Game Review: Ether One

Dementia is a horrifying thing. Mental illnesses that take a person away from themselves and turn them into an autonomous creature unable to recall memories, faces or voices are probably the one thing in this world that really scares me. Turning even mundane life into a mystery, having to pick up the pieces of something you’ll never quite understand. It is one of those things current medical science just can’t do anything about. The idea of what essentially makes up ‘me’, various functions of the brain operating as they do and not strictly the physical body I reside in, becoming shattered like a broken mirror and having to put my loved ones through the downward spiral as it proceeds to get worse and worse is my biggest fear.

Ether One puts us into the shoes of a Restorer, a member of an elite science team dedicated to delving into the brains of patients with degrees of dementia in an attempt to reconstruct their memories from the fragments which still exist in their mind by filling in the gaps and restoring things to the way they were. As you begin to explore the mind of your current patient, details slowly but surely work their way up to the surface about the person you’re restoring’s life in a small port mining  town Pinwheel.

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White Paper Games understands that there are some people who really enjoy a good set of brainteasers and there are some people who don’t enjoy having their progress blocked by a puzzle that may just be incompatible with their way of thinking. In Ether One, you never have to be stuck longer than you really want to thanks to an interesting approach to the game’s design. In order to progress with the story, all you need to do is activate red ribbons whenever you come across them to move further towards the end of the game. For those who want the full story, every area is drenched in puzzles that range from putting a key you found in that room into a door while others require pulling bits and pieces from the notes and well-integrated environmental clues to complete the memory. Completing a puzzle in an area restores a projector which gives  us further insight into the psyche behind the patient we are treating.

This leads us to the game’s unorthodox inventory/note keeping system called “The Case”. In game it is explained as being a way for you to retract from the situation for a moment, take a breather and have a look over all of the important notes you’ve found and store any items you wish onto a series of shelves. At any time you can teleport back and forth from The Case to whatever area you were just in and vice versa. In a way, it reminds me of the way Fable 3 handled its living menu system, only with a lot more tact. This comes at a bit of a cost however – in order to access items and information you need to navigate an additional map instead of easily accessing what you want by more traditional means. This is going to be a very divisive feature for many players. I personally found it relaxing and helpful to pull myself away from a pesky puzzle from time to time, others may not want to have to run around The Case to try and find a saved note that may contain a clue.

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Unfortunately, the lack of traditional menu and inventory also leads to some unfortunate circumstances. With the other titles, mission critical items were always kept on hand and only brought out when you understood the context it was required for. Ether One’s system forces you to hold on to one item at a time and either swap the item with whatever you have in hand or take it back to The Case, place it on the shelf, and return to where you were to grab the other item. It may not seem so bad but there is no small amount of objects to pick up and the relevance of an item may not be completely realized when first coming across it. While there is often a common sense tactic of “if it looks important, I will most likely need to use it nearby” this is not always the case. In one instance, I found that an item had completely vanished or had gotten totally lost and left me unable to complete a puzzle which further led me to be unable to complete another puzzle. With the puzzles seemingly getting more entwined as the game continued I worry this may be a problem others will run into as well. White Paper Games has commented that they are aware of some of the issues that existed so they may be fixed some time after this review has been posted.

The lovingly crafted areas are massive and labyrinthine at times. Whole chunks of the village are almost completely explorable and all speckled with tiny little details which give every home, business and public area a unique feel of their own. The painterly look suits well. The world looks realistic but the way colors and details practically leap out give the whole experience a dreamy aspect. The scenery jumps back and forth from slightly futuristic technology-laden hallways to a cozy early 20th century village. Accenting the lapping of water against shore and clinking of chains holding boats to their docks is a beautiful and understated soundtrack. It is fairly haunting to hear the sounds of an old city and the mines nearby completely devoid of human life.

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In the end, Ether One turns out to be a rather heartwarming look into a character’s past and slowly filling in the gaps where their memory has failed in order to understand what happened and what they are trying to communicate while being buried under years of mental fragmentation and decay. You are going to be walking through abandoned memories of small-time seaside village life in the UK, peering into the lives of those who lived there to discover the truth about what happened. It is a drama at heart. Comparable to Myst, Dear Esther & Gone Home. Borrowing elements from each and refining them. Issues with the inventory and menu system aside, it never stands in your way of moving forward which is extremely refreshing. Ether One is a beautifully written, memorable journey and I can only hope I won’t forget it anytime soon.

