game on my PSP, but I would really like to play the game in a darkened room with headphones and I haven't had too many times available that would not make me look/seem like a creep.  But I did acquire the soundtrack awesomely enough from a Silent Hill community website.

So not having played the game, I have no emotional or nostalgic attachment to any of the songs, which was somewhat nice when I first listened through the soundtrack.  The song "My Heaven" stuck out to me among all the other great styled songs that you would be happy to find on any well crafted horror soundtrack.  I think what it was for me was the static/white noise/drone that ran through the song while rusted metallic drums were frantically drummed in the back/foreground. 

I could probably analyze this song and infer meaning where there isn't, especially not having played the game.  And then there's the obvious contrast between the sounds in the song with the title.  I just think it's a great, unsettling song.

All I Heard Was An Unearthly Silence

Monday, April 13, 2015

Dead Space: Chronicle of the Red Marker. Chapter 2

Welcome back to Chapter 2 of our short series titled "Chronicle of the Red Marker," a review, analysis and commentary about the stories leading up to and between Dead Space 1 and 2.  This is a continuation post from the article that I put up on Friday which looked at the first Dead Space self titled comic, the first animated movie, Downfall and the Wii/PS3 exclusive rail shooter, Extraction.  Today we will be looking at the stories that continue the story after the evacuation of Aegis VII and the fall of the USG Ishimura.

Dead Space: Salvage is the second comic adaptation in the Dead Space universe and in my opinion, a better read and more visually appealing than the first comic.  Although no specific date is given for the events that happen, we are told that this takes place sometime between the events in Downfall and the following film, Aftermath.

Storywise, Salvage was a much simpler story than that of the first comic.  Salvage follows a group of mercenary and freelance miners who happen to stumble upon the remains of the USG Ishimura.  There is some inner conflict as one might expect to find on board this type of vessel.  The crew boards the Ishimura, not knowing about any of the events that transpired and that is when shit hits the fan.  That is basically the entire story.  Not much meat here as far as overarching story, but the there is quite a bit of Dead Space lore that expands the feeling of the universe which I am always a fan of.  There are hints at the government underbelly; how ships travel to/from star systems at, potentially, FTL speeds; although very little, if any new information in the way of how the remnants of The Marker interact with humans and tissue.  Yeah, there are necromorphs in case you were wondering.

The art style in Salvage is one of the major points of interest here.  I am going to guess that the style is called photorealism, and is then mixed with a lot of blurry watercolor.  I would imagine that some people would find the drab color palette, consisting of mainly blues, greens and greys (with occasional splashes of red for good measure), but considering the universe that this story is taking place, it works much better than brightly lit corridors and sun soaked cargo bays.  Salvage also diverges a bit from the usual blocked formatting of comics using a mix of pages that are told in wide horizontal blocks as opposed to the typical smaller rectangles.

Honestly, I prefered this artistic style to that of the first comic.  I found it easier to follow with the characters, which I genuinely credit to the art style used by artist Christopher Shy.

The second animated movie, Dead Space: Aftermath is probably the oddest of the whole collection.  The story told in Aftermath does a decent job in connecting the events from the first game as well the four previous mentioned stories to Dead Space 2 and the stories associated with that game.  It could even be speculated that the whole reason the team depicted here is dispatched to Aegis VII is from someone within Unitology and Earth Gov. wants a shard of The Marker found and brought back.

The story follows a CEC (Concordance Extraction Corporation) team is sent to Aegis VII to check on their mining investment.  This is after the chunk of the planet that was extracted earlier in the timeline has crashed into the planet and after some farfetched tactics to keep the planet temporarily together (although it makes sense in the context of the movie).  While investigating, one of the crew members finds a shard of the Red Marker and is drawn to pick it up and hilarity (as in horrendous death fueled necromorphic nightmares ) ensues.  When the CEC crew does not make contact with their parent company, a security detail is sent after them where they are taken back to Titan Station, the location of Dead Space 2.

What makes this movie so strange is that all of the events happening in the present are told in a bizarre late 1990s style of computer animation.  They move about as fluid as the characters from the Warcraft II intro movie, but significantly less dramatic.

