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Book Review: Birdman by Mo Hayder

Back of the book reviewer comments.

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‘A first class shocker’ Yeah Right, I thought It can’t be that bad, I thought. Oh how wrong I was.

They are very common in the literary world. Little comments from reviewers about a book that appear on publisher websites, on the back of the book or on the first page. Wherever they are, when picking up a book I prefer not to read the because they are sometimes exaggerations, saying one thing when the book is nothing like it. Mo Hayder’s Birdman was no different. The Guardian commented that it was ‘a first class shocker’ and going into Birdman I had no idea how right they were.

The decaying bodies of strippers have been discovered on a dig site in Greenwich, London. This case soon has London retching when an autopsy reveals that bodies have been mutilated and the killer left a little gift in their rib cages, a small bird. Detective Inspector Jack Caffery heads the investigation behind the killings, while battling his own demons.

Birdman is a very disturbing and yet gratifying story. Our main character DI Jack Caffery, is a troubled and plain man, but still holds up as a strong character. The story is told from multiple point of views, but this only done to give an insight into some of the characters and it continues the story flawlessly. Hayder’s writing style is very technical, participially in the areas that focus on the police and the investigation. Birdman doesn’t feel like a book that was researched, it feels like a book that has been written after years of association with the police force and encounters with criminals and prostitutes, and that just makes it even more chilling.

For me Birdman was an uncomfortable but exhilarating read. Hayder’s descriptive language knew no bounds. She didn’t pull her punches in this book. She tells you everything no matter how twisted or gruesome it maybe and at times you will forget where you are and what you’re reading. An example of this was on a bus ride home from work, it was the moment Jack and his partner Essex entered the killer’s home for the first time. A smell was described, the feel of the floor was described and I followed the characters as they went into a room filled with pictures on a wall. Pictures of victims every image described with then other paraphernalia, some very illegal paraphernalia which were described in great detail. That was when I noticed there were school kids on the bus and one had taken the seat behind me and I was reading a book that touched on topics that would instantly make people think I wasn’t right in the head. I didn’t want to be responsible for exposing this kid to all of this craziness so I turned my back to the window and continued reading, feeling very very dirty. There will be moments for you if you are interested in seeking out Birdman, but for every public cringe worthy moment, there will be triumphant annoying character moments that just pleases my sadistic soul because annoying people need to have someone punch them once in a while.

If you are interested in looking for Mo Hayder’s Birdman it is available on Amazon, Audible and any of your local book stories. I got my copy from Waterstones, Thanks Waterstones!

By the way Birdman is the first in a series I will be getting to the next book, ‘Treatment’, I just need to prepare myself first.

