Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Adventures of Clip and Art #9

Like Rear Window
Whell! Suffice it to say I'm far more pleased with this strip than the last one. Especially the last panel. I can't take credit for figuring out how to get the lighting to work, but executing the idea and seeing the end result fills me with mirth bordering on auto-erotic ecstasy.

Also, new character? Yes, please!

Fifty cool points to the first person who identifies the clouds outside the window in panels two and three.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What a difference two and a half years make...

I first played Trauma Center: Second Opinion and Trauma Center: New Blood in May 2008, and I fucking loved them.  I just finished replaying both games, and I did not fucking love them anymore.  What happened in the interim that could have caused such a marked change?  What gives?

First, let's examine how I felt about the medical simulation series the first time I played it.  At the time, Trauma Center marked my first outing with the Nintendo Wii, a system I had previously written off as a gimmick.  Imagine my surprise, then, to find a Wii game that was not only fun to play, but also downright exhilarating. It turned the control scheme from an imbecilic gimmick to an immersive gem, requiring one to not only keep track of a million things at one time - the patient's vitals, the time remaining, the need to switch between half a dozen medical tools rapidly in the course of a single operation - but also requiring one's hands to reflex at practically inhuman speeds to keep up with it all.  Furthermore, the stories in these games were chock full of enough intrigue, terrorism, and medical-ethical conflicts to make Lost, 24, and Grey's Anatomy green with envy, respectively, and the characters were all discrete and likable enough to win me over.

Fast forward almost three years to my second playthrough of Trauma Center in preparation for the recently-released Trauma Team.  Now I'm thinking of the few dozen operations in Second Opinion, only about ten of them are actually any different.  Now I'm thinking the controls are pretty damn gimmicky, at best.  At worst, they don't even really work the way they're meant to.  Now I'm thinking the characters are about as flat, cliched, or retarded as they come (no, seriously, play New Blood as though Valerie Blaylock is mentally challenged and only passed medical school because of her superhuman operating speed; it makes it make so much more sense that anyone would put up with her bullshit).  Now I'm thinking these games just ain't as good.

And it doesn't really end there.  I recently tried to play Eternal Sonata, a game which I regretfully purchased at launch in November 2008 but didn't get around to until January 2011.  Four hours told me all I needed to know about that experience, particularly that it was going to be woefully repetitive, with a cast of stock JRPG characters: the Magical Girl, the Wiser Older Man, the Brash Young Hero, the Goofy Genius Child.  But I can't help but think if I'd played Eternal Sonata right when I bought it, apart from actually getting my sixty dollars' worth, I would have really enjoyed it.

Then there's God of War, a game I absolutely despised in 2005 for its brevity, weak dialogue, and poor characterization, but upon replaying it in late 2009, it stunned me with its haunting take on Greek mythology and its very focused portrayal of Kratos as an individual so far gone down the path of violent abandon he can hardly be called a man anymore.

And there's Grand Theft Auto, a series I couldn't be arsed to consider playing five years ago.  Now, its fourth numbered entry is a landmark in video game design.

All of these one-eighties are not merely the product of me playing better games with greater frequency in the latter half of the last decade.  If that were true, then I wouldn't have liked Trauma Center in the first place, because I can point to at least a dozen better games right from where I'm sitting that preceded Trauma Center in release.  Those games should have told me not to like Trauma Center, those bastards, but they didn't, so I can only conclude that, at the time, Trauma Center did genuinely have a place among their ranks.  And while I have changed a lot in the last five years, I don't think those changes really had much to do with video games.

Ultimately, I have to look at the state of video games today, and that state is Heavy Rain.  That state is Red Dead Redemption.  Hell, as much as I hate to admit it, that state is Mass Effect 2.  These games define the medium today and are shaping the medium for tomorrow, and none of them have their roots in Japanese cliches or in completely sequestering story from gameplay.  They have their roots in games with fresh, focused narratives; with living, breathing open worlds; and with systems of meaningful player input.  It's hard to go back and play a game with a cheap story that may as well come on a separate DVD for all it has to do with the gameplay and still think it's among the best and brightest video games have to offer when we know that video games have left that structure in their dust.

It's going to be even more fun writing this article again in five years, when the next video game paradigm shift occurs, and playing and liking Red Dead Redemption seems like a fool's errand.  Haha... hahaha... haaaa... like that will ever happen...

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Adventures of Clip and Art #8

Peeping Art
I've been wanting to try a more minimalist, background-less strip for a while now.  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand, it looks like I'm spatially retarded, but on the other hand, I ended up with something vaguely Wondermark-y in visual design.  I also don't like that this strip has a grand total of two words, two of which are not actually words.  It was a fun experiment, but I probably won't do something like this again for a while.

