Author Archives: Gothamghost

Diablo III Countdown

May 1st, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (0 Comments)

The countdown is over. The game was released on May 15th, 2012.

Fez

April 15th, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (1 Comments)

Fez Box Art

If you are unfamiliar with Fez then a little back story wouldn’t hurt. Fez is an indie game developed by Polytron and was first announced in 2007 by its creator, Phil Fish. Featured in Indie Game: The Movie Fez won multiple awards in 2008, 2011 and 2012 before even being released. After going through multiple delays and a lengthy legal battle the game was finally released on April 13th, 2012.

Fez is a puzzle/platform/adventure game with what feels like Escher inspired designs. The concept is that you play as a protagonist named Gomez who lives in a 2D world. One day Gomez receives a fez and is suddenly able to see a third dimension. As the player you only maneuver in a 2D space but you are capable of rotating the perspective. Imagine a cube, and you can only operate on one side of that cube at a time, however you can rotate the perspective to see any side of that cube at any time and then play on that side. After receiving the fez, Gomez is told that he must collect cubes scattered all over the world in order to save his village and ultimately the world from imminent destruction. You earn these cubes by jumping and maneuvering the world and some times by solving puzzles, as a reward for what often will feel like more difficult puzzles you receive an anti-cube. You need all of these cubes and anti-cubes to open doors which have other parts of the world locked away. Each door has a required number of cubes to open. If a door needs 16 cubes to open you can have 16 full cubes, 16 anti-cubes or any combination of the two that total 16.

For fans who have been waiting five years, the wait was worth it. The artwork in Fez is fantastic and truly feels like playing a 2D game at any given time. While the game uses pixel art, the textures feel very detailed. The landscapes are varied and they thematically make sense for their location in the world. In short, the world is beautiful. Complimenting the art style is the music. The soundtrack by Disasterpiece is in the chiptune style and fits the retro aesthetic. I can’t say enough about how important music is to the experience in a game, especially a game like Fez where a lot of time is spent examining and thinking about the puzzle in front of you.

The gameplay is innovative and yet reminds me of playing games when I was younger. The puzzles on the surface appear to be simple and then you realize there is more to the game than just simply finding cubes. One of the most wonderful aspects I have found is the sense of discovery, not just in discovering the solution to a puzzle but discovering that you are even looking at a puzzle. The world is full of cryptic clues and a whole language that uses symbols and can actually be deciphered. You may even walk past a puzzle and not realize that is was a puzzle until hours later in the game. Fez uses the shifting perspective mechanic to great effect. Shifting planes doesn’t get old and quickly becomes an old friend that will help you out of a jam. Death is barely a factor and I am glad for it. There are no enemies and if you fall off of a ledge you are quickly replaced on the ledge you were on previously. This encourages experimentation with the world and multiple attempts at things you wouldn’t try if a punishment were implemented.

Fez isn’t perfect however. The game will often stutter as you shift between zones and a few quick perspective changes will sometimes cause the game to lag slightly. My only other slight problem is the story is a basic “save the world” quest and while that is tried and true it doesn’t reflect the innovative gameplay.

Overall Fez is one of the best games I have played this year and at $10 on Xbox Live Arcade it is a must purchase.

Indie Game: The Movie

March 18th, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (2 Comments)

I recently attended a screening of an independent film called Indie Game: The Movie. The film features Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillen of Team Meat the creators of Super Meat Boy, Phil Fish of Polytron Corportation the creators of Fez and Jonathan Blow the creator of Braid and the upcoming The Witness. I think the creators of the film describe it best:

With the twenty-first century comes a new breed of struggling independent artist: the indie game designer. Refusing to toil for major developers, these innovators independently conceive, design, and program their distinctly personal games in the hope that they, too, may find success.

After two years of painstaking work, designer Edmund McMillen and programmer Tommy Refenes await the release of their first major game for Xbox, Super Meat Boy—the adventures of a skinless boy in search of his girlfriend, who is made of bandages. At PAX, a major video-game expo, developer Phil Fish unveils his highly anticipated, four-years-in-the-making FEZ. Jonathan Blow considers beginning a new game after creating Braid, one of the highest-rated games of all time.

First-time filmmaking duo Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky capture the emotional journey of these meticulously obsessive artists who devote their lives to their interactive art. Four developers, three games, and one ultimate goal— to express oneself through a video game.

