Welcome back to the stage of history!

Sunny Koda is a concept artist from Australia who went to the US filming a Documentary about Gamer Culture. He went from Sand Diego to Vancouver, from Comic Con to PAX. Now he's following his dream of working in the daunting US Games industry. Will he make it? I hope so. Because I am that guy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Forgiven, not forgotten.

Hey! If anyone is reading this the documentary has been on hold due to lack of an editor - but I'm in talks with my brother who tells me he is once again interested so something may come of it in the end. Fingers crossed.

The whole experience of travelling around the US and filming every day was really great - it forced me to go right out of my comfort zone and try to cover as many locations, personalities and events as possible. It ended up being am amazing time and I haven't forgotten any of the super cool people I met.

The other purpose of my trip was also partially fulfilled: I want to work as a concept artist in the games industry and, having the chance to see companies such as Blizzard, EA Games, Wizards of the Coast and Rockstar, I was blown away by the level of talent and the friendly culture I found. I met a lot of great contacts but unfortunately had no work that was good enough to be worth shopping around. The three main things I learned were:

1. I was no where near the benchmark even for a junior position. People had a lot of positive advice for me, and over the last two years I think I've dedicated myself thoroughly enough to get where I need to be in time for another trip I've scheduled for August.

2. It wasn't too difficult with the right contacts/attitude to get your work in front of the right people.

3. Everyone who works in games is so damn cool and friendly I can't accept working in any other field!

All this means I've been completely focused on my art (also my wife, and the ol' 9-to-5) without the time to update multiple blogs. I'm not so sure keeping seperate blogs for art/documentary/creative writing is necessary anyway so for the time being I've consolidated them all into one which I will continue to update with all of everything.

Yes, this was a round about way of saying my blog has moved:


Friday, November 4, 2011

More like 10 shitloads

Looking back on recent posts it seems like I'm becoming the Grumpy Old Man of the gaming world. Good I say! Nuts to you all.

It's fair enough to say 'There's always going to be a cheap and nasty side to gaming' but it feels like rather than being the seedy underbelly or the politely ignored idiots that corruption is spreading. It's becoming the rule rather than the exception.

First let's look at these EB/Gamestop fuckers.

Sexism andinsulting stereotypes aside, this is an ad to convince you to basically give them your old games so they can sell them again. The store credit is negligible really. Gone are the days when you could trade in 42 PSX games for a PS2 on launch. Ever since I happily offered a kid twice the trade-in price for his copy of Powerstone 2 I've felt like there's something seriously wrong with game trading.

At PAX last year they explained how games are ready to be sold online but Gamestop threaten to stop carrying their hardware, which is why those stores still exist: blackmail. They are a redundant leach on the games market, one with a deadly effect. If half the people who buy a game from a store were to buy it second hand, that doubles the stores profit and halves the developers profit. The stores just annoy you, try to rip you off, and dictate how and when you can buy games while the developers actually MAKE THE DAMN GAME. In an age where word of mouth, television and the internet form a powerful advertising net and people of all ages comfortably trade online there is no need for a store front. HMV? iTunes. Blockbuster? Netflix. Gamestop? Steam/XboxLive/PSN.

Now on to a threat not to the industry, but to the gamers themselves.

That is a link to something IGN call Babeology.

Babeology [beɪbˈɒlədʒi]
Some terrible excuse for quasi-nerd fantasy fap material that actively drives a wedge between male and female gamers. Largely used to increase website hits. While it's true that 'Sex sells' I feel like this kind of crap, along with 'girl gamers' like the Fragdolls and virtually every female games tv host gives a wholly unrealistic (and honestly undesired) model of female gamers. At least on tv they have equally vapid meat-headed men to stand alongside and read terminology off a teleprompter but I don't exactly see a section for girls with male models dressed as pokemon. Oh and if I see one more girl posing naked with a plastic guitar I am going to snap like my GH2 Explorer controller variant.

Thanks (or damn you!) to Joshua Muller for the links.

I find myself writing this on one of my last nights in California on my -second- trip to America. I didn't film much more for the documentary this time, but I did do a lot more networking (which is crucial), went to Blizzcon, and Luke [aka Mr--Jack] has taught me how to paint like a pro. A favour for which I will forever be in his debt.

I'm not sure if my blog reflected it, but the highlight of my last trip was meeting one Chris Allsopp. he is basically me but English and being so vein I immediately fell for his nervous charm. He considers me an uncouth Australian which is refreshing, considering I am probably one of the most couth Australians. But I don't tell Chris, he'll find out when he comes to my wedding next year.

