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Silent Hill: Homecoming


gameplay.comPros:

–          Cool monsters

–          Lots of scares

–          New environments and old favorites

–          Tie-ins to previous Silent Hill storylines

–          Improved combat controls, including all-new strafing action!

Cons:

–          Lack of monster variety

–          Weak, irregular storyline

–          Typical bad ending on 1st playthrough

–          Tie-ins to the movie version

–          Battle is still a bit off

Silent Hill: Homecoming utilizes many conventions of the series and also breaks the mold in some areas. It’s an interesting blend of old and new, even in the basic plot: Alex Sheppard has come home to Shepherd’s Glen, a town with a mysterious connection to Silent Hill, and is looking for his missing brother (sound familiar?). Despite the cliché plot, expect some new monsters, new puzzles, and plenty of scares to keep you on the edge of your seat.

The graphics on the Xbox360 version are great, allowing you to immerse yourself in the detailed environments, featuring redone versions or different locations of traditional locales like the prison and hospital, plus an all-new haunted town. Akira Yamaoko’s music is still excellent, with another killer intro song by Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, and the atmospheric music is a bit sparse but still powerful. The plot is intriguing but nothing terribly new, and not much is revealed until very late in the game, though I’ll reserve all judgments until I’ve gotten the good/UFO ending(s).

ign.comA larger variety of monsters would have been nice, but that’s always been an issue with the game. They went with a nice mix of old favorites like the dog and nurse and newer enemies like Schism and the Needler. The boss fights are seriously freaky, though I think you fight the same boss 3 different times.

Homecoming’s battle system is generally an improvement, incorporating more interactions with the environment in and out of battle, but still uses the traditional elements of Silent Hill battle like auto-target and combos. There is now an auto-strafe function, which makes movement a bit easier, and finishing moves are more automatic for many regular enemy fights. The only problem is that enemies are smarter and the controls aren’t terribly responsive, which means battle is still difficult until you figure out the new controls.

maxiconsole.comOne of the things that bothered me was how they tried to incorporate elements from the Silent Hill movie into Homecoming. In general, movie canon and game canon are completely separated in many fans’ eyes. And considering the mixed reception of the movie, I don’t think this should be an exception. Some of the things they used were cool, like the barbed wire around the church, but some just seemed like arbitrary movie references, like the Cult members.

Overall: A step in the right direction. Takes what Silent Hill is bad at and tries to revamp it. Takes what the series is liked for and continues the survival horror tradition. My personal ratings for the entire series would be: 3, Homecoming, 4, 2, Origins, 1. Being a die-hard Silent Hill fan, I’d definitely say this game is a good addition to the series, and something worth picking up. Let’s just pretend Shattered Memories never even happened.

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Round 2: Revenge of the Generics


Last post, so long ago I know, I compared some music player computer programs. Today I shall review Open Office, for all those who don’t want to line Bill Gates’ massive pockets by paying for Microsoft Office (seriously, Microsoft is the final boss in Shadow of the Colossus).

Open Office
Open Office has equivalents to all of the Microsoft Office programs, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. I’ve used Open Office’s version of Word, called Writer, the most, and it really is just like Word. Some of the buttons are changed around, but they’re both pretty similar word processors.

I do have a complaint- they try to do the same thing that newer versions of Microsoft Office have done, with the .docx file extension. The default file format to save in is an Open Office only format, which you can change, but it’s just annoying that they’re claiming to be different from Microsoft by being a free alternative, but then pulling the same crap that can screw people up. Other than this, there is nothing wrong with finding your freeware at http://www.openoffice.org.

Mac or PC?
I’m going to do this rant-style, because I really don’t have anything good to say about Macs. Those commercials they’ve been playing recently about Mac vs. PC, how Macs are so much better, are oversimplified propaganda, for these reasons.

1) Macs are usually more difficult to use because people are used to PCs. When I use a Mac, it takes me some time to remember which buttons do what I want, and how to access certain things.

2) Right click is possible on Macs, but you have to ENABLE it. Newer Macs have mice with right click buttons, but seriously. What’s the deal with that? It’s like putting on an eye patch because you don’t really need two eyes to see. (Because depth perception? Totally overrated.)

3) Based on personal experience, I have only ever had 1 serious virus on a PC, and have dealt with much crappier Macs even when they were running correctly. I also know several Macs at my work have been screwing up lately. My own PC issues have been significant only because of how long I’ve been using PCs, compared to my limited Mac usage.

4) The claim that PCs have “hundreds of headaches” that Macs don’t seems to be a lie to me. This is just propaganda designed to convince people that they have an alternative to PCs, when Mac really isn’t much better. Both Oss can run most of the same programs, so the stereotype of artists using Macs doesn’t really hold anymore. You don’t have to buy a Mac as soon as you declare an Art major. You can’t play many video games on a Mac either.

5) Okay, I will say one good thing about Macs. At least they give Microsoft some competition. Bill Gates does not have a complete monopoly yet. Sure, he’s got Boardwalk, but Mac has Park Place, so those of us who can barely afford an apartment on Baltic Avenue can still afford a laptop (or a Macbook, for those of you who completely disagree with this entire post).

Lastly, I have not mentioned Linux in this post until this point, mostly because I have never seen a Linux machine that worked. People talk about how great Linux is, yet can’t ever seem to get it to function correctly on their own machines. So until I see something positive about this freeware, I think it’s safe for me to say that sometimes, you do get what you pay for.

Off Brand Programs Part 1


Left 4 Dead proves that generics work just as well as the real thing.

Left 4 Dead proves that generics work just as well as the real thing.