Now, I feel that if the entire movie were told with this type of animation, you would eventually get used to how wrong everybody moves, but there are four other animation styles that go along with each of the four above characters story about what happened to them on Aegis VII. 

The rest of the movie, the backstories, all use more traditional cell-style animation.  Some of the sequences look very nice, while others, the characters are very stylized and intentionally misproportioned, and I am not just talking about the necromorphs.  It could have been that each different animation team was given concept drawings for the overall look of the film and the universe in the Dead Space series and they took their particular story from there.

Even the design of the RIGs used by the same characters in different backstories are drawn differently.  I realize that this was a stylistic choice on the part of someone in charge, but by the time I felt that I was getting used to a particular style of animation, that story would end and we would go back to the interrogation chamber and the jarring/stilted CG.

Following Aftermath, I should be covering the mobile game simply titled Dead Space, but I had so much fun with that game that it will be receiving its own entry following todays article on Friday.

Dead Space: Ignition follows Titan Station engineer Franco, who may or may not be a Unitologist and which is not-so bluntly stated during the story.  Although the Red Marker does not make an appearance in Ignition, based on the events in Aftermath, you could say that the events happened as a direct result of the Red Marker, which fits in quite well with how Brian Evenson depicted how the various Markers react to Humankind.

I feel a bit like a hypocrite, but Ignition looked (since I was only able to watch a longplay of the game) more like a choose your own adventure comic book with interactive puzzle elements than an actual video game.  The art looked similar to the art style in the first Dead Space Comic and the two animated films, although the in-game animation was straight-up comic book style where dialogue was spoken but the mouths did not move nor did feet/legs move when characters walked.  The game lasted just over an hour and easily half of that time was spent doing puzzles that, in the later stages seemed to go on a lot longer than necessary.  Perhaps it was just to pad the game out.

In the end, I am not sad that I was unable to play Ignition and I probably would have been upset if I had found it and paid more than a couple of dollars for either my phone or PSP.  The story though is what is always important and for that fact alone, I am glad that I only had to waste an hour of my time.

On Friday, I will be putting up my review of Dead Space (Mobile), so stay tuned if you're not yet Dead Space'd out.  Now that was a fun game.

Rushing Through The Emptiness

Book Review: Murakami

As I'm finishing up Wind up Bird Chronicle,  I think I'd like to write a few words about famous japanese author, Hiroki Murakami.  Let's start with a chronological list of his books I've read.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
Wild Sheep Chase
Dance, Dance, Dance
Wind up Bird Chronicle

I would like to point out that the most recent three books I read over the course of this last year.  The first book I read a few years ago, after my first visit to Austin, TX.  It was given to me by a woman I met, with whom I shared one of the very few times I've had what you might call a 'one night stand.'  And, given that we maintained a phone relationship for months after, it might not be called that either.

I suppose that isn't relevant, except perhaps in the way that it is a part of the story of my reading Murakami.  I really like this author, I like his style.  He is easy to read and yet, I find he stretches my imagination.  In some ways, I find his stories to be very similar to one another (once again, hard boiled wonderland being the exception).  There is a certain dream-like quality of unreality that pervades these stories and  what makes Wonderland different, is that the dreamlike quality is much more pronounced, much earlier in the story.  Whereas in the other three, he dangles this sort of parallel reality just out of view, teasing me with the promise that I will see more, and that it might all make sense.  This drives me to read on.  I won't tell you if any of it ever does end up making any sense.

Murakami is dry, and yet it doesn't bother me.  His control of detail is so strange.  He is so deliberate in his details, it can create a sense of significance.  And yet, he's not a Tolkein-style painter by any means.  Tolkein, in my mind, paints beautiful water-color landscapes.  Murakami is more of a Kandinsky abstract.


