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What I’ve Been Doing 7 Jan 2014 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Jan 7th, 2014 by Dan

Curry!

My New Year’s resolution is to eat more curry.

Happy New Year, folks! New year, new posts, new media. I’m super pumped for 2014! No real pictures to put up here

Movies

Not this week!

TV

The Twilight Zone – Somehow I had never seen an episode of The Twilight Zone. Not a one. Lucky for me Katie’s dad and his friend love watching the annual marathon on Syfy. I saw a classic episode or two and I wasn’t totally impressed with the quality of the acting in most episodes, but I was also really taken with the anthology style that’s missing in tv today. Very neat. Makes me want to finish Fringe.

Scandal – Saw the pilot episode with Katie and Kyla. It’s definitely got pilot awkardness syndrome and I wasn’t totally sold on the premise of the show, but it’s definitely got promise. I could see myself getting lost in this show.

Almost Human – The clone twist wasn’t super mind blowing, but I liked they way they integrated the hologram tech later in the episode and the further bonding of Kennex and Dorian. The Maldonado stuff fell a little more flat to me. Felt a little patronizing.

Justified – Season 5 of Justified started and I’m still not done with S4! I had about two episodes left and I watched about 1.25 of them. Love, love, love this show. I love it when people have long leisurely conversations, I love it when the shooting happens, and I love the setting.

Music

Inside joke time! “Marry Me” by Jason Derulo

Books

Well Played 1.0: Video Games Value and Meaning – I read almost all of the entries in the book, but one was meant to be in the perspective of a character in one of the games(?) and I skipped it because it was boring. The highlight for me was the section about The Secret of Monkey Island from the perspective of someone who grew up in Spain and played it in Spanish. I’m gonna read 2.0, but not for a while.

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die – Speaking of anthologies, Machine of Death is dark and funny and it really makes a person think. Would you want to know the exact way you were gonna die? Would you become hopelessly fatalistic about your life or ignore it? Would you just avoid the machine completely?

Video Games

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies – Case 5 has turned into a completely different case. We’re gonna resolve the issues with Blackquill. I’m more excited for the killer whale one, but that’s because I accidentally spoiled the Phantom’s identity for myself like two months ago.

Bravely Default (Demo) – Another Squeenix RPG, but this one has JOBS! I love job systems. I’m already way down for this release in Feb. I think it’s super neat that the Demo has its own unique story to it.

Nintendo Land – Got a lot of Mario Chase and Luigi’s Ghost Mansion in with Katie and Kyla. Super fun. I know people think Nintendo’s lost it, but just watching people pick up and play their games almost without instruction tells me that their concepts and ideas are still top notch. I love asynchronous multiplayer.

Long Live the Queen – Premise: The Queen dies and you’ve got to survive to coronation. It’s pretty easy to get killed in this game. I’ve managed to beat it a few times without it, but it’s not easy. Mostly a visual novel with skill checking.

Cook, Serve, Delicious – Surprisingly addictive for a simple game. They nailed the sound effects and that’s what really makes the difference. Adding the different ingredients to the dishes just has a lot of pop. Feels great to play. I love it.

SteamWorld Dig – Kind of a Metroidvania mixed with something like Terraria or Minecraft (minus the crafting). It’s fun to figure out how to get to the various treasures and gems. I’m really enjoying it, but the gameplay loop is too addictive. It’s “one more turn”, of a sort, as you try to achieve your objectives and get lower and lower.

Portal 2 – Played the new multiplayer levels with David. By new I mean really old and that one DLC pack they released years ago. It’s got a little new story and it’s funny and neat, but the main draw, obviously, comes from the sweet puzzles. Really creative and I think it made Dave and I feel pretty smart.

Civilization 5 – The D-Bros game continues to go way in my favor as I stomp the Romans down. Persia might have to go next if I continue to maintain the advantage…

Don’t Starve – Played it for a while to get my steam cards. Pretty neat game, but I wish it had steam achievements. My second attempt is going well, but I can’t find any gold for a science machine, and that stinks. Those freaky frogs almost killed me too…

2011 in Video Games [GO]
Jan 5th, 2012 by Dan

HAY GUSY! ZELDA GAMES ARE 25!

So maybe I wasn't playing video games at birth nor was this blog running 25 years ago, but this is my 25th year too!

2011 was an odd year in games for me. It started out like any other, filled with joy and happiness, and then it was all wrenched away halfway through, thanks to that burglary, until I was able to start replenishing my stores and getting the ball rolling again for the second half.

This list, unlike last year, will cover the games I played most this year, even if they came out several years ago :cough: Team Fortress 2 :cough:. I think it’s better to reflect upon what I put the most game time into, even if it wasn’t new.

