Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

Beacons of Post-Rock: Tortoise

NotesThis piece was first published on Independent Clauses. Too read my original article, click here.

I’m writing this review from Xishuangbanna, a region in southwestern China. It sits along the Mekong river, not very far from the borders of Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar. It’s hot, humid, and currently raining almost every day – monsoon season and all. You know how it goes. Anyway, the general attitude is very laid-back, not so much lazy as unwilling to move fast in the heat. I like it here. I like sitting here and drinking chilled mango juice, and I like listening to Tortoise’s new album while I’m doing it.

Beacons of Ancestorship is the name. It’s out June 23rd, fully five years after their last release. This thing has been a long time coming for fans of the band, and trust me, there are lots of them. Quick history lesson: Tortoise is a hugely important band. They’ve been around a while. Back in the early 1990s, they helped to create what is now known as post-rock. If you’re not familiar with the genre, it boils down to music that isn’t rock, but is played on rock instruments. It’s primarily instrumental, and almost always experimental. I like to think that post-rock bands don’t create songs, so much as things that grow and develop as the music continues. If that sounds silly, go listen to some music from the likes of Explosions In The Sky or Slint. You’ll know what I’m talking about.

That being said, Tortoise is a little different. Continue reading

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June 17, 2009 Posted by | Music, review | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mobile Gaming: DoodleJump

There is a single game that has effectively captured my attention for the last two or three weeks, and its name is DoodleJump. That’s right, DoodleJump. I didn’t mistype that. There’s doodling, and then there’s jumping. Somewhere in the sweet, sweet middle is DoodleJump.

The art direction isn’t mind-blowing, but it doesn’t hurt, either. Everything looks like it was sketched (or doodled, if you like) on a sheet of graph paper. It’s simple, likable, and visually interesting. That’s a good combo if you ask me.

This is a deceptively simple game, and that’s how it gets you (and I really did mean you just then, cuz it never gets me). Here’s how it works: you play a little guy that looks nothing so much like a cross between an elephant and a lightbulb. And you jump, and jump and jump and jump. Jump until it seems second-nature. Jump until you’re the undisputed king (or queen, for you gamer chicks out there) of jumping. Jump until your real legs actually start to ache in some kind of crazy psychosomatic trauma. For the love of all that’s good in this world, jump! Continue reading

June 9, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, review | , , , , | 2 Comments

Mobile Gaming: Siberian Strike

Remember playing arcade games like Xevious and 1942 in the arcade as a child? You’d take out wave after wave of enemy fighters, ground emplacements, and just about any other obstacle that you care to think of. There were all kinds of crazy upgrades you could earn – typically over-the-top weapons that would destroy just about anything in your path. Those were good times, right? Except for all the quarters you’d have to pour into the arcade machine to keep playing after you’d inevitably make a mistake and die. That wasn’t so awesome.

Now you can relive the experience in all its nostalgic glory, minus all those quarters. Siberian Strike is a Gameloft title for iPhone/iPod Touch that recreates that experience, with a few tweaks to freshen the traditional “vertical scrolling shooter” gameplay a bit.

You can choose one of three fighters – one with great speed but weak firepower, another that has beastly weapons but little speed, and a third that is evenly balanced between the two. The main method of gameplay is Story Mode, in which you’ll embark in a series of missions against the Russian military, moving across the plains of Siberia from one installation to the next, appropriately annihilating everything in your path. As should be expected in games of this nature, there are larger, more powerful “boss” battles to supplement the regular gameplay.

In addition, there are some specialty missions, involving precision flying through a field of icebergs. While not too challenging, these provide a nice change of pace and variety to the experience.

Unfortunately, other modes of gameplay beyond Story Mode are a bit limited. There’s Free Play, which is merely the chance to replay levels out of order, should you feel the urge to do so. You’ve also got Multiplayer, though I’ve got to mention that there wasn’t anyone else online attempting to use this mode when I tried to use it. From what I can tell, it’s just a cooperative mode on the exact same levels that you play in all other modes.

Graphically, the game has cool semi-retro visuals and a cartoonty style that emphasizes the humorous, vaguely-excessive style typified in these games. Battery life is average while playing. I would’ve preferred to see more creativity in terms of gameplay – perhaps an Unlimited/Endless mode, or other forms of multiplayer.

Overall, it’s a solid game, and the $2.99 price is appropriate for the content it delivers. I would prefer to see one of two updates with additional content. Regardless, if you’re into these types of games, Siberian Strike is a good choice.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Gaming, iPhone/iPod Touch, review | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To Boldly Go (Where A 1960s TV Show Has Gone Before)

Star Trek, J.J. Abrams style.

Star Trek, J.J. Abrams style.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Wait, wrong franchise. Ahem.

Space – the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…

Much better. Anyway, like half the geeks in the world, I recently watched the new Star Trek movie, and I felt like reviewing it. But first, an anecdote!

I went to one of the many, many stores in Kunming that sell DVDs of questionable origin with one goal in mind- getting the new Star Trek movie. When I got there, I found not one, but TWO versions of the movie. Perplexed, I asked the clerk if they were the same, just in case. He said that they weren’t the same, so I asked what the difference was. His reply? One was five yuan, the other was ten. *Fail*

I’m not going to ruin the movie for you unwashed masses that haven’t seen it yet by discussing any of the plot points, so this will be a fairly short review. Instead, I’d just like to point out what was so awesome about this movie:

1. Hot Fuzz… In Space

I don’t care who your favorite character was from the original series, Simon Pegg stole the show this time around. He didn’t have a ton of screen time, but this performance was one of the best I’ve seen out of him, and he managed to do so while getting Scottie’s character right. Continue reading

May 23, 2009 Posted by | Movie Review, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment