Media Round-up for 28/01/2018

This might be one of the oddest combinations for reviews I’ve come across in a long time: a collection of Oprah’s columns from her magazine and a hentai game.  Oh well, we all know I like trying a little of everything!

Oprah Winfrey – What I Know for Sure

what_i_know_for_sureWhat I Know for Sure is a collection of Oprah’s columns of the same name, originally published in O magazine.  Each essay is essentially a lesson about something that Oprah has learned for certain over the course of her life and I would say that the tone of the essays is generally inspirational.  What I Know for Sure isn’t the type of book that I would normally reach for, but a YouTuber I follow mentioned that it had been a source of comfort and inspiration to her and, since I am in an excellent position to absorb things that are comforting and inspirational, I thought I would give it a try.

While I did enjoy most of this book, some of the anecdotes made me shake my head at Oprah’s overwhelming privilege.  For example, one of the lessons in the Joy chapter was that one should always look after themselves as carefully as they look after others.  This is a profound idea that can be a struggle for so many of us and the fact that she spends a great deal of time in this book discussing self-care in general is fantastic.  In order to teach readers this particular lesson, however, Oprah employs a story about hiring a famous devotional singer to perform at her birthday party, something she wasn’t willing to do for herself alone and only thought of arranging once she learned that one of her close friends also liked the singer.  Why, Oprah’s friends wondered, couldn’t she have hired the singer for her birthday alone?  Why did she need to do it for someone else rather than doing it for herself?  As I said, the sentiment here is good, but the story is a problem for the wealthy and I found myself rolling my eyes as I read it.

Overall, however, despite a few missteps, several of the chapters of the book were extremely powerful for me, particularly the chapters on Resilience, Gratitude and Connection.  I agree with many of the principles that she discusses, such as the idea that no other person can make you happy if you aren’t happy with yourself, a topic that I spent some time talking about earlier this week.  I also greatly admire Oprah’s commitment to life long learning and completely agree with her when she asks… “when you stop learning, you cease to grow and subconsciously tell the universe you’ve done it all — nothing new for you. So why are you here?”

If you’re into Oprah’s particular brand of radical self love and you like reading inspirational literature, I think that What I Know for Sure is a great book to have in your collection.  I think that this book is best read when you need a short, easy to digest pick-me-up.  If you’re having a bad day, read a column or two and you might find a little extra energy to get on with it.

HuniePop

huniepopIn the video game community, HuniePop is more than a little notorious.  It’s an OEL (original English language) soft hentai game where the player can date and/or sleep with potential anime girl mates by solving match-three puzzles.  I would say that the match-three gameplay is a cross between Bejeweled/Candy Crush and You Must Build a Boat (YMBAB).  The puzzle aspect of the game is well-designed and super fun to play.  At any given time, you can hang out with one of the game’s available female characters (you can play as a male or female protagonist, but all of the dateable characters are female).  You can ask them questions about themselves to earn currency, give them gifts to increase your reputation with them, or you can go out on dates.

The dates are where the match-three puzzles happen.  In order to successfully complete a date, you must match adjacent tiles to earn a set number of points in a set number of moves.  Each colour of tile has a characteristic associated with it and each character has a favourite characteristic, which will yield more points.  If you are able to complete several dates with one character, she will eventually join you at your home and have sex with you which involves a bonus puzzle, some poorly voice-acted moaning and a topless illustration of the character.

All in all, I found HuniePop to be disappointing.  I love romance in video games and the otome visual novel (a romantic choose-your-own-adventure genre aimed at women) is one of my favourite game genres.  Unfortunately, HuniePop lacks the emotional depth that I like to see in romance games and the character interactions consist only of surface-level fan-service.  The characters are poorly developed and the only information you learn about them is similar to what you might find in a profile of a popular boy band member in a teen magazine (height, weight, favourite colour, favourite hobby, etc…).  None of the scenarios I encountered were even remotely romantic or revealed anything deeper about the characters involved.  The game’s only surviving grace is its excellent match-three gameplay.

Advertisements

Media Round-up for 21/01/2018

The Blacklist

blacklistThe Blacklist is the first episodic law enforcement procedural that I have enjoyed in years.  I’ve been speeding through seasons 1-3 (I watched them some time ago and wanted a refresher) so that I can enjoy season 4,  If I had to compare the Blacklist to another series, I’d say that it’s quite similar to the J. J. Abrams spy drama, Alias.  I feel like Alias is much maligned these days, but it remains one of my favourite TV series of all time (the first three seasons anyway, after that it really does go downhill).  The Blacklist has a similar structure that I find to be highly entertaining.