Also, I don't really know what the inside of a gym looks like.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Adventures of Clip and Art #7

I'm back. I regret having taken such a long break, but that's what happens when you work retail during the holidays and live at least 1000 miles from friends and family you haven't seen in months.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Top Ten Video Games of 2010... Sorta...

This top ten list is even less relevant than the last one. Just like before, it's not about games released this year, but about the games I played this year. Also, this top ten list is actually a top five list. Again, no intentional order; I list them as they come to mind.

1. Red Dead Redemption


2. God of War III

It's still hilarious to me that I love this game as much as I do. When I first played God of War in 2005, I despised it for several silly reasons, most of which no longer hold sway. Now, five years later, I'm singing a completely different tune. Artistic, experimental, epic, and emotional are not words I ever imagined myself attributing to a God of War game, but here I am.

3. Grand Theft Auto IV

Really, same deal as God of War. I operated under the same gross misconception everybody else does about this series. It's not just about gunning down pedestrians or stealing cars. This game is a biting satire of our current cultural state, an unflinching examination of what it means to be an American, and a personal tale of one man's struggle to maintain some kind of morality in what seems to be a city without morals. Beyond that, the mere fact that the game works at all is impressive, and the fact that it works damn near perfectly is a wonder.

4. Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

I put a few dozen hours into these two games, and it feels like I've spent an equivalent amount of time talking about them. Yes, there are flaws; all games have them. However, short of Pope Alexander VI crawling out of my TV and trashing my room, nothing can ruin the joy these games bring me. I get to climb all over cities I will never get to visit and meet people who have been dead for half a millennium. The combat is visceral, and the story, although it reeks of Dan Brown, has me by the nose. Brotherhood took the series where I hoped it would go, and that's to the present, with a fully playable Desmond Miles climbing over modern-day shit. Not to mention the multiplayer, which is fun as all hell.

5. Suikoden V

What a way to end a marvelous series of JRPGs. This isn't the best game in the series, but even the worst Suikoden game is better than most other games of its kind. Just as mature and sophisticated as its predecessors, Suikoden V has all of what we've come to expect from Suikoden, sporting the best duel battle system in the series and a sorrowful plot filled with betrayal, attempted genocides, and the politics of war. Even if you're a Suiko-virgin, V will appeal to anyone who agrees that the PS1 generation was the heyday of the JRPG. This game is what JRPGs on the PS2 should have been, with its fully traversable overhead world map.

Honorable mentions because I'm a wishy-washy bastard:
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker - This game probably shouldn't have happened, but, since it did, I will admit it's a lot of fun to play and the Cold War history-based story is quite strong. It has more content than any MGS to date.
Heavy Rain - A plot that would be mediocre in any other medium and a sore thumb of a weak ending do only a little damage to what this interactive drama achieves: the most authentic role-playing experience I have ever had with a video game.
InFAMOUS - Mix Assassin's Creed, Sly Cooper, and Marvel Comics, gradually stir in moral choices, and zap with electricity. Let stand. Serve. An impressive game from the standpoint that it may actually be two games, depending on how you choose to play it: as a hero or as a villain.  Nice twist ending.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My Top Ten Albums of 2010... Sorta...

It's that time of year when media blogs and entertainment magazines put out their retrospective top ten lists for the year in various categories.  Admittedly, I have not listened to every album released this year, so picking a best album of 2010 would have about as much credibility as me voting in the presidential election in another country.  Instead, I am going to list my ten favorite albums I heard for the first time this year.  There will undoubtedly be 2010 albums, but there could also be 1974 albums.  Also, they aren't ranked because ranking things is bullshit.

1. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More

They're folk. They're heavy on the vocals and the strings. They're British. These are the facts, but they're not what you come away with after hearing this album. You come away from some of the more dramatic tracks feeling a little hollow, like only half a story's been told because the other half might be too grim to tell. But then there are tracks that leave you feeling kind of alright about things; maybe your shit's not as bad as you thought. And then you're pretty sure the rest of the tracks are about someone you know. It's a winning balance between overwhelming universality (who can't relate to the profane hook in "Little Lion Man"?) and intriguingly alienating specificity (I'd wager less than 1% of people listening to this album actually experienced the Dust Bowl).

2. Iron & Wine - The Shepherd's Dog

Sam Beam is my new favorite songwriter. Every single song on this album has at least two lyrical morsels I chew on every now and then because they are so very delicious. Plus, there's something very home-boy about this guy. Like me, he was born and raised in South Carolina, so when he mentions the "upstate" or the "state house," I get this haughty feeling that I know what he's saying better than most people. I didn't grow up on a farm, but I was about a three-minute walk from about five farms, so all that agricultural imagery in "Pagan Angel" and "Resurrection Fern" is not lost on me at all. Quite the contrary.

3. Florence + the Machine - Lungs

Well, this one came out of nowhere. I listened to it for the first time about three days ago, and I knew pretty much instantly that it was gold. Florence Welch is an incredible vocalist; hearing her belt it out on "Girl With One Eye" is just one of many reasons I have been playing this album on repeat for hours on end.

4. Muse - Resistance

It's Muse. Did you think I wouldn't put it on this list? To be fair, this album is no Black Holes and Revelations. Actually, it may be too similar to BHaR to really stand out as the exemplar of Muse's talent, but among the albums I heard in 2010, it shines.

 5. Civil Twilight - Civil Twilight

These three guys from South Africa are the closest a band has come to sounding like Starsailor since Starsailor. Don't get me wrong, they have their own sound, but the similarities are there, to be sure. I saw them perform live and met them, and they're a class act. Pound for pound, this album has more emotion on it than anything else on this list, and probably on anything on any of the lists to come.
6. The Black Keys - Attack and Release

Played Grand Theft Auto IV some months ago. Heard the song "Strange Times" on an in-game radio station. Listened to the rest of the album. Found out I'm more okay with blues-rock than I thought.

7. Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse - Dark Night of the Soul

I don't know why this album is as good as it is. It could be the variety of artists that perform on it, or it could be the thematic consistency of the lyrics, or both. It's like 75% indie rock, 20% alternative, and 5% David Lynch, but somehow, the parts make a really strong whole.

8. Phil Selway - Familial

This album is not what one would expect from the drummer of a band like Radiohead. I have been told that you can't really expect anything specific from the drummer of a band like Radiohead, but I am certain the last thing you would expect is Familial. Call me crazy, but I just did not expect the drummer of a band like Radiohead to go minimal on instruments and introspective on lyrics and whispery on vocals to make a borderline folk album. In case the album title isn't a dead giveaway, Phil likes to sing about family matters, and he likes to do so in as haunting a way as possible. It is so many galaxies away from Radiohead, but ultimately, that's not as detrimental as it sounds. Not detrimental at all really. I hope he keeps doing solo stuff.

9. Fran Healy - Wreckorder

What is Fran Healy without Travis? That is the question I asked when I found out this album was a thing. Upon listening, however, the question became "What is Travis without Fran Healy?" He must be like 90% of that band because if I had heard it not knowing it was a solo album, I would have assumed it was the whole group. Paul McCartney plays on it, but you can't tell, which may be a good thing. Neko Case sings on it, and you can tell, which is definitely a good thing. Overall, the best word to describe Fran's solo debut is "Travis-y."

10. Radiohead - In Rainbows (second disc of special edition)

I really didn't want to do this. Radiohead doesn't need more accolades or places on people's top whatever lists. But, in the spirit of fairness and honesty, the eight bonus tracks on In Rainbows are fucking good, better than anything on the underwhelming single-disc edition. They should have been their own release, either after or instead of In Rainbows (note: all this hating on In Rainbows is purely relative. I actually like that album, but it pales in comparison to what somehow did not make it onto the album.).  There are just so many speeds here: tearjerking, danceable, sleepy. It's all over the place in the best way possible. Plus, there's a Doctor Who reference which kind of suckered me.

Honorable mentions because I'm too indecisive to leave some things off this list:
The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots (Science fiction indie rock. Need I say more?)
Tired Pony - The Place We Ran From (Gary Lightbody makes this sound like Snow Patrol, but everyone else involved makes it sound like alt-country. Either way, it's a winner.)
Broken Bells - Broken Bells (Because this list needed more Danger Mouse.)
Carolina Chocolate Drops - Genuine Negro Jig (Bluegrass covers of "Hit 'em Up Style" and "Trampled Rose" will get your attention, and the rest of the album will hold it.)
Loreena McKennitt - The Wind That Shakes The Barley (Not her best, but still Loreena.)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Adventures of Clip and Art #6

I'm back after a two-week hiatus.  Thanksgiving followed by the madness of the retail world in the weeks preceding Christmas and the unreasonably inflated workload of finals week left little time to do anything else.  Thankfully, all that's behind me now, and I can get back to comicking the shit out of the internet.  I'm going to try my damnedest to push another strip out before the end of the week; I'll have to tear myself away from Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood long enough to make it happen.

One thing I forgot to mention in the last Clip and Art post is that I wrote Clip's light bulb out of the story because it was a horrendous bitch to work around.  It took up so much panel space and was a major contributor to the Unreadable Text Disaster that plagued the first few strips.