Thursday, June 30, 2011

Game Review: Frozen Synapse

Today's review is on Frozen Synapse, a new game by Mode7, an indie game developer comprised of three people in the UK. Their previous game, Determinance was a third person, multiplayer, sword-fighting game. Frozen Synapse is almost completely different, the only similarities being that it's third person, and it's a game. (I haven't played Determinance (windows only), but that's what I got from what I've seen)

You assume the role of Tactics, a Shapeform. Your job (as indicated by your name) is to be a tactician. The Shape is basically a digital overlay of the "physical" world (in-game). The being that reside in the Shape are called Shapeforms. Most of the time, Shapeforms are usually named by their job or attribute (e.g. sniper, for someone using a sniper rifle), but you also meet some that aren't, like Belaqua.

In the campaign, you are recruited by an organization called Petrov's shard to help them bring down Enyo:Nomad, a super-corporation that is in control of a city called Markov Geist. I haven't played much of this yet, but what I have played is amazing. The levels are randomly generated, and if you lose on a mission, the map is regenerated for a new playing field, making your skill the only thing that actually matters, instead of, say, memorizing the map. My advice: READ EVERYTHING!!! This will give the game form and reason. It's not too much to read, but it increases your game experience immensely. Also, I reccomend playing at least some of the campaign first, for the above reasons.

The multiplayer integration is nearly flawless, but I would like to see some more integrated UI instructions. Things like: there is a small circle on the bottom left, but it never tells you that it's there and you have to mouse over it to find out what it's for. However, the game is still in beta and feels like a complete game with some add-ons, so I can't really complain. The gameplay is actually turn based, so it can effectively be "played by email," which is nice for those who have no time...

The gameplay is unlike any other game I have played. It's "simultaneous turn-based," which basically means that each player makes their move, then they're executed simultaneously. This makes you have to look at every possibility before committing your move. I will attempt to post a video of this soon. (If anyone knows of good software (Mac), that would be useful).

The soundtrack is amazing and I recommend everyone buy the soundtrack version of this game. It is completely original and includes electronic, symphonic and atmospheric elements. I'll leave the breakdown to someone else...

Mode7 only sells their games in two packs, so you can split the cost with a friend, or just give it to them. Mode7 can be found here.

Closing comments:
Frozen synapse is an amazing game, which everyone should try. I think you'll be hooked. The soundtrack is amazing and the multiplayer works well. The campaign is long and engaging, and explains what is actually happening. In short: A great game.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Their Story

"How did Grandma and Grandpa meet?" I asked my mom on that sunny summer afternoon.

"Why don't you ask her? She's sitting ten feet away from you," Mom replied.

I shrugged, feeling awkward. The truth was, Grandma had been confused lately. More than day-of-the week confused, too. I didn't want to upset her, or complicate her thoughts even further. And I didn't want to feel those emotions, either. I felt them enough around Grandma as it was. Still, I really wanted to hear their story...

Suck it up and do it, I told the wimpy part of my inner self. I walked over and stood in front of Grandma's wheelchair. "Grandma, how did you and Grandpa meet?"

Immediately, a smile spread across her face. Without preamble, she began: "Our churches were playing dartball against each other. Grandpa was playing for his church, and I had come with some friends to watch. Grandpa and I started talking at the food and drink table and just kept talking the whole night, until the game was over. When it was time for everyone to leave, he told me, 'Bernice, I'd really like to drive you home, but I drove the pastor to the game tonight. I can't just leave him here.'"

"But then," Grandma recalled with a laugh, "Walter Winther came up to him and said, 'I'll take the pastor home, Victor. You go drive Bernice home.' He could only take me so far, though, because I had my truck parked at a friend's house, so he followed me the rest of the way so he'd know where I lived."

I grinned, ready to sit down again, but Grandma continued. "He asked me out on a date, and when he came to the house to pick me up, he had flowers for me. Then he said, 'You know, I wanted to get you some flowers, Bernice, but I couldn't afford any. I finished closing up a grave earlier today,'" (I knew that Grandpa had been the church's gravedigger for years) "and I figured no one was using the flowers on that grave, so --'" Grandma thrust her hand out, as though she held flowers, "--here you go!'"

