[Videogames] Fallout – 20th Anniversary

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Fallout! Happy Fallout Day! Man, this is one of the rare game you come back to it, despite being a very tough game (it was that time when you had to save manually), especially straight from the start (yep, that means dying from the first five minutes from a rat bite (yep, a ridiculous rat rat bite that eats you 4HP) and by its game mechanics involving missed hits (when 50% chance of hit is 50% chance of miss, with the odds resetting at each action), weapons malfunctions (loosing a turn because your 10mm pistol jammed) or worse from a critical hit (with your brain and lungs splattered all over the place).
The game was also an amazing experience for those that have dreamt a game taking place in a post-nuclear wasteland (especially when you have been bottle-fed on Mad Max 2, Fist of the North Star and a fistful of Italian Sci-Fi B-movies). Shock and awe right after being introduced by the Interplay logo “for gamers by gamers”.

The use of “Maybe” by Ink Spots was setting the mood, the idea of dystopian chronology that will become the “Pre-War” civilization in a sequence straight out of a Ray Bradbury short story. We only discover that we have been watching a dead civilization and get narrated its fall by Ron Perlman legendary “war…..war never changes” with the music of Mark Morgan in the background.
Here we are, a vault dweller from Vault 13 asked to go out and find a water chip for the whole vault community by the Overseer. It sends you out with a “goodbye and good luck” out of your vault with nowhere to get back inside with only a rusty machete, a 10mm pistol (with scarce amount of ammos) and a pajama as your only environmental suit. Here is the deal: you have 150 days to find a solution for the water chip. Nobody knows where to find one but maybe the nearby sister Vault, Vault 15, may have one. This is it. There is no linear progression, you do whatever you want and can wander anywhere you want straight out the Vault 13 cave. This freedom was very novel.
Another novelty what the character design and carefully choosing traits. You are assigned a number of points through a SPECIAL (strength, perception, endurance,  intelligence, agility and luck) character crafting system associated with skills. Each of them matter on their own as it will dictate your ability to interact with the environment.
In addition, you have the karma system in which your good and bad deeds are buildup and known from the NPCs. You may enter a community as neutral but your interactions will leave a reputation of either an idolized person or a vilified person that can get you shot at first sight.
It is so immersive and engaging that you rarely play the game the same way twice unless you are doing it on purpose. Add also the remarkable sound work by Mark Morgan that makes the atmosphere unique. If you have not played it yet, RUN! Grab a free copy on Steam on install it and play! It is such an immersive game that it is in my Top 10 favorites of all times.

 

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[Videogames/Metal] Brutal Legend – XB360 (80%)