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RIMWORLD

Atomp (P)Reviews: RimWorld [Ludeon Studios]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp
My seeming inability to fully envelop myself in Dwarf Fortress has again taken me to new and interesting alternatives which in this particular case is the sci-fi colony sim RimWorld. There’s a great deal of Dwarf Fortress here however it’s married with some Prison Architect for the sake of keeping a complex and deep simulation accessible and all of this with a Firefly-esque sci-fi western feel. The idea is that a group of three survivors have crash landed on a distant planet at the edge of populated space and as such development is limited as it so often is at the frontier. This is a pretty classic science fiction trope and I for one don’t mind as it is a really cool setting for a colony/city/town building game. This is, much like many of my games of interest, a Kickstarter success story. The campaign ran during October last year (2013) and generated $268,000 CAD of the $20,000 CAD goal which is an impressive feat and showed how much interest there is in combining a sci-fi setting like that of FTL with a Prison Architect style management sim. It does help that the Kickstarter was a strong presentation and the primary developer has some damn good credentials (he has a published book on game design). In short when I eventually get around to writing an article on the Kickstarter/crowd-funding development model RimWorld will very likely be sitting pretty in the ‘Success’ column.
The gameplay in RimWorld is somewhat like Dwarf Fortress however there is a much higher consideration for the life of your colonists as you have only a few of the to begin with. No-one is disposable here and each individual is important and vital. Tied into this is the simulation of the colonists themselves, all of whom have moods and personalities. In this sense they are somewhat like Sims, they will like or dislike certain environmental concerns such as dirty floors, corpses or room decoration and can under certain circumstances have a mental breakdown. The latest patch actually introduced a rather overpowered mind altering event which has a significant negative modifier on mood. This is being patched to balance it a bit and can be patched manually with a simple one line config edit however it was somewhat influential in the loss of my first colony which despite having a fairly good base modifier on mood thanks to a nice interior was attacked by pirates which involved a lot of negative modifiers around seeing friendly and stranger deaths, corpses and other such grim realities of violence. This is really where the danger in RimWorld lies; not in starvation as in some management games but in defensive combat and keeping your colonists happy. The game does a good job of displaying the relevant information and keeping you informed on what is doing what in regards to the colonists’ mood and happiness.
My first colony for example was actually fairly successful for a first attempt. It must be said that the game design is such that the entire experience was astoundingly intuitive and it was very easy and quick to get going with an absolute minimum of fuss. There are no long winded tutorial sections or walls of text, instead the game allows you to just play the game whilst occasionally prodding you in the right direction. Either way my first colony wound up being an above-ground colony consisting of a single large wood-based compound. This was my first mistake as this turned out to be very difficult to defend and not very strong at withstanding attack from mortar shells. On the other hand it was also relatively cheap and easy to expand the building to accommodate more people in their preferred room size; bloody enormous. Seriously these people must be a tad claustrophobic because avoiding the ‘Cramped Environment’ negative mood modifier is difficult, they’ve evidently never lived out of a single small student room for a year. Everything was going well as I had food production sorted and even had some squirrel meat on the menu. My power requirements were being met by a geothermal generator and a handful of solar panels and research was progressing nicely, providing the colonists with luxuries like carpets. Then the attacks came, which for a relatively indefensible position were actually beaten back on a surprising number of occasions. Eventually the strain began to really beat down people’s mood and a besieging by a group of pirates proved too much as the required counter-offensive took the lives of three colonists, incapacitated one and drove one into a mental breakdown. It was therefore necessary for the one remaining sane colonist to save the incapacitated and subdue the breakdown victim… which was too much for the poor scientist and they too had a mental breakdown. That was really a kick in the teeth as having successfully beaten off the pirates with relatively little damage done to the base the survivors either bled out or broke down.
The beauty of games like RimWorld (and RimWorld excels at it) is the ability to generate stories. There are stories with characters, plots, events and whilst much of it is procedurally generated the overall effect is the creation of plots and tales so vivid and interesting that they could easily be expanded into something of their own right. I love this kind of game, as it has the same appeal as the likes of Crusader Kings 2, FTL or even Kerbal Space Program (everyone has a story of a brave rescue mission to save a crippled lander) in the regard to the potential for dynamic narrative generation, making stories that you want to share. Whilst much of RimWorld’s content is not complete, there is enough for the purposes of generating stories and as development progresses, the content will expand and the pool of potential story elements and events will grow. This is exactly the kind of game that excels in Early Access as once the primary systems are in place it only gets better as content is added rather than running the risk of spoiling half of a prebaked story over and over in testing. Currently with the development patches and additions certain things can be unbalanced on occasion but these don’t seem common and fixes or fix information is often swiftly provided. The developer has interestingly integrated a strictly opt-in gameplay data upload to allow him to collect actual play data to debug and provide design feedback so perhaps the likelihood of major problems occurring will decrease with this addition. There’s a very good reason that this review is longer than usual and why I’ve had 3am bedtimes for the past few days (afternoon/evening shifts allow stupid stunts like that).
The aesthetic is very similar to Prison Architect however I would venture to say that it is actually prettier. The lighting and shadow effects are accurate to the time of day and the weather and wind effects create an attractive and surprisingly immersive feel to the game. Thunderstorms feel appropriately wet, windy and loud and when over your base give that warm and fuzzy ‘indoors’ feel that being in a building in Minecraft during a storm does. I found this quite profound for a top down management game but it certainly gives the base/colony you construct that ‘home in the wild’ feel. The sprites and icons are clear, providing the player with an uncluttered view and a clear idea of what’s going on. The interface design is similarly so, generally staying out of the way and providing an intuitive route to information when needed.
Availability is very good for RimWorld with simultaneous Windows, Mac and Linux updates. The system requirements are equally accessible with the CPU recommendation being a fast Core 2 Duo or a Core i3 with a GPU requirement of Intel HD3000 minimum. This means that I can appreciate it on my beloved Lenovo Thinkpad X220 as its moderately aged Sandy Bridge i5-2520  is able to do the game justice, especially on Debian with Gnome3 (As a side note, older Thinkpads and Debian make perfect bedfellows). I have to say that I appreciate these factors greatly from a personal perspective as it gives the game some real portability potential; an ideal train journey game if ever there was one. Pricing is interesting as it might seem a little steep: The base game package including Early Access is $30.00 (approx £17.50) available from the RimWorld website. There is no Steam release yet however this base cost does include any potential Steam keys when it eventually does hit Steam. I’d say that the game is absolutely worth the cost at this stage of development as enough has been implemented to provide a satisfying play experience right now. I’m also happy to pay that because of the message that it sends, Ludeon Studios and Tynan Sylvester are proving almost perfect Early Access developers with regular communication, updates, a keen sense for community feedback and platform agnosticism. This is the type of development that a crowd funding optimist like me might envision; a game funded by the community and painstakingly developed with active feedback from that community by a responsive developer/development team. No publisher bullshit and no shareholders spoiling perfectly functional ideas with their money grubbing ways *cough*EA*cough*.
RimWorld Website:
RimWorld Wiki:
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Behind the Scenes ~ Gullah Creole with Indea Vaher

Indea Vaher is an artist in real and virtual world. Her work has been documented and recognized by many local, national and international publications such as the Black Enterprise Magazine and many more. In her real life, she has been recognized as a genuine illustration of the history and traditions of African American Southern culture. Her inspirations can be well justified by her roots that are buried in Louisiana, where she spent the major 25 years of her life. Her inquisitiveness to learn more about her genealogy led her to the discovery of the commonalities between Sea Islands and Louisiana which is showcased in her arts of The Gullah/ Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. This Corridor extends from Wilmington, North Carolina in the north to Jacksonville, Florida as designated by the Congress. However, the influence of the culture extends to Louisiana. Her artwork has been featured in many galleries and museums in real life. The artist has received many honors and awards.