Resident Evil 5 – 2011’s 2009 Game of the Year has to go to Capcom’s co-op survival horror epic. I remember the Giant Bomb guys pimping this game super hard, but I ignored them over and over again for nearly two years because I’m not much of a scary games guy. Then the steam sale happened and I wanted something co-op to play with Min and Lee, so I buckled. This game was so good, guys. According to Raptr, I played 57 hours of this guy just cruising through all the levels, S-Ranking each one, finding all the emblems and upgrading all the weapons, and getting every achievement for the first time on a full-sized game. Then I came back and played it all again with David. RE5 may be some of the best bang I got for my buck in 2011.

Batman: Arkham Asylum – I think it’s hilarious that I played both Batman games this year. Make no mistake, Batman: AA is the better game. Tighter story focus, less wandering and rambling around, and that sharp, crunchy combat system that we all love. It almost literally hurts to watch Batman punch people in the face in this game. Lots of fun, even for a guy who doesn’t really like Batman.

Red Dead Redemption – Man, every game that I played in January came out in another year. RDR has a lot of those Rockstar quirks that I hate (incorrigible supporting cast, homicidal ludonarrative dissonance, etc.), but it also has one of the best realized characters in recent video games in its portrayal of John Marston. Horseback riding is fun, lassoing fools is fun, and the story is frustrating (because of the asshole supporting cast), but also solid most of the time. The only thing that really annoyed me was breaking horses every fucking time. Why? It’s not like it was fun to do…

Magicka – 2011’s Game Most Likely to Make You Strangle Your Friends. Ask Min how many times I killed him by striking him with lightning. I never took this game seriously and mostly tried to speed cast lightning. Fun, but the polish wasn’t there. Buggy as all hell. Not to mention that lightning bolt was the only spell worth using…or maybe it was the only spell I knew?

Ghost Trick – I used this game to try and improve/practice my Spanish. It’s lots of fun, quirky, weird, neat, but I never finished it. I thought it wasn’t taken in the burglary, but I’m having trouble finding it now. I want to finish it soon…Pick it up if you have a DS. It’s quirky and fun.

Costume Quest – Picked this up on sale and played it for a few hours. It’s definitely got that Double Fine humor, but it couldn’t hold my interest.

Pixeljunk Shooter 2 – I don’t know why some of the magic was gone with this one. Maybe the new fluids weren’t as innovative or neat? The fluid mechanics remain super awesome and the game is plenty fun on its own, but even more fun with a partner to troll.

Face Raiders – Shooting at Min’s face is the best thing I did with my 3DS before it was stolen.

Pokemon White (Black) – I got David to try a new Pokemon game with this and I’m super proud of that. Gen V brought a lot of really interesting changes to a game that most people feel is flat and unchanging. I had a lot of fun playing it until the momentum was killed with the burglary. When Grey inevitably gets announced I’ll probably buy it.

Game Dev Story – When this finally hit the Android marketplace I was ecstatic. Then I played it and realized it was a competent, but not overwhelming sim. Worth a few bucks.

Borderlands – Another co-op game for Min, Lee, and I to play. Lots of fun even though the story is stupid as hell. Brings out the loot whore in all of us.

Planescape: Torment – Talk about old! Didn’t get anywhere close to finishing this. It seems interesting, but never captures my interest enough to play it for longer than 20 mins.

Portal 2 – This is, bar none, the greatest example of story and comedy narrative laid out in video game form. Portal 2 has just brilliant writing and pacing. Everything from Wheatley to the history of Aperture Science to the origins of GLaDOS is perfectly realized. Then you have the game itself…Portal 2 is not a bad game at all. It’s just not as hard or interesting, with respect to puzzles, as Portal. This was a result of narrowing the possible solution space (story-justified by the decay of the facility, but still) in such a way that it was mostly obvious where portals needed to go, removing that aspect of figuring things out. It’s still probably the best game of this year, but I wish it they hadn’t pared it down as much as they did.

Pro Yakyu Spirits 2011 (Professional Baseball Spirits 2011) – I had a fun, challenging season going with my 2011 Hiroshima Carp before that jerk (those jerks?) came and stole my copy of a Japanese baseball game (in Japanese, mind you!). What were they gonna do with a game in Japanese featuring teams they weren’t even familiar with?! PYS 2011 was a huge step forward from 2010. Home runs may have been a little easier to hit (ok, a LOT easier to hit), but 2011 looked sharper and had enough new, interesting features (the player development was cool) that I was super stoked…until it was all taken away from me. Assholes.

L.A. Noire – I got about 1/5 of the way through the game before someone stole it. I still remember the forensics guy asking me if it was any good. Here’s the thing about L.A. Noire: It’s an adventure game skinned with GTA. Getting anywhere in LA is unsatisfying because driving is a bummer (and property/car damage lowers your rank), the devolution of most cases into shootouts feels a little artificial, and, worst of all, most of the chases (car and foot) let you see how the sausage is made. What I mean is, you can tell that you can’t catch up to a perp before a certain point and you can also see where the game just makes a perp crash or fall intentionally to just let you catch up. The face modeling stuff is super cool (and eerie if you watch Mad Men) and works pretty well minus one or two people. A tremendous achievement, but ultimately a mediocre game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – I’m combining these because I don’t have much I want to say about either. The shooting is good, but the missions are kind of lame. I can see where this might be fun, but it’s also not for me.

inFamous – This was my free mea culpa game from Sony after the big hack fiasco. Decent open world game, but it suffers from being an open world game, in my eyes. The electric powers were fun, but the story was stupid. I don’t regret beating this game or getting it for free. Skating on the rails and then getting hit by a train is awesome.

