Mar 17 2015

Top 5 Songs from Sakanaction’s Kikuuiki

As always, these lists can be difficult to create because it means that songs that I love would not make the final list. I also then have to rank these songs, and declare a winner.

-21.1

Sakanaction continues to make better and better non-lyrical songs, and this one is one of their best. Due to other songs being better, this song doesn’t quite make the list. But this track is always a joy to listen to.

-Ushio

This song doesn’t quite edge out the 5 that made this list, but it’s got a very strong feel to it. The pace is a little bit slow and the ending and bridge might be strange to some ears, but it’s still a great song.

5. Ashita Kara

This song has a somewhat explosive beginning, despite that the music is very simplistic for the first half of the first verse. The explosiveness is delivered almost solely through Ichiro’s voice. Then the music picks up, and it’s quite a mix of instruments that appear. The song almost gets a bit too explosive towards the end as the bridge appears. Sakanaction seems to be good at making decent bridges. This one borderlines on a bit too noisy, but returns to the chorus before it becomes too overwhelming. The fast pace also helps to make it a solid song.

4. Under

The opening to this song alone makes the entire song amazing. This song just feels very Japanese, in almost every way one might think of. As I hear the opening, I feel as if somebody is pressing down very hard on a synthesizer. The way that these notes feel deep (in a bass sense) really sets the tone for the song. Under is also very close to getting annoying towards the end of the bridge where the volume of the music gets a little too loud. Like “Ashita Kara”, it finds itself again by the end.

3. Klee

Here is a song that surprisingly never gets old. It has an extremely unique feel and progression. It is one of the fastest-paced and heaviest of rock songs that Sakanaction has produced. The difference between the loud guitar riffs and the softer-spoken verses is cool to listen to. The song picks up during the bridge and quickly leads into the chorus which is just a ton of energy. We only hear the chorus twice throughout the song. As the second chorus comes around, it continues where the first chorus suddenly ends. It leads into a bit of repetition as the lyrics and the song end. It’s a good kind of repetition; the kind that makes Ichiro sound sure of himself when he talks about the “beginning of everything”.

2. Aruku Around

There are three gateway songs that helped me to get into Sakanaction. This is the first one. The mix of techno and rock is fantastically done. The song had a good music video to boot, but it holds its own on the album with its interesting repetition (again, this is a favorable kind of repetition). The repetition is repeating how Ichiro is walking. In other songs it might become annoying, but here we find it endearing, as we want to walk with him in this song. This is a classic Sakanaction song and an important one for the group, as it became a runaway hit thanks to its video. Fortunately, the song itself is also well executed, and nearly makes the top of this list.

1. Coelacanth To Boku

I may have surprised you guys more than I surprised myself with this pick. The majority of songs on albums are songs that were not released as singles. Some of these songs might be filler. Some of them might be very good in their own right. Then there’s a rare song that is so good, that it nearly defines the album. This song, right in the middle of the album, really feels like that kind of song. It’s so good that I ranked it above “Aruku Around”.

The beginning of this song sets a really nice pace and mood. We feel like we might be taking a journey or exploration of some sorts. It maintains a sort of watery feel to it, which also helps make it unique. This song is so strong in its delivery. The first half begins to weave the tale of the singer; it is presumably something about Ichiro’s life. The singer feels a bit distant to the listener right now in both his quietness and also because his voice is intentionally slightly muffled. When we reach the chorus, the song picks up a little bit, and the singer becomes closer to us; the muffled sound is gone and he feels near us, drawing us in to his simile of being a fish.

The second verse begins and ends rather quickly, but instead of immediately going back to the chorus, this song uniquely builds a sort of bridge here. This bridge ends up becoming part of the background for the next chorus, so it’s a nice buildup. As the second chorus begins, the music pulls away just momentarily. Then a ton of energy is released and the rest of the song rides on this momentum. Even after Icihiro’s singing fades away, the song continues the energy at a high level. This continues for over a minute, and it’s rare that I would be okay with a song that doesn’t end quickly after the last lyric is sung. This song earns it, and we feel like we are continuing the journey with him. Ths song eventually begins to slowly fade out and end. What a journey it was!