Sometimes you never know what you can find in a Gamestop “dumpster” (you know the $5 or less /$20 or less games holding on some cardobard shelves). One was Brutal Legend. I had my eyes on when I have played once the demo downloaded from Xbox Live. I really liked it for two reasons:
Firstly,  it was a game heavily influenced by metal and there are very few that come in mind. I still remember the attempt of Motley Crue to cash on Crueball on Genesis (a pinball-based game, also used by Kiss in one of these PC budget games), Motorhead on Amiga/Atari ST (a beat-them up developed by Ocean somewhere in 1992) or Iron Maiden Ed Hunter featuring Eddie in a kind of “Operation Wolf” game.
Secondly,  for what seemed a cool storyline. The story features Eddie Riggs, a “roadie” setting up the stage for a rock band called Kabbage Boy, lets say Eddie is rightfully not fond of his performance. As Eddie sets stage, a element of the stage falls on directly aiming one of the band member. Eddie jumps to his rescue only to get crushed by the scenery element. Eddie wakes up in a complete strange world, directly taken from some of the best heavy metal album artworks. Here Eddie becomes an anti-hero fighting demons with his mighty axe and his guitar riffs.
After playing back-and-forth with the game during the last month, I finally finished it up tonight. There are the good, the very good and the very annoying part of the game.
The good thing about the game is its very high fidelity of the game towards the material it got inspired by. It is heavy metal at its finest with the contribution of kings of the genre   appearing as cameos such as Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne,appearing as the guardian of metal, the shop to go to upgrade your weapons and your car), Rob Halford (Judas Priest, posing as the Fire Baron), Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead, the bass-playing Kill Master), Lita Ford (presented as Lita, one leader of the human resistance)……
The second good thing (if you ignore the annoying part) is this semi-open space allowing you to drive through the heavy metal hell, ramming through the wildlife and allowing you to complete some side quests and unlock some uniqueness (monuments, dragons…..) that will buildup your combat skills.
Then comes the very good part: the storyline and the damn good playlist. The storyline is simply awesome as you end up fighting hordes of glam/hair metal villains, with the stereotype of the hair metal bands that flourished in the 80s, followed by a dive into the depressive doom and gloom of gothic/doom metal genre (with some of the best enemies to fight, straight out of a Tim Burton mind) and finally a quick insight into industrial metal (at the very end). For most of these, you have a remarkable playlists of metal bands that perfectly match the missions: fighting off glam metal troops with Motley Crue “Dr. Feelgood”, only to escape the crumbling White Lion palace through the soundtrack of of the UK powermetal band Drangonforce “Through the Fire and The Flames”. Just playing this part of the game in which you are slaloming between dragons breaking bridges and blocking roads with that blowing in the background music worth its amount of pesos. It is not one, but over 100 songs in that playlist that you can play through driving in the metal Hell, something very similar to a GTA game. Some of the best and most versatile metal playlist I have ever heard into a video game: Dragonforce, Judas Priest, Motorhead, Scorpions, Motley Crue, Carcass, Dimmu Borgir, Accept, Megadeath…..
Just for that the game worth the purchase.
Now comes the very annoying part of the game: the simile-RTS game sequence. At some point in the game, you will be asked to play a sort of real-time strategy game (you know the type of Dune II, Command & Conquer, Warcraft…), in a very primitive form, using the metal as a source: The stage being your main base/barracks; the march store towers being the source of energy to harvest and troops from the basic headbangers grunt to the juggernaut unit capable to blast off towers. The idea is great, the put into practice? Meh…….it felt more than a pain than anything else as you have to go back and forth to get to the units. The other thing that also made me quit the game halfway is that mission in which you have to capture wild feral cats (looking as KISS-like panthers) by circling them with a circle of fire. The controls were just terrible and makes you really want to give up. As a sidenote, the presence of redudant sidequest (ambush enemies, defend your tower, race against the same foe) felt like a lot of deja-vu. You have to do them to gain skill points to upgrade your character but felt more a curfew than anything else (especially at a certain point of the game you have so much skill points accumulated but nowhere to redeem the upgrades).
In conclusion, if you love heavy metal and looking for a good game really doing a service  to the genre, grab a copy and play it. The game is far from perfect, there are much better adventure games and real RTS games to quench your thirst than this one. But in my opinion, this was the PERFECT metal game ever I have been playing so far and really wish someone decides to renew this experience.

[Metal/Synthwave] Master Boot Record – Street Fighter II Ken stage cover

MBR has been very prolific in making synth wave covers of video games sound. Last week, we had a chance to listen to his “Super Metroid” (Ninendo – SNES) cover. Few days later, he also posted his “Street Fighter II” (Capcom) cover, recreating the tunes of “Ken Stage”.
Just listening to it is like a trigger alert, instinctively letting you shout “Ha-Du-Ken!”, some well-placed “Sho-Ryu-Ken” Dragon Punch, all on your C64 computer. For that cover, we have a clear winner: “You Win. Perfect!”

▶ [Metal/Synthmetal] Master Boot Record – Super Metroid Cover

Master Boot Record is certainly one of my favorite synth metal artist, blending the roughness of metal with primitive melodic tones straight from an 8-bit computer and from a 5.25 floppy drive.
He has been doing some video games cover recently and just released a cover from Super Metroid (Super Nintendo) that in my own opinion throws the original light years away and really wished to play that game with that soundtrack right now.
Listen and enjoy! Oh yes, if you want to hear more tunes from Master Boot Records, check his Bandcamp profile:
masterbootrecord.bandcamp.com

 

[Videogames/Xbox360] Mass Effect 2 & 3 (95% and 85%)

The nice thing about the Holidays break is practicing “hygge” (a Danish term referring to cocooning), especially when it is cold outside and nights are long. What a appropriate time to dive into Mass Effect 2 and 3?  I loved the first Mass Effect (https://scientistabe.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/videogames-mass-effect-xbox360-95/) and I recently acquired the whole trilogy at once to keep my collection slick, yet I did not have time to play with Mass Effect 2 and 3. Since they are both connected, I decided to review both of them in the same time.