Enough for now. Although I can say that after a long pause to work on my painting and organise a second trip to America I am ready to talk once again about making a documentary and being a true gamer.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nice jump, human


Last night whilst riding my bicycle home from work I had an idea.

My name is Sunny Koda, I'm a 27yo Concept Artist living in Melbourne Australia. I like metal, art, films, eating, rock-climbing and meeting cool people. I love playing games.

My lease and my work contract both end in July and I've been planning a trip to California to attend San Diego Comic Con and visit a couple of friends (a talented young Blizzard employee and an old friend up in Silicon Valley). My main reason for going is to get a feel for the community and business over in the US where I'd love to get a job in the future. But now I've been struck with the spirit of adventure! I really don't have much money, but wouldn't it be awesome to hang out in the US right through to the Penny Arcade Expo at the beginning of September? As a gamer that would be totally win.

Then I struck upon the idea of couch surfing, an affordable way of remaining in the US for the entire month of August. But I don't just want to subsist for a month, I want to do something cool! So here is the plan....

I'm making a Documentary celebrating Gamers, Games and the Gaming Industry through an adventure narrative!

I'm going to see if I can convince 30 odd people who love games to offer me their hospitality and their perspective to document the ultimate gaming experience. Yeah! I'll try to stay with a different person each day and share with them views of games, gaming culture and really find out what being a gamer means to them. Perhaps each host can show me their all-time favorite game and in return I'll do some gamer art for them and they can appear in my documentary representing their game and locality.

I like this idea.

It's been over a year now since this idea sprung into my head. Things have certainly changed. But this morning I finally saw the story that would turn this pile of ones and zeros into something watchable, into entertainment itself.

I want to put some focus on the making of the documentary:

Gamer as idea to travel and make doco, gamer plans things.

But then loses his job (focus on how tenuous the industry is) and spirals into despair.

Gamer goes ahead and packs his bags without any money, relying on the kindness of gamers.

The adventure begins!

California - USA, land of opportunity
Hanging with Luke & Chris
More Food
Nerd Market
San Diego - Nerd culture and the need for gamer's own identity
Comic Con
zomg Gabe & Tycho

San Fransisco - The gamers
Lauren + Patrick
Steph + Tristan

Portland- Gaming as a community
Ground Control
Retro Expo
Kristin's small-town gang

Seattle - train from cali, PAX: the gathering
The mehicans
PAX Train
Ty and 'friend of Ty' (name? Ty help me out here!)
games media, the culture realised

Vancouver - communication between industry and gamers.
Mitch + Em
Vancouver is beautiful
Games stores, Halo midnight Launch
Game testing, working in the industry

Home - the past, the future, my sweet new guitar.

raj pay attention!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

You're gonna kill my dick?

More mildly offensive trash. All the appeal of 'Teenage Dirtbag' (which I did listen to at the height of my teen-angst, Mena Suvari...) with a much narrower audience. Who is this aimed at anyway? Who would listen to this?

At PAX I passed the line for Jonathan Coulton. He was headlining the night's prescribed entertainment, but I was on my way to the MTG Mirrodin Party with the real nerds. Comedians get away with performing preschool-level songs because they're really a medium for the humor that is their trade. What are musicians who forgo skill for gimmickry selling? I suppose they are trading in popular culture.

In-jokes have evolved into 'meme's, whose entire purpose is to create a feeling of tribal inclusion by excluding those that don't 'get it'. When they drop a line about a certain level of a certain game that you have played you think 'hey, s/he's played it too!' and feel both validation and belonging. It comes down to something of a pep-rally. A vibe that PAX in it's entirety emanated.

'We are the same, we are a community. We haven't met before, yet we share so much.'

This isn't a bad thing, in fact it's a fantastic feeling. It's perhaps the core of my documentary and the highlight of my travels. But is the frenzied affirmation any different to that of a sports or religious fanatic? Perhaps only in it's innocence. Sports focuses on victory over rivals and religion on virtue through worship. Games are about play and interaction at a nascent level. No one is vilified and at worst outsiders are seen as those that 'don't get it' and always as welcome n00bs.

I've been silent for a while for a number of reasons. Firstly it's difficult to write when no one is really reading. This becomes a dump-site for my opinions and thoughts and only when I have the need to expel such emotion. I've been busy with paid work lately which was been very awesome for my career but not so much for the documentary, still languishing in editing limbo.

