Saturday, December 18, 2010

This is a book for Superman!

So, my last post was rather confusing to most people what with its dork jargon and all, so I thought I'd talk about something we all have some history with...the holidays.
My wife is going to NY for the holidays to spend with her family, while I hold down the fort at home and spend the holidays with mine. So, my mother-in-law sent me some presents in the mail to be opened before Jennica leaves. I opened them tonight.
Inside the mailed package were many wrapped goodies; some traditional fare that I look forward to getting every year: new socks, some deodorant, a toothbrush, Ronco spray-on hair, gum, mints...err--waitaminute...

Anyway, the new BIG present this year was this:

This looks like a job for Batman!

Yeah, that's a DC comics pop-up book for kidults like myself. It has pop-up pages within pop-up pages within pop-up pages and a Bat Signal(c) that lights up. It has pop-up Wonder Woman. The final pop-up in the book is an ensemble cast of well known and obscure DC characters that rises off the page 12 inches. It rules.
The only downside? It's like 10 inches thick, so
when I carry it around I look really tiny. A small price to pay for such awesomeness.

Thanks Momma Cathy!

All the pop-ups are even illustrated on the back as well as the front. And, yeah, that Bat-mobile transforms as you open the mini-page it's on.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Red Dead Redemption Thoughts and err...Feelings

I completed Red Dead Redemption's single player campaign over the weekend. I had taken some time away from it to start and finish some other games, but came back to it and knocked it out. Some things I took away:
1. This is the first Rockstar game I have ever finished. That means something.
2. I found myself enjoying the systems within the game through to the end. Meaning, even when I finished the game, there were still things I hadn't tried, and things I felt I wanted to do more. This is rare in a sandbox game, as usually, the systems all connect earlier, or are limited enough that I get sick of them well before finishing the game.
3. I REALLY enjoyed the last few hours of the story, and without spoiling it, recommend playing through it if you haven't already.
4. Horseback riding in this game draws much inspiration from Shadow of the Colossus. It's simple, elegant, and I would do it even if I didn't need to in order to get from point A to B.
5. I hate that I can't swim, and that even stepping in water deeper than my nipple results in instant death. I know this is used as a means of blocking the player's progress in the world, but sheesh! Lame. At least let me doggy paddle for a bit.
6. It becomes evident that the sandbox and the story clash with one another often; The story wants to frame John Marston in a particular light while the sandbox wants me to be able to express myself using John Marston as my "means" of expression. The story paints John as a renegade who has turned a new leaf, and just wants to reunite his family so he can become a rancher. But, the sandbox lets me kill whomever I want, however I want. Hogtie someone and carry them to the prairie, leaving them to die in the sun? Sure. How about then startling a herd of buffalo to trample that person? Check. Or, maybe simply shooting your opponents in a friendly game of poker in the head after they take you for all of your money? Go for it. Lasso and drag someone behind your horse through cactus infested desert? God yes. Just know that when the story resumes, you're a man on a mission to reunite his family and live peacefully, and the writers really want to tell a story that personally made me often feel like a hypocrite.
I'm honestly not sure how this could be remedied, other than changing the story based on how the player behaves in the greater sandbox, which may not tell as compelling a tale.
Regardless, the game is impressively broad and boldly beautiful at the same time. And, I haven't even touched the multi-player nor the Undead Nightmare expansion. Buy it if you haven't already, and are at all interested. This is well worth the 60 dollars.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mommy wow! I'm a big kid now.

In my effort to be a better husband, I attempted to make Jennica dinner tonight...for the 1st time since we've been married.
Note that previous attempts at this (when I was still an ambitious lad and courting her), resulted in me scraping the burn off of a grilled cheese sandwich while her tomato soup from a can was getting cold. That's what ambition will get you. Stupid grilled cheese. I never get it right.

But, what with me being off work and all I figured I had a full day to prepare a meal that would otherwise take a skilled cook 2 hours. This should be no problem!

