Monday, 31 December 2012

The Difference Between Meaningful and Meaningless Artsy Works

There's nothing a high-brow culture connoisseur likes more than viewing art and talking about how it's meaningful. Whether it's delving into the symbolism that a work possesses or debating with other fellows of similar stature on how poignant the hidden message is, the connoisseur simply enjoys discussing about impacting pieces of art. Now sometimes these people can be looking too much into whatever they wish to deem as art. Sometimes it may be beautiful, contain absolutely stunning imagery but it could mean nothing more than the artist has a creative imagination. Other times, these connoisseurs end up reading between the lines of pure drivel. Here's the thing, while there are works out there that have terrible (or terribly conveyed) messages behind them, that doesn't necessarily mean that they have no meaning within them. What I want to get into is how can one see if something truly contains an underlying purpose behind it, serves to be nothing more than an attempt to be edgy or simply has nothing more to show other than the product itself.

Let's assume that our work of art is a film, for the sake of argument. The first thing that signifies that there is meaning within a work is if the scenario contains depth. Stories that have their hero and villain set in stone hardly have anything more to them other than a basic action/adventure romp. The characters that matter in the story must have layers to them. They must have complexity to them, whether it comes mostly from their past, their relationships with other characters or their own personality by themselves. By having this, there is evidence that the characters in the story are not only realistic, but they are also bound to change. Without change, there is no greater conflict that can be pursued, and without conflict, there is nothing that can lead to moments where characters have to make their own choices.

Even with complex characters, for a story to push forth greater meaning, there must be events that are specific to the story that lead for the character to come up with a choice. When characters are placed into a position where they must decide on their next course of action, that eventually leads to a reaction. That result in turn creates turning points in the story, and when a story shifts in different directions, it keeps the mind going. If that is occurring, then the work is off to a good start on building itself as a trenchant masterpiece. Keep in mind though, there are a lot of creations out there that aren't as intricate that continue to get the attention of others. 
I mean, there are a lot of movies, books, etc. out there that have a wide array of three-dimensional characters yet they only serve to create a intriguing tale rather than push forth a challenge in the viewer's life. Something more must be done to show that it is not just an engaging series of events or a vapid, empty pile of drivel.

Enter juxtaposition, one of the most remarkable tools out there for anyone who wants to make art that is thought-provoking. It isn't necessary to include this into a work for it to possess meaning. It just helps out a lot. See, juxtaposition uses the idea of contrast to exemplify an idea. The way it works is similar to a chemical reaction. You place two compounds together, sit back and watch what occurs. Both of them will start to work off one another and spark all sorts of interesting imagery. It keeps on going for a while, building up with all sorts of sounds and sights until it starts to cool off. What's left is the product of what the two have managed to birth from the reaction. This product is precisely the intent of why these two differing compounds were put together. To me, an example would help a lot to further explain my point.

While I am not a fan of "Natural Born Killers", the I Love Mallory scene is a perfect example of juxtaposition at it's finest. Take note of the background, it resembles a standard 70-80s sitcom (despite having a name that resembles more of a 50s sitcom). There's a studio audience, canned laughter, bright music, and a somewhat goofy approach in the delivery of dialogue. It's supposedly a delightfully chirpy scene by what you are being presented with. Consider what is actually being conversed though. What stems out of this conversation is tension within the family, profanity, physical abuse and incestuous sexual abuse. One can not help but think that enveloping such dark tones in an almost-saccharine environment must signify a commentary towards society. It's difficult to say unless we have more information.

A good way to assure that what you are gazing upon aims to stimulate your thought-process is if it gives away indication that said idea is possible. As I have stated above, juxtaposition is a wonderful way to push forth this, but it doesn't have to be the only way. Symbolism is also key to this, as it hints to what really is going on beneath the surface. It shows that the choices that were made aren't just there coincidentally or to throw in a reference to something the creator enjoys, but rather a lead-in to a greater subtext. The thing about certain forms of symbolism though is for it to become engrained in your mind, it must be repeated for a while. As we all have learned from watching shows such as Sesame Street and Blue's Clues, if you repeat something enough, a person will eventually have an idea stuck in their mind. That in turn is what hooks the viewer to want to figure out more about the work itself. The problem with that is that it could become too obvious for the public to understand what the work is talking about. If it becomes too obvious, it falls into the risk of becoming a failed ploy to disguise pseudo-intellectualism as actual intellectualism (or at the very least being seen as such). Clearly that's not a fate that a purposeful piece wants to succumb to. What should be done then?

Rather than make the symbolism for the whole world to see, there are artists out there who specialize in making the greater symbolism cryptic. The idea behind this is that if you throw a few indications that there's more to what is happening, your audience will want to look deeper into the work itself. It stimulates their own mind and continues to get them considering the possibilities. One way that this is done is by using subtext. Again, let's use the example of films to better explain what I mean. Professional actors have to work into understanding their character in and out and have to know how they'd react with whatever crosses their path. At the same time, they must abide to what the script says because that's what the director seeks. Sure, they can occasionally throw in an improvisation or two, but unless the director is okay with it, it won't make it on the final print. So if they want to convey a certain feeling while following the script, they implement subtext. They try giving different inflections and tones in their voice, they see where they can pause for effect, and/or they use certain gestures as they say the line. If done right, the viewer can understand something more about the situation.

What you have to be wary of is how these hints are handled. If it's too subtle, it could be unlikely that whatever you pull out from it is of any real substance by whoever created the work of art. Basically, it comes off as if you're grasping at straws. If it's too blatant, chances are that it wasn't really there to get you pondering about an issue but rather finding a way to be relevant to the masses. When that becomes the case, it could end up as more of a joke rather than something that should be taken seriously. There needs to be a balance of both the blatant and the subtle for the message to not only be conveyed well, but also be seen as something of substance. Sure, the message in question may not be the best one, but if the creator can at least handle it with a certain sense of finesse, it could end up alright. And while it's obvious that there can't be too little of these hints, there can't be too many of them either, even if all of them are subtle.

For a person to comprehend a situation that is presented to them, they must have a bit of time to let it sink in. They may have to react fast, they may have to carefully calculate their next move, it doesn't matter. A work of art must allow for the person to look within themselves and see all the possibilities that they can. When something impacts them, they must be able to feel it and take in what has been dealt to them. It must get them wondering if they should change their perspective on a matter rather than just be aware of it. Even if it doesn't fully cause the audience to make them turn around on their principles, it must still do something that makes them understand where your message is coming from. If you find yourself in that spot, whether you're in the midst of experiencing the artwork or afterwards, that proves that whatever you saw has meaning.

At the end of the day, with all of this said and done, what makes the art possess meaning is that it treats it's audience with dignity. Dignity is what separates George Orwell from Ayn Rand and Francis Ford Coppola from Harmony Korine. It does not degrade you to a status of a plebeian and insult you for not following with it's elitist agenda. Rather it shows you another side of a matter. Sometimes that other side can be a harsh truth or a terrifying plausibility much like how Big Brother functions in "1984". Other times it shows that not everything is black and white. In reality, there are various shades of grey in our world. Mobsters don't always commit crimes simply because that's what they do. It does not just serve as propaganda, because while there are certain kinds of propaganda that are marvelous, it doesn't let whoever is watching feel as though they have something that they could offer to the table. Art is supposed to feel as if you're in the midst of a debate rather than being shouted in the ear on why their message is right. Meaningful art also does not use unsettling imagery as the only means to get its point across. One can still have surreal and disturbing imagery in art and still give it meaning. Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream" and Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" are among some of those works that use them well because the images are there to emphasize a point rather than be there for the sake of being there. One can say that masturbating a tree branch could mean something, but if there is no cohesion of the imagery with the narrative or the narrative is non-existent, then it has no meaning at all. 