I watch and re-watch the footage, looking for a story. Story writing is something I don't have enough experience in. I've absorbed enough film/books/comics/television to put together some great moments but the secret to a strong narrative and an overarching plot slip through my fingers times and time again. I'm also trying to outline the plot of a graphic novel which will perhaps find it's way into this blog as it's many cables and wires worm through my cortex.

Lastly with the Dickwolves controversy rearing it's head once more I've tried to restrain from writing about it. Nothing I say is going to have any positive effect on the non-issue and so it's best left to blow over. I expected it to come out at PAX when I was there but it seems only now that it's boiled over. All I can say is that arguments can get muddy when they aren't clearly defined. One side defends women's rights, the other Penny Arcade. But they were never conflicting entities to begin with.

Last fortnight a good friend made the arduous journey to visit me way out in the countryside. He stayed for a few days and in that time we managed to assemble no less than five 'Commander' (formerly EDH) Magic decks and complete Dead Space 2 and Bulletstorm in their entirety. A mighty effort indeed. Dead Space 2 was reserved for the night and it did not fail to follow the first game in being terrifying on every level. I don't normally enjoy survival horror games but this one I do for two main reasons.

First I was one of the few who was excited enough to pre-order the first game knowing it would be an instant sci-fi staple, and a milestone* for EA as their first R rated franchise and an original in-house-developed title. For this reason playing the game was powerful gratification for my ego as it is excellent. Secondly the game design is so genius it had me guessing and double guessing at every corner in an endless battle of wits. It was like I was competing against the designers directly, trying to figure out how each room would go down and knowing they would use fear to control me.

For example; the deepest darkest corners usually had rewards for bravery stashed away but sometimes they would be soured by monsters or empty boxes. Just often enough for you to question the value of trying. A body springs to life and attacks you, but it doesn't happen again until the very point you become tired of checking every corpse and then, as if the game senses your complacency, boom! Some moments are so spectacular that I felt like I was at the design meeting, ready to applaud the employee who pitched the concept.

At all times I was glad to have someone to turn to and share a collective look of terror and excitement.

Bulletstorm was the antithesis. Crude and well... crude. However after complaining about every stumbling line of gear-of-war-grade dialog and shortcoming of the controls we began to enjoy the game for what it was. Interactive cartoon murder on an epic scale. Talk of 'Dick-killing parties' and fruit-related decapitation become hilarious once the tone is set and all expectations are set aside. And so, barring the complete and utter gameplay failure of a remote controlled Mecha-Godzilla, we trundled through the game laughing heartily at every swear-word and nut-shot.

I did some design work for a friend on a sci-fi pilot called Barrier last year and now I'm working on something new with him. He has some great ideas solidly grounded in the works of classical science fiction (before one dared abbreviate) and I'm happy to be involved. The reason I mention this is because in my annual anime catch-up I got all excited about Redline, a new film that won't be out 'till September:
When I say new, it's been in production for the better part of seven years. So you know it's going to be good. Duke Nukem good. The art style is amazing, the subject matter intriguing (I thought Speed Racer was great purely for the editing and style, it actually looked fast) yet not unfamiliar. My favourite episode of Astro Boy was the race episode (The White Planet?) and I still remind people that Yogi's Space Race did in fact exist.

The girls who've served me at games stores a) don't know anything about or even play games and b) are generally more useless than the guys. Sad but true.

*I had to double-check whether to use the word Milestone, Watershed or Hallmark here. All nonsense words with interesting etymology

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If this is all a dream...

then don't wake me up.

It's 5am. I had a dream that films were now distributed to cinemas digitally, and that directors could continue to edit films and patch them after their release. "How was Tron?" "eh, the latest patch ruined it..." or "How could you like Tron!?" "You should watch it again, it's gotten much better since release." In my dream I saw Inception again only to find an additional scene had been added explaining whether the movie was a dream and JGL had been completely replaced by NPH. Needless to say it really ruined the film.

When I think about the way video games are distributed, released, sold and controlled and compare it to any other medium I can't help but be angry. Do you think people would tolerate having their films edited for Australian audiences?* Or books not being sold in your country because their was no translation deal? Oh this album is $30 in the US, but for the same songs in NZ you have to pay $110... Perhaps DLC is a way for studios to work around stringent release schedules set out by producers, but it feels like a slippery slope that leads to a compromised product that still releases for full retail price.

