tttp1

Tom’s Toaster Tally – Part 1

Tom Hooper aka Atomp

 

I’ve decided to take a break from reviews this week and instead write a little list based upon prior reviews following one central theme; toaster compatibility. This article will consist of a short list of games that I’ve looked at or know of that are appropriate for those running legacy or underpowered hardware, i.e. toasters. Whether you’re restricted to low-end hardware by financial restrictions or you want some things to play on that work laptop with integrated graphics my aim is provide you with at least something to play and sink some hours into. I’m going to be classifying games by hardware requirements by splitting them into three subsets: Single-slot Travel Toaster, Twin-slot Domestic Toaster 3000 and the Quad-slot Toastermatic 4000. The Single-slot Travel Toaster corresponds to the very lowest of hardware, in some cases not even requiring a graphical interface but in many cases requiring the absolute minimum hardware. I’m thinking old laptops with an Intel GMA iGPU on an old Core2 CPU, the kind that will handle desktop display and not much more. The Twin-slot Domestic Toaster 3000 references machines with a little bit more grunt, covering the early i-series of Intel processors and their HD3000 iGPU. Finally we come to the Quad-slot Toastermatic 4000 which generally corresponds to most modern laptops with a newer i-series Intel CPU and an HD4000 iGPU. These specs are the kind of thing a ‘gamer’ would cringe at and probably disregard as useless, however with the right games even a weak little Single-slot Travel Toaster can bring many many hours of gaming enjoyment without even an xserver getting in the way.

 

In addition to looking at hardware requirements I will also be discussing operating system compatibility as older hardware is often far better utilised by a Linux distribution than it is by an aging, bloated or redundant install of Windows XP or an inappropriate-but-installed-because-of-MS-licensing stripped down Windows 7 Home Edition install. As a general word of warning, you shouldn’t be using Windows XP as a daily driver anymore anyway, whilst it’s not going to be too bad for a while, the lack of support from MS means that as exploits are found they will become open security holes into your system so shift to Linux or a newer Windows version as your daily driver.

 

This list is far from exhaustive, but even so I will have to divide it between two articles in order to avoid it becoming too unwieldy. This week I’ll be looking at the real low end of the hardware scale by starting with the Single-slot Travel Toaster section, these’ll be games that you are pretty much guaranteed to work on a wide range of hardware and in some cases you could probably give them a shot on something as low-end as the Raspberry Pi provided you can get the ARM binaries.

 

Single-slot Travel Toaster:

  • CataclysmDDA
    I’ve reviewed CataclysmDDA before and found it to be a great deal of fun whilst also being challenging and complex. CataclysmDDA is a text-based top-down zombie survival game with features including but not limited to resources, lighting, sound, temperature, crafting, character levelling and combat. The scenario isn’t strictly pure-zombie either as there are enemies that often resemble specialists from Left 4 Dead meaning that there’s a reasonable level of enemy variety making the game seem a tad more like a text-based STALKER-like than a pure zombie game like Project Zomboid. The game is text-based however tilesets are available and it is most certainly worth mentioning that even with just ASCII the game is immensely fun and accessible. This is of course the Toaster Tally and CataclysmDDA rightfully deserves its most honourable placement in the Single-slot Travel Toaster section. This game doesn’t even require an xserver to run, hell you don’t need a monitor necessarily as it would be perfectly playable over SSH from a headless server, thats the level we’re talking here and it’s magnificent. CataclysmDDA is available free of charge and it’s open source too.
    http://en.cataclysmdda.com/

 