Before getting any further, lets understand more about the art. What is Gullah?

The Gullah people have been able to preserve much of their African cultural heritage because of geography, climate, and patterns of importation of enslaved Africans.  The Gullah have preserved much of their African linguistic and cultural heritage. They speak an English-based creole language containing many African loanwords from African languages in grammar and sentence structure. Properly referred to as “Sea Island Creole”. Gullah storytelling, cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions all exhibit strong influences from West and Central African cultures. Read more at The Saminaka Compass~Gullah Connections.

Indea says, “I’ve spent most of my adult life painting and displaying my art. I’ve painted for a lot of reasons, but primarily to honor the Gullah-Creole women of history.

Indea, a self taught mixed-media artist and instructor, is well known for her brilliant coloring, intricate human and landscape forms. BOSL describes her art as “..start of free labor. This is beautifully captured in Indea’s artwork, through bold colors of blues, yellows and reds.” ~ As published in the June, 2014 issue.

the mossy tree

Indea says, “I eventually chose to live most of my adult life in the south preferring nature to concrete. However growing up in two worlds gave me a special way to appreciate the way we are, when viewing the way we are.

Not only, Indea Vaher is a well established artist in real life, but she has also made an impression in second life. She has been the featured artist at the Paris Couture for the month of March, 2014. The theme was tribute to women of St. Isabella Island.  Watch the video on YouTube.

Her other major works in Second Life includes;

  • Founding of  Sunrise Mansion Art Gallery and Museum Complex 2009 – Present
  • St Isabella Island 2010 – 2011
  • SRM’s Heritage House Cultural Center 2011- 2012
  • Administrator Virtual Harlem and Virtual Montmartre 2010 – Present
  • Virtual Montmartre Gallery 2010- Present

She says, “The sim is an expansion of these ideals expressed in my artwork, and includes; Plantation House: Main Gallery; features my Artwork and guest artists. Presentation area: Speakers and exhibits focusing on various related subjects changes monthly.”

The sim includes the following places worth visiting

  • Gullah House: Videos, exhibits and Information about the Gullah Culture
  • Midwife’s House: A bayou house with information and an installation about Midwives and their contributions historically up to the 1960’s.
  • Ibo Landing: The Middle Passage Experience with the Remembrance Slave ship docked,  with video, images and information; routes, capture, daily life on the ships, and revolt.
  • Praise House: Video, images and information on early worship by enslaved Africans , many traditions still practiced today as many are still standing.
  • Remembrance Memorial Garden: The Garden is a place of beauty where people can go and reflect in serenity and peace, created and donated by   Le Petit Beau Jardin or the beautiful little garden group (LPBJ),  with spiritually healing symbols in its design.  We hold entertainment events here, Live music DJ’s etc.

Indea says, “I use my art in second life as a means to open the door to a specific area of African American history. My art is used primarily to educate people about the Gullah Culture, and the people of the Sea Islands which is known by very few outside the region.  I am not trying to promote my art here, but use it to bring exposure too this very important and endangered way of life; as developers are rapidly moving out the native indigenous residents of the area and destroying so much of the valuable history there.”

Indea Vaher is also the administrator for Virtual Harlem and Virtual Montmartre through collaboration with the sim’s owner Dr. Bryan Mnemonic. She has worked with him for over two years, initially with a project which included plans for a Northern Migration experience from the south to the New York Harlem sim. She helps in holding events, curating exhibits, securing artists for galleries and giving tours on the two historical sims.

In the last interview with Bianca Xavorin, we came to know about Indea Vaher. I took this opportunity to interview such a well established artist. It was an honor for me.

 

Debby: How did you come to know about Second Life? Do you showcase your art in any other virtual world?

Indea Vaher: I was invited by a friend to attend a virtual classroom in 2008 which I was reluctant to do, I wasn’t into computer games or even chat rooms, however she was persuasive. I forgot about the class as soon as I saw the 3D environment and was so intrigued that I continued to login to explore, I never returned to the class, lol.No, I don’t showcase in any other virtual platforms.


Debby: Is selling of art in real life different from second life? What was your experience?

Indea Vaher: Yes, selling in second life is so much easier. Anyone can rent a space for few lindens and call it a gallery, upload JPEGs and there you go! There are no insurance issues in Second Life, as in real life it’s a primary concern to make sure your original work is well protected. When travelling crating pieces and shipping can be timely and extremely expensive and requires negotiation with the organization or gallery you are working with. Where is second life you rez it on a prim and tp the location.You don’t really need to worry about PR much in sl if you belong to art groups you post send out notices. In real life you need to send press releases and hope to be picked up by as many blogs, newspapers and publications as possible pray you get a cover, and good reviews after the shows have opened. However, you can experience some of that in SL, which is a microcosm of real life in all areas.

Debby: The virtual grid has many new artists evolving every few days. Would you like to try an artwork in Second Life using the SL environment?

Indea Vaher: I consider everything we do in sl is artwork. We forget because it’s immersive that we are viewing this 3D environment on a 2D flat screen. The trees, water, sky, all of the wonderful builds, even the avatars are wonderful works of art. Each resident is an artist in the way he or she decides on the skin they choose combined with the shapes and various choices of clothing, we are all creating within a graphic context all the time in second life.I created Sunrise Mansion Art Gallery and Museums as an artwork in SL, if you visit I have extended the conceptual theme of my artwork, which is African American Southern History. The Gallery, and builds are in direct correspondence to that.