I also had a dream about the college Wargames Club contacting me because they wanted to sell off the Warhammer 40k miniatures and books I had donated to them years ago. In the dream their treasurer carefully went over the remaining 'assets' and emphasised their lack of real market value. My teen years labors ultimately weighing in at around $3,000**. I know this dream was sparked by something my father said over Christmas. My parents often bring up what a shame it was that I made a large charitable donation (absolutely all of my stuff, down to the paints and dice), after all the time and effort and misguided love I put into those hundreds of figures. When I did it I felt really good about it, but seven years of 'good parenting' have made me feel miserable about my loss of material possessions. Particularly on a day like today, when I'm trying to plan a wedding with $7 in the bank and a documentary idling in edit.

Something that identifies gamers, that sets them apart, is their ability to take their time and invest it in play without hesitation. 75 hours on Rogue Galaxy? 75 hours of my life where I was doing what I love; Awesome. My parents look at the time invested in my hobby and try to see some kind of financial gain but the truth is that every minute I spent bend over my hobby desk was not spent working; it was entertainment. Sure it was creative, otherwise it would feel like a waste of time, but it's only insulting to try and put a price on the time I spent simply enjoying myself.

I'm having a similar issue right now (and I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this one) with Warhammer Online. The game is entering it's autumn (fall) years and even the US server I'm on is looking pretty boring. Some of my guild have moved to the European servers where the game is still fresh and the population very high but horrid lag discourages me from following. Most of the other guildies have unsubbed and are waiting for the release of ToR. But being a little more casual I've only just gotten my characters up to the top (not including the level cap increase they recently added GG) and it feels like a waste after all this time not to enjoy the power I have ground out. At least for a while. But I hear stories from friends selling characters to EU players for decent amounts of money, money I could really use, and this then forces me to take a look at that account and decide what's more valuable. $250, or being able to hold the fruits of my leisure time in my hand instead of just a memory? But just like my miniatures, the potential to pick up and play is always there. Reconciling that with the reality that I won't is the hardest part.

*Okay I realise a lot of television gets edited for US audiences, but I also know that the people who really like the shows/films *ahem* work around that.
**Based on Games Worshops truly evil inflation of prices, to replace my collection today would be something more like $15-20k

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Party Time

Whether you are religious or not, by mid-December it's generally time to hit pause and just chill for a minute. Look back at what you've accomplished and celebrate the fact that another year has transpired and you have lived. You have lived well! I happen to be beset with the annoying notion that as long as I keep living, every day is something special. Yes it's very hard to argue with a man who finds the joy in spending 3 hours on a bus or getting the flu, but this zen awareness really helps remind me to be happy sometimes. Just because living, no matter how you spend your life, is awesome. Look at the sky. The fact that you can see is pretty damn cool. I'd be completely lost without it, my world being mostly about art and video games (If you are reading this on some blind-person version of the internet then my other big passion is music - pick up the Tron soundtrack; Daft Punk have been winning all over my ears while I've been working and it's awesome).

Living in the country and working from home I am getting a little lonely. Fortunately my fiancée and I went halves in an Xbox for Xmas (quick aside, the X is from a Greek root and is just an archaic spelling, it is not for use by atheists or whatever). She bought me the new Majin and the forsaken Kingdom from Yoshiki Okamoto, which I am putting off until I finish my work and have a few whole days to throw at. I bought her the Kinect thingey and Fable II (Fable II is proving far more popular right now and I admit is makes me love her all over again seeing her play through an adventure/rpg). I'd like to tell you all more about Kinect, when they release some actual games and they implement the voice features. Yeah that's right once again Australia has gotten the big old shaft* and the voice activation (which is apparently really effective) has been removed for the time being because 'the Australian accent is too different'. Arguments to the contrary- my accent is very mild, often mistaken for English AND the system was released in the UK and damned if they don't have some of the most difficult accents in the world. I do however clearly remember having to put on a Yosemite Sam voice to navigate automatic voice phone services in the USA.

Anyway, while I am still mainly playing Warhammer Online along with the occasional international bout of Starcraft 2 for my social component, I do miss my friends. Hopefully this season will afford me the chance to catch up with them. Ah, we'll see.

*I think the last one was removing the PS2 backwards compatibility from the PS3, which really sucked for me and my carefully manicured collection that somehow doesn't include a PS2. Hey, that's why I moved in with my girlfriend!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Please stop making games for the Wii

...I don't have one!