 

Final Score: 5/5

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 7:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Game Review: Luftrausers (PC)

Videogames were once a much simpler time. The only S in a game was in High Score and not Story. Controls were designed to be tight, responsive, delivering as best of an analogue of what you wanted your on-screen avatar to do as the technology of the time could possibly be capable of. The arcade mechanics would push you into letting the machine swallow your collection of quarters alive as you dared to try and best your previous score, the score of the bastards above you on the list but most especially the enemy type or boss which has put you in your place time and time again. Possibly while drinking a two-liter bottle of Shasta and listening to an all Rush mixtape.

Luftrausers harkens back to this golden glory age, taking to the leaderboard toppling, lighting fast addictive gameplay which has been so frequently over the course of this generation of games and giving it developer Vlambeer’s personal touches. The setup can’t be simpler: You’re a ship that shoots other ships and boats to chain a combo together and tack together a high score. Unlike other ship-based shooter titles where you gain powerups while in the stage and use that to your advantage until you’ve died, instead you are rewarded with ship body parts and engines that all contain special properties. Mixing and matching all of these to fit your playstyle and get you that much closer to your next high score.

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Your default Rauser is a bit on the vanilla side but it still a perfectly serviceable fighting machine. It has a rapid machine gun, a decent amount of health on it and can turn on a dime. By beating challenges, earning skulls and leveling up you are given new parts to swap out. How’s a laser sound? Or a body that can insta-kill anything you ram into with the exchange of not being able to take a single hit from a bullet? Or an engine that specializes in letting you stay under water, giving you all manner of new tactics to employ? There are over 100 different combinations for you to take to the skies with. Finding that one part you never knew you wanted so badly and adding it to your Rauser is extremely rewarding and helps bump the replay up quite a bit.

And you’re going to need every bit of help you can get as Luftrausers’ difficulty jumps up quickly. On the default difficulty you’re thrown into the fray with a slowly building intensity that takes about a minute or so to reach its fullest concentration. Clusters of smaller fighters busy up the screen and provide excellent combo-extending potential while you hunt out the larger and more powerful ships all while stalling out and dodging large-caliber fire from anti-aircraft naval units and other unmentionable things that take to the higher levels of the sky above. The unlockable SMFT difficulty mode ramps this up to a large degree – you’re pretty much at full-tilt insanity within a handful of seconds and the brutal difficulty never lets up. It’s not going to be for everyone but the craziest pilots and the hardcore difficulty freaks but its inclusion is extremely welcomed for those who want an even faster paced game.

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I’m still taken back by how well the style used works in even the most hectic moments. The extremely minimalist design used for every ship, bullet and object betrays how excellently it all works in motion without sacrificing the little details. All ships are cast as silhouettes, yours being shaded a bit darker than the rest to help you pick your Rauser apart from the swarm of enemies on screen. Every enemy type is distinctively shaped so even at a glance as you zoom across the sky you can take note of the type of dangers you find yourself facing at any given moment. And even with dozens of ships on screen there is still room for effects like moving ship-parts or water splashing upwards as your craft gets too close to sea level. The sound design too is filled with great little details. Appropriately lo-fi in nature, everything makes just the right amount of noise without overloading the senses with information. The soundtrack is pretty excellent too and apparently changes on the fly depending on what you’re currently experiencing on-screen.

All that said, Luftrausers lives and dies on its gameplay alone. If the thought of taking to the skies as an ace pilot with the sole purpose of continuing to shoot things until you eventually die and watching that glorious numerical score tally up takes your fancy, you’re going to love what it has to offer. If simple, arcade-esque gameplay hellbent on pushing replay after replay to refine your approach and occasionally getting screwed by a stray bullet while you were hovering in a stall without firing to recover your health doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you most likely won’t care for Luftrausers for very long. If you’re finding yourself on the fence, I recommend you check out the prototype available from Vlambeer’s website. Do you want more of that, but even crazier and with more in-depth systems? Here’s a shot of whiskey and your plane-riding gloves, pilot. We got us a sky to win.

 

Final Score: 5/5

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Game Review: Year Walk (PC)

There’s something quite magical about folklore, written in the ye olde days before long distance mass communication became a thing and skepticism poured water over the dimly lit flame of anything that required a small suspension of disbelief to enjoy. The unexplainable needed explanation but we didn’t really know or understand things so let’s just say it’s all the fault of a horse that can extend its back depending on how many people got on it to ride and then would drown them when it had enough. Sounds like a load of absolute stark-raving lunacy, but some people firmly still believe in weird shit like Bigfoot, Loch Ness monster and Ray Lewis being innocent of killing those two people.

Year Walk is based on various Scandinavian folk tales, tying them together with the titular Year Walk or årsgång. Undergoing sensory deprivation and starvation, Year Walkers must retreat from the world for the entirety of a festival before embarking on their journey through the woods. As they begin their low blood sugar fueled stumble around the forest they were to come in contact with strange creatures and visions which could tell them about the events of the coming year. Tales of love, death, fortune and other important markers in one’s life could all be theirs for the low price of their sanity or life.