Debby: As an artist would you recommend anyone in real  life to use virtual world as another platform to showcase their art?

Indea Vaher: Yes, I would, so many people are blocked and or inhibited artist and virtual experimentation has awakened them to that artist within. So many real life artists are already in sl using and laying everyday.


Debby: How much impact does second life have when you create real life art?

Indea Vaher: I think it has had a subliminal effect. It has also made me want to learn digital art.


Debby: Among the work you have done, which is the most favorite in your eyes and why? Would you like to share some with us?

Indea Vaher: It’s difficult to say which is my most favorite; I think they all are in different context, however, I’d love to share.

Debby: Are you inspired by any other artists? Any specific works of theirs that you would like to tell us about?

Indea Vaher: Yes, growing up I was inspired by Paul Gauguin, and also by fashion illustrations.


Debby: Any comments that you remember given by any of your fans?

Indea Vaher: Yes, I am most inspired by those who said my work moved them to tears. I appreciate n I’m honored to know a work has moved one to that emotion.

 

Debby: What would you like to tell your fans through this podium?

Indea Vaher: That I’m honored and I appreciate those who have shown support, and that it’s this that inspires me to continue to create. Thank you.


Debby: What would you like to tell the young artists, both real life and virtual life?

Indea Vaher: Stay focused, cherish your individuality, honor God/ Universe (whatever your spiritual belief) for allowing you to be a creative vehicle and don’t give up.

 

Interviewer’ Take

Indea Vaher is a very humble and a considerate person, even though, she is a well established artist in real world and the virtual world. With over two decades of experience, she is a self made artist and an instructor at various Universities, she is still very down to earth. Her work is a thought provoking eye opener for many of us. Our outlook changes towards the way we view the world when we see her artwork. The artistic quality to splash the lifestyle of Gullah on the canvas using bold deep colored lines is so well portrayed that we can easily connect with each one on a personal level.

*Note: The lines in italics are the words of Indea Vaher.

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Uio Loi – Uio Loi

Sitting shyly in the painfully overlooked crevices of ambient electronic hip-hop sits a sharp producer by the name of Kyle Yerhot. He is an enigma with a mind thick and loaded with the arcane craft of dope vibes and an expert in the craft of illusory sound techniques that make foggy contours feel like the most vivid and illustrious thing in the world, when under his spell. On the surface you might mistake him for just another contender in the mellowed-out underground, but you can easily overlook the fact that his music has a soul as fully-realized as any of the bigger names in the scene.

Yerhot’s work spans several aliases, including Smoke Room and Young Henry. The former sums up its business perfectly with its name: smoke rooms, rooms full of smoke, sitting in your room smoking – the vibes are relaxed and translucent, dense and rich hip-hop ambient bliss meant to be played in the frays of light hours, an ode to chilling out as the day ends and either partying your ass off or going deep. Young Henry is a more extroverted affair, favoring melody over atmosphere yet still succeeding a little bit with both. Yerhot’s love of Korean samples is more of a driving force than with other monikers, creating a more upbeat but still appropriately ghostly feel, and doing so with a bit more energy, sunshine and a taste for low-fi pop sensibilities.

Enter Uio Loi, the name he seems to be the most occupied with these days, currently stationed on the Zoom Lens label. On his self-titled release, we see Yerhot unleash his more minimal, abstract side. A few core elements remain intact from his other works, such as chopped vocal samples, hazy undertones, and Shlohmo-esque beats and glitch, but the overall feel of Uio Loi is a distinguished one. For one thing, there are a few tracks that dabble in radio static noise antics and lo-fi sampling. On “Love Without Words” this is handled more purely lo-fi, with a good 40 seconds of hushed ambience cueing in a jazzy drum solo over a tornado siren, and elsewhere “Seophear” follows up this idea with a pinch of Actress flair to it with deep, muted beats and a little screech-and-scratch.

A majority of what’s on display on Uio Loi resembles a more laid-back electronic redefinition of his work as Smoke Room. There’s a greater affinity for glitch and less of one for dance, and where Smoke Room still felt a little bit sober amidst the out-of-phase shenanigans, Uio Loi takes the full plunge into surreal, cracked, and waterlogged beats for the adventurous mind to explore. Though hardly a formless album, still having clearly defined patterns, there’s still a characteristic imperfection to the piece that puts it in the ranks of abstract hip-hop dimensions such as Shigeto or Actress. The resulting mix may or may not be a step up from his excellent work under Smoke Room, but without a doubt it’s a new sound and feel that fans of virtually anything I mentioned in the review would be intelligent to engage themselves with.

