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Barton’s Movie Reviews – GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Guardians of the Galaxy is easily the biggest gamble Marvel Studios have ever taken. A venture into the unknown and a plan to introduce a whole new galaxy of characters into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is something that could have backfired.

Audiences are familiar with MCU characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and Hulk however, many people, including myself know next to nothing about the characters of Guardians of the Galaxy. The biggest worry was whether people were going to take to them.

Anybody that is still worrying about this film, there is no need. Guardians of the Galaxy triumphantly does what it set out to do and has a hell of a lot of fun in doing it. Just about everything you could wish for in a comic-book movie is in Guardians of the Galaxy

Directed by James Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy unites a band of misfits including; thief Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), maniac Drax (Dave Bautista) and the two thugs Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) in their fight against Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace).

Ronan is after the orb that Quill stole and will destroy anything that gets in his way. The five misfits take the fight to Ronan and in doing so take up the mantle as the Guardians of the Galaxy.

There are a number of things that make Guardians of the Galaxy so good and without a doubt the best of these is the cast and the justice they do the characters. With a comic-book movie, the characters are just about the most important part and what the fans are normally the most nervous for.

In Chris Pratt, Marvel have once again hit the nail on the head with their casting, just like they have done previously with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth respectively. Pratt has always had the lesser parts in comedies and has found himself playing second fiddle to the likes of Vince Vaughn and Jason Segel but Guardians of the Galaxy is his time to take the lead.

You might be sitting there thinking that this isn’t a comedy but wait until you see it and try to argue then. This movie is extremely funny, Marvel’s funniest yet, and Pratt has a ball as Star-Lord, channeling two of Harrison Ford’s most iconic characters, Han Solo and Indiana Jones. His comic timing is of the highest order and right from the very off you will know what sort of character you are about to spend two hours with. 

There are a couple of scenes where Pratt had the audience laughing out loud but I will not spoil them for you as; A) it will be better if you see it for yourself and B) you wouldn’t believe these things would happen in a Marvel comic-book movie, seriously.

Along for the ride with Star-Lord is Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana. She is fierce and more than capable of handling herself in a fight, much like her character in Avatar, Neytiri. Many people have been moaning about a lack of strong female characters in comic-book movies but Saldana as Gamora should put a stop to that argument. Black Widow finally has some company.

The biggest surprise for me was Dave Bautista as Drax. Bautista who spent many years, including some more recent, with the WWE as Batista is a revelation as the tormented Drax, whose family was murdered by Ronan. Bautista was expected by many, including myself, to be the weak link and not give a good performance at all but he more than proves everybody wrong with a strong performance that certainly makes you think Drax is more than just a warrior with brute strength. He too has a knack for delivering the comedy when necessary.

All three of these are good fun to watch but there are two who completely steal the show. That is of course the duo of Rocket Raccoon, a genetically engineered raccoon, and Groot, a tree-like humanoid. Both are created using top of the range CGI and they provide a large amount of the movie’s heart and soul.

Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, who only utters the words “I am Groot” throughout will become a favourite for fans of the MCU. Diesel brings a surprising amount of depth to Groot with those three words, each time expressing different emotions. Not an easy feat at all.

And then there is Rocket who, voiced by Bradley Cooper is the latest jewel in the crown for Marvel. Rocket brings the funny just as much as Star-Lord, only just with a bit more edginess. Cooper’s vocal performance is just fantastic as well. Voicing a character is not as easy as it seems but Cooper excels, getting right into the character and at times you wouldn’t even know it was Cooper.

As I have mentioned before, Guardians of the Galaxy was meant to introduce a whole new set of characters into the MCU. With these five alone they have given audiences a welcome break from the usual MCU heroes which could not have come at a better time with some people starting to get tired of the same characters over and over.

As with many of the MCU movies so far, Guardians of the Galaxy finds itself lacking in the villain department. Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser gets off to a promising start but ultimately fades into the background as the movie runs on. Karen Gillan as Nebula is just as fierce as Gamora but again feels a bit underused when things looked pretty promising. Both of their scenes just felt rushed compared to the heroes of the movie.

The big bad of the MCU, Thanos, also makes a very brief appearance and I have to say he looked a bit disappointing. Josh Brolin was voicing Thanos but I wasn’t too sure if Brolin was using motion-capture technology to appear as Thanos. If so, it looked very ropey indeed. Expect to see Thanos pop up again soon in the MCU however if he does, I do hope he looks better.

James Gunn was the man chosen to bring Guardians of the Galaxy to the big screen and the end result more than justifies that call. Gunn is also on writing duties with Nicole Perlman and the pair have worked wonders to give their cast a sharp and witty screenplay that, along with the barnstorming action set-pieces, hark back to the classic sci-fi movies of the 80s, most notably Star Wars.

With strange new worlds to explore there was an opportunity to be as creative as possible with the designs and they are brought to life with some stunning cinematography by Ben Davis. Whether the gritty prison or the bizarre planet Knowhere, the whole movie just looks astounding, especially in IMAX 3D. 

Nothing sets Guardians of the Galaxy further apart from the rest of the MCU than its soundtrack. Iron Man had the AC/DC every now and then but here things are taken to a whole new level, and it just adds to the quirkiness of the movie.

With an impressive score from Tyler Bates the movie made a brave choice in also using a variety of songs from the 60s and 70s, all of which Quill’s mum gave to him on a mix-tape, where suitable in the movie. You’ve all heard Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Swede in the trailers for the film and that fits really well but there are also inventive uses of Escape (The Pina Colada Song) by Rupert Holmes and Cherry Bomb by The Runaways.

Guardians of the Galaxy is another success story for Marvel Studios waiting to happen and with this new set of heroes sharing the same universe as The Avengers, I for one cannot wait to see Star-Lord clash with Tony Stark or Captain America questioning the methods of Rocket and Groot.

The MCU has been well and truly blown wide open and if you listen out closely you can almost hear the Guardians of the Galaxy saying “You’re welcome”.

Verdict: 4.5/5

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The Three Moon Series ~ Part I

“This girl was once visited by the Priest Kings, who had taken her aboard a heavenly vessel to the beautiful planet just like her home. She used to be a beautiful woman, wealthy, free willed and wise until a mishap struck her village when she was taken captive by huge men who seemed unworldly.


Today she drops down to the ground, chained and wounded on the soft grass beneath her heels. She has surrendered herself to the world of unworldly men towards a servitude for life. She has no mind of her own, she has to beg for every necessity and her own survival. She is taken by a Master of the land. She serves her Master during the day and at night when she is allowed to her kennels, she looks up to the sky through the only small window where she sees three moons, something like her home yet so much different from earth, her home” :Kajira

The photograph is taken by Hayden Cerise, slightly edited to make it PG rated from the site:

http://goreandanceblog.wordpress.com/artwriting/artworkphotography/gorean-life-as-seen-by-hayden-cerise/

Gor is a planet located somewhere in the Universe, just opposite of planet Earth. Like Earth has a satellite,the moon, it is said to have three satellites. The planet is beautiful with hard ground, soft green grass and a crystal clear water flowing around with untamed seas. Just like Earth. Although there is an existence of a  technology that is not yet familiar with Earth people, like the vessel which is used to travel across the Universe, yet they live like the historic Romans and Greeks of Earth in old rugged buildings with handmade tapestries. A lot of their livelihood is very similar to the Earth people. They tend the fields, harvest grains, milk bosks, verrs and other animals, cook, mine, make weapons and trade.