Shadows of the Damned – I wish I’d taken the time to actually beat this game. It plays exactly like a Resident Evil game, has a super cool aesthetic, kickass soundtrack, and some of the funniest, most Japanese characters I’ve ever seen (come on, Garcia Fucking Hotspur is the greatest character name of the year!). Maybe I’ll beat it in 2012.

Hot Springs Story – From the devs what brought you Game Dev Story we have Hot Springs Story. See the entry above. It’s equally meh to me. I think I just don’t like playing games on my phone.

Torchlight – Gave me my Diablo fix a whole year before I’ll ever see Diablo III (I bet D3 is still not out in 2012). It’s fun and addictive, but it can get a little repetitive after a while. Good for loot whores/junkies.

Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu 2011 – I got this expecting to have as much fun with it as I did back when it was the only Pawapuro/Konami-style baseball game I could play. In a post (Dan Mesa) PYS world, the simplifications of the engine don’t quite work for me. I need the extra systems that PYS layers on top.

Team Fortress 2TF2 has always been good. The addition of large-scale achievements made it even better, but the real tipping point for me was Strange Weapons. Once I learned that there were weapons which tracked the number of kills you had on them…well I couldn’t go back. This year probably saw the most TF2 playing from me since its launch. This game is barely recognizable to what it looked like in 2007. It’s free to play now. It’s got so many new maps and weapons and hats. It’s still the best competitive shooter a person could play right now.

Cahterine – Some people don’t get Catherine. They think the block puzzles are annoying and frustrating and find the whole thing to be stupid, too anime-y, and a waste of time. While Catherine makes a turn right near the end that mucks with its interpretation, it’s still one of the most interesting, adult experiences out there, which isn’t to say that it’s got nudity (none) or sex (none on screen), but, rather, that it deals with a lot of grown-up problems. Vincent’s life is in a rut, he’s being pushed into committing to a woman he’s afraid to commit to, and then he finds an escape in Catherine. I have yet to play a more interesting or convincing game about growing up, taking responsibility, and becoming a man. Catherine forced me to take a hard look at myself, my life, the incidences of cheating that have been in it, and just think about it all. A lot of games don’t do that.

Yakuza 4 – Got maybe two hours in before it was stolen.

Dragon Age II – Man, a lot of people have a lot of beef with Dragon Age 2 and I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s because I came to the game knowing all the complaints that everyone had before I got there, but it’s really not that bad. It “suffers” from the Mass Effect 2-ization of Bioware’s properties, but that’s not all bad. Dragon Age: Origins was bloated, over-long, and caused most people to quit right at the cusp of its climax. The way I see it, there were two things that were glaringly wrong with the game mechanics. First was the way that enemy reinforcements just seemed to pop in out of nowhere, artificially extending every fight and turning them into hyper-frustrating affairs. Keeping things limited to the enemies on-screen would have been vastly preferred. The second big miss was the lack of polish/variety of locations. It was very clear that this game was rushed to market because there were maybe three or four map styles recycled to cover a lot of locations. The minimaps weren’t properly reflecting when doors were shut and it was painfully apparent how much recycling happened. These are not sins worth crucifying the game for. The way that it focuses exclusively on Kirkwall and Hawke’s family is actually a good thing. Rather than be as sprawling as DA:O, it allows for a more personal story. Every relationship in this game is way cooler/most interesting than the ones in DA:O and, arguably, any of the ones in ME2. DA2 gets a lot of shit, but it’s a great game.

Bastion – Considering how much everyone just loves this game I really wish I’d given it a little more time this year. I barely played it, but the narrator was cool and the game seemed neat. I’ve got to beat this in 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – I bought this game to get the pre-order items it came with for TF2. I don’t regret doing so. Played about an hour or two of the game. Haven’t felt compelled to go back yet.

Gears of War 2 – This is the year that Min and I beat GoW1 & 2. It took a long time, but we still managed it. These games are really fun in co-op. Easily among the most fun we had in couch co-op this year.

Gears of War 3 – My GOTY comes down to this or Portal 2. I know I’m way late to the GoW train, but god damn these games are razor sharp. Shooting in this game just feels so right, you know? It’s about as polished and good as a third person shooter can possibly be. Fighting the final boss for two hours because I turned on no ammo drops will be memorable for a long time in a way that I don’t often make memories in video games any more. Thank you, Epic, for this amazing game.