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We start off in a sleepy Swedish farmland surrounded by woods and vast stretches of nothing, speaking to our romantic interest about our plans to go out on a Year Walk. Completely ignoring her pleas and warnings about what happened to a relative of hers who went out on one, we quietly retreat to a hut and wait for the night. When we pop our heads back out, the snowy landscape has changed. A sinister red hue tints the skies that poke through the treeline. A heavy snow falls clouding our vision. We’re on a mission to find answers about the next 365 days and along the way we’ll come face to face with a handful of strange creatures and puzzles that require some thinking to get past.

Year Walk started life as an iOS title, releasing in early 2013. It was praised for taking advantage of the iPhone/iPad’s unique features and incorporating them into puzzles, the gorgeous art design and chilling – though relaxing – soundtrack. It plays out like a point and click adventure game would but with a complete lack of an inventory and lateral-oriented movement with specific points on each “island” allowing for forward/backward movement to another cell. Puzzles likewise are limited based on their original designs, with items being only click-and-drag and puzzle interfaces being simplified. This is not to say that Year Walk suffers due to this, but one can instantly note what it was originally designed for.

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Some puzzles work better than others. I think the worst offender was one where I had to select from 6-8 glowing circles that made an audible hum with different tones as I approached them. If I chose the right one, I was able to progress to another part of the puzzle with an identical setup. If I failed and chose wrongly, I had to start over from the beginning. As someone who nailed the piano puzzle in Myst on the first go, I felt like I was missing something essential to completing what was otherwise an annoying trial & error section. It was over soon enough though, and I was back to running around and coming face to face with mythological horrors.

While it is certainly impressive that Year Walk has been able to combine so much lore and literature into one package, I can’t help but feel like the end result is a tad disjointed. None of the mythos/apparitions that appear to you seem to have any connection to one another. The end result of solving one creature’s puzzle has hardly any real meaningful effect beyond getting you one step closer to an item. It doesn’t help that on occasion a scene flat out doesn’t make sense. In one of the game’s few jump scares I almost thought I had been killed outright, only to discover a giant bloodstain that was absorbed before my eyes. Was I killed? Merely severely wounded? What was the purpose of the jump other than to just put one there? It’s all just a tad bit thematically loose.

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Year Walk’s greatest accomplishment was giving me an experience I haven’t had for a long time – the inability to find a whole lot of information on the subject. Looking up the act itself resulted in hundreds of results about the game itself and none on the folklore. I, as well as a few other investigative souls, started to come to the conclusion developer Simogo had made up the entire thing. It was a pleasure to discover that we were wrong. Year Walking was a ritual that had existed (whether or not it worked is another story) and the creatures that you stumbled across had existed as bedtime stories from evil nannies and babysitters. There exists some records on supposed encounters with creatures like the skogsrå, some who were believed to have had sex with one or cooperated with one were put to death. Leo Kent of Quadrapheme did the Internet a favor by collecting information via print books and phonecalls. It’s really awesome that someone had to go that far in order to find out the truth behind some of the legends.

I can certainly appreciate what Year Walk attempts to do but I don’t feel like the magic of the original survived the transition entirely. Puzzles that previously required the use of multi-touch gestures and the gyroscope were replaced with rather pedestrian item-hunt stuff we’ve seen plenty of times before. While a very short title, it requires at least a second playthrough to solve a previously unsolvable puzzle using information hidden in a locked journal. The second playthrough ended up becoming my favorite part of the game as it gave me more of that investigative feel that looking up information on the real myths behind what we saw in the forest would later give me. Year Walk is a gorgeous and atmospheric piece of work, it just doesn’t all totally feel there.

 

Final Score: 3/5

Published in: on March 31, 2014 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Review – The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings Enhanced Edition (PC, 360)

The Witcher 2 has been a diamond in the treasury of PC gaming exclusives. Developer CD Projekt RED has updated the game on several occasions, adding more content and refining the experience each time. Not satisfied with just balance changes, they added a tutorial to help assist players in learning the ropes without sacrificing the pace of the prologue, a DLC mission, an arena minigame, new hairstyles for Geralt and a new difficulty mode that added weapons and armor with a twist for the hardcore fans. All of this was done at the price of free, for anyone who bought the game in the past and all those who bought it in the future would get that content with their purchase. Now along comes the Enhanced Edition, further tweaked with more DLC missions seamlessly added into the world and all of the previous content updates brought along for the ride.