The show features two main protagonists: FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Meghan Boone) and Raymond Reddington (James Spader).  Raymond Reddington is a former high level US Intelligence officer turned notorious criminal (number 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list).  One day, he turns himself in to the FBI in Washington, DC with a plan to assist them in capturing a list of criminals (the Blacklist) that are so nefarious, the FBI is unaware of their existence.  Reddington states that the only FBI agent he will work with directly is Elizabeth Keen, a profiler who is, on that same day, just starting a new position with the Bureau.

Shenanigans and James Spader spy badassery ensue.  It’s pretty damned fun.  I’ve always enjoyed the monster-of-the-week plus interesting overarching plot format.  The supporting cast is good and, of course, James Spader is incredible.  A lot of the overarching plots are a bit ridiculous, but I’m a sucker for high drama.  I’d say that the only aspects of the show that grow tiresome over the first two seasons are the roller coaster relationship between Elizabeth Keen and her husband, Tom, and Elizabeth’s ever-changing feelings about Reddington.  The nature of their true relationship isn’t revealed until, as far as I can tell, season 4 and, in my opinion, this is drawing things out a little too much.  Elizabeth waffles between cursing Reddington, reminding us constantly about how evil he is, and then also clearly caring for him a great deal.  This is probably what any normal person would do in her situation, but it starts to grate a bit if you’re binge-watching.

All-in-all, I would recommend this show to pretty well anyone.  I know it’s difficult these days to justify trying out what looks like it could be a fairly standard police procedural (there are so many now and they’re mostly bad), but I think the Blacklist is definitely worth a try.  James Spader’s performance alone, in my opinion, is worth it.

Lisa Morosky – The Bootstrap VA

bootstrap vaAs I said in my Goals for 2018 posts, I am in the midst of evaluating my options for a career change.  Right now, I’m not completely certain as to what my plan will be, but I do know that I am interested in working online so that I can be more flexible and location neutral.  I am also at a point in my life where I feel like the best way for me to obtain real satisfaction in my career will be to start my own business.  One of the options that I have been considering is working as a virtual assistant.

Lisa Morosky’s book covers a lot of the basics that anyone would need to start a virtual assisting business.  I would say, though, that this book is an excellent and straightforward primer to working as a freelancer online in any capacity.  She has provided advice on productivity and project management software, tracking expenses, marketing and getting and keeping clients.  All this is presented in a package that is easy to read and loaded with links to resources for further reading.  I particularly like the fact that Morosky has clearly outlined business elements that a VA will absolutely need to have before starting their business, along with other elements that can be acquired or created as the business is growing and evolving.

I am thrilled that I read the Bootstrap VA at this moment.  It has provided me with so many ideas for how I can slowly start learning some new skills that will help me narrow down my goals.  The neuropathy in my hands has limited my options for what I can do with my free time, but I can certainly watch some webinars on social media marketing and search engine optimization and start working on my website.  It is my hope that, even if I decide eventually not to take the path of starting a VA business, I will be able to use a lot of what I learned from this book to find the right path for me.

Media Round-up for 14/01/2018

Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde_-_MelodramaLorde’s sophomore album, Melodrama, is one of the best I’ve listened to in a long time.  It’s a loose concept album about love, losing love, being heartbroken, being lonely, and moving on.  Her ideas are expressed incredibly well through tracks that will make you want to move and dance, but is also completely devoid of any kitschy party anthems.  It’s an incredible pop-but-not-quite-pop album, many of whose songs defy pop conventions.  The subject matter of the album’s most prominent ballad, Liability, for example, is not just about a lost love.  Instead, Lorde bemoans her painful loneliness and the fact that the people in her life are no longer interested in spending time with her.

When I first heard the album’s lead single, Greenlight, I instantly fell in love.  I didn’t listen to the whole album at the time, but that song was on every playlist I made after its release in 2017.  I was inspired to check out the album when I saw that it had been high on the top albums lists of many prestigious publications (Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, for example) and, in my opinion, Melodrama deserves all of the praise.  I would recommend this album to pretty well anyone.  Give it a try!

Key tracks: Greenlight, The Louvre, Liability, Hard Feelings, Supercut.

Style Savvy: Styling Star

pEhqGovKfF6EDqheI0HygwgTVOQH33NsI may revisit Style Savvy: Styling Star in a later review post once I have completed the main story, but I wanted to spend some time talking about it now because I’ve been playing it quite a bit over the past two weeks.  For me, there’s no doubt that Styling Star is the second best game in the Style Savvy series.  I don’t think that I could ever love a fashion game as much as I love Trendsetters, but Styling Star comes close.