The photograph is taken from the community page of Second Life. The link to the City of Esalinus is http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Role-Play/City-of-Esalinus-Gorean-Roleplay/td-p/2046121

Gorean culture is based on the series of fictional novel written by John Norman. A few specifics about the author was written originally by Scott Sanford, which was unlinked to his site and updated by the staff at tLi. John Norman is the pen name of John Frederick Lange, Jr., Ph.D (June 3,931 till present). John Lange was born in Chicago Illinois, with two other siblings, David and Jennifer. He studied at University of Nebraska and later obtained his Ph.D from Princeton with a 149 page dissertation entitled, “In Defence of Ethical Naturalism: An examination of Certain Aspects of the Naturalistic Fallacy, With Particular Attention to the Logic of an Open Question Argument (Princeton University, 24-12, page 5636; order #AAI6401330)” He wrote many Gorean novels, Telnarian Histories trilogy and several other books. The list of books can be obtained from the following site. His works has been produced as a full length motion pictures and have sold millions of copies world wide in different languages. Although he has always tried to suppress his books and thoughts, the idea caught the cyber wind with mass appreciators and followers. More about John Norman can be searched on the web or wiki.

Gorean culture can be much related to John Cater, the movie or the Book series “War of Gods” by Lizzy Ford. The first book in the series, Damian’s Oracle was much like the story of a kajira (slave). The only difference would be a kajira is a being not human, stopped aging but not a vampire either. Those who have read or watched the movie would somewhat agree. There are many other novels and movies that would suffice with the idea of Gor. Until I started researching more, that I understood that this culture has been taken from our society and is a reflection of what we have.

Although some of us may be judgmental with the basic idea of slavery based on a science fictional novel. Yet if we look closely enough, we can see like all fiction, it is based on practicality. Suppose, on an isolated island, equal number of men and women are there and no outside factor has decided their rules or their ruler. What would happen? Given the human nature, some will try to dominate, some will submit. There would be a fight among the dominants and the one who wins would make the rule. Others would submit. The ones who disagree with the rules will be caste away.

Such idealistic situation can arise only in the books, that is in theory. If we look around, we deal with issues of other forms of slavery in our world every day. Although, it is said that slavery is a primitive thought, but is it true? Are we free willed? We submit to our boss at work, to our spouse at home, to our elders out of respect. Although it is not slavery, but it is also not free will. These few things are our service out of love and respect.

So, what happens when such relationships are exploited. Its not an alien motive, there are domestic violence on both men and women, women trafficking, prostitution, murders and other criminal activities. We deal with such extremities on the daily basis.

Is this what Gor is all about? Some of it is. Few may think contradictory. It is the most difficult spot that I have found myself ever, a culture that makes you ask question and ultimately you end up asking yourself doing justice with right and wrong. Like all societies there are all kinds of people, good and bad, even with the rules. The idea of slavery, just because one is woman, is the most offensive. This pushed me to plunge into their society, the Community of Gor.

Question 1) Why is Gor popular?

Question 2) Why is Gor hated?

Often Gor, is compared with the negativity of a being, the wild beast that lay under our skin which surfaces. However, the concept of Gor, is close but nothing as cruelty or criminal-ism. In this series, I will try my best to answer these questions put forth by readers. Meanwhile, a little of your view would help too on what do you think of Gorean culture?

 

The crowd

Atomp Discusses: Crowdfunding, Early Access and Gaming Part 1

Tom Hooper aka Atomp
For the next couple of weeks there will be an article that I have divided in two for readability that discusses the crowdfunding and early access trends in gaming in recent years. These are significant trends in gaming currently and the changes that they are having upon the industry are profound. We are now seeing shifts that would previously have been unimaginable as new tools and models are being used to make the games that people want to play and not the games that the publishers want to sell. Despite the rampant scepticism and nay-saying throughout the internet these trends have a great deal to offer bother gamer and game developer and they are absolutely worth discussing.
No doubt one of the most successful early access games to be released was Minecraft. Before the whole crowdfunding and early access initiatives really took off Markus ‘Notch’ Persson released the alpha of a small game he was working on based upon Infiniminer. This alpha quickly gained popularity with word spreading not through the traditional channels preferred by a thousand advertising executives but instead through word of mouth, Youtube and web-based communities. This alpha was of course early Minecraft and the popularity continued to grow as the game developed with even beta releases gaining widespread attention in the gaming press. The popularity was followed by money, lots and lots of money. Minecraft is an interesting example of early access and whilst it was wildly successful, proved the concept and ultimately spawned many repeated attempts at emulation it wasn’t really the ideal crowd-sourced development. Later refinements of the method have brought a much closer relationship between developer and community as development of the project integrates community feedback, a community that has in theory provided the upfront funding for the project. Notch had a habit of pushing Minecraft development in strange directions which was fine before when it was a very small indie project but with an ever expanding community of paying customers to satisfy that became problematic. This is really a double edged sword of crowd-sourced and early access development, unless the community is managed there is a great risk that it could become a hindrance rather than a help as an ever more rabid community makes desperate demands.
Another project that has a surprisingly long history and quietly plodded along on an early access programme long before it hit Steam is the quite astounding Kerbal Space Program. Developers Squad had their own store based early access from the start (or at least once it left the free alpha version). Squad again have been good about providing their early access to customers and the updates has continuously brought new content and improvements, especially now that the popularity is so that update are featured news stories on major gaming websites (or at least PC Gamer and Rock Paper Shotgun, the ones I frequent). Squad have generally been quite focused on creating the updates and content that they want rather than opening a fully two way developer-community communication channel, however their continued stellar mod support often means that much like Minecraft if the community wants something in the game they’ll add it themselves. Kerbal Space Program is one of those really nice success stories where the gradual increase in attention and popularity has gradually driven sales up and thus continues to provide Squad with the money they need to continue the development of the game. Importantly this development is done on their own terms or in negotiation with the community and no on the terms of a publisher or shareholders.
With Minecraft having proven the potential for smaller studios to gain funding for projects that might’ve been scoffed at by publishers and Kickstarter displaying itself as a potential platform for pre and very early development funding it was only a matter of time before something really took off. That something turned out to be the pitch of a new adventure game by industry veterans and PR maestros Double Fine. Responsible for well known games like Grim Fandango, Stacking and Psychonauts, Double Fine have done weird and wacky before and gotten funding, however they reckoned that they wouldn’t get the funding that they wanted for a new adventure game and therefore took the idea to Kickstarter. In retrospect the pitch wasn’t particularly strong and actually relied very heavily on coasting on reputation over a concrete project pitch. Personally I didn’t contribute towards this particular project as I’m never really gotten much out of Double Fine games however it was wildly successful, raising a frankly enormous sum of money. Double Fine Adventure was also something of a warning and become one of the first high profile projects to cast doubt on to the whole Kickstarter idea. The problem came with the money which turned out to be a double edged sword. Double Fine received a huge amount of funding for the project, far in excess of what they had been expecting. This evidently led to some feature creep on the game which rapidly grew into a money eating monster, forcing Double Fine to release the game in parts in order to gain enough money to fund continued development. The project became a hugely over-target Kickstarter that eventually led to a hugely over-budget game. Whilst the game did eventually get completed and released the whole debacle became a cautionary tale on crowdfunding games, even and perhaps especially the successful ones.
Around this same time another successful Kickstarter appeared in the form of Brian Fargo’s Wasteland 2. The original Wasteland was released in 1988 and the story goes that Brian Fargo had been attempting to pitch a sequel to publishers for some time, however he had gained little traction in these attempts. The issue was that the publishers had their own perception on what was likely to sell and after the likes of Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas the potential for an old-school squad-based tactical post-apocalyptic game was limited and not likely to show great return on their investment. This shows the real weakness in the current big-games model as those who ultimately have the say are not the gamers that want to play the game or the developers that want to make the game but instead are shareholders that don’t give a damn about anything but a return on their investment. The Wasteland 2 pitch was fairly strong with the right people making the right game and with a solid plan of action. It eventually raised over three times the initial goal of $900k which unlocked every stretch goal and gave the studio some fairly significant funds to throw around in making the game, although it’s probably still short of a publishers’ money-with-strings. So far Wasteland 2 appears to be progressing nicely with inXile and Obsidian making good use of modern development streamlining tools such as the Unity engine and the Unity Asset Store. Another point of interest on the Wasteland 2 front is Brian Fargo’s Kicking it Forward campaign which is an informal honour system whereupon successful Kickstarter campaigns pledge to donate some of their funds to other Kickstarters. This is not specific to gaming but is still a really interesting idea and seems to gained some traction within the Kickstarter community.
The early Kickstarter days were not just bigger titles though as the likes of FTL: Faster than Light, a small two man indie project also gained some significant success. FTL really was the perfect early-Kickstarter pitch as they already had much of the game in place and just needed the cash to finish development. This proved to smaller indies, not just the larger indie studios but also one or two man teams, that Kickstarter could be a way of buying enough ramen to finish their game without starving. FTL also proved another of the potential positives of using crowdfunding; publicity. Being crowdfunded took a small indie title and shoved it front and centre into the public consciousness, turning it into a massive success with widespread critical acclaim. They could even afford continued development culminating in a free update including more content created in collaboration with industry veteran Chris Avellone. FTL was also the first game I ever Kickstarted and the return on that payment has proven the potential of the development model to me personally ever since.
This article continues on to discuss early access games and reach conclusions next week.
Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Review: PS1 Soundtrack – Revelations: Persona

