Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Agents of SHIELD Season 1 Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/agents-of-shield-season-1-review-128d51a62a58#.iqgug34b3

There are a couple of reasons that I was really excited to watch Marvel's Agents of SHIELD when it was first announced: I had recently decided to embark on a quest to watch everything that Joss Whedon had laid his hands on, and because of The Avengers the Marvel Cinematic Universe had become my biggest ongoing fandom. I also tend to really like characters who have no special powers, but who can hold their own anyway; SHIELD was going to be all about those characters. I know a lot of other people were thinking similarly, because it was widely regarded as the show to watch last fall.

Unfortunately for the undedicated, the show had a pretty slow start. A lot of people stopped watching early in the series, but it started to pick up around the fifth or sixth episode. One of the biggest weaknesses the show had early on was how its characters were portrayed; many of them seemed pretty one-dimensional, and a couple of them I straight up didn't like. Over the course of the season all of them got a chance to come into their own, but it took a while.

One of the big appeals of watching Agents of SHIELD was the fact that it would tie into the other Marvel movies as they happened. The first time this happened was Thor: The Dark World, but the tie-in had to do with Asgardian technology that wasn't even in the movie. A more significant tie-in was when Lady Sif appeared on the show, but that was months away from the movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier had a much more profound effect on SHIELD, as any of you who watched the movie will know. If you can help it, make the effort to watch the movies and the episodes of the show in the order that they were released; it's worth it.

The end of the season is where the show really shined, and they actually took it in a direction that I was not expecting. I was thrilled when I heard they were getting a second season, and a new show about Agent Carter is in the works as well. My advice is catch up on the first season over the summer (and make sure you watch the movies), and then keep up with the show as it moves forward next season. It is worth it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Godzilla Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/godzilla-review-fd02a44cee48#.y1captj3x

Given Legendary's awesome history and the fact that they were clearly drawing more from the old Japanese movies than the 1998 Godzilla, I had high hopes for this movie. Unfortunately it didn't really live up to my expectations.

My main complaint is how bad the science was. The premise of where these monsters get their energy from is of course "radioactive stuff" which seems reasonable at first. Detonating an atomic bomb to lure them to a particular area also seems pretty reasonable. It's when the monsters start eating undetonated bombs that I start thinking "wait a minute, those don't give off radiation until they go off." One of the monsters has the ability to give off an EMP, which poses several problems in my mind. Why would it develop that ability in the first place? It doesn't seem to affect any of the monsters it evolved to fight. What are the actual effects of an EMP? The movie states that it knocks out stuff that runs on electricity, but then we see gas-powered car and boat motors stopping as well, and jet planes come spiraling out of the sky even though I'm sure they have some ability to glide.

The story was also really slow. It took about half of the movie for the monsters to finally show up, and they only really fought in the last 15 minutes. I didn't feel very attached to any of the human characters, so most of the scenes involving long drawn-out conversations were pretty boring. I came for a Godzilla movie, I want more Godzilla! Come to think of it, let's do a movie that is mostly from Godzilla's perspective. Individual humans wouldn't even be distinguishable, we'd just get a nice big view of how many lives are being ruined.

The thing that I really liked about this movie was how well they gave us a sense of scale. The first few times Godzilla showed up, they had some brilliant shots of a skyscraper next to Godzilla's leg, and it was huge. Eventually of course we got to see its whole body, and at that point it didn't seem nearly so huge.

I can't really think of a reason to go to this movie. Fans of the old Japanese films won't get much out of it, as there wasn't much in the way of monster battles, and the rest of us just get a slow movie that ignores science.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Walking Dead 2 Episode 3 Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/the-walking-dead-2-episode-3-review-ebf6c28ec1c#.l5gn96qug

This episode was structured very differently from the other episodes we've seen so far from The Walking Dead. It almost felt like the story it told could stand on its own, with some fleshing out of course. In particular the ending had so much closure I'm not sure where they are going to take the series next, other than the obvious problem of continuing to survive in a zombie apocalypse.

My favorite thing about this episode was how Clementine really came into her own. In previous episodes the writers came up with ways for her to influence events without being the main actor. Here she does almost everything that is needed for the group's plans to work. Of course one of the characters brings up how crazy this is, so the writers were not unaware of the stretch they were taking here. I hope this opens up the door for Clementine to do even more cool stuff.
I believe that I have now seen all of the characters from the 400 Days DLC, though most of them showed up briefly and had very few lines. I am looking forward to seeing them more in future episodes. If Telltale doesn't use them more I am going to be pretty disappointed.
This episode didn't let up on The Walking Dead's tendency to be emotionally taxing. I kept alternating between cheering characters on and cursing at the screen when things went wrong. And that's just the way I like it.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Avatar: The Last Airbender Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/avatar-the-last-airbender-review-16b4676a9767#.dewlmoqya

I missed a lot of television shows as a kid that people swear are the best things in the world. I always take that with a grain of salt, because let's face it: we liked anything that was placed in front of us, and nostalgia is a rose-tinted lense.