  • SanctuaryRPG
    Next up is my most recently reviewed game; SanctuaryRPG (SRPG). Since I submitted my review the game has actually gone gold with the version 1.0 release marking the end of the beta period. SRPG is a text-based fantasy RPG with a turn-based combat system that borrows from JRPGs and a whole variety of story elements, loot systems, crafting and more. There’s a lot of content to sink your teeth into with SRPG and and has great potential to fill some significant time with role playing goodness as you tear through waves of baddies, or alternatively get squished very quickly by that boss you thought was a good idea but turned out to be the proud owner of 200x your HP. In terms of the Toaster TallySRPG comes out pretty well as it is text-based and requires very little hardware to run on. It’s not quite as portable as the likes of CataclysmDDA due to it currently being Windows and Wine only however a native Linux version is planned so this could well be another full on ASCII treat. SRPG is also available on a pay-what-you-want pricing model meaning that it’s essentially free to try out.
    http://www.sanctuaryrpg.com/

 

 

  • Knights of Pen and Paper
    Knights of Pen and Paper (KoPaP) is a game that I reviewed a while ago and is actually not too far removed from SRPG in how it plays, but looks significantly different. Originally I played KoPaP on Android and then moved over to playing it on PC after a while and the move was generally positive. KoPaP is a fun little casual game that’s pretty much ideal as a small windowed distraction. This is also the element that allows it to sit pretty in the Single-slot Travel Toaster section as in addition to the game being PC, Mac, Linux and Android it’s not particularly taxing on hardware. It’s not quite as fundamental as the last two entries and on Linux you’re going to need an xserver however the appealing 2D graphics are not going to strain any computer too significantly. KoPaP in its full formis available from Steam for about £10 which is quite pricey so maybe wait for a sale, but either way it’s a fun little game which would be ideal for some casual down-time from work or study on an underpowered laptop.
    http://beholdstudios.com.br/knights-of-pen-paper/

 

  • Luftrausers
    Luftrausers is another recently reviewed game and I have had an absolute blast with it. The game is a low-fi 2D side-on shooter, the player flies a Rauser which is some cross between rocket and plane with the objective of shooting a variety of enemies to build combos and ultimately, score. Completing objectives will allow you to unlock new parts which in turn can be combined into new Rausers with different handling, weapon and speed characteristics. There’s not really much else to it, the handling is really neat as throwing the Rauser around on often ballistic trajectories whilst throwing in sudden turns, flips and the like is very very satisfying. Toaster wise Luftrausers is a on par with the likes of KoPaP as compatibility is good across the board and hardware strain is kept to an absolute minimum thanks to this being a relatively simple 2D game. Luftrausers is available for around $10 which is near enough £6. Single-slot Travel Toaster owners need fear not as there is action to be had beyond menus, as this proves.
    http://luftrausers.com/

 

 

  • Papers, Please
    It’s actually been a while since I last played Papers, Please as recently the mindset that I need to be in to go back to it, to play and enjoy it has been distinctly lacking however that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fantastic game and is very easy on hardware requirements. Papers, Please is a dystopian document thriller in which the primary game mechanic doesn’t seem to be conducive to an interesting game until you try it. Papers, Please drives home some interesting points, it forces the player to make decisions in the moment and weigh up the value of strangers and family. This is an award winning game and rightly so, it’s also easy to run on older hardware which is why it’s sitting pretty in the Single-slot Travel Toaster section. If you’ve not played Papers, Please then I would highly recommend doing so at the next available opportunity. The pricing comes in at around $10, so again about £6 through the Humble widget and the price may come down in sales. Chances are you’ll be able to run Papers, Please and chances are you probably should.
    http://papersplea.se/

 

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Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Sundrugs – Hidden Scenes

There’s ambient music that embellishes the background, and then there’s ambient music that consumes the atmosphere whole.

Sundrugs’ Hidden Scenes is an album that belongs in the latter category. In fact, I’d go as far as to call it a poster child for dizzy-minded poetry masquerading as music journalism (you know, that thing I do from time to time where I don’t make any sense). Here is music as a personal journey – ambiguous and malleable to the imagination, a free soundscape drifting in zero gravity. You don’t have to be feeling anything when entering the void of Hidden Scenes – it’ll ensure you’ll be feeling something else by the end anyway.