Quite a few games recently (Capcom vs Tatsunoko, Donkey Kong Country, Goldeneye) have been released for the Wii and while yes, it does have a large market, it pretty much puts the big fail-stamp on your product. The original Donkey Kong Country was a polished platformer that pushed the graphics of the snes to the limit while the Wii limits the graphics and ensures polish is replaced with wiimote gimmickry*. More importantly I DON'T HAVE ONE, I don't want one, and the only person I know who does wishes he didn't. So I get to play SSB:Brawl about once in a blue moon (now I'm thinking about sonic, who pwnes that game) but that's really about it.

Take into account that PC games only seem to come in the MMO variety and that I refuse to buy a DS game when they are three times the American price (Look at it this way; Professor Leyton and the Latest Adventure currently costs the same price as Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood which is on sale, which would you invest in?) and suddenly half the games store just isn't my concern anymore. Then so many games are released on both Xbox 360 and PS3 that I'm really just looking at one shelf. Why go in at all anymore? Why indeed. After bombing around all the stores in the local area and trying to balance the price of a new game with whatever enjoyment I thought I would get from them I went home empty handed (on three consecutive days). About half an hour ago I just hit up ebay and bought a really cool game I'm looking forward to playing for $30.

The game was Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm. I played a demo of the second game at PAX and it was the truest and best rendition of the comic/anime that I had gotten my hands on. The Naruto game I had waited some 20 odd games for (still waiting for a great One Piece game, protip - oldschool rpg or the most awesome MMO imaginable... I mean, the Grand Line? COME ON! They even have the sea kings and calm belt to stop players wandering off the map, you know I could go on). I told the guy at the booth, who looked like he was about to die what with it being 4pm on the second day, that I would find it and buy it then promptly high fived him. I then asked what happened to the first game and he told me it was a big hit and just as solid. Huh, I didn't even see it in Australia. No surprises there. The first game covers the first anime with the new game covering Shippuden. I think I'm up to the 50th episode of Shippuden (because that's how many there were last I watched Naruto) and I'm excited to relive the story through a video game and perhaps even experience the new Shippuden storyline for the first time as a game instead of the anime. I really love the media overlap here and I'll let you know how it goes in terms of a familiar story with an interactive twist.

Finding it on ebay after fifteen minutes spent browsing hundreds of games, I was then able to pull up as many reviews and gameplay videos as I felt necessary to convince me one way or another (can it be played with japanese dialogue? yes? good). Then I pressed a button and waited for it to show up at my front door, literally meters from my console. WHY DO I STILL GO INTO EB? I mean, it's not like I enjoy the stifled atmosphere, garish sales posters, irritating prerecorded PA, incompetent sales staff and complete lack of soul in the place. I suppose games stores have been my generations arcade. My parents left me in them when I was a kid while they shopped. As a tween I paid a guy $5 to play Sonic 2 for 30 minutes. In my teenage years I hung out the front selling and buying second hand games just above the stores going rate until they chased me off. But now they've gone from gamer haunts to the the cheapest of fire-sale prostitutes. As dead as arcades. I wonder what the next generation will reminisce about in terms of a gamer environment? Their grandma's padded Wii-room? That sounds bad.

Yes it's been a while since I updated. Coming back from a three month trip to realise it's all over and now you have to pick up the pieces of the life you dropped so fast it smashed has a way of making you not want to write a blog for a bit. Also the trip's over, so the blog is done right? Well, while progress on the doco is slow (nothing really happening until my brother gets settled into his new home and I have some time between freelance jobs, which I totally have!) I do want to keep using this blog as a way to put down my thoughts and opinions on games and other miscellaneous brain-waste.

All I need to do now is pair it with a regular psudo-funny comic strip about two guys who play games on a couch and occasionally cause miscarriages and I will have the attention of teh interwebs which I so sorely crave. I have been meaning to start my most awesome of strip-form comics, ADAPTORFACE so maybe they (the comic and my blog) can be friends? I'm also "rebooting" a scrapbook comic I used to make to entertain my Warhammer guild. Yes, I said reboot just to make you cringe. But I'm playing again so I figure, why the hell not?

*blogger wants to auto-correct this word to 'goldbrickery' which is a term I will now endeavour to use. Yes, it's 'vour' not 'vor' Blogger... you idioth.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nerd stuff! And you thought this blog was over.

