Monday, May 30, 2011

Am I bad luck?

That's a question that popped into my mind earlier today as I was playing volleyball at the activity center gym at Menno Haven. Am I bad luck? Today is Memorial Day, but the Mennonite summer camp calls it Rally Day. We got to hang out with people we haven't seen in five years, eat a great meal prepared by a great cook, play group games and such, and so on.

That's how I came to be playing volleyball with some friends, and that's how the question was raised. I would consider myself to be the worst volleyball player on earth, but that doesn't mean the rest of my team shouldn't do as good, right?

Pretty much the only time I can hit the ball is when I serve, and even then I usually serve it too far, and it goes out. Whenever the ball was served right to me, I either ignored it and continued standing like a dummy, or went for it and either missed or pathetically hit it nowhere, scoring for the other team.

My team lost, so someone on the other team offered to switch with me. And then my new team lost, and the team I was on won. No matter what team I'm on, I seem to lose, and this doesn't only happen with volleyball. I can sense my teammates inwardly groaning and rolling their eyes towards me, wondering, "is he good at any sports?"

The simple answer is yes, I am a pretty decent soccer player. I also dominate at carpet ball, but that does not count, as it's not really a sport. This is completely beside the point, though. I suck at most sports, but no matter how good or bad anyone does, my team always seems to lose, no matter what sport we're playing. There's the rare occasion that we utterly destroy our opponents, but as I said, it is rare.

When the game was over and we were messing around for a minute or two before leaving, I picked up a ball and served it over the net, just to prove that I can in fact play volleyball... and it landed in the small space between the boundary and the wall of the gym. Out.

It's strange how one bad player can bring so much bad luck to an entire team.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dungeon Runners

Click to enlarge image.

Dungeon Runners is an independent arcade PC game developed by somebody known as "Valandre". I found it from browsing, and it perked my interest.

I found the game interesting because of its cheesy graphics, arcade personality, and casual gameplay style. Any cheesy, casual, arcade game has got to be extremely fun and addicting, right? Unfortunately, this was not so.

In the game you have five heroes. You control one at a time, and every time one dies, you control the next. You explore a maze-like dungeon (randomly generated every time you play), fight monsters, and search for treasure.

Unfortunately, the game is mostly based on chance, as you have no clue whether the direction you are going in the dungeon will lead to a locked gate, a key to open a door, or a monster that will easily kill you and force to use another hero.

Though the game can be mildly entertaining, the replay value is almost nonexistent, and you won't feel like trying again if all of your heroes are killed before the end (a.k.a. you fail).

If you're up to it, you can play the game online here, though there are much better games out there.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

Series Review: Stargate Universe

The Stargate franchise has come a long way, and now it has finally come to an end, without even a concluding ending.

Stargate Universe is not a TV series to start with. Before watching it, I would recommend watching the movie Stargate, and then watching the entire ten-season series of Stargate SG-1. I say watching Stargate Atlantis or the other movies is optional, but still recommended.

The story of SGU starts with a group of fifty or so people being stranded on a ancient spaceship billions of light years away from Earth or any galaxy they had encountered before. The group desperately not only tries to find a way home, but tries to survive on a failing ship so they even can make it home.

The first episode is interesting, but soon after the series gets sour and disgusting. The first half season of SGU (the series was released in half seasons) doesn't even deserve to be included in the Stargate franchise, because it's just like . . . a soup opera in outer space! Thankfully, it gets better by the end, to the point that I am impossibly mad that the series was cancelled.

Review: Stargate Universe Season 1.0 - Rating: 5/100

The pilot was good, but pretty much after that the series was a disappointment and failure. The story progressed extremely slowly, but they had at least one thing relating to it in every single episode, so skipping episodes wouldn't be recommended. And that just plain sucks, because the entire half season is full of the characters hating each other, PG-13 sex scenes, and not that great of a story.

There were a few good episodes. One was "Air", as it was the pilot. It wasn't nearly as good as any episodes from past series such as SG-1 and Atlantis, but it was decent all the same. The second good episode in the half-season was, even though this was in SGU's worst era, one of the best episodes in the series. The name of the episode was "Time". It had an awesome story and it was done very well. The pretty much only other pretty good episode was "Justice", the half season finale. It was, in fact, a murder mystery, and that's right down my alley.

There are two episodes in season 1.0, "Earth" and "Life", that I would not recommend to anyone. Even if you planned to watch every episode in the series, skip these. Take my word for it.

Review: Stargate Universe Season 1.5 - Rating: 40/100

You can see from my rating that the series just got a lot better. Still not really good, but still a decent series. It went from being absolutely horrible to being an alright series over the course of . . . one episode. This episode was "Space", the half season premier, and it was one of the most interesting SGU episodes to date.

After that the series started going a bit more uphill. The characters still hated each other, but not quite as much. Well, after a while, that is. This half season also marks the discovery of some intelligent races in this strange galaxy far, far away.

