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Lawless March 11, 2010

Posted by huymix in Books.
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I’ve only recently been back to reading any graphic novels and “Lawless” has been one of the best I’ve read so far. My approach has been just to go to my local shop (Heroes World in Markham! Say hello to Andre and Jon if you plan on stopping by) and asking for any recommendations. I really liked this book because:

  • It’s got a noire/Dirty Harry/Payback feel to the action. Very intense, short bursts of violence followed with a lot of character.
  • It does not unfold the way I thought it would. Seriously, I’ve seen enough that I’m not surprised very often. The way the book ended I did not expect and was happy that it ended that way. For the main character, Tracy Lawless, a formulaic ending would just seem wrong.
  • No baggage on or off the ride. What I mean is I went in with no real preconceived notion of expectation and left without having to remember the fine details for other books. Sometimes it’s nice to have a self-contained story like that.

While I trust Andre and Jon with their recommendations, I was initially skeptical when I got this book. After reading “Lawless” I know to almost completely trust their judgment. Pick this book up and enjoy the ride.

The Killing Joke March 9, 2010

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This week I have a theme of comic book compilations otherwise known as graphic novels. One of the most discussed graphic novels is “The Killing Joke” because:

  • It reveals the “origin” of the Joker (at least to the extent people accept this version). It’s not just the reveal but how the Joker reacts and flashes back to his origin. It’s almost to the point of making him a sympathetic character. Almost.
  • It’s not actually very violent. Sometimes I think fights are just ways of having pretty panels without having the work of story. Sometimes that’s awesome and what you want, and in other times violence in a measured thoughtful way is better. The Killing Joke definitely has its share of violence but it is in service to the character and the story.
  • Ambiguity, the idea that the Joker brings up that he and the Batman are really just 2 lunatics but one likes to think he’s rational is not a terribly new idea. However, the book does have a highly debatable ending. Much like the ending of the Sopranos, it’s up to you to decide how this went. Sometimes this is frustrating but I think the ambiguity fits.

In some ways I think the Joker you saw in “The Dark Knight” is inspired by the Joker in “The Killing Joke”. As great as Heath Ledger’s performance is in the Dark Knight, I feel like I understand the Joker character even better after reading The Killing Joke. Definitely give this book a read, it’s short but sweet.

Hakka Food March 4, 2010

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As with any type of food, Hakka food can be either well made or terribly made. My own experience has been that there is good quality found in these places and if you have never tried Hakka food the local place where you live probably does a pretty alright job. I like Hakka food because:

  • It reminds me of other Chinese food but with spice! I’m used to pretty spicy food so normally Chinese food is pretty tame. Hakka food brings me a spicy version of the food I already like. That is a major bonus.
  • Volume to dollar is more than enough. I’ve ordered about $25 worth from a restaurant that was for a dinner for 2 and got what I think is equivalent to a dinner for 4. I can eat a lot and at Hakka restaurants, I get beat everytime.
  • Clientele. Perhaps it’s the Bollywood movies that are always playing but the Hakka places I’ve been always have the most diverse group of customers. It’s the only style of restaurant outside of the big chain restaurants that really pulls in all groups.

Normally, if you can’t take spice you would probably avoid Hakka restaurants but I think in Canada these places are pretty aware that the average Canadian cannot handle the normal level of spice and offer as a default the mild version. I almost never do order the mild but I would think that it would be at least as tasty as other comparable Chinese restaurants. If you can find one, give a Hakka restaurant a shot, it’s a nice diversion from the norm.

Note: Crarence normally eats Hakka food because his family is from India (I think) and even he said the local place was authentic. That my friends is called cred. He’s got more than just hardcore NERD-cred.

Darksiders March 2, 2010

Posted by huymix in Videogames.
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I’m a hypocrite. I said it, and it’s out of the way. Why am I a hypocrite? It’s because I still give this game an F+ despite not even finishing the 1st dungeon and with no real intention on ever finishing this game. What gives?

