Ted Talk Tuesday


It doesn’t matter that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave this speech a year and a half ago, nor does it matter that I only found it a few months ago. What matters is that this intensely thoughtful and intelligent woman details what discrimination looks like, what women deal with every day, even in countries/states/cities that are “progressive” or “liberated”.

While long, this is 30 minutes of your time you will not regret spending on watching this video. It is powerful, direct, and inspiring; sometimes funny, and other times deeply emotional. Give it a watch and let us know what you think!

Music Video Monday


Here is Commander Chris Hadfield singing “Space Oddity” onboard the ISS, for the approximately four people left on earth that haven’t seen this video. It’s beautiful and poignant, and it’s a David Bowie classic! I love rewatching this video and seeing earth float behind him as he sits in the stillness. It makes me think about a future time when space travel is common and used by everyday people. I don’t think we’ll see that in my lifetime, sadly, but the next generation will stand on our shoulders, and maybe it will be possible for them.

Anyway, happy Monday and enjoy the video!

Minecraft: Adventures


Zombie pigman riding in my minecart in Minecraft

One of my favorite parts of Minecraft is the weird, random happenstance that occur from programming an entire world to random generate. Statistics are important, and eventually if you play long enough, you’re bound to see some real interesting stuff. I wanted to take some time to share some of the funny little moments I’ve come across in my Minecraft time.
The picture above was taken in the nether; we had extensive nether rails running back and forth between distant areas of the world. Which meant that sometimes, those rails were blocked by zombie pigmen. And other times, they’d hop in your cart and take a ride with you!

Zombie baby pigman riding a duck in minecraftAnother nether adventure from when I was mapping out rails, this time, a baby zombie pigman riding a duck. This little guy just wanted to hang out and look at me for awhile. I hope the duck didn’t jump into lava.

Spider jockey (skeleton) riding around in MinecraftIn my previous posts about the wizard castle, you could see a nether portal on top of a hill. This was my main form of transportation when building the castles, so I could get to and from my other bases. Anyway, I came out of the portal one day to find a spider jockey hanging out on top of the hill. I don’t think I’ve seen one before that, or since then.

Baby zombie riding on a duck in minecraftThis was in a mineshaft I found that I eventually spent about two full weeks (with almost daily plays) cleaning out of treasure, wood, and ore. Hey cute little baby zombie riding a duck, why you tryin’ to kill me?

Zombie pigman riding a duckAnother from inside the nether – you can even see a Ghast on the mini map mod. God damn zombie pigmen raided my rail ways (pre-rail) and there was one riding a duck. I often times will go on a massive killing spree of pigmen because they really piss me off, plus gold teeth are a good thing to have.

What are some of the weird things you’ve seen in Minecraft? It’s a world full of possibilities!

The Evil Within

The Evil Within

The Evil Within

Survival horror is a surprisingly difficult genre to get people to agree upon. The Evil Within’s director, Shinji Mikami, is one of the most influential figures in the genre. Responsible for a number of the best titles in the entire genre, including most of the Resident Evil series, he’s helped both establish and redefine the genre. With The Evil Within, he’s created a dark, lonely adventure through a foreboding world, and whether or not you end up finishing it or enjoying it, one thing is certain; you will absolutely remember this game.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Screaming Zombie Faces!

Evil Within Zombies

I’m a system of measurement!

Dixon’s Thoughts: Some of the more subtle aspects of past survival horror titles have been their mechanics. Aside from spooky-scary atmosphere and a decent story, survival horror games tend to play in similar ways. The Evil Within certainly feels similar to past titles in a lot of ways, and this is to be commended. First and foremost, it’s difficult to call any game without a save-point system a true survival horror title. The Evil Within takes this a bit further, and links all save points to a centralized hub populated by a lone woman who speaks in cryptic riddles and is generally completely fucking useless aside from helping you level up. If this sounds familiar, it’s because that is exactly how Demons’ Souls works. Character customization takes the form of The Upgrade Chair, where you spend Green Goo, a mysterious fluid that is never explained. You spend this goo on different upgrades to yourself, weapons, and inventory. You won’t have enough green goo to upgrade everything you like, so I advise that you do some research before dumping a large amount of Goo on any one thing. This upgrade system defines how the gameplay experience will be for you, especially seeing as some of the weapon upgrades can add new effects to the weapon.