 

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Retro Monday: “Age of Empires 3″

Title: “Age of Empires 3

Developer: Ensemble Studios

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Released: October 2005

With the news that Airtight Games (the guys behind the very “Portal” as made by the same director “Quantum Conundrum” and very recent “Murdered: Soul Suspect”,) is going under, and the Nottingham, UK based Crytek UK (the former Free Radical Design guys who made the “Timesplitters” series and went bankrupt in 2009 so were bought by Crytek,) who are currently making “Homefront: The Revolution” may not have a rosey future either. They both made decent games, “Timesplitters” helped define first person shooters in the PS2 era, but both of their games never sold that well which adds a financial bullet to the bankruptcy gun. To add to the misery, the game I’m talking about today is a very good RTS game from 2005, made by Ensemble Studios who closed in 2009. They had a history of making very good RTS games like Westwood Studios in the nineties. The ‘Age of Empires‘ series was their flagship franchise and it sold pretty well. But their last game was “Halo Wars” an RTS Halo, which sold ludicrously well because ‘Halo’. But before completion, their owner Microsoft Studios closed down a reshuffled the studio so some would get re-hired and form Robot Entertainment. Two more new studios would come out of the ashes but they got absorbed by Zynga so I pray for them. (I really don’t like Zynga.) The Robot Entertainment guys got by because they made the popular “Orc’s Must Die!” series. To tie this off, I just want to say that while writing these retro reviews, I get to write the line ‘former game developer that has since closed‘ far more often then I would like. It’s a sad state of affairs when game developers can’t risk anything to make something new and end up making the same stuff or copying someone else that is popular endlessly. Players oft complain that they don’t get anything new but in the same motion buy the next of a franchise. The consumer hands aren’t entirely clean but neither are the publishers. I would go on bit I should stop. I’ll write else where if people want to hear me shouting. Here I know no one is listing. Now, on to the retro review;

Age of Empires 3” is an historical RTS game set in the many American eras. The main mechanic of the game is that you can advance your nation/base to new eras of technology which unlock advancements, upgrades, new buildings and units. You start off in the ‘Discovery Age’, the age of the people fresh off the Mayflower. So most of your villagers should die of dysentery before you move on but who needs that detail of historical accuracy. The next age sees you in the ‘Colonial Age’, so after Thanksgiving but before the multiple wars and the ‘westward expansion’. They next age is the ‘Fortress Age’. This is the era when you can start getting cannon so I guess this fits into the time when the fighting between the nations started, i.e. the fight and take over of the English and the long time rival, the French, before we… I mean they beat them and took over. I’m not really sure if we should take credit for that or not. Considering what they did to the natives of the country, I’m in the not category. The penultimate age is the ‘Industrial Age’, aka the ‘Industrial Revolution’, aka ‘The late Georgian/early Victorian Era’ for the history buffs. To end, there is the ‘Imperial Era’. America, I know you like to think so but you don’t and never had an empire. The only islands you have in what can be called an empire are sand banks and totally uninhabited islands. Saying that, the nations you play as in the game all had empires but but this point historically the Boer War and and World War One would have been looming hard or already started meaning the end of imperialism.

Historical accuracy is not something I go on about. Being accurate frankly gets in the way unless your tackling a hard issue. Although that isn’t always the case. “Assassin’s Creed 3” had a Native American lead and talked about their issues but it swayed from bowing down to them and saying they where naive in the next. At least they got the ‘natives buggered by imperialism/foreigners/white people’ right. “Age of Empires 3”, in comparison, is a lot more softer and probability more accurate. You can get Native American units but they are a bonus resource. You never against them. At least in the main game. Some DLC got made that adds 3 native tribes (The Iroquois, the Sioux, and the Aztec,) but the second part of the story campaign is set during the Great Sioux War so it is sort of forgiven.

The story of the main game follows the Black family through 3 generations of protecting the ‘lago de luna’ (‘lake of the moon’) AKA, the fountain of youth from the evil and made up Circle of Ossus. The story is split up into 3 acts over 3 generations. The first is Morgan Black, a knight who is betrayed by his master. Talking about “Assassin’s Creed” is sort of apt because the first act is much like the first “Assassin’s Creed” plot wise. Just with knights. The second act is more like a Saturday morning cartoon. The hero chases the evil man across America because the evil man always finds some way to escape. The third act is a mix of the previous two. You play as the narrator who ends seeing important people do important things (ala the current trend of ‘Assassin’s Creed’ game) but the bad guy always escapes because we need to expand this story somehow. The plot of the story campaign is ok. It’s gets you though it but it’s not that stimulating. It just comes down to good guy against bad guy for maguffin used is stories we’ve all heard many times before.

The graphics of the game is something interesting. There are in-engine cut-scenes but as it’s an RTS it just ends up being something that resembles a human talking to something else that resembles a human. There is an option that adds some finer detail and extra polygons which makes the game look really good even from a modern stance. Although, the extra polygons comes with a minor annoyance. With the extra polygons that programmed a fancy demolition algorithm which makes the buildings explode fall apart when they are hit. It sounds good but it is not representative of the actual health of the building. For example, I have a guard tower that was being attacked from a cannon. In the super fancy mode, whole chunks of the tower where being blown off. After two shots the whole top section of the tower was blown apart and missing. But that was only 15-20% damage, damage that is negligible and not much of a problem. It just means that a building can look like its torn apart and near death but its not. It was just hit by a cannon which after a while become inevitable. In single player skirmishes, my lead tactic is to get as many cannons (aka mortars) as possible and attack from range. It seems to be the tactic of everyone else as well considering the strength of walls/forts/guard towers.

