Sunday, March 23, 2014

Arch Enemy

Arch Enemy were one of the bands I really enjoyed when I was first getting into metal. I don't talk about them often, but there was a point in time when they were easily in my top 10 favorite metal bands. Over the years I've moved away from them, much as I've moved away from listening to Children of Bodom and Shadows Fall, but I still remember that time when they were near the top of the heap for me. As such, whenever I see a new bit of news relating to them, I take notice. Most recently, I learned that earlier this month Angela Gossow stepped down as the band's vocalist. This is news not just for Arch Enemy fans, but for the metal world at large, as Gossow is probably the most iconic female vocalist in metal. She has been at the center of the band's identity for well over a decade, so seeing her leave is pretty surprising. Evidently she'll be taking on a management role, so her relationship with Arch Enemy remains intact, but it's still a notable change.

The group just released the lead single from their upcoming album, featuring their new vocalist Alissa White-Gluz (formerly of The Agonist). While I'm not crazy about her former band, she sounds pretty good on this release so I think the transition should go fairly smoothly. I don't think this shakeup will do anything to bring me back into the fold as a fan, but from the sounds of this track their current fan-base should be satisfied with Gossow's replacement.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Naut?

Sorry everybody who doesn't care, but this one is going to be another gaming post.

I've noticed, over the past year or so, that there seems to be an obsession with the term "naut" in indie gaming titles these days. Zombie NautsXenonautsRigonauts,  and even Paranautical Activity  are all either currently available or in development, and the rumor mill has spit up other names of upcoming ____nauts  games soon to come. I must admit I find this rather curious. Psychonauts  (not an indie game) came out in 2005, and was the first use of "naut" in a game title outside of the standard astronaut/cosmonaut terminology of which I'm personally aware. Nothing similarly titled followed on its heels, though, and the game itself, while well-reviewed, did not succeed financially until later re-releases helped it to establish a solid cult following.

Instead, the trend can probably be traced back to the 2009 release of Scribblenauts  (also not an indie game) on the Nintendo DS. Since that time, it's come into regular use, and for some reason it's been exclusively applied to indie releases over the past couple of years. Maybe that's because Scribblenauts  and Psychonauts  both operated in kind of a quirky, cartoonish fashions that had more in common (each in their in their own ways) with the creative gameplay espoused by many indie titles than with the high-end graphics and flashy combat of typical AAA releases. Whatever the reason, developers soon jumped on the back of this particular naming convention and have begun happily applying it to whatever suits them.

The best and most popular of the indie "nauts" titles is 2012's 2-dimensional MOBA Awesomenauts.  It intrigues me that there are now, in addition to the slew of lesser games trying to ape a more successful title (which can be found at the feet of every successful franchise, from The Legend of Zelda  to Angry Birds ) actually three reasonably successful and totally independent titles that have used this type of name. Not only are these games separated by several years in terms of initial release times, they all came from different developers, display different styles, and fit into different genres. They really have nothing in common other than their similar names, which is somehow all the more maddeningly strange to me. So just for fun here's a quick look at each those big three titles, because, well, [obvious pun redacted]

Psychonauts  (2005)

Scribblenauts  (2009)

Awesomenauts  (2012)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Top 10 Indie Games of 2013

As some of you know, I've become increasingly interested in indie video games over the past few years. I played a pretty decent selection of new games that came out last year, so while it's not a be-all end-all, this list comes from an at least semi-informed perspective.

Is this late? Yes. Is it way late? Yes. Is it so late that nobody will be able to buy these games anymore because I waited too long? No, which is why it's still cool to make this. Plus, of course, it's my blog and I like lists so I'm going to list whatever I want.

Those of you who have read the list I posted back in August of my favorite indie games will see a few repeats here. You'll also see a few games that I would add to that list if I were writing it today, and you'll see a few games that have risen or fallen in my estimation since that time.

Those of you who have not read that post will not notice those things, unless you elect now to go look for it and read it just so you can come back here and then recognize the things I just mentioned. I'm not sure if that's a worthwhile use of your time, but I'm certainly not going to tell people to avoid reading things I've written in my blog.

Also, before you read on, you should know that while Rogue Legacy, Gone Home, and Kentucky Route Zero  do not appear on my list, they are by nearly universal critical consensus some of the year's very best releases.

Anyway, here is my belated list of the top 10 indie games released in 2013:

Monday, February 24, 2014

Organ Trail OST

I know I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of indie games, and that I really enjoy a lot of the retro 8-bit and 16-bit games that have begun to emerge in recent years. I'm also pretty sure that I've mentioned Organ Trail (the zombie apocalypse take on the old Oregon Trail game) and how much I enjoyed it.

What I'm not so sure I've mentioned is that I really love a lot of the chip music that accompanies those games. Organ Trail in particular had truly compelling music that set the mood for the game perfectly. It's a fusion of the old 80s' video game style chip music with little splashes of more standard instrumentation, and it is somehow equal parts darkly brooding and infectiously catchy. Ben Crossbones really put together something special in my opinion, as it is largely his music that elevates the entire affair from merely an amusing gimmick to the level of being a truly worthy game in its own right.

Well, I didn't realize this when I bought the game, but there's actually an independently available full official soundtrack. I know this isn't exactly in the style that I usually discuss on this blog, but if you have any interest in hearing some excellent, gloomy, compelling chip music then take a few minutes to give this a listen.

You can find the full album on Ben Crossbones' Bandcamp here.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Metal Show Bucket List

As the years have passed and I've seen more and more shows, I've developed something of a bucket list of metal bands to see live. In particular, five bands found their way to the top after I'd scratched off some names early on in my show-going life. In the past six months I'd seen Black Sabbath and Slayer from that list, and last night I checked off a third.

I thought I was going to miss the show due to work, and I did in fact miss four of the five bands playing, but I arrived at the venue just in time for Dark Tranquillity. I've been aching to watch them live for years, and I was not disappointed. They put on an excellent show in a very small venue (even with my late arrival I was only about 20 feet from the stage) and afterward Mikael came down to hang out and talk to people. He really was the highlight of seeing them; whenever a frontman can perform with energy and enthusiasm it always heightens the show, and he really seemed like he was having a good time on stage.They performed without bass (on albums their bass is played by one of their guitarists) but given how low the bass typically is in metal anyway its absence was barely noticeable.

With this show under my belt, the two bands left at the top of my bucket list are Metallica and Iron Maiden. Hopefully by the end of the year I'll be in need of a new group of bands to see.

p.s. I stole this photo from a friend who was also in attendance.