Mar 16 2015

Wii U in 2014

I like all the flack Nintendo got for not releasing a console that played HD games until 2012, which was released 6-7 years after its competitors. There are several things to say regarding this, and likely most of them have been said. To address HD in 2012, I must say I am sorely disappointed at the lack of people using Blu-Ray in 2015. For all the complaints about Nintendo not utilizing HD with their previous console, it’s amazing that at the end of 2011, 91% of households had DVD players, while only 26% had Blu-Ray players (according to research by Centris). I don’t know the stats at the end of 2014, but I am still amazed that anyone with an HD television would still purchase DVDs. Obviously, I won’t chastise you for movies that you bought on DVD that weren’t available on Blu-Ray. But can you really blame Nintendo for waiting to release an HD-capable console when most of us weren’t really showing major entertainment companies that we cared about HD-quality content in the first place?

I hope that the same people who criticize Nintendo for “waiting” are people that had HD TVs and Blu-Ray players in 2006. Of course, nobody would buy a Blu-Ray movie unless they had a Blu-Ray Player. So it starts there; you have to buy a Blu-Ray player to watch Blu-Ray movies. It would follow that you really should own an HD television before you get a Blu-Ray player. But with the accessibility of Blu-Ray players (you can get brand name players for $50, or brand name external Blu-Ray drives for computers for $80), it has never been easier. HDTVs are also relatively inexpensive.

The main point is that if you’re going to complain about Nintendo’s lack of HD games until 2012, you need to step it up by actually showing companies that HD matters to you. That, at the very least, starts with getting an HDTV. So I think Nintendo was perfectly justified to develop the Wii as an SD console. Frankly, most people weren’t even having the SD/HD conversation back then. I think more people were still talking about the switch from fullscreen to widescreen (remember that, youngun’s?) Heck, I didn’t get a widescreen TV until 2010. And Nintendo followed up by releasing more 1080p HD games than PS4 and Xbox One combined in the first year (their games were HD, but only at 720p, not at 1080p).

I think people are simmering down on those conversations, anyways. There are other things about the Wii U that were peculiar. For instance, EA didn’t release any games for the platform in 2014. This is very strange, as Wii U has about as many console units sold as the Xbox One. To say that the Wii U is in a bad state would be absolutely false. I read an interesting article last month that made a good case as to why the Wii U shouldn’t be compared to Sega and its eventual faliure as a player in the console business. Sega doesn’t really have that many exclusive franchises up its sleeve. In fact, Sonic is the only major one that comes to mind. For Nintendo, however, one can easily spout names of huge franchises-Mario, Zelda and Pokemon, to name just a few.

Nintendo won’t ever fully drop off the map the way Sega has. That’s not to say Sega is going anywhere either; I happen to find the Sega’s Sonic All-Stars Racing (or however it’s actually titled) game series a nice companion to the Mario Kart series. However, it is quite amazing to me that Nintendo seems to be losing third-party support again; it feels a little bit like the Gamecube all over again. Obviously, not all major games from PS3 and Xbox 360 made it to the Wii. Most of the time it was for hardware limitations; the Wii really couldn’t compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360 and their hardware enabling good looking games in HD. Even then, EA ported Call of Duty: Modern Warfare to the Wii. The game didn’t look so great, but played relatively well.

The Wii is, in some ways, way worse than the PS3 and Xbox 360. The Wii U is quite a bit closer to PS4 and Xbox One, while it is worse than those slightly newer consoles, in terms of graphics. Nintendo has their Pro controller for the Wii U, which is very similar to the Xbox One controller. EA and other developers really could be developing games for the Wii U and have gamers use the Pro controller to play. It’s amazing to me that third-parties are skipping the Wii U despite that they don’t necessarily have to make their games utilize the GamePad. And if they want to use the GamePad in some manner, they can simply use it for off-screen play. Nobody said that EA has to add super cool GamePad gameplay elements into their games.

