I Love My Beardhead

Here in Kansas (and really most of the United States), the winter doesn’t look to be leaving anytime soon.  For years, I’ve tried to combat what I consider the worst part of cold weather: the burning, searing chill it leaves on my face.  Finally, I have found a solution: Beardheads!  Designed to mimic the manliest of beards (i.e. full), a Beardhead is perfect for anyone out there like me who can’t stand regular ski masks.  The soft, partly wool fabric is extremely comfortable and warm, the faux-beard keeps the chin and neck toasty, and perhaps the greatest innovation of all, the interchangeable mustache does a fantastic job of keeping my lips from drying out.  You should also be prepared to receive complements on your Beardhead every time you wear it as its charming design can’t help but bring joy to everyone involved.

Beardheads come in a variety of colors for men and women.  Also available are some tasteful viking and spartan helmet options for the modern pillager in need of something a little insulating.  Unfortunately, we both know how totally inaccurate that viking helmet is.


Super Quick Game Impressions

I played quite a few games over winter break to catch up on all the ones I missed while in New York. I’ve decided to give some real quick one to two sentence impressions in bullet point format (that makes it Professional®).

  • Super Meat Boy – A distillation of everything good about 2D platformers: super precise, absurdly difficult at times, and incredibly addictive.
  • Fable 3 – This was fun, but overall a big step backwards after Fable 2.  And the ending is astonishingly anti-climactic.
  • Vanquish – A very fun, frenetic shooter with hilarious how-Japanese-writers-think-Americans-talk-but-really-only-know-how-Americans-talk-from-action-movies.  To wit:  ‘Maybe you’re just getting better at looking like an ass hole!’
  • Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood – I didn’t realize how much I wanted another Assassin’s Creed game until I played this phenomenal improvement on just about everything from AC2.  And I completely regret having rented it because I really want to play some more of the frenetic and extremely tense multiplayer.
  • Enslaved: Odessy to the West – Combine some of the best acting in terms of delivery/writing/facial expressions with pretty mediocre game play and gorgeous art design and the end result is… eh… above average.
  • H.A.W.X. 2 – I actually sort of liked the arcadey original (an air-combat game where you can drift? why not!), but this sequel was a soulless, hackneyed downgrade with an awful My First International Military Thriller type story.
  • The Polynomial – This one just gave me motion sickness.
  • Robot Unicorn Attack – Just writing out the game’s title made me laugh and want to play it again. ALWAYS.
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent – The scariest game product of any media I’ve ever consumed.  At one point it gave me a physical reaction enough to make me slam my hands down on the keyboard.
  • Pac Man Championship Edition DX – Eat ghost trains. ALWAYS.
  • Epic Dungeon – Bought this Indie Arcade game for 80 Microsoft space bucks (i.e. $1) and I’ve ended up playing it more than some XBLA games I paid $10 for.  Great to play while listening to a podcast or your own playlist.

Favorite Albums of 2010

I lack any real talent for right about music, so I’m just going to list these in order.  2010 was the first year I really started listening to new albums within a few weeks (or months) of their release, so I felt I could actually put a list together.  I also embeded a few of my favorite songs from these albums though because of copyrights you might have to go to youtube to see them.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – The Social Network Soundtrack

Yeasayer – Odd Blood

Janelle Monáe –  The Arch Android

Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here

Surfer Blood – Astro Coast


Some other albums I really liked (or at least want to listen to more).

Das Racist – Shut Up, Dude

Bibio – Ambivalence Avenue

The National – High Violet

Jamiroquai – Rock Dust Light Star

My Top Seven Movies Of 2010

I have only seven movies to list this year, which is both a reflection me not seeing as many movies this year and that 2009 had a better year in film (or at least films that I liked).  I have two movies I’d like to mention, How to Train Your Dragon and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World as movies I enjoyed, but which lacked substance.  I suppose right now they are number 8. and 9. respectively, but I’m certain at least 3 movies in the list of films I haven’t yet seen (listed at the bottom) will make my updated list sometime in the future.

7. Kick Ass

For me, this movie was saved by the Cage.  It really doesn’t get better than seeing him portray a cheesy, violent Batman like superhero while he raises a duel knife wielding Bad Ass daughter capable of dropping a room full of evil henchmen in a few seconds.

