Uploaded some new photography in the photography section.
We just got the notice for Elena to go in for the swearing in (in about two weeks), and after that we just wait for her new passport and our trip would come to an end. This does mean that from now on we both have to leave China every seven to nine months as both of us are now considered foreigners. The upside is that we get to go shopping in Hong Kong and we love the food there.
We went and got Elena a new Compaq Presario CQ60-202US laptop from Frys, and it’s actually quite nice for such a cheap model, with tasteful design and enough horsepower for every day computer use. Our old laptops will go on ebay.
I’ve been pretty happy with my new Sony Vaio FW-390, but I’m not at all happy about the amount of bloatware Sony installs on their laptops, as I’m still discovering useless crap that I don’t want on my computer. It’s been a pain trying to figure out what can be uninstalled and what you need to keep in order to use all the special Vaio functions. I wish these companies would actually allow you to choose and pick what to install into your laptop when you make the purchase.
While at Guitar Center the other day, I tried out the new Boss Me-70 guitar muti-effects board, and I think it sounds noticeably better than the previous ME-50. The distortions in particular don’t sound as synthetic and overly processed. I also spent some time comparing the Boss Metal Zone MT-2 and Metal Core ML-2, and it’s actually really hard to pick one, as they both sound good but different. I’ve heard the online sound clip of the MXR Dimebag Distortion pedal and I wasn’t all that impressed. I may actually end up getting a Korg Pandora PX5D since I thought the video of Sevendust demoing it sounded really good, plus its a full-blown multi-effects processor, not just a one-trick pony.
I was looking forward to try out the new Korg microKORG XL, which replaces the older model, but as I was going through the presets, I just kept feeling like the days of getting hardware synths is really over. I could easily get equivalent sounds from many of the software synths I use, and I already have MIDI keyboard controllers so I don’t need another one. I don’t gig, so I have no reason to get a small portable synth, and if I travel, I just bring my laptop and my Korg Nanos. It’s actually kind of sad since I really love hardware synths, but they just aren’t all that practical when today’s software synths have gotten so good and cost so little.
I really wanted to like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, since it gets such rave reviews, but after a couple of hours I was totally let down, just like I was let down by the other similar games like Fallout 3 and Morrowind. At this point I just have to admit that I will never like those types of games. The idea of a sandbox is great, but if the NPC’s that populate the sandbox are paper-thin, with horrible animation and voice acting, and with really clunky game mechanics of interactions, it turns the sandbox into a kitty litter. I also cannot stand NPC’s that look like perfectly normal people–not psycho freaks or mutants, but as soon as you’re spotted they will start screaming and attacking as if you had just killed their family. What is that all about? Why can’t there be an option to talk to or negotiate with those NPC’s? It’s a symptom of lazy design that feels very similar to how the Japanese will put random battles all over the place in their RPG’s. Outdated and illogical. Bad designer, no cookie!
I never thought linear games were bad, because the linearity is crafted carefully to be a compelling experience (Half-Life series is the perfect example), whereas a sandbox cannot guarantee that kind of expertly crafted thrill ride. No sandbox games has ever been able to deliver the kind of emotional immersion that finely crafted scripted games could, because in order to create a compelling experience, the writer/designer must be able to dictate the pacing and the order of events, and that goes against the idea of a sandbox game (and cinematics don’t count–I don’t consider cinematics gaming). I need to just stop trying these sandbox games from now on.