Sundrugs – Hidden Scenes

Built up from rich textures of dreamy, ethereal drone, Hidden Scenes poises mystique shyly from the vacant streets it hides within. It is both darkness and light, the process of wading through memories and striking oil in warm nostalgia. Pure, uninhibited murk floods the air: dark, breezy and constantly in gradual motion. Yet the time spent in the darkness isn’t a fearful one; though there is uncertainty pervading throughout the album, there’s equivocal peace of mind – this is the sound to a wandering mind, a traverse through the unknown and the hopefulness that tours you through it.

Every place visited in the sonic realm remains fluid, never settling or becoming truly defined. Revisiting the world feels like returning to the same place, only some details are missing or have been changed, and though the path is the same you still tread with caution, making every excursion feel brand new. Though the album is indeed made up of eleven “songs”, the perpetual state of motion more closely resembles one single, swirling piece, as individual tracks can barely be characterized from one another.  The exact nature of the music itself is also very vague (in the best way, mind you), and if “non-linear music” is indeed a thing this would be very close to fitting that descriptor – it spreads off into several unprecedented directions at once, and listening to it feels more like moving around freely in a given area than moving from start to finish. As such Hidden Scenes makes for an incredibly easy ambient piece to indulge yourself in, and rarely feels as long as it actually is. There’s atmospheric music – and then there’s atmosphere.

 

Full stream and name-your-price download via bandcamp

Continue reading

SanctuaryRPG

Atomp Reviews: SanctuaryRPG [BlackShell Games]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp

 

SanctuaryRPG is a text-based RPG focused around portraying modern and old school RPG concepts through a traditional ASCII style. In accordance with the current trend towards rogue-likes Sanctuary has roguelike elements, ensuring permanent character death is in place and the game difficulty is appropriately unforgiving. To see a game of this type is interesting, yet it also has a distinctly different feel to older text-based RPGs and roguelikes. This variation from the text-based tradition is not necessarily a bad thing and I’m all for more modern text-based games as the implementation time for features and the potential for depth is astonishing compared to manpower dependent 3D and 2D games, just look at Dwarf Fortress. This is a different kettle of fish to the other ASCII game that I have so far reviewed; CataclysmDDA, as not only do they have differing genres the manner in which they play feels radically different and possibly shows the difference between Sanctuary and older roguelikes. Whilst CataclysmDDA is a move away from the fantasy genre it does share a great deal with those that went before with a top-down representation of the world like Nethack, Sanctuary is probably closer to Knights of Pen and Paper in terms of how it plays although with a darker twist and higher difficulty. Travel is menu-based and the combat is a Final Fantasy like menu/sub-menu based affair. The pricing model for Sanctuary is interesting and worth note as the game is charged on a ‘name your price’ model with no minimum meaning you can try the full for nothing if in doubt and then give the developers a fair price after. This pricing model shows a degree of developer savvy and I really hope it works out well for them. This form of honour system payment recognises the nature of piracy; if someone doesn’t want to pay for the game then they’ll find a way to get it either way and there’s no point in punishing paying customers with DRM or unnecessary hoops to jump through.

 

Onto the game then, of which the combat is really the meat and potatoes. The Final Fantasy style menu type combat has been mixed up a little with the division of attacks into a variety of stages which can be combined into combos which then build up damage. Non-combo attacks are possible but nowhere near as effective and really it’s somewhat necessary to chain starters, linkers and finishers into a really nice combo. In addition to this combo system is the healing move which takes MP and will end combos unlike repositioning which is essentially a dodge that will move away from enemy charges, open up an enemy’s block and regenerate MP. The combat is something quite new and takes a little getting used to, I’m not well versed on menu driven combat anyway so it was a shock however after a bit of practice and switching to a softcore character (no permadeath) it became a lot of fun. Much of the game does seem to rely somewhat on grinding in an area in order to level for the move to something harder which isn’t unheard of in RPGs and to be completely honest; text-based grinding is quick and the combat remains fun so in essence it’s probably a strength more than it is a weakness. The enemies are varied and have a particular charm to them as along with the rest of the game there is a strange yet entertaining sense of humour permeating throughout. The enemies also have damage effects and modifiers that change how they must be fought, for example quick enemies will be hard to hit, molten enemies will do fire damage and so on. It is this variety of content and enemies that saves the combat from being too much of a chore, especially considering the lack of visuals available to pad out the experience.