While in the middle of a Murakami story, I can't wait to read the next one.  But following a Murakami story, I usually need a break.  I've been reading a lot more lately.  I find it a more fulfilling way to spend my time than video games.  It is also more flexible - easier to pick up and put down, requires less of my attention, works well as a transition into sleep.    I still think about video games a lot though.  In fact, I just had this one crazy idea about a platform game with three life bars and all these different, multi-colored item pickups which affect the bars in different ways.  But I'll tell you about that later,


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Link Dump version 1-2-1.3

Lately I've been collecting links, so very many links. But I haven't really been posting much. So I've got a bit of a back log, and it's time for a link dump. Here are some interesting things:

I love this animation. I imagine you will as well. Speaking of Animation, it turns out Chuck Jones actually had a set of rules for Coyote and Roadrunner cartoons. They're pretty much what you imagine, though maybe not with the same words. On a different note, I really like the enclosed definition of the word 'fanatic.'

Here's an article breaking down four classic jumps from video game history. linked from John B.
if you needed another reason to follow jpbruneau: Street Fighter stages in real life.
the luckiest kid on the planet.
"Well, this is a bit of a buggerance. A Thank You letter" by manaleak author Christopher Cooper. It's a Magic The Gathering tribute to Terry Pratchett, and is full of inside jokes. In fact, it's composed almost entirely of inside jokes, I still thought it might be nice for you to peruse.

If you're still reading this, why not read about some Alien 3 concept movies that never were:

And, if that's not your thing, this article shares some love for Donkey Kong Country 3, a perspective I found refreshing, despite the fact that I never played the game.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Dead Space: Chronicle of the Red Marker. Chapter 1

No, there isn't some new Dead Space game/add-on/DLC called "Chronicle of the Red Marker," I just liked that title for what I'm going to be covering, which are materials in the Dead Space universe that deal with the finding of the Red Marker on Aegis VII and the results thereof; not including the first Dead Space game.  These all include the Dead Space (Comics),  the Dead Space: Downfall and Aftermath animated movies and the Dead Space: Extraction and Ignition games that came out on systems that I do not have access to.

As I have stated before, I'm a sucker for games in a series, specifically games that take place in the same universe that belong to a series and the universe in the Dead Space games is no exception.  After playing the first game, I fell in love with what was being shown to me as well as what could just be glimpsed upon far in the horizon.  Upon discovering that the first game takes place in the middle of the current chronology, I wanted to start in the beginning, ignoring the fact that Dead Space: Martyr, the novel by B.K. Evenson which begins with the finding of the Black Marker on earth and the origins of Unitology was published in 2010, two years after the first game that started it all came out.  The chronology for Dead Space is all over the place.  Starting in 2214 (Martyr published in 2010), another Marker "found/created" in 2295 (Catalyst published in 2012) and compiling in 2508 when the games start (released in 2008) as well as the comic (published 2008) and the animated movies (released 2005 & 2011).

These two articles look to review/analyze/mumble about the stories that revolve around the Red Marker that is omnipresent between Dead Space and Dead Space 2.  In order to not make this article as cumbersome as it first was, I have broken it up into two separate posts with this first post covering Dead Space (Comic) through the first animated film, Dead Space: Downfall.

Dead Space (Comic) takes place in the days leading up to the "outbreak" in the mining colony of Aegis VII.  The story was written by Antony Johnson and the artwork was done by Ben Templesmith.  I bring this up because while I did not find any fault with the story, it was the artwork that I ultimately found confusing.  

The story however was very well told.  Because this story is told in print, it allows the tension to build without jumping right into a necromorph outbreak.  I also enjoyed that the "corruption" that you see a lot of in Dead Space starts out as an anomalous annoyance and only once its possible connection with The Marker is made is it too late for anyone to do anything about it.

In the introduction, there are bios of the main characters along with a brief histories and thumbnail of what the character looks like.  Now I will be the first to admit that I tend to forget characters' names in a story that is chalk full of main characters (it took me a couple of hundred pages and reading the family trees to keep characters separate while reading A Game of Thrones).  There are even two sets of characters who appear similar to their respective doppelganger.  Cortez and Natalia: both are women of about the same age with shoulder length dark hair.  Sciarello and Carthusia are both slightly overweight men with short hair and glasses.  Maybe I am just a bad person, but I had a hard time keeping these people apart, especially with the artwork not being as consistent between chapters.