Their biggest splash however comes as they enter the market for the Xbox 360 for the first time. They had to stuff a game that was known for bringing computers down to their knees onto DVDs and make it run on hardware that, in computer years, is considered antiquated. Read on to find out how well the game has tailored itself to fit the Xbox 360′s slim cut pants.

The Witcher 2′s story starts off some short time after the first game’s finale. The titicular Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, is a mutated human who has been raised in the art of monster slaying. Witchers are renowned for their physical prowess, yet feared as being “nonhuman”, a slur that weighs heavily on them wherever the go. The humans tend to look down on them as they would elves or dwarves, despite Witchers being hired to save them from animals that would otherwise rip their scrawny asses to pieces. Geralt is employed by King Foltest, ruler of Temeria, as a sort of good luck charm on the battlefield. An unusual decision for a Witcher, as they tend to stay out of politics and stick with the business of killing creatures.

All out war is threatening to erupt within the northern kingdoms, relations between nations are tense. As a result of getting involved with the doings of Monarchs, Geralt is forced on a wild goose chase to track down a mysterious man who has been killing Kings. Along the way he runs into an elf named Iorveth who presents to him another side of the coin on global politics, and he is faced with a tough decision. Which side will he choose? To continue along the human path, being treated like a puppet by those in the highest of positions? Or would he side with the nonhuman uprising The Scoia’tael to fight racial injustice? What will the implications be for his friends and aquaintences? How will the world itself be affected?

Your decisions carry meat on their bones much like the prostitutes you spotted in the back alley behind the bar. Most major choices will either come back to bite you in the ass or give you a little helping hand. But the reprocussions are often delayed; similar to the first game, you’ll make a tough choice and you won’t see just how it is going to affect everything until several hours later. One major choice you make will even change your entire Chapter 2 experience! Your location, missions, characters (mostly) are all different than if you chose the other. This rewards multiple playthroughs, allowing you to see how the other half lives. You’ll also make smaller choices that will determine what character you will meet somewhere and what information you’ll get out of that person instead of the other. The only way to get the full picture for yourself is to play through again.

The word “Mature” gets thrown around as a throwaway buzzword in reviews, press statements, and on the covers of games to represent a certain level of violence, blood, sexual content, drug use and other morally “objectionable” things that are used beyond a certain extent in a game. Very rarely does it so refer to the mental maturity required to understand a plot filled with grey areas and realizing that decisions you make are going to come to fruition eventually. Entire armies, civilizations, races and classes depend on who you side with and what choices you make. No matter which you choose, there will be blood. Whose blood that is is left in your hands. Characters are multifacited, a character may appear to be one thing but be something else entirely, and wether or not you find out the truth about them depends on your convincing skills, what other characters you talk to and what actions you take during certain missions. Even Geralt’s friends perform some rather questionable moves from time to time.

Upon release, The Witcher 2 was a visual powerhouse on the PC, and still is one of the most remarkable looking games on the platform. The RED Engine is incredibly powerful and is capable of doing some extreme things to make the game look prettier (Ubersampling, anyone?) so a thought on many a gamer’s mind is “Can The Witcher 2 be run on the Xbox 360?” CD Projekt RED did an incredible job cramming most of the visuals of the PC version into a system that is 6-7 years old. PC Players will notice a huge difference in the lighting engine, which is less neon hued and doesn’t give off as much “radiation glow” on the 360. Lighting is a lot more muted but still decently atmospheric. It’s a tradeoff that works well. Character models are still finely detailed and textures are sharp and crisp on most characters and surfaces but the occasional blurry texture will marr an otherwise picturesque scene.

However, due to the way the game streams in assets texture and object pop-in can became a huge issue. The developers suggest you to install the game before playing, and trust me it makes a big difference. Once I installed most of my pop-in was reduced or removed, having the occasional texture or low LOD model show up for a second during a cutscene but it was quickly fixed. Load times also improved dramatically once I installed, making a death or moving to a different location much smoother overall. Screen tearing is also reduced by installing. So make sure you install both discs before taking off, its worth losing the 15GB of space.

Even still with the stress of all the eye candy, the game maintains a silky smooth framerate pretty much the entire game. I ran into an issue with maybe one cutscene running abnormally low due to the sheer amount of special effects on screen, and that alone is very impressive. Many games wish they could claim as steady of a framerate, and it is something I wish  more developers would strive for. The image quality is without a doubt nowhere near as crystaline as the PC version, but the result is still gorgeous. It looks great in motion and doesn’t hitch up on you when you need it to be at its smoothest: the combat.