Evil Within Upgrade System

The Evil Within upgrade menu

My advice to people with shaky hands or bad reflexes is to invest heavily in your inventory carry capacity, as this game does a very good job of ammo-starving you. This is unfortunately accomplished in a way that I don’t think has a place in survival horror, and that is the bullet-sponge method. The game is very, very predictable in this regard. If you start picking up ammo all over the place, prepare to get into a fight. In some select areas, you will have the option to stealth around the enemies, but more often than not there is no other choice than to shoot your way through a wall of enemies. This in turn is largely due to rather poor stealth mechanics in general. While games like The Last of Us (TLoU) have complex sneak systems that require practice and decision making, The Evil Within’s systems is entirely binary. An enemy won’t see you if you’re hidden, and sneaking under a window, but “sneaking” doesn’t actually prevent them from seeing you if you are say, hidden entirely in the shadows 30 feet away. The end result is that you often just have to pony up the stash of bullets you’ve been saving and hope that you have enough to get through the shufflers.

The Evil Within Zombie Shufflers

Pictured: mind-blowing gameplay options!

Speaking of shufflers, one of the strange thing about this game is its lack of enemy types. Without spoiling any of the plot points (spoilers reserved for Part 2 of this review), you really only ever encounter a few different enemy types in the majority of the game. Occasionally you DO fight something different, but then the odds are you’ll never see it again and we’re back to the same old guys. For lack of a better word we’ll be calling them zombies, but they’re not really zombies at all. In fact, you never really find out what they are, but for all intents and purposes they’re more or less exactly the zombies from Siren, except not nearly as frightening. Within this category of bad guy, we have the following sub-categories:

  • Guy or lady holding something
  • Guy or lady not holding something
  • Fat guy
  • Fat guy covered in glass shards (note: free hugs!!)
  • Masked guy

The approach to all of these enemies is essentially the same. Shoot out the legs, light them on fire. As long as you make sure there are multiple people touching the guy you just lit on fire, all of the enemies get torched. For their blandness, they’re actually really well designed as monsters. They can carry weapons (including firearms), can both see and hear, and are not very bright. Early on in the game, there are certain areas where they display higher than average intelligence. They will actively hunt for you, and will flock to any odd sound you might make. Want to see if there’s anything in that crate? Go ahead and smash it, but be prepared to run or hide (Spoiler alert: there’s nothing in the crate) because the smart zombies WILL hear it and come looking for you. Later on, this odd intelligence is abandoned in favor of shuffling directly at you and making biting motions.

In the interest of fairness, there are some mechanics that I just never understood until end game. For instance, the game is absolutely lousy with bottles. It’s a good thing that bumping into bottles doesn’t alert zombies to your presence because you can’t take 2 steps without finding a bottle in some levels. In theory you’re supposed to use them to create distractions for zombies to follow while you sneak around or up on them, however, often they would just hear a bottle crash and come looking for you. I later found out that you could just throw bottles at enemies’ heads to blind them, thereby allowing yourself a roughly 4 second window in which you can stealth kill the enemy, saving both bullets and sanity, and getting rid of one of those fucking countless bottles. If you played The Last of Us, you’ll recognize a distinct similarity between the Bottle and TLoU’s infamous Brick.

Overall the mechanics of The Evil Within are solid and the game does a fantastic job of emulating the bullet-starved, anxiety-laden gameplay of it’s predecessors. Shinji Mikami is attempting to once again re-define the genre in a slightly different way, this time by adding a huge emphasis on the first-person shooting element of the gameplay. Whether or not you agree with this decisions will depend entirely on your preference for other survival horror games.

Stay tuned for Part Two, in which we discuss the completely insane story, the level design, the boss fights, and whether or not the game is actually scary!

Minecraft: Wizard Tower Sea Wall


Minecraft wizard tower wallsHow do you solve a problem like Maria? Or, in this case, how do you make an epic Minecraft wizard tower even more awesome? Build a giant wall around it! Exclusivity is the new black.

After Mindy chopped a wizard tower/castle into existence out of a mountain, there were two problems: what do we do next, and what the hell are we going to do with six chests full of cobblestone? The giant wall project was Dixon’s brain child. It was dozens of blocks above the water, the same level as the castle plateau, so that we could eventually connect it via long bridges to the castle (this part did not happen).

Minecraft giant sea wallAs the wall progressed, we wondered, what if we build giant housing/storage/shop areas INSIDE of the wall. This was one of two sections completed, but is by far the more impressive of the two. The remaining 10-15 sections were left untouched after we realized how much time and supplies this kind of thing required. Note the giant pillars to the left, which are a land-based continuation of the sea wall.