I found the film to be moving, informative and humorous. Quite often as a video game enthusiast I forget the blood, sweat and tears involved in creating the games that I enjoy. While large studios have teams of people dedicated to art, design, sound and all the other aspects of game creation these independent developers are often either alone or on a very small team. The day after the screening I decided to play Super Meat Boy and Braid again and not only did I enjoy the gameplay, story, art and all the things that I loved about them the first time I played them, I found myself with an even deeper appreciation for the personal touches implemented in the games. The movie is only screening in select theaters right now but you can pre-order the DVD/Blu-Ray or digital download here. Ultimately it is definitely a film I recommend watching.

My Top Ten Video Games of 2011

January 10th, 2012 | Posted by Gothamghost in Video Games - (0 Comments)

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Bethesda Softworks – 11/11/11 (PC)

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Skyrim is one of those games that you have waited on for years and take a few personal days for. I know because that is exactly what I did and Skyrim did not disappoint. In a year filled with a lot of major releases it is amazing this game stands alone. With a couple hundred hours of game play, the option to potentially do anything you can imagine and the modding community for PC just getting started Skyrim is a game that I will play for years. As with all Bethesda games there are bugs (of course saying bugs is putting it lightly if you play on PS3) but in a world this massive it would be impossible to prevent. Overall Skyrim is an experience that is altogether different from any other game this year, because it is the story you tell, and that alone earns it the top spot.

2. Portal 2 – Valve Corporation – 4/19/11 (PC)

Portal 2

Portal 2 by all accounts should have been a total disaster. The original Portal was a masterpiece whose only flaw was its length and many thought it wouldn’t be possible to have a sequel live up to that standard. Yet Valve released this years Portal 2 and not only did it live up to the expectations of many Portal fans but surpassed them.  Wheatley and Cave Johnson are two characters introduced that might be loved as much if not more than Portal’s GLaDOS. The puzzles are top notch and the music makes for one of the best gaming soundtracks of the year. Part of Portal 2’s greatness is the story and how it is delivered throughout the game and really leaves it to you to get more out of it. Whether you are studying the paintings on the wall, reading the science fair cardboard cutouts or any other clue to Aperture Science’s past or just simply blazing through shooting portals at will you are guaranteed to have a great time.

3. Bastion – Supergiant Games – 8/16/11 (PC)

Bastion

Supergiant Games is an independent developer with only seven employees. Yet this indie game could have easily been my number one or two game of the year. Bastion has everything you need for a great game. Interesting story? Check. Brilliant art style? Check. Exciting gameplay? Check. One of the best soundtracks for a game I have ever heard? Double check. The emotional impact of your choices and the resulting ending is easily one of my favorite moments in gaming in 2011, perhaps ever. (Kudos to Darren Korb on an excellent soundtrack)

4. Batman: Arkham City – Rocksteady – 10/18/11 (PC)

Batman: Arkham City

In a year of sequels, none were as anticipated by me as Batman: Arkham City (obviously, my website is themed around the Dark Knight). The original Batman: Arkham Asylum was the first Batman game that I had played that was any good. The combat in Arkham City was as tight and exciting as Arkham Asylum and the detective elements were strong, which is important for the world’s greatest detective. I didn’t care for the openness of the world probably due to my obsessive nature to collect Riddler trophies however this definitely was one of the best games I played this year and I hope that Rocksteady makes another Batman game soon.

5. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Nintendo – 11/20/11 (Wii)

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

The Legend of Zelda holds a special place in my heart. Having grown up on the series, and Ocarina of Time being my favorite game of all time, I always make time to throw on my green tunic, shield and sword. Skyward Sword starts slow and picks up around hour twenty. The ending is great and really ties the franchise together. I honestly think this game could have been higher if there was less filler, they could have made this an excellent 20-25 hour game and instead made a good/great 60 hour game. My only other complaint would have to be the motion controls. At times the motion controls worked flawlessly and other times I wanted to just have buttons to press, OK most of the time I wanted buttons to press.  In the end, I will still buy the next Zelda because Nintendo still knows how to create a game without bugs or quirks in level design.

6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Eidos Montreal – 8/23/11 (PC)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The original Deus Ex is one of my favorite PC games of all time. After playing Invisible War, the 2003 sequel, I was a little disappointed and wasn’t holding very high hopes for Human Revolution. What I found was a game that could be proud to share the name of the original. The flaws in this game such as the animation during dialogue and the boss battles being pretty damn lame do not keep me from enjoying the gameplay. The choices you make just deciding how to play the game are fantastic and the fact that I am a sucker for dystopian stories and transhumanism doesn’t hurt either. Eidos Montreal weaved together a great story with good questions about the future of mankind and did it in a way that still lets me sneak through vents.

