Great Things

//Great Things

Reviews: Cities: Skylines

I'm a big fan of trees. They dampen sound and look lovely.

I’m a big fan of trees. They dampen sound and look lovely.

With the news that EA had closed Maxis Emeryville I was pretty bummed. SimCity was one of the games that really molded my childhood. I was infatuated with the notion of RCI and trying to balance a city full of thousands of simulated people. You couldn’t really see them in the older SimCity games but your imagination filled in most of the blank spots.

Over the years the SimCity games got better. SimCity 4 was my favorite city builder of all time. It’s largest problem was that it liked to crash itself without warning. This never got fixed. Many moons later Maxis announced SimCity 5 (named simply SimCity) and the promises were astronomically high. Your citizens would each be individuals. They’d own a home, get a job, walk around like a normal person. Your city would be alive! It would be like your own personal believable ant farm. The cities would be vast and wonderful and the sky was the limit.

I've finally gotten to putting filtered sewage (instead of raw) into the river. Progress!

I’ve finally gotten to putting filtered sewage (instead of raw) into the river. Progress!

The game released and nearly everything they promised didn’t exist. The game was a barebones mess that was defended by excuses of how modern PC hardware just “couldn’t handle it”. This seemed like crap but there wasn’t much I could do but grumble. The game came and went. The DRM they put into the game, likely commanded by EA, ended up crippling the game. Most of the design choices they made meant that the game was more of a “sim town” than a “sim city”.

It was almost heartbreaking to see EA put the final nail into the coffin of Maxis. They had done the same with nearly every other company they’ve purchased. If you are purchased by EA there is little to do but count your days.

At any rate, a few days after EA closed Maxis I heard of Cities: Skylines. The reviews were remarkably positive and I decided to give it a look. I purchased the Deluxe edition and set my way into the game. It’s just…amazing.

The city seems to go on forever. Crazy to think I've not even filled a single of the 9 default squares they give. You can mod it to 24!

The city seems to go on forever. Crazy to think I’ve not even filled a single of the 9 default squares they give. You can mod it to 24!

Every single person, every single car, the dogs walking in the park, the seagulls flying in the air, these are all their own living things. Each has a name, when applicable they have a home, a job, a family. You can follow them around like some kind of creepy god and see just what they do with their day. The engine behind this game takes into account wind direction, speed, pollution in both ground and in the water, traffic, noise, crime rates, fire danger, mass transit, natural resources, and more!

Do you want to build districts and dictate how they act and how they are taxed? You can.

Do you want to build a dam and then destroy it and find out that there are water physics that send a tsunami rolling through your city? You can, I just did while writing this review. Care to balance life and death and try your best to build a city so large it’ll blow your mind? You can.

Build your own maps or buildings? Yep! These are options! I’ve already downloaded somewhere around a hundred unique buildings made by people. It is done in the blink of an eye. I might even write up a suggested mods guide. But back to the game.

Getting artsy up in here...

Getting artsy up in here…

The graphics are gorgeous. They aren’t gorgeous in the same sense that something like Crysis is gorgeous, but the aesthetics that are provided work incredibly well together. The entire city looks like a toy playset with each building, tree, or smoke stack being detailed enough to delight you. If you don’t like tilt shift you can even turn that off (though I think it is endearing).

C:S provides a high level of complexity without requiring that you “get it”. If you are able to follow simple icon prompts or color screens you can play this game to the fullest very quickly. As long as you don’t give up the game will keep providing you with more and more content in the form of milestones. Your population is the key here and getting it higher is your goal.

Don’t like that mechanic? They’ve got an option to unlock it all at the start! Don’t want to manage your money? You can set it to infinite!

I call it the serpent. Casualties on it are surprisingly low.

I call it the serpent. Casualties on it are surprisingly low.

Cities: Skyline provides one of the most amazing simulation experiences that exists today. It does everything SimCity promised to do with the massive wallet of EA behind it, but unlike EA, it delivers on all fronts. Plus the game is only 30-40 dollars depending on which edition you want to pick up. It’s DRM free as well. Steam is used for convenience of downloading stuff but isn’t required to run the game. It’s just…fuck…if you have any interest at all in building cities this is the ultimate game to play. It has everything I’ve ever wanted.

If ever there was a game in a genre that seemed to creep down from the heavens birthed from the hands of god itself. This is it. I haven’t had a single crash, the audio issues I’ve had are trivial, the framerate is solid and the mods I’ve gathered are all great. The music isn’t bad either and the sound effects are lovely. If you don’t like the fake twitter feature in the game there is a simple mod to remove it (unfortunately the one I used left that “Chirper off” button in my screenshots).

My lumber industry is housed in the "Wooden Crescent".

My lumber industry is housed in the “Wooden Crescent”.

Cities: Skyline is a 5 out of 5 level game. Something great that I’m glad I purchased. The notion that I could have missed out on a minute of it by being cautious is almost upsetting. I have a feeling this game will be my goto for years to come. If SimCity 4 kept me tied over for almost a decade…this…oh heavens.

Putting dams near one another makes for some interesting results. Generally those results involve flooding a city or completely draining a river.

Putting dams near one another makes for some interesting results. Generally those results involve flooding a city or completely draining a river.

By | 2015-03-14T23:37:55+00:00 March 14th, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on Reviews: Cities: Skylines

Reviews: What If?

What a long and tiring day. I’ve finished the second book for Project 52. This means naturally that I need to get the review for the first one up! The first book I finished for this project was Randall Munroe’s What If. There will likely be a picture of it up top. I think I’m going to try and take pictures of the books themselves after I read them. Seeing as the carpet is now nice and vacuumed I can do so without people knowing the vastness of the cat hair monster living in our carpet. For book reviews I’ll be covering different topics than game reviews. The things I look for in a book are as follows, Style, Story, Proofing. I really wish I could find a third S but for now we’ll just have PSS or something. SPS, SSP, I dunno. Regardless for now these will be the three categories.

Style is a broad topic which covers the writing style of the story. If there is imagery of any kind this will be included in this category. Any story that is written with passion, no matter how poorly written, will score highly in this category. When I read a book I’m looking for that feeling that the writer really desired to write their works. The difference between a work for profit and a work of passion is pretty night and day. That isn’t to say you can’t do a work of passion for profit, but that is still very different from a strictly profit driven story. Generally you can see the poor quality of for-profit writing any time a particular book makes it big. Out of nowhere dozens of copycats pop up in a matter of months. As if “coincidentally” everyone was planning to release the same book at the same time.

The next category is story. If the book is fiction I’ll be grading it on the quality of the story and how invested I find myself in it. If the book is non-fiction I’ll be grading it on how interested I found myself in the material. Any topic can be made interesting and I refuse to treat anything softer than anything else. I’ve read books on the dryest topics on the planet and been entirely infatuated with them because of how the writer presented the material.

Finally Proofing is a catchall for how many times I was pulled out of the writing by mistakes of the author and/or editor. This will usually be an easy 100 but any mistakes in the book will cost points. I am the king of mistakes but I would rather other people do better than me. Practice how I preach and not how I do. (Which reminds me, thank goodness for those red underlines each time I spell a word wrong).

(more…)

By | 2015-02-03T20:42:12+00:00 January 11th, 2015|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on Reviews: What If?

Reviews: Kill La Kill

I’m not very fond of Anime. It’s not a philosophical thing or any kind of derision towards cultural differences. I quite like Japan and I’m often first to defend them when people say “Oh Japan” from some kind of strange position of superiority. Where we fetishize violence and firearms they seem to fetishize sexuality, the latter of which seems to me to be far less perverted than the former (if we are using words literally).

For about a year I was seeing pictures from Kill La Kill on all sorts of places and even hearing a bit about it. There was some controversy about how Kill La Kill makes wrist slitting this new sexy thing and that it would lead confused teens to just start offing themselves en masse. I suppose I should just address that now and move onto the review proper. This controversy has literally no merit and everyone that pushed it forward underlines a very problematic sector of society. Ignoring the real issues that genuinely harm people to take cheap jabs at things out of context and from a level of ignorance that is stunning in every regard. These people are the double rainbow of stupid.

At any rate, Liz started watching this and I found myself amused by it on multiple levels almost immediately. [Jarring tense shift time!] The characters are all incredibly colorful, each one is written to a level that I find very satisfying. Even the one character that I found myself hating (for all the wrong reasons to hate a character) ended up being largely justified near the end. Much of this anime needs to be experienced in earnest and without tainting I think, which meant that I had a very difficult time finding a few images for this review that didn’t really ruin anything. Though I must admit catching scenes I saw out of context in the anime made me laugh because I finally got them.

