Watered Down: A Music Review

The Bronx - The Bronx
(8.3 of 10)

The Bronx's debut album (also self-titled), back in 2003, blew my innards outwards and then back in with their raw, disorganized, hardcore music. Now back with their sophomore effort, their music seems to have matured, or should I say watered down.

It might come as a surprise to someone who's been listening to the band who gave us the song "Heart Attack American" and then deliver us the poppy sounds of "White Guilt" on their second album. Some other songs are more radio friendly as well but there's still enough rouch stuff in here that makes the album worth listening to. "Shitty Future" for example fits with my current dystopian mood and the plain rock n' roll sound of "Transexual Blackout".

A lot of former fans, the one who got used to their hardcore and disorderly music, will most likely hate this album. Nonetheless, it's still find this album entertaining enough and would suggest to those who are unfamiliar with The Bronx to get it.

Other Reviews

Head Automatica - Popaganda
(8.7 of 10)

Head Automatica's second effort is also a let down. But it's still good compared to what's out there right now. They've eschewed most of their dance/disco rock theme -though some of the tracks like "K Horse" and "Egyptian Musk" still retains the dance rock elements- in favor for a new powerpop sound of the late 70's and early 80's, as their album name suggests. Like their first album, Decadence, the sounds are really retro but with gritty lyrics and vocals.

A.F.I. - Decemberunderground
(8.5 of 10)

AFI's follow up to their exemplary work in 2003's Sing the Sorrow is also another let down. It's different and it's underwhelmed by Sing the Sorrow, but I like it better than their previous works. Most of the sounds in the album pays homage to new wave. Songs like "37mm" and "Love Like Winter" reminds me a lot of New Order and Depeche Mode.

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus - Don't You Fake It
(8.0 of 10)

The debut album from The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus is mediocre, nothing special or artsy soundscapes whatsoever. But sometimes, it's just the simplicity and the sincerity of the music that draws us in. TRJA is an upstart pop rock band that incorporate little elements from punk, alternative, emo, and metal. Most of the songs are catchy, espeically "False Pretense" and "Face Down", and would probably get much attention from teen hipsters out there.


Comics and Gonzo Journalism

I got the two first volumes of the graphic novel, Transmetropolitan. The graphic novel is cyberpunk themed set in a distant and -once again- dystopian future, filled with dark humor. The story is about the writings and adventures -or misadventures- of Spider Jerusalem, the most interesting character I've read in recent years.

Spider Jerusalem is a fearless gonzo journalist -armed with the truth, a typewriter, and a bowel disruptor- that scratches the society’s surface to expose all the crap hidden underneath it. Together with an odd company that he keeps around: a gecko-hunting, three-eyed, two-headed mutant cat that smokes unfiltered cigarettes, and an ex-stripper that acts as his bodyguard and student of journalism, they fight the corruption to make their city a better place.

The first volume, Back in the Streets, featured of how Spider, a mountain hermit at the start of the story, came back to the city to write a book and avoid the pending lawsuit that was thrown at him by his publisher. The second volume, Lust for Life, revolves around, the exaggerated truth and ridiculousness, of religion, television, and preservation (cultural and body). It was a bit dragging but it really paints the atmosphere of a dystopian society.

I believe that most things in the graphic novel, like in most dystopian fiction, could happen in a distant future. The world will, eventually, become smaller with faster travel and better communications. Thus, assimilating different cultures and creating new ones. New religious factions and sects will sprout everywhere. Some might be real, some are for power, and most for money. Ad-wares will not stop in our e-mails and phones but will finally haunt us even in our dreams.

Transmetropolitan was a fun read, and I definitely plan to complete all ten volumes. I laughed my guts out at Spider’s insane rhetoric and eccentric personality. Yet, it also made me realize that if we don’t do something now, our future would be grimmer and more fucked up than the present, very much like in Transmetropolitan.


Farenheit 451

I'm currently reading a book called Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. It is a dystopian fiction about censorship and a conformist society where intellectuals are shunned. It was written around the 1950's and the setting closely resembles this time, the information age.

Books are entirely illegal, and are confiscated and burned, in this story. It is considered as a dangerous weapon for the reason that they can cause discord. A well-read man can belittle another man who hasn't read anything. Two men can write a book on the same topic, but with varying opinions, can create confusion and split the society. Instead of learning from books, every people are equally feed with "facts" through their "walls" and "seashells" so each one knows no better than the other. Critical thinking and reasoning has also been removed from the individuals. The people are just taught "how to do it" but not "why they do it", and those who question "why" instead of "how" are being treated as odd, an outcast, and anti-social. The same treatment goes for the people who don't do what the norm does, like driving fast for example.

In a way, I guess our society now is similar, though not entirely. While books are still being read by a lot of people, some do prefer watching Lord of the Rings in the "walls" (movies), because of the blond elf, rather than reading the book and digging its meaning. Some stare countless hours at their "walls" (flat-screen TV) watching silly shows without texture. Some listens to their "seashells" (iPod, portable radio) because most people does, but are oblivious to their context and meaning.

That said, this book is a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I'm still amazed of how Bradbury had predicted the flat screen TVs on the walls or the portable radios. Though I'm glad that he's wrong on his "book-banning future" aspect. Or is it that his book created a lot of Guy Montag, the protagonist in the story, in the last 50 years to prevent the "book-banning future" from happening?


Non-RPG RPGs. What the hail?

Someone decided to become the god of role-playing and wrote an article about non role-playing games, that are role-playing games. While I haven't played some of the games listed in the article, I still consider it bullcrap based on the ones I played.

Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

"Yet Blizzard managed it by the introduction of Hero Classes - powerful, unique units that could keep inventories, learn new abilities, and level up as you progress through a campaign with numerous side-quests available." -- eToychest

What a moron. First it was Warlords: Battlecry that introduced the hero system to the real-time strategy game. I've told and explained it to a thousand of peoples about a thousand times by now. While inventories, abilities, and leveling up is a trademark of role-playing games, it's not the essential element of role-playing.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

"The Grand Theft Auto games have always been fairly open, but it is in the state of San Andreas that you could really play a role." -- eToychest

There's a fine line between playing a role and role-playing. Playing A role is somewhat pre-determined and written, like an actor reading a script. Role-playing is much more open for improvisation.

Deus Ex

"...the world of Deus Ex is as robust and varied as the best RPGs in the market, rife with character interactions, as well as actual conversations that can influence your progression through the game and net you helpful items. Couple that with [...] a skill system that allows you to customize your abilities, and you're about as far from the standard run-and-gun FPS." -- eToychest

You know why? Because Deus Ex is a role-playing game. Not a non-RPG role-playing game but a role-playing game. Speaking of which, I've installed this game just last Sunday and having a blast.

So, non-RPG RPGs does not exist, and the statement is a paradox. There's only role-playing, none other. Once again, this article is bullcrap. Printing and wiping my ass with this article is not even worth.


New Life on the Penthouse

Every 12 year old male always seeks out adventure in their own backyard. Mostly raiding their dad's drawers and cabinets -while wearing nothing- when they are home alone. That was my case at least. I've been raiding my dad's magazine collection since I was 12 and looking at the pages of naked women, disregarding the articles. Naked women, that's the only thing I cared about in men's magazine. I didn't care if they were ugly or posing in sluty way as long as they have no clothes on.

As I got older though, I started to prefer Playboy more than any other magazine because the women are more classier, prettier, sexier, and they pose in an artsy way. Magazines like Penthouse and Hustler are more trashy -I still look at it, I just prefer Playboy. I also started buying Playboy when I paid attention to its good articles. The other two, mentioned earlier, only compensates with more sleazy pictorials. Lately, however, I realized that the pages of Playboy have been invaded by a lot of silicone augmented college girls. The pictures are still classy and the women are still pretty but they lack certain flavor.

So today, I tried a Penthouse Magazine and I was truly surprised of how they've changed. The girls are much prettier, sexier, and natural than most of the girls in Playboy. Their pictorials, they still show a little bit more than Playboy but in a not-so-sleazy way than they used to be. The articles are much more unbiased and real. I especially love the review section which covers mainstream and underground music; books, comics, and graphic novels; and gaming. They also have great interviews from metal bands like Avenged Sevenfold -which you won't find anywhere in Playboy.

So now I decided to switch to Penthouse. The music and gaming reviews alone are worth...nah, it's the pretty and natural naked women that greatly affected my decision to switch.


Cheap Chicago

I found a nice record store in downtown Chicago called Rock Records. They have the best music bargain bins with CD's as low as $6. They also have a lot of console games and PC games for as low as $3. I only had $15 in my person but I didn't realize that it would go far.

Two CDs : $12

I got the first debut of Down and Faith No More's The Real Thing. They might be old but they're great albums that defined the 90's for me. Sure, I could've just downloaded an mp3 if I felt nostalgic but that's just impersonal. Besides the CD's cost $6 each.

A PC Game: $3

Rock Records probably has the cheapest unused games. Albeit they have a worst selection of cheap games. Tribes: Venegeance, however, is by no means bad. It's probably one of the best first-person shooter I've played up to date.


D20 Apocalypse: Children of the A.R.K.

I've finally started my first campaign as a Game Master at role-play.net. The campaign is entitled D20 Apocalypse: Children of the A.R.K. and it's using a nuclear post-apocalytic setting. I'm using a couple of D20 Modern supplement books: D20 Apocalypse, D20 Ultramodern Firearms, and D20 Future for the setting, feats, mutations, and equipment.

I posted the campaign early in the forum, with only the game information and setting, because I thought getting players were slow but I was wrong. All three character slots for the campaign where filled within 8 hours, and I didn't write anything, not even the first chapter, to start with. So I just started with a prologue but it's really going well. My players are good at role-playing and they constantly post. Now, I'm starting to think that maybe I'll add two more players for this game.


Role-Play Online. net

Last time, I wrote that I got a couple of D20 Modern RPG Books and how I planned to get a group going. Well, I still haven't found people to play some good old table-top role-playing with me. However, I found a great forum called Role-Play Online that let's you run your campaigns and provide you with dice rollers and character sheets.

I'm still new to these Role-Play Online forum, and not to mention I'm new to forum based RPG'ing. So right now I just joined a couple of games, hanging out and observing how things work in the forum. Maybe sooner or later, I'll start my own campaign.

Anyways, if you're interested, here's the two D20 Modern games that I'm playing right now: A Bad Feeling and Justic INC, both are under the contemporary category. You can join in if you want and maybe we'll see each other there.


Game Review: SpellForce 2

SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars
(8.5 of 10)
Platform: Windows (PC)
Publisher: Aspyr Entertainment
Developer: Phenomic


As far as I can remember, Warlords Battlecry was the first to incorporate the hero system with role-playing elements in a real-time strategy game. Since then, real-time strategy game developers started following that trend. Phenomic, however, took a bold step with their 2004 game, SpellForce: The Order of Dawn, by adding more role-playing elements –other than a hero with skills and attributes- in a real-time strategy game, creating a seamless blend between the RTS and RPG genre. Now, the series returns with SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars, which is a much more polished game that casts a brighter glow than its predecessor.


Sorvina, leader of The Pact

The Pact, an alliance of Dark Elves and Shadows, looms over the world of Eo, and its armies are moving to invade the lands of the Light Worshippers. The Iron Fields, the border between the lands of the Dark and Light Races, homeland of the Shaikan, the godless people who worships neither Light nor Dark, is besieged by the army of The Pact. Your avatar, a Shaikan, hoping to save his people, set out on a trek to reunite The Realm, the alliance of Human, Elves, and Dwarves, in order to nullify the advances of the Pact.

The core features that made SpellForce: The Order of Dawn unique are still present in the sequel. Although others have been simplified and improved for ease of use.

Orc: "It's cold. Let's use that building for bonfire"

NPC interaction, probably the game’s feature that puts a margin between SpellForce and other RTS with RPG elements, is as lively as the first game. While the interactions are not quite deep enough to shape the personality of your character, the options presented will still allow you to choose sides. For example, the town militia gave me a quest to go undercover, penetrate a thieves’ ring, and gather enough evidence to incarcerate them. Rather than giving the evidence to the militia, I told the leader of the thieves about the militia’s plans, and as a result I gained a different reward. Helping the enemies of the Militia once won’t affect your standing with them, but if you continue to do this they will refuse to aid you if you ask them. NPC interactions also present you with the option to receive/refuse a quest, and acquire information of a certain individual or learn the history of certain a place.

The avatar in The Order of Dawn, The Rune Warriors, has been replaced by the Shaikan, a powerful and nearly immortal dragonblooded race. Other Shaikans will accompany you throughout your quest as well, replacing the boring Rune Gem Heroes. Unlike the Rune Heroes, your Shaikan companions gain levels, although not as much as your avatar do. The Shaikan also has the power to perform The Blood Ritual, an innate ability to resurrect a fellow dragonblood. With the concept of the Shaikan’s power, the hero revival system is much more convenient now compared to the first game. Since your companions are all dragonblooded, you can be easily raised by one of them on the spot when you’re killed, and you can do the same for them as well. No more arduous task of searching for and running to the nearest hero monuments to raise a companion.

The Skill System

Like all, if not most, RPGs, your character and party members will earn experience and gain levels. SpellForce 2 is no different. However, character development has been simplified and, therefore, lacks depth. There are no attributes to develop, and the characters just gains an amount of mana and hit points each level up. The skill system is shallow as well. There are only two skill trees in the game, Combat and Magic, and each tree branches out deeper into a more powerful skill. Putting points into a skill won’t intensify its effects. Instead, you will be able to use a specific item and unlock certain spells and/or abilities. Each skill can be also maxed out with only three points, leaving you with more skill points to distribute in other skills and making your character a jack of all trades instead of an uber-powerful specialized hero.

The RTS aspect in SpellForce 2, like the role-playing, has also been simplified. The races have been compounded into factions. Instead of separately controlling Humans, Elves, and Dwarves, you’ll be playing them together as The Realm. This also applies for The Clans (Trolls, Barbarians, and Orcs) and The Pact (Dark Elves, Gargoyle, and Shadows). There are also fewer resources to gather this time, eliminating food, wood, and aria from the list. The units are also less complex and usually have one attack type and/or a passive ability. Rune Workers, like the Rune Warriors and Heroes, have also been removed from the game. Instead, NPCs will provide you with workers so you could start gathering resources and building camps. Building plans and unit plans are also no longer available in the game, so players won’t have any trouble looking out for this stuff throughout the game.
Orc Bowyers, letting their arrows loose.

One might think that SpellForce 2, with its shallow game elements from both genres, is an abysmal game. However, less is more and in SpellForce 2 it’s less micromanagement and more fun. Keep in mind that you’re playing two different game styles simultaneously. So while you’re raising an army and gathering resources, you’ll also be running around the map doing some quest, managing your large inventory, or distributing skill points. In combat, your simplified units don’t need a lot of micromanaging since they’ll only do one specific thing, and they will do so automatically. This leaves you with a lot of room to focus on your hero and party, which are the real punch-packers in combat.

Game Modes
The campaign is epic enough and it took me two weeks to finish it. If you can’t get enough of SpellForce 2, however, there are two other single-player modes: the Freeplay and Skirmish. In Freeplay Mode, you’ll start out in Westguard, a small duchy or county that your avatar established in the campaign. From there, you’ll be able to see all of Eo and receive some random quests. In short, Freeplay Mode is an open-ended RPG and the Skirmish Mode, is a real-time strategy game. Both Freeplay and Skirmish Modes are also available in online multiplayer. However, there are only a few people to be found playing online. So you might have a hard time finding a worthy opponent for a skirmish battle or a good partner for a co-op play.

Graphics & Sounds

Is that water or mercury?

The graphics of SpellForce 2 is no Oblivion, or even next-generation worthy. It’s decent enough, however, and it’s a great improvement compared to its predecessor. There is more amount of detail in the textures this time. The glow and lighting effects are really scintillating -especially if the light of day hits the adamantium plate you’re wearing. There are also a variety of good armor, shield, and weapon designs. Sometimes, you’ll even find it hard to change a weapon or armor because it just looks too cool to be discarded even though its modifiers are useless. The shadow, unfortunately, are blocky and too jagged at some areas. Even setting it to high and cranking the anti-aliasing to 6 won’t change it.

Besides the passably decent voice acting, the audio in SpellForce 2 is really unremarkable. The effects are too generic and the music fails to compliment the atmosphere or pump any adrenaline when in combat.

If you individually look at the role-playing or the strategy elements in SpellForce 2, you’ll see a poor game that lacks depth. Fortunately, you’ll get both games that are seamlessly blended to bring out a new type of game experience. One minute you’re solving a mysterious quest and with a blink of an eye you’ll notice that you’re amassing an army to assault an impregnable fortress. If you liked the first game, or you’re looking for something new, I’m certain you’ll love SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars. Unfortunately, to those who are looking for good RPG or a good RTS experience, SpellForce 2: Shadow Wars might be a let down.