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E3 2014: MS Press Conference

June 9, 2014 | 18:28 | Written by: snake911

Out of the gate, Microsoft has a humble approach to their press conference by noting this show is only for games.  Meaning: WE KNOW YOU DON’T CARE FOR THE TV STUFF, APP SNAP, AND OTHER NON-GAMING THINGS SO PAY ATTENTION TO THE GAMES SIDE THAT WE NEGLECTED LAST YEAR!  They also thanked gamers for all of their feedback (complaints) they were making about the console since it launched.  Phil Spencer said something like “You’re helping in shaping the greatest gaming console.”  He also thanked all of the developers for doing what they do.

From Playdead is the game Inside that caught my attention first.  Interested in seeing more of that game soon.  Interesting they are bringing back Phantom Dust.  I was always interested in that game and was planning to get it, but probably not anymore now that everyone is going to jack-up the listing price on eBay.  Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare looked real pretty, but not sure if I care for it.  Was more leaning towards Tom Clancy's The Division.  Heck, I was even interested in the Halo: The Master Chief Collection.  It seems a lot of care and attention went into creating this collection.  I don’t really care for collections when they just cram a bunch of games together and not improve or add to the games or overall experience.

 

 

The highlight was all of the stuff under the ID@Xbox banner.  You know, their indie games stuff.  In that quick montage of all those indie games, I was excited to see Hyper Light Drifter, Cuphead, and Mighty No. 9Cuphead especially because of it looking like a cartoon from the ‘30s.  Interesting choice of visual style.

Overall, I was impressed of what Microsoft had to show for their console.  Glad to see them listen to their audience and make the console the people demand.  The indie showcase almost makes up for them stopping the XNA program.

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The Sherlocked effect

June 4, 2014 | 20:22 | Written by: snake911

Apple unveiled their soon to be released version of OSX called Yosemite.  While I don’t really care for the name compared to Mavericks (even though I realize the name was coming because it’s a popular spot in California), I love what they are adding to the OS.  The only problem is my MacBook is long in the tooth and would be crushed under the weight of hardware requirements needed for Yosemite.  I’m saving up the cash to hopefully get a new MacBook later this year.

As a side note, due to Apple recently announcing it would buy Beats Electronics and having Dr. Dre make a small appearance at the WWDC keynote, I thought it was funny that someone noted they should’ve named their next version of OSX, Compton.  The OS would have come "Straight Outta Compton."

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To the 5 Boroughs

June 1, 2014 | 13:35 | Written by: snake911

Ten years ago this month the Beastie Boys released their latest studio album titled To the 5 Boroughs.  Fans waited patiently for this release as this one took nearly six years to come out after their previous studio album Hello Nasty.  It’s a fantastic album from front to end that is wrapped in a stylistic CD sleeve and has lyrics that some might think would never come from a group known for its childish mischief and nonsense video interviews.  I want to celebrate this album on its tenth anniversary by looking back at it and describe what makes it a favorite of mine.

The six years between Hello Nasty (1998) and To the 5 Boroughs (2004) was a long one.  Many things happened during that period which would be used as fuel for the team for their lyrics.  Lyrics that would be different when even compared to Hello Nasty.  But they gave us some good tracks to listen to from Hello Nasty during the wait to keep us occupied.  Not only did fans of the group love tracks like “Intergalactic” and “Body Movin'”, but top 40 stations were playing them too.  Heck, I heard more radio play of Fatboy Slim’s remix of “Body Movin'” from a local radio station than I did of the original.  The music videos were also still top notch for the Beastie Boys by creating comical scenes like a giant robot fighting a monster and a parody of a spy film from 1968 called Danger: Diabolik.

Spring 2004 was when we heard the first single from To the 5 Boroughs.  It would be the opening track: "Ch-Check It Out."  This was a high energy song both instrumental and lyrical.

"All you Trekkies and TV addicts,
don't mean to dis don't mean to bring static.
All you Klingons in the fuckin' house
grab your backstreet friend and get loud"

Hype for the Beastie Boys was strong at this point.  All rock/alternative radio stations in my area had this track on high repeat, and this wasn’t a bad thing because the song was so fantastic as was “Intergalactic” during the lead up to the release of Hello Nasty.  If this was a taste of things to come, we were all in for a real treat.

This would be the first album that was produced solely by the Beastie Boys.  Mario Caldato, Jr. would not be producing the album, breaking his tradition of producing the group since Paul's Boutique (1989).  Returning to this album would be Mix Master Mike.  As before, he would be the DJ for the group, improving on what he did during Hello Nasty with his techniques like the tweak scratch.

