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Monday, February 7, 2011

Gumshoe Blogger

(Proper mood music)

Journal, February 7, 1941
Left my good trench-coat out in the rain again.  Second time this month.  The tailor's going to own my damn balls if this keeps up.  Not much progress since last Friday.  The man they call Mr. Picasso is still up in some damn hole, God knows where.  He knows I got my nose in his business, and he's not liking it.  The barkeep at his front on West and Small won't keep my tab open anymore, and I always got a feeling someone's just waiting for me to turn my back.  If someone offs me in the back, at least I want to be loaded.  Still, someone's given me a blank check to get the story on this Picasso bastard, like hell I'm going to just leave it on the table because people are looking at me funny.  I've been asking around, but the dames I got on my list of people who might know what the hell is going on ain't talking to me anymore.  Only one that'll speak for me is Fern, but she only speaks .44 hollow point.  I don't need her yet, but I keep her close to my chest.  If things go asses up, I may need her to do the talking.  She makes quite an impression.  Ryan called Edel, said he's got something for me.  Probably nothing I don't already know, but he's one of the few cops I know that can do their damn job, and do it without the holier-than-thou attitude (more often than not, they do end up hole-ier than me after they do something stupid).  Says he'll meet me at the bar down the street.  My bar.  The one that'll keep my tab open.  Hell, it's about time.  Maybe Edel will have the blinds in my office fixed by the time I get back.

So...only about 200% behind schedule.  If I said this was better than I expected me to do, would you call me a pessimist?  This is going to be much longer than I wanted.  Sorry guys.

What am I playing?
I went and did something stupid last Sunday.  I went home for the weekend, and forgot to throw my backpack in the car when we went back.  The backpack with my laptop, textbooks, The Tolkien Reader (see last entry) and notepad.  And that's terrible.

So I'm writing this on my school PC, which I don't normally use for much.  I do, however, have Steam on this laptop, which I never installed on my Mac.  Because of this, I downloaded the Mass Effect 2 demo.

I'm commander Shepard, know...
Why did I download the demo for a game I already have and love and beat twice?  Well, the PC interface is different, for one.  It's more adapted to playing with a keyboard and mouse than the Xbox 360's power and weapon wheel o' doom.  In fact, I'm tempted to say that it's slightly easier to use, but since they use entirely different input methods, the comparison is impossible to make in an objective way.  Of course, I'm playing with a trackpad instead of a mouse, which makes things much more difficult, especially since it won't let you hold down two keys at once and move the mouse at the same time.  This makes walking around corners difficult, as well as quickly ducking into cover.  Not to mention that it's more difficult to aim whatsoever.  Still, it's almost got me sold on PC shooters (no, I'm not calling Mass Effect a shooter).  Not that I haven't played a game with shooting mechanics on a computer before.  I still remember Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy, as well as Tron 2.0.  I'm not sure you could call them exactly the same thing though.

There's another reason to play the demo.  There are six classes in Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, but playing through the entire game as all of them takes a lot of time.  Time that - even though it's spent on a very, very good game - you're never getting back.  The demo, on the other hand, presents you with a variety of types of combat, and is only about an hour or so worth of play time.

After playing through the demo as a soldier, I can't help but feel sorry for all the poor saps who play as nothing else.  Sure, you get your assault rifle, which is handy with some upgrades (and next to useless without), your sniper rifle, and your additional health,'s just so bland.  You shoot stuff.  You're pretty good at shooting stuff, and you can shoot stuff to your heart's desire, so long as you have some people on your squad with engineering and biotic talents, but...gah!  How can you play a whole game like that?  I got weary of it before I was done with even two combat missions.  I'm sticking with the vanguard and infiltrator, thank you very much.

And yet people played as the soldier more than all the other classes combined.  I am disappoint.

Bioware did a good job with the demo, though, because now I want to do another play-through of Mass Effect 2.  I was probably going to at some point before Mass Effect 3 comes out anyway, but this settles it.  Now, I have several options as to what I want to do with this playthrough.