And actually, it wasn't. I even had time to nap, walk the dog, nap some more, and visit friends.

What did I make? A Moroccan stew in Jennica's Tagine. What's a Tagine? It's a clay pot and lid, with a hole at the top for venting. You put a bunch of ingredients into the bottom, cover it, and let them simmer. This particular stew turned out really well, and I'm proud of my efforts. What was in the stew?

Chicken marinaded in lemon juice, Tumeric, and garlic. I didn't know what was technically a "clove" of garlic and had to look this up.
Onions. Lots of Onions. I cried.
Harissa sauce (I made from scratch. Ha!)!
Artichoke Hearts. I heart them.
Cilantro. I had to look up how to chop this.
Chicken stock.
Some sugar and spices.
It's served over Couscous.

Kudos to Jennica for trusting me to use the sharp knives and for being patient. She rules.
No more "My First Kitchen" for me!

Photos below:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Hi-gher-Def Arlo

Here's a Hi-gher-Def version:

Arlo Murphiniti

It's been too long since I've posted anything, and I plan on correcting that. There are quite a few things I'd like to write about. But, first: A video I made...for my dog. Yes, this is what I do with my time off work.

But it's filling my withering soul.

Okay, Jennica...this is for you too... :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Steel Battalion Sequel Announced!

Holy, holy shit. This could be the perfect application to sell Kinects to core and hardcore gamers, as well as rejuvenate the Steel Battalion franchise (and maybe get it recognition) in the west. Kinect means the price of entry is lower (for those who have a Kinect), and the possibility is there for the player to use the controller, and apply Kinect functionality to special commands, communication, etc. Capcom publishing this makes me feel good, and From Software has mech game experience with ChromeHounds and Armored Core, but I hope they don't stray too far from what made the first games so cool; the simulation aspects, team play, etc. Anyway, I wanted to share this. Thanks for the link, Tim!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vanilla Porter sans Awesome Label

See this?

Yeah...that's a vanilla porter I just finished brewing and bottling with my friend Ben (Thanks Ben!) before Stephen designs a label for it. Yes, you, Mr. Kesler. What's that? I forgot to tell you that you were going to design a label for me in your spare time?
C''s not like you have a kid, job, wife, new house or hobbies to take up your time.

So, yeah,'s a Vanilla Porter. Bottle conditioned. It's awesome.
Put a blue ribbon other somewhere if you don't mind. Thanks!

-Posted with my iPad.

Location:S 1000 E,Salt Lake City,United States

Selling my Suzuki

I'm selling my 2003 Suzuki Intruder Volusia 805cc.
It's super dependable and runs great!
14,000 miles
Highway bars with foot pegs
Quick release windshield
Cruise control
Vance and Hines pipes

The bike is clean and a really great ride around town or on longer road trips. It's bigger in the body than other bikes it's size, has great balance, and keeps up with larger engine cruisers.

I'm asking $3,500.00, but that price is definitely negotiable, so if you want to come check it out, please let me know!


-Posted in bed with my iPad.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hosting Yard Sales... actually a lot of fun. It's pretty cool meeting people and making deals. I think I'll walk out of this about $35 wealthier for having sold 33 years worth of hoarded consumed goods, but whatever...

More room for the next 33 years of crap I don't need.

-Posted with my iPad, sucka.


Thursday, August 12, 2010


So, I took the plunge and bought a motorcycle I'm not supposed to own. It's a 2004 Ducati 996 S4R. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful bikes I've ever seen (although, admittedly, I have poor taste). So, today it's getting a new tire, new back brakes and lowered 1 1/4". Then my little legs should be able to reach the ground better and I'll look less like a baby on it. Then Jennica will think I'm cool.

It's f'in sweet, Brah...

-Posted in bed with my iPad.

Location:Salt Lake

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Steel Battalion Love

So, I went back to an old favorite this evening after not having played it in months. I brought Steel Battalion home from work where I kept it to "show it off" to co-workers who were either interested in it or coerced into checking it out in an effort to be supportive of my obsession with Vertical Tanks (okay, it's more of a passing interest).