I would rather that news articles read “EA releases no Wii U games in 2014 that utilize GamePad features” rather than “EA releases no Wii U games in 2014”. It is very strange to me that EA sees no potential in the Wii U, which I believe now has 8 million units sold worldwide (though with the recent closure of Maxis, I’m not sure what to think of EA anymore). People might make the argument that consumers will not buy EA games on the Wii U because those “hardcore” gamers who buy EA games would buy it on their already-purchased “hardcore” console. Nintendo is probably seen as making kids-friendly consoles. It’s amazing to still hear people tout that when there are games available like Bayonetta 2 for the Wii U, Resident Evil 4 for the Wii and Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube.

Nintendo has really made all genres of games available to gamers. I suppose the question then becomes, what will Nintendo do to win back third-party support? The answer might be something that’s too soon. I would say make a whole new console. If the console’s lifespan is 5-6 years before its successor is released, we could expect Nintendo to release a new console in 2017. That’s still a ways off, and one has to wonder if Nintendo will wait that long. It’s too soon to even announce a new console; Nintendo probably wants to not only milk Wii U owners, but to keep development simple. Nintendo also has a hurdle with the GamePad. Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move were more accessories available for those consoles. Nintendo developed an entire console around the GamePad, rather than have it as a purchasble accessory. So, in some ways, Nintendo has to be diligent to make games that utilize the GamePad.

Nintendo is approaching a critical time to keep up with its console owners’ demands for better content. I’ve reflected on the Wii U in 2014. I hope to be able to look forward to more and more games this year that will make the Wii U the must-own console that Nintendo (and I) desperately want it to be.

Feb 22 2015

2015 Oscars Predictions

Like many years, it’s difficult for me to get around and see these films. My favorite film so far of 2014 was “Interstellar”, and I am shocked at how few nominations it received. And one movie that I thought would be a sure bet for the animated feature Oscar, “The Lego Movie”, was also snubbed (but hey, I guess it could win for Best Original Song…). Somehow, this year feels more difficult to predict, but I’ve got a job to do, so let’s give it a shot.

1. Best Picture: “Boyhood”
2. Best Leading Actor: Eddie Redmayne, for “The Theory of Everything”
3. Best Leading Actress: Julianne Moore, for “Still Alice”
4. Best Supporting Actor: J.K. Simmons, for “Whiplash”
5. Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, for “Boyhood”
6. Best Director: Richard Linklater, for “Boyhood”
7. Best Original Screenplay: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
8. Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Imitation Game”
9. Best Cinematography: “Birdman”
10. Best Editing: “Boyhood”
11. Best Production Direction: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
12. Best Costume Design: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
13. Best Makeup and Hairstyling: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
14. Best Original Score (Music): “Interstellar”
15. Best Original Song: ‘Glory’ from “Selma”
16. Best Sound Mixing: “Interstellar”
17. Best Sound Editing: “American Sniper”
18. Best Visual Effects: “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”
19. Best Animated Film: “How to Train Your Dragon 2”
20. Best Foreign Language Film: “Ida”
21. Best Documentary: “Citizenfour”
22. Best Short Documentary: “Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1”
23. Best Short Animated Film: “Feast”
24. Best Short (Live Action) Film: “The Phone Call”

And comment time:

1. Every other year, I get this category wrong, so I may get it wrong this year. One of my favorite movies of all time is “Babel”. I am not a big fan of “21 Grams” or “Biutiful”, which follow relatively intense narratives. Innaritu seems to have changed up his tune with Birdman, which appears to be more comedic than dramatic. Its appeal is that the movie was all done in one take…well, not really, but that is how it was edited. It worked enough to get a nomination. But I just saw it today, and I just don’t see it winning.