This is, apparently, my 60th post on this blog. If it were a man and each post was a year then he'd be looking towards retirement and reflecting on a life all but spent. Although this is not the case, it is definitely a good moment for reflection. It's a shame that people rarely read back-dated blog entries, there's a great story that unfolds through those virtual pages.

Well I did make it home relatively cleanly and have spent the past week seeing friends and carving a space for my life in Erin's countryside house. I also have a fairly nice chunk (900gig) of footage to address that will hopefully become the meat of a film, one I'm not yet sure what to expect from. I am sure I want to make it, but I'm unsure and perhaps rightly modest when it comes to the repercussions of it's impending release. In some secret place I'd love to see it picked up and shown perhaps on local tv and hosted online, perhaps the good people at Penny Arcade would finally feature a link to it on their own website and the resulting attention and entertainment would provide some kind of future for my brother and I. But I try to keep a lid on that and just look at making something with enough value to personally justify the endeavour.

I have been binging [bingeing?] on video games. I missed playing with my brother, and even though I did play a lot on the road (in fact that was the mission honestly) I feel like I've been missing the ceremony of dedicating a day solely to a new release. To playing games on my terms.

Scott Pilgrim and Castle Crashers were once more set upon, but this time with my brother, sister and fiancee as comrades. So important are the personalities of the people I play with that this rotation made them feel like brand new games.

Halo Reach was blown through, continuing to disappoint all the way. As soon as I learned that you couldn't play as the colourful members of the Noble team but had to instead play the completely blank 'Noble 6' (and I thought Master Chief was flavourless) I realised I was in for a weak ride. It would be easy to write pages on Reach's shortcomings but what it really comes down to is that it's not Halo 3. There was also the knowledge that Bungie are done with Halo, replacing future hopes with the knowledge that Bungie are stepping out quietly.

On a far more uplifting note, XBox Live Arcade is working hard to finally make GameStop redundant with two excellent titles: Sonic 4 [Episode 1] by SEGA [Sonic Team] and Comic Jumper by Twisted Pixel [and friends].

Sonic 4 is the awesome that I and all other Sonic fans have been waiting for for the last 16 years. That means there are teenagers who have lived their whole life never knowing a decent Sonic Game!* I just secured the last three Chaos Emeralds (after completing the game yesterday) and have been enjoying setting ridiculous act times and killing myself by moving too fast with Super Sonic. Ah Super Sonic, the traditions continue. And that really is the point here, it's pure nostalgia. This game was made for me and everyone who gave me props for my Sonic 2 t-shirt (my favourite on the trip). It is crammed full of references to the first 3 Sonic titles and just makes me smile a big stupid grin. However this is also the most obvious complaint amongst gamers; it's just the old games with better graphics. But I say no! And I say it with authority.

Sonic 4's greatest traditional nod is to the way in which the sequels always reflect the original games. All you have to do to see Sonic 4's genius (and vast improvements/innovations) is go back and play the original games. Sonic 4 has distilled the Sonic franchise to it's essence. There are four (and a half) worlds, and they are the first four that come to mind in every Sonic Game- Tropical Island, Casino/Carnival/Pinball, Ancient Ruins (in Water and Lava flavours), Industrial Techno-nightmare and then theres always Eggman's 'Final Zone'. In fact I just found someone's list of Sonic level cliché's right here. What Sonic 4 does is first take Sonic for a walk down memory lane BUT then continues to innovate on those old designs and mechanics.

The first level: Splash Hill Zone is split into 4 Acts. The first begins with a carbon copy of the first part of Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1 and continues to play on those themes. The second Act is more reminiscent of Emerald Hill Zone from the start of Sonic 2 while still identifiably the same location as Act 1. In the third Act the sun is setting giving the level an orange hue which, along with the zip-lines that heavily feature, remind me of Angel Island Zone from Sonic 3. Finally the Eggman Boss is the very first encounter from Sonic 1 but with an aggressive twist in the second half of the fight. The Eggman Boss fights in the Sonic games have more often than not been a time to set speed aside and do some carefully timed attacking, I really like the way that some of the speed has been allowed to exist with Sonic's new physics. The Final Boss (a re-imagining of the Final Egg from Sonic 2, only this time I get rings thank god) was much more fun to play and was more about fast paced combat than nail-biting timing and placement.