After setting up the entire controller complete with a TV tray to support it, I sat in front of my TV in the ManCave (TM) determined to get further in the game than I have in the past. When the wife's away...

Bleh. That didn't quite happen.

What did happen, was my wife returning home from a baby shower early to catch a glimpse of me at my best, hunched over in a dark room, t-shirt and underwear on, in my Naugahyde desk chair with a 40-button dork-throne of a controller in front of me on top of a TV tray with a PBR next to it. I immediately went from elite VT Pilot to Captain No Sex For a Month.
Oh wait...I was already Captain No Se- get the point.

But, seriously...I love Steel Battalion.
What is it, you ask? Well, for starters it's a peripheral game much like Rock Band...sans the social aspect.
Or the socially acceptable aspect.
Although, the sequel to Steel Battalion did let me get online and get wasted by a bunch of Japanese middle-schoolers. That was kind of social, except for the fact that I had no idea what they were yelling at me when they blew up my bot.
But, really, what's so great about the game is that the whole experience is wrapped around learning to pilot a kick ass robot tank in a war and getting really good at it over time (unless you're me). The game has created a whole fiction around these robot tanks ( referred to as Vertical Tanks, or VTs for short ), and utterly immerses you within it. It's hard-to-the-f'ing core, and I love it.

Before each mission, you get debriefed, complete with charts and maps, then you select your VT and your load out. You can even select the music you want to play out of your 80's boom box within the cockpit of your VT.
Starting each mission, you have to actually boot up your VT with a sequence of timed button and switch presses, risking stalling out the VT with poor timing, resulting in repeating the sequence.

Some other hardcore decisions the team made:

1. The game is played in the 1st person from within the cockpit of your VT, but you view the action through a monitor(s) within the cockpit. This allows the pilot to manipulate the camera on the outside of the VT through an analog stick without changing his movement direction. The trade-off here is that your view is intentionally obscured via the limited size of your monitor and its simulated reception (which can deteriorate when moving too quickly or being hit with an attack), and the fact you can easily get disoriented, thinking where you are looking is where you should be moving, but that isn't the case.

2. You man two pilot sticks and three pedals, plus a console of 40 or so buttons and switches. This means there's a lot to learn and getting to the point where you use the controller with muscle memory takes a long time. But it's worth it! You actually feel like you're getting good at piloting this thing.

3. Kinesthetics, or your connection to the game's action from animation and responsiveness are deliberately made sluggish. The game wants to simulate piloting XX ton behemoth mechs, so everything moves purposely slowly and heavily. Aiming your weapon arms results in a delay between positioning the aiming reticule over an enemy and the actual weapon arms catching up. Moving forward consists of pressing the gas pedal AND shifting, and reaching speeds of 40 mph+ can take a bit in some of the earlier VTs. If you turn too sharp for a VT with poor stabilization, you'll start to tip over, and have to perform a quick counter dash to keep from falling over completely. Don't worry, though, if you do, there's a maneuver for righting yourself again after a few seconds of being prone and vulnerable.

4. Damage sustained by your VT results in cockpit fires, blinding flashes in your monitor and debris cluttering your screen. Luckily for the player, you have a button for a cockpit fire extinguisher, as well as windshield wipers you can activate to clean the screen off. Take too much damage, though, and you'll have to hastily press the eject button to bail out of your doomed VT, losing it, but keeping your game progress. Fail to eject in time, though and you will go down with your VT, losing your save file with it. Harsh, but SO cool considering the experience the game wants you to have.

5. The sequel was online only, and allowed you to play with a team of people in missions against another team. It had voice chat with comms channels for each person on the team so that a team member could talk to one or all teammates at a time from the controller. A player could equip a Device to his VT that when shot at an enemy VT, would stick to it, and allow the opposing team to eavesdrop on their communications.
VTs could be upgraded with parts bought, found or stolen, and an enemy VT could be crippled instead of outright blown up, and while down, a player could use a manipulator arm from his VT to snatch a data disc from his opponent's VT, thereby giving him access to its parts post-mission.