- Continue my previous playthrough: A few months ago (I think back in October), I did start a third playthrough as a paragon infiltrator iirc.  I was intending to make sure everyone survived and to court Tali, destroying the collector base.  The thing is, I've already done it as a paragon infiltrator, romancing Tali.  The only reason to do it again is because I was initially going for morally gray and didn't have enough paragon or renegade points to keep Miranda loyal, so I ended up losing her and, unfortunately, Tali.

- Perfect canon Shepard: There's a tragic story behind my first play-through, importing my ME1 save.  First of all, I bungled the romance and accidentally ended up with Miranda instead of Tali as I intended because I accidentally picked the wrong dialog option and didn't want to risk losing her loyalty by backing out.  I was this close to getting everyone out alive, but I sent Grunt back with the crew because I figured we'd need someone who could deal with a large threat on his own, so everyone else's chances were lower at the hold-the-line segment, and Tali got herself killed because of it.  I could go back and play through using my ME1 save again, with the foreknowledge of what I want to do.  I also have a better understanding of how to work the face editor, so I can make my Shepard less ridiculous looking.  As an artist, you'd think I'd have known something about how facial proportions work, but no...  Then again, I would be playing an identical character type as I had already done.

- Renegade Shepard: There's a game's worth of dialog options I've never heard before because I've always been playing as a nauseatingly idealistic Shepard because it seems you have to go one way or the other in order to get the most desirable outcome.  Then again, I don't want to play as a total dick either.

- Female Shepard: I might possibly combine this with renegade Shep if I do one or the other.  No real reason to do this other than to go with one of the male romance options.  I hear Garrus is rather hilarious, not to mention I'd get to hear more out of him than "Can it wait for a bit: I'm in the middle of some calibrations."  He's one of the most interesting characters of the game, and they gave him all of three full conversations for a male Shep.

But whatever I decide to do, I may not do it right away.  Playing on the TV in my dorm is kind of a pain in the neck in a very literal way.  I may have to find a different place to put the TV that I don't have to stare up at it from my bed, but my printer and work is all on the desk.  But I'm not talking about redecorating my room, I'm talking about manly, manly games.

Anyway, there's a new trailer out of Ace Combat Assault Horizon, which really doesn't show us any more of what the actual gameplay is like than either of the other two identical trailers.

All they show is what their Close Range Assault mode looks like on novice controls.  Are the controls always like that?  Is CRA optional?  What the heck is going on here?  It looks pretty - the artists obviously had a lot of fun on this one - but from what we've seen, it doesn't look like Ace Combat.  Whatever it is, Keiki Kobayashi seems to be at his prime, if the music in the trailer is any indication.  I'll probably buy it when it comes out.  Unless it gets savaged by the review sites and community.

Come to think of it, I don't have any really good flight games for the Xbox 360 except the thoroughly mediocre Ace Combat 6, the totally forgettable Blazing Angels 2, and the just plain bad HAWX 2.  I've been considering getting IL-2 Birds of Prey if I see it at a bargain bin somewhere.  I remember it coming out, getting good reviews, and slipping under the radar.  There aren't hardly any youtube videos of online gameplay, for crying out loud.  It'd be interesting to see how a fairly realistic game that's on the border of becoming a flight sim works on something like an Xbox controller.  I can't imagine it'd be horrible, since you've got a joystick and rudder pedals right there.  I'm also tempted to check out Apache Air Assault if I see it at a low price somewhere, but even though flying a chopper could be fun using the two sticks for the collective and cyclic, I'm not sure from what I've seen online that the actual mission design and execution is very good.

I wonder if anyone's ever wondered why there's no IL-1...

There needs to be a spiritual successor to Sky Odyssey with next generation graphics and physics.  It'd sell next to no units, of course, but if there's a game that deserves to have an update with high definition graphics (and some more fleshed out mission design and voice acting for that matter), it's Sky Odyssey.  Nobody here's ever played Sky Odyssey, I can almost guarantee, so I digress.