Some really cool episodes were "Human" and "Lost", which had amazing plots and showed some character development. If you were to skip any of the episodes in this half season, though, I'd say skip "Pain".

Review: Stargate Universe Season 2.0 - Rating: 67/100

The story started progressing at a much quicker pace, thank God, and it actually becomes a pretty cool story. You think that from the rating I'm giving these half seasons that 67/100 must mean the series is by this point amazing, especially because I rated season 1.0 a 5/100. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as by this point the series still didn't come anywhere close to how awesome the past Stargate series have been (this is pretty much why it was cancelled). 67 still isn't that high a number.

I do have to say, the series did get even better here, and by the end of the half season it was pretty darn cool. It still wasn't what the fans really wanted, though they did enjoy it more.

One thing I love is that by the end of the half season the two main characters who hated each other for the entire series so far actually became friends, or as close to it as they could get at the time. The character development by this part of the series is incredibly cool, and I say the creators of Stargate are complete masters of character development, if nobody else is.

A couple really good episodes in this half season were "Trial and Error" and "Malice". By this point in the series, there aren't any episodes in the half season that I would recommend skipping, as they're all good. A few episodes though, such as "Awakening", are a little boring.

Review: Stargate Universe Season 2.5 - Rating: 95/100

How could a series that started being so terrible turn into one of my favorite science-fiction series of all time? Well, it was all because of the final five episodes, though the rest of the final half season are pretty awesome as well.

The half season starts with a cool conclusion to the previous episode, which ended with a cliffhanger. After that was an episode that, though you don't realize it at the time, starts a chain of events that eventually opens up an entirely new side story, which by the end of the series turns into something incredibly awesome.

By the end, almost every single character has had some life-changing character development. The story, directing, writing, everything was better in the last ten episodes. The last five were by far the best, and they may have even surpassed their fellow Stargate series in terms of being amazing.

The ending did not tie up all loose ends, or even end the story, as they had already filmed it by the time they found out that there would not be a season 3. They did change it, though, so it was more fitting to end a series, rather than a season, and the final result was one of the best series endings I have ever seen.

I sincerely wish people could enter the series in season 2, so that they did not need to tolerate season 1, but unfortunately that would be a stupid thing to do, as then they would miss so much of the story, and that is unacceptable.

And now that Stargate Universe has been cancelled, it's been announced that all four Stargate movies that were in development have been cancelled, and the franchise as we know it is gone now. Thankfully, the creators of this franchise are making another science-fiction series, Echoes, though it will never be what Stargate was.

So yes, that is my review. It's my first ever "series review", and it's about as long as I figured it might be (which is pretty long).

Long live Stargate's memory, and hopefully it'll be back someday.


P.S. After writing such a long review and having to go back and revise the entire thing (not fun), I have gotten sick of writing for today. That basically means no novel or fanfic writing today. . . .

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An Interview with Magnus Pålsson

Magnus Pålsson

What's up, world? Today I interviewed a man named Magnus Pålsson. Interesting name, eh? Probably only because I live in the states, and he doesn't.

Magnus may be most known as his online alias, SoulEye. He is a digital music composer and has made music for numerous popular independent games, including VVVVVV by Terry Cavanagh and Garden Gnome Carnage by Daniel Remar. I first heard of him several years ago because one of his chiptunes, "Embrace", came as one of several examples with the digital music-creating program MadTracker 2.

I've had conversations with him via email at least three times before, but at least the second time he didn't remember me from the first. I don't blame him, because the first time I never mentioned anything worth remembering.

Anyway sit back, relax, drink Dr. Pepper, and read on.


Reuben Horst: So how has your life been recently, Magnus?

Magnus Pålsson: Good! I just went to Nordic Game and met a bunch of nice indie people, played some games, had some beers, and listened to a couple of entertaining talks.

RH: How do you pronounce your last name (sorry, just had to ask)?

MP: Paul-son will suffice.

RH: How old were you when you started making digital music?

MP: Oh boy, I think I was like... 10? My dad got one of the first portable computers called Epson HX-20, and that one could generate one beep at a specific length and pitch at a time. Fascinating to me, annoying as hell for anybody else around.

RH: So how old exactly are you now?

MP: I'm 34!

RH: What are your favorite digital music artists, and what are your favorite actual bands?

MP: I'm going to have to go for some (oftentime old) game music here... Koji Kondo, Martin Galway, David Whitaker, Jake Kaufman, Chris Hülsbeck... And more contemporary, well... I don't get many hangups on bands like one would think, but I do enjoy certain songs to bits, like recently I quite enjoyed "Jag Kommer" by Veronica Maggio, so much so that I made a cover of it quite in detail.

RH: What are your favorite hobbies that are not related to music?