So, yes, it's dorky.
Very. Dorky.
But it hits all the right nerves in me.

I've never played a game so immersive, and would love to see a prominent developer try a similar approach to a game, but also try to bring this kind of experience to a broader audience. Recent years have shown that peripheral gaming has a place in the market if publishers don't abuse it, and there is money to be made from selling plastic peripherals en masse. I would love to see the Bungie guys (or whoever is doing the next Halo games) do a game that focused on piloting a vehicle in that universe, or even see Blizzard tackle something similar from its Starcraft universe. Or, maybe even better yet, a Kinect version that doesn't need the peripheral, and has a lower point of entry (if you actually have Kinect, which you won't). I know...pipe dreams, but I though I'd throw it out there.

One last plea. If you're at all interested in the game, or have it and want to play a system link session sometime, let me know. I'd love to show it off or even play it with someone who speaks the same language.

Arlo liked it.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thanks for the awesome BBQ!

I want to thank Josh Wells and Adam Curfew for the great Lime Rickey party last night. I had a wonderful time catching up with people, drinking some rickey and finally telling some stories again. Cheers guys.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Limbo Review

I'd like to talk about Limbo, the platformer released this week from Danish developer Playdead. I just finished the game last night as it's relatively brief, and felt compelled to write something about it.

Gotta Get Something Off My Chest

First things first. If anyone asks me whether I like platformers or not, historically I exclaim without hesitation, "Nope!". Jumpy jumps, death falls, push / pulling, weak character-to-character interactions, bleh. I want combat. I want visceral action. I want monsters, robots and ninjas. I want to feel something when I play a game. I want--wait...what's this?? Limb...o? Hold on one second...

Okay okay okay okay okay. Okay! I really really really really loved Limbo. And I think I like me a good platformer, but have always resisted admitting it. So, I'm out of the closet on this one. Just don't expect me to admit I like Kart Racing. Please.

Games These Days....

Limbo may not be your cup of tea. In theme and aesthetic, this is the video game equivalent to art house film. You've probably read this elsewhere before, but this game is minimalist. It flies in the face of modern video game aesthetic and trends while taking lessons learned over the past few years and applying them to the experience. It's only loud where it needs to be, but is otherwise subtle yet extremely powerful. It isn't afraid to kill the avatar violently and suddenly, but will gently respawn him at the last checkpoint upon doing so (of which there are many). It's a 2D side-scrolling platformer, which in the indie space is not unique, but in the grander scheme these days, is. This choice, along with the decision to use gray scale with void blacks and beaming bloomy whites allows Limbo to express what it needs to without the over complication of color and a 3D camera and world. But, these choices may turn some people off. What attracted me to the game initially was it's rejection of visual convention; it's nod to old black-and-white film. It has the charm of a Roald Dahl book, and it's macabre tone brings to mind Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy. Simple and striking, this game stands apart, but may make someone else turn away. The visuals are the first indication that Limbo is unapologetically unique.

Why I Loved It (and why I hope you do as well)

What kept me in Limbo (ha!) was the combination of all of its parts. Audio, camera, lighting, level design, animation, controls and theme all come together to create an experience that stays true to its intent. To write Limbo off as simple would be only partly true. Sure, you're given two buttons (one for jump and another for "action"). Yes, you move left to right, or vice-versa, and up and down. No, you cannot swim, but you can drown. There is no exposition. There are only a handful of times control is taken away from the player, but the little boy you explore the world with is always on screen, reacting to events as you do, charming the player throughout. There isn't a single spoken word in the game, nor is there text to read. And for that matter, no hand-hold-y tutorials. So, in that sense it is simple and easy to get into.