These sort of incidents don't stop being funny for the entirety of the show.

These sort of incidents don’t stop being funny for the entirety of the show.

The internal consistency of this show is just so damn good. Everything from the usage of nudity to the over the top violence all makes sense. The further you get through the anime the more everything makes sense and the more you appreciate every little hint and foreshadowing piece they had in the beginning. Even though you can (and probably will) predict a few of the twists just watching how those twists unfold is a thing of beauty. I was staying up late just to finish this freaking thing. Every episode would end on something that wasn’t necessarily a cliffhanger but I was so interested that it effectively was.

Moreover things I really really wanted to happen ended up happening and it got me all delighted. I loved every hero character and the vast majority of the villains. The only exception is the obligatory adorable superhero character.

You can just tell she's going to hulk out the second you see her.

You can just tell she’s going to hulk out the second you see her.

I wanted this character to burn from the moment she was on the screen. But her arc is actually pretty good too. She ends up not being a waste of time and space and most of the time that she pissed me off ends up being validated. If I watched this again I wouldn’t mind her anymore but until things became a bit more clear with her character it was certainly aggravating. If you find her mind numbing when she’s introduced give it a few episodes, she comes together in terms of character design and personality rationale.

The elite 4 are a series of characters that protect the antagonist in the show. You’ll have to forgive me that I don’t remember basically anyone’s names but the folks below are all pretty awesome. Each one of them has a great backstory that reasonably leads into the character they become. I liked all of them quite a lot and none of them overstay their welcome (though the voice actor for the little female character is a bit tough to take in long bouts).

Big guy in the front is my particular favorite of the group.

Big guy in the front is my particular favorite of the group.

Their leader (who google tells me is named Kiryuin) is pretty great all around as well. Her character design and personality are basically perfect. She commands every scene she is in which fits perfectly because that’s exactly the kind of character she is supposed to be. She’s an absolutely horrendously powerful young woman who controls an entire city, much more she is not afraid or embarrassed of this power. She uses it tactically and doesn’t suffer from the LaLouche problem (He’s selectively stupid when it helps prolong the series).

She tends to exude unrelenting power throughout the shot.

She tends to exude unrelenting power throughout the shot.

The elephant in the room is likely the costumes that the characters wear. There is a lot of skin shown in this show. It’s pretty much gender neutral nudity (I’m actually not sure if men spend more time naked on screen than women in this, its a close battle if not), and all of it makes sense. You might not catch it near the beginning but as the show moves on the mixture of parody and story are tight. There is an internally consistent reason for it and by the end I have no problem with it.

I didn’t in the beginning either but I’m not one to get all uppity when people have outlandish outfits. I don’t feel like stifling what people want to draw (or wear in the case of films) just to fit my own prejudices for how people should act, look, and dress.

I’m having a tough as nails time finding an image that isn’t either fanart or spoilerific. You’ll just have to see it for yourself I guess. I really want to talk more deeply about the nudity and sexual themes in this just because they are so spot on. But we’ll save that for another post with spoiler tags. Needless to say that it makes complete and total sense once you get to the end (lets just say that they COVER it quite well by explaining how Ryuko feels near the end…)

The animation in this show is great. I loved every second of it and their artistic range is absolutely delightful. It’s not my favorite but its certainly in the top 5. I’m a big fan. It might not be for you but I have absolutely zero complaints.

And I suppose we’ll close this out with the negatives. I already covered the pink girl and how she is initially quite irritating. Additionally there is some of the painful tropes of “I’m going to act out of character in because I’m emo.” that come near the last quarter of the series. It only lasts for about a single episode and that’s what made me alright with it. They dive into some negative tropes (like liar revealed stuff) that normally take entire damn seasons of anime’s to resolve (sometimes its the entire damn plot of htem) and they take care of it in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, or a full episode. Never longer and I deeply appreciate that.

The positives are many for a show that can easily play itself off as shallow and vapid but that provides you with wonderfully deep story. Honestly the longer you think about Kill La Kill once its over the more you realize how every little silly thing was really well done and had a really solid point. I’m all for senseless violence and nudity but to have every ounce of it have a really ingrained and internally consistent is just a work of magic.