The Binding of Isaac – The second I heard that the dude from Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen, was coming out with a new game, I knew that I would be buying it and that it would be tons of fun. You’ll remember from last year that SMB was the best game I played. The Binding of Isaac is not quite the best of this year, but it is a more realized game than it has any right to be. I mean, the game was $5 at launch, for Christ’s sake, and it featured a free content patch at Halloween. Isaac took 55 hours of my time this year, assuming every one was counted by Raptr, and I anticipate it taking more before I’m done with it. This game is the best $5 you can spend this year.

Galaga Legions DX – Coming off the awesomeness that was Pac-Man CE DX I expected big things from this game. It’s nowhere near as fun, but maybe that’s because Pac-Man is a way more fun game than Galaga ever was.

Batman: Arkham City – I’m pretty sure you already know that I think this game was a major step back from Arkham Asylum. I really don’t think the open world aspects did this game any favors. It’s still got that super-crunchy, razor sharp battle system, but it’s also marred by too many poorly dressed women constantly being called b***hes. This is a game that aggressively pushed me away from it and I was more than happy to be done with it when I was despite being the best thing to happen to brawlers in ages.

Dungeon Defenders – Tower defense made even more fun by allowing us to run around in the environments. I didn’t put in anywhere near as many hours as Min did, but it was fun while I played it.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Man, Uncharted 2 was fantastic, wasn’t it? Try this new one! It’s a lot like the old one, but with a little less charisma. A little less je ne sais quoi. Despite featuring my favorite video game characters of the modern era, Uncharted 3 was lacking in weird ways that the appearance of the The Last of Us trailer makes clear. Focus was diverted. Glad that we got three of these, but I wish it was as much a step forward as the second one was.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Remember how I wrote that article where I outlined everything I hated about this game? Since I wrote it I played another hour or two and said, “Nope. I don’t want to play this.” Will I ever go back? God, I hope not. It was worth spending $60 to drive in the point that I don’t like Bethesda open world RPGs. Here’s a note to Future Dan: Don’t buy any more Bethesda games, you moron.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – This poor game is being victimized by the launch of The Old Republic. Had TOR not come out there’s not a doubt in my mind that I would be playing the most charming Zelda game since Wind Waker non-stop. Skyward Sword plays sharply and is tons of fun.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – My life has been sucked into this game in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. I can’t believe that there was a time where I was actively thinking about avoiding this game and staying away from MMOs altogether. Bioware did something fantastic here by adding story to a genre that typically lacked it. This game has already rocketed up the charts for total time played and I predict that it will never be usurped based on how much I truly love playing it. I haven’t even finished one story and I’ve still got seven more to go.

Artificial Heart Review [Feedback]
Sep 13th, 2011 by Dan

Jonathan Coulton

JoCo performing an acoustic set

Big surprise
It doesn’t care about second tries
You’re afraid whatever choice you make
Won’t be exactly the right mistake

-“Fraud”

Jonathan Coulton’s latest release, Artificial Heart, represents a much larger step that a lot of people might realize. After about eight years of pure solo effort, AH is Coulton’s first effort with a band and produced by someone other than himself. It also breaks with his comfort zone and explores many deeper themes and constants without using the nerdy/comedy song hook that made him internet famous.

To be honest, that’s really the best part of Artificial Heart. People love songs like “Re: Your Brains”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, and “Code Monkey”, but there have always been greater depths to Coulton’s oeuvre that seemed almost hidden in his back catalog. Artificial Heart hides its comedy/nerdy songs at the tail end, almost as bonus tracks with a haunting rendition of “Still Alive” by Sara Quin, the Coulton version of “Want You Gone”, and the only real clunker on the disc, “The Stache”, a song about, well, mustaches.

The real meat of the album explores Coulton’s professional insecurities, maturing and dealing with the responsibilities of family life, suburban loneliness and despair, and, yes, a silly song in French. I’ll be going into detail, track-by-track, below:

1. Sticking it to Myself

The benefit of the increased production is rocketed right to our ears with this first track. It’s not really miles beyond the complexity of Coulton’s more flashy songs prior to this date, but it feels so much richer than anything that came before. It makes sense for this to be the first track of this new direction Coulton’s taking. It’s brash and loud and Stan Harrison kills on saxophone while Jonathan Coulton himself shreds on electric guitar.

It’s all apt for a sharp statement that Jonathan Coulton refuses to be classified in a specific way. I’m sure the Planet Money profile aired long after this song was done, but I can’t help but hear Coulton’s response in his lyrics.

The references to hostage situations could be interpreted as his perceived shtick holding him back while he also recognizes that said perception was partially created by the music he decided to put out. Still, he still feels that his career is in his own hands.

2. Artificial Heart

Paul and Storm regularly joke about Jonathan Coulton always writing melancholy songs about metaphysical creatures. Both may be true, but my point is that Coulton is a pro at writing the sad song. “Artificial Heart”, like “Not About You”, is a song about a breakup, only it’s a lot more obfuscated than “Not About You”.

His more subtle lyricism is brilliantly at play here in a song that tries to capture the aesthetics of a beating heart. There is a regular and prominent beat throughout the whole thing, but when it all ramps up we’ve got a strong bass drum keeping time.

