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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Off to Ohio.

Chef buddy of mine has a family reunion in Ohio on Friday and asked if I wanted to drive up with him. He said my liver would fear for it's safety and I said "hell yes it should." I'll be back on the 4th!

Monday, August 28, 2017

So Hollow Knight's finale is a beast...

 ...And maybe the prevailing wisdom on the ideal charm loadout isn't panning out for you. The idea you can have a huge health pool and spam magic seems reasonable but I got my ass kicked at least 14 times. That wasn't me. I needed to be able to heal, but how do you do that when 90% of the screen is full of angry magic knives?*

This really did the trick for me (thanks reddit):

Double heal, mixed with rapid heal, the shape of Unn so you turn into a 'lil' mobile slug when you heal, and Grubsong. Because you should never EVER unequip Grubsong. Took down the bastard in 2 tries after that.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Hollow Knight Review: Death Wears a Mask

 It's been months since I started Hollow Knight. It's taken me 30 hours to reach 95%. That was time which has flown by in the way only my favorite games can manage. I've just tracked down the last charm on my list. It turns my dodge move into an attack. That's not an upgrade or even a variation on the other charms. It is wholly unique and I can see myself spending an hour mix and matching my loadout to get it to fit.

The charms are only a small part of this "metroidvania" but like every other part, it's a tiny miracle. There are no "bad" or "cheap" builds. Every combination can work if you know how to use it. They are never about getting better, or stronger, or faster... well not just about that. They are puzzle pieces that will eventually come together to create the perfect way you choose to play the game. There are multiple clever loadouts for exploration, for bosses, and for the maddening platform challenges near the end. Basically if you're stuck you only have your lack of imagination to blame.

...did it though?

Man, it's hard to talk about this game because I want to gush about it all. There's almost nothing it does I haven't either appreciated or even loved. I don't want to come on too strong, but I've waited for a game like this for so long. Something that not only approaches Symphony of the Night but damn near bests it.

SOTN is still damn good but it has a kitchen sink approach to design I've never really respected. If there's a remotely Gothic monster you've heard of its in that game without rhyme or reason. It's not a knock against it, but if a game came along that tried harder... that created a fascinating yet cohesive bestiary... and was about a society of high fantasy insects... I should cool it with the ellipses and get to the point.

When I was a 3rd of the way through I was pretty sure it was one of the best games I played this year. When I had mapped out the entire world I was certain it was my game of the year. When I turned it upside down and shook out every last drop of equipment to help me take down the showstopping motherf**ker that is the secret final boss I knew someone was getting knocked off my top 5. Of all time. Don't give me that look, I do not 100% games for no reason. My steam profile says I only reach the end of 33% of those I own and I am a CHEAP Scotch Irish mofo. I get my money's worth.

 The combat is tight and endlessly malleable. There are strength builds and mage builds. Builds that focus on evasion and healing. Builds that disable healing in exchange for a massive health pool. There's a lot to work with and I'll give you an example. There's a charm you can come across fairly early in the game that, after you finish healing a health notch, makes a cloud of spores that damages enemies over time. That charm never stops being amazing because so many other charms effect how you heal. There are tons of situations where that cloud is more useful than actually healing. Mostly in the Arena of Fools, a place that could take up it's own paragraph if I was feeling super spoilery. Basically, it's a part of the game that's so good it could have been $10 DLC and it would have been worth it. Seriously.


You ever find a book, or a film, or a work of art that feels like it was made just for you? That you feel lucky to have stumbled across and the world feels just a teensie bit more magical because of it? It's a difficult feeling to describe without coming off as... manic and it's important to explain the different ways that happened to me. So here we go:

First it's a metriodvania at heart and that will always make my ears prick up. The world is a maze that slowly unfolds around you as you explore it and then gain new powers that help you find even more powers. That loop can keep me hooked for weeks and it's way harder than it sounds to get this genre right. HK stands on the shoulders of literally hundreds of pale imitations. Castlevania itself tried and failed for 15 years to bottle SOTN's lightning again. It's also learned all the right lessons from Dark Souls. Another series I love that invented it's own genre. Tough, but fair, combat in a desolate world beyond saving. It's lore doled out in disjointed, but tantalizing, tidbits while it lets its stunning environmental design speak for itself.

       Imagine a Studio Ghibli film that starts off cute, becomes melancholy, then ends up silently screaming in agony for the final 20 minutes.

 Hollow Knight is not just the perfect synthesis of both those genres. It's hand drawn style and wonderfully written characters give the world a personality and sense of humor that I find lacking in the vast majority of video games. This could have been an animated series if it wanted to and it would have been excellent. A darker, funnier, Secret of Nimh.  Each episode would have followed the knight as it runs into different members of the cast as they both explore the Hallownest. Quirrel would be the supportive best friend, Zote, a jealous old coot, Hornet, the combative rival... I could go on.

And I will. They would see what they want to see in the knight's hollow eyes, never really knowing what it's up to or what it's been through... or what it is. Yep. I've enjoyed my time with Hollow Knight so much I'm fan fic-ing. That's a first. I don't know what's gotten into me.

I'm getting preachy again, so now is the perfect time to get brutally honest. The first 3rd is a little too easy and a little too straightforward. I put it down for almost 2 months because I disastrously underestimated how awesome it's mid-to-end game content is. There are frayed strands at the secret edges of the map that could use some tightening. The super meat boy-esque platforming at the end will drive tons of players away and I don't have a lot to say to prove them wrong. The White Palace is a HARSH mistress, but I felt like a badass for finishing it and only looking up youtube solutions once.

It's rare to come across true labors of love. Even rarer to find labors of love that are this... dare I say "masterful?" I don't want to get anyone's expectations out of whack but the fire hot intensity of my fandom ain't nothing. I haven't had this much fun breathlessly exploring a game since either the original Dark Souls or Rapture. You want to tell me this isn't one of the best games of the last 8 years, fine. There are sound reviews out there that are 7/10. But the Hallownest is one of the most romantic and interesting places gaming has ever produced. Period. Your opinion will rest on how much you can get caught up in this doomed world of talking bugs. I'm pretty sure you can guess where I stand.

Dream on, Team Cherry.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

I'm so sorry Hollow Knight. Please take me back.

Thanks, Overheating!

The biggest mistake I've made this year, gaming wise vs. career wise, was inexplicably dropping Hollow Knight just before it really took off. I had thought I was 2/3s of the way through, hit a nasty boss I didn't feel like adapting to, and just... moved on. I forgot how charming it's world was, how deceptively deep it's combat could be, and underestimated how much more game there was. I was only actually halfway there. To say nothing about it's massive secret areas, it's free DLC, and the hours it will take to track down all the different charms.

After that boss everything starts to feed back into itself. The disparate levels connect, new charms enhanced my old favorites, and I can't believe I haven't written a review yet. I'm pretty damn sure this is going to be my game of the year. When was the last time a boss fight made you laugh out loud, not because of anything specifically funny he does, but through what I can only describe as... strength of character?  Dude's a dung beetle and holy cheese does he love his job. And I, him.

We could have been friends...

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Into the Darkwood.

I learned something today. I learned that there's a way to engineer stereo sound to make me think there's someone in my kitchen. This is a game that sneaks up on you. Sure, there's some jumps involving traps and roving bands of dogs but it reeeeaaaaaly takes it's time getting under your skin in other ways. Which, considering it's top down, sprite based, look I didn't know that was possible. How much drama or mystique can you create from a satellite's perspective?


It's a survival game, so you've got errands to run in this otherworldly nightmare forest. Scavenge wood and fuel/assorted eldritch goodies, then board up your safe house to wait out the night. That's when the sound design truly shines. It goes for the obvious scares first. Heavy footfalls and shaking chains. Disembodied whispers and angry sounding shadow monsters. And then... just when you think you've got Darkwood's number...a polite, continuous, knock at your front door. Knock, knock, knock. Knock, knock, knock.

F**k you, Darkwood. You're amazing.

That feeling when $300 magically appears in your account...,f_auto,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/193y9mwpptjm1gif.gif

Apparently I had been so well behaved, credit card wise, I got my deposit back. Ladies and gentlemen... I REALLY needed that.

We should all play Bioshock Infinite one more time.

*Politics Abound*

I once lost a debate when I used the factions of New Vegas as a metaphor for America. Mr. House was the cold, unfeeling, oligarchy. The New California Republic the beleaguered, but well intentioned, democracy. Caesar's Legion... the end game of the republican party. Back in 2011, I was essentially calling republicans proto-fascists and it did. NOT. GO. WELL.

My, how the worm has turned.

It's been a hell of a few weeks. I try my best to keep my political animal locked away from this blog but I just can't right now. I am appalled. No administration shakeup is going to restore any amount of  my faith in the executive branch because fish always rots from the head. But my mind keeps turning to why this has all happened and funnily enough, video games had the answer. Infinite was in production for too long and it's plot gets away from it in the end. But it did something truly special before becoming the Booker'n'Liz show. It saw the future.

Republicans aren't villains. Or rather, they didn't used to be. They were rural folk with different ideals. They wanted a hands off, low maintenance, approach to government. They wanted to vote for their team and go back to their lives. It would be wonderful if that's all it took to make a government by the people, for the people. Wouldn't it? But a wise man once said "The price of peace is eternal vigilance." So times changed. The tea party was swept into power and the only thing they had to do to get reelected was yell at the other guy.

The sad fact is, there are mountains of power to be gained by burning our republic down. When you only check into politics during election time you run the risk of begin taken in, not by civil servants, but by carnival barkers. People who fan the flames of prejudice with half truths and vicious lies just to get what they want. An iron coalition of the faithful.

When you close your eyes and just believe everything will work out, you wind up with dictators. People who abuse and starve their citizens because an attack on their tyranny is an attack on their ego. It has happened here and you bet your ass it was wrapped in the American flag. But back to Bioshock...

Colombia is a wonderful place until you peak around it's corners. Indentured servitude, a militant police force, toothless propaganda trussed up as news, and active repression of intellectual curiosity. What I always loved most about Infinite is that it only appears to be republican heaven from a distance. The soft focus and fantastical elements only obscure the real history tearing it's way out. A "better" time never existed. Not for all Americans, anyway.

So anyone who tries to tell you this current administration is making America any better, they don't want a representative democracy. They want a cruel, hollow, imitation with them back at the top. They want Colombia:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Crackpot Book Club: Jingo

I've been tearing through the work of Terry Pratchett for the last few months. I've become a huge fan bordering on disciple. He's so charming and so understated. He waits for you to get lulled into a false sense of high fantasy satire then BAM. He dumps a bucket of ice cold humanity all over your head and you love him for it.

America has had a rough week and I think I have just the thing. A proverbial mug of calming tea with a bitter aftertaste. I'm only a few hundred pages into Jingo (city watch) and from that title you can guess where it's going. It's about being good police in a time where citizens are taking up arms for selfish, deluded, causes. It stares racism down and laughs in it's face the way only the English can. So polite... yet so brutal. It's helping me through a difficult time in the American south and I'm going to shut up now and let it speak for itself:

It was so much easier to blame it on Them. It was bleakly depressing to think that They were Us. If it was Them, then nothing was anyone's fault. If it was Us, what did that make Me? After all, I'm one of Us. I must be. I've certainly never thought of myself as one of Them. No one ever thinks of themselves as one of Them. We're always one of Us. It's Them that do the bad things.

-Terry Pratchett

Thursday, August 10, 2017

C&C episode 84: Our EMOTIONS!!!



The table is being set for the return of Hannibal.

American Gods was... ok. Splitting the book into 2 seasons was a bad idea mostly because there was barely enough material for the first. That and the last half of the book is the weakest. It's just not Gaiman's best work at the end of the day. I got the sense that he doesn't think much about American culture even though he tried REALLY hard to appreciate it. All the American gods are pale intimations of their international betters and all the new gods are essentially villainous. I mean, you don't see technical boy boosting AIDs research through crowd sourcing, do you? Anansi was the sh*t, though. It was like Orlando Jones was waiting his entire career for that speech.

So thank christ the talks for Hannibal's resurrection are moving forward. This was Fuller's most inspired work by far and it deserves another chance at an ending. Hopefully we'll get some closure for Bedelia at the very least.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cinematography of Preacher Vol. 2

Back by popular demand: season 2 episode 8. You keep the Hitchcock homages coming and I'll do my part, Preacher.

Monday, August 7, 2017

So I gave Warframe a shot...

Sometimes the randomizer hits gold. So help me if I'm tacky, when in Rome. is not for everyone. It's free to play for a reason, if I had dropped more than $20 on it I'd be pretty bummed. But it is absolutely free and it is interesting enough for me to spend a weekend with. It's destiny on speed. You walk faster than most games sprint, the aiming is flawless, and the jumping/light platforming is smooth as silk. Though enemies are bland turtle people that look and sound like sh*tier versions of Andromeda's already underwhelming rock jerks.

This here bag? She's mixed, but did I mention the roguish class has Max Payne's strafe jump but with a jet pack? You can just glide around corners going 60 mph and reasonably pull off head shots. I'm already having more fun than I did with Destiny. People rag on that game's storytelling but Warframe makes it look like Doctor, f**king, Zhivago.

But it's free. Sooooo free. $5-$20 for new costumes and weapon skins, so the ethical kind of free. But it really makes you appreciate games like Borderlands who put so much more effort into WHAT you're shooting even though Warframe makes it more fun to actually do that. Shooting, that is.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Thrones was pretty good tonight!

And it gives me an excuse to bug everyone with a cruelly forgotten Queen song:

Yeah! How you like me now?!

I'm sorry Beddy, but the headboard connectors were drilled in at an angle and... you just frustrate me sometimes.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The manliest thing I've ever manned.

99.9% MAN SWEAT. 00.1% anguish tears.

Moving sucks. Especially if you can't afford for someone to take apart your stupid fancy bed for you and you have to beg your dad for help. We gave up last night when his electric screwdriver got fritzed; but by god I was going to take apart all the load bearing lug nuts before we tried again tonight. I did it. The last lug alone took me 28  soul crushing minutes, but I finally got the f**ker. Now we can load these 3 easy pieces into the truck and be done with it. There's no way putting it back together could be MORE complicated.


Who am I kidding? I can't stay mad at you, Beddy.

C&C Ep: 83

Ok, the geisha/spiderbot fight wasn't half bad.

I was absent this week, busy buying my sister drinks for getting an interview at JOHNS HOPKINS so we can listen to it together. Pyre sounds neat and yes, Ghost in the Shell is a rank mess. I can't wait to hear all the ways Chance and I agree.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Cinematography of Preacher

People just ain't talkn' bout' Preacher like they should. To me at least. It's like the perfect storm of Tarantino and Breaking Bad. It's got an air of violent immaturity but it sobers up when it needs to. What it says about faith and particularly evangelicals walks a fine line of respectful disobedience.

But more to the point, I think its the best looking show on TV right now. Thrones is looking more and more exhausted while Preacher is hungry and eager to prove itself. These screen shots are all from a mid season placeholder episode. Keep that in mind. 


Where the hell is Ruth Negga's Emmy?