  • I gave up on this game because of the same reasons I gave up on all Zelda games (which only really include Phantom Hourglass [didn’t finish the first dungeon either] and Twilight Princess [finished 1 dungeon]). All the other Zelda games I did not even bother playing. I can’t give you a good reason why I stopped playing Darksiders just as much as I can’t give you a good reason why I stopped playing Zelda. There’s something in this type of game that just does not work on me.
  • I do see the quality in the game. What I have played I did enjoy and if you pick up the game you will see the quality as well. Despite seeing the quality, I’m still not going to finish Darksiders.
  • Maybe I’m just a terrible person and not worthy of your time and attention. Maybe.

Alright, let’s bottom line Darksiders. This is a good game. Forget the haters. There is something here that is worth your while. Especially, if you liked the way Zelda is structured. As an aside I do not mean to compare Zelda and Darksiders as there is no real term for the way the game is structured it’s just handier than saying dungeon-based action rpg with weapon upgrading and boss fighting.

Conclusion: If you are already interested in Darksiders get the game, if you liked Zelda and want a badass version of Link then get Darksiders, if you’re a terrible person like me and do not enjoy life than save your money.

MARCH THINKERING: Video Game Reviews March 1, 2010

Posted by huymix in Monthly Thinkerings, Videogames.
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To be honest, one of the reasons I decided to even start the Snuh Zone was my dissatisfaction with videogame reviews. I always found that they were lacking (in general) from a few key areas that can be ironed out. The overarching problem that fuels my thoughts on videogame reviews is a lack of perspective. While most are well-written (certainly better than my writing) the perspective problem undermines videogame reviews.

Unclear/Not Cohesive

To start off, many videogame reviews you might read do not describe a strong opinion one way or another. One of the many ways to detect that ambiguity is the classic “it’s good but….” or “that’s bad but….”. As a reader I just want to know whether or not I should play/buy the game and why. I think the way some reviews go is by starting at a 10 (or the equivalent) and writing down as they are playing various points of deductions or praise. While I have no problem with referencing specific points, that approach is also confusing. Here’s a prime example from Gamepro on Darksiders, “I liked Darksiders enough that I’m going to recommend that gamers try to look past the shameless cribbing of ideas and discover the relatively worthwhile action experience hidden underneath.” From that quote I guess you should pick it up but who really knows.

Inconcise

There’s a reason people tend to just go to the score of a game and that Metacritic is so widely-used. A lot of the writing just drones on and on. 1up.com does an alright job of being relatively concise but even then they do not always cut to the chase. There’s the argument that the review ought to support the score and thus you need a lot of space. The problem is the writing is abstract and it is tough to maintain any level of interest. Giantbomb.com “quick looks” have become popular because people would rather see the game itself and not have to read someone’s attempt to translate game mechanics.

Small Scope Audience

Even within the gamer-collective, videogame reviews tend to write towards an audience that is the hardest of the hardcore. While they definitely have the hardcore gamer as part of their audience, that group of people is still relatively small. To most people all the 133t-speak and other references to other games is almost written off as an insider-language. If all I play is my DS, how does describing Dante’s Inferno as God of War help me understand the value of the game. Or saying, “Wii Play is not a game” while there are plenty of people who think of Wii Play as a game equally and enjoy the heck out of cow racing. If you think Wii Play is not a game than you have got your blinders on too tight.

Impersonal Perspective

Roger Ebert is a divisive critic and there are many who have an opinion as to whether or not they agree with his perspective. Oftentimes, the review is representative of the site/magazine and not really of the person. This dehumanization of the review comes across as false as when Stephen Colbert says “I don’t see race, people tell me I’m white and I choose to believe them”. Everyone knows that any review is a personal view and to not bring up the reviewer more prominently only fuels more “Your site is BIASED!!!111!!”. While many would believe Ebert is biased, it’s trivial to really point that out.

Singular-element focus

Controls-art-music-story-multiplayer. Check, check, check and check. That’s the way a lot of reviews are structured. IGN is notorious for having a ridiculously prescribed structure to reviews. I will often call out an element of a review as well but only when I feel like it is of any interest to me.  Leave that stuff for the academic discussion the masses do not care.

How does all of the above tie-in with the lack of perspective I noted at the beginning? I believe that the reasons behind each of those problems stems from the fact that the decisions to write reviews in that way is not driven by what the reader cares about. If reviews were written with the reader as the primary consideration, you would definitely see much better reviews.

Crayon Physics Deluxe February 25, 2010

Posted by huymix in Videogames.
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Continuing the downloadable games theme this week is Crayon Physics Deluxe. Now, this game is available by PC so most if not all of you should be able to play this game (it does not require very much in terms of system specs). Unfortunately, I think there are very good reasons to take a pass on this innovative and unique game. If you have the time and money to pick up Crayon Physics Deluxe you might want to consider buying World of Goo or Audiosurf instead because I found:

  • The game to be boring. Maybe it’s just my mood or something but the whole presentation and slow movement of the physics just put me to sleep. Playing this game felt like a warm blanket soothing me to sleep rather than engaging me. Now if that is what you want than this game is for you, but I doubt it.
  • It’s kind of expensive. For full disclosure I did take advantage of the birthday sale the game had and I paid $5 for the game. However, if  you were to buy it today it would cost $20. I applaud the unique premise and visuals and everything but there is no way I would pay $20 for Crayon Physics Deluxe.
  • I never played the game ever again. I played it once at lunch time and then closed it. I could very well open it up since it just sits on my desktop at lunch but doing almost anything else is more appealing to me.

I sound harsh and the reasons I give for not recommending this game to you has almost nothing to do with the technical quality or the amount of imagination put into the game. This is just how I feel. Maybe you’ll disagree and find Crayon Physics Deluxe a visual-feast with awesome puzzles and music and blah blah blah. If that day comes, please shoot a comment in the post and I’ll be glad to talk about it. Otherwise, avoid this game.

Shatter February 23, 2010

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Downloadable games are the theme this week on The Snuhzone and Shatter is a downloadable game that if you can play, you should play. As a warning this game is only available on the Playstation Network so if you don’t own a PS3 than you might as well avert your eyes from the rest of the post. Otherwise, for the rest of the PS3 owning public, here is why you should get Shatter:

  • Controls. Now from it’s premise (a large variety of twists to Arkanoid) mentioning controls don’t seem to make much sense. I argue that for most Arkanoid-type games (including the remix of Arkanoid) there is a consensus that it isn’t as good without the specific dial-controller. In Shatter, the controls with just the sticks works just fine and I was never left wanting for a dial controller.
  • Presentation. Shatter is a game, without any pretense and presents each level, power up and boss cleanly and efficiently. Much is made of the soundtrack with good reason because if you like techno/electronic something or other Wipeout-esque music than the Shatter soundtrack is quite good.
  • Value. For $8 (even if you don’t catch it on sale) the number of levels you get for $8 that throw much different challenges at you is pretty awesome.

I wasn’t sold on this game until I gave the controller to my brother. He plays even fewer games than I do and all I did was tell him it’s like Arkanoid with some twists. It took him all of 5 minutes to “get it” and get into it. If you have any memories of enjoying Arkanoid or Wipeout techno beats, give Shatter a demo.

Toronto Thumbs February 18, 2010

Posted by huymix in Games, Videogames.
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Continuing this week’s theme of “Canadian Blogs”, I present: Toronto Thumbs. They say “We aim to make people think, laugh, and feel what we feel via our detailed and often personal recollections of gaming experiences” and “We will never just cut and paste from press releases for the sake of reporting breaking news because our readers expect and deserve more than that”. If you’re seeing the big red F- I think you have a sense that this isn’t exactly what is happening on Toronto Thumbs. I would say, the site fails on these 2 fronts because:

  • Most of the posts on the blog itself are just news items that have just a huge picture and a paragraph about the topic. It’s largely impersonal and well covered by the time Toronto Thumbs puts up the the news. I’m not saying Toronto Thumbs isn’t timely, it’s just they are often beaten to the punch by much bigger gaming blogs.
  • They aren’t actually funny or entertaining. If you listen to their “regular” podcast, there isn’t much opinion or entertainment to be found. I don’t know what it is about these guys, but they are plain old boring and it can feel as if they are just guilt tripped into doing the show. Not really disagreeable but not really good listening. The same applies for their writing except they tend to write very little anyways.
  • There isn’t much to see/do. There are a couple of posts a day (much more than the Snuhzone but hey, it would be a legit complaint about my site if you wanted to complain about it) but in these posts there is hardly anything to read. Their “regular” podcast is so infrequent you wonder why it’s set up as an iTunes feed.

I have a theory for the internet, if you’re going to do something infrequently, do it well. To have people wait for long and irregular periods between content that is mediocre at best is a formula for anti-success. Hit up that Joystiq or Kotaku if you’re interested in gaming because Toronto Thumbs probably won’t make you “think, laugh, and feel what we feel”.

Skeptic North February 16, 2010

Posted by huymix in Science.
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Skeptic North Blog

The Skeptic North Blog is the first “Canada-wide” blog for skeptics. Let’s say you are either a skeptic (self-identifying or not) or not a skeptic, my reasons for you to skip the Skeptic North Blog will probably apply. If you follow some skeptical media, than you might have more of an appreciation for my reasons but either way the end result is a pass on this blog. Why do I say this even though I am Canadian and a self-identified skeptic?

  • The information is not so different that what is already out there. On understanding statistics 1 and 2, the writing is neither in depth enough for people who want to know more nor is it accessible enough for those with a passing interest. It’s a waste of time for these writers to retread the same ground more effectively covered by others. The whole left panel with Skeptics/Science Links is almost a litany of sites that cover the same topics.
  • The blog is hard to read. If you haven’t clicked to the site, the whole format is a 3 columns of words, words and more words format. The problem is that for the reader, it all gets a little too jumbled and with the length of some of these posts, and the 3-column format  it feels like reading through an invisible straw.
  • The writing is dry. Science and skepticism isn’t always sexy, but that doesn’t matter since on the internet there are so many options and views are at a premium. Plus, there are science blogs that manage to write without being very dry. Honestly, I wanted to be actively reading and responding to the site but after a couple of weeks of dry post after dry post I just couldn’t bother clicking on the site anymore.

Skeptic North is new and maybe they need some time to find their voice and focus on what will draw an audience and provide value for your time spent. Right now, the only value the site has is to aggregate other very good skeptical/science blogs. Make no mistake, I want there to be a successful Skeptic North Blog, I just want it to be a worthwhile Skeptic North and not what is there right now.

Michael Jackson – This is It February 11, 2010

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As I have said before, Michael Jackson is my favourite artist of all time. That includes any group, band, composer and solo artist. I’m sure you are well aware of his death and the concerts that could have been in the O2 in London. I think that even if you have strayed away from MJ since the 90’s, you should still watch “This Is It” because:

  • The documentary brings the reasons why you liked him in the 90’s, 80’s, and 70’s back. I don’t mean he’s going retro, rather, the documentary reminds you why he captured the world so well. The music, dancing, work ethic and in particular, the ambition all are brought to the centre stage. He never lost his touch and in “This Is It”, you will be reminded that he was one of the greatest performers ever.
  • Thinking back on the film, I realize that I felt that they were able to put me in the concerts that never were as best as possible. I am a firm believer that if he was able to do at least 1 show, it would have been the best concert ever. Since I never had a ticket and the show never happened, “This Is It” did an excellent job of delivering the concert experience.
  • It’s just good to see Michael Jackson without all the craziness around him. Generally, you would have seen him in the media swarmed by paparazzi, fans and reporters. In the movie, you see him at work in a much more natural, comfortable environment. His personality, drive and ambition shine in these scenes.

For some twisted reason, I think “This Is It” is actually more interesting because Michael Jackson died. I don’t mean it is good he died but rather I feel like otherwise the film would have been just a competent filming of the concert. While the concert itself would have been amazing, the story and interest in “This Is It” as a movie would have been nearly zero. “This Is It” is the most stark example of situational irony I could ever think of and served as a fitting tribute to the greatest entertainer ever.