So basically yes, this is a nostalgia driven game and all the Bosses and levels are a mixture of old and innovated old. But that is exactly what we've been crying for so I'm very happy. And here's the kicker; at PAX I got a chance to sit on a couch with one of the developers and chat about the fact that it's 'Episode 1' and seems to be largely reworkings. He was ready for the obvious question and what he said was (and now I feel like a real journalist) that this first Episode is all about nostalgia and getting the Sonic fans on board, getting them to trust Sonic Team again (and after Shadow with a gun and Sonic as a werewolf I can understand the need) but Episode 2 and beyond are going to be about taking the traditional 2-D Sonic adventure in a new direction. Keeping it true to retro Sonic style but heading into uncharted territory. This is exactly what I think everyone needs to hear. Yes, Episode 1 is very retro and not really new or innovative enough to stand alone as Sonic 4. But it's only the beginning, and it's a very strong opening.

Now that I've spent four paragraphs nailing down Sonic 4 and establishing myself as a complete fanboy let me tell you about a new game that is just as good but without having any history at all. At PAX I first saw it briefly; a superhero with an emoticon for a face sliding down the side of a building with a woman for a board. That's all you really need to know about Comic Jumper. The combat is simple but challenging and comes in three distinct game 'modes' that are switched between on-the-fly. But you need to get this game because the story is great and it's one of the few games to make me laugh. Captain Smiley's comic gets cancelled and you must guest star in other comics to earn enough money to re-launch. It's like Gumby with guns and jokes! Anyway it turns out that parody, mediocrity and a grumpy Bender-esque star are great forms of comedic entertainment and if there's one thing I love it's Genre-based adventure**. I particularly like how much effort Twisted Pixel went into making this game their own. There are live-action cutscenes of people reading the comic, the employees interact with Captain Smiley and offer advice and tons of little touches like the Stats Screen Song that really help a low-budget title from feeling second-rate.

Oh and I also saw "Resident Evil: Whatever... 4 Maybe" last night and it was pretty good for what it was. They haven't got better, but surprisingly they havent got worse. This leaves them as one of the few sci-fi-techno-apoca-horror franchises I still look forward to seeing. You can always rely on there being Milla Jovovich looking badass and mutated zombie-dogs looking all The Thing-esque. Unfortunately it was only playing in 3D. It was good, the 3D was actually cool, but I really don't want to encourage the mainstreaming of 3D films as I still firmly believe it is a gimmick. On a gamer note, while they don't follow the story lines of the Resident Evil games (at least not anymore) they do strongly follow on from each other in spite of their improbable endings. In this way they have created their own Resident Evil mythos, although it features the same main characters and themes. What I really like is that you can clearly see that this independent franchise has been created with as much effort and attention as the Resident Evil games. I think I may actually prefer it...

Enough for now. Gotta go play Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. Finally they released a GH game with a songlist I actually want to play!

*Well Sonic Adventure was awesome in my book and Sonic Rush on the DS is a true successor to Sonic & Kuckles, just not on the big(ger) screen.
**Timesplitters, Viewtiful Joe, Psychonauts, Conker's Bad Fur Day are all great examples. Go play them!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I’ve been gone so long...

gone so long
But I will come back

The Foo Fighter's 'Come Back' plays appropriately as I tap away, one last time as the sun illuminates the Californian noon. I'm used to looking at it now, but the view is still idyllic.

Packing is going okay, it looks like I might pull it off. Arrangements have been made to gate-check my precious guitar, everything else will just have to survive as best it can in the belly of the steel beast. My main thoughts now are whether the move to break up the flight was wise. 10 hours to Fiji, 3 hours in the airport then 5 hours to Melbourne feels like a better option than 15 hours to Sydney and then 1 hour to Melbourne. Plus I can say I've been to Fiji. Hopefully my stuff will make it too, but chasing up luggage is much easier when you're home.

The thought of home right now is positively titillating. This is probably the first time I've really truly missed anything or anyone. Sure there's a little bit of greed and remorse here and there, but at this point in time I just want to go home. I miss video games, I miss my mom.

I'm leaving Chris and Luke my NTSC copy of SSF4, I feel like I got some good use out of it and games here are only about $30 anyway. They are also getting the lion's share of the magic cards. I've transcended the demanding collection aspect of the game but they are both single, so I think they'll have a blast.

Time for one last lag-free game of SC2 with Luke. Wish me luck! He coached me to a crushing victory last night. It was rad-tastic.

Okay we lost a couple of times, but I played pretty well. Particularly in the second game, aside from not pushing at the right moments, it was pretty good.