7. Terraria – Re-Logic – 5/16/11 (PC)

Terraria

This game surprised me more than any other game this year. I bought it on sale on Steam and didn’t like it the first time I played it. I came back to it during a lull (one of the few this year) and ended up loving the pure joy of creation. I have read that there are many things to do in this game such as taking down a large worm or fighting large bosses, I honestly don’t care about any of that because the most fun I had in Terraria wasn’t by fighting anything but instead creating bases, armor, weapons, bookshelves, beds, jetpacks and flower pots. I honestly think Minecraft created a new genre of games and I look forward to future endeavors by this indie developer.

8. Gears of War 3 – Epic Games – 9/20/11 (360)

Gears of War 3

Epic’s Gears of War series is a game that is best played co-operatively with friends. The co-op alone is enough to put it on this list, however 2011’s Gears of War 3 has much more to offer. The story in GOW3 wraps up the franchise nicely and does it in a way that won’t sour fans. The multiplayer is decent and worth putting a few hours into but all-in-all nothing to write home about. The “dudebro” dialogue that has been criticized in the past has been toned down and in its place are some great moments. Cole Train in the stadium and the scene with Marcus, Dom and Gary Jules’ “Mad World” will be remembered as two of my favorite gaming moments of this year.

9. Mortal Kombat – NetherRealm Studios – 4/19/11 (360)

Mortal Kombat

Some might think I am crazy for putting a fighting game in a top ten list for games of the year, but this years Mortal Kombat was just that good. The gameplay was the same great gameplay I have come to expect from a Mortal Kombat title, and despite the online issues at release, the main thing that stuck with me in this game was the story. Yes, the story! It might be that you need to have played the previous games to appreciate it but the way they tie all the characters stories together is amazing. I am impressed with NetherRealm Studios and while this game certainly has flaws, the story was actually what cemented itself on my top ten.

10. Battlefield 3 – DICE – 10/25/11 (PC)

Battlefield 3

The story is weak, short, typical and the co-op is equally lame. Where this game shines is the multiplayer. It is hard to describe the mayhem that takes place in multiplayer. Tanks, fighter jets, helicopters, assault rifles, grenades, rockets and large open maps. I witnessed a jet destroy a tank subsequently to be shot down by a RPG and then crash into a heavily contested area destroying a small group of people. Battlefield 3’s Frostbite Engine is pretty amazing and I look forward to its implementation in the years to come.

Honorable Mentions: Orcs Must Die

Games I didn’t get time to play that probably would have made this list: The Witcher 2, Uncharted 3, Dark Souls, Saints Row: The Third, Rayman: Origins, LA Noire, Super Mario 3Dland (so many games this year)

Biggest Disappointment: Dragon Age II

 

Cord Cutting

December 20th, 2011 | Posted by Gothamghost in Lifestyle - (1 Comments)

It has been a year since I dropped my digital cable and all of the bonus features I had in exchange for broadcast cable, Netflix and the internet. The impetus for the switch was money and honestly a lack of content worth sticking around for. I rarely watched more than a few channels and for what I was paying I could have been driving a nice used car. I am saving around $100 a month with just broadcast cable, internet and the Netflix streaming/DVD-by-mail one out plan. In the Netflix one-out plan you can have any DVD or Blu-ray delivered to you by mail at any given time and you can receive as many as they can send you in a given month. Netflix also offers a streaming option in which you can watch any of their streaming options at any time for a separate amount. This is the way I have primarily started watching television. I still occasionally watch sports and or a network show on broadcast cable and since it is in HD I don’t feel like I am missing anything.  Netflix will also begin offering its own original programming in 2012-2013, including a new season of Arrested Development.

In a previous post I mentioned a “scrobbling” for movies and I think Netflix may be a quasi solution. Since it tracks both the movies and TV I watch and my ratings for those movies and shows it begins to form a recommendation for me specifically. It isn’t perfect, but it is better than nothing.  There are other alternatives to Netflix of course including Amazon Video on Demand for it’s Prime members and Apple TV which is more of a pay-per-view model instead of a subscription. The only drawback I have noticed since I cut my cable is that I end up spending less time watching television. Wait, did I say drawback? I meant benefit. I find myself reading more, listening to music, spending time with family and playing more video games than I was when I had cable television. Not to mention I get to choose what I watch and when. Overall, I recommend to anyone who is tired of paying the cable company more money than what television is truly worth to look at this setup as an option.