MP: Just like any other dude I like playing games, socializing, watching movies... And, you gotta get down on Fridays. FUN FUN FUN FUN! (For those who got that reference: I'm sorry. For those who didn't: I envy you!)

(Unfortunately, I got the reference...)

RH: What game’s soundtrack that you’ve made are you the most satisfied with?

MP: That has got to be VVVVVV. It's got some of my best songs I ever made in the past in it.

RH: Of the games that you have made music for, which is your favorite to play?

MP: VVVVVV is the best, but hasn't got as much replay value as Garden Gnome Carnage. Special mention goes to Space Phallus (the first level only).

RH: You made a highly-respected soundtrack for Terry Cavanagh’s game VVVVVV (as you just mentioned). If he were to ever make a sequel, would you be interested in creating the soundtrack for it?

MP: Thanks, and yes! I'd love to. Terry will not be making a sequel though, so if anybody feels compelled to carry on the legacy, you could talk to Terry. Just don't tell him I sent you. He'd kill me. He'd make a maze of spikes for me to run through. No, really.

RH: Are you working on any large projects right now?

MP: There's Mega Man 2.5D, Groove Motion, and a CD of my own to go for.

RH: What’s your favorite brand of soda?

MP: Dr. Pepper! I have a sweet spot for things that smell like glue and soap...

RH: Thanks for your time, man.

MP: Sure! If you have some follow-up questions, feel free to fire away!


There was only one follow-up question, and I'll give a free copy of the VVVVVV soundtrack to whoever can guess which one it is . . . just kidding! I don't even own the soundtrack myself yet, though I certainly plan on getting it within the next few days, because it's so awesome.

Thanks again to Magnus for letting me interview him, even though his life is filled-up and he has hundreds of unread emails. He's probably tired of me telling him thanks by now, but oh well, he's just that awesome.


The Hobbit

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is considered the prelude to one of the greatest fantasy series of all time (that series being The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy which is impossible not to hear of in your lifetime). It is the story of a hobbit—as you can tell from the title—and his journey with thirteen dwarfs and a wizard through the continent known as Middle-earth to recover a lost treasure.

Hobbits are peculiar creatures. Full-grown they they about 3-4 feet tall, and their feet are rough enough that they never have to wear shoes. In truth they are a lot like short humans, except that they have some pretty weird personalities. This particular hobbit was named Bilbo Baggins, and he did not want to leave his old home for any adventures, no matter what. Obviously, he was forced to go anyway.

Along the inevitable journey that followed, full of friendship, magic and interesting creatures, the reader is almost drawn completely into this awesome world. Tolkien is a devout master of character development, describing objects and places, using alliteration and similes, and creating mythology. Though some parts of the novel seem a little too boring, due to Tolkien being a little too descriptive, it's a great book and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves fantasy novels. The book is indeed hard to get through, but when it's finished you get a very satisfied feeling inside.

The Hobbit is at present being turned into a two-part feature film by New Line Cinema, with Part 1 currently set to release in late 2012.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

I'm a stalker. . . .

Funny how I just told somebody that I'm not a stalker. Oh well.

The following picture was taken yesterday by my group in photography class:

The creepy face is my reflection. Doesn't that look like the cover of a thriller novel? Maybe I should use it for one of my books that I'll write, so I won't have to pay $300 for someone else to make me a cover.

So yeah, I look like a . . . creepy serial killer-stalker! That's obviously not a good thing, but it's pretty cool!


The Priest's Graveyard

The Priest's Graveyard by Ted Dekker is a very interesting novel. It is a thriller about two people: Renee Gilmore, a former drug addict with several personality disorders, and Danny Hansen, a priest who has lived through hell and survived.

Let us start with Danny. Danny Hansen grew up in Bosnia, living a happy life, but when his mother and sisters were raped and slain unmercifully during the Bosnian War in 1992, Danny (only fifteen at the time) vengefully killed those responsible. He then joined the military to put an end to enemy soldiers doing the same to others.

Danny then moved to the states, and he became a priest. He was a normal priest on the outside, but he had a double life. Without people knowing, he tracked down men, powerful men, who had been the cause of hundreds of others' deaths. He tried to show reason, and if they did not repent, he did the world a favor and ended their misery.

Renee Gilmore had been rescued off the streets by a man named Lamont Myers, after she had been shot far too high with cocaine, and was running away from her former dealer (who happened to have a lot of thugs with guns). When Renee woke up in a room that later turned out to be in Lamont's house, she soon fell in love with the man, and lost her drug addiction pretty quickly, with the help of medications.

After a year of living with the man in his glass mansion, Lamont suddenly disappears one day, and doesn't return. Renee very quickly loses her mind, as this man was the center of her entire life for the past year. She believes there is only one man who could be behind the disappearance—the same man that Danny is tracking. And, of course, before long the two are working together to find this man, and with the same idea in mind of what to do to him.

