The Adventures of Bitch Shepard Begin plus Miracle of Sound

1 Apr

-Bitch Shepard

I’m naturally a kind person. I hold open doors for strangers, smile at those who pass me by and do favors for my friends. Therefore when I play Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2, I naturally lean towards Paragon. Some people might tell you that paragon is “good” while renegade is “evil”. This is not the truth. Both alignments of Shepard are trying to save the galaxy. They are both looking out for the greater good. The difference is how they go about it. Paragon Shepard is kind, friendly, trusting of strangers, idealistic, overall follows the law and treats all races as equals. This results in sometime is a Shepard which gets duped, sounds high and mighty from time to time and earns less money from not dealing with shady characters.

Renegade Shepard, on the other hand is an awkward mix of pragmatism, professionalism, badass-ness, racism, and being a jerk. The first three traits work fine together but with the racism and being a jerk thrown in there, it results in a Shepard who acts highly unpredictably. If you are seeking to develop a consistent Shepard in your mind, renegade playthroughs can make that hard. Also, wavering on which alignment you choose can have some negative implications since having a high renegade or paragon score are required to select some of the most powerful conversation options. So if you want to be kind to your crew but a son of a bitch to strangers, you’ll see your lack of single-minded character development harm you in the long run.

Though not a perfect solution, I think I have figured a way to make Shepard come across as less crazy. It involves using a feature added to the radial dialogue system in Dragon Age 2. When you hover over a dialogue choice, a picture is displayed in the center of the radial. The picture hints at what the nature of your response will be such as a heart for flirting. If the pragmatic and professional aspects could get a symbol (let’s say a pistol) and the racism and being a general ass had another (like a fist), you could avoid the aspects of renegade you dislike and form a much more consistent character. Of course a similar set of symbols would be implemented for paragon so to help those who’d like to be kind without being taken for a chump. While not a perfect system since it requires learning a set of symbols, it would help clarify Shepard’s intent while still allowing the ability to continue to navigate the dialogue quickly. Without such cues, either Shepard but particularly renegade Shepard comes across as a rather inconsistent character.

The difficulty of realistically characterizing a renegade Shepard more then any other reason has dissuaded me from doing a renegade playthrough until just recently. Well-developed characters are one of my favorite things in the world. While Shepard is probably one of the least interesting characters in the Mass Effect trilogy, they are the gateway through which the player interacts with the world and therefore it detracts from the experience if Shepard is too inconsistent to be considered a real character. To get through the experience of a renegade playthrough, I vowed to myself that I would not attempt to mentally characterize this Shepard and instead am treating her has an exercise in hyperbole. I will play this Shepard as renegade as possible to see where those choices lead as well as to laugh at how schizophrenic she comes across. I mentally refer to her as Bitch Shepard as I play.

So far it has been pretty funny, though I’m not very far yet. My favorite moment that has happened so far was when I knocked out Manuel, the slightly crazy assistant of a scientist I found in the area where the player is first introduced to husks. My Shepard first said “Night Night, Manuel” in a creepy voice and then punched him so hard he passed out. The scientist freaked out at my treatment of her assistant and I calmly and pragmatically explain that he was unstable, unpredictable, and could have hurt someone at any moment. Sound like anyone you know, eh Shepard? I hope to recount the funniest or most thought-provoking bits of my experience with my renegade in a reoccurring segment I’ll call The Adventures of Bitch Shepard. Tune in from time to time to see more hilarious hijinks and thoughtful in-game character development commentary.

-Miracle of Sound

This next bit is slightly Mass Effect related but mostly just a quick recommendation I wanted to get out there. Miracle of Sound is a musician best known probably for his original song, “Commander Shepard “

It doesn’t matter if you haven’t played Mass Effect, this song is dangerously fun, catchy and rocks quite a bit more then most people would expect a song about a video game to rock. And just this week, The Escapist, my favorite nerd lifestyle website, started featuring his music. His newest song, Age of the Dragon, is one his best yet with its earworm refrain and driving guitar. I haven’t even played Dragon Age 2 (which it is about) and I already downloaded the song from iTunes because I enjoyed it so much. It is always exciting to see someone with this much talent and creativity get rewarded for their efforts, but since I was already a fan and he is getting featured on one of my favorite websites, I’m doubly excited. Aside from the two songs I mentioned above, he has two other songs I really like: Gordon Freeman Saved My Life about Half-Life and I Suck at Call Of Duty. Sure his lyrics can be silly and his hooks are considered cheesy by certain people but hopefully some of you will give him a listen and discover that music about video games can rock. He will be uploading a new song that can be found at the Escapist ever two weeks of so on Wednesdays.

Prepare the Preparations- Ludo

24 Mar

An Album Review

Three things reminded me immediately of the better days of my college life: World of Warcraft, Pomegranate-flavored energy drinks and Ludo. Of these three things, the only I haven’t outgrown was Ludo. I was introduced to this alt-rock band from St. Louis by two of my best friends in college. At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked Ludo. Their basic sound reminded me of a pop rock band. It was when I finally buckled down and paid attention to the lyrics that I fell in love with the band. Ludo writes all of their songs either from a nerdy perspective or about nerdy things.

One of their earliest albums, Broken Bride, is about a man who loses the woman he loves and instead of writing sad songs (as might be expected for a rock album) decides to fix this problem by building a time machine. The album contains an overarching story filled with zombies, dinosaurs and heartbreak. Broken Bride comes across as nerdy on first listen but even their more traditional songs have a hint of nerdiness to them.

Their most popular and successful song, “Love Me Dead”, is a classic “the person I love sucks” song. What isn’t cliched are the examples used to explain the horribleness of the girl in question. She is compared to everything from a TV evangelist to a party girl puking in his soul then asking for gum. Ludo has a very creative and nerdy way of writing even the most common types of songs.

Ludo released a new album, Prepare the Preparations, on September 7th of 2010. I immediately picked it up, listened to it and fell in love with many of its tracks. In the following review I will first talk about my general reaction to the album and then go song by song mentioning high points or interesting aspects.

This album is a seamless blend of the pop rock of Ludo (their first album), the dramatic flare and storytelling of Broken Bride and the rocking chart-toppers of You’re Awful, I Love You. Each album has worked on these features, mastering a specific one and then carried it forward in to the next album. (Example of this- There were rockers such as “Girls on Trampolines” and “Good Will Hunting By Myself” in Ludo but “Love Me Dead” is that genre worked to perfection). Prepare the Preparations is the natural evolution from its predecessors: containing and mixing all the perfected genres of the earlier albums while adding a few new tricks. If you’ve listened to and loved Ludo before, this album is a must own. Despite the above praise, I don’t think it is their best album (That would be Broken Bride). I do think it is as good as their previous albums, and has some of my top favorite songs by Ludo. Prepare the Preparations is great because it continues what is amazing about the band while stretching it beyond previous range.

If you’ve never heard of Ludo and wonder if this album is for you, ask yourself a few questions. Do you enjoy storytelling in your songs? Do you like nerdy things like a war between cyborg and robots, pirates, or love songs featuring leprechauns and witches? Do you appreciate a variety of genres in you general music tastes? If so, give some of the stared songs below a listen. Ludo might just become one of your favorite bands like it did mine. And if you like this album, definitely don’t stop here. All three of their albums are awesome listens. I’d recommend trying them in the order of: “Broken Bride”, “You’re Awful, I Love You” and then “Ludo”.

Song Notes

1. Too Tired to Wink- Good song but not in my top five on the album. Similar in genre to many of their songs on You’re Awful, I Love You; it rocks but only enough to make me lose a pair of anklet socks (as in rocks my socks off? Get it? Damn, that joke was bad. I apologize).

2. *Cyborgs vs Robots- My second favorite song on the album. Great topic, great energy and great instrumentation. I’ve heard reviewers say it is too busy sounding but as a person who enjoys Dragonforce, I can safely say it is just busy enough to convey the intensity they were going for.

3. *Whipped Cream- My third favorite song on the album. Like Too Tired to Wink, it reminds me of many of the songs on You’re Awful (particularly a blend between “Go-Getter Greg” and “Love Me Dead”) but I think this one due to shear hilarity of lyrics, rocking guitar part and the unlikely earworm nature of the refrain puts it in my top five.

4. *Anything For You- My favorite song on the album. I’m a sucker for this sort of mellow sound in general and previous albums have had good songs in this genre such as the hidden song “Boat Song” or “Topeka”. As well as being the best mellow song Ludo has ever recorded, it is both romantic, clever and funny all at the same time.

5. Manta Rays- Another good song that doesn’t make my top five. It is a more traditional mellow-styled love song. The lyrics are flavored by Ludo’s quirkiness but it isn’t as clever as “Anything for You”, keeping it from really standing out.

6. *Skeletons on Parade- A “Nightmare before Christmas” style musical number with the chorus (as in the musical theater type) and everything. One of the better songs on the album but I personally have to be in the right mood to really appreciate all the awesome word choices, jokes and guitar riffs due to its musical sound.

7. I’ll Never be Lonely Again- An oldies style love song, sweet and sad. This song would fit right in as a slow dance song at a 50s sock hop. Andrew’s voice is beautiful on it and it shows their range but it is not quite my cup of tea.

8. *All the Stars In Texas- My fourth favorite song on the album. It took me awhile to love this song but once I understood all the lyrics, I couldn’t stop singing it. A love song from the perspective of a bank robber to his girlfriend/partner-in-crime. The sound is odd and features the Moog rather extensively but it has good drive.

9. *Rotten Town- This is a song about pirates which is heavy on story but has a surprisingly good refrain. This is probably the best examples of their pure story song format on this album similar to “Lake Pontchartrain” but not as good.

10. Overdone- Musically, this song does some good things but I never could quite enjoy the lyrics. They are poetic and filled with strong emotions but it comes across as being as emo as Ludo ever will be.

11. *Battle Cry- Quiet literally a response to “We are the Champions” from point of view of the losing side. The anti-climax of the refrain makes me giggle while the Queen-style backing vocals and guitar make me want to rock. It is a great combo.

12. Safe in the Dark- Maybe my least favorite song on the album mostly due to my dislike of the extreme repetition of the line “everyone wants to feel safe in the dark”. Musically, it sounds cool and the call/reply structure of the choruses is interesting but the refrain kills the song for me.

13. Skeleton’s Lullaby- A tiny song that seems to be there partially to make the album have thirteen songs and partially to wrap up the musical that was started with “Skeletons on Parade”.

Half-Life 2

11 Mar

Silent Protagonists and Controlled Storytelling

I know I’m a bit behind the curve, but I just played Half-Life 2 and I loved it to death. Aside from great shooter game play, it also feature a well-told story. One of the stories most interesting features is its use of the silent protagonist. Silent protagonists have two main purposes: to allow immersion in the story and to allow the player to project themselves onto the silent character. Gordon Freeman is very successful at one of these but fails terribly at the other.

When the main character doesn’t talk, this normally allows people to see the character as themselves. A game where both purposes of the silent protagonist work great is Portal. Aside from the fact that the player can see Chell, there is little to distinguish her from the player. Though Glados talks at her, Glados’ treatment of Chell seems based on her current actions not on who Chell is as a person. When I played Portal, I never thought about what Chell was thinking or what kind of person she was. I was able to see myself as her and was therefore thoroughly immersed in my Aperture science experience.

Gordon Freeman is also a silent protagonist but he is not a blank slate. He is a distinct character with a past, character traits and relationships apart from the player. Some may argue that by not talking, Gordon loses all chance to define himself. This ignores Valve’s clever story telling techniques. One of the main ways Gordon’s character is defined is by the interactions with his friends from his life previous to the Black Mesa incident. Barney, Eli and Kleiner each reveal a little about him. They talk about his job, his education and their personal experiences with him. These tidbits are one of the main ways Gordon is fleshed out.

Another way Gordon’s character is revealed to the player is when there should be a choice the player can make but none is offered. A good example of his happens after he escapes Ravenholm. Through much of the game, Gordon is running for his life with little chance to catch his breath let alone decided where he is trying to go. This makes the general lack of choice available in the game make sense because the getting away is more important then where he is getting away to. Things should be different when he finally gets out of Ravenholm. Gordon in theory is free to go where ever he pleases having finally gotten out of both City 17 and the zombie-filled ghost town. Instead of choosing where to continue his flight from the Combine though, Alyx tells him that Eli Vance has been taken to Nova Prospekt. Gordon then charges off to save his friend, heading in to more danger instead of continuing his escape. By not allowing the player to choose whether they will save Eli or not, the game is having Gordon himself make a choice. It doesn’t matter if the player doesn’t want to save Eli, Gordon does so that is where you go.

Though some of the above evidence may not have you convinced, there is one aspect of Half-Life 2 which I feel beyond a doubt reveals some of the distinct character traits that Gordon Freeman possesses. This aspect is the game play itself. To complete the game, the player solves physics puzzles grounded in reality and fights through waves of combine soldiers, headcrab zombies and antlions. I personally died quite a bit particularly at points where the two challenges of the game were present at the same time. In the canon plot of Half-Life 2 though, Gordon doesn’t ever die which is why (aside from it being a horribly punishing way to design a game) each death results in you getting to try again. Gordon, unlike (most) players, clears every challenge in the game in one go. To be able to successfully do that, a person would have to be smart and a good shot. Gordon’s intelligence and skill with a gun is revealed through the game play of Half-Life 2.

Though Gordon is a distinct character which makes him different then many other silent protagonists, he still succeeds at being immersive. This is done through Half-Life 2’s controlled storytelling. The Half-Life 2 story is nothing if not a carefully controlled experience. If Valve wants to make sure you look at something cool, they have a combine solider shoot at you so you’ll be looking the right way as it passes by. This amount of control over the story even goes down to the emotional level. When you help citizens fight in City 17 is a good example of this. Ever group of citizens you meet is excited to meet you. They all treat you as if you are their savior, even referring to you as “the one free man” and other messianic terms. Invariably though as you work your way across City 17, these citizens die. My own reaction was to feel guilty and uncomfortable. In fact, I frequently through of myself as the worst Gordon Freeman ever. The citizens had though of me as some kind of hero and I had let them down. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that everyone who plays has some citizens die on them and that this is another part of the controlled experience. Unlike many FPS main characters, Gordon is a theoretical physicist first and an ass-kicker second. He was not born or even trained for this experience. He is flying by the seat of his pants. Yes, he does kick a lot of ass but he is just human and he can’t save everyone. Gordon feels guilty when the citizens die and uncomfortable with their praise of him and so the player is made to feel similarly. Carefully controlled emotions tie the player to the Half-Life 2 story causing immersion.

This emotional control is also present in the players experiences with Alyx. Alyx is suppose to be a character you like. Valve spent a lot to time play testing to make she she was helpful and never annoying. There are two reasons for this: 1. if she was annoying, it would have a negative effect on the game as whole and 2. Valve wants you to feel what Gordon is feeling. A romantic relationship between Alyx and Gordon is carefully formed over the course of the game and it’s following episodes. It is obvious on her side that she is falling for him but how does this play out from Gordon’s side? The player’s own emotional attachment to her. I know when I played Half-life 2, I was surprised to realize that I loved Alyx. Even though she could take a lot of damage, I found myself purposely standing in front of her to block her from being hit by bullets. I’d apologize when she’d get afraid in the dark and smile stupidly back at her she she said something funny. While I’m sure my reaction was a bit on the extreme side, coming to care for Alyx is a part of the carefully controlled Half-Life 2 experience. Feeling what Gordon would be feeling is the main cause of immersion in the game and Valve controls this without ever controlling your immediate actions.

Half-Life 2 is one of the best reviewed games of all time and I can see why. The game play is some of the best I have ever experienced and not just for a FPS. It is challenging but not punishing and it changes the mode of play often enough not to get stale. The topper for this awesome cake for me is the excellent way the story is told and the characters are fleshed out. By telling Gordon’s tale through a completely unhindered first person view, they made their storytelling process difficult. Despite and perhaps even because of these challenges though, Half-Life 2 stands out as a marvel of video game storytelling.

LoadingReadyRun

5 Nov

A Site Recommendation

Every Monday when I wake up, I skip reading my favorite webcomics and go straight to The Escapist . There awaiting me are two new videos by LoadingReadyRun . LoadingReadyRun or LRR as they are sometimes called is one of my favorite things on the internet. They are a troupe of geeky Canadians who write, shoot and act in a variety of comedic videos. Not only are these videos hilarious but they are also creative, clever and nerdy. One of the things I love about the internet is how it allows creative people to share their projects with the world. LoadingReadyRun is an ideal example of this. They release three comedic videos as week in three different formats as well as periodically putting out some other random entertaining ones. Their main staple, LoadingReadyRun, is a collection of random sketch comedy skits. This segment has featured a wide variety of entertainment over the years from troubles with time travel to a man telling a story about making a grilled-cheese sandwich. Aside from their weekly sketch bit, they also do a mock video game news show similar to The Onion and, a Mystery Science Theater 3000k-style bit featuring video game cut-scenes

On top of all this creative hilarity, they also do a yearly charity event called Desert Bus for Hope. In this event, they play the worst game ever made, Desert Sus, until people stop paying them. In the game, Desert Bus, you drive on a straight road surrounded by no scenery from Tucson to Las Vegas in real time at a max speed of 45 mph. Upon arriving you are given one point and then the process starts over again but headed in the opposite direction. There is no way to win and the car swerves slightly to the right constantly so you can’t even tape down the gas button and leave to make the trip. If you crash, you are towed back to your starting city in real time. The LoadingReadyRun Crew put themselves through this to earn money for the charity Child’s Play. Child’s Play is a charity started by Penny Arcade which provides games and other forms on entertainment for children in hospitals. Last year, LRR collected $140,449 dollars of donation and this year, due to their ever growing fame, I predict that they will earn even more. Aside from the busing itself, another part of the Desert Bus for Hope event is the Desert Bus Craft Along. People donate homemade items which get auctioned off to earn even more money for the cause. This year, a tetris-themed lolita skirt designed and sewn by me will be a part of the auction. I’m quite proud of it and if you are a nerdy lolita or just like different clothing, you might want to give it a look. Desert Bus starts on November 19th at 6pm PST. Feel free to tune in and watch them be hilarious while they torture themselves.

The LoadingReadyRun crew are creative, funny, geeky and giving people. Their comedy comes with my highest recommendation. Below are some links to my favorite skits and series to get your started but really watch any of their work to add a dose of nerd funny to your day.

Favorite series
CommodoreHUSTLE
Rapidfire I and Rapidfire II

Favorite videos
Bad News
Split Decision
Magicland
Omni-lingual
Desert Bus Killed the Internet Star
A Sacred Duty
Pull Yourself Together
Gorgeous
How to Talk like a Pirate
Eyewitness Accounts

Kaichou Wa Maid-Sama! Review

26 Oct

Overdone stereotypes given new life through character development

Kaichou wa Maid-sama! Or Maid-Sama as it is commonly called, is an anime/manga about a classic tsundere girl and the perfect boy that loves her. Her name is Misaki and she’s a smart, athletic girl struggling to make the school she is student council president of a better place while also trying to help support her family by working at a maid cafe. Misaki wants to keep her job at the maid cafe secret from everyone who knows her due to its fetishistic and therefore demeaning nature. The perfect boy’s name is Usui and he’s a smart, athletic heartthrob who knows about her job. He promises to keep her occupation a secret and the challenges of this arrangement causes are what propel a great deal of the plot. Sounds pretty cliched right? While the basic concept of the plot and the characters seems highly unoriginal, a frequent amount of well written character development enhances these standards and makes Maid-Sama stand out.

I’m a writer at my core so one of the main things that draws me to any story is good writing. From video games to TV series to novels, having either a strong narrative or well-written characters will make me into a fan pretty quickly. Pieces that unite these two become part of my top ten favorites in their particular genre. (See West Wing for an amazing example of this from the TV series category). I will admit I was initially drawn to Maid-Sama! due to the lolita style maid costumes. Lolita fashion is a favorite clothing style of mine and anything including a Lolita in it has my attention. While I was drawn to the show for the cute clothes worn at the maid cafe, I am a fan due to the consistent character development of Misaki and the strong characterization of Usui.

Misaki starts out the series as a classic tsundere, though like Kaname of Full Metal Panic! I feel a great deal of her rage is justified. Her father deserted her mother, sister and her, forcing them all to cut corners to the extreme. Their house is in an immense state of disrepair and the poverty they experience is jokingly emphasized by her sister’s constant contest entering. Her father’s abandonment of their family has caused her to hate and distrust men.

Another cause of her annoyance towards men is the school she attends. It was just recently changed from an all boys school to co-ed when Misaki enters it. The male portion of the student body have a lackadaisical relationship with the rules and often attempt to push female students around. She rises to the position of Student Council president so as to eliminate these problems and hopeful convince more girls to attend the school. Overall the male students deserve at least her annoyance and she hopes being harsh with them with make them become better members of the student body. Dealing with an entire high school filled with difficult boys does not warm the cockles of her heart towards men.

Even a girl with reasons for her rage does not a interesting character make. Misaki’s consistent character growth is one of the things that keeps her tsundere from getting stale. The more time she spends with Usui, the more the chinks in her armor show. One of the ways her feelings come through is that fact that she lets him hold her and even sometimes willingly returns the embrace. This may not seem like much, but allowing and participating in physical affection is a big step for someone as emotionally stunted as she is. The most obvious of her feelings is her own “annoyance” at him, particularly after he has done something sweet or forward. At these points, Misaki always describes her feeling as being annoyed but the audience can see that she is just uncomfortable with her own growing feelings. Though the very definition of a tsundere includes the warming of the heart towards the main male character, these changes are happening steadily unlike the glacier pace many tsunderes warm up at. This increased pace keeps Misaki from growing too annoying.

Usui is a man of mystery but the complicated nature of his character keeps him from becoming boring to watch. One of the most blatant aspects of his character is his love for Misaki. Upon realizing the difficulties she had faced to get where she is (Top of class, talented athlete and class president), he seems to fall hard for her. While his love for her is constant, it is not the pure courtly love of the medieval knight stories. Usui commonly straight up tell her that he’d like to grope her or jokingly requests sexual favors. Though I doubt he expects anything to come of this other then being called a pervert, he inter-spaces such comments between telling her such sweet things as that she is perfect for him or that she is cute. I feel that this is a highly romantic but slightly realistic way to portray his feelings. He loves her, all of her, which due to being a teenage means that he’d liked to jump her as soon as is convenient.

Usui’s careful pursuit of Misaki also makes him into a more enjoyable love interest then many. His attempts to be with her are near constant and therefore result in a through amount of stalking. He understands that what he is doing is stalking and cracks jokes at his own expense about it. Even more forward then the stalking are his declarations of feelings, and the hugs or kisses he steals. These often result in Misaki blushing and being confused. Having a man straight up admit his feelings is hard for her to grasp due to her emotional immaturity. These romantic interludes are less and less causing her to freak out and pull away as she grows up but due to the skillful nature of his courtship, he has a way to remedy her freak outs. He fixes their budding relationship by doing something odd. Frequently but not always this unusual thing is hitting on the youthful and slightly feminine male vice-president of student council. By doing such odd things as kissing a guy, Usui makes it so that Misaki can re-orientate her brain towards thinking that Usui is just a pervert, hiding the niggling feeling that Usui’s feeling might be real under a silly lie.

While Maid-sama is not a classic piece of literature, it is good and the characters either complexity or consistent development keeps what could be a one note tale from getting stale. It is nice to see that the romantic comedy genre of anime is not entirely populated with Love Hinas. (Sorry Love Hina fans, but if you can eloquently explain the constant furnace of rage which is Naru, I’ll take it back)

I’d recommend this show to anyone who loves rom-coms and also anyone who once enjoyed rom-coms but has given up the genre due to the constant beatings of male protagonists. It may surprise you.

Knacc For Nerdiness Blog Grand Opening!

25 Oct

Welcome to my blog!  This will be my spot to write opinion articles, reviews, and discuss some of my favorite stuff.  I am a female nerd who has many hobbies: I design and sew clothing; play video and board games; enjoy anime, foreign films and musicals; write stories, read novels and create art.  This blog will focus on many of these with a heavy lean towards the nerdier of them.  I hope to post at least one blog a week, though ideas and time permitting, it may go up.  Please stop back every Thursday to see something new!