Syd Barrett: Wish You Were Here

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Syd BarrettSyd Barrett was born on January 6, 1946 in Cambridge, England and less than 20 years later went on to found one of the greatest bands of all time, Pink Floyd. After Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd in 1968 due to drugs and/or mental health issues, the band went on to achieve their greatest commercial successes. In 1975, Pink Floyd started recording their iconic and beautiful “Wish You Were Here” album at the Abbey Road studios. The album is punctuated at the beginning and end by the epic song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, split into two parts and spanning 26 minutes total. This song, and much of this album, is a tribute to their friend Syd.

During the recording of “Wish You Were Here” at Abbey Road, Syd showed up unannounced in the studio. He looked nothing like his former self, and wasn’t even recognized by his friends and former band-mates. His behavior that day was extremely erratic, he barely spoke, and it was clear to everyone that he was not the same Syd. That day in the recording studio was the last time the members of Pink Floyd ever saw him.

Syd Barrett Abbey Road

Syd during his time in Pink Floyd (left) and at the Abbey Road sessions (right)

Roger Waters later went on to say, “I’m very sad about Syd. Of course he was important and the band would never have fucking started without him because he was writing all the material. It couldn’t have happened without him but on the other hand it couldn’t have gone on with him.”

From the late 70’s until his death in 2006, Syd lived in seclusion in his native Cambridge. He spent his days with his first passion, painting; which he went to school for before he became interested in music or founded the great Pink Floyd. In honor of Syd Barrett’s would-be 69th birthday, we share with you the masterpiece that is “Wish You Were Here”. While he is no longer with us, we still celebrate Syd’s life and his contributions to our lives.

Nobody knows where you are, how near or how far.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Pile on many more layers and I’ll be joining you there.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
And we’ll bask in the shadow of yesterday’s triumph,
Sail on the steel breeze.
Come on you boy child, you winner and loser,
Come on you miner for truth and delusion, and shine.
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The Evil Within: Part Two

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The Evil Within

When you finish this game, you still won’t understand this picture.

Welcome back to our review of The Evil Within! In Part One we spent a lot of time discussing the game-play and mechanics, so now I’d like to focus on its other elements. The Evil Within is a game that turns out to be more than the sum of its parts, but we’ll start with discussing it’s story before moving on to the visual and design elements.

Dixon’s Thoughts: You are Sebastian “Seb” Castellanos, a tough, take-no-prisoners type of guy who is so hard boiled that he might actually be on loan from John Woo.

“I play by my own rules.”

You have embarked upon a strange journey through, as it turns out, the mind of a serial killer/brain surgeon/cenobite/all around mad scientist guy. Or not, because as it turns out, the ending of this game is completely ambiguous and wraps up both jack and shit equally. As far as other cast members there are you two partners, Juli “My first name is not a typo” Kidman and Joe “The Guy with Glasses” Oda. There’s also the Nurse we mentioned in our last review, a very irritating mental patient named Leslie, who might also be the game’s antagonist, and a greedy, self-serving scientist. Two of them, actually. They all ostensibly have a part to play, but the game does not explain what that part is in many cases. Kidman is constantly talking about her “orders”, which are never explained, while Joe’s sole purpose in life seems to be to get lost and then randomly show up later to endanger people and make things difficult.

The game opens with you in a car with both partners, heading to the Beacon Mental Hospital to investigate reports of some serious murdering. Within a few minutes, your partners are gone, and what ensues is a relatively simple plot involving rich landowners, barn burning, some guy named Ruben who is also named Ruvik, and brain surgery. At face value, it’s a typical, uninspired video game story about loss and revenge, with a heavy helping of the old “Resident Evil Megacorporation doing Evil Things” thrown in at the end. The problem is that this does little to explain what you, the player, are actually doing at any given point. The game is obsessed with throwing backstory at you, yet you are continuously faced with a never-ending barrage of blood-and-guts horror that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the events that you’re being led to believe have unfolded. The game does not explain why there might be zombies, or giants with chain saws, or massive human rendering plants. As you progress through the game you are witness to a multitude of atrocities, implied or otherwise, including giant vats full of body parts boiling in their own blood, a huge industrial facility that appears built for the sole purpose of processing human bodies and rendering them into more vats of boiling blood, and various other shock-value set pieces that, while totally bad-ass looking, are ultimately just confusing as they lead nowhere and have no explanation.