Truth be told, finding if the art itself has meaning is a difficult task. Even with all the guidelines I have given you, some of the most intriguing magnum opuses out there could easily just be an expression of creativity rather than a biting social satire or a critical look at the human condition. At some points, we find ourselves so enamored with a creation that we witness that we find some sort of meaning within it, whether it possesses it or not. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it shows that the art has done enough to engage you. A work doesn't need to have a great deal of sophistication to it to do that. Having meaning in art doesn't necessarily result in the art being enjoyable because the meaning could be nothing more than hatred or ignorance. Meaning only aids a creation if it pushes the mind forward rather than setting it back. When it does that, that's when the art becomes much more that just a poignant masterpiece. What it becomes is a statement that triggers a revolution. It could be small and slow, it could be grand and fast, it could change a part of the world or all of it, it doesn't matter. What matters is that when we come across a work that can do this, we will change for the better.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

An Interview With Vaervaf

I decided that I would go ahead and interview Vaervaf, since I had recently gotten into listening to his work. Please be aware that this interview was done via Skype chat.

First question, tell me a little about your past.

Any prospect of making music seriously came from the glory days of YouTube Poop in 2008 when people started realizing their edits could be musical and it was all completely alien to us and beautiful. Back then I made YouTube Poop with the 2nd worst to Windows Movie Maker, Imovie HD. God that was fun, my stuff was pretty bad but I just ate comments and eventually I realized I could make short clips with the same time and jump them around. I'll find some old garbage for example because back then it was so incredible to me *burps tomatoes*

Oh Christ... THIS 

I remember being curled fetally with a laptop making this completely engrossed and this is one track. The peak of that feeling was Corkvein, like Regional Champs. Sheer effort and weaving. These days I'm trying to just... screech? Pop screech. Anyway that's how I met jeri/orangy we were little YouTube Poop buddies, we appreciated the art.

So, I'm guessing that YouTube Poop was what inspired you to make music?

Yeah. Also I was into a LOT of slick sample loop garbage, stuff I PHYSICALLY can't listen to these days, like lemongrass and hip hop instruments. (link) I went through all the Grease stuff in Weaveknee. That was a blast.

Who are some of your favorite music artists?

I just got over Death Grips, right now I'm listening to Danny Brown, Duncan Sheik and screechy dubstep. When I can't decide between any of those I listen to Giles Corey. I'm kind of staring at Spotify trying to think of others. I listen to my music and jeris more than anything else. There's also Peter Gabriel's soundtrack to the Last Temptation of Christ and scattered Arabic music albums.

What albums that you've made so far were the most challenging to put together?

Corkvein I edited the most but that's because it had intricacies that required it and I loved it and wanted it perfect. I don't really do that anymore. The hardest to make was Flarehand. I was just in a bad mindset. What came after that one? Hold on...

I think it was Cork. Yeah I was folding in on myself. I really hate Flarehand.

What about your favorite albums that you've made?

Emotionally, Weaveknee. Technically, Corkvein. Favorite is probably whatever is most recent. Although I'm starting to fold in on myself again. So Eyepox is a little shaky.

Actually no, I like Eyepox because I think I finally made the weird opera I was thinking about way back when I made World Boss March.

In Spinefold, some of the songs that were on there seem to also be part of Orangy's Soundcloud. Did he really have a part in making the album or is it some sort of a pratical joke?

He just made the songs and gave them to me, I made the second half of Random funny internet memes, I guess. He always has a part, either way.

What made you want to take such a bizarre turn with Hipcatch and Greengums?

I didn't make music for a long time because the new WoW expansion came out. I switched computers and didn't have my big library of music to edit anymore, so I just starting recording white noise and me going AAAAAAAAAAAAA and the 808 kick I got from jeri. I really wanted to develop what I started with spinefold's summer roll and chewing the witness, because I connected with those.

Were the lyrics in Greengums basically random words put together for the sake of it or was there something more to it?

Hold on let me look at them...

Yeah, Greengums is a tapestry, I really appreciate Sam for the cover because it captures the feeling really nicely.I lobbed jux out of nowhere and wanted to keep talking about it, neat lifestyle and social decay/evolution.I probably won't end up writing lyrics for Eyepox because it's too primal. I like it better that way

I'll get specific: brik is a love song for shitty weird internet friends and sources of stimuli and endorphins. It revolves around comfort, squirming and activities. I should mention that I haven't written a song once, although I had the Shane Dawson's coffin thing in my head a lot for jux. I improvise and if it sounds right I keep it. Finding out what the lyrics were happened when I was done, I went and took everything off and isolated them to find out what they really meant. It helps a lot for singing it, writing lyrics does. Elliom is practical application and getting money from the internet; tense shoulders, operations. Yumdeath is a trip to the gas station to get dosage of high fructose corn syrup and seeing real humans. Laodl is the most scared and vulnerable one, trying to drag people down with him under the guise and having a hard on for conviction when there isn't much of a leg to stand on. It's fucking miserable lol. 

Top ten tips is really clear really developed, I can explain each and every thing about that one. Jux is kind of the material plane besides taking place in the future which is weird. Top ten tips is a mirror of it because it's the internal/spiritual side of the general computer wastoid. I don't think a lot of people ever get past me saying top ten tips and fucking freaking out in the beginning. I was trying to show saturation of shit nobody cares about the things that just sit at the bottom of the net like fish shit on the rocks, the name comes from those web ads that are like, one secret tip to losing weight, one weird trick, top ten mom tips...but anyway thats what it is. Garbage and it gets melted by the screech.

What can we expect from your next album, Eyepox?

Same old shit, just more attached and hashy, like buried in hay. More cooing vocals. 

How long does it usually take you to make an album or a song?

Songs sit in a project file until I put them on an album, it isn't really a question of time anymore it's when I feel confident enough in a package, that's proving hard for Eyepox. I'm not on some timetable, I used to clock 30 minutes a month. Despite actually having games to play, I'm steady on music work, it's just not satifying because I keep making the same stuff. Like I said I need a new angle.

What games do you play?

I really hate video games, video game people and video game culture but I'm deep into World of wWrcraft right now with a couple other  friends and we're on a roleplaying server because we all like to write, even if it's about shithead orcs elves and armored corpses. Last thing I was playing was arma 2, a military simulation which is like call of duty except the person you need to shoot is a mile away, also you have to read maps and pretend to be tactical even if the enemy AI and general clunkiness of the game eradicates any notion of realism. I play GTA 4 because I appreciate the physicality of everything and the gunplay. I like Fallout New Vegas because you can play a card game in it.

Why do you hate video games and things that revolve around it?

They are poorly made and blown out of proportion and not worth a "hobby", millions of dollars are stuck in them but they don't exploit the potential they could. I also hate that one of the only things I can actually connect with someone about in person is probably that they play some shitty video game that I've either heard of or played. I hate couples that both play video games, I hate Skyrim, I hate Minecraft. I kind of want to fall face first into a mattress and become encased in stone. That's a video game. I mean you could fool these idiots into thinking it's a video game. But no it's just the climate and the media surrounding it like "gaming journalism". This guy who got a degree in journalism to talk about this medium that has money pouring in and out from every orifice and doesn't have much to show for it and people don't get it. It's because i'm on a higher level of consciousness for better or worse, I'm living a video game.

Do you view other industries, such as the movie industry or the music industry, the same way that you do video games?

No, I have a huge languishing gooey love of pop music whether or not the production is bad or not, like have you ever listened to an instrumental of California Girls? Me and jeri are inspired by NSYNC a lot, old pop is better. I don't like k-pop because it isn't catchy and movie people are just insipid. Who cares if I like Ghost in The Shell and SLC Punk?

Any favorite movies?