6. The Town

This was my surprise film of the year.  I did not expect to like a film starring and directed by Ben Afleck as much as I did, but I got to hand it to him; he made a very enjoyable heist movie.  It doesn’t hurt that Jeremy Renner’s amazing performance vastly overshadows Afleck’s mediocre one.  Also surprisingly funny at times.

5. Shutter Island

It was sort of an obvious twist, but that doesn’t mean its not an enjoyable film.  But what I really liked about Shutter Island were the beautiful little details that the masterful hand of Scorsese left on the film.

4. Toy Story 3

I honestly wasn’t looking forward to this.  I believe Pixar is so good at creating original worlds and characters that another Toy Story movie would be a wasted effort.  Turns out I was completely wrong.  It seems no one out there is as consistently good as Pixar, except perhaps…

3. True Grit

Another fantastic Coen Brothers movie.  Gorgeous cinematography, fantastically written dialogue, phenomenal performances by everyone (and I mean everyone, even those with only one line), especially 13-year-old at the time Hailee Steinfeld.

2. Inception

A year ago I thought this would be my favorite movie of the year.  Even a few months ago I did.  And that’s not to say it disappointed me in anyway.  In fact, its greatest achievement in my eyes was not just living up to the monumental expectations I had for the film, but far surpassing them.

1. The Social Network

A movie of our generation, a monumental achievement in film, blah, blah, blah.  The thing is, a year ago I laughed at the idea of a Facebook movie with Justin Timberlake.  Now it’s my favorite movie of the year.  The soundtrack is also one of my favorite albums of the year.

Movies I haven’t seen yet, but want to.

  • Black Swan
  • Waiting for Superman
  • Monsters
  • Four Lions
  • The American
  • Animal Kingdom
  • Exit Through the Gift Shop
  • Let Me In

My Top Games of 2010

When I wrote last year’s top ten list, I noted how great a year in gaming it had been.  I think 2010 proved to be just as good, but strangely, many of the best games were released before September.  Looking at last year’s list, I’ve decided to change a couple of things.  First I’ll have the top three 2009 games of 2010 or the best games from 2009 that I didn’t get a chance to play until 2010.  Then I’ll list my top ten games of 2010 and a few notables that didn’t quite make the cut.  And like last year, there are quite a few games I’ve only just started playing or haven’t gotten around to, (especially considering I was in New York for the fall) including Dead Rising 2, Civilization 5, Enslaved, Rock Band 3, DJ Hero 2, Super Meat Boy, and Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Top Three 2009 Games of 2010

Dragon Age: Origins

I heard so many great things about this game and love Bioware so much, that forcing myself to wait until I had built a PC was almost unbearable.   It was well worth wait, though the game had some problems with Windows 7 64-bit edition that almost prevented me from playing it at all.  Luckily, I made it to the end, and what an ending it was.

King’s Bounty: Armored Princess

King’s Bounty has fast become my favorite series that no one’s heard of.  Despite the 30 hours+ length of the campaign, I got through the game in only a few weeks.  Calling it addictive is an understatement.

Left 4 Dead 2

When L4D2 was released, I heard pretty bad things about the difficulty being either way too easy or fiendishly difficult.  Luckily, that was mostly a console problem.  After me and my friends all got the game on PC, it fast became the game we play online.  Also way better playing and looking than the first.

Top 10 Games of 2010

10. Metro 2033

After S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and King’s Bounty, I should have expected another charmingly well crafted game from the eastern bloc.  But I was still surprised by this game, which I didn’t even know about until only a few days before it released.  It’s one of those games where the love the games creators have for the source material, subject matter, and craft of games shines through over and over again.  It immerses you in the tunnels of the Moscow Metro with authentic characterizations and little details, like making your character actually pull out a map to figure out where you are.  When you put on a gas mask, your character sets the timer on his watch so both you and he know when the filter has run out.  That sort of stuff could have just been another menu or graphic on the HUD, but its these design choices that made Metro 2033 feel handcrafted for gamers willing to put themselves inside the game.  I’m not sure I can think of a game that does that better.