Combat is an often highly misunderstood part of the game. While Geralt dances about the battlefield like a death ballerina or action game hero, you cannot simply mash one button to win. Each battle you enter will require intelligent positioning, strategic use of traps and magic and knowing when to attack, dodge, block or riposte. At the start of the game you will feel the most under-prepared but with reason. As with all RPGs you gain more skills as you level, giving you access to more tools of the trade or perks in battle that will serve a multitude of purposes. You get 3 schools of fighting (once you hit level 8 and get out of the starting skill tree) to choose from as you add your points towards unlocking better benefits for your chosen style. Each skill has two levels, so you can further concentrate your build on certain types of bonuses or spread your points out and gain more skills in other trees.

A witcher needs his specializations to cater towards his style of fighting, so pay attention to what you find you use most in combat and built towards that. Its natural to say you use the swords a lot, and the swordsmanship path was my preferred school. But some players go down the alchemy route to give themselves more power through potent potions and stronger bombs and traps. Others may want to have a better control of the battlefield through magic, turning an enemy onto his friends, holding a foe in place, lighting them on fire or pushing them away with a powerful gust among other things. Even on normal difficulty, a wise selection of potions, blade oils, magic, traps and bombs for each battle will make your fights much easier. Enemies are still dangerous, and require understanding of what works best against them including your position on the field and if they are more likely to dodge a heavy attack or shake off a light attack like a breeze hit them.

In order to get the most out of the combat system, you’ll have to play smart, play careful, and learn how to take advantage of every opportunity you get. Once I increased my dodge range and gained the riposte ability I found most fights to be much easier than before. Soon I was reaping the benefits of my new skills and smoothly integrated them into my use of bombs and traps on the field for fast paced action and ending encounters with satisfyingly styled finishers. You won’t be a master out of the gate, but it is something worth working up towards. The amount of preparation for each battle isn’t as tedious as you might think, and once you’re in the thick of battle and having to make decisions on the fly, you’ll be glad you put down that freeze trap. It’s intense, and makes you feel like a hunter that much more.

You’re going to need money to equip yourself, a witcher always strives to do a job that pays him well. You get your standard selection of “Kill x” quests, which are fairly uninventive but make sense in the perspective of the lore. You’ll also get quests that make you run back and forth between two or more NPCs trying to resolve some kind of conflict, again nothing that hasn’t already been done before. However, the series’ signature “grey area” choices often make it so that there’s no clear cut right or wrong. If you make a decision, someone will benefit, someone will suffer. You have your choice of gambling via fistfighting, arm wrestling and dice poker for money. When you want to maximize the amount of money you make, I find Dice Poker to be the worst option for making money (and to hell with its “Get 5 of a kind!” achievement, at that), and arm wrestling to be the most lucrative.

One of my favorite little details is Geralt’s quest logs, which are all written by his bard friend Dandelion. His dramatic and silly retellings of events that occur during a quest add flavor to a section of games that usually consists of lists of objectives. The RPG fan who enjoys a good read will get a kick out of the bard’s scribblings from awesome main quest adventures down to trying to make Geralt being the champion of arm wrestling sound intense. If you fail a mission he will not hesitate to call you out on it either. It’s only appropriate that Dandelion be the scribe for this tale, as he prides himself on tales of Geralt. No matter what he does, no matter which side of the field he finds himself on, Dandelion wants the world to remember the choices and sacrifices made on the journey.

However, not all is perfect with the Xbox 360 version. Some of the voice acting sounds  like the audio has been overdriven. King Foltest was especially prone to having his voice clip frequently, which may cause players to get frustrated listening to an otherwise outstanding character. The interface for your inventory and shops is  cluttered, especially as your pack fills with trinkets and crafting materials aplenty. While you can easily sort through for a specific type of item, it feels like it takes way too many button presses to get to what you want to see. For some reason, the animation for drinking potions has been removed entirely, being replaced by a static menu that returns you to the game with buffs applied. In general, the minimap is confusing and rotates with your character which can cause some disorientation, especially in a new area. Character models are reused, sometimes often to a painful enough degree that you can see the same person standing 10 feet away from one another.

The game absolutely has its faults. The brutal difficulty and unforgiving barrier of entry can be a detriment for some gamers. For me though, I consider The Witcher 2 to be one of the best games on the 360, just as it was on the PC. Though I encourage anyone with a capable PC to pick up that version for the crisper graphical fidelity, you can’t go wrong by picking up the Xbox 360 version. It is the same great game as it was when it first launched a year ago, updated and fit perfectly into the xbox 360′s older hardware with zero compromises. 360 owners even get cool physical extras, a map of the world, soundtrack CD and a game guide for those who get a little lost.  With a beefy main quest and a completely different second chapter depending on your choices before it, and a replayable Arena minigame, there’s plenty of replay value and bang for your buck (If you get that kind of humor).