 

 

Levelling, progression and questing is achieved along much the same lines as you’d expect from a fantasy RPG. There’s no weapon or gear inventory, upon getting a new weapon or gear you must choose whether to replace your current equipment or salvage for parts which makes introduces some interesting decisions to say the least. The parts can then be used to craft new items using an interesting little smithing mini-game. The game does play very similarly to Knights of Pen and Paper only with a single character: The combat and relative grind is similar, the approach to level restricted areas is much the same but without the visual map and the questing is much the same. These things are by no means bad aspects and Sanctuary combines these with a wacky sense of humour and the ASCII selling point to create something that’s still unique and fun.

 

Aesthetically the game is pure ASCII at an MSDOS resolution. There are no tile-sets or fancy characters here, it’s all low-colour ASCII art and menus and that couldn’t sit with me any better. The ASCII art itself is brilliantly done and gives the strange and creative mix of creatures a face and the landscapes some basis for the inevitably required imaginary continuation. The game knows the look that it’s going for, it knows how to get there and it works well. I understand that there are those that would be put off by the aesthetic from the very start and I would ask that such folk give it a chance and see the great RPG that lies beneath. The music is certainly of note here with a wide variety of 8-bit chiptunes that fit perfectly into the atmosphere of the game and the retro sensation that the ASCII graphics create.

 

In short; SanctuaryRPG appears to be something of a niche product but it in fact a very fun RPG with visual, audio and gameplay styles that take retro and actually applies it very well with a twist of modern mechanics. The game is available on Windows at the moment and will run through Wine on Linux, although the developers have promised that Linux native binaries are the in the works, which is fantastic to hear. The game is available to try at whatever price you please although I would suggest you throw some money their way if you enjoy it as further support and development can never be a bad thing in this case.

 

SanctuaryRPG Homepage:

http://www.sanctuaryrpg.com/#

 

Purchase SanctuaryRPG:

http://blackshellgames.itch.io/srpg

 

SanctuaryRPG Wiki:

http://sanctuaryrpg.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

 

SanctuaryRPG Devblog:

http://forums.sanctuaryrpg.com/categories/blog

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Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: The 4th – Auditory Bliss Maker & Social Club

“Experience a place, beyond time + space, where art and music unites us all.”

Do you find that your idea of sweet electronic tunes is a little different than most clubs’ idea of sweet electronic tunes?  In-one-ear-and-out-the-other-variety club staples not a part of your aural diet? Allergic to staying logged into SL while at prim-heavy venues thanks to a sadistically unreliable connection (not unlike yours truly)? Well, look no further than/make yourself home at/walk on over to (really, pick your idiom) the abstract intergalactic haven known as The 4th. Stationed somewhere between the ripples of interdimensional fabric and within a nova’s distance of the galaxy’s busiest interstellar transit wormhole, the venue fueled by characteristic “auditory bliss” never fails to deliver exactly that. On one’s journey through the universe (read: SL), finding a place that suits your unique taste and comforts can sometimes be a fruitless endeavor, but if you’re anything like me and the words “trip-hop”, “downtempo”, “uk garage” or any other decidedly uncommon music tags collect dust in your search history, it’s probably about time you took a look at this rather tasteful social club.