I gave Halo 3 a try and it didn’t take, just like the previous games. I actually did finish the first game on the PC years ago, and it did try my patience in some parts due to the repetitive levels, but I enjoyed it enough to finish it. With the second one, I really just couldn’t care less about the part where you had to play as one of the aliens. Emotional immersion is the most important part of a game for me when it comes to single player games that cares enough to have a premise and a storyline, but when you pluck the player out of the body of the protagonist and shove him into a character that the player just couldn’t give a rat’s ass about, you immediately lose the player’s emotional investment. It’s a bad call and I really do feel that the people who are writing and designing the Halo games don’t know what the hell they’re doing. The silly midget aliens with cartoony voices also piss me off to no end. Even the one-liners the aliens spout off during battle sounds so cheesy and clichéd. You just do not put slapstick elements into a deadly serious premise–it’s a total mismatch of tone. Humor can exist in a serious premise, but it has to have the right tone that match, and I think the Halo people are just don’t understand that. With the third one, the game remains a series of “go from point A to point B, then battle it out, then move to point C.” Whatever story it had, it was only thrown together to move the player to the next battle, as opposed to really telling a compelling story with great pacing and emotional impact. I also dislike the cinematics, especially when they depict what is happening on the alien side, because it disconnects the player emotionally from the story of “you” living in the body of Master Chief. This is a unique aspect of video games that many designers don’t understand. It’s not a novel, so don’t approach it like one, because the player is not an observer like a third-person point of view novel, but must experience everything first-hand, especially in a FPS–that’s the whole point of a FPS. This is something the Valve people understand instinctively and has championed with the Half-Life series, and it’s one of the most effective storytelling approaches that exists in video games. The Halo fanboys love to trash the Half-Life series, which to me is a bit like people who eat at Denny’s laughing at people who eat at the French Laundry. I need to just stop trying the Halo games from now on too.
I stopped by Japan Town the other day when I was in San Francisco (picking up a pair of sunglasses I had lost in a restaurant the day before). I picked up a few CD’s while there:
GijonYMO -Yellow Magic Orchestra Live in Gijon 19/6 08
Excellent two-disc set of their live show. If you are a fan of YMO or its members’ solo works, you’ll likely enjoy this one. They performed some classic YMO songs in their set, and with age, their use of electronics is a lot more subtle, and they try to incorporate them in a very organic way with acoustic instruments. I think it’s a good approach.
Olivia Lufkin – TrinkaTrinka
It’s not as strong as her previous albums or EP’s, and the title song is probably the strongest. I still think she needs to work on her lyrics since her writing is still awkward as she doesn’t seem to have any idea that rhyming is actually quite important to most song structures. Melodically her recent songs also don’t seem as strong as her past works–she’s starting to sound like she’s running out of interesting melodic contours and grasping at straws in some melodic progressions. I think Jeff Lufkin needs to release a solo album because it’s obvious that the songs he contributes to are the strongest ones. At this point I’m actually doubting Olivia’s ability as both songwriter and musician, as I don’t recall ever seeing her being credited as the sole writer, instrument(s) performer, or arranger of any of her songs–she appears to rely on the ability of others way too much. Maybe it’s unfair for me to expect singer/songwriters to be able to do it all–compose, arrange, perform, produce..etc.
Olivia Lufkin – Olivia inspi’ Reira [Trapnest]
Mix of both songs completely written by others, and some that Olivia co-wrote. The ones that others wrote were actually the strongest songs on the album, which I think is a little disappointing. The whole reason why I even bother with songwriter/singer types is because they display ability beyond those of puppet pop stars manufactured and controlled by record companies that groom them and design their every single move. So when a singer/songwriter starts to look more like someone who just sings songs others write, and does not perform any instrument to acceptable level of expertise, I have to wonder if someone like that is all that different from the manufactured pop stars. Disillusioned is the word on my mind right now.
I’m probably being too harsh, but I really did expect her to grow and improve as a musician and songwriter, but she apparent hasn’t, except that her live singing is actually now tolerable as opposed to being horrible like in the past. At this point her siblings (Caroline and Jeff) are exhibiting more talent and skill than she has.
Nokko – Hallelujah
I’m a big fan of Nokko’s previous band, Rebecca, and this first solo album of hers from the 90′s doesn’t sound much like her, since her wild and expressive singing style has been tamed to the point of being almost unrecognizable. The music is not bad–acid jazz, funk, and dance club mixtures. I’ve seen Youtube videos of her later solo work and they sound much more interesting.
Morikawa Miho – Her Best
Collection of songs from her earlier albums–basically the period when she was still a teenager and a little older. There are actually a few songs I don’t have and they’re pretty good. I’m still impressed now when I listen to her earlier songs, as she has really good control over her projection and can manipulate the timbre and tonal quality of her voice with a mastery that many singers twice her age couldn’t.