June 15, 2004 is the day when the album would be released.  Everyone was excited to grab a copy of it.  When you did, you’d notice a lot of quality went into the package of the album.  For the time, CD sleeves were replacing the traditional CD jewel case.  This is what they used and they added their own touch to it.  When you held onto the sleeve, you didn’t feel the traditional glossy cardboard.  Instead, you immediately felt the texture was rough like some leather bound object, giving the album some classy appeal.  The album art was also something to marvel at.  Artist Matteo Pericoli hand drew the skyline of Manhattan from the perspective of the East River.  On the front and back, you can see a continuous drawing of the southern tip of Manhattan.  But when you open up the CD sleeve, it unfolds many times over itself to reveal the drawing continues on all the way to Queensboro Bridge!  This is basically half of Manhattan Island!  The drawing itself is inspired by one of his works called Manhattan Unfurled.  If you look close enough, you could see the drawing lines may not be their straightest, but because he included incredible details of what seems like every window on every skyscraper that the straightness of the lines don’t matter.  It’s a beautiful drawing to say the least.

 

 

There are a total of fifteen songs for the album.  This is significantly lower compared to the previous three albums where the number was in the twenties.  But with this release, there are no instrumental-only tracks.  Lyrics are heard from beginning to end and some messages are new to what the group normally raps about.

Track listing:
1. "Ch-Check It Out"
2. "Right Right Now Now"
3. "3 the Hard Way"
4. "It Takes Time to Build"
5. "Rhyme the Rhyme Well"
6. "Triple Trouble"
7. "Hey Fuck You"
8. "Oh Word?"
9. "That's It That's All"
10. "All Lifestyles"
11. "Shazam!"
12. "An Open Letter to NYC"
13. "Crawlspace"
14. "The Brouhaha"
15. "We Got The"

Of course, this album contains songs where they talk smack and describe how they’re the best out there.  You couldn’t have a Beastie Boy’s album that didn’t have them dissing others in the hip-hop scene, right?  Some of this can be heard from songs like “3 the Hard Way,” “Rhyme the Rhyme Well,” and “Shazam!”  "Ch-Check It Out" starts the album off by telling the listener they’re back and ready to blow the hinges off.  If you’re a fan, you’ll love tracks like these.

“Rhyme the Rhyme Well” has that classic passing the mic feel to it where each says their name before they start their own verse of the song.  The most positive and uplifting song on the album is probably “All Lifestyles.”  It notes how you should just be yourself and have fun.  I love, love “Triple Trouble” for both its sound and lyrics.  It’s a fun song to listen to and the music video for this is great (more on this later).

Somewhat new to the group for lyrics are opinions regarding politics.  Peppered throughout To the 5 Boroughs are songs that are politically engaged.  Most of it is regarding the Bush administration and the groups dislike of his option to go to war.  The track that shows this the most would be "It Takes Time to Build."

"We've got a president we didn't elect
The Kyoto treaty he decided to neglect"

"Maybe it's time that we impeach Tex
and the military muscle that he wants to flex."

"Right Right Now Now" is one that discusses problems with society such as gun control and racism.  This is the second song from the album, but there is another tack that I feel supplements this song well and it’s the last track titled "We Got The."  It is basically a message noting we can change the direction from the negative course they felt the country was in at the time -- "Who got the power to make a change? Who got the power to make a difference? We got the, we got the, we got the."

"An Open Letter to NYC" is a heartfelt song for the city where all three members of the group are from.  A few references of 9/11 are in this, but the majority of it is a general love letter to NYC.  They note a number of things in this song including locations, routes they would travel around in the city, and their past experiences growing up there.

An album isn’t complete without some music videos, and To the 5 Boroughs definitely delivers on them.  Like the first single, the video for "Ch-Check It Out" came out before the album was released.  With it, you get the groups funny side where they dress up in many silly getups, wear moustaches, and disturb a city block when they’re trying to film their music video; only to get interrupted by old ladies, joggers, and yuppies.  Another great video is for “Triple Trouble” where the group is kidnapped by Sasquatch (he is also the reason why they were gone for six years).  The whole video is hilarious, especially the dream sequence towards the end.

"An Open Letter to NYC" was also given a music video.  I like how they traveled to each of the boroughs and showed the culture of the city.  "Right Right Now Now," "Rhyme the Rhyme Well," and "Shazam!" all have music videos, too.  All this brings the total count of music videos for To the 5 Boroughs to six!  "Right Right Now Now" is visually a neat one to watch because they heavily use the bullet time visual effect in the middle of Time Square.  As a side note, all videos were done by my favorite music video director, Nathanial Hörnblowér.

In true Beastie Boys style, sampling is used pretty heavily with this release (but nowhere near the amount of samples from Paul's Boutique where the samples were in the hundreds!).  For some notable examples, “3 the Hard Way” has a sample of LL Cool J from "El Shabazz"; "Rhyme the Rhyme Well" includes Chuck D from Public Enemy with the song “Public Enemy No. 1”; and “Shazam!” has Kool & the Gang’s “Open Sesame” (Freeeeeeeeek out with the genie!!!).  Samples were taken over a span of many decades, but you can hear a lot of retro samples of ‘70s funk -- which I believe is their favorite decade and genre of choice.  Some recent samples are found too like 50 Cent for "An Open Letter to NYC."