4168

Perhaps the most impressive thing about The 4th is it’s ambition. We’re not just looking at a space-themed club for the sake of filling in the space-themed club population in SL. Aw hell nah. A little late night brain picking with one of the owners has revealed some interesting scheme taking place. She says “the 4th was born of a deep desire to find a music based hangout on the grid that catered to an artistic community, which wasn’t steeped in medieval, gothic, or some other kind of old world culture”, and true to the aesthetic, she imparts “from all my readings about 4th dimensional experiences or the astral plane, it’s a place (in theory?) that is whatever the dreamer/projector conjures up for the most part, and SL is that too”. Simply put, there’s a clear artistic vision in place, a true labor of love. Even better, this artistic passion paves the way for a particular goal she wishes to accomplish. “When I have some time I want to pursue relationships with artists on the grid (who create in either life), ideally invite those whose work centers on themes around exploring human consciousness, alternate realities, out of body expeirences, multi universes etc – to exhibit here on a rotational basis, as well as incorporate interactive exhibits that allow ppl to read up on these concepts or even share their own ideas”, she shares with genuine earnest. There’s a lot to look forward to, and various artists throughout SL would not only fit in great with the venue’s unifying motif, but would benefit from an art club-esque community set to take off in the future.

When you walk in the doors (big gaping hole in the wall) you’ll likely be warmly welcomed by the venue’s considerate staff, hosts or the excellent DJs, if not then by the good shit playing on the radio. Regulars at The 4th share a genuine passion for music, and the music on display is often of a respectable pedigree. You’ll hear everything from milky silky deep house, feel-good electronic soul tunes, indie delights, old-school hip-hop, and the kind of high-energy bangers that even snobs jaded by the typical trance fodder (me again) can get a dose of adrenaline from.  Good vibes pervade through your computer speakers, with relaxing beats making home wherever you are situated in real life, and the music is varied and consistently of a solid quality.

You can expect your aural fixation to be satisfied indefinitely, but there’s more to the atmosphere than what meets the ears. Taking on a minimal approach to interior design, The 4th looks and feels like a legitimate piece of the greater abstract beyond, with walls bearing no semblance of traditional symmetry and geometrical subtleties going hand-in-hand with the simple color scheme. Despite the unique look, furniture and textures are an exercise in minimalism, and it procures totally stylish results. The building isn’t particularly large, but it’s this modest approach that allows even pitiful SL users like myself to stay connected for hours on end – even on busy days –without worrying about getting nipped in the butt with a cheeky viewer freeze and connection drop.

Of course, technical convenience isn’t the only thing keeping me glued to The 4th – it’s the unfailingly kind and entertaining bunch that hang out and work here that grant this venue a genuine homey feeling, abstract though it may be. Visitors and regulars are also of an appropriately stylish and mellow nature, while also keeping public chat lively without turning it into a scrollbar-diminishing word dump – it could be called the perfect size for some. Though still fairly new, you’ll find it to be a blossoming venue, and a day hasn’t gone by (that wasn’t at ungodly hours of the night) where I walked in and cool people weren’t partying their asses off to cool music. That said, The 4th is a cool place, and it makes a pretty cool case for why auditory bliss should be at the top of your downtime priorities.

Visit if you like: electronic, trip-hop, hip-hop, dance, house, deep house, indie, downtempo, chillout, artsy things.

luftrausers

Atomp Reviews: Luftrausers [Vlambeer]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp

 

Vlambeer don’t seem to get much luck in the development space, they are constantly the victim of mobile app store cloning as unscrupulous businesses attempt to capitalise on on their good game design. Hopefully the successes of their genuine products work to offset some of the cheap arsehole-ery that the mobile market seems to thrive off and with Luftrausers the genuine product is a fine thing indeed and in this particular case the game became profitable within three days of release. Apparently based on a Flash game made by some of Vlambeer previously Luftrausers is a side-on 2D dogfighting game where the player pilots a ‘Rauser’ and uses it to dominate AI opponents.

