David Crew is a gamer and web lover. Read my blog or else I'll throw a Bomb-Omb at you. Lighted. :)

Reviews

The Best Season of Futurama Yet


Hey Everyone,

I know it’s been a bit since I’ve updated this blog, and you can blame that on college starting back up and now homework actually being assigned. No Gen Eds to actually take up my time this semester too, which is annoying.

Anywho, Futurama is a surprisingly underrated show, even today after having five glorious seasons and now going on their sixth. However, this year, Futurama has been pulling out every single stop as far as quality of writing, animation, and wit. Dealing with philosophical themes and issues of mortality and the continuum of time, Futurama provides some exceptional artistic presentation combined with the humor of the show.

I really can’t explain the intricacies of the current 6th season very eloquently, since I’m not a writer for Futurama and have that kind of superhero-type writing ability, but I definitely recommend episode 6, Lethal Inspection, and episode 7, The Late Philip J. Fry as episodes to watch that will both make you smile and laugh, as well as tear up a bit.

As always, stay awesome my friends,

-David Crew

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The Importance of Music in Video Games


So awesome. ❤

Hey Everyone,

I have always been very geek when it comes to music in video games. Even when it was the 16 bit sounds of my first Super Nintendo chiming away as I combated zoras in Link to the Past, stomped on goombas in Super Mario World, or blasted Mavericks in Mega Man X, I would always enjoy the little tunes that played during each game. It got to the point where I could easily tell what game my friend was playing in the other room simply by hearing the melodies.

The type of Music that’s in video games plays a pivotal role in how well a game communicates to a gamer and can either make or break many video games in development and on the market.

Why do you exist?

But why is the music so vital to a game? Why is it that the thumping drums and airy choral lines in the Halo games more fitting than techno music and banjos? (besides banjos being the most useless instrument in the world). It’s because music is an essential ingredient to building atmosphere within games and evoking certain kinds of emotions in gamers.

Music has a special ability to evoke emotions. The tone colors of certain instruments as well as the overall beat, rhythm, pitch, staff style and much more can influence what natural kind of emotion we get. The dissonant chords and fast strings in Dead Space put nerves on edge, the slow french horns and deep drums of Oblivion soothe you as you ride over luscious hills, and the airy sounds of Venice with the mix of human chatter make you really feel like you’re with Ezio in Assassin’s Creed 2. (Oblivion even won the MTV Video Music Award for “Best Original Score” through an international popular vote.)

Video game music even has grown to be a distinct genre. Take, for example, many of the classical bands that have toured and featured video game music such as the Gamer Symphony Orchestra at the University of Maryland. And those are just classical orchestras playing video game music. There are sites out there that feature remixes and compositions based upon video game music like OC Remix, which provides free tracks you can download that remix game compositions into, many times, utter masterpieces.


But overall, I will be forever geek when it comes to video game music. If you’re interested in some decent soundtracks of video games, check out Oblivion, Halo, Chrono Trigger/ Chrono Cross, God of War 3, and Legend of Zelda Windwaker, Final Fantasy VII and X,  and Metal Gear Solid on Amazon or through youtube. And also, here’s one of my favorite tracks from Ocremix:


Kick – Punch, It’s All in the Game


Hey Everyone,

So I recently borrowed Batman Arkham Asylum from a friend of mine and have been playing it for a few days. I recently unlocked the challenge modes where you can just lay waste to waves of guys trying to rack up the most points, and I must say the combat in the game is just deliriously addicting, but why is it so dope?

Great Sound Effects

Unlike the old Batman show of the 70’s, there are no bonks, blams, pows, or anything of that sort. Each punch and kick feels like a punch and kick and the sounds literally give the animations more life as the enemies crumble before the Dark Knight’s vigorous attacks. Developers take notes, if we want to melée some dudes, make us feel like we’re pounding the guys. =)

Smooth Strings

Attacking one guy and nailing the code animations and everything against that one guy is all well and good, but the really great thing about fighting baddies in Arkham is being able to string combos between guys and attacks so smooth and effortlessly. It’s what makes Arkham’s combat so easy to learn and yet so difficult to master. Assassin’s Creed 2 also makes it easy to string attacks between guys, yet actually landing those attacks to make a satisfactory, bone-crushing hit is always interrupted by the stupid deflection that some enemies in that game have.