Charlies Angels (the one with Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore), Heathers, American Psycho, SLC Punk, Trainspotting, Ghost In The Shell, Fight Club (despite the shithead meme fanbase and MRA masturbation, it has a really good soundtrack), Kung Pow: Enter The Fist, and Harry Brown

Do you have any hobbies?

I write, draw, can't skateboard or even look at skateboarders because it makes me miserable ever since I dislocated my shoulder doing it, opening folding knives with thubscrew, I'd like to take up fondling guns, people tell me I like to walk too much, standing in the cold or pretending I'm in stalingrad, dancing, badmiton, watching tennis, cool clothes.

Before I conclude this interview is there anything you'd like to end off with?

Remember not to watch To Catch a Predator vids on YouTube because you'll be in the related videos for 5 hours. Thank you!!

Check out his work over here:

Saturday, 24 November 2012

5 Interesting Facts About Requiem For A Dream


We all have some sort addiction in our lives that fuels us, motivates us, gets us moving. There's always something that we seem to lack that can't be fixed without getting dependent on a drug that will send us twisting and turning through a hallway unsure of what is real and what is not. We may eventually get what we want, but it may not ever matter anymore, we have crossed a point of no return and we have ventured into a realm that we may have not wished to enter in the first place. That's what Requiem of A Dream delves into, our insatiable urges to continue with an out-of-reach goal. With a matter such as this, Darren Aronofsky managed to create one of the most disturbing, twisted scenes ever to be placed in cinema. You feel uneasy as you would watch this movie, yet you find yourself drawn into it by how it portrays madness in such a beautiful way. What you end up seeing is a masterpiece made by skulls and covered in human entrails.

What makes this so evident is that you can tell that the film is stylized by someone. It's not a film that you could assume that someone else made, this is a true work of Aronofsky's desensitized mind. From the frenetic and chaotic cutting style to having Clint Mansell's chilling soundtrack to the performances given by each of the actors, every piece is put into motion properly. I had to find out more about everything, I needed to feed myself with more information on how this film would come to be. I found myself searching through website upon website, typing intensely on the keyboard, staring at the computer screen for hours. My body would sometimes quit on me and even hurt, but the drive kept pushing me forward to see what more was hidden about this movie. Soon, I had everything that I needed to know, and rested for the first time in two days. Now that I am well awake and feeling fine, I can shed some light on some of the more interesting aspects involved in the production of Requiem For A Dream.

5. Tappy's Third Thing

One of the three main stories of the movie revolves around Sara Goldfarb (played by Ellen Burstyn) and her desire to be on the show Juice hosted by Tappy Tibbons (played by Christopher McDonald, who I could have sworn was the host in The Wizard...). Once her desire seems to be fulfilled by a call she gets from the show, she decided that she's going to get thin in order to fit into an old red dress of hers. As she's trying to get into her diet, she finds herself getting tempted constantly by the refrigerator. It doesn't necessarily help that Tappy keeps talking about things that she would love to have right now such as red meat and sugar. Yet every time the third thing is going to be mentioned, we are somehow thrown somewhere else, never to know what else Tappy is talking about.

While it isn't really relevant to the what occurs in the story, it turns out that Tappy was actually going to mention three things. It turned out that the last thing Tappy was going to mention was removing pharmaceuticals from the equation. See, Darren had the idea that Tappy would later attack Sara for betraying his words and cheating her way through meeting her goal of getting thinner in the hallucination that she endures. The third message was meant to be the final snap that indicated that she had made a huge mistake with taking pills from a doctor she had little to no information on. The problem with this though is that he felt that pharmacies would be enraged by this comment towards them and that people would misconstrue his message as though people shouldn't take medication. Due to this, Darren had to cut out the footage of Tappy's third topic and also a chunk of the film itself and edit it in a way that the third thing wasn't really anything to take note of.

4. The Ages Of The Other Protagonists

As we all know, the film deals with a lot of heavy materials, especially since it revolves around drugs. Harry (Jared Leto) finds himself getting damaged by shooting up too much and ends up with his arm getting amputated, Tyrone C. Love (Marlon Wayans) find himself constantly in trouble and thrown in prison twice and Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly) has to end up doing sexual favors to feed her drug-related appetite. As the whole film progresses, you see just how damaging and sordid all of these events become to the characters and when you see it all in succession, it makes you cringe at the sight of all this torment colliding at once.

Now, imagine if all this happened to a more younger set of people. Darren felt that in order to drive the point home, he should have made this characters younger, around 14-16 years old to be exact. That way when the  audience would see what sort of catastrophe would follow to all of them, they would not only be more shocked, but more aware of the horrors that addiction beholds. While this wasn't the intent of Selby's story, the author agreed that perhaps making these characters younger would have made their point stronger. Naturally, having such awful acts be done to this age group would have caused people (especially parents) to go insane. In fact, when pitching to the producers, both of them told the two that they had to make the characters older so that the film could be show in theaters. Selby understood the argument against this choice, but Darren was a little hesitant to go through with it. Nonetheless, he eventually agreed to go along with this.

3. The Rapid Cuts

As I mentioned before, one of the greatest things about Requiem For A Dream is its style. The film is packed with fast paced cuts here and there. These cuts fit perfectly to how people get so swept up in everything when their addiction starts to kick in. It also just shows how quick the change happens when you're involved with your addiction. The fast speed of the film oddly enough plays itself really well when you see how it changes the characters, and that's usually just sped up footage of them doing something while under the influence of the drugs. Regardless, they still serve to establish how the film plays out and it works so well to the construction of the film.

What's weird though is that this wasn't originally the way the film was going to progress. There was more footage that was going to be added into the film during some of the later scenes, that would possibly hint to a greater breakdown according to Matthew Libatique, the cinematographer. He goes on to say that the film would have been much more warped and surreal if the footage was implemented into the final cut. So, why isn't this the case? Apparently, a large amount of this aforementioned footage was lost or unusable. This set back the production of the film as it was near impossible to re-shoot the scenes again and they were closer to having to get a final cut out. So the editing room as well as Darren came up with the brilliant idea of re-using some of the old footage and cutting it up rapidly. At first I thought this was intentional that they would re-use some of the old footage, but it seems that what they were really trying to do was cut corners.

2. A Winter Worry

When the film gets into the final act (aka Winter), it's when you see the whole slew of events in the wolrd finally crash down on all of the characters. Their addiction finally gets the better of them and they find themselves at a point that they did not want to end up in the first place. Sara is now in a mental institute for not taking into account the words of her son, and still living in delusion, Tyrone is in jail again, possibly for life,  Harry has lost not only one of his arms but the love of his life and Marion has sold her body in order to continue clinging to her addiction. My favorite part of the end is how they have each of the characters crawl into a fetal position, showing how distraught they are and how they wished that things would have gone for the better for them.

While there were two main problems that came about getting together the final part of the film, I'll be talking about the scenes that led up to Sara's breakdown in this entry. Ellen Burstyn not only was working on another film (The Yards) during Requiem but also had came down with a bit of a cold when they were about to get to this portion of the film. There were very little times that the crew could use her in the end, and they had a lot more that they needed to put out into the film. As expected, this made the director panic. He was lost with one of the main characters being out of the picture. Selby had pitched to Darren that perhaps he could have a double of Sara come around the end and make her endure electroshock. All they needed was to apply make-up to the double to make her seem all worn out and troubled and have her only speak in mumbles and muffled screams. Darren loved the idea so much that he figured that when he had Burstyn for filming that all she would do is the scenes leading up to her ending up in the ward and the final final scene.