 

The Rauser itself is difficult to describe as a plane, in most cases (as there are varying engine, body and weapon types) the flight characteristics of the Rausers are more ballistic than aerodynamic and the use of the thruster to blast around often feels much like Asteroids, but with an ocean, a sky and a whole load of baddies that shoot back. The game is scored according to a combo system, knocking out individual planes and such will net very little in the overall score but get them in a big group and your score will sky rocket. Enemies vary; with the oceans containing small boats, battleships with mean flack and submarines whom will surface and let off a few missiles your way. Airbourne enemies that I’ve encountered so far include small slow props, jet fighters, missiles, boss aircraft called aces and that damnable airship. These enemies each pose a different threat and are often not that much of a problem alone, but rarely are they engaged alone and before you know it you dodged down out of the machinegun fire of an Ace into a horrible mess of flack from the battleship perched in the water below. Health is regenerative, however it will only regenerate when not firing so it’s necessary to evade for a time whilst the Rauser is repaired. I’m a fan of this particular mechanic as it somewhat defines the game as different from top-down shooters which although good in their own right tend to focus purely on constant firing rather than the quick snappy evade and fire entertainment to be found in Luftrausers.

 

The combat is extraordinarily satisfying and to be fair it’s the star of the show and really the focus of the game. The controls are simple yet tight and the manner in which the different Rausers handle dictates your particular combat style, whether it be a fast “Crazy Ivan” prone Rauser or a heavy plow clean through enemies regardless of guns, missiles and other paraphernalia. The controls with their simplicity and retro feel give a good sensation of being an insane ace dogfighter which is then only reinforced by that perfectly executed stalled double backflip triple kill you find yourself doing to avoid getting a severe beating from flack.

 

In addition to the combat are progression elements based around unlocking weapon, body and engine parts. Continue reading

Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews: Qypthone – Montuno No. 5

Qypthone has been on hiatus for quite a while now, but we’re getting to about that time of year where zesty, energetic summer jams are due for recognition.

Originally playing with groups like Pizzicato Five and Plus-Tech Squeeze Box, this little band enlists their bossanova-tinged take on the Japanese genre “shibuya-kei” to the scene, replete with all the vivaciousness and eccentricities that make such artists stand out. Their last full-length album, Montuno No. 5, will most likely be remembered as their most substantial work, even if it is a little on the short side.

Qyptphone - Montuno No 5 Album Continue reading

Goat Simulator

Atomp Reviews: Goat Simulator [Coffee Stain Studios]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp

 

Goat Simulator, what more can be said. This whole thing started during an in-house Coffee Stain Studios (Sanctum, Sanctum 2, Super Sanctum TD) game jam intended to familiarise new staff with the Unreal Engine. One of the competitors in this game jam; Armin Ibrisagic created a weird and wacky take on the 90s skateboarding games with a goat substituted for the skateboarder and destruction rather than tricks. Coffee Stain Studios released a video of this broken, glitchy yet unbelievably fun looking prototype onto Youtube and the Internet lost its head. The video went viral and there was widespread agreement across the Internet and gaming press that this ridiculous thing had to be and so was born this as a thing. The game that was promised was broken, glitchy and ridiculous and people would love it for it. To give Coffee Stain Studios some significant credit, they took a broken prototype and added significant amounts of secrets, challenges and scoring that actually extended the toy into a proper game. The base experience isn’t nearly as short lived as you’d think and there was the ultimate value creator; easy modding and Steam Workshop support. There is even an E3 Game Launch map creation contest which is bound to produce some really fun levels.

 

The gameplay in Goat Simulator is massively physics driven, the player controls a goat from a third person perspective with the ability to run, sprint, jump, headbut, lick, ragdoll, slowmo and special. Running, sprinting and jumping are fairly self explanatory however the rest are not: Headbutting is your standard attack and will impart some significant force upon things in front of you. Combine this with some momentum, a light object or some explosives and this becomes your first taste of the ridiculous physics. Second we come onto the lick, this sticks your infinitely strong and stretchy tongue to an object allowing you to drag it or be dragged by it, think chasing people with an axe attached to a stretchy tongue and you get an idea. The ragdoll does as it says on the tin, ragdolls your goat allowing it to be thrown around like, well, a ragdoll and the slowmo enables real time slowmo. Finally there is the special which is enabled by a variety of unlocks and can produce some brilliant additional effects that I won’t ruin. Combine all of these with the medium sized level packed with environments, explosives, trampolines and many many more fun things and there is the recipe for some significant fun.

 

The scoring is based on building score whilst also maintaining a combo which can lead to some significant destruction as you tear through a house or development studio or pile of crates or garden party… The sky really is the limit, that is until you glitch too high and break the game landing outside the map only to physics glitch back into the map at some significant speed. The key to this game is that whilst the developers have worked on ironing out crash-bugs, they left the rest in, resulting in a brutally honest glitchy fun experience as you work to glitch your way into completing challenges in ways unintended or just seeing if you can crash the game by overloading the physics engine. To be fair to Coffee Stain Studios it’s actually fairly difficult to overload the game to a point of absolute crashing, in spite of its glitchy and broken nature this is actually a damn stable glitchy and broken game. I can safely say that the first time I launched the game I didn’t stop playing for 5 hours, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I did the typical running around trashing stuff and then moved onto completing the challenges and eventually to finding collectibles. Since then I have added around 5 more hours to that play time and I’m still not done with it, beyond the 5 to 10 hours of default play is the potential for playing with the modded “mutators” (UT style). The game has some of these built in but with Steam Workshop support even today only a couple of days after release there are already some really fun things to play with; like for example a mod that adds an “Australian Goat” with appropriately reversed controls or the teleporter mod or the exploding goat mod… there is no limit to the potential when combined with the option for custom maps too. Continue reading

aoba ichiko - utabiko

Kevin’ Music Reviews: The heart unplugged

Japan’s Ichiko Aoba is decidedly a straight shooter when it comes to her choice of songwriting tools and album artwork. Armed only with her guitar and her voice – and solid colors – she hits her target dead-on while eschewing anything more than the bare essentials, and she gets the job done quite well.
Her 2012 full-length, Utabiko, makes a valid case for simplicity. Covered in the thin, ambiguous veil of minimalism, Aoba delivers subtle brilliance in spades from the humble spaces in her heart in as direct a manner as the singer-songwriter ensemble can muster. Stylistically Aoba’s sound is minimal contemporary folk, with an occasional lean toward Nara Leao bossanova. Her voice is soft and breezy, breathing whimsy and bliss into the music at nearly all times, as delicately but as genuinely as foreseeable. Resulting from this is a sound that is occasionally haunting in its semi-presence, yet you undoubtedly feel engaged with the artist, even when her voice descends to a flickering, frail whisper. Equally soothing, her guitar strums are constantly in a state of motion. Her music glides from wonderful hook to wonderful hook like she has a million things to say in a very short amount of time, and never does the standard verse-chorus-verse structure come into effect. This is the soundtrack to stopping and taking a look around yourself in the middle of the day, both up in the sky and along the ground, yet it is also music to sit still to, as the music is so subtle and delicate it’s easy to overlook the minute graces that are interweaved in the fabric. An ideal setting is taking a wandering drive through the prairie on a dry spring noon. There is much to observe in these ever-changing environments, with a little serenity and patience.