Everyone around us laughed heartily. Looking at my mom and her brothers and sisters, I could tell that they had heard the graveyard flowers story many times before. But no matter how many times they heard it, this telling - which turned out to be the last one - was just as dear to them as the very first time they had heard it.

"You can shed tears that she is gone, or you can smile because she has lived. You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back, or you can open your eyes and see all she's left. Your heart can be empty because you can't see her, or you can be full of the love you shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember her only that she is gone, or you can cherish her memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back. Or you can do what she'd want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on." David Harkins.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Song of the Week 39: 'Super Effective' by Fishy, Andy Jayne's been a while. I'm going to post here just for my enjoyment and pleasure, and because after this week I'll be away for quite some time. Also, my internet has been screwed up for weeks, so the likeliness of another post drops even lower. This Song of the Week is based on a song from a classic franchise: Pokemon. The games in particular are Pokemon Gold and Silver. The inspiration to review this particular track came from time sitting at home, hearing this theme all over the house since two of my siblings have a tendency to play the newer games set in Johto, Heart Gold and Soul Silver. I always mention when I hear this theme that there's this awesome remix for the theme that a person hears whenever they battle a trainer from Johto. Oddly enough, this song has not yet been posted on OCR, but it is a part of an OCR album called Pokemon: The Missingno Tracks (which is why OCR is tagged in this post). Anyway, enough of this babbling! The album link will have a list of songs; the one I'll be reviewing is 'Super Effective' by Fishy and Andy Jayne (Look at the track list and click on the title of the track to bring up downloading and song info, along with what the artist's input of the track). Click on one of the mirror links on the page to listen to it/download it, and let's get this review started.