I’m told that this anime was made to sort of poke fun at the tropes of other anime and exaggerate them to the maximum. I feel like they failed because they took a bunch of things that normally infuriate me and they wrapped them up in a tight little story that was just a delight. They had so many opportunities to milk this thing for a hundred episodes and they didn’t. This could have been another vapid mess like Attack on Titan or Code Geass. But it wasn’t, I’m incredibly impressed and don’t regret a single minute of watching this show. Started out good, turned into something great, and though I strongly disagree with one of their decisions in the conclusion I’m almost convinced it’ll be resolved in the movie.

With that in mind I’m taking that disappointment with a very light heart and strongly suggesting you watch this. If you have even passing interest in Anime I hope that it delights you as much as it did me. Because as an incredible cynic of anime (something that I’ll cover more in my review of East of Eden, coming soonish) I can’t believe something this good was done. I’ve liked other Anime in the past but…wow man. Glad I didn’t miss it entirely.

Honestly there is tons more I forgot to mention. The lead is great, her friend is great, the secondary characters are almost all great (the rest are just good). The mixture of light hearted and (surprisingly) dark content is done in a way that creates a delicious dish. I’m only stopping myself now because I could talk about this thing for longer than is necessary since the average person left a hundred sentences ago.

    What I liked.

  • Great characters each with their own fantastic backstory and design.
  • Excellent story that manages to make the ridiculous completely believable in the context of the universe. It is internally consistent.
  • Absolutely gorgeous animation style that quickly became one of my favorites. It’s simple when it needs to be and detailed when it needs to be.
  • The negative tropes of storytelling are used extremely sparingly. Avoiding a common crutch in anime.
    What I disliked.

  • One of the choices in the ending hit a very strong cliche in Japanese anime and upset me. But I have a feeling it will be resolved proper in the movie that is coming soonish.
  • That uh…that’s it?

kill-la-kill-episode-19-33

Lets not overlook that this friggen sailor uniform has more character than entire casts of plenty of other popular anime. Blows my damn mind.

Great

By | 2015-02-08T20:08:34+00:00 July 16th, 2014|Great Things, Reviews|2 Comments

Reviews: Mario Kart 8

Nintendo makes me sad sometimes. Every time they release a game it is full of joy, color, and everything I’ve ever wanted in a game emotionally. I play their games and realize that that kind of mentality from a major player in the gaming industry is just dead. They are the Highlander. That isn’t to say their games are perfect, they have mistakes and antiquated ideas at times, but the essence of raw happiness always seems steeped in their design from front to back. Mario Kart 8 is another example of this. Last night Liz and I played it for an hour or two and the experience was delightful. We finished all the new maps through the multiplayer Grand Prix mode and began along the historical courses along the bottom row. I’m going to need to take stills from marketing materials since I have yet to hook up a Wii U to recording again since our move. So if any of these pictures look familiar that is why.

image_317548_fit_940

The visuals in Mario Kart 8 are absolutely stunning. This is one of the most gorgeous games I’ve ever played. It’s kind of crazy just how much you can do when your goal is to create something that is vibrant and fun rather than a dirty brown mess. The characters glisten, the cars sparkle, the water shimmers, and every little inch of this game just molests your eyes and tickles your brain. If you’ve thought any of the videos or stills were doctored you are in for a treat because this game really does look that good.

The levels are all varied and each one brings in new ideas and themes. Not new to the series as a whole necessarily but certainly to one another. The introduction of the hover mode (antigravity?) really does add something great to the game. Liz and I were bouncing off walls and blazing past our opponents from every angle and platform imaginable. It’s also neat that you actually go faster if you hit someone while in this mode, it adds for a bit of meta strategy where you make an enemy accelerate right off the edge of a level.

Everything about Mario Kart 8 feels faster. The weapons seem faster, the karts even at 50 CC seem faster, if you fall off things you recover almost instantly, and there are boosts on top of boosts on top of boosts. Tragically they still included rubber banding which means that with all this faster content you still can’t make a mistake against the AI. I usually get 1st place but its not without that inkling notion that if they get a blue shell on the last turn of the last lap I will always be in 2nd of 3rd because of the magnetized enemies following me. I’m told in the online mode this is removed entirely but I feel like this is something that, like mouse acceleration, just shouldn’t exist in a game.