The most curious aspect is that “Birdman” was nominated for Best Picture but was not nominated for Best Editing. This seems curious, since it was editing itself that led the film to feel like one long take, right? People also note that it’s extremely rare for a film to win Best Picture without having been nominated for Editing. Boyhood seems to have it locked for Directing, so why not lock it for Best Picture? That’s where my money is going this year.

2. Of the acting categories this year, this seems to be the hardest to predict. Michael Keaton appears to be the dark horse here, but I’ve never felt him to be a particularly great actor. In Birdman, he really makes a case for himself to win. Cumberbatch seems almost as likely, but then, I haven’t seen “The Imitation Game” yet either. For now, I’ll stick with Redmayne for playing Steven Hawking in “The Theory of Everything.”

3. Rosamund Pike felt more like a supporting actress to me, and while her performance was nonetheless good, it appears that Julianne Moore will have her day at this year’s Oscars.

7. Wes Anderson screams original and sharp, so I see his newest work taking home this prize.

9. Man, if Birdman doesn’t win here…

14. I thought the score was very engrossing for Interstellar. Alexandre Desplat’s two nominations will cancel each other out.

18. I’d like to say this is a side note, but this is a rather important matter: “How to Train Your Dragon 2” has still not been released in Japan and has no release date. At this point, even if they announced it straight to home video, that would be fine. The first movie was well beloved, but perhaps it didn’t make enough money in Japan? So if this movie wins this Oscar, what excuse will distributors have to not release it in Japan? I am still baffled by this.

No Oscar bowling this year. I unfortunately didn’t have time to rank my choices like that.

Dec 12 2014

Top 5 Songs from Sakanacton’s Shinshiro

These lists will inevitably become more and more difficult to make. From here on out, I would prefer to make a Top 6 because even 5 songs wouldn’t include the most outstanding songs from each album. I should follow my own rules and make it a nice even (or odd…) 5 as the top choices. That doesn’t mean we can’t have some honorable mentions.

-human

It’s a shame I couldn’t get this on the final list. The song should blame itself, actually. There is a part that appears towards the middle and again at the end where a lone electronic guitar is snaring away; I am not terribly amused by it. It’s only mere seconds of the song, but it’s just annoying enough that I can’t quite put this song in my top 5. It’s otherwise an extremely catchy and fast-paced song.

-Namida Delight

This song was so close to being on the list. The progression of this song is quite amazing. We start with some high-pitched electronic beats with a MIDI-like keyboard-esque note that slowly guides us into the tune. It starts to pick up with a simple beat. The keyboard fades, and the song opens up a bit with a very simple upbeat progression. The singing begins, and it stays at a similar pace to the music. The background tune is surprisingly un-intrusive, and yet we’re aware of it taking us through the song. There’s some harmonizing vocals as we reach the chorus. All of this musical greatness, and it sadly doesn’t break the top 5. Too bad there isn’t a top 6 list.

5. Sen to Rei (1000 and 0)

If there was a list of the most accessible Sakanaction songs, this might be at the top. I don’t know what it is, but this song feels like a song that anyone and everyone can enjoy. In case you’re wondering about accessibility, let me give some examples of songs that may not make such a list. One of my favorite songs from Sakanaction, “Bach no Senritsu no Yoru ni Kiita Sei Desu.” is a song that is very catchy, but not terribly accessible. It’s a tad repetitive and a bit noisy at times. In this album, another example is “enough”. It starts off very slow but then randomly decides to pick up pace and gets very loud. It then returns to its slow roots. It’s a decent song, but not very accessible. Here is a song with a great pace and simple progression. I feel like I can recommend this song to anyone and they don’t have to be a fan of any particular genre to enjoy this song.

4. Kiiroi Kuruma (Yellow Car)

This is an absolutely amazing song in its simplicity. I can see this as a song that one may skip over in favor of other faster-paced songs or more rhythmical songs. The lyrics are what keep this song from being off the list, because they are so simple, yet very engaging. Ichiro talks about a yellow car. This may seem boring, but the lyrics and tone of the song set by the music make the song very lighthearted. It’s also just plain fun to listen to.