Plot:
The game starts sometimes after the original ME. Shepard is still onboard the Normandy, carrying on the usual job after taking care of Saren and taming the Reaper menace at the Citadel. If you remember, you saved the Citadel from Saren and brought on the threat of the Reapers and Geths on the table to the Council. Now with several members of the Council dead and the Citadel gravely destroyed, they finally got a taste of their own medicine and decided to increase the awareness on the Reapers.
Suddenly, a giant spacecraft (that will be later identified as the Collector base) coming out of nowhere blast through the Normandy and tearing it apart. In a swift move, Shepard throw Joker into an escape pod and send him into safety. With his space suit only, Shepard is sent into space and quickly suffocate from the lack of air.
A mysterious crew, under the flag of Cerberus, recover Shepard body and resuscitate him using a unknown technology called “The Lazarus Project”, a 2-year and 4 billion credit project that involved Miranda Lawson (a key teammate and romance partner) and medical officer Wilson. Two years elapsed and you wake up as Shepard amid the destruction of the medical station. Shepard get the help of Jacob Taylor (another selectable teammate) and officer Wilson, trying to escape the station. Just before able to escape the station, Miranda comes in and shoot Wilson, labelling him as traitor and escape the base to meet with the Illusive Man, the man behind Cerberus and also what will constitute “the man behind the curtain”. Nobody knows who he is, some people even question if he is a human being or a cyborg (due to his eyes). The Illusive Man acknowledge you of a particular mission: investigate the attack and disappearance of colonists on the Horizon colony from insectoid creatures nicknamed “Collectors” (such creatures are acting as harvesters for the Reapers). As you arrive and repeal the Reapers attack, you get a chance to reunite with Ashley Williams (from ME), only for a time that she appears surprised and skeptical of your affiliation with Cerberus. You learnt from Ashley that Cerberus is considered as a mercenary organization with shadow activities and questions your real intentions.
After this first mission, you get back into friendly waters. You get reunited with the Normandy SR2 spacecraft, a replica of the first Normandy equipped with EDI (an AI interface). It also hold Joker as the main pilot. During different missions, Shepard will recruit different members of his team including old friends as Tali  and Garrus (from ME), but also new characters including Mordin (a Salarian involved in the xenophage responsible of the Krogan genocide), Thane (a Drell Assassin that has some similarities with “The Crying Freeman” main character of the eponym manga), Jack (a human with supra-natural biotic abilities due to Miranda’s father experimentation on her), Samara (a Asari member of the Justicar order), Legion (a reprogrammed Geth that has separated  and Grunt (a Krogan warrior). As the team gets assembled, Shepard got knowledge of an abandoned Collector ship by the Illusive Man, such ship may provide the key to travel into the Omega 4 system. Turns out that this ship was a ambush but also that the Illusive Man was aware of such ambush and kept Shepard out of this critical information. Shepard learned from the Collector expedition that he needs an IFF to safely travel through the Omega 4 system.
While Shepard is looking for a IFF into a derelict Reaper, the Normandy is hijacked by Reapers, with Joker only the last person to escape the harvest. As Shepard heads back and find Joker alive, he decides to head to Omega 4 to rescue the Normandy personnel. After rescuing those that were alive and not turned into husks (Human-reaper hybrids), Shepard faces and destroy a Human-Reaper machine and the Collector base. As Shepard reports back to the Illusive Man, Reapers appears from remote places in the galaxy, bringing the cliffhanger to ME3.
ME3 starts six months after ME2, with Shepard detained in a futuristic Vancouver for his affiliation to Cerberus. As Shepard is informed by Anderson of the loss of communication with colonies of the solar system, a giant Reaper appears in the sky, breaking  havoc into Vancouver and bringing Hell on Earth. Shepard is reinstated in part of the Alliance, joined by Ashley and James. As Shepard heads to leave the solar system, Admiral Hackett ask Shepard to head first to Mars as Liara (another key character of the original ME) has found the blueprint of the “Crucible” an ancient Prothean superweapon that could defeat the Reapers. This expedition results in Ashley severely wounded and by the capture of “Eva Core”, a female Cerberus android with its own AI. EDI decides to integrate itself into this android, giving a physical appearance to EDI and accessory a girlfriend to Joker :).
The plots revolve in many battles on different planets against the Reapers to bring together the different alien races into the alliances. Some of them brings victory to their people (giving Tali and the quarians finally their planet back) but also a loss of several of these planets (Asari, Krogan and Turian). The plot resolve about two major items: fighting off Cerberus and gaining expertise and effort for the Alliance for the final battle.
The game ending follows the same trajectory: final assault on Cerberus HQ (with the killing of the Illusive Man’s henchman Kai Leng),  return on Earth as the Citadel warped over Earth and beamed through a devastated London, the attachment of the Crucible to the Citadel and the final encountering with the Catalyst: a child-like AI that is part of the Citadel and the creator of the Reapers. Your decision will result in slightly different endings: Controlling the Reapers, destroying the Reapers or blending synthetic and organic lives.
The ending sequence also let open for future iterations in the ME franchise.I don’t want to spoil it but after watching the ending sequence (and let the credit sequence scrolls!), it suddenly make more sense on how ME: Andromeda append to the trilogy.

Gameplay: Overall the gameplay is great, although I thought it was better in ME2. The UI is sleek and play as a FPS like ME. ME2 maintains the exploratory feature that was part of ME, with the Mako replaced by a small hovercraft in ME2. As a compensation, you can scan  planets for extracting minerals necessary for different upgrades during the game.
However, ME3 has greatly reduced this interactions, with no more scouting on planets and probing only for recovering artifacts. Another annoying issue I had with ME3 was the lack of trading options. In ME, you could sell your old guns. In ME3, it is no more the case, you have to spend your money on any weapons. ME2 was providing an array of different missions, whereas ME3 are pretty streamline, with very few relevant missions.
Another masterpiece of ME series is the soundtrack composed by Jack Wall (ME and ME2) and Clint Mansell (ME3), purely electronic and synthetic music, nicely matching with the futuristic theme that have this very “Daft Punk” sound. reminiscent of their audio work on “Tron: Legacy” and from the Moog synthesizers that were produced in the late 70s-early 80s. I have played the vanilla version, not much DLCs were added for a reason. First, to my biggest disappointment the Trilogy is not a “GOTY Edition” that includes the DLC, second I found outrageous that you have to pay top price for these DLCs even if they are 5+ years old, with no season pass available. Bad EA, bad! Lets put this aside and discuss the plot (ME2 and ME3 combined), again a very excellent plot although the ending was disappointing but still good.

Summary:
If you like 3rd person action shooter coupled with adventure, love SciFi and have been bathing in Star Trek universe and similar (Babylon 5, Serenity), you are missing something big. You should definitely grab your edition. If you can grab the trilogy, just go ahead and grab it as it will save you some $$$. However, also checkout in Gamestop clearance bins, you may save $$$ by buying them separately (ME3 was the cheapest of all three). For the DLCs, I am reluctant to pay for them. It is just outrageous that after 5 years, EA will charge you $ at top price for them and offer no season pass for getting all of them at decent price.

“This is Commander Shepard and this is my favorite Sci-Fi game trilogy on Xbox360”

[Videogames] Mass Effect: Andromeda gameplay footage

If there is a sci-fi game that I really enjoyed these last couple of years, it is certainly the  Mass Effect series (you can search and find my glowing review on Mass Effect a couple of years ago). It was providing the right amount of exploration, FPS and adventure within a single game, surfing on thematics that someone acclimatized to Star Trek or Babylon 5 would know.
The fourth installment, named Mass Effect: Andromeda has been a well-kept secret on the gaming experience. It marked a huge break in the franchise with the absence of Shepard (the main protagonist of the series) and the introduction of a new main character.
Bioware just released a couple of days ago a gameplay footage of the game scheduled to release in spring 2017. What I can tell, the game looks fantastic and really excite me to get back into it!  A huge feature of this game is apparently the planet exploration and terraforming, resources and crafting. The planet exploration was already part of the Mass Effect but was only superficially explored. Enjoy the video.

[Comics/Movies/Mangas/Videogames] Ama-Con 2016 #AMAcon16

Today was the first day of the Amarillo Comic-Con (#AMAcon16) also known as Ama-Con 2016. What makes that comic-con special? It is held and organized by the Amarillo Public Library. Who said that a public library has to be bored? I found this is a very nice way to have kids interested to read, to read anything because reading matter. Comics, mangas or novels, reading is best. It is also bringing some fun in Yellow City and it is a great getaway for the kids and have them pose with their favorite heroes cosplayed by motivated persons that spend a good amount of time and skills to get their costume sets. Some are super-impressive and I have to admit I felt a bit jealous to see how some folks are talented in costume crafting.

A nice thing about the Ama-Con is you have different sessions ongoing, between wandering around booths and buying some stuff (yeah I finally put my hand on some Saint Seiya stuff, I purchased a Mexican knock-off of Sirento Siren for those who knows from the Poseidon saga) but there were also some retrogaming tables with TVs and consoles plugged in (personal attack: I was fairly disappointed by the absence of any SEGA machines. SEGA does what Nintendon’t), coloring workshops and also some projections.
I attended two projections between the two busy days.
The first one (and the most heart wrenching) was the documentary “Thank you for playing” by David Osit and Malika Zouhali-Worrall retracing the story behind the game “That Dragon, Cancer“created by Amy and Ryan Green, parents of Joel, an one-year old child suffering from a pediatric brain tumor. It was definitely emotional because of my point of view as a scientist and my exposure to brain tumors via some collaborations.
It is hard to watch it because you know as a father and as a scientist  what does it means and what are the odds of beating off that disease. The documentary is like an adventure game, where you have a quest, faces dead-ends and decision-making. I will spoil the game but I will not play it because I fear I could not tolerate the story. You see, the author explains that we see video games as an escape pod of our daily lives. But as I feel from the author, it helped the Dad in it to cope with his son condition and use this vector as a catharsis for his emotions and feelings. It is an example of how video games have been matured and are now more than just simply leisure activity but can help put words and actions into emotions and maybe help other parents deal with the same situation.
The second one was more cheerful (but also shortened up, due to some technical glitches) was a documentary about “Cosplay: building a secret identity“. This documentary was filming and following persons that make a living out of their hobbies and their talent in cosplaying. I am a very novice in the field but you had apparently some big names in the field and have some cameos like Grant Imahara (Mythbusters) describing his idea of cosplay, but also other average people showing their passions and dedications. One of them was this mommy cosplayer that has been cosplaying as Miranda from Mass Effect 2. Honestly, it was fairly impressive to see “an amateur” being able to reproduce a virtual costume into reality.
It is simply amazing to see how many have being doing it purely from a “self-taught” and didactic point of view, without attending any art schools of having a B.A. and still almost play equals with seasoned and trained persons that make this for a living.
In my culture, being a nerd is considered taboo and almost a sign of mental disorder. You are expected to show virility and a form of machoism in your daily life. If you are still nurturing any form of culture (taste of music, hobbies…..), you are considered as immature and not-serious.
Yet, I feel my nerdiness is part of my social fabric, as part of being a scientist. Seeing how the cosplay is a well-accepted hobby in the US, with kids and grown-ups alike, even grown-grown-ups having a skin in the game, being a sort of relieving activity. This weekend I finally decided to take the dive in, building my first cosplay with my modest means and my blatant lack of handcrafting skills.
I have uploaded some pictures I have taken during the two days of the convention. I am not an expert, all where taken with my iPhone in a snap, asking the interested persons if they would not mind a picture taken.