Archive for March, 2010

The Shadow Over Niagara

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

It all began with two of the most potent words in the English language: “road trip”. Not a very big road trip mind you, just an evening jaunt down to Niagara Falls for my friend could purchase a brand new 1987 Honda scooter-thing from a guy who fixed them up in his garage.  My friend, whom we shall call ‘Dave’, invited me to go along with him to Niagara, and I agreed. Besides, I had never even been in that part of Ontario. We were off on our magical journey.

And what a magic journey it was. We travelled past the creaking monoliths of Hamilton, through the mysterious, untamed, jungles of the Ontario wine country, and skirted the borders of the mythical kingdom of Niagara-On-the-Lake. We arrived on the outskirts of Niagara, where we met the Honda wizard who, in exchange for the promise of gold, would sell my friend one of his finest mechanical steads. I must say that I felt the poison sting of envy.

After the trade had been made, we continued on towards the Falls of Niagara, and truly, they were a miracle of nature. Thundering, Powerful… and oddly they were also backlit at night. We were awed, yes, but we had expected to be awed by this miracle of nature. What we did not expect was the city itself.

The casinos were huge. Neither Dave nor myself had ever seen on one of them, and I had always imagined as the casinos of Niagara Falls as being relatively small. In reality, they were  full fledged hotel sized money pits, and one even had neon lights continuously screaming “CASINO!” into the murky night. Much impressed, Dave and myself were discussing this as we began driving up a hill, which is where a small sign  indicated that Niagara Fall’s tourist area lay… an area also known as Clifton Hill.

And then we turned around a corner and gasped with wonder. Rainbow coloured neon lights assaulted our senses from every angle. Strangely shaped buildings, almost non-euclidean in their design, beckoned, inviting us to experience everything from wax movie stars to haunted houses to a maze of mirrors. The familiar emblems of some restaurants were the only things I could hold onto amid the garish strangeness. It was different. It was tacky. It was the most horrible thing I had ever seen. It was glorious.

We parked the car and began to walk around, sampling the atmosphere. We were rapidly drawn into the epicentre of the madness, a strangely tilted sign advertising the presence of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. It was clear that this was indeed the true reason for our presence here and we hardly blinked at the price of ticket before venturing inside, drawn forward by insidious, unearthly, forces.

Medieval torture devices. Wax sculptures. A shoe belonging to the world’s tallest man. A spinning tunnel, which seemed to be a symbol of the dive into the madness that would inevitably overtake all who wandered into this building unprepared. Plaques sought to inform us of everything from American flags made out of seeds to the history of grave digging. I only have a few pictures from that place, but they have all turned out subtly… wrong… as if the museum existed someplace perpendicular to our own reality. We left, shaken and scarred, yet satisfied.

The air of unreality dissipated somewhat as we left that place. We ate burgers at a Wendy’s, itself not uneffected by the hill, as it had seemed to have swelled to gargantuan proportions. This Wendy’s belonged in R’lyeh. Finally, we worked up the strength to leave this place. We walk down from the hill to catch a final glimpse of the Falls before heading back to Dave’s car.

As the radio blasted songs from yesteryear, we returned to our humble city and pedestrian lives, knowing that someday we would return. Though we had plumbed the fathoms of Clifton Hill’s insidious depths, we had only begun to explore. Our minds clamoured with the knowledge of it’s existence; knowledge the could never been unlearned. We would have to go back, and we would have to bring more victims to the Hill’s waiting maw.

Shudder Island*

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

*Possible Titles: Stutter Island, Strutter Island, and Splutter Island

Shutter Island is decent film; nothing really special but it has a decent story, some good (although fairly disquieting) moments and leaves before wearing out its welcome.

The film is set on an island in the Boston Harbour… that is home to an asylum for the Mentally Isane! (Cue dramatic lightning flash) where some spooky doings are afoot. Two Federal Marshalls (played by actors) arrive to investigate the mysterious dissapearance of an inmate, who appears to have walked right through the wall, past a guard who may or may not have been at his post, and out into the stormy night.

The best part of this movie by far is the island itself. It’s brooding, dark, dank, and dunk in the classic North Eastern U.S way epitomized by American horror authors such as Lovecraft and King. It is properly moody ands bleak, and also seems to be a faintly malevolent force in and of itself, kind of like Silent Hill’s underacheiving slacker of a brother. The storm scenes during the end of the first act are almost worth the price of admission.

Another highlight of the movie are the dream/drugtrip/ghost/craziness sequences. In most movies, the director makes a scene a dream sequence mostly through cinematic trickery: the camera shudders and sways disconcertingly, fog shrounds and obscurres the action, the entire scene is in echoey slow motion,  etc. Scorsese does it slightly differently. The actual filming is as crisp and clean as the rest of the movie (I hate shaking cameras), but the use of dream logic and disjointed time is without peer. People change faces and place, events flow together with dream unlogic, and the sequences help to give genuine insight into the mind of the main character.

My biggest gripe is with the story. Its solid and works well, but it could have been more. The movie deals with themes of identity and subjective reality, but the conclusion of the movie finishes quite cleanly without leaving much ambiguity over what was real and what was not. Even Total Recall, which dealt with the same themes, left some wiggle room for discussion and mental exploration, creating what sci-fi author Larry Niven called ‘Playgrounds of the Mind’. Shutter Island wraps things up in much too neat a package.

Other minor gripes include some of the acting from the minor characters, unnecesary characters that did not seem to be there for any reason at all, and the people sitting next to my friend in the theatre (though I suppose that can’t be helped, or is at least not the fault of the movie). The movie also gets going very quickly, with hardly any build up. This isn’t really a plus or minus, but I found it a bit abrupt. There is also a scene with some rats that is supposed to be horrific, but that rats looked too gosh darned cute to be scary. They looked like pet rats, and I think one was sniffing to see if the shouty man in front of the green wall had any treats.

Overall grade? Not falling into that trap. If you like psychological thrillers, you’ll like this, but only if you can stomach some faintly horror-ish scenes.

Let’s Play

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

A “Let’s Play” is a type of game writing somewhere between a review, a walk through, a plot analysis, and a riff track. the writer plays through the game, taking screen shots and just generally pointing out it’s foibles. They can be very factual, or halfway between fact and faction, with the author making up dialogue and logic behind the frankly ridiculous and illogical things that can happen in video games. Unfortunately for me, to do newer games I either need to get a new computer or find someway to run my X-Box through the computer. I’ve been wanting to do one of Star Trek Online for quite some time.

However, I’m open to suggestions. Incidentally, I shall try to make it funny, or at least an amusing read. I’m going to try and do that with most blog entries, and hope that my writing will steadily improve. Its different (and nice) to be writing something non-academic for a change.

Anyway, the comment system should work, so feel free to speak your mind at any time. I won’t give out emails, and you can even them back to your own blog. Also, the current theme is a placeholder, and not set in stone at all. Suggestions are always appreciated. Finally, if you look to the right, you will see some links. If you want to be added, just let me know!

Review: Mass Effect 2

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

And, so we start off this blog with a gush of fanboy love… not exactly an auspicious start, so I shall try to temper myself. I will clarify that Mass Effect 2 really is all I have been playing for the past week, and  further more is the best game I have played in a while.

For those who do not know, Mass Effect 2 is the second in a set of three planned games that comprise Bioware’s epic, sprawling, space opera. The mere fact that it is space opera is probably half the reason I like it so much, because for those of us who are fans of space opera there has been little enough of it available (except for Avatar, of course). Even shows that traditionally scratched the itch, such as Stargate: Atlantis have begun to follow the Lost route of having an interesting premise, but only five minutes worth of plot each episode and filling the rest of their air with angst. So starved have I been for this style of genuine laser blazing, princess rescuing, space adventures that not only have I played both Mass Effect games, but I have read the Mass Effect books.

Mass Effect 2 begins with a pseudo cliff hanger, by which I mean something that would have actually been a cliffhanger if it occurred in the last game. Admittedly, if there had actually been a cliff hanger at the end of the last game, people would have sworn blood oaths against all the script writers. In Mass Effect 2, this is primarily used to drain you of all the resources you had accumulated in the first. Eh… at least this game actually pretends to have a reason for doing so.

Most of the game is spent recruiting your team, and also building up their self confidence, cooing reassurances, and taking time out from your desperate race against time to go solve your crews Daddy issues (I’m not kidding, that happens). This is actually highly entertaining, as the backgrounds of the your crew are interesting, and the missions are quite fun. It does, though, occasionally make you feel like a space middle manager, especially with the amount of time that you spend mining.

Mining is a huge stroke against the game. Its take a long time, and it s flow breaking-ly dull. It can’t be ignored though, as you to mine resources so you can upgrade your team’s weapons and your spaceship, and you need these upgrades if you want the best ending to the game. I really don’t know why this is here, as I can’t imagine anyone implementing this in a game without realizing that almost everyone will hate it. If you must have us collect resources, at least figure out an interesting way to do it. You could have the player set up mining facilities through missions which would then give a steady flow of resources. Or you could have the player either persuade or intimidate mine owners to give you resources. Or you could outright attack other ore haulers. Anything but moving a slow cursor over a 3d model of a planet hoping to find some platinum.

Combat is good though. In Mass Effect 2, combat is centered around gun play and force… er… biotic powers, and plays much like Gears of War. Its viewed from a first person perspective, and you have to take cover while firing rather thn charging blindly into combat. Or you die. Over and over again. This is similar to the first game, but overall the experience has been improved. Every character no longer carries every weapon; in the first game you were force to carry an assault rifle everywhere even if trying to use one would result in bullet holes in everything but the enemy. Combat also feels…smoother. Aiming is better, the action flows more, and it just seems better tweaked. I’d have to play the first one again to catalog the small changes, but then again I liked the combat in the first game as well.

Aside from the combat, there are many little changes between Mass Effect 2 and the first game that make the second one stand out. Mass Effect 1 was enjoyable, but filled with tiny irritating flaws that I beleive signifigantly reduced its appeal.  The minigames to hack computers and break into doors consisted of paying Simon Says with the computer, the inventory system was a mess, the driving was horrible, he loading screens were disguised half the time behind elevators that moved hilariously slow… these errors have rectified and the game is much improved for it.

Some issues remain… no, no, no I can’t say that. I’ve admited to being a fanboy, so I’ll call them ‘unanticipated  gameplay enhancements”. You character will frequently get themselves stuck on the world geometry, to simulate how clucky their space suits would be! And the system used to highlight important objects is almost invisible because of space myopia! Caused by vacuum exposure! And Tachyons!

These annoyances aside, it is quite entertaining game-play wise. I cannot judge the story until I have finished the game, but I might come back to that later, if it utterly falls apart. Until then though, Mass Effect 2 is a refreshing burst of space opera goodness.

Old Tapp’s Notes Site

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

The Old Tapp’s Notes Site can be found at:

http://tappsnotes.net/Music/index.html

I will also be putting a couple of links up at the side of the page on a permanent basis, and the Old Tapp’s Notes site will be one of them.

Hello world!

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Welcome to WordPress. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!