Compared to their earlier albums, To the 5 Boroughs didn’t sell as much, but it did hit number 1 on many charts and did get Platinum status from the RIAA, so it’s not like it’s a failure or anything.  In addition, it was received well by critics too, but it was noted that some didn’t care for the political stuff on the album.  And I understand their criticism, but at the same time, a group of rappers in their 40s still creating lyrics about drinking, vandalism, and frat boy type behaviors would be more off putting.  Having said some of that, I love this album a lot and it still gets a constant bit of playtime when I listen to my music collection.

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Watch Dogs

May 29, 2014 | 17:56 | Written by: snake911

Glad to see Watch Dogs finally get released.  It’s a shame not every review I’ve seen giving it high praises -- because I’ve been looking forward for this game for a while -- but good to see mostly positive stuff from both players and other critics.  I don’t really care for open world games, but I’ve always been a sucker for cyberpunk themed games, and having it set in a big city like Chicago caught my attention because I don’t believe I have played any games that take place in that location.

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This is the end, beautiful friend

May 27, 2014 | 22:40 | Written by: snake911

Well, after an impressive near 13 year run, my wallet finally gave up on life.  Heck, this wallets been with me for around half my life.

It’s from Alien Workshop, a skateboarding company.  It was the perfect wallet that included a pouch for everything you’d need.  I expected it to last around five years, but 13, man that was money well spent.

I kept the tradition alive by getting another wallet from Alien Workshop.  I love the raised lettering and the sweet design on the outside of the wallet with the crow and spirograph like patterns but I’m bummed it doesn’t come with a zipper coin pouch.  Oh well, here’s hoping for another 13 years.

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Rhode Island has good taste

May 22, 2014 | 20:48 | Written by: snake911

 

I’m not a coffee drinker.  Don’t really care for hot beverages and the taste of coffee was always too strong.  But the other day I saw a TV show where someone was drinking something called “coffee milk.”  Don’t know why but I had the urge to try it.

Searched the local stores but none carry coffee milk.  Next I searched online and found out the state of Rhode Island has coffee milk as the state’s official beverage, and they use a coffee syrup called Autocrat.  I took the risk and bought a bottle of the stuff.  A risk because it was $17 for 32oz.

The verdict: delicious!  It’s sweet with a slight aftertaste of coffee.  It also helps with giving me a boost of energy in the late morning at work when I stay up way too late the night before.

You make it like you would make chocolate milk.  You pour a glass of milk, squirt some coffee syrup into the milk, stir, and enjoy.  I highly recommend coffee milk.  Consider it my beverage of choice for 2014.

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Guilty Gear Xrd

May 20, 2014 | 20:16 | Written by: snake911

 

It’s been a long while since I cared about the Guilty Gear series.  In fact, the last game I gave a hoot about was Guilty Gear X2; a game that came out 11 years ago!  I got out after that one after I realized every game was basically the same, but with minor changes.

But this series is kind of significant for me because it’s the one that got me back in to the fighting game genre.  Before that, the last fighting game I cared about was when Mortal Kombat 3 was originally released.  The first time I saw GG was when it was brought in and placed in the corner of the arcade room at my college.  No one really played it, but the attraction screen always caught my eyes;  showing off the beautiful backgrounds, hi-res and very fluid character sprites, it’s heavy metal soundtrack, and overall fast paced gameplay.

I followed BlazBlue when it originally came out because it was like a breath of fresh air for the team that originally created GG.  But I got out once they started going down that similar path where the iterations are only minor changes.

Since then, I’ve been following the genre closely.  In fact, I never noticed, but my brother pointed out my gaming collection is mainly fighting games.  Around 32% to be precise.  Yikes!

Xrd may be good a good point to reenter the franchise because I’m guessing so much has changed since X2 that it would justify getting back into it.  And like before, the pretty stage background and music caught my attention again.

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What comes around

May 15, 2014 | 22:36 | Written by: snake911

 

 

The animated gif you see above was referenced on this week’s episode of the Retronauts podcast.

The creator designed a low polygon bowl of ramen.  A style of design not seen since the  32-bit era.  I believe it was Chris Kohler from the podcast that referenced the gif and noted that this generation of gaming (PS4/XBO/WiiU) will probably start designing games with this type of style just as the previous generation (PS3/X360/Wii) used the pixel art style that mimicked 8-bit and 16-bit games.  I hope this is true because I love that kind of aesthetic.

During the 32-bit era, this was the gen where game artists were moving away from 2D designs to polygonal 3D designs.  And due to the fact that console CPU and graphics rendering were new to polygon generating, the poly counts were low. Well, based on todays standards anyways where they are now able to generate 1.6 billion polygons per second with the PS4 while the PS1 was a paltry 360,000 polygons per second.

Attention to detail were neat to checkout during the 32-bit generation.  A lot of creativity was probably poured into 3D designs because, at the time, they were freed from the shackles of expensive manufacturing costs for cartridges that included chips and boards to a simple press of a CD.  This allowed them to go wild with art aspects.  Also add that they now had a wealth of free space to deal with.  600 megabytes compared to ~8-15 megabytes for 16-bit cartridges.

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