The Priest's Graveyard is one of those books that doesn't really have any protagonists. None of the characters are really "good guys", though by the end that may change. This novel is another love story—yeah there are a lot of those—but it is extremely well-written and it's definitely not only a lot story. It's certainly not a romance story. It's a dark, mystery thriller, filled with intriguing content, and it makes a really great read.

The point of view is written in the first person, from the viewpoint of Renee. This may be so that the readers can understand her personalities and disorders, but in truth it just confused me all the more (which also may have been why it was written this way).

The Priest's Graveyard is a very different book from Dekker's other works, and it debuted higher on the New York Times bestseller list than any of his books have been in the past. This is one huge leap into the world of secular fiction, one leap that may eventually land this book at the top of that bestseller list.

In the end, this sad, sad novel presents one interesting question: If you knew that somebody has killed many people in the past, and they were going to kill again, would it be alright to kill them, and only them, so that in the future less people would die? As a Christian it would seem the answer would be obvious, but once you think about it, you really start to wonder.

Anyway, look for The Priest's Graveyard in stores now! Ted Dekker is currently writing a sequel to this book, The Sanctuary, set to release in 2012.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An Interview with Charlie Dominici

Now here's something different. Or rather, someone different.

Charlie Dominici is probably best known as being one of the first vocalists for the progressive metal band Dream Theater, back in 1989. He left after their first album, and he quit the music industry for about fifteen years, before he was invited to help sing the encore at Dream Theater's 15th anniversary concert. That inspired him to get into music again, and in 2005 he wrote, performed (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica) and published an album all by himself, called O3: A Trilogy, Part 1, in which a story is told. This obviously called for a sequel (two, actually, since it's a "trilogy"), and before too long he teamed up with a band named Solid Vision, and produced O3: A Trilogy, Part 2 and O3: A Trilogy, Part 3 in full progressive metal under the band name "Dominici".

O3 Part 3 was released in 2008, and the band has been silent since then. There is a chance that they could come back, though they'll most likely never make any more concept albums. For now I'll just say that O3 is an awesome story, and therefor Mr. Dominici is awesome. Speaking of which, I just recently interviewed him. Care to be entertained?


Reuben Horst: Knowing you, Charlie, I decided to stay clear of any questions involving our government or the economy. *grins*

Charlie Dominici: Thanks! We have a government and an economy?

RH: How has your life been recently, Charlie?

CD: I've been great! I'm healthier than ever and I’m looking forward to starting up some new music soon.

RH: How old were you when you got into singing or music in general?

CD: I was 5. I was imitating the singers my mom used to play on the record player all the time. Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, etc.

RH: What are your favorite bands in general?

CD: I can't even answer that without mentioning hundreds of bands.

RH: The story of your O3 Trilogy is very intriguing and complex. Was it inspired by anything in particular?

CD: Yes. The song "Honor thy Father" [by Dream Theater]. In fact the whole trilogy is a direct result of listening to that song backwards while bathing in chicken blood and chanting "I fired Mike!" over and over. Just kidding … JUST KIDDING everyone!

It was perspired, not inspired. I sweated that story out over many years of watching the events in the world unfold. It then started to come together in 2004 and was obviously finished in 2007 with part 3.

RH: How much research was required to create a story like O3?

CD: Actually I did more research on the last part than on the other two parts combined. I did some scientific research in the beginning in order to make the O3 (Ozone) part of it more plausible. The fact that O3 molecules break down and turn back into O2 when it comes in contact with other O2 molecules was the key. I figured that if there could be a catalyst of some sort that would work the opposite way, turning every O2 molecule the O3 touches into O3, and then it is feasible that it could be used as a WMD.

RH: About when would you approximate that O3 takes place in time? I mean what year in the future?

CD: Thousands of years ago. Before Adam and Eve. Or is it sometime in the near future? …I’m not really sure myself.

RH: So I hear there is a chance that you and the band Dominici could return someday. Is this true?

CD: There is a chance but I wanna wait till I grow up.

RH: What is your favorite Dream Theater album?

CD: "When Dream and Day Unite", of course! Because that’s the only one I sang on.

RH: According to Wikipedia, you’re turning 60 in June. Do you feel like you’re old, or like you still have years and years ahead of you?

CD: Who wrote that? 60? Haha, I'm not turning 60. No way am I turning 60! No freaking way! Who wrote that?

RH: What’s your favorite brand of soda?

CD: I’m really weird when it comes to soda. I like a brand that a lot of people probably never heard of. It’s called "Coca Cola". You ever had it? It's awesome! Lots of sugar and caffeine!

RH: Thanks for your time, Charlie!

CD: My pleasure, Game Boy!


So yeah, things are going well. Thanks to my amazing fan base of ten or so people for reading my blog, and thanks Mr. Dominici for letting me interview you!