Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Final Week Marches On

I meant to follow up the "Next Level" review with some kinda of post that would cement any new readers that may have been attracted by it. But I failed. What can I say, I have to study. But I have a few drafts that I will try to punch up and then post over this weekend. Now back to study the Network Layer Stack. Oh what fun....

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Next Level: A Track-by-Track Review

I have always had a hard time trying out new things. Especially when it cost money.Part of the side effects of being a college student is the fact that I just don't have a lot of money to spend on entertainment, but as a nerd my entertainment "needs" are wildly divergent. Comics, novels, movies, video games, TV shows, and music all cost money. Sure I can steal stuff off the 'net and, but I really don't like doing that. I like to support those who make the awesome stuff that I enjoy. So I often spend time waiting to hear about how good things are before I plop down my hard cash for something.

Since last year I'd been hearing about this new nerdcore rap group called Dual Core. First I hear about them from Z. Then Beefy is talking about them. Then it seems like the whole nerdcore underground is talking about them. And it seems to be all good. But still I stood on the fence. I wanted to give them a listen and see if they lived up to the hype, but at the time Beefy and MC Frontalot had just dropped new albums plus I had picked up the Child's Play 2008 CD to expand my horizons and help a good cause. Plus I had just "discovered" S.T.D. was actually worth my time and money (thanks to this video). My music funds were tapped and I didn't want to divert funds away from comics that I knew I would love for a wild card.

But I couldn't get away from the idea that I was missing out on something big. And so when Dual Core dropped "Next Level" earlier this year I knew that it would be mine. And when I bought my Networking text over at Amazon and they gave me a $5 coupon for an mp3 download, I knew that it was time. I picked it up later that week and it has had a home in my Blackberry ever since.

So in my never ending quest to expand the geeky topics discussed on this site, I present my track by track review of Dual Core's "Next Level". I know that this had been reviewed a couple of times already by those far better then I, but what can I say? This is where my head is at today.

Next Level

1. For You

The first track is a call out to all of there fans and a catch up on what they have been up to since the last album. I felt a little out of the loop the first time I heard it, but I was struck by two things right away. First int80 has a vocal style that is easy to groove on and storytelling skills to boot. Second is the fact that the beat is pure hip hop and blends perfectly with the lyrics of this song. Sometimes when I listen to a rap album, I feel like the beats are trying to compete with the lyrics for my attention and it makes the whole song hard to listen to. Here though, everything builds and supports each other, make the whole that much better. I was already grooving on this album and ready to see where it was going!

2. Kick Back

Both C64's rhythms and and int80's flow improve on the next track, which is perhaps one of the most eloquent arguments to the fact that nerdcore is a real musical genre. The track never comes off as "Look how nerdy I am" and as such adds a quiet credence to itself. The song seems to play as a rallying cry to the nerd generation, declaring the age of the nerd has arrived. This is hardly a new topic in the genre, but unlike some song that are trying to prove this fact, "Kick Back" takes this as a fact and moves from there.

3. Natural 20s

While I did enjoy the first couple of tracks, this is the the one that cemented a permanent spot on my hard drive. Thick with reference to the nerdcore scene (and even a verse about Jim Darkmagic) and a triumphant track about the joys of old-fashioned table top RPGs. Anyone who has spent time rolling polyhedral dice on a vinyl mat can enjoy this one and the chorus is perhaps the best battle cry a group of players can have against the sadistic machinations of their evil GM.

4. The Hollow

This is perhaps the best nerdcore song that I have ever heard. The music and lyrics meld perfectly to the point that the mechanics of the music are forgotten and all that is left is a steady strong march of the COGs. Detailing the plot of the Gears of War game, this track has a powerful storytelling element that pulls you in. To be honest, I didn't really care for Gears the first time I played it. The cover based game play was a bit more then I wanted learn, especially when there are so many good FPS games to play, but this song got me stuck on this titanic struggle until I bought both games, learned to play them and smashed the Locust horde myself.

5. I Remember (ft. ytcracker)

Nostalgic songs about the start of the Internet age are few and far between but most of them focus more on things from a more legit angle. While I was never good enough to claim the title of "Elite", I spent most of my early days on the net crawling across BBS looking for any information i could glean on programming, cracking copyrights, busting a password, and how to phreak on a payphone. With a guess shot by "old man" yt, this is a song that brings me back to a time when the net was still a place of mystery and the unknown. Simply a great track for anyone that has spent any time learning how to hack a system.

6. The Game

Perhaps the most confusing track for me, because I'm not quite sure if its story about a Russian hacker trying to escape the tendrils of law enforcement slowly closing in on him is a story being retold like "The Hollow" or if this is just something that c64 and int80 came up with, but that really doesn't matter. The track is good, with a catching riff and good beat. And the story is like that told hacker to hacker, in hushed tones, at those rare moments when they meet face to face.

7. Magnificent 7 (ft. Frontalot, MC Lars, STD, Beefy, Random, ytcracker)

This track features pretty much everyone that you need to know about in the world of nerdcore. Not only that, but the song is presented as a conversation over Twitter and is very interesting to listen to as each of the major players warps their unique flow into a masterfully crafted track. This is the type of song that I am really enjoying from the nerdcore lately. Now that the scene is established and has an audience, we are getting more and more songs that are about the scene itself. This is the best done so far.

8. Forever

Much like "The Game" I'm not really sure where this tale comes from, but it really doesn't matter. Stranded in a crash on our backwater little planet, our hero in this song is an alien trying desperately to fit in with the dominant culture here. This song transcends this little story though, as it resonates with every nerd on this earth. Our hero's feelings of being alone, his confusion and the simple math that his peers do not grasp, and his quest for similar life is something I think resonates with the entire nerd community. The last verse is perhaps my fave as is gives our hero a happy ending when he encounters a woman who actually get him. My kind of track, no question.

9. Life's Work

Hackers are perhaps the most misunderstood type of criminal ever. Most people think that they have no morals, are evil little parasites that work some kind of arcane magic to bend computers and mainframes to their malicious wills. This track tells the story of a small team of computer programmers that are laid off and cast out into the economic downturn without much need for more programmers. AS cash grew tighter, they stumbled upon the idea of taking cash out of their former employers. I'm not saying that it was the right thing to do, but I love about this song is how it builds the tension of the decision to turn the skills to crime. Hackers, just like almost any other criminal, are not born, but created by circumstances. This song presents that far better then most that have tried.

10. Letter to C64

This is the hardest song for me to comment on, as it seems kinda personal to me. The track seems to be a great letter of respect from one friend to another. The lyrics are tight and the beats are decent, but this song really has nothing to say to me. I do like the fact they they would put a track like this on the album, if only to draw attention to the fact that c64 is just as much a part of Dual Core as int80, which I can see being hard to do in a genre that is so dominated by solo acts.

11. Here to Help (ft. Remington Forbes)

Having spent a lot of time on the other end of a phone, trying to walk someone through installing this program or that piece of hardware, this has got to be my favorite song on the album. While I'm not familiar with Remington Forbes (a fact that I will be rectifying soon) his smooth voice adds an interesting contrast to int80 as the retell some of my favorite tech support tales with crisp music supporting it. This is just a great track for anyone that has ever tried to help someone who has no idea about technology with anything. Perhaps that why is has become so popular with my fellow Computer Science majors.

12. Painting Pictures

This song with tug at your heartstrings, not matter who you are. int80's storytelling skills are at there peak as he relates the tale of a young deaf nerd girl that discovered the beauty of cochlear implants and her journey from a world without sound to a music filled world. The first time that I heard it, I'll be honest, I teared up a bit. You will too, unless your made of stone.

13. Alright

When one of my friends ask me "What is nerdcore, anyways" this has become one of the tracks that I pull out (along with Front's "It Is Pitch Black" and "Nerdcore Rising"). Why? int says it all with the intro line "So I like hacking, but I also like rapping". This is a great song that shows that you can be a total nerd and still be into rap. A song that mixes lyrics about gaming and science fiction with some of the best flow and beats in ALL of rap. This is the kind of track that proves that nerdcore deserves respect as a sub-genre of rap.


So, there you have it. Next Level is just that, the next level of nerdcore. I know that I tend towards the superlative in this review, but I think it was justified. If you are a nerd, you should like this album. If you like rap, you should like this album. But, if you are the rare breed of nerd that actually like rap too (like me), you will LOVE this album!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Evolving the Zombie Apocolypse

So, yesterday saw the release of the latest in a long line of zombie video games as Left 4 Dead 2 hit store shelves and unlocked on computer HDD all across the country.  While adding some nice touches to the endless battle against the undead flesh eaters, I still find something missing.  Here I present my list of the top 5 things that need to added to the zombie apocalypse genre.

5. Non-linear Gameplay

This is perhaps the most obvious need in the current generation of zombie games. Prototype kinda did this, but the fact that you had superpowers kinda negated the whole fear for your life thing that I want in my zombie game.  Ideally, I want to play a game where the goal is just to get out of a city alive in the middle of the zombie outbreak.  Imagine trying to get through the streets of New York (or Raccoon City!!) with several million undead horrors between you and sweet, sweet freedom.  You could even mix it up with military troops that are trying to evacuate the city and end up just trying to contain  the damn outbreak. 