In an era where JRPGs were still a genre of D&D motifs and high-fantasy as far as western gamers were concerned, the elusive Shin Megami Tensei franchise was decidedly a departure from what was considered normal. Even more so, when Final Fantasy VII had yet to popularize the genre, one of the few games in the series at the time to leave its native walls was undeniable set up from the get-go to be an overlooked oddity of near-Earthbound proportions. That game is Relevations: Persona, which most of you may recognize as the original episode of the Persona subseries (you know, those colorful teenagers summoning spirits from their inner psyches to fight demons, with that cute bear and the evil TV or whatever). Although nothing new in Japan, the original Persona game was absolutely in a league of its own for unfamiliar North Americans, breaking the usual fantasy tropes in favor of a modern, surreal setting and story. No one really cared to realize at the time, but the series rise in global popularity at the end of the noughties put the spotlight on this forgotten gem brighter than ever, and looking back there’s still really nothing like it.

But even more overlooked than the game itself, as you probably have guessed, is its very own soundtrack. However, don’t expect it to be a triumph in the same way that Final Fantasy VI was a few years prior – emotionally vast, grandiose and legendary this soundtrack is not. In fact, what makes the original Persona title such a feast for the ears is its sheer deviance from such a formula. This is a soundtrack more concerned with making a moody, eccentric atmosphere, to appropriately suit the accompanying adventure’s twisted, surreal world. One part insidiously dark and one part awkwardly stylish, Persona’s music is an exercise in bizarreness – much like the game and series it is employed under – and truly a one-of-a-kind piece of music that the era so rarely brings to the table.

Abandoning almost all traces of JRPG tradition at the time, Persona opts for a modernized sound. Everything from the guitar-driven boss music, to the largely electronic dungeon themes, to the mystifying ambient tracks all gamble with the genre’s blueprint and cash in on it immensely. The overall mood may not be as expansive as a game such as Final Fantasy, but the depth is certainly there, and the actual genres of music utilized here are of a respectable level of variety – more on that in a bit. Best of all – though this trait might be an acquired taste for some – is how the game’s repetitive nature has a tendency to draw the player into a hypnotic state, even in the heat of a strategic battle, and if only the actual amount of listening time wasn’t so dominated by the main battle theme, the soundtrack could easily have the same effect on the player.