Peperoncini Peppers

September 1st, 2011 | Posted by Gothamghost in Food - (0 Comments)

From Wikipedia:

Peperoncini (or pepperoncini), common names Tuscan peppers, sweet Italian peppers and golden Greek peppers, are a variety of the species Capsicum annuum. While called peperoncini in American English, in Italy these particular kind of peppers are called friggitello (plural friggitelli) or more generally peperone (plural peperoni) like other sweet varieties of peppers, while the term peperoncini (singular peperoncino) is used for hotter varieties of chili peppers.[1] The Greek varieties are sweeter and less bitter than the Italian varieties grown in Tuscany. Peperoncini are mild with a slight heat and a hint of bitterness, and are commonly pickled and sold packaged in jars.

The Last Space Shuttle Launch

July 10th, 2011 | Posted by Gothamghost in Space - (1 Comments)

NASA’s last space shuttle launch took place on July 8th, 2011 marking an end to NASA’s 30 year old space program.  This isn’t the end of spaceflight for humans, but it is the end of U.S. government funded spaceflight. Regardless of how we decide to make our journey into space it needs to be done in order for us to survive as a species.

“The Earth is just too small and fragile a basket for the human race to keep all its eggs in.”
-Robert Heinlein

“I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I’m an optimist. We will reach out to the stars.”
-Stephen Hawking

“Since, in the long run, every planetary civilization will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring–not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive… If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds.”
-Carl Sagan

Launch Your Remains Into Space

June 6th, 2011 | Posted by Gothamghost in Space - (0 Comments)

Over the weekend I was having a discussion about what I would want done with my remains if I were to shuffle off this mortal coil.  I quipped that I would like my remains to be put into space without having any knowledge of whether this was even possible.  I decided to look into it and found a website of a company called Celestis that will do just that.  There are four options to choose from for your space burial.  They range in price and include being put into lunar orbit or even into deep space.  They only put a small amount of your cremated remains into space but it is a nice option for those of us who will more than likely never become astronauts.

IBMs Watson Defeats Human Champions in Jeopardy

January 13th, 2011 | Posted by Gothamghost in Technology - (1 Comments)

This video, recorded by Engadget, is of a filming of Jeopardy that has a unique twist. Two of Jeopardy’s greatest champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter are facing off against IBM’s Watson supercomputer. Watson is a natural language processing supercomputer, named after the founder of IBM, comprised of two racks of IBM Power7 System servers, runs Linux as its operating system, 15 terabytes of RAM, and 2,880 processor cores all acting in harmony in a clustered configuration. So what does all that mean? Well the human language is composed of subtlety and words that have more than one meaning. The complexity of a Jeopardy question becomes apparent when you begin to think of it in computers terms. Not only does the computer have to come up with the correct answer, it is able to analyze the answer itself: all the subtle hints, the emphasis in it’s delivery, the references, the whimsical phrasing, humor, and the criteria the answer is warranting. IBM says it uses over 100 algorithms to deal with these complexities and that it has fed Watson over 200 million pages of text to help it understand human language. When a question is asked it uses that data to analyze clues to figure out how the words relate to each other then it uses the algorithms to determine the most likely correct answer. It does all of this in a matter of seconds. Watson defeated the two human champions and didn’t get any answers wrong in the process. This kind of technology is amazing but it also helps me to appreciate the human brain.

More information from the source.

Google Enhances Voice Actions for Android 2.2 Users

August 19th, 2010 | Posted by Gothamghost in Technology - (1 Comments)

Earlier this month Google added some more functionality to Android’s already impressive voice search. I have used the new features for over a week now and I have to say I am impressed. The voice search gets what I am saying about 95% of the time and is able to offer suggestions when it isn’t sure what I said. Some examples of things to say include:

  • send text to [contact] [message]
  • listen to [artist/song/album]
  • call [business]
  • call [contact]
  • send email to [contact] [message]
  • go to [website]
  • note to self [note]
  • navigate to [location/business name]
  • directions to [location/business name]
  • map of [location]

In order to get these new features you need an Android phone running 2.2. Head to the app store and search for Voice Search. While you are in the Android Market check for an app called Chrome to Phone it allows you to send the current page you are on in Google Chrome directly to your phone’s browser. Very useful for when you want to finish reading a page and you have to leave your PC. Enjoy the new apps.