The beginning of the song starts out with a duet of strings and piano. The strings repeatedly play a low E, and the piano plays a simple melody (at about the same pitch as the strings). The whole thing blends together quite well. At 0:10 the strings play that E up an octave, and this time that rhythm from them is faster. Added to the higher pitched strings are some light high-hat hits, which are heard every other beat. At 0:18 there's a percussion crash, and the real melody starts to play at 0:19. This melody is an electric guitar. Now the beat has picked up even more, the strings and the piano have dropped out, and now it's just pure guitar. However, one guitar just isn't enough for this track. Right now, I can hear not one, not two, but three guitars. The first one plays the Johto battle theme, the second plays the harmony, and the third plays the bass. While listening to the song, I notice that my attention is not on the melody that millions have heard, but what really has me hooked onto this song is the harmony. Not only is is slightly louder than the melody, but it's lower and faster. Harmony is a must for this song, and right now the harmony here is absolutely sick. At 0:31 the melody from the higher guitar can be heard a little easier, especially when it hits those high notes. At 0:40 the song continues, but the melody is very briefly taken over by a synth that plays one of the more "recognizable" parts of this theme. At 0:45 a new section starts up, which has to be one of my favorite parts of this track. The three guitars are back, this time all in synch. The melody and harmony guitars are playing very fast eighth notes at the same time, and the lower electric guitar (note: this is not a bass guitar; it just acts like one by playing the longer, lower notes. It still has that electric guitar sound) plays once every other beat. I absolutely love the harmony here; it almost sound like one guitar and one voice. At 0:56 this section repeats itself after the lead guitars finish that rhythm. The guitar parts were recorded by Fishy and placed on this track, so I can even hear that sound the guitar strings make in the recording while changing notes. At 1:06 a solo guitar comes in for a brief interlude of the Johto battle theme while the harmony guitar drops out for a couple seconds. After this the song goes into a new section. At 1:12 the melody slows down for a little bit, although the incredibly fast tempo stays the same. The harmony is still completely in synch with the melody, although the percussion/melody has changed their rhythms into a more laid-back style. At 1:21 the upper guitars just go crazy, and the low guitar plays a melody of its own. At 1:24 there's a new section that starts back up. For this part of the song, there are two things going on right now. The first thing I'll focus on is the catchy melody from a single guitar. The melody is high in pitch and also slightly repetitve. What I really want to focus on though is the lower guitar. At first I didn't even notice this, but the lower guitar is playing the real melody, which is another part of the Johto battle theme. If you continue listening through 1:34, the low guitar and high guitar suddenly connect. Now the lead guitar is playing the melody heard at 1:24, and the low guitar is back to being the bass. To start up a new section at 1:41, the guitars quiet down while the strings come back for a mere three seconds. At 1:46 the section starts up, and the two main guitars return to play an all new melody. However, this time around the low guitar is actually playing with the other two. So now all three guitars are completely in synch. This melody doesn't last long though, for yet another new section starts back up at 1:56. The main melody is still the battle theme, but the harmony is different and strings join in to play the melody with the other guitar. At 2:05 there's another minor section which has the melody from one guitar, the harmony from another guitar, and wait, another harmony from the third. At 2:15, there's a guitar solo which picks up to a section that is exactly the same as the beginning section at 0:19. This section will continue for a while, so if the readers have already forgotten what it sounds like, please see the beginning of this review. At 2:39 everything that was in this section dips down in pitch and fades out. At 2:41 there's now more of an electronic section here, consisting of an electric-guitar like synth with a rather hollow sound to it (it's sort of hard to describe). It may be a different sound compared to what we've been hearing, but it still keeps that crazy, rock feel. Anyway, this melody is pretty crazy while the low guitar continues to back everything up with the percussion. At 2:56 this section starts to conclude with the synth going up and down in pitch repeatedly. At 3:01 the synth and the beat goes faster, and then the section ends with a very fast note run. At 3:06 there's another section repeats itself; this time it's the one back at 1:12. The rest of the song here is now pretty repetitive; starting at 3:19, the entire section from 1:24 to 1:56 repeats itself. I don't believe there are any differences between this and the sections in the past. At 3:44 the section is almost exactly the same as the one starting at 1:56, but instead of the strings playing the melody, it's just the guitar alone. Also there are a couple differences with the melody, for the rhythm has a little more flair and added notes placed. The notes of the guitar continue to get higher and higher until 4:00. At this point the guitar reaches a boiling point, and the guitar is going extremely fast. Plus, this moment of craziness lasts for a whole ten seconds! After that the same section just repeats itself. At 4:30, the song is starting to die down a little bit. The guitars have dropped, and the percussion has dropped as well. The strings now play in the background, and the piano now plays the battle theme in a more relaxing way. The rhythm from the piano is pretty repetitive, although it always sounds different because of the various harmonies from the strings. It's a nice, soothing way to end such a crazy piece. In the end one last note is played, and the song fades away.

Pros: This has absolutely awesome guitar recordings, and a great tempo that always stays consistent. I loved the harmonies that were everywhere throughout this track. I liked how everything that was in the song would change roles once in a while; I'm mainly thinking of the sections at 1:24 and 3:19 when the low electric guitar acting like the bass played the melody. I used to hate this particular theme from Pokemon, but it's because of this piece that I learned to love it. Also, I loved the ending and how this song concluded.

Cons: Alright, let's face some reality here. While the song is pretty cool altogether, it's so repetitive. It repeated almost the entire first half of the song during the second half, and there wasn't much happening that actually made this any different than what we've already heard. Also, I thought that the strings that joined in at 1:56 were a little unnecessary. Plus, the song was basically a repeat of the original theme. There wasn't much other than the instruments that contributed to making this arrangement unique to the real thing.

Overall: Usually an electric guitar remix doesn't stand out much to me, but I'm making an exception for this one. Excellent guitar work from Fishy, and this is a great arrangement of one of the classic Pokemon themes that we all know and love. Although it may be repetitive, it's a great blast into the past that takes you back to the time where the Gameboy Color was the latest video game system. Anyway, pokemon fans would love it. Awesome work.

Rating: 8.7/10