It basically boils down to the art style.  At times it seemed like the artists had a general image of what the characters were supposed to look like, but then given free reign as to how they wanted/could modify said characters.  I know this is something that can be pretty common in the comics industry, but I found it a bit distracting, especially when trying to keep characters straight.

Dead Space: Extraction is a Wii and ported PS3 game that I am unable to play due to my lack of a video game console post 2001.  Rather than try and find an emulated copy of the game, one designed for motion controls (although using the mouse would work just as well), I looked to youtube to find a single longplay video or one broken up into watchable segments.  Thankfully I was able to find a series of six videos of the PS3 port from World of Longplays and major kudos to them for having no talking or commentary of any kind.

I enjoyed that Dead Space Extraction took place at around the same time as both the comic and Downfall (below), but that it took the story from a different point of view with different characters.  The thing that I loved about what this game did, was that your first character is not the main character, but it plays it off like he's going to be another Isaac Clarke from the first game.  Throughout the tutorial level, you witness hallucinations from a point of view mode.  At the end of the chapter, your character is killed by C-Sec officers (police) and as your hallucination fades/breaks, you see that the necromorphs you were killing where in fact C-Sec officers.  You immediately wonder how many of the creatures you killed throughout that first level were actually civilians and if there were in fact any necromorphs at all.

The game takes you through the Ishimura up the the point when the USG Kellion (the ship Isaac Clarke is on) arrives, although contact is not made, possibly due to debris and what not.  The only problem I had with the story (as well as the parallel story in Dead Space: Downfall) is that the characters cannot be too successful in making their way through the USG Ishimura since the first game takes place in the same space, so there have to be some monsters left over and all of the items cannot have been picked clean.  But continuity aside, it was a fun game to sit back and watch someone else play for just under six hours (multiple sittings mind you)

Dead Space: Downfall takes place shortly after the events in the first Dead Space (Comic).  The animation style I think is what made it a little odd for me. If you've seen EA's animated film Dante's Inferno, the tie-in to their not-too-successful video game, then you'll know what I'm referring to.  If you haven't seen it, picture what you think of when it comes to traditional Japanese animation.  Now take that image and stretch it out a bit so all the characters look a bit lanky. Somewhat similar to Ninja Scroll, but less refined somehow.

Storywise, I enjoyed what I was presented with.  The story primarily takes place on the U.S.G. Ishimura, although the movie begins with the discovery of the Red Marker on Aegis VII (you know the place) with the events leading up to Issac and company arriving at the Ishimura right before Dead Space starts up.  There was no overlap between Downfall and Extraction which is somewhat expected since Downfall was released a year before Extraction, but I really would have liked it if there had been some mention of people, just to keep the feeling that the Ishimura was a single united ship.

This is where I shall leave you for the weekend.  Chapter 2 (on Monday 4/13) will cover three  of the four storylines that bridge the gap between Dead Space 1 and 2.

Soon I'll Be Knocking At Your Door

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

MIDI Week Singles: "The Penitent" - Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem

"The Penitent" from Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem on the Nintendo Gamecube (2002).
Record Label: Nintendo Power
Game Developer: Silicon Knights

I love the music in this game, not to mention the game itself, but when this song came up, I thought, "Yeah, this song contains pretty much all of the elements of Eternal Darkness."  "The Penitent" taken from Brother Luther's stage in Oublié Cathedral during the time of the Spanish Inquisition.  There's the rain sound effect, the monk chanting, the quintessential Eternal Darkness "doom-boom" drum beat and ambient drones going on throughout the song.  It even has a scare chord.  It's great!

I feel that this is one of those songs that makes you a bit wary at the start, lulls you into a sense of mild foreboding, but that you'll make it out okay, then Pious Agustus chimes in with his dialogue from the game, then horriblescreachingscreamingnoisechord comes in and finally the drones come back and the song ends nearly two minutes later after you have begun to question your own sanity.

I personally love it when a single song is able to capture the essence of an entire game.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Book Review: Dead Space: Catalyst

Dead Space: Catalyst is the second book written by American novelist Brian K. Evenson who had previously written Dead Space: Martyr, being the first in the chronological timeline for the Dead Space universe.  And since we are bringing up chronology, let us put the books into context with the first game.