Luckily Avatar: The Last Airbender holds up pretty well for a sophisticated young adult like me. The character developments and motivations are believable and well-written, most of the jokes are funny (but man, some of them are so dumb), and the world they created for the show is really cool.

A cast of strong characters is the single most important thing that will determine if I get invested in a show or not. Avatar has a great cast, both among the main characters, supporting characters, and one-off characters. The best indication of strong character development to me is when a character that I initially dislike slowly turns around until I find myself smiling whenever they come on screen. The two examples of this in Avatar for me were Toph and Zuko. To go more into detail would spoil things, so I won't.

The show's sense of humor was another thing that grew on me over time. Obviously this is a children's show, so it features its fair share of slapstick comedy and nonsensical jokes. As the show progressed they seemed to improve over time, though I might have just been more sleep-deprived later in the series. The humor definitely evolved to include clever references to past events and jokes that only work once the audience is familiar with the world though.

Speaking of the world, this is one of the most interesting I have seen in a kid's show. There are a lot of hidden details that one could miss on their first pass. For example, each of the element bending techniques were based on a different real-world martial art that relates to the ideals of that element. One of the details that struck me as silly was the way that almost every animal they came across was a combination of two real-world animals: wolf-bats, badger-moles, etc. Even if these animals are combinations of real-world animals, it only makes sense for the people in the show to call them by the hyphenated name if they have both of those base animals in their world, which never seems to be the case. In any case, it is a minor complaint.

As a show with three seasons of 20 25-minute episodes, it is pretty easy to get through in a timely manner without killing yourself. I definitely recommend it for both kids and adults. I think I'll watch it with my little sisters soon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Kentucky Route Zero Act III Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/kentucky-route-zero-act-iii-review-2c8261d898b8#.ghdedjieq

You should probably go read my thoughts on the first two acts of Kentucky Route Zero, because here I am just going to talk about the new things that Act III brings us.

It's been almost a year since Act II came out, with an interlude released in between. Normally I would be pretty miffed, but in this case I don't mind so much. The game is so strange, the waiting almost feels like a part of the experience. Speaking of the interludes, Act III is the first time that these have been clearly pulled into the main game. The Entertainment was originally built as an Oculus Rift experiment where the player was a part of a theater performance; in Act III you visit the bar where this play was set and find a pair of expensive-looking goggles. Limits and Demonstrations featured an interactive art installation; in Act III you meet a couple of people whose story was told in that art installation.

My favorite moment in Act III is pictured above, where you get to choose which lyrics are sung in a heart wrenching song.

A lot of old technology has been featured in Kentucky Route Zero, usually tube televisions or transistor radios. Act III takes it in a computer science direction: a computer simulation called Xanadu has a large role; I am fairly confident that it is a reference to the vaporware Project Xanadu.
Act III also hints at what may be in store for Conway after he completes this delivery run, and it isn't good. It isn't necessarily bad, it just has a vague sense of foreboding, which is a pretty good summary of the series as a whole.

Act III certainly does not disappoint, so I definitely recommend that you go pick this game up.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/the-amazing-spider-man-2-review-6b68fcb681bc#.49wweyh5r

I am really glad with how The Amazing Spider-Man movies have turned out. They have been much better than the Spider-Man trilogy from ten years ago. Part of the appeal for me has been Peter Parker's relatability. He's always struggling to make those he loves happy, but he often fails horribly. Granted, that's usually because he is living a secret life, but if he were perfectly relatable it wouldn't be an interesting movie.

The thing that stood out to me about The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was how much the movie focused on the relationship between Peter and Gwen Stacy. Most superhero movies place much more emphasis on the villains the hero must face, with the love interest seeming more like a distraction from the real action. They did a very good job getting me invested in their relationship. It wasn't until after I watched the movie that I found out that Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield are a couple in real life, which explains why their performances together felt so real. Honestly, I would have enjoyed the movie even if it didn't have any big villains in it.

Let's talk about those villains then. I was totally expecting the Green Goblin to be the main antagonist, especially when Harry Osborn was introduced towards the beginning of the movie. However, I was much more interested in Electro (or as I like to call him, "Dubstep Man"). I was really digging his powers, and the way that they made one of his fight sequences look like an equalizer for the music that was playing was really cool. I wasn't really sold on the character's motivation though. He seemed pretty two-dimensional, focusing too much on the one phrase about being invisible. I suppose you can make an excuse about his transformation making him unstable, but that seems to be the cause behind a lot of Spider-Man's villains.

The best indicator for how much you will like this movie is how much you liked its predecessor. I enjoyed this one more, and I recommend it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Borderlands 2 Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/borderlands-2-review-7fbfdade59c8#.u9ooghh6p

Borderlands 2 was one of the games that I was looking forward to the most in 2012. I was determined not to play though it solo the way I did in the original, so three friends and I pre-ordered the four pack and vowed to play through it together. Unfortunately it's really hard to coordinate schedules with four people in four different cities. +Ian Decker and I have been slowly plodding along, but in the last two weeks we have really picked it up and have now finished with the main story.