Great Animations

So you’re landing great sounding hits and stringing them between several enemies at once, but what really puts the icing on the cake in Arkham is seeing Batman do a slick combo animation where he snaps some guys leg or face so realistically. The smooth animations are especially noticeable when the camera zooms into the attack. Those realistic animations are what immerse gamers even more into the combat.

Now enough about that, I gotta get back to destroying people in Arkham. >=]


Mono – Hymn to the Immortal Wind


Hey Everyone,

Slacker Radio is by far one of my favorite music services out there. Sure, Pandora is more popular, and Grooveshark has an enormous library and pretty competitive radio option, too, but I have always loved using Slacker to find new artists and songs that fit my mood.

On the station “ambient chill (non vocal)” there is one band that I stumbled across that I just have to share. The name of the band is Mono and they’re a group from out in Japan that do magnificent, relaxing instrumental songs. I recently picked up one of their albums, Hymn to the Immortal Wind, and I must say the music is simply fantastic. They’re tracks are long, ranging from a few minutes to a dozen at times, but if you stick around for the entire track, they usually culminate in a delicious buildup to a crescendo that is just gorgeous.

Check out more info on their band here, and for an example song of theirs, check out this track below called “Burial at Sea”.


Glassdoor.com and Why You Should Use It


Hey Everyone,

As a student, there are always so many questions that pop into my head while at school. Is this material relative to my interests? Is my career path the right one? Will I be able to get a job when I graduate? How can I find a decent internship? Which company would I like to work for? Does ramen contain laxatives?

That’s why it’s always nice to find an online resource that can help satisfy at least a few of these questions. I stumbled across the website Glassdoor.com as I was searching for internships for the summer. Now, the site is only in beta, but it offers company Salaries, Reviews, and Interviews. I decided to try out a couple companies that I really don’t know any information about and I was rather surprised at the information that was available. Being the Bioware obsessed individual I am (Damn you Kotor!), I tried that company.

Within a couple seconds, the site brought up information about salary ranges of some of the positions (Animator makes $82k-$89k? Whoaa), a couple reviews about some of the details of working for Bioware from actual employees, a few words on the interview and one of the questions they used, reviews from employees that have been associated with the company, and the site included job postings from Bioware.

Now that’s pretty neat. To be able to pull up all that information in a timely and organized fashion was fantastic. I also feel that the site is pretty user friendly when it comes to design. The two column site approach shows the content on the left with tailored feeds on the right to your interests, such as what people are saying about Activision (enough with the Guitar Hero, srsly.). And the little things on the site round out the experience such as little green bars for salary ranges and the easy switches between salaries, reviews, and interviews.

Greenbars ftw.

The one feature that really stands out is the user account system. Every time you log in, companies you may have been browsing at some point will show updates, so Bioware may now have a new position open at their company that you can readily check, so it almost works as a news source in that regards. The only qualm I have with the site is that after so many page visits, you need to write something on the site in order to keep browsing, but they do offer accounts with all-access capabilities to students with a .edu address.

Glassdoor is still in beta, but I really enjoy what they’ve done so far with the site. I highly suggest you head on over to the site and check it out for any companies you may be interested in. You can also learn a few things from some of the more detailed reviews from employees about not only the company, but the industry as a whole. And also, if you’re looking for internships specifically, you should check out one of the sites that Glassdoor utilizes, Indeed.


What It’s Like to Work at EA – An Employee’s Perspective


Hey Everyone,

I stumbled across this little review of a person that has worked with Electronic Arts for over ten years. There’s a lot of interesting little information contained in their review that you may find fascinating, such as the development time and the politics of gaming companies:

Electronic Arts – “10 years of ea”

Electronic Arts Director of Technology

“Pros

EA is known for killing employees to ship games – on brutal schedules.

The deal is: employees also get a lot out of working for EA. I did, at least. There are lots of very talented people at EA, and (usually) opportunity to ‘craft’ your own career. Working on blockbuster titles, for the latest consoles, is fun stuff. Hardcore engineers (like me) love having access to the equipment – and the opportunity to make significant contributions to a high-profile product.

And, if you do make big contributions (the kind that are visible to upper management — like rendering features) it is easy to become a ‘top engineer’. Top Engineers are respected across the studio, and are showered with stock, bonuses, and promotions. For 5 years in a row, I got a promotion each year. My 1998 salary of 50k moved to 75k, then to 90k, then to 150k, and finally to 190k. While the promotions are happening, my stock grants are vesting – and I’m unloading them into e-trade for huge gains.

(employee buys nice house, and car with > 300 horsepower)

Is it a perfect company? Hell no. Does it have upside? OF COURSE. If it didn’t, people would leave. EA employees usually don’t have trouble finding work. They are vocal with their complaints – but are private with the upside (see text above). If the upside wasn’t there – everyone would walk out.

NOTE: In 2010, the state of ERTS is so bad, the upside discussed above has almost completely vanished. Now, it is just a horrible job. But- who else is hiring – at the same salary? It isn’t a fun place to be right now – but – in this economy – it is probably good that a direct deposit check is hitting the account every 2 weeks. Before the bottom fell out of the economy, everything I said above was true. And, it will probably be true again someday. But – so will the Cons. (Read below). Is it worth it? For some people. Usually, young – out of college, and un-married. As college becomes more distant, and marriage happens, the “upside” at EA isn’t quite as attractive. Depending on how high you were able to climb, it might be possible to get into a position where you can continue to pull your salary – and contribute virtually nothing. This eventually leads to depression, however. But, this is starting to sound negative… Go read Cons for more.

Cons

EA is known for killing employees to ship games – on brutal schedules.

Before I continue, I’ll admit that I am happy with my own experience at EA (see Pros). What follows is not sarcastic, but is an honest assessment of what I saw over 10 years of employment (at 3 different studios)

Read with a “just the facts” tone – and ignore the cynicism that creeps in (after 10 years, it is impossible to avoid)

EA does kill employees to ship games on brutal schedules. Seriously. The rumors wouldn’t be so persistent if there wasn’t truth there. Yes, many teams move into a mandatory 6 or 7 day work-week, with 12 hour days (with the occasional over-nighter). At the worst of crunch, I did several weeks of 14 hour days. With a 14 hour day, there is just enough time to get home, get enough sleep to stay alive, and go back to work. This *is* sustainable – for weeks on end, but isn’t much fun. All shipping projects crunch. This was true in 1998, and in 2008 – and every year between. Usually, this is assumed – and everyone (silently) knows that it is coming. Sometimes, when morale in the studio is low, management will hold an ‘all hands’ meeting to launch “new development practices” – and a “more efficient project management system” …. and a promise of a decent work/life balance, and short (or zero) crunch. Employees like the sound of it, but are very skeptical. But, over the next few months, the discover that the Management promises were true!! Sure, there was that ‘one big demo’ that required some late nights, but – otherwise – the work/life balance isn’t so bad!!!

I’m not sure why – but everyone seems to forget that ALL PROJECTS START THAT WAY. The problems start when the team is actually approaching Alpha. Suddenly, the team realizes that major systems – although planned well – have serious integration issues. Oh, and performance issues. Engineers are very quick to blame themselves. They work 10, 11… 12 hour days to work out the ‘critical’ and ‘blocking’ problems. Then, it is back to finishing features (but – uh oh – the Alpha date passed!!) … feature work continues into Alpha, and usually slips a bit into Beta. By this time, the entire team is working killer hours – meals are catered, and hundreds of wives are considering divorce. (Seriously, EA is not a safe place for your relationship). Anyway, by the time crunch arrives – everyone has LONG forgotten about the ‘new project management’ stuff. Who cares anyway?? The schedule is completely blown (because of multiple failures, it isn’t possible to “fault” one person – or one group). Most of the team feels half-guilty for letting the top-management down, and are convinced that they somehow brought this major breakdown upon themselves. So, mandatory 7 day week. We must finish this thing. We’ll learn from our mistakes. We know what went wrong, and we won’t repeat it. But, right now, we need to get this thing Gold – and shipped to sony and microsoft for approval. QA is still finding class A bugs — engineers yell at QA because the bug existed “since milestone 2!!” — why are we just hearing about it TODAY? But, secretly, the engineer also feels guilty for making such a stupid mistake, and works an all-nighter to get it fixed.

He looks like a hero, and management is pleased. Except – all he did is fix his own ‘one-liner’ bug, and it took him all night to track it down. Accomplishment? No. Paradoxical praise? You bet. (Pay close attention to what a company ‘says’ they value – and what they actually reward. EA rewards workers that kill themselves to get things done. Anyone that says differently is either hiding from that fact, or lying).