“We thought you might be tired of looking at real body parts, so here are some mannequins instead”.  -Bethesda

“We thought you might be tired of looking at real body parts, so here are some mannequins instead”. -Bethesda

After several hours of being barraged with confusing (yet badass!) level design, monsters, and plot, I eventually came to the conclusion that The Evil Within is not actually scary. It’s not even a little bit scary, outside of a few times where there were Jump-scare setups. The environment was designed to be creepy, and it accomplished that goal as long as you are not curious about your surroundings.  Instead it’s generally confusing and gross, a maze of questions and prop pieces meant to shock you into moving on to the next room. Shock value is the name of the game, and the “why” has clearly taken a backseat.  It’s also pretty obvious that large sections of the story have been left out purposefully, to be explained later in the assuredly multi-part DLC. This is what we at FYMFB call “fucking horseshit”.  For your enjoyment, edification, or simply to save time, here’s the last hour of the game, including the last level, Boss fight, and end game dialogue.

Visually, The Evil Within is extremely good. This may be actually be its strongest area, with excellent lighting and particle effects, gorgeous environment texturing, and very little noticeable lag. Crappy-shitty-no-good story aside, the game is quite fun to either play or watch as an observer. One of the most annoying features of early survival horror games is that they all lean heavily on backtracking, especially when it comes to save points and storage crates. Hardware and design have both come a long way since those days, and as a result Evil Within doesn’t rehash a lot of content. This is refreshing when compared to past installments in the genre. Forced backtracking can be a good element to storytelling if it serves a purpose, but often it’s just extra padding.

On top of being mostly original, the environments and chapters or levels of the game are all very good at portraying emotional tension, or downright creepiness. Again, almost in spite of the story’s vague hand waving, the design stands on its own as a decent storytelling device. You’ll find yourself stopping to check out the environment more often than not, as the eye-catching details are often just too tempting. The only problem with the game’s visuals is that certain areas are left intentionally dark, for atmospheric reasons. Lantern or no lantern, often it’s impossible to see the detail, which is unfortunate. While the game’s color palette isn’t exactly stimulating itself, most survival horror games are dark and claustrophobic on purpose, and this game is no exception. It moves past the dark atmosphere with its excellent and often subtle lighting and shading, and some very good overall direction. The different worlds feel fresh and interesting, and a minimum amount of level recycling means you look forward to each new chapter.

At least the parts of it that you can see.

At least the parts of it that you can see.

The Evil Within, as mentioned earlier, is a game that is more than its individual components. Its fun to play, enjoyable to watch, and offers a solid difficulty curve that feels correct in the context of both the genre and its predecessors. It is not, sadly, very well written, and this combined with the seemingly intentional decision to leave out key story elements for “later” only further weakens it’s overall impact. On a personal note, I was really looking forward to multiple endings, but as it turns out this game doesn’t do that. While it’s not a required element for the Survival Horror genre, the fact is that most of the major players in this sandbox DO have multiple endings, specifically games previously created by this game’s director. It’s interesting and a little disappointing that the endings are static, as this again feels like something that wasn’t possible if they wanted to sell DLC season passes. This, and the game’s decision to focus heavily on the first person shooter aspect combat, would normally completely kill a game for me. In this case, however, I feel like the game’s good components are so good that they make the game not only playable, but enjoyable. I just wish they had focused more closely on cohesion within the storytelling, instead of providing a flawless graphical performance.

NASA Space Sounds

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While space is technically a vacuum, sound still exists in space. For some time now, NASA has used specially designed Plasma Wave antennas on its space probes to record electromagnetic vibrations within human hearing range (20-20,000 Hz). These electromagnetic waves come from interaction between the ionisphere, planetary magnetosphere, and the solar winds. Pretty cool, huh?

Recently NASA took a sample from a dozen different recordings of celestial objects (Saturn’s rings, Neptune, Earth, Uranus, Jupiter, etc) and compiled it into the above video. The result is something like a sci-fi soundtrack crossed with 1980’s whale sounds. It’s intriguing, strange, even a little eery, but mostly just very awesome. Give it a listen!

Ted Talk Tuesday

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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

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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

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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

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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!