Let's get right down to it: Borderlands 2 is one of the best games I have played, especially in recent history. There is very little to dislike about it: it has a great soundtrack, the cel shading art style is still gorgeous, it has the best sense of humor of any game (besides The Stanley Parable), the balance is really tight, a variety of playable characters to match any playstyle. and all of the loot and skill trees an RPG fan will love. Throw in co-op with friends, and I can't think of a better recipe for a good time. It's really a modern take on the Diablo series.
Not a sophisticated sense of humor, but still hilarious!
One of the biggest complaints people had about the original Borderlands was that the story was nothing to write home about, and the end was a big disappointment. Gearbox very clearly went to great lengths to rectify this in Borderlands 2; they had a clear antagonist right from the beginning, and they did everything they could to make us hate his guts. I think they may have focused a little too much on this however, because there wasn't a whole lot else going on. The end boss was also really easy; it had a lot of health, but it dealt so little damage, I don't think my shields ever got depleted.
Thankfully those are really the only complaints that I have about the game. Everything else was a big improvement over the original: more enemy variety, more interesting characters (the characters you played as in the original take center stage and get a lot more development than I was expecting). Even if I hadn't had my best friend to play with, I would have had a great time with Borderlands 2. I'd say that a reasonable price to pay is $40, but it's been around for so long you will most certainly pay less than that. We will soon be diving into the DLCs, so you'll be hearing about those soon enough.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

100th Blog Post!

I've hit a pretty exciting milestone here! And as is tradition on milestones, we must take a look back at where we have been and where we are headed in the future.

started this blog 610 days (or 1 year, 8 months, 2 days) ago. That means that I have posted an average of one post every 6.1 days. I think that's a pretty good pace; it's enough to say that I'm pretty active, but it hasn't burned me out, and people haven't gotten fed up with me yet. At the time I thought I would be using it to talk about "any projects that I get myself into, reviews for games that I play, and anything else that I can think of." Let's see how true that ended up being.

47 posts have been video game reviews. I'm kind of surprised that this isn't higher, since it sometimes feels like that is all I do. Part of the reason I started this blog was because I realized that it would help to have my reviews written down before the podcast I review them on
16 posts have been about dreams I have had, which was something that I was not anticipating at all. So far all of my dream posts have been about current dreams. I'm planning on reaching back into some of the dreams that I had as a kid, because those are pretty great.
7 posts have been movie reviews. I don't watch many movies during their theater run, but that is changing since I have more disposable income now. You can bet that a lot of them will be Marvel movies, since I'm pretty heavily invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
4 posts have been television reviews. There are a lot of classic shows that I need to watch, as well as one or two that I am keeping up with, so I expect to write about those.
Some miscellaneous posts have included building my desktopmy experiment with a biphasic sleep cycle, and some nostalgia trips.

Now some viewage statistics:
Fly, Catbug, Fly! First Impressions has 652 views; this is probably because Catbug is very popular with Bravest Warriors fans, but the game is not big enough to have reviews on large game journalism sites.
The Wolf Among Us Episode 1 Review has 436 views. Not sure why, there are lots of other places that have reviewed the game.
Yellowstone has 361 views, hopefully mostly from people who know me who wanted to see pictures from my vacation. It had the most views until the last couple of months, when the above two posts apparently got a bunch more views.
Dishonored Review has 298 views. I was really disheartened to find out that part of the reason this has gotten so many hits is because it shows up when you search for "dishonored porn." Good going, internet.
Starpocalypse Review has 291 views. SMBC is once again something with a lot of fans, but isn't big enough to get reviewed on most entertainment sites.

In all the blog has gotten 22,888 views, which averages out to 37.5 views per day. I'm pretty happy with that, but of course I want to improve on it. Since viewage naturally spikes whenever I write a post, the easiest way to do that would be to post more often. I thought about monetizing my blog at one point (I put a lot of time and effort into it) but apparently I need to prove my identification to Google with like five different forms.
Countries: United States of course leads by far (17828), then Canada (529), UK (485), Russia (472), Germany (434), and Latvia (391). Wait, Latvia??
Browser/OS: Most of my viewers use Chrome (64%) or Firefox (18%), which makes me really happy. Windows only accounts for 54% of my views, which is surprisingly lower than their ~90% market share. Linux is really high at 30%, which to me means that I have a pretty tech-savvy audience.

Looking to the future, I anticipate continuing the dream journals and game reviews, probably with more movie and television reviews as well. Next fall I will be studying abroad in Sweden, so I might have a mini series about overseas shenanigans. In any case, you can be sure that I'll continue blogging for the foreseeable future, unlike some people I know.