2214 - 2215: Dead Space: Martyr
2285 - Events in Dead Space: Catalyst take place, although since the book spans roughly 25 years, it can be assumed (Yes? No? Maybe?) that the events at the end of the book take place in 2285.
2508 - Dead Space

So as you can see, if you are looking to read about Issac Clarke's back story, or about what happened on the USG Ishimura during its 60 years in service before it came to Aegis VII or anyone/thing else directly connected with the what you played in the first Dead Space game, then you might be a bit disappointed.

All of this aside, I thought Cataclysm was a well told story that was very well written.  As I stated at the end of my review of Martyr, I am now even more interested in reading other works by Mr. Evenson, although I am afraid that it would be like reading anything else that George R. R. Martin has written that was not A Song of Ice and Fire related.  I guess I would just like to read more of what Mr. Evenson has to say about the Dead Space universe.

What will follow from here may contain spoilers to both this book as well as the first game.  Y'all have been warned.

Dead Space: Cataclysm follows the lives of two brothers, Istvan and Jensi Sato from their early teenage years, up through, what I would assume to be their early thirties.  While reading the book, I cannot recall having any issues with Jensi Sato, the main protagonist and how the reader is introduced to the majority of events in the book.  Looking back now, while I still do not have any real issues, I think I feel that Jensi existed primarily to take characters to important events and to be witness to what happens to Istvan.  But that is the way some narratives work, that is how this narrative worked and it worked well to serve its purpose.

With Istvan Sato, I really felt that B. K. Evenson really excelled as an author.  At least in the first half of the book.  I am not one to diagnose anyone with any type of developmental disability, which is the extent to which Istvan's "mental problems" are described in the book.  In the story, Jensi never states if his brother was diagnosed with any type of disorder or developmental disability, but Istvan's rational for seeing patterns or wanting objects to be in a particular order struck me as exhibiting actions similar to those who find themselves on the autistic spectrum.  How Mr. Evenson justified Istvan's actions to himself was instrumental for allowing the reader to (hopefully) understand why Istvan was acting the way he was, that he was not the bad guy.  It was just that people did not understand the obvious reasons why he did the things he was doing and he personally could not understand why it was not at all obvious to them as well.

One thing that always strikes me with a series that involves really bad things that always seem to be happening, especially when events are instigated by people, is why they keep letting these events happen over and over.  This was a question that I had after finishing the first Dead Space game regarding the devotion of Unitologists.  When your religious icon/object only seems to reanimate corpses into horrible machines of whirling death, why keep worshiping it and how did/would the church maintain its status as a powerful growing religion?  Seriously, how/why do people keep seeing The Marker as a benevolent source of do-gooding?  I feel this is where Brian Evenson has really excelled both in Martyr and  in Catalyst.  A lot of characters, when the story is being told from their perspective have said that the appearance of loved ones creates a overwhelming feeling of contentment and that they may be doing something unrelated to the knife in their hands that ends up killing them.

The last act of the book is where Dead Space the game comes into the story telling; as in necromorphs.  Everything leading up to Act III is primarily character development with premonitions of all the bad things that I have come to expect from the video game franchise.  I imagine this is where some people who want to read a written down account of the game, but this is a different medium all together where you can do things you cannot do elsewhere.  Reading about someones inner thoughts and the reasons why they are jabbing a fork into their face while mumbling something about their grandmother whom they loved as a child is easier in book form than it is in any other format.

Going through the first Dead Space again after having read the first two books gives the characters in the game a lot more depth that I had not realized was not there.  When I come across someone banging their head against a wall or slitting their own neck with a surgical saw, I no longer wonder why they would do this.  Now I wonder who they were seeing that "convinced" them that doing this particular act was what The Marker wanted.  Having read both Martyr and Cataclysm only fleshes out the Dead Space universe and, I feel, has only made the games better.

If you are not into science fiction, then this book probably is not for you.  But, as a well written semi-psychological look at someone with a "mental disorder" who you might end up feeling for by the end all of which takes place in a science fiction setting, then you might find yourself reading a good book.

Deep In The Shadows You Won't Find Peace