But the complexity inherent in this title is deceiving. So much thought went into every puzzle, every moment, that I can start to understand why it took 6 years to make this little gem. The player learns through his actions (not through offensive tutorials) and picking up on the cues the game gives him with it's deliberate pacing, elegant vocabulary and brilliant audio design.

Music is used sparingly and effectively, supporting the mood and feeling of a moment as opposed to trying to manufacture a mood or feeling that isn't already there. This lets the audio design shine through, allowing its cues to reach the player (I need a new word to express how I feel when experiencing this game, as "player" seems to not encompass what its audience experiences). All too often music is added to film or games where execution, writing or design drop the ball. Here, the audio within the world plays a lead role. Cast as both supporting actor and antagonist, the audio design signals when the avatar has waded too deep into water by muffling the environment audio just before a final step leads to death, scares the hell out of the player every time a bear trap SNAPS! around the boy, killing him grotesquely, and builds tension and frustration while at the same time helping the player time his platforming decisions with the clockwork thumping and pounding of machinery toward the final climax of the game. I wish audio was handled with this much reverence in other games, as it, in my opinion is the single most defining element of Limbo.

Your view into this diorama world further enhances the game makers' expression. The camera is used to mirror what both the boy and the player controlling him are feeling. Vignetting is used effectively to obscure objects and characters on the edges of the screen as well as close down or open up the aperture to heighten tension. The camera will zoom in to enhance the sense of claustrophobia or solitude, and pull out to give the player a sense of his surroundings as well of scale; you play a lone boy in an inhospitable world. Depth of field is used to communicate which items the player can interact with (these are crisp, in focus, and pitch black), while anything in the foreground and background is fuzzy and gray. Midway through the game, when the boy's mind is being controlled by a creature in the world, the camera pulls in and out repeatedly and plays with field of view to enhance the loss of control the player (and boy) experiences, again mirroring feeling between the player and the avatar.

Early on, gameplay biases toward letting the player feel clever, while at the same time giving him puzzles with interesting solutions. Initially, the pacing had a cadence that allowed me to feel both smart and skillful quite often. Puzzles would introduce a mechanic, them ramp to a logical timed twist on that mechanic, then ramp to a dangerous twist on the same mechanic that pushed more on the "skill" and "timing" button than the "smart" button. The game marched along like this until the final third or so, where pacing was deliberately cranked up, and every puzzle felt like a new lesson or dangerous twist on the last lesson.

Just before completing the game I remember feeling frustrated, harrowed and tense. I wondered why the game didn't go where I thought it was heading, initially tempting me with it's "Lord of the Flies" moments of intrigue. What were these irritating techno machines? Where did the other people go? What happened to the quiet forest with its alluring grasses and puddles? And these new puzzles?!? I wondered why they would not build better on new lessons they were teaching me, and why I constantly felt like I was being asked to keep up. The game wasn't the enjoyable experience it started out to be, but rather hectic and confusing.


Then I reached the end, and again, it all clicked.

This was how they wanted me to feel.

This was not the product of focus tests and marketing data. This was the vision they had for the game all along. The final product tosses you around, frustrates you but gently lets you continue on so that the final moment can be taken in and savored. Limbo is something to be experienced, as it will stick with you well after you finish (or if you choose to replay it, putting yourself back in Limbo. Ha!).


Ultimately, so many things come together so well that recommending Limbo is easy. The risk of praising a game so highly is that those who read this may play with their guard up, not wanting to be so easily won over. Yes, it's short, but it's meant to be experienced, and at the end of the game you'll feel like you've been through hell. It stirs quite a few emotions in its brief play time, culminating with an ending that is extremely personal. Playdead understands its craft, and inspires me to want to start over. I spend all day trying to do my part in making bloated over-produced games that never achieve the simple elegance I found in Limbo. It makes me want to scrap everything and focus my work, and helps me remember how much polish can go into something so small and beautiful. Put on some headphones, turn off the lights, and check out Limbo. Let me know what you think.