I’m also rather fond of the piano/keyboard work in this song. It’s a fun song, but I think it’s mid-tier on this album.

3. Nemeses

One of the few Jonathan Coulton tracks headed by not Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick takes lead vocals here while Coulton harmonizes. Of course, not three tracks into a record I describe as less reliant on geeky topics, “Nemeses” is about a hero trying to get a villain to be his arch-nemesis.

Only it’s deeper feeling than it normally would be. Instead of hovering on the concept like he might have done with humorous lampshade hanging and trope highlighting, Coulton just lets this song be. Roderick’s vocals are smooth and sweet and Coulton’s harmonies add tremendous depth to a song that is as much about a hero who needs a villain as it is about professional jealousy, rivalry, and living up to your potential.

The Japanese seem to almost fetishize the concept of the rival in their anime and video games as a not-necessarily-antagonistic figure who is the motivation and catalyst for realizing your full potential. Here we see something similar in a hero attempting to get the attentions of a villain to make them both better. It’s interesting and I wonder if this is yet another way for Coulton to work out his professional insecurities toward other larger acts as he seeks to grow and expand.

4. The World Belongs to You

On the forefront we have this wonderful song whose main draw is the delicate sounding banjo work about a god whose star has begun to fade as its decisions, ambivalence, and handling has caused his believes to become disillusioned with it.

It’s definitely a stretch, but the themes are also applicable to the kind of meteoric rise to success that some stars have. Their initial success brings them into the spotlight and they can do no wrong. Of course the egomania from fame begins to take shape and while the creative mind of the artist pulls him one way, the demands of the people go another. Our “god” cannot reconcile this with his vision of what is right and sort of writes them off.

“The World Belongs to You” is a really grim and depressing song. I love that Coulton is so skilled at hiding them within really upbeat ditties. The arrangement in here is sparse and delicate, but it doesn’t feel precious. It’s one of the good ones on this album.

5. Today With Your Wife

From the hidden melancholy of “The World Belongs to You” we dive face first into the morose sounding, “Today With Your Wife”. It doesn’t go where you think it might from the title, but it’s more depressing for it.

Even sparser than the last track, this is a pensive piano track. The only other sound, beyond Coulton’s longing voice, comes from brass tones. It creates an empty sound that emphasizes the gap in the situation. Our song narrator is lamenting the fact that someone, probably Coulton, “should have been there” in this nice, soft, touching, close moment he had with his wife.

I see this song as Coulton expressing anxiety over the fact that his touring keeps him away from his home and his family. Being gone so much has to put a strain on them as he is missing these tiny, tender moments. The small moments that really make up real life. It’s touching and sad and precisely the kind of song I love from Jonathan Coulton.

6. Sucker Punch

It’s actually pretty appropriate to have “Sucker Punch” follow “Today With Your Wife” as both deal with responsibility.

“Sucker Punch” is one of those songs that feels obvious on the surface on what it’s about, but I can’t quite see any levels beyond that. It’s a short song, clocking in at under two minutes, and I think it’s about not wanting to grow up, mature, or accept responsibility as everyone else around you does.

There are some neat percussive parts in here that feel more complicated than pre-band Coulton percussion, but not to a highly noticeable one. It’s just the kind of small touch that I feel a dedicated drummer (rather than drum loops) can add.

7. Glasses

“Glasses” is another of my favorites on this album. With all the songs about longing for lost loves and suburban depression, it’s good to see a happy song about the people he loves.

It’s not super sweet sounding, since it’s got some hard drumming and guitar work, but it’s sweet in tone. This is a song that celebrates the tiny moments in life and how it’s the tiny things that bring people together, not the grand gestures or moments.

Like I said before, great drums and guitar work in this song and the vocals are sneakily poetic. My favorite section from the song:

“There’s water in the walls
The stairs make waterfalls
Down in the basement the soft sound of a river digging deep”

It’s just a beautiful reflection of the way that water moves and is such a huge element of change, but it’s always so gradual and slow and hidden. Little bits of water able to make rivers able to dig canyons.

8. Je Suis Rick Springfield

This song has got this real lounge singer style to it and it’s perfectly in line with the ridiculous French. I love the xylophone.

I read the English translation of this song and it seems like it may be poking fun at him for the French “Re: Vos Cerveaux”. It’s not meant to be taken that seriously and it’s full of poor French and a hilarious Greek chorus-esque part where the French listeners mock his French. The other great thing about it is that Rick Springfield, assuming he’s talking about the same guy, is Australian, not American.

9. Alone at Home

This song is a lot like “Shop Vac” in its exploration of the vapid, consumer-driven, hidden unhappiness of the American suburban ideal. It’s been done by him and done better thanks to “Shop Vac”‘s haunting news stories in the background.

It’s not a bad song, just not a great one. Got solid band work, just not that interesting to me.