With the Playstation being the premier audio experience in the fifth console generation, Persona as a somewhat early title for the platform proves to be of good quality sound-wise, even better than the juggernaut soundtrack of Final Fantasy VII a year later (though not from a compositional standpoint), and it explores this rich sound quality quite thoroughly. Perhaps the most impressive tracks in this regard are the game’s various dungeon themes – typically electronic in nature, you can find at play several styles you wouldn’t expect to hear axing demons on your way to a level-up, most notably IDM and electronic hip-hop.Climbing the corporate Sebec building on your way to thwart the game’s antagonist is made a high-energy affair with a layered song that builds up in tension and lets loose in a dare-I-say Machinedrum fashion, loaded with repeated piano loops and misty undercurrents – but unfortunately, this climax is not very often reached by the player, due to the song starting over from the beginning ever time the player enters battle. This problem plagues all the excellent dungeon themes in the game, relegating the player to little further than the first few seconds of the track, unless they stay out of battles for a few minutes.

Fortunately, not all of the game’s best songs are affected by this. In fact, though the dungeon themes are the most “full” and dynamic songs in the game, there are an assortment of non-dungeon songs that prove to be quite formidable themselves. These tracks appear during the game’s story sequences and appear in some of the game’s less-interrupted areas, such as shops and in town. The shop tracks in particular are especially strange: a weirdly upbeat steel drum track accompanies the gun shop, while the clothing store – ran by a fashionable man in a gas mask – dons an amusingly generic background shopping muzak tune that present-day vaprowave aficionados would go gaga over. Best of all is the pharmacy, which has a quirky Japanese man singing what’s allegedly the names of the items you can buy in the store over a pathetic-sounding recorder to create a bizarre, yet somewhat catchy shopping jingle. Though these tracks are appealing – both because they’re so weird and because they’re quite good in their weirdness – the Velvet Room theme is the tour-de-force of them all. Replete with opera vocals and melodramatic piano, as fans of Persona 3 and 4 can already tell you, it’s a standout in the series, befitting the Velvet Room’s mysterious, dream-like nature.

Individually these tracks are competent, but it’s the overall package that makes Persona’s soundtrack one deserving of the hidden gem status attributed to it – because between the lines of all these goofy jingles and psychedelic mystique is a feeling that goes so much deeper than the gimmicks and the “cutting edge” ideas present here. Above all, Persona, both as a game and as a piece of music, is awkward and almost confusing to analyze, because it’s so blemished by its growing pains and lack of having a true niche beyond the decade from which it was released. It’s crooked, but it’s different. It doesn’t just try to be different either – there’s a lot of obvious, but unsuccessful pandering to western culture in the North American translation of Persona, and even when it seems to be generic, its inability to achieve true normalcy keeps even the mundane shit really really off, in the best way possible.

 

“Trish’s Fountain”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2M_XXF3Kmr4&index=25&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

“Electric Brain Travel”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBVD9CwKyNc&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3&index=96

“Conversation 1”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyARgQ9BAco&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3&index=60

“City 1”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GO8qjqoVWc&index=52&list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

 

 

Full Playlist
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL936E86AC64D920F3

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Retro Monday: “Theme Hospital”

Considering what I wrote last week I think it would be good to have an update to the Crytek UK situation. And the update its not good. “Homefront: The Revolution” game director Hasit Zala resigned from his position at Crytek UK reports said this week. This adds to the leaving list as development manager Ben Harris also left earlier this month. I really don’t want this company to fold. The company has a good history of making decent games so it would be sad to lose them, and Crytek UK is one of the last big players in the UK videogame industry, which in of itself is a shadow of its former self. If Scotland votes for their independence too then Rockstar North (the Rockstar studio that goes “GTA”) leaves the UK fold as well. This may be an awful year for the UK game industry. To add, Neversoft officially closed this week. Well not closed. They merged Infinity Ward. They did do the “Extinction Mode” for them so I guess it was going to happen. At least they merged. Now, On to the retro review…