So, the game finally ships, and everyone goes on a week or 2 of comp time (resembling a coma). The game ships, sales are huge, game goes platinum, screen-shots and press coverage is everywhere. It feels good.

Management calls an ‘all hands’ meeting to discuss the upcoming cycle, and – maybe – promise some big changes. Will it ever change? Of course not. But, notice that EA employees will complain, but they don’t actually quit. Like crack, it is easy to complain about – but very difficult to walk away from. (Did you look at the value of your vesting stock? Holy crap!! I made more on stock that my entire salary last year!!!!) But, this is sounding positive, read Pros for more.

Advice to Senior Management

Oh goodness. I’m not sure what to say… Lean on the titles that make money – and try to get out of the other side of this “lost console cycle” – and economy hit. Maybe that $16 stock will start coming back up. If not, I’m not sure that “advice to management” is worth anything — because the head will be chopped off by the Board. EA needs to turn around soon, but everyone already knows it. If it doesn’t happen, the company will “re-org” again — call it (another) “reset” and lay down big plans for mobile gaming, online, and China. Oh – and replace all the top execs. (If your name includes SVP, you’re done).

EA will either pull off a Phoenix move – or collapse, like a dying star.

The really creepy thing? John R predicted this demise – in 2006/2007 – when EA was feeling fairly bulletproof. If you heard his speech on this, you know what I’m talking about. He gave examples of big tech companies that completely folded – and quickly. He cautioned ‘resting’ on the current business model – and said that it was a sinking ship.

The plans to escape the sinking ship (new business model) failed. Now, EA is doing a 180, and killing all new development. “Focus on the key titles – and build them” (Madden, FIFA, etc). But, how long can you sit like that – and not get run over?

Time will tell.

Good luck, ERTS.

Signed,
the guy floating away on a golden parachute (I traded in the golden handcuffs)

My advice to management: get one of these parachutes – and jump out of the doomed plane.”


Alan Wake Review


Hey Everyone,

Here’s is a review of the upcoming game, Alan Wake for the Xbox 360. I dunno about you guys, but this is going down on the must buy list for the summer. 😀

Full Review


Ebert – ‘Video games cannot be art’


Fuck off Ebert.

He goes on to say that Michael Jordan and a few other notable sports characters have never described their games as “art”. Well Durr. Sports games are not artistic in the fact that they simply replicate viewer ship experience of a sporting event and make it more interactive to be played at home. Where’s the art in replicating football, basketball, or any other sports game? It’s simply not part of the equation of the genre.

Now take a look at a game like God of War, Mass Effect, Resident Evil 4, or any other game that has a compelling storyline presented in a fantastic way. How can you say that the interactivity and resonance that those games provide is unlike the same resonance that a great movie provides?

I firmly believe that video games are the purest form of entertainment. A movie is something you sit down with a few buddies or by yourself and just watch images on a screen. A video game takes it a step further and gives you a controller to navigate your way through the story.

So get fucked Ebert, and don’t belittle an industry you can’t understand.

(full story)


Trailer Park Boys


I can’t believe I haven’t heard of this show before. Been addicted to this Canadian mockumentary for the past couple of months and literally watched every season, movie, and special. I highly recommend it to anyone. Here’s some clips down below, check em out.

Trailer Park Boys (Wikipedia)

Trailer Park Boys (Official Site)

Trailer Park Boys (IMDB)

Rickyisms:

Some Funny Scenes (Loudish):


Twilight New Moon Soundtrack – Listen + Review


Since Twilight New Moon is coming out soon, here’s a playlist of most of the music from the soundtrack to get you psyched up for it. You have two types of playlists to choose from. The different site or the widget. Whichever one works best for you use 🙂

For the different site, I couldn’t find number 9. Done All Wrong – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, 11. The Violet Hour – Sea Wolf, 12. Shooting the Moon – Ok Go, 14. No sound but the wind – Editors, and 15. New Moon (The Meadow) – Alexandre Desplat.

twilightnewmoon

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All Music Review (4/5 Stars)

Purchase Album (Amazon)

New Moon (film) Wikipedia Page

New Moon (Soundtrack) Wikipedia Page

New Moon (Novel) Wikipedia Page