Another mechanic that can get rather irritating is the Home City and its cards. As you play a match you gain experience (XP) for your home city. You get XP from building, training units, finding treasures and killing the enemy. After a set amount of XP you can get a shipment of stuff from your home city that arrives at your town centre. The shipments can be resources, units, building/cap upgrades or building wagons to auto-build forts, outposts and factories. Shipments like units and auto-build wagons can only be sent once but once you get to the ‘Imperial Age’ most of them can be sent again. In the early part of a match they can be a god-send as it can get you through the lower parts of tech-trees pretty quickly. But after a while they become useless. For me, at the end of a match I have a pile of un-used shipments because that have no point. Even when I get to the ‘Imperial Age’ where I can free fighting units again it kind of pointless because by then I’m in ‘scorched earth’ mode, sitting in the middle of the enemy base with mortars happily blowing stuff up. Having only 20 cards helps keeps the online multiplayer fair but it just means that by the time you get to the 4th age the home shipments lose all meaning because by then you would have build a mill (free food resource) and a plantation (free gold resource) so you can build limitless Grenadiers, and unit if in big enough numbers can destroy a base by themselves.

Age of Empires 3” is a great game with some petty niggles. It looks good, it well designed and well balanced between the nations. But the campaign story is one from a Saturday morning cartoon and the home shipments after a while loose all point after a while but they are small problems. The campaign is short so the cartoon-ish nature doesn’t wear thin and poses enough challenge to keep in interesting. The home shipments can become annoying but they can be ignored when they have no use.

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Barton’s Movie Reviews – TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Remember the incident where Michael Bay was attacked on the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction in Hong Kong? Well, sit through this 165 minute mixture of metal-crunching action and ridiculous dialogue and you may just want to go and attack Bay yourself.

Yes, the Transformers franchise returns for its fourth instalment and if you were wondering, it is indeed a case of having seen it all before, albeit with an entirely new human cast. 

Bay himself once said, “There won’t be any goofiness in this one” and if by goofiness he means there is less racism then yes he is telling the truth however, with Age of Extinction he is not fooling anybody. 

Four years on from the battle of Chicago all Transformers, including the Autobots, are deemed as enemies by the American government and hunted down by Cemetery Wind, an elite CIA unit. Aided by Transformer bounty hunter Lockdown, they kill the Autobots and Decepticons and hand over the remains to KSI.

Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), the head of KSI, is using the metal the Transformers are made of, transformium (yes, you read that right), to create Transformers that can be controlled by humans. 

Meanwhile, inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) comes across an old truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. With Cemetery Wind and Lockdown learning of their location, Cade must take his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) with Optimus Prime to rally the remaining Autobots and stop KSI. 

There are many things wrong with Age of Extinction but for me its running time was one of the main issues. At 165 minutes it is the longest Transformers film yet and is just far too long. Pray that your eyes and ears will make it out intact come the end of the film.

Age of Extinction has another fatal flaw in the form of its story. Simply put, the story is a total mess. Written by Ehren Kruger, the man responsible for both Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon, we see character development only exist in one character and woeful dialogue that makes me think a five-year-old child could produce better.

Michael Bay has always been one to favour spectacle over narrative but Age of Extinction to me proves that Bay has taken any intent he had of storytelling and thrown it right out of the window. As a result, there is nothing to care about in this film. You cannot empathise with any of the characters and it makes the action seem even more dumb than it already did.

Bay is the kind of guy that would take fireworks to a show and tell session at school, set the fireworks off and then just sit back down in his seat. He just wants to show us the action and not tell a story.

The characters as well are so badly written as well, giving almost anybody no chance of doing anything with them. Stanley Tucci’s character is the only one to develop and he more than hams it up with his performance but even that is not enough to make this enjoyable. 

Mark Wahlberg is likeable as Cade, more than Shia LeBeouf was as Sam Witwicky, but he gets stuck with the majority of the stupid lines. Reynor is pretty useless as Shane and Kelsey Grammer will more than likely be looking back on this in a few years time as a huge mistake.

It is Nicola Peltz I feel the most sympathy for though. She follows in the footsteps of Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Michael Bay’s object to leer at with his cameras. There is one shot from behind Peltz that had the audience shaking their head in disbelief at Bay and trust me you will know when you see it.

I have to mention the involvement of the Dinobots as well. So much was made of their involvement in the marketing campaign that you kind of feel cheated when they only show up for the final half hour of the film. Optimus Prime riding Grimlock into battle was always going to look ridiculous however, throw in the fact that it is nearly impossible to tell what is going on for the last half hour and you have a real disappointing finale right in front of your eyes.

Product placement, the cardinal sin of Hollywood these days, features heavily in Age of Extinction and it is quite frankly some of the worst I have ever seen. Beats Pills, the line of speakers from Beats by Dre, get shoved in full-screen focus by Stanley Tucci while the Victoria’s Secret logo is the only part of a bus to remain intact when a Transformer gets thrown through the vehicle. I honestly could not believe my eyes.

Bay then randomly moves the finale of his film to China, obviously an attempt to pander to the Chinese market. He manages to throw in some Chinese product placement while he’s at it, which I can only say worked as the Chinese people behind me were growing in excitement at every Chinese product they saw.