Before I arrived in America, I just tried not to think about it too carefully. Until the moment I actually sat down in my tiny aeroplane chair it was just something that was going to happen in the future. But the future eventually becomes the present, leaving the present in the past and a sense of loss. This trip and this place has become a part of my personality for the last three months, and now I'm losing that piece of myself. But I'm not slipping back into the life I left, that's all over too. One adventure is ending, but I'm just as nervous as when I first got on the plane; another adventure is just beginning.

I'm coming home, for the first time.

See you all soon.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oh Vegas, you silly town.

Just got back across the balmy desert and (because Ocean's Eleven isn't streaming on Netflix) are settling in to watch Fear and Loathing to compare and say 'We went there'. Because that's what you do when you go somewhere for the sake of saying 'I have been there'.

In reality, we had a great time. Despite travelling the lands and meeting colourful characters along the way, this was the first trip that actually felt like a real holiday. When Luke and I went to Comic-Con that was kind of cool, but this had the whole feel of a weekend away. For example; Luke and Chris took time off work, travel agents were consulted, we stayed in real hotels, we ate out, and most importantly were sad to leave but glad to be home. I know this isn't really my home but it's been my base camp for three months, which is half the time I spent in my last place and a respectable fraction of a year (one quarter).

So, Saturday morning we set off and took tollways to avoid Californian traffic. Going on Saturday morning and returning Monday instead of leaving Friday night and returning Sunday meant we comfortably avoided what I hear is terrible traffic.

The drive was really not that bad, just a straight shot down the I-15 Fear & Loathing style. The terrain was amazing! What was just as surprising was that when we arrived in Vegas it was raining... apparently they get one day of rain in October on average. Not surprising that it happened while I was there. But it was still hot, not half as hot as it would otherwise have been so in a way it was a blessing. By the evening it had cleared up and we celebrated with cocktails, burgers from the Harley Davidson Cafe and Bally's 'Jubilee' stage show which teleported us back to the 50's and all that made America once great (breasts and cabaret). Chris and I refused to let the night end, hitting up a number of Casinos and a western themed club called 'Gilleys' which included a mechanical bull and some top quality tail. While the high roller rooms were occupied by poorly dressed middle aged chinese, the Vegas from James Bond's era is maintained by the ridiculous amount of unbelievably hot women and dramatic spectacle. Chris suggested 'it's like Disney Land for adults!' which is a daunting when I consider my fiancée wants to go to Disney Land.

The next morning saw us a little rough around the edges, but for the most part I wanted more. We brunched at Max Brenners which was pretty spectacular. Mexican Chilli Chocolate and pancakes with banana, pecans, caramel glace and two vials; pure chocolate and white truffle sauce. Pow! Somehow we burnt through the day. We had decided to change hotels which was a small hassle but well worth it when we saw The Bellagio. That place is the classiest building I have ever inhabited and we really started to feel like we were in Vegas. I was up for a spot of gambling, but Chris agonised over the $10 minimums on the tables (and the $1 minimum on the slot machines which ironically no longer have coin clots) so I just fed a dollar into a machine and pulled the lever... I won $6! People always tell me to quit while I'm ahead so I proudly collected my $5 margin and swaggered out. Chris then dumped $5 trying to repeat the effect with no luck, so I guess between us we broke even. The house always wins, because it is evil. I am glad I understand that because I saw hundreds of sad faces that didn't.

I went over to another hotel in the afternoon because I desperately wanted to see an old-fashioned Burlesque show and I actually found one that was playing. Unfortunately the starting time clashed with our tickets to Cirque Du Soleil and I wasn't about to miss awesome-made-flesh. The show 'O' has been running at The Bellagio for 12 years. It incorporated a stage made up of elevator platforms that can submerge into what must be 10 metres of water. So sometimes it was a stage, sometimes it was a pool, sometimes it was a bit of both. The show itself was dark and ambient with awesome music and it showcased the incredible abilities of a human body trained by purpose. After that we saw the elegant fountains dance to music outside The Bellagio before going to watch TI's Disneyland-esque stage show on the two ships out the front of the hotel, the difference was one of sophistication.

Monday we blasted back across the desert (with only a brief detour to Barstow!) and just chilled out.

Oh and we played a draft with the new Scars of Mirrodin. Chris and Luke forced me into B/G infect... which I then beat the snot out of them with. I think it's okay 1v1, but they need to change the number of poison counters in 2HG.