Saturday, August 15, 2015

Series Review: The Office (U.S. Version)

This review is a lot more casual than my average review, as it was initially a Facebook status addressed to friends. It's a brief overview of my thoughts on the series, and it does not address the story, premise or characters in any detail.

I recently finished all nine seasons of the U.S. version of the sitcom The Office. When I started the show, my mindset was something along the lines of, "...What the heck am I watching?" As it turns out, I was watching what would eventually become a hilarious and amazing show that would bring me great enjoyment for nearly two months of binge-watching.

It's true, the show is pretty consistently stupid. It's full of crude humor and facepalm-worthy moments, but it's also full of quality humor, great one-liners and lovable characters. While it's designed so that you can watch most episodes without having seen the rest of the show, the subplots make it absolutely worth watching in order.

The Office does something that no other show I've seen has been able to successfully achieve. All of the characters have this perfect blend of being unrealistic for the sake of comedy, and being very believable and real. This is particularly apparent in the first few seasons, but it is noticeable throughout the series. Most similar shows completely butcher that attempted blend.

My personal favorite episode is "Niagra, Part 2". It's the only episode that I watched more than once before finishing the show. (I actually watched it thrice.) However, this episode will mean absolutely nothing to you without five seasons of build-up and context.

I realize the show's not for everyone. It can be very inappropriate, and I only recommend it to people who are not easily offended by crude humor. (Trust me, it can get bad.) If that's not a problem for you, I'd also like to point out that if you're really turned off by the first few episodes, stick around for a while. It very definitely gets better. Oh, and be prepared to cringe whenever the character Todd Packer comes around. If you think Michael Scott is bad... geez.

So yeah. There's my super short, not-very-in-depth review. It's a great show. Well, it's great when it's not being super stupid. Which, to be honest, does happen a lot. Still, I may have cried near the end. Like, legitimately cried. Because storytelling can be awesome.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: August 2015

Alone in the Dark is a complete piece of crap. It's an attempted reboot of a classic video game that pioneered the survival horror genre in the industry. While the original Alone in the Dark is a clever, well-designed piece of art, the 2008 reboot is the furthest thing you can get from that description. Its only real saving factor is its amazing soundtrack.

The music is composed by Olivier Derivière, and accompanied by Grammy award-winning choir The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices. It's everything the game is not: creative, well-designed, and actually rather scary. Its haunting themes will send a chill up your spine, which is something you cannot say about the game.

A fair amount of the soundtrack sounds rather like cues from a movie. This could be due in part to the game's attempt to adapt a television show-like format, in the form of episodes that you play through one at a time, that you can jump between. It was poorly implemented, and another reason why the game didn't deserve its soundtrack.

For a further elaboration on just why Alone in the Dark is an awful game, I encourage you to check out ProJared's review of the game. Caution: Alone in the Dark is rated Mature for blood and gore, strong language, and violence. Keep this in mind regarding the video, as the game and its reviewer are hardly censored.

Featured Tracks

Track 2: Edward Carnby – The protagonist is named Edward Carnby. He shouldn't be, but he is. One of many tracks to feature the game's main theme, "Shto Li".

Track 10: Crying New York – I could make a joke about New York crying about how bad the game is, but this really is a great track.

Track 18: Shto Li (A Cappella) – The Alone in the Dark theme, "Shto Li", shows up in many tracks. This track isolates the vocals into a bone-chilling a cappella piece.

Purchase Music From Alone In The Dark from Amazon or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on YouTube.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Jeff Williams Interview

Jeff Williams is a critically-acclaimed composer who works primarily for the production company Rooster Teeth, and is known for scoring music for many of their various works including the webseries Red vs. Blue, RWBY, and X-Ray & Vav, along with the company's upcoming feature comedy Lazer Team. His daughter, Casey Lee Williams, is often involved with his works, and is the lead localist for the RWBY soundtrack.