1. The Filming Of The Sex Show

Now we come to the most insane part of the film, and also the most disturbing scenes. Sure, it seems like something to expect out of a porno and admittedly the extras sure are lucky to be up and close into the action, but when you know the characters lead-up to this and notices what is being juxtaposed with these scenes, that arousal just turns to internal confusion and makes you uncomfortable. The way she stares blankly into space and is looking with "tired" eyes that she's disappointed being her. The loud chants of the men screaming the uproar of the hormones further emphasizes the utter filth that surrounds the room. There is no turning back by this point, she has crossed the line and will now have to live the rest of her life shrouded in shame and misery.

The filming of this particular portion was a complicated one. At first, Jennifer Connelly was fine with being part of this scene. As the days would lead up to having to film this part, she asked the director if perhaps there was a way that she could still do the scene but not have a ton of eyes leering on her as it made her feel uneasy. Aronofsky, a little upset of this change of mind, figured that he could film the scenes with the guys themselves doing their shouting and then film the sex show afterwards and then blend them together in the editing room. After completing the first part of the filming which was just the guys hollering, it came time to film the other half. Connelly again was reluctant in going through with this, as she still wasn't able to debase herself for the sake of the scene. This annoyed Aronofsky, but he went through with her request and shot the scene in a way that it would seem as though she was involved in the events that followed. Also, as a side note, the line "Ass to ass" was actually improvised by Stanley B. Herman. Just thought I let you know.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Breaking The Bits - Similar Sides Of Two Different Coins - A Look At Vaervaf And Orangy

You ever listened to two artists and believe that they're the same person? I'm sure you could think of a ton of bland pop songs or rave tunes that have made you think that. It's alright to think that, because music is an ever-expanding medium. There are bound to be copycats and coincidental sound-alikes to emerge from this process. Now, we usually just leave it at that and simply assume that whoever made song A probably made song B. That's fine, but when listening to these two artists, I felt the need to separate the two. It's hard to tell at times because they have moments where the both of them seem to be a mirror image of each other, but at other times, you can tell the difference without knowing anything about their location or personality. There was something in the way they made their music that would show me what defines their style. Before we can do that though, we must know a little more about what makes Vaervaf and Orangy seem the same.

Their Similarities

- High-pitched vocals
- Repeat small bits of a track a lot
- Chop tracks constantly
- Have moments where the song is interrupted by talking audio or put dialogue/odd noises over a loop
- Use samples
- Partake in loud, obnoxious noise-heavy tracks

Orangy: The Camouflaged Urban Surrealist Who Sees The World As Erratically As He Is

For those of you who don't know what I mean by urban surrealism, it basically boils down to viewing the contemporary world in a distorted light. It combines the typical metropolitan world and its pop culture with the haphazard vision of a heroin addict watching cartoons. What can come out of it could range from eerily plausible to as far-fetched as anything Dali has made in his life. A few of the Breakbit artists (DR777, glue70) have skimmed this idea with their works, but Orangy seems to live it in his music. In fact, he defines this concept much better than I have.

First, let's look at DIDNT CAR. The whole feel of the album plays off as if you're living in an awry neighbourhood near the city . "Burgers Out" and "Relax" make it evident with their chill progression and the beat that is behind the tracks. It's a fairly standard level-headed tune, with the occasional parts that can make you venture a little more into the outlandish. It's especially clear with the vocals in "Burgers Out" that something is heading a different path. You then take a song like "lets caw someone" that sounds like someone is waking up from a clock radio on a Latino station, getting a fuzzy call that progresses into a warped slowed-down tune creeping from the clock radio. It then starts to slide a little more off the normal scale when you venture into "LONG LINE OF GERMAN DOCTORS" which starts to play off a frantic clash of your subconscious deceiving your senses to a point where you're unsure of what is going on in your neighbour's house. Then "A CAT NAMED KITTY" comes by to transport you aware from the world for a few seconds, almost as if it was a dream day. Other parts of the album (most notably "Frank's Discount Sets (I Like Me)") serve to give a seemingly light-hearted tint of the bizarre nature that is to be expected from him, while still having enough to consider itself a part of the standard.

Afterwards, we have STILL DONT CAR, where these ideas are taken to a greater extreme. It's also ties more themetically, as all the music is based around cars and driving. Aside from the ever-so-catchy "Drivin'", the whole album makes sure that the average listener considers it weird. Songs like "Windshieldlicker" and "Gastastion Bathroom Boogie" tackle the idea of a car-centered song in such a unique and unexpected way, with one song talking about having sex with the car and the other one making jokes about a gas station bathroom. While the latter's subject does not sound too odd, the way the song progresses with it's fast pace and high-pitched vocals chopped up constantly blends in a way that the noise that comes out is unlike anything else you've heard. The rest of the tracks manage to set a platform that starts to show how Orangy is at the point where he's about to fall into a place where nonsense is the only thing that makes sense.

Now we have Mr. OJ, where he has become jeri, which is his declaration of embracing that he is insane and that the world is too. Some songs create an atmosphere that can range to being very calm and somewhat happy ("My Cat Is Asthmathmatic", "Mr. OJ") to almost at the brink of self-destruction ("Try Numeral", "That Was Fun..."). Some songs even switch in the middle of the song ("Slav Disco Dove"), while others act on delusions ("Secretly We Are Gods"). The song that summarizes the whole feel of this album is "Cyber Load", as it shows the twitch from incredibly furious to delightfully crazy. You can feel the parts that make the music seem like it could be played on the radio ad nauseum, but it's shrowded by a vision of warping the norm for the sake of conveying a mangled and confusing reality. It is the human mind lost in thought, exaggerated to such lengths that it would seem like you're hearing the creation of a child with ADHD and dementia.

The music of Orangy sees the same world that you and I do, but it perceives it in a manner that it seems as though what he's seeing is something completely alien to what we're seeing. It has rhythms and melodies that you could hear in other songs, but it also has sounds and transitions that are more twisted, abrasive, absurd and/or violent. While he has his moments where he simply gives into his imagination and lets it run free, there are also moments where the tune can be constructed in ways that it could one day end up becoming something relatable with a larger, "mainstream" audience. It doesn't really matter to him whether he can be accepted to the masses or not, he simply enjoys what he says and find a special way to laugh at the world with his music. 

Vaervaf: A Passionate Man Talking In A Constantly Changing Code That Is Not Meant To Be Deciphered

There are people out there that are relatively normal people that have very little about them that make them stand out. That is until you find more about them personally. They think about things in a very different way, they solve problems from another perspective, they even communicate in ways that are vaguely understandable and possibly cryptic. Their message may be simple but the form they choose to express it becomes more complex and convoluted. Even though you don't comprehend them completely, you still find yourself engaged by what they have to say. As you can imagine, Vaervaf is one of those folk.

While Orangy has 5 albums (2 of which I did not discuss), Vaervaf has 10 albums (3 of which I will not discuss), so Vaervaf seems to work at a somewhat faster rate. Also, Vaervaf's album don't completely show him slowly going from subtle to very blunt like Orangy does, but rather capture Vaervaf in phases whilst he starts to find his style. Let's take Splitgut and Weaveknee for example. For the most part, the tracks in these two albums have a soft, pleasant sound ("SUPPORT IRAN MAKE A FACEBOOK GROUP" from Splitgut and "AMEN BREAK AND FRIENDS" from Weaveknee being the most notable of this). Splitgut is a little louder in some of it's tracks (mostly with the tracks that are capitalized), with "IN THE BASEMENT MAKING A SERIOUS DECISION" having the most "obnoxious" rhythm. For the most part, the album has a vibe having fun with others where the more frantic-rhythm songs like "FORGET THIS TEEN ANGST BULLSHIT LET'S KILL ZOMBIES" play out like you're messing around with friends while tracks like "Fair Function" seem more fit for having a good time with your family. Weaveknee, on the other hand has a feeling of being lost in thought with tunes either taking in the thought and trying to think it through ("Prophet for Profit", "Escape Rope"), switching halfway through to another idea ("World Boss March", "SPOOK ROB DO YOU UH"), imagining something in a different light ("You Awake"), or simply enjoying the thought ("Sent Home", "Oh Sandpaper", "EndOfTheSlicks"). There are still some frantic rhythms in Weaveknee, but they're less accentuated.