3. Adventure

This song clings onto its techno-like melody throughout the whole song. It’s a bit of a longer song, but that gives it a lot of room to flourish. We sense some emotions from Ichiro in the chorus. This song feels very undulating, but in all the right ways. We don’t get sick of hearing it. There’s a part where we may ‘fall off’, where the main verses segue into the chorus parts. This is because the music suddenly stops. But it doesn’t miss a beat, and takes us right down into the chorus. In the middle of the song, the chorus ends, and there’s a brief sequence that leads us right back into the next verse, still at that excellent pace that started the song.

2. Ame (B)

If there was ever an amazing way to start an album, it’s with this song. It’s extremely fast-paced and the lyrics are extremely minimal and repetitive. If not for the great music, the song could easily be forgotten. There’s nothing particularly interesting about singing about rain falling at nighttime, but this song makes you want to talk about the rain. I recently sang this song at karaoke, and it’s also a nice practice for Katakana reading, as the band apparently saw it fit to make all of the lyrics in Katakana. Since this song is closer to a chant (lyrically, at least), the Katakana lyrics become less surprising. It’s also easy to sing because the range for the singing parts are limited. Perhaps that is the reason it doesn’t quite snag the top spot on this list. The music and pacing is so appealing that you’ll forgive what the song could have been at its bare-bones.

1. Native Dancer

This is a simple song that really has never gotten old for me. Despite that it involves the season of winter, it feels like a song that can be listened to any time of year. This album signfies a time that this band was trying a different style that would become more of a staple in later albums (especially their next two). If there’s any song that truly captures a sense of fun that Sakanction exudes, this one really is at the top. Ame (B) is an absolute blast to listen to, but it is slightly limited in its scope. This song, while only having the chorus play twice, feels very complete. The ending features lots of rising techno sounds and makes for a fantastic closure to this song.

Oct 10 2014

“Desu/Masu” and “Da” Days

I’ll say one thing that may seem strange at first to Americans. In America, our manner of speaking is relatively the same to our co-workers as it would be to other people. While it’s expected to be more polite to superiors, and especially our boss, our way of speaking doesn’t really change all too much, right? In Japan, it’s incredibly strange (I know I said earlier it may only be a little bit strange). It took me years to even notice that people do this. I have to hear the same worker talk differently to different people. Doesn’t sound too strange so far, does it? The Japanese businessman is competely aware of their relationship with each worker. Essentially, if the worker is younger, they talk differently to them. They can be a bit more trite to a younger worker. A Japanese learner will recognize a lack of usage of “desu/masu” type words in their speech. In school, I only learned practical usage of this type of form. We learned of the less polite “da” form. And instead of a mutual respect in the language, the younger person has to use desu/masu even though his senior fellow will only be using “da” form.

And actually, it’s not even a matter of impoliteness. We are taught that “da” is less polite. But it’s actually the only way that this senior worker could respond. Why is that? To respond with desu/masu would be to respond with a way that does nothing to indicate relationship. This is extremely ingrained in the language; it’s perhaps a stem of the culture. I remember talking with a Japanese university student who was writing an essay in English. One part in his original Japanese version of the essay was to mention about a club member, and how she was his junior. I have students in junior high school who write essays with similar content. These topics tend to come up when talking about clubs, interestingly. As for my friend, instead of saying that that girl was another teammate, or a fellow club member, he felt it necessary to say that she was, in fact, younger than him, by calling her a junior. A Japanese person is always conscious of who a certain person is to them. Is that person their wife? Those two people can both talk using “da” form. “desu/masu” would indicate distance. It’s not about being polite when you’re married…that’s what it sounds like, right? That’s why it can’t be about being polite. If I feel completely comfortable with a person, I don’t need to sound stiff. I can be myself. Friends never talk to each other using this form of politeness. In fact, if you did, would you even be friends?