Minecraft epic sea wallThis is the other section that was completed, on the opposite end of the wall. This included a plateau level bridge that went through the mountain and connected to the castle. While in the Wizard Tower post I showed the enormous bridge that ended up with a staircase to a nether portal, that was eventually removed after the portal was migrated inside of the castle. The bridge was extended and bored through a mountain with two exits. One exit leading to the above bridge, the other to Castle West. Castle West will be featured in an upcoming post, so stay tuned!

Minecraft epic sea wallIf you look real closely, you can see the bridge modifications in this picture, where it leads into the mountain instead of a staircase.

Minecraft wall towersBack on the other end of the seawall, the land pillar/towers are really starting to take shape. The left tower was sculpted out of another hillside, which also holds a sheep pen. At this point you can see there is still a small amount of land mass in the foreground (the silly sheep is standing on it!). This was eventually removed to create a huge waterfall emptying into the already existing cavern that just so happened to be there.

Minecraft finished seawallThis is the completed project, with a few interesting things to note:

  • If you use tripwire, which is almost invisible, it will stop vines from growing at whatever level you place it on, pretty cool!
  • See the giant glowing M underwater? Dixon made that to signify MINDY’S KINGDOM. There is lava in it and it’s about 20 blocks under water. He’s really awesome.
  • The towers turned into a temple of sorts, with underwater walkways and stained glass cathedrals, because Dixon got inspired one night when he was sick and up most of the night alone. He will be making another post to show you the gorgeous design he created.
  • That big old mountain in the very far left corner is where Castle West and The Stables were eventually created. As much as the Wizard Towers and encompassing area were a grand, sweeping, labor of love project for me, Castle West and the Stables are truly a work of art that Dixon and I created together. I am very excited to share that with you all soon!

Minecraft: Wizard Towers


Mindy's Minecraft KingdomMy first PC-based Minecraft World came after I found Minecraft on the console. Console MC is great, but the space and functionality is limited. At that time the console world only spanned 1 map and I wanted to really stretch out and explore. I might eventually share some of my early PC world creations which include a forest cabin, an upscale and underground subway/metro system, nether rail hubs, an entire village that I fenced off and grew, a desert mod house, many different mob grinders, mines, elaborate storage systems, etc. But for now I wanted to share the piece de resistance which was the focus of months of work: the wizard towers.

I jumped into creative mode to fly across the ocean and after traveling for a long time the first thing I saw was a giant mountain and what looked like a spire or peak next to it. The above picture was from that moment I found it, with the sun setting over the ocean I just flew across. I was inspired! Over the course of the next month or two things started taking shape.

Minecraft wizard spireYou know the Jimi Hendrix song Voodoo Child? In it he sings “Well, I stand up next to a mountain and I chop it down with the edge of my hand. Well, I pick up all the pieces and make an island, might even raise a little sand.” That’s how I felt for the months I worked on the wizard towers. I chopped and whittled it down one block at a time (with my hand!).

In the first progress picture (above), you can see that the mountain peak was turned into a full fledged wizard spire. If you look closely you can see the attached stairway leading to a floating platform, all of which was part of the mountain before I sculpted it. The tree on the platform was original to that mountain area, so I shaped around it and kept it on the platform. All the water and lava flows are original to the area as well. I hollowed out a 4×4 column for the inside of the main spire shaft and put “circular” stairs in the shaft. They ran to the top room and down to level 11, where they came to rest next to giant lava pools and my strip mines. There is also a surface level exit door on the back side of the shaft (not pictured), so that I could go and get more wood every single day. So much wood.

Minecraft wizard towersOnce the spire was completed, I started work on transforming the mountain itself into a giant castle. This is an early in-progress photo, where I was building the enormous bridge into the main castle entry. At this time the bridge connected to the top of another mountain, where I had a nether portal connected to my nether railway. While it is less resource intensive to chop a mountain into a castle, it doesn’t mean that you still won’t spend a million hours transporting yourself between bases to get supplies.

Minecraft wizard towersWork continued on building the castle vertically. Eventually I reached above cloud level, where I put my enchanting room and sky observation area. This is a pulled back photo showing the entire castle. I chose to build an exposed staircase centered around a 2×2 column. It has a few rooms and platforms on the way to the top, and is one of my favorite parts of the wizard towers.

Minecraft wizard towersFinally, a completed project picture. While this was the finished state of the wizard towers, we continued to develop the entire area into Kingdom Mindy. This is no longer a world I can visit, sadly, but I am extremely proud of the work I put into it, and finished outcome. It was what I imagined in my mind, and I chopped that mountain into exactly what I wanted.

Minecraft wizard towersFull disclosure, some of the exterior shaping work was done in creative mode. All pictures were taken in creative mode. Interior work and exterior finishing was all done in survival though, which is part of the reason it took so long. 🙂

Minecraft: Before and After

Before and After

From start to finish, the wizard spire and towers are one of my biggest and most epic creations, but every part of it was inspired by the existing structure I found that day coming across the ocean. Isn’t Minecraft awesome?

Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive

Sunset Overdrive

Welcome to Sunset Overdrive, located in lovely Sunset City. Sunset Overdrive was released in October 2014 exclusively for the Xbox One. It was developed by Insomniac Games, the same people that brought you Racket & Clank and the Spyro series (along with some other crap I couldn’t care less about), and was published by Microsoft’s game studio. In the world of Sunset City, an evil megacorp called FizzCo creates a new energy drink called Overcharge Delirium XT. You play a FizzCo employee that fights the OD’d humans (called OD) who have mutated into monsters from drinking the energy drink.

Rating: 4/5

Mindy’s Thoughts: This strange little game is unlike anything I’ve ever played before. It’s like a mash-up of Grand Theft Auto, Tony Hawk, and Dead Rising, with added cartoon feel. It’s very bright, humorous, and purposefully over the top in all regards, from the overall environment to the character conversations and all things in-between. Sunset Overdrive calls itself an open world, third person shooter game, but that only tells a portion of the whole story.

Let me be clear, Sunset Overdrive is not a complex game in terms of story or basic game-play. The most important aspect of the game is getting comfortable with the controls. While learning the control schema is part of every gaming experience, in Sunset Overdrive you need to become very well acquainted with not just the controls but with your on-screen movement. Essentially you should never stop moving, ever. You can pretend the ground is lava, but there is actually a quest where the ground is lava (and good fucking luck because that quest is HARD). It took me a few hours to really get a handle on flying around the city, but your mileage may vary. While there is a learning curve, it seemed pretty intuitive to me, and I only had a few rage moments early-on where I couldn’t coordinate my fingers quickly enough.

One of the more unique features of Sunset Overdrive is the character customization options, which are extremely rich. The game developer, Insomniac Games, purposefully made the character options to be both a bit cheeky (see the Kangaroo Codpiece, please) and representative of a wide variety of styles. They want you to feel like it’s really your individualized character moving and jumping around Sunset City, and not just a random person they generated. Without unlocking anything extra you can select from four body types, two types for each gender, about a dozen faces, different skin colors, and countless hair and clothing options. As you progress through the game you will get new customizations items; you can also buy more from the clothing vendor with money you collect from missions and killing enemies.

Character customization in Sunset Overdrive

Character customization in Sunset Overdrive

Continuing with the player individualism, the entire leveling system is customized for your play style. If you enjoy grinding on rails, you can level that up, if you enjoy shooting monsters with automatic weapons, you can level that up. I’m pretty garbage with aiming, so I leveled up melee abilities first and as a result I can stomp most things in the face near the end of the game. That being said, the Sunset Overdrive upgrade system is able to be changed on the fly, so if you want to switch up your abilities you can do so at any time.

In addition to the player style upgrades, there are also weapon and player upgrades called “Amps”. Amps are customizations to your character (Hero amps) and weapons (weapon amps) and you must defend your player fort successfully to receive new or upgraded amps. Your fort is kind of like a home base, inside of which you will find different vendors, amp cooking vats, and occasionally quests. You defend the fort, specifically your amp cooking vat(s) from several minutes of wave after wave of OD by shooting, stomping, and trap setting. Yes, that’s right, Sunset Overdrive has a built in tower defense game! You get a certain amount of electricity, which differs depending on which base you’re at, and you use the electricity to setup traps. The traps range in effectiveness from shitty to HOLY SHIT IS THAT A TESLA COIL? There are occasional other times where you utilize traps, and you can get new and upgraded traps as well. Collect them all, like a pokemans! Personally I find the fort defense quests to be kind of frustrating, but that might be because I’m not very good at it.

Sunset Overdrive Night Defense of the forts

Sunset Overdrive Night Defense of the forts

After playing most of Sunset Overdrive I only have one real complaint, which is with the alleged “open world” aspect of the game. Maybe this is just my pedantic nature showing itself, but to me “open world” means open world. It means getting quests from all over the world, not just your quest hub. It means being able to explore everywhere, and not being told to go back to the quest area. It means multiple quests being active at the same time, even if that is limited to 5 or 10 or 20. Sunset Overdrive is open world in little doses, but it is not truly open world. Sure, there are collectibles. Yes, there are quests throughout the city. But everything is really limited, especially for the first 5-10 hours of game-play which are almost completely forced linear storyline.