Title: “Theme Hospital

Developer: Bullfrog Productions

Publisher: Electronic Arts (EA)

Released: Early 1997

Some of you may go “Ah! It’s Bullfrog so it must be a Peter Molyneux game.” It isn’t. He was making “Dungeon Keeper” at the time which released 3 months later. He did start the ‘Theme’ series with “Theme Park” (the one that I played was “Theme Park World”) so you could say that he was there in spirit. He left Bullfrog after “Dungeon Keeper” was released anyway so there may be a case to saying how much influence he had even spiritually with the series.

The game sees you as the chief of a hospital. You hire the staff, build the rooms (the shell of a hospital being provided per level), and micromanage the hospitals goings-on. It’s a much more American hospital then British NHS hospital because part of the win conditions is it get a set amount of money per level. The slightly more obvious clue is that the patients pay for treatment which we lucky Brit’s don’t do. It’s an odd cultural merging because the game is very British. That sort of dark British humour that everyone seems to like is wrapped in this game.

The illnesses and the treatments of said ill people are where most of the humour lies. There are some word play jokes like the ‘uncommon cold’, ‘The Squits’ and ‘King Complex’ (where the patients has the uncontrollable urge to dresses and act like Elvis which can kill them for some reason). As the game progresses, and as your research expands, you start getting some more topical diseases like ‘Slack Tongue’ (where the patients’ tongue hangs low and extended from their gorping face which is cured by cutting off their tongue) and ‘Hairyitis’ (where the patient sprouts hair all over their body which has to electrocuted off).

The look of the game is very cartoonish and silly. Although, the cartoon-like aspect is more based on the more tropical diseases which make the up small amount of the total things wrong with people. This just means that most people look like regular people which doesn’t detract from the style of the game but does make chunks of the game very samey. On things looking the same, the staff look totally identical between their roles. All the nurses look like other nurses, all the handymen/mechanics look like the other handymen/mechanics and doctors… you get the idea.

There is one staff role that is pretty pointless and that is the receptionist. You hire a receptionist, build a reception desk, and hence the two shall join and never separate. As soon as you build the reception desk, the receptionist locks onto it with her cyborg heart and makes a b-line for it to stand next to it and lock it in place. As soon as the two join, you can’t move the desk unless you more the receptionist but as soon as you move her she makes a b-line for the desk again. It does mean that you have to be very sure where your going to place the reception area because you most likely won’t be moving it once its built. At least the receptionist never tires with her cyborg heart.

Most of the game is micromanaging the hospital right down to the finances. You can decide who to hire which just comes down to hiring people with good stats. The same with nurses. Handymen just need to be fast and not complain about pay. Receptionists, as said previously, are not human so there is no difference between who you hire. Building the rooms just come down to putting the treatment rooms near the heliport so when the emergency’s start coming you you can deal with them. It doesn’t matter really where you build the other rooms.

Its odd talking about the game because saying what the game goes and how you play it sounds like it is a standard business simulation game and that it;s kinda boring. But its not. It’s really engrossing. You end up fighting for those last few reputation points and cash to finish the level. It’s paced very well keeping the game interesting. You slowly get more diseases to treat and rooms to treat the but then on comes emergency’s. And epidemics. Then more diseases. And more rooms!

If you are one of the people that thinks they can run a hospital better then others, here in the UK there are many people who think they are better then the NHS, they try this. You can succeed and make money. But you make one mistake or someone dies and you crash and burn and fail and then the next person comes in and then the cycle starts again. At least in this you can be your own replacement. Maybe it’s a bit more like the NHS then I thought…

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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.

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:
SL feature image

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.

 

Name your price at Bandcamp

 

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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.