10. Fraud

The bass line to this song carries the whole song, but the real beauty comes from the fantastic acoustic work. “Fraud” has a soft sound that belies its message about professional doubt (as I see it).

It’s not the deepest reading of the lyrics, but it certainly seems like it’s about those personal demons that gnaw at you from inside making you think that you’re a fluke and that your success is accidental. Could be that Coulton is making a statement about his doubts in expanding his operation, adding a band, and growing his sound. Is it too coincidental that this song feels most like it could have been an old Coulton song?

“Fraud” has got a great hook in the chorus that I absolutely love. This song ranks among my favorite on the album.

11. Good Morning Tuscon

This feels like the way more happy and mature spiritual sequel to “Code Monkey” in the sense that it’s a song about working and the way that goes, but not in the computer science or romantic way. “Good Morning Tuscon” is a good six years later from “Code Monkey” and the insecurities of youth have given way to a guy who is a lead in his morning show. The protagonist of the song is weary and shocked at how old he’s become, but he’s still able to do his job well. There is a hint of the Coulton melancholy in here too with that line from the chorus:

“I throw to you before I throw the rest away”

It’s definitely a catchy song and I can see why it was one of the first cuts that JoCo released online in advance of the album.

12. Now I Am An Arsonist

“Now I Am an Arsonist” is an absolutely beautiful song that is layered so deep that I can’t quite decipher its meaning. It’s full of imagery about heat, height, flight, construction, and destruction. I mean, it’s pretty much a story of a relationship that didn’t seem to work out with neat shifting perspectives, but, like I said, I can’t quite parse out all of the imagery. I can say that even the somber talk about an astronaut burning up in the atmosphere is absolutely beautiful.

Suzanne Vega does most of the heavy lifting on this song, with JoCo harmonizing and singing only one verse. Her voice is haunting and beautiful, which appears to be the two qualities Coulton is looking for in his duet partners, but that haunting aspect is helped along by sparse instrumentation (ie: little to none). I love this song. I don’t think I get it yet, but I love it.

13. Down Today

Both chipper and bitter, “Down Today” centers around a dude who is rubbing his new relationship in his ex’s face. Rather like “Not About You”, we’ve got contrasting lyrics with Coulton singing about not “coming down”, but all the time that he’s up he’s obsessing about ridding himself of his ex. It’s the kind of contradictory lyric that Coulton does reasonably well and it doesn’t feel that old.

Unfortunately, “Down Today” is stuck between two far better songs so, despite how much I dig this song when I hear it, I rarely remember it compared to “Now I Am an Arsonist” and “Dissolve”

14. Dissolve

A lot of this album seems to move in phases about similar topics. This relationship phase kind of ends with “Dissolve”. Where “Now I Am an Arsonist” feels like a relationship in progress, but headed toward failure and “Down Today” feels like a guy who has recently ended a relationship, “Dissolve” seems to be long after that relationship has ended. In fact, it appears to end with the character breaking up with a new person. Throughout the song we see how the character has learned from his failed relationship, but that while the changes seem to have made him stronger, he’s not above doing the same thing to someone else.

This song is my favorite one on the entire album. It resonated with me from the first listen onward. Everything about it is so great and I think it’s where the entire band concept congeals best. The bass line is wicked, the drums are hot, the guitars are sharp, and JoCo’s lyrics are perfect. This is the song that makes it happen. I especially love that last verse with its sparse bass and drum portion. So much fun.

15. Nobody Loves You Like Me

The most popular interpretation of this song is about an aging musician dying of throat/lung cancer resulting from too hard a life. It’s supported by the constant references to death, breathing, lungs, even an overt reference to smoking. The theory is even supported by the heavy vocoder use that makes Coulton’s voice sound like it’s coming from one of those throat vocoders for throat cancer patients.

It’s also readable as an embittered lover at the end of a relationship with its references to divorce papers. Let’s just say it’s a nuanced song.

There’s barely any instrumentation aside from the heavy vocal processing and it does create a sad, lonely feeling. It’s a good song, but it feels like it’s over before it starts because of how quickly it moves.

16. Still Alive

This version is sung by Sara Quin whose petite voice contrasts pretty deeply with Ellen McLain’s GLaDOS. There’s spooky theremin work and it makes for a sweeter, but sadder version of the song. Quin doesn’t quite hit the emotional notes as hard as McClain does in the game, but it’s different and good enough that you’ll like listening to it even though you’re probably sick of “Still Alive” by now.

I’m not sure I like Coulton harmonizing in this, but it’s relatively inoffensive. Just feels a little unnecessary and like it’s stronger with only Quin’s voice to guide us.

17. Want You Gone

This is my favorite of the two Portal songs and it’s interesting to hear Coulton’s voice versus McLain/GLaDOS. It’s almost a bummer that it’s from Portal 2, because the elements stand on its own…aside from the Caroline reference.

The instrumentation is almost identical to the game version minus one or two touches that I particularly loved from the original. Still, it’s a good song and I was happy to see the non-game versions on the disc instead. I think “Want You Gone” works better in Coulton’s voice than “Still Alive”, so I’m glad to see that he got Quin for that too.