I was not a fan of the changes that syn sophia made to the third game in the series, Fashion Forward, many of which incorporated elements of Nintendo’s popular Animal Crossing franchise.  I have never been able to get into an Animal Crossing game, despite several attempts.  As a person who typically works a full-time day job, I tend to dislike games that have real time clocks.  Due to the restrictions of my work schedule, I often play games at the same time every day, which means that there are many events and features in those games that are easy for me to miss.  Of course, I can always mess with my 3DS system clock, but in my opinion, forcing users to modify their systems to see what your game has to offer is poor design.

Styling Star retains a lot of the better additions to Fashion Forward (you can work in the hair salon, do makeup and design your own clothes) while returning to the addictive day/night cycle format of Trendsetters.  For me, this format makes it tough to put the game down — I’m always wanting to get to the next day to see what my accomplishments from the previous day will unlock.  They have also added a lot of new outfits and clothing items to the game, which I am very happy about, since I felt like the additions to the previous game were minimal at best.

Overall, I’m excited to keep playing Styling Star.  The main story seems like it’s going to be an interesting departure from previous games in the series, and I think that my character will have a significantly different role to play in how that unfolds.  Stay tuned for more on this game from me.

 

 

 

Media Round-up for 07/01/2018

I finally invested in a decent lap desk, which has made playing PC games on my laptop much more comfortable.  As such, I’ve been on a bit of a tear playing shorter indie games on Steam.  Many of my media round-up posts in the coming weeks/months will include reviews of games similar to the ones below.

One Night Stand

onenightOne Night Stand is an excellent experimental indie visual novel that is a refreshing and intimate take on the genre.  Instead of engaging in various courtship rituals and trying to impress or please a potential mate, One Night Stand is about navigating your way through an awkward situation.  You’ve woken up in an unknown woman’s bed with a raging hangover and no idea how you got there.  Once the woman wakes up, you are able to interact with items in her room (the number of things you can look at is limited) and converse with her.  Different combinations of items and dialogue options will determine how the game unfolds.  There are 12 endings in total, many of them offering substantially different dialogue other than a few set conversations (which are easy to fast forward through).

I heartily enjoyed One Night Stand.  I have a soft spot for atypical visual novels (Digital: a Love Story is one of my favourite games of all time) and, while I did experience some hitching and performance issues, the game’s art is gorgeous and unique.  The game’s subject matter and its art style combine to create an experience that feels intimate and personal in a way that I think demonstrates what a great medium video games is to present this type of story.  I recommend One Night Stand to anyone who likes experimental visual novels or short, story-focused experiences.

Reigns

reignsReigns is a game with a great concept that doesn’t quite hit the mark.  The game is essentially a Tinder visual novel. You play as a king who is trying to rule a kingdom and survive as long as possible.  Various characters from your court will approach you with conundrums, most of which you can respond to with a simple yes or no (swiping right or left).  Typically, your decisions will impact one or more of your four resources (the church, the people, the army and the treasury).  You must balance out your resources, because if any one is completely depleted you will die and have to start over as the next king.

This sounds great to me as a concept, but in practice I just didn’t find the game to be particularly fun.  I found that sometimes my character would die quite arbitrarily or the decisions presented to me would make it nearly impossible to balance my resources sufficiently to keep moving forward.  Some characters and scenarios can send you on interesting little side paths, but I felt like I wasn’t finding those paths very often — even though I was still early in the game I found that I was getting a lot of repetition.  I also wasn’t particularly impressed by the game’s writing, which made the repetition particularly irksome.  All and all, for me this game was a bit of a disappointment, but I am glad that I tried it out because the idea itself is so interesting.

 

Media Round-up 31/12/2017

This is my first Media Round-up.  Since I will be reading, watching, playing, and listening to a lot of media during my medical leave, I wanted to spend some time writing about all of it.  I often find reviews to be challenging to write, particularly music reviews (finding a vocabulary to express how you feel about music is very difficult), so I thought that this would be a good exercise for me.  I may change the format of these posts in the future, but for now I’m going for one post like this per week.

TV on the Radio – Seeds

Tvotr_-_seedsI’ve been a TV on the Radio fan since 2006, when a blogger I followed at the time included Return to Cookie Mountain in his list of top albums for that year.  I checked it out and fell in love.  2008’s Dear Science continues to be one of my favourite albums of all time and I think that Nine Types of Light has some some sublimely beautiful moments that surpass any of the band’s other albums.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that Seeds quite measures up to their previous efforts.  When it was first released in 2014, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that the band had decided to put out a new album at all, given the death of Gerard Smith (bass, keyboards).  At the time, however, I wasn’t that interested in listening to any challenging new music and set it aside until I was ready to give it the attention it deserved.