Age of Extinction is a film that I found had the standard traits of Michael Bay as a director. It had unnecessary slow-motion shots, product placement, plenty of explosions, women being shot as if it was a beer commercial and the overuse of low-angle shots, making me think he wanted to see what his film would look like from the perspective of a dwarf.

The only positive thing I can about this and the rest of the Transformers franchise is that the special effects are absolutely flawless. The robots look fantastic, especially in the IMAX format and that is pretty much the only reason this film has the score it does.

Age of Extinction ends with a beacon of hope. Again like the other films it ends pretty abruptly but if I am right, it could signal that the next film in the franchise may not feature any human characters. 

As a final product, Age of Extinction doesn’t really show Michael Bay in a good light. It’s his fourth film of this franchise and by this point it seems as if he just doesn’t care about what he puts on film as long as people go and see it, and people will. Michael Bay you blew my mind in quite possibly the worst way ever. 

 

Verdict: 1/5

cRATERtRUEBLOOD

Crater Trueblood and the Lunar Rescue Company by Homer Hickam

Crater Trueblood and the Lunar Rescue Company  is not a book you can read on its own.  There are two other books in the series, making this the third and it shows. Unfortunately I have not been able to find the others and thus will be reviewing my copy as a stand alone and it is not easy to do so. Since this book heavily relies on readers reading the first two in the Helium 3 series, you will be confused and lost for most of it. The idea behind the story is interesting I have to admit. Humans have now colonized the moon before the beginning of the book, there was a war between the new Lunians and those left on Earth. That is honestly all I got from that of a back story.  Our protagonist for most of the story is Maria who was at one point the title character’s girlfriend. There seem  to be some tension there but it wasn’t well explained. It was more of a ‘she loves he but left hi,  she hates him because she left him ‘ thing going on there and I found her the most annoying character in the whole book.

“The Earth is devastated and the worst elements of humanity are determined to take over the moon. It’s up to the settlers of the harsh, gray moon to fight back.

Kidnapped by an evil group intent on the destruction of the world and capture of the moon, Maria Medaris, co-leader of the moon’s richest and most powerful family, initially fights for her life, but is soon dazzled by the promises and enticements of her captors.

Crater Trueblood, once rejected by Maria but still in love with her, and Crescent, a female bioengineered warrior fiercely loyal to Crater, use their cunning and deadly skills to come to her aid.

But will Maria be on their side when they get to her? And what of the Earth itself which is in the crosshairs of a destruction not seen since the massive extinction of the dinosaurs?

The fate of two worlds hangs in the balance”

From the writing style I suspected that  it was written for young adults. I disliked it very much. At no point was I drawn into the world of Crater Trueblood and I found myself asking for explanations that I had to look up online. There is a moment at the beginning of the book where Maria goes into space it doesn’t give a description of space nor her surrounds,what she was feeling during the flight. Something to pull the reader into the world. Instead it states plainly that 20 minutes later she arrived her destination. I couldn’t help but think that was a wasted experience.

There isn’t a lot that is  really explained in the book, even if it was the third book in the series. It feels like the author assumed that the reader read the first two books and coming in at book three meant I was completely clueless about the story. It wasn’t until I looked up a summary of the first two that I somewhat understood the background. The third book for me was a bit lacklustre.  I would have loved to hear a bit more about the war they reference to in the book.

All in all Crater Trueblood and the Lunar rescue was not appealing to me. Which is a shame because it sounded amazing, I would have loved to hear more about the war between Earth and those who landed on the Moon.  if you are interested in it i suggest reading the first two before going onto the 3rd or you’d be very clueless.

Crater Trueblood series is available online or in any of your local bookstores.

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4th of July, 2014 Celebrations

Happy Memorial Day to everyone. Its 4th of July. Its not everyday, that we get to celebrate the Independence Day. So, whats special on this day at Second Life?

 

Where are the Gifts?

  • Independence Day Market

Click here to teleport.

It is the place where you will find everything. Starting from clothes to drinks and to fireworks. Its an umbrella for all the gifts to celebrate 4th of July,2014.

  • VIP Creations Skin and Clothes

Click here to teleport.

Many free female and male outfits are available for the love of celebrating 4th of July. Its a must visit place to grab all the free gifts.

 

  • Market Place

Click here to visit the link.

If you are out of choices or you want some other style, you can always visit the market place link.

 

Where is the Party?

There are many clubs and arties around the grid celebrating 4th of July, 2014. Among them a few worth mentioning are as follows. Click the links below to get the teleporter.

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Scorpion%20Cove/151/71/801

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Celebration/49/191/24

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Shopping%20City/211/11/23

 

 

Wolfenstein New World order

Atomp Reviews: Wolfenstein: The New Order [Machine Games]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp

Wolfenstein has a strong pedigree in first person shooters with Wolfenstein 3D being up there with Doom in terms of genre significance. (Fun fact: Wolfenstein 3D can be played in-browser on the Wolfenstein website). Wolfenstein: The New Order is a modern take on the classic formula and whilst this is an exciting prospect people were understandably sceptical. There’s a great potential in modern reboots of classic games for certain less-than-stellar modern FPS tropes to degrade the whole experience. This scepticism may well have been misplaced as Machine Games have gone and given Wolfenstein the same treatment as Flying Wild Hog managed to give to Shadow Warrior. The fundamental premise of Wolfenstein: TNO is that through the use of advanced technology the Nazi regime won the Second World War and proceeded to construct the global Reich. The game initially places the player in an assault on a Nazi compound nearing the end of the war and then jumps to the alternate future 1960 whereupon the Nazis have complete control.

 

The gameplay is probably most comparable to the likes of Half Life I suppose. The game is a fairly linear move from one fight to another occasionally broken up by cut scenes and level changes. This is in no way a bad thing and it has been done exceptionally well in this particular case, the story-continuation and plot make up for the relative linearity of the experience through giving meaning to it. The plot itself is well written as it fits nicely into what is a nicely crafted alternate history. For those looking for lore there is a whole ton of it scattered around the levels in the form of newspaper clippings, posters, music, slideshows, personal character histories and overheard conversations. There is enough world building that it is easy to become engrossed in the game and have the game plot and your acts given meaning in the wider context. I’d say that the world building is on par with another lore-heavy game of recent release; Dishonored, which really is the bar to be aimed for. One minor complaint about the world construction would be how completely dead and lifeless much of the world seems. I understand that this is the Nazi dominated post-war future, however there is little to no civilian presence whatsoever as entire cities seem completely abandoned apart from hordes of Nazi soldiers.

 

The first person combat must be mentioned as it makes up a significant portion of the game and is thoroughly enjoyable. There is no weapon limit, in classic shooter style you can carry all weapon types simultaneously. These weapons include the regular standards of first person shooter goodness; knife, pistol, assault rifle, automatic shotgun, scoped rifle and grenades. In addition to these are the likes of a laser weapon that must be recharged from wall sockets and secondary fire modes on all of the standard weapons as well as dual-wielding on most; knife throwing, silenced pistol, underslung rocket launcher, ricochet shotgun rounds and tesla grenades. This gives you a lot of freedom to shoot and explode things in whatever manner you feel would be suit your mood, or at higher difficulties in the manner that the situation may require. The enemy variety is equally impressive as even the regular grunts will vary from level. On top of the varied grunts are the armoured soldiers, the even more armoured soldiers, the even more even more armoured semi-mechs, the regular robotic mechs and the massive robotic mechs… oh and enormous bosses, armoured hounds, big robotic hounds and small robotic flyers. That’s a lot of enemy types and the levels are varied too, everything from escaping an asylum to a wrecked bridge to shooting Nazis on the freakin’ Moon! (Loved that level!) These different enemies require different weapons and different strategies, and the game will often mix up them up into deadly combinations. The overall balance of the game is good although I’d say it could be a tad easy, I’m playing through my first run on the hardest difficulty available and whilst there are points of multiple checkpoint attempts, there’s nothing that seems utterly impossible (apart from one section, but that was probably down to the non-stop post-8-hour-shift 10 hour play session than the difficulty of the game). Overall the shooting is fun, run-and-gun in lower difficulties and a little more tactical at the higher difficulties. The game will often provide a stealth option too, allowing the use of the silenced pistol and uber-OP throwing knives. This stealth approach becomes less feasible later on when most of the enemies are too armoured to allow easy one shot kills but it can come in handy in certain scenarios.

 

The aesthetic and the music relate very closely to my earlier comments on world building. The design is exceptional, taking the advanced technology and combining it with the modernist Reich style. There is little about the visual look of the game that I would improve upon and the design, models and animations followed the plot and history building devices in creating a believable and engaging world for the player to become absorbed in. As I said earlier, the worlds could do with a few more people so as to feel a little less desolate, even just some Aryan civilians milling around in the distance would do. The music is awesome and for once I didn’t turn it off just for the action-movie atmosphere that it gave the experience. There are also a handful of New Order covers of 60s songs including a brilliant House of the Rising Sun cover in German.

 

Wolfenstein: TNO is available on Windows with system requirements that are relatively high by the standards of my game reviews: 64-Bit Win 7 or 8, Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 460 and 50GB HDD space. That’s a fairly beefy system requirement and I’m tempted to say that the processor requirement at least is a little over the top, I’d say a core i5 would probably work but don’t take my word on that. It’s also available on those living room boxes that people that can’t use computers like to play with.

 

In short then Wolfenstein: TNO is a surprisingly competent title that delivers a brilliant single player experience by combining great aesthetics with enjoyable gameplay and an engaging plot and lore. If this and Shadow Warrior are to set a trend for new imaginings of classic titles then I’m all for the idea as there is certainly space in the gaming market for exactly this kind of game.

 

Wolfenstein: The New Order on Steam:

 

 

Wolfenstein: The New Order website:

 

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SL11B ~ Hunt ‘em Down this Weekend

The Second Life Birthday Party continues till this weekend.  Load your inventory with lots of gifts. Yes, you read it right, even more gifts. So, lets hunt them down this weekend. We have until July 5th to hunt them down.

 

Since the area is covered over 11 sims, the hunting trails start 4 ways; North, South, East and West.

 

 

The participating exhibitors will have a hunt sign like below on their exhibit. Look around the exhibit to find a cool prize. Its free!

 

Teleporters to each trail are as follows:

If you have any questions related to the hunts contact the Hunt Coordinator, Rosamoo Mendelsohn.

Click here to look at the Video about the hunt done by SL Community Celebrations

Tell me which trail did you follow this weekend in the comments section.