18. The Stache

My least favorite song on the disc. Maybe I don’t fetishize mustaches enough, but it’s kind of dumb and I don’t like it. The music is fine, but the lyrics are too stupid for me to love.

Ok, ok, it has its moments. It’s not that bad, just not my favorite. That’s why I devised that bonus track idea about the album.

Artificial Heart is a bold step in a new direction for Jonathan Coulton. Purists might not dig the new production or the new direction, but I think it represents tremendous growth for JoCo and I hope to see much more along these lines in the future. Coulton has always been much more than the deceptively simple, geeky songs that made him popular and while I do love those, I’m happy to see him move away from being pigeonholed as a niche performer.

What I’ve Been Doing [FB/IB/BT/GO]
Jul 18th, 2011 by Dan

Cloud Cosplay Otakon 2010

San Diego Comic-Con is coming up this week, so I thought I'd make this week's post some cosplay

San Diego Comic-Con is upon us and for once I actually read comics. I’m excited to learn about Marvel’s new December event, but, in the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to.

Movies:

Out of Sight – Steven Soderbergh’s Elmore Leonard adaptation was a pretty solid flick and about the only thing I’ve ever seen Jennifer Lopez do a fantastic job in. George Clooney turned in a great performance playing his usual role as well. Worth watching for their intriguing chemistry. Love noticing the similarities to other Leonard works like Justified (he loves him some US Marshals, huh?)

Role Models – Decent comedy. Nothing to write home about. I liked it well enough, even if Jane Lynch’s role is a little tired. Also funny to see Ken Jeong before he’d fully developed what’s become the Ken Jeong character. I also really like Elizabeth Banks in anything. She’s funny.

TV:

The League – FX’s comedy about fantasy football is reliably funny most weeks and laugh out loud funny on occasion. I started watching it thanks to commercials during It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and I’m returning to S1 since it’s on streaming. Always interesting to see the actors figuring out the characters before they have a real feel for it and also neat to see how pilot sets differ from real sets. A nice half-hour distraction.

Books:

FF – This month’s Inhumans origin story was lukewarm to most readers I know, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of them and I’m intrigued by where Hickman is going with this origin.

The Red Wing – Hickman’s new mini-series shows promise with a premise about wars fought across time. Could be neat.

Amazing Spider-Man – I found the writing in this to be juvenile and a little too “explain-y” for my tastes. You have art and pictures, use expressions and subtlety to do your work, please!

Avengers vs. New Ultimates – The end of this mini resulted in (Ultimate) Spider-Man dead and Nick Fury put back in charge of SHIELD. Too bad. I liked Carol Danvers a lot more. I worry that this is to have Fury in place when the Avengers movie comes out next year.

Ultimate Fallout – Bendis gets busy setting up the universe for the Reborn relaunch. Spider-Man’s funeral is a tear-jerker and the book has promise. Best thing is its weekly status. Can’t wait for book 3 to find out who the new Spider-Man will be.

Video Games:

Left 4 Dead (1 & 2) – David finally built himself a new PC which means he can finally play modern shooters with me! We started our co-op experience with lots of Left 4 Dead. We finished all the campaigns in the first game and now we’re working on 2. I’ve been reminded of just how spectacular these two games are and how much fun Left 4 Dead was. Good times.

Torchlight – Finished the main game. Now it’s just kind of grinding for the other achievements and for loot’s sake. I worry that this game is gonna tire me out too much for when Diablo III comes out, but then I remember that Diablo won’t be out until 2012, at the earliest, and I breathe much easier.

Portal 2 – A little co-op with the hermano. Good stuff, even if he smashed me with some giant, movable blocks. Can’t wait for some dlc maps…

Team Fortress 2 – The surprise entry this week. I played for 12 hours this weekend and had a real blast. The Strange Weapons have been the coolest draw for me since they level up as you “feed” them with kills. So much fun. Played a lot with Eric too, which is nice. I don’t think I’ve played an FPS with him for that much time since we played Goldeneye. What a blast.

What I’ve Been Playing/Watching/Reading [GO/IB/FB/BT]
Jun 1st, 2011 by Dan

Totoro(rororo)

Here’s another breakdown of the media I’ve been consuming:

Video Games:

I haven’t talked about these for a long while, so I’m just gonna go over recent history, post-robbery.

L.A. Noire – Just beat it last night. I think that the game premise shows a lot of potential, but the true masterpiece will be any game that piggybacks off of this one. Why did they feel the need to open world this? It only creates dissonance between the character as portrayed and the character they want him to be. Also: interrogations are neat, but very tough.

StarCraft, Mass Effect, and Portal (all part 2) – Been meaning to fix some choices that my Paragon Shepard made in ME2 before ME3, so I was getting some of that done. Portal 2 multiplayer with Eric was lots of fun. Now I can’t wait for the new “test” this summer. I hope they’re a lot harder. Played SC2 with Min and Simon. We did alright as long as I wasn’t goofing off trying to Hellion rush the enemy. Turns out those flamethrower cars don’t have AA. Fancy that.