Whilst the first two albums mentioned present his style and show that he tackles a way to express a mood differently than other artists, it isn't fully present in the work. FlarehandCorkvein and Spinefold come along and push his style further by basing tracks around his style rather than the track have his style in the background ("Meansleeves" from Flarehand, "Drywire Augment" from Corkvein and "chewing the witness" from Spinefold show this perfectly). Flarehand and Corkvein showed more of his willingness to try an array of different sounds whilst still keeping his style present whilst Spinefold became his signature album showing his style in all it's glory and creating a sound that is almost his own ("comic sans gravestone", "mat_fullbright 1", "summer roll"). Flarehand feels more like a spitballing of ways to incorporate his style into a different sound, with a lot of the tracks being short and having a drive to go somewhere further ("AKIMBO RIOT SHEILD", "I won't admit it but", "Knuckle Drag Racing"). It still has tracks that play on the concept longer and finish better ("Blastola", "Peck", "Real and Straight") but it has a tendency to feel more like a good ramble rather than a good point. Corkvein rather has ever single one of its songs at a decent length and plays on their ideas very well with "Wristband Gait", "Sig Varsette" and "The Bloke Machine (Vaervaf Remix)" being my favorites.

Finally we come to Hipcatch and Greengums where he decides to rebel against something by creating a more aggressive, unique sound that seems to cling to his older style by a few threads ("siamese cat" from Hipcatch and "relmfu" from Greegums embody this). Hipcatch feels more a mutation of his sound, as you can still sense his previous style in Spinefold shining through, but being covered by racket-like rhythms and incredibly altered vocals ("this is why", "jux"). It's almost uncomfortable hearing some of the tracks like "harpy", "forth dead" and "demon piss" because you find yourself very confused at what you're hearing. At the same time, it still draws you in and you try to wonder what's going on. Greengums emphasizes this even more by having more of the songs have incomprehensible lyrics ("brik", "laodl") and an alternate-universe version of his music ("alliex", "try it with blood"). It seems like there's something beneath what you're listening to, but you're not sure because it's so garbled, twisted and "annoying" that you don't bother to find it or simply assume that Vaervaf is just messing with you.

Vaervaf is possibly one of the most interesting artists that I've come across. While other artists dabble in experimentation or experiment a lot, Vaervaf is simply an experiment of his own. His approach to a new track is to tackle it from an angle that he has not yet done before. If he has done it before, then he tries to bend it enough so that the same message is delivered in a new type of package. For him to adhere to the same approach of a previous work in a recent creation of his would be incredibly peculiar. I don't know if what he is trying to invoke from me with his music is positive, negative, thought-provoking or trivial gibberish, but it is irrelevant  His songs have a great sense of emotion in them and have some vision in them that you can't help but wonder what it is.


Both of these artists have times where they're indistinguishable from each other. When you hear one of them remix something from each other in one of these albums, you could easily believe that it's just another track from the same artist. Orangy even managed to fool me into thinking he was Vaervaf with some of the tracks in Spinefold. Take away the times that they do sound exactly like each other and you'll see that they have something that shows that they are not the same person. Orangy tackles the alteration of certain genres of electronic music while Vaervaf tackles the alteration of the idea of genres in general. Orangy has a similar way to communicate but a different message while Vaervaf has a different way to communicate a diiferent message. Perhaps I'm simply looking too deeply into their music and perhaps there is nothing else on the surface of their music. That is most certainly a possibility. What I do know, is that they each have their own sound to them and they make good use of their different attributes. 

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Top 25 Video Games I Like The Most (5 - 1)

5. Worms Open Warfare 2 (DS)

Now we come to the final 5 choices. Again, this is another one of those games that you wouldn't really expect to see so high on anyone's list. The Worms series is perhaps one of the worst series when it comes to progression because it abides the same formula for all the years that Team 17 has been creating the game. Very little in changed in each release, yet there is an audience for this game. While I enjoy the games (so much that I would place one of them as an entry to this list), I can not deny that they need to take the game to a new direction, whether it be a racer, a FPS or a more elaborate platformer. Regardless, this game still has brought me hours upon hours of entertainment with the crazy cartoonish maggots. I'll admit that one of key reasons that this game has managed to be so fun is that it's a very simple addictive game that can be taken wherever your heart desires (provided electricity is nearby for recharging). The game focuses on a simple turn-based strategy where you move a worm from your team to a position that will best help you execute your next move to defeat the enemy teams. It could be anything from an attack, to a further way to progress the terrain to even something for your own protection. The attacks also vary from close-ranged to projectile to remote-controlled. While there is the standard weapons such as dynamite, grenades and rocket launchers, there's also more absurd attacks such as the Banana Bomb, the Holy Handgrenade and the Concrete Donkey. Usually in a game, the more powerful weapons are of a smaller and rarer inventory so that you have to rely more on using skill rather than acting with the more OP arsenal.

That gameplay is very simple to understand and it takes a great deal of time until you can properly defeat more difficult challenges, as it requires you to rely more on your ability. The game also has a good deal of customization as you can name your team and each individual worm on your team, give the whole team a different color, accent, fort and even a different grave. When in-game, the worms dialogue can have a certain charm to it that makes it fun to listen to over and over. Granted it's not something I'd take with me to hear it constantly, but it doesn't become grating when you hear them say one of their automated lines. You can also design your own flag for the team using the stylus...which can be hit or miss depending on how good of an artist you are with the stylus. The stylus being used for customization also comes up when you can create your own war fields, which works very well. In fact, the stylus integration makes the game work really efficiently, as you can pick your next tool very quickly. There's really not much else to explain on why I enjoy this game so much, all that I've said, as basic as it may be, is what manages to hook me into playing the game over and over again.

4. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

Out of all the Mario platformers that there are out there, Super Mario Galaxy was by far the best. It was one of the games that managed to integrate so well the Wii's controls into its gameplay and it had a great sense of creativity and ingenuity behind it. The ability to traverse a planet in all it's odd angles and use zero-gravity to help you move about the complex worlds was handled very well. The new powerups managed to give an interesting change-up in how the game would progress, and it added to the sort of light-hearted atmosphere that is so commonly associated with Mario. This made all the platforming much more enjoyable as it would warp how you could properly go about the terrain. While the difficulty was hardly raised, the game still managed to deliver with loads and loads of fun packed into every single level, whether it be through the extra challenges it offered or simply returning to a favorite stage to see the world more closely. And the music...good god, this game has one of the best soundtracks imaginable. The orchestration in the soundtrack is sublime with how it transforms so well with the theme of the level. There was just a presence in this game that everyone who was involved in making this enjoyed every single minute of it.

With that said though, I believe that the sequel managed to do much better than the original in keep with the feel of the first whilst building up to it. The stages still had a sense of creativity and it seemed that those involved in the design did their best to construct a world that would have it's own charm (even if some of them seem to borrow a lot from other Mario games), the platforming was still interesting as ever and the difficulty still treaded on incredibly easy to somewhat challenging. What it managed to enhance on was not only bringing in some new powerups but also allowing Yoshi to be a part, giving you some wonderful platforming experiences. The soundtrack managed to be even better than the first game with a greater selection of tracks being more catchy and impacting, especially the ones where the mood was more solemn and gave a vibe that it was creating challenge and tension. The amount of variety in the gameplay is simply staggering as you do everything from collect coins, defy gravity, create platforms, fly about the sky, roll by terrain, drill through the planet among many other different aspects that I can't even recall. This is the kind of game where my mind simply gets lost trying to recollect what makes it so great for me. There's too much that I found clinged to my mind that it becomes hard to point out which ones specifically stood out to me the most.