Her choice of color to represent the music on display for Utabiko couldn’t be more concise. Representing the album in a fittingly dreary tone is nothing more than a solid canvas of faded green, nearly-beige; a humble picture painted in a single humble color. Though it can be perceived as bland, to do so would also mean missing the point of the music contained inside as well. This particular shade of green-beige is befitting of the atmosphere the music projects; sun-bleached sands mixed with salt water, where you dip your toes in and run your fingers through softly; birch wood trees tinged with the vignette of blurry green leaves in the distance; hibernating greenery quietly recoloring in the midst of early spring. Notice the green isn’t very thick at all; it’s only just discernible as green – the grass is dry but you can see its true color. Likewise, the music is soft and scarce but the life and warmth remains undeniable present. Aoba plays to the listener, her emotion is tangible and glides straight toward you. Those craving a song from the heart to accompany their upcoming morning spring strolls need wander no further than the prairies of Utabiko for that excellent, non-demanding chicken soup for the ears.

betrayer

Atomp Reviews: Betrayer [Blackpowder Games]

Tom Hooper aka Atomp

Blackpowder Games is a small game development studio that is made up mostly of ex-Monolith developers, which means that we’re looking at veterans from the likes of No One Lives Forever, FEAR and the Condemned games. This isn’t a bad starting point and from here we also look at more of the development history of Betrayer as it is a Steam Early Access game gone gold. This represents an interesting change to the pace of many of the Early Access games currently gracing Steam, as the number appears to only go up. Seeing a game pop out of Early Access finished and then released proper is nice and is something of a relief in displaying that the scheme can actually help games to develop *and* release. Betrayer itself is a first person action adventure game set in a New World colony in 1604. You’d think that a first person game set in the 1600’s would be the defining enough feature of a release but Betrayer ups the ante with a very very distinct visual look based on black, white and red high contrast post-processing, there is little about this game that could be considered entirely cookie-cutter.

 

The gameplay basis of Betrayer is that of a first person, semi-open-world, stealth ‘em up… sort of. As I stated in the introduction; this game does not sit very neatly into gaming categories, so let us go through those sort-ofs one by one: First of all is the first person perspective which for an eerie game like this is a well considered decision. The settings allows for FOV alteration, many will be glad of this and the overall feel of the first person perspective in relation to the atmosphere, immersion and combat is right on the money. Next is the open world nature which in this case is far closer to the multiple mid-sized areas of STALKER than it is to the large open sprawl of Skyrim. This actually works quite nicely in Betrayer as it allows the game to control the pace and path of the narrative by locking out areas. Finally there is the stealth ‘em up element, which isn’t technically true as you are never forced into using stealth however the combat is brutally unforgiving even with attempted stealth, nevermind without it. Combat is first person with era appropriate weapons; so longbows, shortbows, flintlock pistols, muskets and the like. These weapons can be bought from the store but poorer condition versions can be looted from enemies (like STALKER). Money is acquired through looting chests and buried items as well as killing enemies, although this does not happen at any significant rate. It will be a long time before you accrue enough wealth to purchase a better weapon. Death is punished through an interesting mechanic not so detached from the likes of Minecraft, upon dying you will drop your pocket load of money but not inventory and it is then up to you to do a corpse run in order to retrieve it. Luckily this is tied with some degree of mob-movement so it’s not too likely that the enemies that killed you will be able to camp your corpse and dropped wealth.

 

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Kevin's Music Reviews

Kevin’s Music Reviews – 8-in-a-row quickies

This week is a bit different. Instead of one review, Kevin brings you 8 quick reviews in a row!

Andras Fox
Embassy Café
~[Sounds from the marble dancefloor]~
One part minimal R&B, one part chic deep house. Mid-paced rhythms screwed by syncopated beats. Intelligently layered to keep things busy but clean. A slice of vanilla cake to down your dinner party.
“What They Say”

“Running Late”

Move D – Kunststoff
~[Welcome to the Neon Nights Casino]~
Beat variety pack. Includes ambient bliss, IDM, Detroit-style goodies, sub-aquatic exploration kit, and post-blackout melodrama. Soundtrack to the penthouse dweller’s late night game of Windows solitaire. Sleek and sexy.
“Amazing Discoveries”

“Eastman”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-QV4n-z-9k Continue reading