9. Pokemon: Soul Silver

I only brought two DS games to New York: Picross 3D and Pokemon: Soul Silver.  Once I put the Soul Silver cartridge in I didn’t take it out until I got back to Kansas.  Certainly a lot of this can be chalked up to nostalgia… well, actually pretty much all of it can.  Having not played a Pokemon game for at least seven years, it was comforting coming back to pretty much the exact same game.  Sure, it was prettier, had a ton of new attacks, and streamlined a few things, but for the most part I was just happy with a new Pokemon game.  And that Pokewalker pedometer included with the game was perfect for all the walking I did in the big city.

8. Deadly Premonition

This is my “Noby Noby Boy Memorial Pick” for game that people either loved or hated.  Despite the awful combat, clunky controls, and bad-PS2-game graphics, I still thoroughly enjoyed this game.  It’s bizarre story and characters (an unabashed rip off of Twin Peaks) and… peculiar gameplay choices (a massive but empty open world that requires stupid amounts of driving) created what could really be called a so-bad-its-good experience.  And don’t forget: FK in the Coffee!  It never fails!

7. Alan Wake

Two games inspired by Twin Peaks in one year?  While Alan Wake wasn’t as straight up bonkers as Deadly Premonition, it was certainly more fun to play and easier on the eyes.  In fact, the atmosphere the game creates by playing with shadows and light is one of gaming’s best.  The story also deserves to be lauded, not only for giving me one of the more satisfying endings this year, but for its innovative use of a television serial’s episodic structure.  By dividing the game into 1-2 hour chunks capped off with thrilling cliffhangers, it made every time I sat down with the game a satisfying experience.  And it definitely helped the the musical ‘credits’ for each episode were perfectly chosen.

6. Picross 3D

This was actually one of my most anticipated games this year and it didn’t disappoint.  While I don’t always know what 3 dimensional object I’m carving out of gray blocks, sometimes even after I’ve finished the puzzle, I always want to do another one.  And that’s all any good puzzle game needs to do

5. Limbo

Limbo toys with emotions few video games dare to: dread, regret, hope, and acceptance.  It does so with daring choices: a strictly black and white art style and almost no music throughout.  It could have taken the route of some arty games and forgotten about actually making the gameplay engaging, but it doesn’t forget that its still a game.  In fact, it uses the craft of games to make players feel the helplessness of limbo itself when it takes away some of our controls or forces us into danger.  Thats what really made me like Limbo: it was a game that expressed itself not only through incredible imagery, but through the power of its design.

4. MAG

I was skeptical of 256 player matches.  I was nervous that Sony would charge a subscription fee.  And the art style put me to sleep.  But MAG exceeded my expectations while taking the rightful place as the PS3’s answer to Halo as the consoles preeminent exclusive FPS.  That’s not to say it’s exactly like Halo, because it most certainly is not.  It grander, more like the PC versions of the Battlefield games.  But Battlefield 2 on the PC was still only built for 64 players while MAG drops 256 players into massive warzones.  And it handles this almost gracefully with a communication command structure that subtly guides the 128 player teams towards their goals.  I may not have always seen a hundred players on the screen, but I always felt like I was part of something bigger.

3. Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

When I heard of the ‘multiplayer Assassin’s Creed’, I wretched inside and hoped it wouldn’t mean I’d have to wait until 2012 for the next true sequel in the franchise.  Then, a week ago, I found myself not only playing a direct sequel to AC2 that was better in every way imaginable, but also playing a mutliplayer mode so genius in its execution that I was made to feel truly regretful.  Regretful that I had bought Assassin’s Creed 2 and beaten over a long Thanksgiving weekend, never to play it again, and made the idiotic mistake of only renting Brotherhood.  I’m not sure I’ve done it before, but I’m almost sure that I’ll be buying a game after renting it, even having beaten the single player, just for the multiplayer mode.  It’s just that good.

2. Starcraft II

I’d been wait for this for literally a decade and it obviously didn’t disappoint.  The campaign was polished with money into an interactive 3D movie. It’s 30 levels range from traditional one-man infiltrations and base building to train robberies and Night of the Living Zerg.  The story’s ending turns the games universe on its head and utilizes a litany of units not even available in the multiplayer.  Speaking of the multiplayer, I played enough to actually see insane minutae of the tactics possible in the game.  Like looking on the face of God, I was both awed and frightened. And I can’t wait to make these master tactics my own.