Another game I've been thinking about picking up for a while is Civilization V.  I'm a huge fan of Civ IV, but as far as I'm concerned, I'm just as happy playing that as I would be with Civ V.  I'm still learning things about Civ IV; it hasn't nearly reached obsolescence yet.  After all, just a few days ago I played my first game of Civ for a long while and barely got 6000 points as the Ottomans with a space race victory on chieftan.  I obviously have something to learn (though to be fair to myself, I wasn't playing to the Ottoman's strengths at all for some reason, which hurt me.)  I've played the Civ V demo, and it's pretty fun, but it's nothing that grabs you by the shoulders and slaps you in the face until you go buy the full version.

Besides all that, I've been playing some Starcraft 2 here and there.  And Portal 2 is looking more and more awesome.  But I haven't been playing too much, so that's about it.


What have I been watching?
Not a whole lot, but like with the gaming segment, it's been a long while, so this'll probably be a long section too.  Here we go >_<

I've been watching Fractale as it's being Simulcast on Hulu.  It's a science fiction anime, but not military science fiction.  At least not so far.  It's set in a world changed forever by the Fractale system, which seems to be - at its basic level - a persistent computer network populated by AIs and "doppels" represented by holograms, superimposed by implant on the real world.  The doppels are the virtual doppelgangers of real people who may be living halfway across the world in real life.  The show seems almost as much an exercise at world building as it does a story, and so far this is where the show shines.  We're only on the third episode so far, so the focus could easily change (and it appears to be doing so), but as of yet the characters aren't so much undeveloped as they are underdeveloped.  There's more to them that the show isn't exploring yet.  For that matter, there's much more to the world that the show isn't exploring yet, but we're almost certainly going to get answers about that.  Whether we get answers about the characters is another matter.

As a seinen show, it's much more reserved in the way it handles itself than the average anime, which suits the show well.  Since it's set in a fairly far (how far isn't made quite clear) future Ireland mostly untouched by industry and civilization as we know it, there's a lot of scenery porn, which is always welcome.  It's no Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, but it adds a lot not only visually, but to the world building elements.

And as a seinen show, there's quite a bit of moe thrown into the mix.  Some of it is unnecessary and silly, but oddly enough, a lot of it goes to genuine character development, and even what may prove to be some foreshadowing.  I can't discuss it in detail so as not to spoil it or pink elephant anyone else's theories, but it has to do with how doppels work.

The first two episodes aren't especially gripping, but they're interesting enough to make me want to watch more, and the third episode starts bringing actual drama into play.

I had a lot more to say about Fractale, but as I'm writing this about things I did over a two week period instead of right after I watched it, I can't recall all of my mental notes.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is currently in that wonderfully legally ambiguous state where it's out on DVD over in Japan, but not in the US, so fan subs of the movie in high definition can be on youtube legally.  Not wasting a moment, I watched it.  All two and three quarter hours of it.  It's not a short movie, and on top of that, it's a movie mostly of people walking, talking, and occasionally running through the halls and down the streets of Nishinomiya, Japan.  So in order to enjoy the movie at all, you have to be already invested in the characters, because otherwise it has the potential to be deadly boring.

However, if you are familiar with the characters and invested in them, the movie is really, really good.  There's a very good reason it's the second top rated anime on ANN.  The music works perfectly, the cinematography and animation all works very well for the atmosphere, and the voice acting is, as normal, quite excellent.  The story itself is one of the great examples of how to do time travel in fiction.  It was somewhat spoiled for me because it's hard to read tvtropes and not know what's going on (though a few minor twists still proved very entertaining).

Not that it's without fault.  I've always considered Yuki Nagato to be possibly the prime example of how moe should be done (that is, as a natural extension of the character), and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is, among other things, very much an exploration of Yuki's character.  However, they seem to go a bit overboard with the moe-ness here.  The way she carries herself and her expressions are too over the top to be taken credibly, and a lot of the potential emotional impact (and there's a crapload of potential for emotional impact) is taken away by it.