3. Pheonix Wright: Trials And Tribulations (DS)

The Pheonix Wright games are the kind of games that allow whoever is playing the game to enjoy having to use their mind to solve the problem ahead. The reason that it can achieve this is that the world around you plays out like a crime drama show with characters that engage you into wanting to uncover the grander mystery. You begin to search around everywhere with your stylus to find clues, and when you find you, you try to keep it stored into your mind for further use. Every next line you say, you ponder carefully so that you can get closer to uncovering the mystery that is set in front of you. You pay attention to what witnesses say and you check your inventory to see if anything sticks out like a sore thumb. It keeps getting you to think, and you're okay with that because you've managed to engross yourself in the game's environment. I could have chosen any of the Pheonix Wright games to be honest, but I decided to choose the third one not only because it was the first one I played (kind of odd, eh?), but it's also my favorite one.

Mostly it's due to the characters and the first two cases that occur in the game. The cast from these games have always managed to have a sense of depth and charm to them, but this one in particular emphasized this. For example, one of your rival lawyers is a man named Godot, a smooth talking, coffee drinking prosecutor that always wears a cocky grin and a red visor on his eyes. This character seemed to have a relatively calm demeanor about him and enjoyed mocking you out of spite, even going so far to throw his coffee right at your face. Then there's also Luke Atmey, a Sherlock Holmes wannabee who probably shares more with the Penguin that he does with the personality he's trying to become. This character's design is what enhances the oddity of his presence. He's a self-proclaimed master detective which only seems to be that way because he analyzes everything so cartoonishly and expresses himself in such a forced eloquence simply to get others to notice his bizarre nature. And then there's Dahlia Hawthorne. She's by far one of the most engaging characters even if it's only because it takes such an overdone concept to a level that makes her more engaging. I can't really tell you how she manages to do this, but you have to play the game to understand. Trust me, it's worth it.

Each of the cases gets you wanting to go on because there's enough buildup and suspense that gets you wanting to find out the answer. It hooks you from start to end and it makes you look very carefully at what others say rather than simply pass it by. Games that engage you at a level such as that must be doing something right, because it not only allows you to enjoy the experience further, but it gets your brain working.

2. Team Fortress 2 (PC)

TF2 is a game that I hold a very strong love-hate relationship with. On the one hand, it's cool that you have the selection of 9 classes that can change up the gameplay depending on how you feel you must approach an obstacle. Each of the characters has a nice quirk to them and spouts a multitude of hilarious lines that make the game's atmosphere more fun. The constant addition of new weaponry, maps and other content keeps the game feeling fresh. There is an unbelievable amount of community with the game that Valve had managed to properly integrate into the game. It continues to go strong after 6 years, and has a humongous group of people playing thanks to the game going F2P. On the other hand, the game introduced us to the curse that would be hats. This started to get people to obsess over simple virtual clothing to make their character look more classy in game. The trading market began and different hats would value at different prices simply because of the color of the items name. Then came rare items which would be valued at outrageous prices, some people even going so far to pay cash upfront to someone else, which would most likely result in people getting scammed. Even if you don't care all too much for hats, new items keep coming up, cluttering your inventory. If you're a beginner to this game who just happened to download this free game, you still have to cough up a great deal of money to be an adequate level of being on par with others. And if you don't feel like doing that, then prepare to lose a lot.

I fear that TF2 will soon become an island-like game where those who play it, play it a lot and those who want to get into it will need to learn a lot of customs. Yet, I still love it. Mostly because I got onto TF2 before it would become catastrophic and confusing to get on. I managed to improve my skills with certain classes, and I've enjoyed this game enough to throw a few extra dollars Valve's way. You can also venture into unofficial maps and see what other people have managed to create. Some have gone to create their own game modes within the game, while there are other servers out there where you simply goof around. The game can be taken seriously, or it can be just a fun little experience. Relying on your team becomes more and more important as you play as you'll find yourself switching to another class mid-game because you think someone needs a little aid to defeat a roadblock in the team's path. The different events the game has allow you to encounter bosses or see people be more generous to each other around the holiday. As hectic as it would be to get into TF2, once you're fully engrosses in the community, you'll find that there is a lot that you're going to enjoy equally as much as you're not. And you know what? The bits that you will like, you'll love enough to disregard its faults when you enter deep into the game.

1. L.A Noire (PS3)

So we come down to the final selection on this list of mine. Some of you who are reading this blog will find that this will be of no surprise to you. Hell, I made a whole blog basically gushing about the film noir experience. I'm okay with that though, because I truly do think this is one of the best games out there. Maybe it's not as perfect aesthetically, maybe one of its gimmicks isn't exactly played out so well, but there's so much about this game that works. From beginning to end, I found myself constantly listening and staring at the screen amazed by the amount of work that was put into the cutscenes. Each character has a sufficient amount of depth behind them, and the way you explore the inner motives of each one of them is done so wonderfully with a dab maudlin noir oozing through. The story is packed to the brim with troubling secrets, twisted men, dark pasts and cynical overtones that keep you engaged with the plight of the other characters. The gameplay serves its purpose by letting you do what is necessary to solve the next case, either it be through collecting clues, questioning suspects or gunning down criminals. Each aspect is handled well, with the collecting clues portion being controlled by whether you hear music or not, the questioning suspects part being controlled by truth, doubt or lie and whether you have the evidence to prove your claim (or can sense they're lying by their expression) and the gunning down criminals aspect giving you the ability to do the more action packed of the game only when it's necessary for the narrative.

What really makes this game shine is the music. This has got to be the most fitting and well-crafted film noir soundtrack to anything I have ever heard at all. Each instrument plays their part in setting the mood of corruption and mystery hiding underneath the city that you venture into. It ranges from quiet and tragic, to uncovering the bigger picture to an intensity that fits perfectly to the time period of the game to something that simply thematic in the way it sounds. It simply amazes me how much time and effort Andrew and Simon Hale put into creating such a magnificent soundtrack. Even though the rest of the game wasn't brought to a greater level, it managed to deliver enough so that you could become part of an interactive adventure. That's what L.A Noire, it's you being able to control a movie protagonist throughout the game, in a story that is parallel to a great Hollywood epic of the 40s and 50s. To me, a game that makes that leap from a game to an experience is what makes it all the more interesting and engaging, and it's evident with what I have said right here that L.A Noire delivers in that field every step of the way through.

Well that's the end of my list. I hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, 8 October 2012

Top 25 Video Games I Like The Most (10 - 6)

10. Rayman 2: The Great Escape

So now we're at the final ten, the ones that really impacted me as a gamer. It may be sort of odd to note that the choice I start off with is this one, as it isn't one of those games that most lists of this caliber would have, let alone on the Top 10. It still is recognized as a great game by most if you mention it, especially if you were talking about the Playstation ports. I started off experiencing this game in the N64 port, as I can still vividly remember blowing into that green cartridge and pressing it onto the console so that I could finally immerse myself in it's world. The first time I played this game, it was afternoon heading into night-time. It was probably the best time to simply look over the opening scene as the atmosphere was incredibly complimented by the aura. I'd spent my time simply looking over the bright and enchanting detail of the forest levels and eventually I would get to working on the task at hand. It also felt like a really good platform, much better than Super Mario 64 on aspects. Not only did the atmosphere feel better and was implemented more fluidly but the camera didn't interfere much as it would with Super Mario 64. That's not to say it never interfered, but this was back in the day when 3D platforms were merely sucking on the industry's teet.