(Screenshots taken are from the PC version of the game)

Published in: on May 13, 2012 at 9:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Music industry pops a cap in Pop Cop music blog, why?

I have to wonder what it is about the industry that feels it has to kill off the fans in any way it can. And I’m not talking about casual music pirates. Today, I’m talking about the people like myself. Who like to talk about the music that they love, and bring music to people’s attention. It’s a passion for us, as well as for those who like jumping around music blogs to find something new or read about something they might be curious in. Fans spread the word out to more could-be fans. That word spreads. The glory of the internet allows so many of us to cover what we want, and that anyone searching around can find it instantly.

So it gets to me that music blog Pop Cop (which I’ve never heard of until today, but bear with me) was shut down after a bunch of rapid B.S. DMCA takedown notices. Nevermind the fact that I think some of the freedoms DMCA gives copyright “owners” are shit. Let’s look at the facts for this blog:

I write about the Scottish music scene. I do this in various ways – updating a news feed on the site called The Goss at least five days a week; writing two lengthy posts each week which contain anything from interviews to topical articles, gig reviews, rants, reader polls, quirky features, festival previews; running the Music Alliance Pact, which on the 15th of every month sees a Scottish song shared on my blog and over 30 other blogs throughout the world; holding an annual Scottish gig photography competition.

Doesn’t sound very dangerous to me. In fact, it sounds exactly like the kind of music blog we need more of! Now, he does admit to having mp3s on the blog, but that they’re mostly from independant Scottish bands. Any songs he received a complaint for would be removed instantly. And then, this happened:

Here’s how screwed up the system is. On March 7, 2008, I published an article about Lee Beattie, who was working in Scottish music PR. She mentioned that she liked the I’m Not There soundtrack so I decided to include two mp3s from it within the post, namely:

Cat Power – Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again
Karen O and The Million Dollar Bashers – Highway 61 Revisited

Since all mp3 links on my posts become inactive within about three weeks, the links to those two songs had not been ‘live’ since 2008. Yet more than TWO YEARS later, on April 19, 2010, Google sent me three (identical) Blogger DMCA Takedown Notification for this post. I could have filed a counter-claim and argued that the links were long since dead, but instead I took the quick option of deleting all mention of the two songs from the post and republished it that same day.

However, on May 3, 2010, another Blogger DMCA Takedown Notification email arrived about the SAME post. So that’s four ‘violations’ I’ve racked up and there’s not even a single mp3 on it.

Google keeps track of all Blogger DMCA Takedown Notifications they send out and when it reaches their magic number, they shut down your blog. And that’s what has happened to The Pop Cop on May 14. Three years worth of work gone. No right of appeal.

If you’re a music blog fan, do this guy a favor and visit his page I linked to above. Let him know you have his support, as well as email blogger to help get him his page back. We can’t allow ourselves to get nonsensically bullied by DMCA notices for stuff that doesn’t exist. This guy was a huge promotional tool for a ton of bands that have lost his years of support because a company using a quick and dirty tool to carpet-bomb anything that looks like a threat.

Thanks.

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 9:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Mondo Cane” by Mike Patton

Mondo Cane consists of cover songs of Italian Pop music from the 1960s, with a big band/swing sound. And Mike Patton on vocals. That last part should let the entire idea make a lot more sense. Fans of Patton will probably be on board by the time I said “Mondo Cane”, but for the uninitiated into the cult of Patton: Patton exercises his vocal chords in various styles that range from crooning to lashing out at any and everything.


Patton, Patton, Patton, and more Patton.

You can hear some of the sounds that influenced his later works, and I think I agree that this album could be a sequel of sorts to Mr. Bungle’s California. Musically speaking, you’re going to get a good dose of the Jazzy orchestrated sound with some modern instruments providing the occasional flair. It’s goofy, but good fun even if you won’t be able to understand more than the two english words that pop up in the entire album. Patton plays to the crowd, he enjoys what he’s doing and it comes through in the final product.

DEEP DEEP DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWN

Published in: on May 4, 2010 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Silent Hill, First Person, and You.

So there’s this rumor going around saying that the new Silent Hill may be done in First Person. Well, it got me thinking. Just how well could this whole thing work? The series really got its chops for the chilling atmosphere and creepy vibes, but not exactly the gameplay mechanics. Silent Hill, like many other horror games of the past, has had a bit of an identity crisis in trying to evolve with current gaming standards. Silent Hill 1-3 may have come out at a time where the tank-like controls were considered acceptable; but by the time 4 came out the whole scheme was getting old and tired. Recent series entries Homecoming and Shattered Memories both did their part to create a better third-person control scheme (Shattered Memories needs way more credit for the very fluid use of the wiimote-flashlight setup).