This was one mistake I made. I so wanted not to lose a friendship with a particular Japanese person that I used all of these super polite grammar forms. I thought that there was no way he could deny our friendship if I was being friendly. But weren’t we friends, anyways? He may not have been able to shake the notion that I was using those grammar forms for other reasons. He may have thought that it’s basic Japanese to talk in a certain way, and maybe I wasn’t following the “code” that was so obvious to a native speaker. There’s usually forgiveness for this kind of thing. For example, I had a Japanese person who I didn’t know say to me, in English, “Please lend me your pen”. It was stiff. It actually presumed that I had another pen, or else she was going to recieve the pen I was still using. In America, we would say something more along the lines of, “Sorry, but do you happen to have an extra pen?” or “Could I borrow a pen from you?” The latter is actually better to say in Japanese as well. In fact, the “kudasai” form for “please” in Japanese is quite stiff. There are other forms that are much more appropriate to be polite. One might be similar to, “Sorry, but could you be troubled to do me the favor of lending me your pen?” If all that goes to “Please lend me your pen”, there is certainly something lost.

Consequently, if you want to distance somebody without saying something direct, you can use the desu/masu form. If you’ve already been using the “da” form with them, this tactic may not work. And I also hesitate to call this a “tactic”, as it is part of the language/culture. While many foreigners hate when Japanese people can’t just say “yes” or “no”, there are sometimes benefits to indirect ways of speaking. This is one of them. Whether or not it’s terribly polite is one thing, but it is something that can be considered.

Oct 06 2014

Facebook Comments Disliked

As if I need to say anything else bad about Facebook…well, maybe I am about to. I simply cannot understand this. Years later, after my personal fallout with Facebook, I am still astounded that when someone posts a status update (if that’s even what it’s called nowadays), they do not have an option to disable commenting. Why would somebody want to disable commenting? While I don’t do that on this blog, I feel that a blog is a place where discussion can take place. If I mentioned that I cried at a certain movie, the last thing I want to read is a comment about how I am a wuss for crying at all.

One might say that I should pick my friends better. Fair enough. I mean, we all know that people who are “friends” with me on Facebook are all truly friends (hopefully sarcam was detectable there). Nonetheless, I can’t predict what somebody is going to say. I’ve talked about this before-if I am at a party and somebody makes a rude or slightly offbeat comment to me, relatively few people hear it. That comment is processed, and perhaps responded to, in a matter of minutes. It is not pondered.

When somebody leaves a comment on Facebook, it’s somewhat permanent. Many people see the comment. The comment remains and I have to think about it. If I feel anything negative, is it worth deleting? Should I talk to the person about it? The fact is, I don’t want to have to deal with it in the first place. Deleting makes it look like I was terribly offended (maybe I was). Messaging the person who wrote it seems extreme. I like how Facebook suggests you write a message to somebody to take a photo down. How about, “no”? Maybe I didn’t want that picture of me to be on Facebook in the first place. In an earlier scenario, one might suggest that I pick better friends. In this scenario, you wouldn’t suggest that I stop going out altogether, right?

Might you suggest I present myself in better situations? Nobody is perfect. I shouldn’t have to be reminded of those times anyways. Having a picture of me in a certain situation might say that I approve what occurred in that situation. My being there associates me with approving of everything that happens there.

And maybe that’s just it, then. Maybe it does come back to the choices we make. Maybe I do need to be more okay with the choices I make before I make them. In any case, I am done talking about Facebook for a while. I have said it before-we, as humans, are not made for these weird little social transactions that Facebook fosters. We’re meant for something greater.

Aug 30 2014

Top 5 Most Difficult Missions in Perfect Dark (PA Difficulty)

This was a list I have wanted to make and have been thinking about for years. It’s a tough one to make because most of the missions on Perfect Agent (PA) difficulty are difficult. For this list, I didn’t consider the “bonus” missions. At least 2 of those 4 would have probably made the list. Ordering the list was a bit difficult. My #5 could have switched with #4, and so on.