Why pay full price for something just because everyone else uses it? You’re just paying for a name, for the advertising, right? Is the same true of computer programs? I’ve grown up using the popular ones — Windows operating system, Microsoft Office, iTunes. I never knew there were many other options. So for all those people who used to be like me, here is my review of a few nifty ways to save some money and support freeware.

Great alternatives to iTunes: Winamp, Mediamonkey

I received an iPod as a gift, so naturally I downloaded iTunes to manage it and all my music. It worked great for a while, until I noticed how messy the organization system was. iTunes made double copies of all my music folders, and so I went in and re-organized it all myself, which took a while but freed up some space. And for some reason all of my music was physically downloaded onto my iPod, which took some time to sort out.

Anyway, you can blame my low knowledge of iTunes for most of that stuff, which was mostly just based on ignorance of what the crap iTunes was doing to my music. So, instead of dealing with iTunes on my next computer, I made the switch to Winamp. I’m still getting used to all the functions, and it was not nearly as easy to manage my iPod at first, but I figured it out eventually and now Winamp runs much more smoothly on my computer than iTunes ever did. It uses 1/3 the CPU power (see below site), among other things, and has tons of plugins and support.

After re-formatting my old computer, I decided to check out my other media player options and found this site: http://www.skytopia.com/project/articles/music/players.html I gave Mediamonkey a try, but I couldn’t figure out how to import my ipod playlists, and lots of people had had the same problem, so I’m back to Winamp.

My particular problem aside, Mediamonkey is actually slightly better than Winamp at things like customizing tags, smart playlists, being able to burn MP3s to CD, etc. So, though MM didn’t work so well for me, it’s an interesting player to try without dumping Windows Media Player and iTunes bloatware on your comp.

Overall: Winamp’s my favorite so far, but Mediamonkey would be a close second if its iPod support was improved. This post has gotten a bit longer than I expected, so let’s make it a two-parter and finish it off later with a review of Open Office and Mac/Linux vs. PC.

Retail is just a dirty name for Public Relations


I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been busy dealing with my job, which is… unexpected in many ways. Retail is something I’ve now become initiated into. But with every job, no matter what it is, there is always something you can gain from it.

I’ve learned that I can’t stand standing up all day. I like multitasking, and being able to focus on multiple things at a time. I can deal with children if I put in effort, which is good if I ever want to teach. I’ve been thinking about teaching English in a Japanese conversation school (eikawa), and I might be able to handle it. I never thought I would be able to do that.

The things that brighten my day are animals, talking to people with common interests, and the feeling I’m doing something productive or useful. When a customer comes in with a dog on a leash, I can’t tear my eyes away from their cute little puppy, and I’m not even that much of a dog person. I like my co-workers; they make it easier to work with all kinds of tourists while we talk about video games or alternative energy. And just having a job is better than being unemployed, because you have something to fill your hours and maybe stick on a resume at the very least.

I’m not sure if I could do public relations work in the future, but certain things about retail seem similar. You have to sell yourself, and present a different person to everyone, yet still maintain the same core being, with a certain set of values, work ethic, and attitudes. People are customers one minute and individuals the next, depending on what angle you’re aiming for. You have to learn how to sell some things you might not really believe in, but find some way to be okay with that. And sometimes you’ll get backed into a corner by something you’ve said or something they want and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I supposed I’ve leveled up my Personality and Speechcraft, plus my Strength and Intelligence a bit. Random things change you in life, and I need those interpersonal communication skills in any job. My next project is working on those writing skills. (Would writing be the equivalent of Alteration? Conjuration? Yeah, I’ve got Oblivion on the brain). Blogging is fine, it shows diversity on a resume, but choosing a specialty, like fiction, journalism, or video game scripts, may be more productive in the long run. Perhaps I can use blogging to my advantage and use this blog to brainstorm for a new writing project. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Play Games for Your Health


What do video games do to your body? Can they actually be good for you? What physically happens to your body when you play?

Playing games is like playing sports. Your body produces adrenaline to help you meet those challenges, which speeds up your reflexes. This is an evolutionary response to danger or challenges in your environment. This also helps you feel less pain, so if you’re sick or recovering from surgery, pop a Tylenol and pick up a controller.

The downside is that blood is being rerouted to your muscles to give you those lightning quick trigger fingers, but it does this by taking blood away from the brain. This means it can be hard to think clearly, so don’t go making any big decisions while gaming (they could put that on a warning label on the back of game boxes). It seems counter intuitive, because it’s important to be able to make good decisions in tense situations, but you’re really working off of muscle memory rather than traditional memory.

Another pro is that by gaining experience (literally and metaphorically) in games, you may be better able to deal with things in real life. The way people react to stress and stressful situations affects their bodies in unexpected and sometimes unexplained ways. So by remaining calm and making that adrenaline rush work for you rather than against you, you’re learning how to deal with Simulated Stress Situations (SSS- okay I made that acronym up, but it sounds legit, right?).

Lastly, the problem with adrenaline is that you can get addicted to the rush. People can get addicted to any video game and for various reasons. You probably don’t get much of an adrenaline rush from farming for gold or experience in an RPG, but playing a (good) survival horror means you’ll be on the edge of your seat the whole time. But the more you shoot zombies, the more often you might want to.

So to sum up, here are some of the pros and cons of playing games, so you can decide for yourself if the benefits outweigh the risks. Personally, I’d rather have the experience dealing with stress and addiction and level up to help me prepare for tougher challenges ahead.

+ Adrenaline is released, reducing pain

+ Learn how to deal with stress

–  Harder to make decisions

– Adrenaline can be addicting