And yes, even though I'm a huge fan and love the characters, even I think IT'S TOO FRACKING LONG!  I'm not sure what scenes I would have cut, were I the director, but jeez...

Overall though, I'm quite impressed.

Did you know I don't just watch anime?  I watched The Battleship Potemkin a week or so back, as well as Commentary: The Musical of Dr. Horrible's sing along blog.  And two episodes of Battlestar Galactica.

I'm sure that whatever I have to say about The Battleship Potemkin will have already been said much better at least a half century ago, so I'll leave it at "it's superb."  It's a classic for a reason, and unlike Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey, two excellent movies that I appreciated but will likely never watch again, I genuinely enjoyed watching The Battleship Potemkin.  It's a propaganda film, of course, so if it weren't entertaining in the conventional sense, it wouldn't be very effective as a propaganda film, which it is.  The propaganda film makes excellent use of montage theory, in which the propaganda film was an experiment.

Did I mention it was a propaganda film?  Because it's really, really, really obvious from frame one exactly what it is.  It's so over the top it'd be funny if it weren't so scary.  Fortunately, it's enjoyable as an exercise in montage theory and as entertainment.  It's really uncanny how much later films borrow from it.  The most prominent example that came to mind when I watched it was Interstella 5555, believe it or not, since any movie that has to convey a sense of urgency without dialog has to live and breathe montage theory in order to work.  It also seemed similar in principle to several scenes in Neon Genesis Evangelion.  I later learned that someone wrote an essay on the matter, though it's incomplete and maybe a bit too rooted in the usual writing and presentation style of Eva's not quite intellectually solid fandom (if any of that fandom is reading this, yes, I agree with a lot of what V says, even if I don't agree with V himself).

Commentary: The Musical was funny.  Really funny.  No seriously, I just can't really think of much to say about it other than it was an awesome idea that they executed well and managed to be informative at the same time.  The story of how Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog came into existence is rather fascinating, as is most everything else about it.

So anyway, not much to say about Battlestar Galactica either except that it's a brilliant show, and nobody's hands are really that shaky.

What am I listening to?
Well, a number of things, among them is Royksopp (spelled with an umlat over the first o that I would be able to type if I were using a mac but that I'm too lazy to memorize the number sequence to get it on a PC).  As I often put it, they're the music you hear at upscale housewear stores, only ten times more awesome.  Most of their work is classifiable as house, but for the most part (at least on Melody A.M, which is the only album I own completely) it's a sort of easy listening house, with interesting instrumentation and musical ideas built around the standard house framework that make for nice listening.  I'd heard two of their songs before, actually, both from Melody A.M.  Poor Leno was a track on SSX 3, and evoked weird nostalgia for an excellent game from a part of my life I'd rather disown.

Watching that video, I forgot how funny the banter was in SSX 3.  I really wish I knew where my copy of the game went...  Fitting that a Norwegian group should be featured in a snowboarding game, perhaps.  It certainly worked in-game.  A short excerpt from Eple (Norwegian for apple) was partially used in the intro video to Mac OS 10.3.  Oh so clever, Steve Jobs, to put Eple on the Apple.  Actually, make that three songs.  A short excerpt from Remind Me was used in a Geico caveman commercial once.  I had forgotten about that because most of the cavemen commercials sucked.  Geico's commercials are so hit and miss, always have been...  But anyway, they're no Daft Punk (and they don't try to be), but they've got a lot of good ideas.

It's been a very Scandinavian two weeks, because I've also discovered the song Wishmaster by Nightwish.  It's a good song with lots of energy, but it's fascinating for its lyrics in two ways.  First of all, it's a heavy mithril song, that is to say, heavy metal, but ten times geekier.  The lyrics might well have been written in character at an especially long D&D game, supposedly talking about warriors and elves, and referencing Elbereth of Tolkien's mythos.  I say "might well have" and "supposedly" because through the thick Finnish accent, it sounds less like
Heartborn seventh seeker!
In me, the Wishmaster!
And more like
Hard corn seething seagull!
This rifle!
In me, the Witchmaster!
And the refrain is the most comprehensible part of the song.  Good luck trying to figure out what the rest of it is actually saying without looking up the lyrics.