Please also note these levels would not necessarily be the most difficult on a speed run. Some of the levels not on this list become much harder when you don’t have the luxury of being able to take your time. But that is perhaps a testament to just how hard these levels are, because even with unlimited time, these levels still made the list. Let’s have a look.

-Air Base

Oh wait, you forgot about the jury prizes, did you? I award one prize to the Air Base level. It was very close to making the cut, but there are enough strategies to employ to make this level a lot easier. As with Carrington Institute, the guards have automatic burst fire weapons that deal a lot of damage. But this level is bit more predictable than other levels, and you can set it up well enough to make it easier.

-Pelagic II: Exploration

Here’s one that snuck on the list and was very close to being in the top 5. The submachine guns that the guards on this ship hold can do a lot of damage to you in a short amount of time. There are also times where you’ll have to deal with more than one guard. The mission doesn’t make the top 5 list partially because the mission gets much easier once you reach Elvis. The reason is because instead of fighting through droves of enemies near the middle of the ship, you can use your handy scanner device to see a hidden panel. Press the button on that panel to get to the end of the mission easily, bypassing a lot of enemies. So, this mission doesn’t quite get on the list.

5. Deep Sea: Nullify Threat

Some “Elite” players may disagree with a few choices on this list. This may be one of those choices. I think it’s rather tough to get through the first couple minutes of this level, which has enemies wielding shotguns. They also appear and disappear, making them a tad elusive. You can see them with your infrared scanner, but Elvis will only see them and aim for them when they are visible. Elvis helps out with his railgun in these first parts, so if you can avoid taking damage and leave the shooting to him, you’ll be able to get by more easily. When you get further into the level, you’ll be in an area where many smaller Skedar will appear. While this area also contains a few turrets, all of the damage taken from these enemy elements are surprisingly low. The ending can prove a bit difficult with some final few guys trying to stop your progress, as well. There’s just enough difficult elements in this mission to warrant it a spot on this list.

4. Area 51: Infiltration

This level in many, many ways deserves to be even higher than this spot on the list. It’s a very tough level, with several machine gun turrets, guards with grenades and even some mines buried in the ground. There are flying robot guns (or gun robots…?), but they can be relatively easily destroyed. It is also wise to consider how a certain distance from the guards will make them more likely to throw grenades, which usually means instant death. Because this level can be taken slow and methodically to avoid damage, it eliminates it from being higher on the list. Patience is a virtue here.

3. Carrington Institute: Defense

Here’s a level where nearly all enemies hold machine guns. Enemies are continually generated until the mission ends, meaning you’ll want to go through the mission more quickly as to avoid unnecessary encounters with machine gun wielding foes. You get some help in the form of a few institute personnel who have guns of their own to fight some enemies. It’s nearly impossible to complete this mission where all of these men are still standing. The AI simulates how their fights go, and they can sometimes die more quickly than you want. So despite even your best efforts, you may have to deal with more enemies simply because your allies died sooner than you would have hoped.

Besides the tough enemies who can kill you with just one round of their automatics, there is a unique element of tension here that is created via the hostages. You can take as much time as you want getting to each of the four ‘offices’ with the hostages inside. However, the moment you open the door, the enemies are ready to take the hostages lives in front of your eyes. A few of the hostages fight back, but you’ll have to be careful and quick to get all of the bad guys before they succeed in killing your co-workers. You can only let 2 of them die, and there are 7 of them to save, so you have to be careful.

There is a way to have Jonathan appear in this level to help you, but his assistance only proves minor in the grand scheme of things. I found it interesting the way in which this is “unlocked”, but it’s a bit confusing to fully explain. Basically, you help him out in a previous mission, and he’ll come back here for assistance. And you’ll be able to start cloaking yourself once you get a certain gun in the second half of the mission. But you can’t stay invisible for very long, so I don’t think this is as particularly useful as some people make it out to be. Oh, and did I mention that almost all of the enemies have shields on?