I recently got the chance to ask Jeff a number of questions, and I am extremely grateful that he was willing to set aside a little bit of time to respond to them, even if the process was considerably rushed. I do feel rather bad for taking him away from his crazy busy projects. Enjoy the interview!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: July 2015

As the first year of the Soundtrack of the Month series comes to a close, I decided I would return to where it all started. Believe it or not, I wasn't always a soundtrack nerd. I liked instrumental music and a handful of soundtracks, but I really didn't think much of them at all. There was, however, one television series that came along and changed my mind entirely.

Doctor Who is an entirely unique concept and series. Most people either love it or hate it, with no middle ground. However, regardless of how you think of the series, there is one thing that has to be agreed upon unanimously: The music is awesome.

I remember my first time watching the Series 3 episode "Gridlock". It was an interesting premise that I won't describe due to potential spoilers, but I will say that there was a segment where the Doctor (the protagonist) was jumping between futuristic cars, and the most ridiculously cool music was playing. That was the very first time that Murray Gold's score made an impression on me, and it was far from the last.

While every Doctor Who soundtrack Gold scored since the revival of the series in 2005 has been filled with spectacular music and is equally worthy of being featured, I decided after much debate on Doctor Who Series 3, as it was this music that made me fall in love with soundtrack music, and I am forever in its debt.

Featured Tracks
Narrowing this list down to four tracks was ridiculously difficult. Series 3 introduced many new themes with many different styles, ranging from adventurous, to emotional, to terrifying. Enjoy some of the greatest melodies of the music industry.

Track 1: All the Strange, Strange Creatures – Originally intended as a minor sequence for a single episode, this track was chosen to score a trailer for the series, and thus became a classic and recurring theme.

Track 6: Boe – The Face of Boe is one of the more intriguing recurring characters of the show. Who is he really? What is he really? The answer may just have you on the floor laughing. This particularly emotional theme is a reprisal of a track from Series 2.

Track 15: The Doctor Forever – This is the song that made me fall in love with soundtracks, and it still holds a very special place in my heart. It eventually became known as the Tenth Doctor's theme.

Track 23: This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home – This song is, to this day, my favorite track from any soundtrack, of any genre, for any kind of media. The soaring themes; the strong emotions; the majestic nostalgia; this is art.

Purchase the Doctor Who Series 3 soundtrack on Amazon or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.

Bonus: In celebration of this series' anniversary, I put together a small YouTube playlist of various great soundtrack pieces. It contains tracks for soundtracks I've featured, soundtracks I may feature in the future, and soundtracks I will not feature for one of multiple reasons (none of which are bad music). You can check it out here.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Game Review: The Next Penelope

The Next Penelope: Race to Odysseus is the classic tale of Homer's Odyssey... set in a cyberpunk world with futuristic racing.

It's been ten years since Odysseus departed from the kingdom of Ithaca, leaving his reign to the anarchy of an absent leader. Desperate to save the land she loves, and sick of her suitors' unwavering advances in the absence of her husband, Queen Penelope sets out on a journey to find Odysseus—by exploring planets, racing her suitors, and fighting epic bosses.

The Next Penelope is a top-down racing game that appears to have been heavily influenced by F-Zero. It reminds me a little of Super Laser Racer, another such game that was focused on translating the gameplay from F-Zero into a 2D top-down format. That game, while extremely fun, was little more than a bare-bones F-Zero clone. The Next Penelope adds story, bosses, an upgrade system, a somewhat unique weapons system, and a lot of interesting and fun challenges.

This adventure is not particularly long. If you know what you're doing you can certainly beat the game in under a couple hours. However, the strong difficulty curve your first time through and the endgame bonus levels are sure to keep you occupied for a good many hours. If you strive to complete all of the achievements, as I did, you're sure to have your work cut out for you for a while. The nice part? You'll have fun the entire time.

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Greek mythology. I love it for the lore and the mythos, but I hate it for the arrogance, narcissism and stupidity of a great many of the prominent characters. With that being said, I've had a strictly love relationship with this game since the moment the concept was introduced to me. It's Greek mythology... plus futuristic racing! Add that to the insanely fun gameplay, and you've got yourself a beautiful piece of art.

The game was developed by one man, Aurelien Regard. He created the story, artwork and music all himself, and programmed the entire game. It's always a treat when a game this well-polished and well-designed is developed by a single person or a small team. Such a man is more than worthy of my respect.