What am I reading?
Well, not nearly enough of what I'm assigned to.  But that's neither here nor there >_>  Seriously though, been reading a lot of romantic poetry for class.  I'm actually liking it much more than I expected to.  In my mind, I had the mental image of Spanish romantic poetry, which I remembered being just horrible (La Poesia es Tu...give me a break), but Wordsworth and Blake are actually saying some interesting things in very beautiful ways.  I won't discuss it here because I've already discussed it during class so much, but it's cool.

I'm still reading a lot of Foreign Policy Magazine.  Since it's a website with a broader pool of contributors, sometimes the lower rung bloggers who contribute there are obviously talking out of their sensationalist asses, but even when they do, they're talking crap in interesting ways.  And yet I've never seen a physical copy of the magazine.  Odd.

Recently I finished re-listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on audio CD in the car on the way back to school.  There's a lot of stuff I'd like to write about it, but I don't particularly feel like doing it right now, so maybe next entry.  Suffice it to say I quite enjoyed it; it's stood up well to time.  I think I finished listening to it the first time back in early 2007.  It's got problems, but it's a very good example of what YA literature should be.  In fact, one of the things I plan on writing about is how it might be useful to use Harry Potter to explain Shounen anime and manga to people who don't watch it, as this sort of obviously-for-teenagers-but-complex-and-enjoyable-by-adults thing.  Makes me want to finish watching Fullmetal Alchemist.  Never did get around to that.

What am I doing?
A lot of things, really.  I've been getting actual homework now, though not as much as last year.  I think it's the nature of the classes that I'm taking that I don't normally get much homework, unless it's reading, or a paper or writing assignment.  The exception, of course, is Japanese.  You get a lot of homework there, and when you're not doing a workbook page, you're studying for a test.  I'm good at picking up grammar and figuring out vocabulary, but in order to actually do well in the class, you have to put a lot of work into it.  Maybe it's arranged that way on purpose.  But that doesn't matter.  Writing is still awesome, CIE is still interesting, and Intro to Music is still probably going to kick me in the ass one of these days when I least expect it.

Speaking of music, I'm teaching myself how to play the synthesizer on the computer.  It's not the same thing as knowing how to play the piano, of course, but it's helpful in understanding music theory when you know what the hell the teacher is talking about.  I've figured out how to play Funkytown, the cello part for Pachebel's Canon in D, the main theme of Halo, the lead guitar part for Moskau, and I looked up how to play the Ode to Joy theme in Beethoven's 9th, 4th movement.  None of them are particuarly complicated (the cello part for Pachebel's Canon in D is kind of ridiculous), but hey, it's not useless.  It's next to useless, but it's not useless.

I notice your oeuvre is monochromatic.
So, something we get a lot of in Pennsylvania and not so much in Northern Virginia is snow.  Lots and lots of snow.  In fact, many early morning classes get canceled because even Pennsylvania's somewhat efficient plows haven't come yet.  Not my 8:00 class on Mon, Wed, and Fri though.  Know why?  The professor lives on campus.  And he'll quite literally never cancel class unless the school does.  I've woken up, looked out the window, and seen a foot of snow and ice on the ground, and realized, clinging to the radiator, that we still had class.  It was not a particularly pleasant thought.  I rather felt like Calvin in one particular Calvin and Hobbes strip when he refused to go outside until it was as warm outside as it was inside.  And I'm someone who doesn't mind cold too much.

Of course, it's also a heck of a lot of fun.  I'll have the internet know my snow-fu is unmatched this side of campus.  Except not, because I'm too tall and my style is too energetic to sustain for longer snowball fights.  Our hall is also pretty cool with the snowman building and other snow shenanigans, for instance, building a snowman on the previously mentioned professor's doorstep.

It's also presented a lot of photographic opportunities which I have totally ignored so far.

I suppose that's it for now.  Maybe I'll be on time next week.  Maybe.

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