But now we’re taking a look at a new world where Silent Hill has never gone before: fully First Person perspective. Are the days of carefully constructed third person dynamic camera angle changes thrown out of the window? Is the series about to lose even more of its signature style that made the first games so unique?

Relax and take a deep breath, and grab some food while you’re at it. Here is why I think Silent Hill can live on in a first person style.

There is a scene in Silent Hill 4 which inspired me to think about first person horror games and how they could work. I remember getting to the spot where you are walking around the apartment building that faces Henry’s, and there is a hallway where a bunch of screeching creatures are jumping from one rooftop to the next. There are so many of them, but thankfully none seem to care that you are beneath them. Their speed, trajectory and urgency made me think about a possibility of having to run from these creatures. For some reason, I thought up of a First Person scenario that played out closer to Mirror’s Edge than the way the in-apartment segments did in that game. You would jump from rooftop to rooftop evading these bastards and finding ways to make them fall to their deaths, before finally reach a safe zone of escape.

I haven’t thought about that for a few years, but it was the first thing that popped up in my head as I read the title of the article on the front page this afternoon. Just imagine it: You’re being chased by something in the thick fog, unsure of your next route of escape. There’s plenty of routes to take, but which street is the best one to lose this creature on? Or do you run to a building or alleyway and try to ambush it with a good 2×4, complete with rusty nails crashing down on its head? And what are the risks of you finding more creatures in the foggy ether? It’s a lot to take in, but could be very well done if we recall that the series for the most part allowed you to escape every encounter on foot.


Totally Legit.

First Person Horror is not something new. One of the most popular recent examples I can think of is Condemned: Criminal Origins. Now I never did finish the game, but what I did play of it felt so right in how it executed level design and enemy placement/movement to create a fear in the player. I hear Condemned 2 lost some of the charm but she was certainly a looker. While I don’t think Silent Hill needs to follow exactly in Condemned’s hobo-bashing footsteps, it is a great place to start. Another game series to look at for first person horror done right is the Penumbra series, which provided some chilling moments and the right amount of atmosphere. Or even the often mentioned Bioshock/System Shock 2.

Then there’s the Half Life 2 mod Korsakovia. While it wasn’t exactly the most well designed mod out there, the final levels were breathtaking in their deconstruction of everything the mod had taught you up to that point. It struck me as something the gods at Silent Hill may prepare for a special breed of asshole.

This is because the last two levels were no fun to play. The platforming was pretty bad, and I got so tired of stupid slip-ups that, after a few tries, I just no-clipped through quite a few of the annoying segments. But the design, the very fact that these objects were just floating in space in that manner, felt like something Silent Hill would churn out. I’m sure we can find a way to mix the trademark otherworldly beauty with level design that doesn’t make the player want to rip their hair out.

One of the other tactics that Silent Hill used well was Impossible Space. Doorways that inexplicably teleported you to the other side of a hotel, but going back into the door would put you into the hotel room the door actually belonged to. Sudden drop-offs where actual ground once stood. Twisting paths of grated floor that would take you not only off the beaten path, but well off of your map as well. The way that Silent Hill toyed with your expectations during exploration is something that can be done very well in the First Person as well. Hazard: The Journey of Life is an Unreal Tournament 3 mod that uses exploration and puzzle solving along with impossible spaces to confuse and humble the player at the same time.

I think you should experience the way Hazard works, as that will help you understand where I’m coming from better than I can explain with words without becoming too long-winded. You can download the demo (It’s standalone, but your computer will need to be able to run Unreal Engine 3 games) or watch this youtube.

Checked it out yet? Alright then, now imagine that with some Silent Hill settings!

One of the hobbies that Silent Hill caused me to take some interest in is Urban Exploration. People often go to abandoned buildings and areas and walk around capturing the haunting images of a place rotting itself down. The people that do this aren’t doing so in a third person perspective, they are in a first person perspective and so are all of the photos and videos we get to see of their findings. If one studies UE long enough, you’ll find that a first person Silent Hill could benefit from studying what makes these images so haunting. People have chilling tales of exploring these areas only to get spooked by something, causing them to run for their lives. We could use these fears to our advantage to create the proper Silent Hill atmosphere again.

The next step would be to write the next warped tale to wrap our heads around, to base the decay and the darkness for our flashlights to illuminate and cause shadows to dance around in. If we could capture that “I’m running up these basement stairs because for all I know some nasty shit is coming up behind me” feeling, tie it together with the proper sound design, another Akira Yamaoka soundtrack, and the other elements I’ve listed above… I believe Silent Hill will have found its calling in today’s gaming market.