And YET, I’m still having fun through every second of it. Win or lose I’m laughing, shouting, and moving about while I play. It brings out the child in me, something that games so rarely do anymore. I can’t help but be happy while playing it.

They will always be the Koopa Kids to me.

They will always be the Koopa Kids to me.

I haven’t unlocked all of the characters yet but it looks like there is a pretty good sized Roster. A couple dozen at least, but don’t quote me on that, however three of them are variations on Peach with an additional two being recolors of her (Daisy). This I thought was a bit disappointing because she’s one of the least interesting characters in the series, outside of Smash Brothers where she’s very awesome.

My main squeezes are Bowser and the Koopa Kids, I’m too curmudgeonly to call them anything else. But regardless of who you play you can choose any combination of any kart, with any wheels, and strap onto them any of a (somewhat small) variety of glider options. This leads to some funny scenes like Bowser on a tiny Motorbike with wheels the size of walnuts, his feet nearly scraping on the ground.

The music is just as good as the visuals. The audio in this game is fantastic and will keep you delighted through every moment. Nintendo has some incredibly talented sound designers and this games team is no exception to that. Amusingly the remainder of this review is actually being written a day after everything before it. I’ve since finished the entire series of levels and they really do all add up amazingly. The final race on Rainbow Road 64 ends the entire thing wonderfully. We’ve yet to unlock everything but we are making good progress.

So what is there really to say about Mario Kart 8 that I haven’t already said? A ton of things I’m sure. It’s a beautiful game, both in visuals and sound. The controls are fairly tight with the handling differences between bikes and quads reminding me a lot of Ridge Racer 4 (another one of my favorite racers of all time). There is something that was brought up by Liz during one of our final races last night that hadn’t really occurred to me. Part of it I think is that I’ve been playing video games pretty hard my entire life. If you aren’t someone who plays video games all that much this game is actually kind of unforgiving.

If she so much as hits a wall while in second place she’s overrun by a half dozen of the AI. It seems like they rubber band to the rear most human controlled player. This means for me that if I’m in first I can keep a commanding lead as long as she’s not right on my tail. But it also means that, for a game supposedly designed to cater to children (who Nintendo often seem to think suck, judging by their design choices at times), this one is surprisingly difficult. Especially considering the absolute desolation that can be caused by the blue shell combined with the AI just before you tacking you with a red shell.

In one particular instance she was hit by a Piranha Plant, then a red shell, then another red shell, and finally knocked off the level by a bump by Wario all in a row. With each hit being followed by that weapons user passing her. So she went from 2nd place to 6th or 7th in less than 3 seconds. This seems like a balancing issue on their part seeing as we were playing 50CC. If we are to presume that 50CC is the easiest mode in the game (a tough call seeing as there are no options to this game), you should be able to consistently win either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place when you play it.

That doesn’t change my opinion that this is a good/great game. But I feel that it was a peculiar oversight given the quality of the game. On the flip side if you are looking for a good challenge this game pulls few punches.

MK8-Mysterious-Items

Something else I found fascinating was the new additions to items. There are a few but the one in particular that stood out to me was the MK8 item. Your character is surrounded by a bunch of the in game items, possibly one of most of them, and you can fire them off like a madman. This can create a situation where you hurl a red shell, then go invulnerable, followed by launching of a bomb. Decimating everyone in your path and potentially taking the lead.

We played through the battle mode a bit and it wasn’t nearly as bad of a change as I thought it would be. I still miss the Arena mode levels but I feel like a full roster of AI with you against your buddy is actually quite fun and we never were having trouble finding people to fight with. Even if most of my shots hit my own team mates.

Overall there isn’t much more that can be said about a racing game without rebounding over your own thoughts more than I already have. If you like racing games you’ll probably like this game. If you like a challenge you’ll probably like this game. If you like being happy, you’ll probably like this game. It’s a great game, not perfect, but I think the world needs more games like this. A full fun package that doesn’t try to swindle you at every turn for “just a couple dollars, its a good deal we promise”.