In regards to quests, there is not an ability to track more than one at a time. Most of the time this isn’t a problem, but when you start a new quest, you can lose progress on your current quest (back to the last auto-save). This has resulted in me doing quests multiple times just because I wanted to do a side quest. Additionally, there is something screwy with the game intelligence, as it very regularly gives me speech prompts for Quest A while I’m in the middle of Quest B. This can be confusing if you aren’t sure what you are doing in the first place, or if you’re in various stages of intoxication. Again, these are not problems you typically encounter with open world games.

I’m not to the end quite yet, but even doing every side quest I’ve only managed to clock about 15 hours of game-play and I’m almost done. Why is this a problem? Because the game feels partially unfinished. It feels like they were waiting for DLC, which I’m not a fan of in this situation. DLC only works for me if it’s a true addition to a well rounded and fleshed out game. Compare Sunset Overdrive to Dead Rising 3, which was a spectacular game and had 35+ hours of game-play just to get to the point where I was ready for DLC. Realistically it’s just kind of disappointing; the world that Insomniac built with Sunset City is so immersive, weird, and awesome that I just want to keep playing it.

Length of content aside, Sunset Overdrive is a really fun game and I would highly recommend to anyone that is a fan of the third person shooter, open world, action genre. It fills a gap in the genre that Xbox One has sorely been missing.

The Shining, Forwards and Backwards

The Shining, forwards and backwards title sceen

The Shining Forwards and Backwards. This is the opening and ending scenes.

The Shining Forwards and Backwards is part video experiment and part obsession. A few years ago, a long time fan of The Shining thought to superimpose the film playing over itself, essentially forwards and backwards at the same time. For sanity’s sake they only include the forward playing audio.

Legend has it that the film was first played in public in Brooklyn, NY in 2011. You can find bits of it online (start here) and occasionally it plays in hipster and indie film houses across the country (here in Seattle, SIFF has screened it at least once). However it’s not generally available through mainstream methods at this time.

Rating: 5/5

Mindy’s Thoughts: As a kid I was crazy about horror movies, watching Child’s Play when I was 3 with my brothers, and by the time I was 7 I had a life size movie poster from Jason Takes Manhattan (Friday the 13th Part VIII) hanging in my bedroom. I can’t remember the first time I watched The Shining, but I know it was early in my life and since then I’ve watched it maybe four dozen times. This movie is a staple of my life, one that has changed and grown with me as I’ve gotten older. So when I first heard that there was a group of people screening it forwards and backwards, I knew I had to witness it myself.

Overall, The Shining Forwards and Backwards is thought-provoking and visually intriguing, doubly so if you are a Stanley Kubrick fan. The thematic coincidences and synchronicity between most of the shots is a constant, and somewhat eery. Within the first few minutes of watching the film, I was enthralled and convinced that Kubrick purposefully made this movie to be seen this way. One of the examples you see repeated throughout the film is the juxtaposition of Danny and Jack; their faces overlaying each other, almost like Danny is seeing into Jack’s mind.

The Shining Forwards and Backwards

The Shining Forwards and Backwards

One of my favorite shots in the movie is below, with crazy Jack’s face between theirs on the car ride up to the Overlook. It doesn’t show well in this image, but if you look closely you can see Danny’s head inside of Jack’s head in the shot, like Danny is inside of crazy (future) Jack’s mind. The context is they are having the Donner party conversation (foreshadowing), and Danny already knows what will happen when they get to the lodge.

The Shining Forwards and Backwards

The Shining Forwards and Backwards car scene

I love Stanley Kubrick and have had a life long obsession with all of his movies. He is meticulous as a director, paying attention to every detail, big or small. With that in mind, do I think he purposefully created The Shining to play backward and forwards at the same time? Probably not. I believe he is consistent with the organization and framing of camera shots, which has led to the overlap of people and objects in this format. Then again, would you put it past Kubrick to do something this involved? Something so secretive and hidden inside of his film that it wasn’t found for a decade after he died? It’s a question without an answer, but it’s a question worth asking. Watching this version of the movie has made me re-examine facets of the movie that I had long taken for granted. Little moments and quiet scenes that add up and foreshadow the horror that is yet to come. I highly recommend and say it’s a must watch for any Kubrick or The Shining fan.