Overall, The Next Penelope is a great concept, complemented by great gameplay. The artwork is beautiful, and the sweet elrectonic soundtrack is sure to get stuck in your head. I certainly got my money's worth from it, and I can't wait to see what other great projects the developer comes up with in the future.

Check out The Next Penelope: Race to Odysseus on Steam.
It's also in development for Wii U, and may be released on other consoles as well.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Soundtrack of the Month: June 2015

Are you tired of reality? Take a trip to the beautifully hand-drawn world of Falana, and experience the adventure of an amnesiac swordsman, an adorable nimbat, and a talking sword.

Dust: An Elysian Tail is another fine example that video games are truly a form of art. The story, artwork, music and gameplay all come together to create an incredible experience. What's more, aside from sound design, the majority of the game was developed entirely by one man, Dean Dodrill. The amazing soundtrack was composed by HyperDuck Soundworks, with a few additional tracks by Alex Brandon.

In 2008, a groundbreaking indie video game called Iji was released, featuring an awesome, hard rock soundtrack. It was the first project that HyperDuck Soundtrack ever composed as a team. Jump ahead four years, and not only had they become a lot more experienced, but now their music is some of the greatest in the soundtrack industry.

Originally, the soundtrack was to have a style inspired heavily by entries in the Ys series of video games. Eventually a decision was made to majorly rework the soundtrack to have a more cinematic feel to it. This changed the soundtrack from what would have been a great soundtrack to what was ultimately an absolutely incredible soundtrack. The original versions of some of the songs are still included on the album as the "vintage" bonus tracks.

The story of Dust is intriguing, emotional, and often humorous. The player will undoubtedly tear up a number of times. Dean Dodrill has also been in the process of making a movie that takes place in the same universe. This project has been in development for over two decades. Additionally, it's possible that in the future he will create other games that take place in the world of Falana. We can only hope that HyperDuck will be involved in these other productions as well.

Featured Tracks

Track 1: Falana – The title music of the game, and one of four tracks composed by Alex Brandon. When you hear this music, you know you're in for quite a journey ahead. It also shows up every so often for emotional scenes throughout the game.

Track 7: Short Fuse – This is one of three renditions of the boss theme. The other two are Track 11: Deities and Track 17: Heavy Bones.

Track 8: Abadis Forest – Whenever I tell somebody about this game and its soundtrack, I usually send along this song as part of the pitch. I consider it the perfect musical representation of the game and soundtrack.

Track 15: Everdawn Basin – This is the music for the final stretch of the game. It's rather epic.

Purchase the Dust: An Elysian Tail soundtrack on Loudr, Bandcamp, or iTunes.
Or listen to it for free on Spotify or YouTube.

Also check out the trailer for Dust: An Elysian Tail.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Game Review: Pokémon X

I recently acquired a game from one of the most recent generations of Pokémon. Pokémon X is a sixth-generation Pokémon game, and has a counterpart titled Pokémon Y. I played it for a while, and then mustered all of my focus into typing up an incredible review for the game.

It's Pokémon, again.

...What, did you expect something more? That's literally what it is: The same game with a few updated knick-knacks. Heck, it feels like an HD remake of the only other Pokémon game I've ever played, Pokémon Sapphire. That's rather funny, because they recently released an official HD remake of Sapphire. They didn't even need to do that, because that's literally every game they've made since the original! At least the music in X is pretty awesome.

Now, don't get me wrong, the Pokémon games are and will always be a lot of fun. It's just, there aren't many new elements to each new game. Beyond that, they release two almost identical games for each generation. I don't even get why they do that, aside from monetary and marketing purposes. It just seems like a way for the developers to grab more money.

To tell the truth, I've only played about six and a half hours of Pokémon X, and I just don't feel drawn to continue. I have to endure over seven hours of car travel each week, so you'd think that the game would be a great way to pass the time, but why would I play Pokémon X for an hour or two when I could play Bird & Beans for an hour or two?

The sad thing about that question is that I was absolutely serious.

Disclaimer: This article was abnormally negative for the purpose of satire.
It's really a pretty good game.