Other aspects that benefitted Rayman 2 was having a greater cast of main characters. There would be your silly friend Globox, the helpful but annoying Murfy, the mysterious and friendly Ly, the wacky Teensies, the maniacal Razorbeard and the omnipresent Polokus. Each of them get the sufficient amount of screentime they deserve, and allow you to get to know these characters a little more and attach to them, as a good game does. What really makes Rayman 2 shine though is the versatile gameplay. While the main aspect of the game is focusing on jumping from place to place and shooting enemies with energy balls, you also have a substantial amount of climbing, floating, swinging, swimming and riding that mixes up the feel of the game. Each level presents itself with something new, either in it's terrain or the tasks that you must complete, which continues to allow you to become more well-versed with the future challenges that face you in the game. One of the parts that I really enjoyed was riding the rockets. Sure, it was tough and I did have to redo it a lot, but the way those courses where constructed and the sense of speed made it really entertaining for me and kept me on my toes.

Even as I revisit the game now, thanks to the PSN, the amount of enjoyment I got from this game still manages to be present. It still feels creative, it still has a sense of variety and it still manages to get me playing for just a little while longer. There are still the glaring camera problems though, but other than that, it feels to me that this game has managed to age well.

9. Bosconian

Bosconian is simply a simple game. All you do in this game is shoot as much as possible and progress. What gets you ahead in the game is destroying enemy stations. There's not much else to it, it's like Tetris. And like Tetris, I'm really addicted to it. There are other games that follow the similar idea of "shoot things in space", and it's fair to say that these games are around the same level as Bosconian in terms of addictiveness and quality. But if they're all the same soda with different labels, then I guess I just really like Bosconian's design. The space stations are what really makes the game look cool, as they're not only stylized but provide a sense of choice of either wiping them out easily and finishing the game as fast as possible, or taking your time and fighting off more of the enemies, as an endurance test. It's a game that also requires you to play it a lot, because if you don't, you can get out of the loop quite a lot. Once you do get back into it though, it can lead to hours and hours of fun.

8. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

There is doubt in my mind that out of all the Kirby games out there, Kirby 64 is by far the best one of the bunch. That may be if only because of the double abilities, but it's still a great concept. Part of the fun in the game was just seeing what each combination would eventually lead to. Some of the best ones being the bomb shuriken, the fridge, the dynamite, the drill, the electric rock of justice, the ice skates and the snowman bomb. There's a lot more out there to choose from, and it would have been really cool to see that concept carry over to some other Kirby games, especially with the amount of zany powers Superstar Saga had. Nonetheless, this game not only shares an interesting game mechanic that manages to mix up the gameplay a bit, it also has some great scenery. While it mostly plays off as 2D game, the 3D look manages to help with the look of some of the set pieces and the planets. It's also really nice to see that levels surround themselves more around a theme based on the planet. From ice based, to water based, to nature based to rock based, there's a certain idea of what the levels will be based around if you know the planet. The boss battles are also great, ranging from fighting a shark, to a giant mech, to octahedral crystals to even having to fight characters that eventually end up helping you (that happens at the start of the game though).

The music is also fantastic as it usually keeps the feel of a Kirby game, but it can also fit to the theme of the levels and can also get to the proper momentum needed when you encounter a boss fight. Some of my favorite music from the game centers around Shiver Star and the boss battles not only by how fitting they sound but also by how catchy they can be. While the game can be relatively short, you do have to be able to collect all the Crystal Shards to face the true final boss who may not be completely difficult, but the concept art and the music surrounding the character is just a tad more haunting than usual. In fact, the true final boss is one of only characters in the Kirby game that "bleeds" so to speak. Also, the multiplayer games, while a little tacked on, can be pretty fun if you get some friends together to play it. I just seemed to find myself playing the game constantly just to see what kind of combinations I could make, and how I could finally get another one of the Crystal Shards that I perhaps missed. I do hope to see another game like this in the future, especially with a greater library of abilities.

7. Max Payne

I remember downloading this out of curiosity. I had some PSN Points and figured that I should try out this Max Payne game. While I waited for it to download, I looked it up (spoiler-free), and found it was about a hard-boiled PI who has been wronged by someone and seeks revenge. Being that I enjoy film noir in all of it's cliched goodness, I assumed that I would have a ton of fun with this game. And I did...but I also got really frustrated and somewhat startled by what I was going to encounter. First off, let me address that when I completed this game for the first time, I cluttered my Twitter with constant talk about my experience so far with the game. For a game to get me talking about it to others on something like that shows that it's doing something right. That or it just shows that I'm incredibly obnoxious. The gameplay's solid. It can be a little hard to actually land a hit with the somewhat stiff controls, but a good portion of the time if you ended up dying, it was your fault. That doesn't necessarily mean there weren't a good amount of cheap moments in the game, but the game still has a good sense of genuine challenge. Being that I've grown up in a world where FPSes rely on you ducking in a corner to get your health back up, it's good to see one where you need to get something that boosts your HP every once in a while and that you have to moderate it. There's a greater sense of challenge and you really have to train yourself to become more skillful at the game.

The story's really gripping. The characters are dark as all hell, but that's what gives it an edge. It had enough balls to show a woman and her baby getting killed, and even though it's in it's low-res gore, the sounds and atmosphere make up for what it can't deliver. I admire something that takes a risk such as that, and managed to also handle it pretty well too. Max Payne is the epitome of the "nothing-to-lose, I-aint-breaking-my-gritty-monotone" quasi-dirty cop, and it's awesome hearing some of his lines. It's interesting that Max Payne was simply dragged into this catastrophe not completely by his job. Sure, he deals with having to convict criminals, but according to the main villian, somehow his wife got in the way of the master plan. It also really drives the point home of a character that has absolutely nothing else to lose, and is simply trying to get to the bottom of why he ended up in this whole mess. There still is that sort of edge that there may be parts of Max's past that he's covering up, and that he's not as clean as you'd think. Payne's got a little more of complexity to him, which makes revolving the game mostly around him that more interesting. Other characters in the game range from being absurd and insane, to typical and cliched to "I've said too much" sort of helpful to just plain cold-hearted.

The graphics can really distract a while though, and sometimes the game gets the kind of hard that's not challenging, but rather cheap because they try to do as much as they can to fuck you up. I'm sure that if this game got a remake with better graphics (and perhaps better controls), while sticking to the same plotline (and maybe extending it a little more with some extra missions or perhaps adding some form of a multiplayer mode), it could end up becoming a good hit. But with what Max Payne already delivered, it's still an absolute marvel. It's just impressive seeing a game that goes to that sort of lengths in terms of story as well as one that while incredibly difficult at certain points, can still drag you in with it's engaging gameplay.

6. Red Steel 2

I think this probably one of the few games in the Wii's library that managed to implement the motion controls into the game almost to a point of pure perfection. That's not to say that there aren't games that use the motion controls well, but Red Steel 2 combined shooting and slicing people up with it's interesting combination of cowboys and samurais coated with a semi-urban feel. On the shooting side, there's the choices of a revolver, a shotgun, a Tommy gun and a lever-action rifle. While these sound standard, the look of the guns are incredibly stylized and the sounds that are emitted when you fire from these beauties are absolutely marvelous. Not only are they fitting and sound incredibly powerful but they have a sense of uniqueness to them. As if you could you tell that someone was playing this game simply by hearing the gunshots. From the sword aspect, you can do the standard moves such as a simple slice and blocking attacks from others, but you can also unlock combo moves as well as special moves that allow you to not only rake in more combos and money but also defeat the tougher enemies that you encounter further in the game. Being able to combine these two can help if you want to finish off enemies in clever ways or if you're thinking of a good strategy that allows you to progress further in the game.

Something that will constantly stick to me about this game though is the look of it. The combination of the Western with the Eastern along with the olden days with the more refined touch of the modern times works great to distinguish this game from the others. It's especially present when you look at the architecture of the game. Some of the buildings look more like one style than the other, while others manage to get that perfect blend that allows both to have equal influnece on it. The choices in colors while basic continue to accentuate such a creative style that the game has surrounding it. This is especially present in the look of the main protagonist as it not only combines the walking justice demeanor that a cowboy usually has but also the mysterious and threatening aura that comes off from a samurai. The music also shows this same stylistic choice, especially when you consider the main theme combines the koto/shamisen with the guitar and whistling. The story may share the same sort of combination of both worlds, but it generally didn't catch my attention that much. The gameplay, music and graphics though were the most impacting for me, and this was by far one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had with a third party Wii game.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Top 25 Video Games I Like The Most (15 - 11)

15. River City Ransom (NES)

While I can find fighters to be fun but generally suck at them, beat 'em ups are more of the ones that I can not only find fun but also at least show some sense of skill. They're also low in my collection, so that further explains the reason why I bring up fighters and beat 'em ups. Not only that, but the difference is simply that in a fighter, you're going up against one guy and trying to knock them down. In a beat 'em up, you're usually trying to fend off multiple enemies while also progressing throughout the level. I was trying to figure out which beat 'em up to put on the list as I would when it would come to these sorts of selections on the list. No matter what, my mind seemed to continue shifting towards River City Ransom for some reason. It was not only the most memorable beat 'em up I ever played, but it was the first one that I willingly had an idea of what the genre was. I'm sure that I may have played a beat 'em up before getting my Wii and searching through the Virtual Console, but from what I remembered, those games were usually mediocre. It wasn't until I had this game that I chose more wisely which beat 'em ups to obtain and had a better idea of what one of them was.

It's a relatively simple concept. You're some hip dude out on the streets, your girl gets kidnapped by some bad motherfucker, you gotta kick that guy's shit in by fending off countless goons for different gangs out on the streets. You use whatever at your disposal (fists, items that you have gotten from shops or weapons laying about) to make that tough guy utter some nonsense before turning into a shiny little coin. It basically holds a lot of what the sidescrolling beat 'em up is now. Most of the same concepts still linger in the more recent beat 'em ups with additions being special moves and upgradeable attacks. Technically speaking in RCR you could do that, but it isn't as flashy as it is now. What made RCR really enjoyable for me was the whole look of it. The character designs and the streets integrated really well and it was nice to see a suburban setting displayed in 8-bit form. Some of the chiptune songs were really good, especially the ones going into the shops or the boss battles. The controls were also fairly well, as was the gameplay. Although I found myself in some instances getting hit by an object that has stopped moving, especially in cases of the knockback. That and there are instances where I get ambushed, but that's more on my fault since the idea of a fighter is that you avoid that happening.

14. Sonic Adventure 2 Battle

This is certainly one of my more rose-colored choices on the list. There's only 1/3 of the game that's actually what Sonic does best in this game. Another 1/3 of the game is incredibly tedious and boring. It began the greater incline of pointless Sonic characters. The music ranges from fitting to absurd rap songs that only a game like SA2B could bring. And the story is's just very silly. It wouldn't be so bad, but it kind of took itself a little too seriously (which became another fault with future Sonic games). As much as I acknowledge the substancial amount of faults with the game, I still find myself coming back to this game and having fun with it. Mainly because I look at it as the joke it is. You take this game too seriously and you're not going to have that much fun with it. There's a lot that is outlandish about the story and the choices in music. The levels on the other hand are well designed and the games at least play well. While everyone doesn't exactly enjoy the treasure hunts (I won't deny it's the worst part of the game), I still found it enjoyable to glide about the levels. The parts that actually are based in what Sonic is about flow very well and I feel tons of speed. Everything felt so sudden and you had to think fast to maintain the speed. It was very well done in my opinion. That and as somewhat unfitting some of the music, it's still kind of catchy and funny if you imagine that someone had to go through the thought process of writing lyrics for a Sonic-related rap.

That and I loved raising the Chao in the garden. Speaking of which I think they're probably all dead now because I haven't tended to them in quite a long time. 'Scuse me.

13. Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door

Whilst I enjoyed playing Super Paper Mario and would even dare to say that it beats the original, there is without a shadow of a doubt that it's predecessor is the farther superior installment of the series. For one, it continued the RPG element of the original and stuck to it as you could select the badges and partners you want to use as well as get in contact with whatever miscellaneous artifacts you encounter on your journey. What it managed to do better than the original though was based heavily around the story and characters. The first game was a simple "Bowser did an evil act, you must defeat him, bla bla bla". This one on the other hand has a prophecy that is about to unfold and you must collect 7 crystals to open a door to eventually stop the prophecy, bla bla bla. That and there's more subplots focusing around the villains, the sub-villains and the main characters. You could argue that there was sufficient sub-plots in the original Paper Mario, but these one were more plentiful and interesting. There's also the new special abilities such as becoming a boat or becoming a paper airplane that can allow you to enter hidden areas or simply progress further in the game. But last and certainly not least, you can play as Bowser in a Super Mario Bros. esque "minigame" that is very amusing.

Now while I argued that Super Paper Mario had the better story and characters, I'd have to say that Paper Mario TTYD had the better scenarios and gameplay. My favorite chapters are mostly the ones near the middle, with Chapter 3 being my absolute favorite for the wrestling environment and Chapter 4 coming a close second for having a humorous moment and also one of my favorite partners. It was kind of weird knowing the truth about said partner, but Japan is weird in that way. I enjoyed the turn-based strategy that was to be implemented. It allowed me to careful construct what my next move would be. Sometimes in Super Paper Mario, I may panic and use something that I wasn't supposed to. TTYD on the other hand allows me to take my time. That's what made the game fun alongside from the surrounding, quirky humor and the Mario association. I humbly wait to see what Sticker Star holds in store because the only use I find for my 3DS is as a paperweight.

12. Half Life 2

I don't feel the need to explain why Half Life 2 should be on my list. It's one of Valve's greatest games, and knowing that Valve has consistently made wonderful games, this makes it all the better. It may not be my most enjoyed game, but I still love the beauty of it. The sheer mystery of the Gman, the duality of the macabre to be humorous or dramatic, the grotesque alien life-form and the ass on Alyx. The list extends to great lengths, ranging from the Source engine's abilities to the engaging story centering around this dystopian world. I can't find another special way to explain why the form of telling the story works magnificently in HL2, or why the Gravity Gun can incorporate a great selection of aid or hilarity. Although the other games that are on this list have had their fair share of praise and accolades devoted to their magnificence, Half Life 2 has received so much of it that it's hard to write this down without paraphrasing someone else on the matter. The same could be said about the other entry on my list. It's still a game that leaves the player enjoying a lot and asking for more. And while the episodes have done their part to help, we still await further word on what  Gordon Freeman's latest adventure will be.

11. Portal

Again, as before, there have been more than enough people that have commented on this accidental magnum opus that it's hard to see what else I can add to it unless I talk about the sequel. While the sequel managed to implement more humor and puzzle elements to the portal-to-portal challenges that you would face, it didn't have that same of grainy feel to it that the last game had. There was a lot to be in awe over, but there wasn't a lot that made you worried about the situation you encountered. Portal worked so well in it's dark comedy because it was a silent victim facing a deranged AI that wishes to eradicate her. There's little known about where she came from, but judging from her surroundings, it doesn't seem like it's an inviting place. Various writings on walls emphasize the impending doom that you're about to face and GLaDOS is constantly tricking you and acting erratic as the game progresses. It's also worth to note that both the hero and villain in the game are female and treated with a great sense of dignity. As much Portal 2 developed the Aperture Science world and is still a fairly great game, but Portal took itself more seriously, even if the fanbase didn't. There's nothing wrong with a game that can make you laugh, but making the humor more subtle and caustic  is more fitting. It's short, but everything is crafted to perfection.