1. Mass Effect

First thing’s first: Bioware/EA had better fix the fact that you can only import your save file from the same console you played the previous game on or I’m going to have to find a way to put my Xbox 360 in cryo-stasis until the 3rd game comes out.  I actually played the game before I had the chance to play with my original character, but I still loved the game.  It’s not hyperbole to say that the game has some of the most interesting, fully developed, multi-dimensional characters in any video game.  The final boss looked a little silly, but the combat was fun, the conversations engrossing, and the finale more thrilling than the first games high-stakes conclusion.

Honorable Mentions

Deadly Warriors – Never had an interest in the show, but the game is a fantastic party game.  Matches go quick (sometimes with only one hit) and are ridiculously savage.

Dawn of War II: Chaos Rising – I probably played more of the first game this year, but I thought it was just too cool that I got to import my characters from the first games awesome RTS/RPG hybrid campaign.

Minecraft – I eventually had the epiphany that all my meticulous creations were utterly pointless, but for the brief time (20 hours+) I was dangerously addicted I wanted to do absolutely nothing else.

Just Cause 2 – My name is BOLO SANTOSI.

Darksiders – I haven’t the slightest bit of Zelda nostalgia, so this action adventure’s style and structure was completely new and fantastically engaging for me.

Favorite Movies Of 2009

Yeah, this is an extremely late post but I can explain.  I wrote up the list around Academy Awards season last year but realized I hadn’t seen The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, and a few other 2009 movies I really wanted to see.  I decided not to post it until I’d seen them, went to New York sort of out of the blue and didn’t blog at all for a few months.  I sit down to write my favorite movies of 2010 and find this unfinished list for 2009 and decide what better time to post it than the first day of 2011!
1. Inglourios Basterds

Really, that first 20 minute scene would be my favorite movie of 2009, but the rest of the movie is pretty good too.

2. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Pure, unadulterated Cage.

3. Black Dynamite

Funniest movie of 2009.  I honestly thought it would mostly be a spoof, but it’s really just generally hilarious.

4. A Serious Man

A movie with a phenomenal ending, fantastic cinematography, and that trademark Coen Bros. humor.

5. Up

The first 5 minutes might make you cry, but the rest of the movie is fun, funny, and beautiful.

6. Moon

Not what I expected, but Sam Rockwell is fantastic.

7. Fantastic Mr. Fox

Just a joyful movie.

8. Up in the Air

Truly a movie of our times.

9. The Hurt Locker

Waiting for the figurative and literal bombs to blow up in this movie were some of the tensest scenes I’d ever seen.

10. In the Loop

Hilarious though poignant comedy about how the war in Iraq started.

Honorable Mentions

The Cove

For various reasons, I hate dolphins, so this had to be a really great documentary to get me to care about them.  And it did.

World’s Greatest Dad

Robin Williams puts in a tremendous performance in this extremely dark comedy.

The Princess and the Frog

I was intrigued by John Goodman and Keith David’s presence in the cast, and the beautiful animation certainly didn’t disappoint.

Special Categories

Most Surprisingly Good: Zombieland

Jesse Eisenberg: like Michael Sera but capable of acting.

Most Surprisingly Not Too Bad: Watchmen

For the unfilmable graphic novel, I thought Snyder did a pretty good job.

Most Surprisingly Bad: The Men Who Stare at Goats

A really fantastic story and cast were wasted in this wretched film.

Try These: Miracle Berries Tablets

I found these on Think Geek looking for Christmas gifts last year and nearly bought a pack, but was unwilling to spend $15 just to try them out.  The other night, my friend brought a pack over with a whole bunch of lemons, limes, and blood oranges and gave them a test.  After the tablets dissolve on your mouth, sour food tastes sweet and I can attest to potency of that effect.  Lemons and limes have a tiny sour taste (which may just be your own mind anticipating sourness) but you quickly realize they taste like the best lemon and lime flavored candy you’ve ever tasted.  Effect seems to last 10 minutes at full strength and then starts to taper off.