While I enjoyed Seeds, I wouldn’t say that it was worth a three and a half year wait.  The pacing of most TV on the Radio albums is always mixed, but Dear Science and Nine Types of Light felt like they had strong unifying themes (art funk and art funk slow jams respectively).  Seeds, however, jumps around a little too much for my taste.  The tracks feel more like a group of random songs than they do like a cohesive artistic statement — an aspect of the band’s work that I have always admired.  I would recommend Seeds to die-hard fans, but I would never suggest it for anyone that had never tried listening to TV on the Radio previously.  Return to Cookie Mountain, Dear Science, and Nine Types of Light are three of my favourite albums of all time and I would recommend them to just about anyone.  They’re not always easy to listen to and can be a bit challenging, but they’re worth it.  Lyrical quality above and beyond any other bands actively producing music right now.

Key tracks: “Quartz“, “Careful You“, “Love Strained“, “Right Now

 

You Must Build a Boatymbab

When it was released n 2015, You Must Build a Boat made a lot of Game of the Year lists.  I took note of it because I’m a sucker for match three games with RPG mechanics (I spent at least 100 hours playing the original Puzzle Quest when it was first released on Xbox 360).  You Must Build a Boat (or YMBAB) is an interesting combination of different gameplay genres, combining elements of match three, runners, rogue-likes and RPGs into an addictive package.  The aim of YMBAB is to increase the size of your boat by recruiting new crew members and monsters to accompany you on your journey.  The player accomplishes this by running through dungeons and defeating enemies in battle by successfully completing match three puzzle mechanics.  Along the way there are chests to open and traps that can freeze you and end your run.  Each run, at least for me, is very short and, fortunately, you get to keep any rewards earned when you fail.

I find YMBAB to be a significant challenge.  The match three mechanics are a little different than the Bejeweled standard of swapping adjacent tiles.  Puzzle and Dragons taught me that I am terrible at match three mechanics that deviate from the format I’m used to and the same applies to YMBAB.  While this can make the game a little frustrating for me, the knowledge that I am slowly working toward upgrades that will make the runs a little easier lessens that frustration quite a bit.  The game’s music is also great and makes multiple runs a little less frustrating, but there could be a lot more variety — as far as I know there is only one piece of music in the whole game.  If you like the track, you should be pretty happy, but if you’re not a fan, this could get a little annoying.

All in all, I would definitely recommend YMBAB to anyone who enjoys a good puzzle game.  I haven’t tried the mobile version, but the PC version is great for playing in short bursts when you need a break from something or you’re in-between things.  For me, however, I definitely prefer more traditional match three puzzlers like Puzzle Quest.

Maria Semple – Where’d you go, Bernadette?

wheredyougoThis year I will be participating in an online book club run by some users of ONTD (Oh No They Didn’t), a long-running celebrity gossip community on Livejournal.  Each month has a theme and participants can choose any book that fits and discuss their choices on ONTD or the community that they have created on Goodreads.  The theme for January is any book that will be adapted into a movie or TV series in 2018.

I chose Where’d you go, Bernadette because Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Waking Life) is directing the film adaptation.  Since he has yet to make a film that I don’t like, I felt that this book would be a good choice for me.  I am now very curious about how the film will turn out because while I did enjoy the book and found it to be funny and well-written, I also felt that it was a bit vapid, which is something that you can’t say about any of Richard Linklater’s films.

Where’d you go, Bernadette is a story about the disappearance of Bernadette Fox, a wealthy architect turned housewife whose husband works for Microsoft.  The manner in which the story is presented is very interesting.  Most of the story is told chronologically in documents, such as emails, letters, faxes, articles, and reports.  Some gaps are filled by Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, in first person perspective.  As an archivist, I heartily enjoyed this format and felt like Semple did a great job of presenting the voices of different characters.

Many of the book’s characters, unfortunately, are impossibly unrealistic.  Bee is probably the easiest to relate to and I can sympathize a bit with her being a normal-sized personality (while super charming and smart)  growing up with parents that are a little off kilter.  The other characters, however, are difficult to relate to.  The examination of Bernadette’s mental illness and depression is interesting, but it’s difficult  to empathize with her, because there are no real consequences to any of her issues or actions.  This book isn’t intended to make any grand political statements, but I am at a point in my life where I don’t have much interest in the fluffy plights of super glamorous people with loads of money and their problems that they could easily pay money to work through.

My Media Round-ups will be posted every Sunday!  Please look forward to them!