I’ve gotta say I’ve been blessed lately. All the things I’ve been experiencing have been either good or great… Although there is at least one “ok” experience I’ve had lately that I want to write about soon.

By | 2015-02-08T21:14:41+00:00 June 1st, 2014|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on Reviews: Mario Kart 8

Reviews: Hotline Miami

Hotline Miami is an entrancing experience. I’m going to talk about the game without really spoiling anything but I think I’d be hard pressed to do so even if I tried. After finishing the game (and reading about the ending) I’m still not entirely sure what happened. That isn’t to say this game suffers from Prometheus syndrome, it wasn’t trying to be pretentiously deep and failing. The game involves you taking control of someone that appears to be descending into complete and utter psychosis.

The music really highlights this by being somewhat nauseating. I don’t mean that it was bad, it was very good, but I literally got ill when I was playing the game and listening to the music. There was something about the colors, the movement, and the music that just threw my entire body out of whack. I found myself in a building full of dead people and I felt ill. A stark difference from the mass murders of GTA that leave me chuckling and otherwise nonplussed.

Image1

The music is genuinely excellent. I don’t know how to describe it but if you slip on over to YouTube you’ll be able to experience it and see just what I’m talking about. Once you’ve played the game and seen (or rather heard) the music in context you’ll get a better grasp of just how well this is put together. I can’t really say much more about the auditory experience. Visually the game is pretty darn good. It’s all sprite based (as you can tell in the above image). Every animation is wonderfully done and you can really feel the visceral heat of your actions. I found that the more I died in a level the more violent I became and that violence was really satisfied by the passion they put into every frame.

The blood spatter, the character movements, the sheer variety of what you can do. It’s all somewhat mind boggling and it really shows just how well an Indie Game can be done if the developers give a shit.

On the topic of variety there wasn’t a single weapon that seemed pointless. Each one was fun and had a purpose that really helped to add replayability and make every single death and run feel fresh. Just grab a bunch of buzzwords about randomized gameplay and they all are probably relevant here. When you die the game almost instantly lets you respawn which means you can die a dozen times in the span of four or five seconds. Because it follows the Super Meat Boy approach that means that the one hit death mechanic won’t bother you, at least it didn’t bother me (usually). The more you die the more adventurous you become and before you know it you are storming through a heavily fortified building with nothing but a piece of pipe.

Assault rifles are for the weak, you are going to wreck house with your fists tonight.

Image2

The level designs themselves are the only place in the entire game that I feel is a little inconsistent. Some of them are so well done that I’m stunned they exist alongside the ones that are average or poor. One level in particular has very long hallways in a box pattern that leads to dozens upon dozens of unfair deaths that don’t feel very fun because you can’t prepare for them. Ironically that level is followed by a handful of levels that are masterfully done and it really just feels weird.

Most of the levels are puzzles that are so well disguised that most people probably don’t realize it. You can fly through the level in a matter of seconds and its not a matter of rote memorization either. Each kill and chain can be fluid and organic. It’s a really wonderful experience and it brings something to the hyperviolence genre (if such a thing exists) that makes it a truly unique organism.

Image3

The ending left me confounded and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. But somehow the game is so good and so engrossing that I just don’t care. I feel like the ending feeds into the entire feel of the game. This notion of confusion and nausea is prominent through the game (at the beginning of the game your character vomits, even). I like that I finished the game as confused and mentally violated as the avatar I had been controlling.

I will very certainly be getting Hotline Miami 2. If its the same game with just a new pack of levels it’ll still be a worthwhile experience. Keep an eye out for Dennaton Games. These folks (two people?) know what they are doing. This is up there with FTL (which I don’t think I’ve yet reviewed) as a pinnacle example of quality indie gaming. I was originally going to give it a strong “good” but the more I think about it the more I think this is a great game.

It sets the bar for what it wants to do, how it wants to do it, and it does it almost perfectly. To judge it lesser would assert that I can think of something it could have done better and I genuinely don’t think I can. That first time you bash in someones head then turn to toss your pipe across the room and disable an armed guard, only to chain into a 20 second long Tony Jaa style killing spree. It’s such an experience, and I hope if you get to try the game you enjoy it as much as I did.

Great

By | 2015-02-08T21:14:17+00:00 May 26th, 2014|Great Things, Reviews|Comments Off on Reviews: Hotline Miami