Published in: on April 21, 2010 at 10:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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“Volume Two” by She & Him

Recipe for She & Him’s Volume Two:

A Volume Two is a simple mocktail that mixes two favorite summer beverages. At first you may not think that lemonade and iced tea can be mixed, but they do combine together extremely well for a refreshing summertime sipper or a breakfast drink.
Ingredients:

* 3 oz lemonade
* 3 oz iced tea

Preparation:

1. Pour equal amounts of lemonade and iced tea into a collins glass filled with ice.
2. Stir well

She & Him return with another sugary sweet folk album, rife with vivid daydream-esque atmosphere as in Volume One. However, Volume Two is a little more upbeat and benefits from a cleaner production style compared to Volume One. She (Zooey Deschanel)’s voice serves as the tea to the Arnold Palmer combo, bold and subtly sweet. While Him (M. Ward)’s instrumentation is the lemonade, enhancing the sweetness of the tea while adding a citrus twist.

Combine the two ingredients, chill and enjoy. After all, It’s Summertime and the sun is shining down on the rolling green hills while you’re at a picnic with your sweetheart.

Recipe courtesy of About.com

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 7:45 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“Option Paralysis” by The Dillinger Escape Plan

I’ve been having some trouble trying to express my thoughts on this album. So, here’s the review in a nutshell:




To put it simply, this is some strong stuff. Option Paralysis was my first time actually listening to The Dillinger Escape Plan, despite having heard of them through Mike Patton’s brief stint as their vocalist. Some fans seem upset with the band’s recent change of their metal sound to include softer musical elements. Well yes, there are jazzy influences, particularly found in the piano-infused track “Widower”, but there’s way more than enough of the boys sounding like a pack of wildcats about to bite your head off to satisfy your urge.

There are some parts of the album where the band employs some strange sounds but for the most part you’re going to hear buzzing, pissed off guitars furiously slicing at any optimism floating around in the air. Listen to the opening track “Farewell, Mona Lisa” as it serves to be a campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup envisioning of the whole album to follow. Option Paralysis is a very powerful, noisy metal album with a few breathers as the band examines the chaos it has left in its wake.

“Tryshasla” by Secede

Every once in a while you stumble across something by accident that turns out to affect you in a meaningful way. Secede’s “Tryshasla” is one of those hidden gems that I just happened to stumble upon. I almost overlooked this album because I haven’t been in a big electronic music mood lately. With spring opening up my ears have yearned for sounds that invoke and enhance the temperatures and the smells of nature waking from its winter nap. Thankfully this album found me on a groggy and wet weekend.

The central character of the album, Frank, is dying. As the opening track rumbles in we hear his hospital equipment churning away and faint talking in the background. It’s uncomfortable. You can feel the tension in the air he breathes. He’d rather not be there right now. A voice speaks out to him, asking him “Where’ve you been?” After a few inquiries, Frank pleads “Let me go…” and then the medicine kicks in. Frank’s being put into a sleep as per his wishes. You’d think that perhaps Frank doesn’t want to be awake for he’d be in pain.

But that’s not the case. Frank instead wishes to return to an imaginary and beautiful land called Sanda. As Frank is finding himself back in this fantasy world for the last time, we are taken on a tour through some very powerful ambient work. Coupled with the artwork provided with the album, the music captures the children’s storybook hills, lush forests and exotic wildlife of Sanda. This is a world all of Frank’s own making. Everything has been lovingly crafted over the years in his mind to create the ultimate place to escape. Some technologies exist here as well, from the strange things lighting up the castle’s towers at night to a train we see referenced to in the art but don’t hear until the very end.

There’s a loving, homey warmth to each synth swell, bird chirp, and field recording here. This is a dream, and the sounds convey that very well. But as sweet as it all is, it is a dying dream. Everything we hear is also tainted with a hint of sadness, Frank knows this will be his last time upon those beautiful shores and traversing the countryside smelling the grass in the wind. What’s even sadder, perhaps, is the fact that not only will this blissful world no longer exist to Frank once he passes, no one else will ever know or be able to journey there. It’s going to be lost forever.

By the final track, Frank has said his goodbyes to our world as well as his own. The last thing we hear is that train chugging off into the distance, signaling the end to our visit of Sanda. Thankfully for us, Frank’s beautiful world just so happened to be a work of art, preserved in a format for us to find and explore with him, and revisit as many times as we wish while we’re still alive. We will one day have to wave farewell to this land as well, but hopefully by then we will be able to let go as gracefully as Frank did.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 5:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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