4. Animal Zombies

I have always loved the idea that the zombie virus could jump into animals, because let's face animals are bad asses.  From pit bulls to tigers, our world is filled with numerous animals that are built to kill and the only thing that keeps them at bay is the fact that they have learned to fear man.  But replace their instincst with the zombie blood lust and shit will seriously hit the fan.  Imagine trying to take out a zombiefied bear with a small pistol.  Good luck!

3. Bruce Campbell

I can't believe that this hasn't happened yet.  I mean, Bruce Campbell and zombies go together like chocolate and peanut butter.  I don't care if its a new Evil Dead game or if just shows up somewhere to help chop up the undead. All I know is that Campbell needs to show up in a zombie game, and soon

2. Vehicles

One of my favorite moments in all of zombie cinema is the end of the "Dawn of the Dead" when our band of plucky survivors roll out in a couple of armored battle wagons.  Sure everything goes to shit, but those moments are really cool as they blast and chop zombies while rolling across the the ruined city.  Or how about "Army of Darkness" when Ash comes out in that supped-up boat of a car with the huge spinning blade right there on the hood.  How cool would it be to pilot a jeep through streets of blood thirsty hordes intent of eating your face!

1. More story!!!

At first the simplicity of the zombie games was one of it's charms.  Left 4 Dead's "make it to the escape point" or Zombie Apocalypse's "don't get killed" were enough to keep our controllers gripped tight and our interest.  But now that the initial joy of being able to be a participant of the zombie outbreak, you can't help but wonder where did all these zombies come from?  And where is the military anyways?  And why is it so easy to get my hands on assault rifles.  While not answering these question is okay for a time, I think that we have passed that time now.  Let start exploring the causes of these events and flexing a bit more narrative muscle, shall we?

Now I just want to make it clear, that I do enjoy these games.  But as you grow and mature as a person, you want the stories you immerse yourself into to grow and mature as well.  These ideas are just things that I think will help the emerging zombie genre.  Either way, these are fun games that will sell and will continue to keep us ready for the inevitable rise of the zombies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hard Times

Well, this is embarrassing.

I really did mean to get a decent posting schedule going on this page this semester, but I am having a hard time getting myself pumped for writing a blog that has no readers. Of course, if this page was more then just me waxing about the last game that I played, I may have a following. Well I hope to change both of these soon. I am also toying with the idea of maybe creating a monthly podcast, so we will see how that goes. Anyways, if you do read this site, please post a comment so that I know that you are there.

That's all for now.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Zombies Invade

So, I have been hip deep in school and family lately, and haven't posted in months. Sorry. Let's try again.

So, a couple of days ago, I'm cruising around the XBLA and I find a new game called "Zombie Apocalypse". A standard top-down shooter with zombies. I've been here before. I'm not talking about the fact that the game is clearly "inspired" by Left 4 Dead. I'm talking about playing this game before on the numerous Flash game sites that litter the web like so many fast food burger shacks. I've killed zombies this way before and while I find it to be a great diversion when I should be working on that paper that due in the morning. But the controls were tight, and being able to slaughter masses of zombies from the comfort of my living room seemed like a good bet to me. So, I called my wife over, and put a controller in her hand, and played through the demo with her a few times.

This is what I piqued my interest even more. While she did initially balk at the idea of playing a zombie game (she really doesn't get the whole "zombie" thing), after the three round demo, she was having fun. I hastily plucked down my 800 MS points and grabbed the full version of the game. And apparently opened the gate of hell.

See the game is easy at first. You have zombies and guns. Kill said zombie with said guns. Useful environmental hazards abound and obligatory barrels of liquid that explodes when shot scatter the levels. And you have a stuffed teddy bear that is wrapped in C4 an attracts the zombies into it deadly radius when a saccharine sweet voice that pumps out humorous lines ("I'm stuffed with love....and C4" being my favorite). And, let us not forget that all players get a chainsaw, because what is a zombie game without a chainsaw? (Left 4 Dead I'm looking at you!). All pretty standard stuff. And at first the zombie killing all goes according to plan.

Then as you get through a few levels, power-up begin to fall. Shotys, sub-machine guns, and grenade launchers all show up to help in your zombie killing ways. And it seems just the right tools for the job to stand up to the mob of the ever increasing zombie numbers. You also get a chance to rescue uninfected lady in blue power suits and get rewarded with more explosive stuff toys. This all helps until you see the screen that tell you we are adding new types of zombies. First is the Big Boy who if he gets a hand on you, its all over. These are followed quickly by zombies that puke on you and make you slow down, granny-zombies that throw knives across the screen (and knife = instant death), and sheriff zombies that still remember how to fire there own shotguns. And they all come on by the hundreds.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this you remember something that you long forgot. Something that books like "Zombie Survival Guide" and the new version of "Dawn of the Dead" have stripped from your mind. Zombies are fucking scary. Scary like a hurricane. You can not reason with them. You can never hide from them. And they absolutely will not stop until you are dead and eaten. Zombies can not be defeated, and in fighting them all you are doing is delaying the inevitable.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Thugs and Space Marines.

Well, I had a very busy spring break and got ALOT of gaming in.  My wife and I had a long discussion about the Wii that had been sitting on the shelf next to the X-Box and had seen almost no activity for months.  After agreeing that we really saw no point in it being there, we agreed to trade it into GameStop for credit, all long we the few games that we tried really hard to love.  Very sad.  The upshot of this, however, was that we were able to score an armload of games that that we had missed or would of had to wait a while for.  The biggies were both Saint's Rows, Call of Duty 4, and a brand new copy of Halo Wars.  So I had more then enough to fill my week away from the daily grind of classes doing (yes I did get some homework done too, sheesh).

Halo Wars answers the question "Can a real-time strategy game have a home on the consoles of today?" with a resounding "YES IT CAN!".  The controls are a thing of beauty, allowing you to control your troops with ease while planning your foe's downfall.  I have tried a few RTSs on the X-Box before and was sadly disappointed with the clumsy controls and wonky cameras.  Ensemble has proven that it can be done, too bad this will be the last game from that extremely talented group of people.  The single player story is pretty good, not groundbreaking.  What I was really impressed by is the fact that it still felt like Halo.  I have been enjoying the story of Halo for a while and was worried that I was going feel like the story belonged in the universe.  The online play is fun and varied.  My only real complaint has been the lack of depth in tech trees and solider types, but I expected that.  I think that maybe this game will launch a resurgence of the RTS, hopefully with more depth.  We will have to see.

I also beat Saint's Row 2 last week.  I have been hearing from several people that it was better than GTA IV and had to give it a try.  I can't really agree, simply because Stilwater is no Liberty City, and the nameless thug in SR2 is no Niko Bellic, but the game is good.  Very good.  I liked the variety of missions and the story was interesting.  I even felt angry at some of the rival gangs actions, making it much more satisfying to blow them all to hell.  The game is rated M for a reason and is full of drugs, violence and sex.  Not that that's a bad thing.  And Stilwater is huge and gorgeous and filled with alot of stuff to explore.  All in all, this is pretty much everything you could want from a crime sandbox game and deserves a spot next to GTA on you shelf.

Well that's all for today.  I still have a pile of games to go through, and alot of sites to visit.  Catch ya next time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

DLC me baby!

So, the flood of DLC appears to be just beginning and I have found myself deep in this flood. This weekend I took the time to play both "Knothole Island" for Fable II and "Operation Anchorage" for Fallout 3 and I have to say that I am very happy with the direction DLC seems to be going.

"Knothole Island" is basically three new dungeons and a small town. The quest are fun, if a bit simple, but the real draw for me was the slew of new item on sale in the town, especially at the Box of Secrets. This shop is interesting in that your gold is no good here. Just put it away right now. Instead you bring in random mundane items and trade them in for spiffy cool items. So far, I have gotten many, but I really kinda like my leather jacket I DID get and look forward to many new items in the future. If you loved Fable II, you will love "Knothole Island", and at $10 its easy for me to recommend it.

"Operation Anchorage" is different in that it takes the worst part of Fallout 3 (massive battles) and builds the entire game around that. And, surprisingly it works. The whole concept is fairly well known, but in case you missed it, you find yourself helping out a group of Outcasts who are trying to get into a cache of advanced weapons. The catch is that the vault is locked up tight and the only way to unlock it is to complete the VR simulation of the liberation of Anchorage from the Chinese. And for some reason that is not really explained, your Pip-Boy 3000 means you can access the simulation while the other guys can't. Whatever, fire up that simulation chamber and let's get to it. I was really surprised at the size and variety of the simulation, which starts off with you making a covert strike to destroy the Reds artillery, then goes to set you up making strikes against key tactical holdings. These were my favorite parts, as the system for recruiting you strike force is interesting and needs a little bit of a strategic plan to get the job done. But, the massive battles do still get a little crazy as this is not a solid, Halo-type, FPS and you tend to run out of AP rather quickly, leading you to blind fire at the entrenched defense of your targets. Although, this maybe frustrating to some players, I found that it gave the action a bit of a chaotic feeling like you would find in a real battlefield.

What I really like about both of these DLCs is the fact that the breathe new life into the games, making me want to play them even more then I have. This is a great boon to gamers in this current economic crisis as we have to pick a chose which games we can afford to play right now. Be able to pay $10 to revitalize a game already sitting on you shelf is a good option to paying $60 for a brand new game. Now I just wish Valve would release some DLC for Team Fortress 2 on the X-Box 360 already.