Movies:

Bridesmaids – Super hilarious. Kristen Wiig is one of my favorite comedic actors and it’s great to see her find success. I hope this means good things for female-led comedies (no more Heigl, please! (unless she’s in an Apatow movie)). Worth watching.

My Neighbor Totoro – How did I get to be 25 without seeing this movie? The landmark Studio Ghibli feature was heartwarming and fun and just awesome. A sincere movie that is hard not to love.

Love and Other Drugs – I constantly recommend films to friends, but I don’t often watch their recs if I know they’re not gonna be very good. Since that’s kind of hypocritical of me I took this recommendation despite knowing in advance that the movie wasn’t very good. Guess what, it isn’t, but I also knew it had a lot of Anne Hathaway’s boobs in it, so I guess I win anyway.

Animal Kingdom – Australian gangster film. Well done, but not quite as interesting as I was hoping it would be. Gotta love the accents, but creepy uncles are always weird…and creepy.

TV:

Trem̩ РSeason 2 started and I fell about six weeks behind. Watched the first episode last night. I still love these characters, but without the urgency of post-Katrina I have even less of an idea of what the characters are doing now. I kind of like it a little more, but that may just be familiarity. The show also continues to impress with its strong music.

The Office – I’m about two episodes in and Ricky Gervais is proving to be the absolute worst boss possible. Micheal Scott has nothing on how cringeworthy Gervais’ David Brent is. Martin Freeman’s Tim is also meaner than Jim in the US The Office, but I think I like his early character more. I’m interested in seeing this through, it’s only about six hours, after all, and I like succinct series.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The opposite of succinct. Don’t think I’ve mentioned that I started watching this show at all. I’m about four episodes into season 2. S1 was pretty good, but we’ve advanced much further in television since then. It’s so very 90s and I think that Joss Whedon is a better writer now than he was then. S2 opened with an unbearable episode with Buffy being super emo, but it moved on to be as enjoyable as S1. I’m not 100% on board with this show like other people might be, but it’s been solid.

Mad Men – I’m 2/3 of the way through the first season and I’m really enjoying it. So far I’ve been most impressed by the superb acting. Don Draper and the rest of the cast are all so nuanced and interesting that I can’t help but silence the annoyance at the period-appropriate mistreatment of women and the job-appropriate philandering. Fantastic show so far.

Parks and Recreation – What a stellar third season. I wish NBC hadn’t given us two straight weeks of two episodes because then I’d still have P&R for a little bit longer. This is, without a doubt, the finest comedy on television right now. I can’t wait until it’s on Netflix Instant so that I can watch it with Min and Tiffany (that’s right, watch it two more times!).

Community – A season of ups and downs ends on some solid up episodes. Throw in the promise of a reduced role for Chevy Chase (thank you Dan Harmon, he was getting old) and I’m pretty hyped for this show (not as hyped as I am for S4 of Parks and Rec).

Glee – What a weak season. No, seriously, it was super weak. The magic and fire of season 1 has been lost, no doubt thanks to how successful this show has been. Risks are gone, the music is much more poppy and less classic/Broadway, and the writers keep pushing the angsty relationships of the characters to the forefront as if anyone cares. Guess what, Ryan Murphy, we don’t care about Finn and Rachel! We really don’t. Every time I want to quit this show they manage to do one number that keeps me hooked, but this season hasn’t made me want to buy any recordings. Original songs? No thanks. What was up with the finale? Where was the spectacle? There were barely any numbers in it! I’ll probably watch next year, but you’re on notice, Glee.

Books:

The Hunger Games – Think Koshun Takami’s Battle Royale, but Young Adult. Dystopian future with annual deathmatches between 24 teenagers. Brutal, but with a heart. The series is being built up to be the next big thing and I think it’s worth it. A quick, snappy read with enough violence in it to hide the fact that it’s kind of a book for girls. Fight your sexism on this and give it a try. You might enjoy it.

The Last Best League – A book about the Cape Cod baseball league as the last real talent pool before kids start their professional career. I’m a little biased against New England and their overenthusiastic love of themselves and everything they do, so I don’t get into the flowery fellating of the region. Still, I like a good non-fiction baseball drama. Still early in it, should be interesting.

A Visit From the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel lived up to the hype I’d seen. The book is not an easy read, every chapter is from a new perspective, with different styles (including one that is a powerpoint printout) and different characters (they all tie into one person, in particular, but some have characters who are never mentioned again), but it’s an interesting look at the way time changes everyone and everything and the way that the world itself is changing as we hurdle onward in time. Definitely a good book.

Laura Shigihara Wants You Gone [ER/GO]
May 18th, 2011 by Dan

Laura Shigihara sings an a cappella version of Portal 2’s ending theme, “Want You Gone”. If you haven’t beat P2 yet, I recommend you don’t watch it.

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