All in all, this is a tough level. I recently found a new way that is slightly more risky at the beginning of the mission but tends to leave the most room for the autodefenses to do their work and make the rest of the level easy. By the way, I think it’s hilarious that the “autodefenses” need to be manually switched on. It would have made the somewhat large underground part of this level pointless. Either way, this is a tough mission that is very deserving of the #3 spot on this list.

2. Crash Site: Confrontation

You’ve survived a plane crash, but you haven’t (and probably won’t) survive the guys spread throughout this level. The enemies here are holding burst fire automatic weapons, which are more than capable of damaging you greatly. There are even turret guns set up in one area. Like Carrington Institute Defense, enemies are being generated as time goes on. Elvis will be able to take care of them most of the time, but if they try to attack the president, it can be “game over” quickly.

There’s not much more to say other than, like Carrington Institute, nearly all of the enemies having machine guns really makes this level a chore to get through. You find yourself constantly dodging bullets by hiding behind corners only to discover that your safe hiding spot was, in fact, unsafe. Because enemies patrol certain ‘routes’, you may be surprised which enemies you encounter and which you don’t. Of course, some enemies are simply standing still and are easy to beat. This is a humongous level, and this level alone probably forced the game to be unplayable with just the original N64 Jumper Pak. The extra 4 MB of RAM the Expansion Pak provided was likely to assist the game in handling all of the enemies here (amazing how 4 MB of RAM made a difference in 2000). Anyways, this is a super tough mission that is absolutely deserving of its #2 spot.

1. Attack Ship: Covert Assault

At one point in deciding this list, I had this mission lower on the list. For the longest time, though, I had it on the top. In the end, this level has proven to be the most consistently difficult mission to complete. Even if you take the mission title to heart and attempt it in a covert style, the Skedar are quite difficult to defeat. They’re quick and smart and pack a punch when they hit you. And don’t get too close to them because instead of punching you like ‘human’ enemies, they’ll just ram into you, costing about half of your health. That’s a huge deal, as you really need to keep your health up to get through this level successfully. If you take the method of speedrunners, and just keep proceeding, you’ll probably find it an extremely frustrating five minutes or so. It’s still tough even when being extra careful around corners and when opening doors to new rooms.

What really makes this mission difficult is the beginning, where you begin with a relative lack of ammo and weapons. In fact, a knife is all you have. If you can sneak behind the first Skedar, you can easily kill him in one swipe. Getting his gun makes the second Skedar in this room easier. In the Japanese version, all knives were removed from this game. Games were still known to be somewhat censored back in the early 2000s (Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the N64 never made it to Japan, though this could have been because the game’s humor would likely have been difficult to translate to Japanese audiences). So without a knife, you are instead left with a basic Falcon 2 gun with only 20 bullets. This makes the level that much more difficult. It amazes me that they thought that the level would be doable with such little ammo.

Anyways, the gist is that this level starts off hard. While you can finally breathe a little bit after Elvis comes, it’s still a tough trip once you take the elevator up to the second floor. You’ll be fighting Skedar in almost every room after you step off the elevator. Some of the Skedar immediately appear when you open a door to a new room, truly testing your reflexes. You don’t want to die, and you don’t want Elvis to die. You have the whole mission to keep your wits about you so that you can evade the quick enemies here. While there aren’t really any surprises in terms of super-tough enemies, the basic Skedar are so powerful that you’ll be happy when you finally finish this mission for the first time on Perfect Agent difficulty.

This was a tough list to make, taking many years to consider. I hope to keep this list unchanged, but I am sure playing habits change as well as ideas and tricks to beat each level. So, here’s to a great game that is deserving of serious recognition-Perfect Dark.

Jun 18 2014

Top 5 Songs from Sakanaction’s Night Fishing

These lists will get progressively more interesting and, of course, more difficult. It seems that with every album that Sakanaction released, they had more and more amazing songs. This list is still probably easier than some lists I’ll make for later albums.

5. Aishu Train

I was a little surprised when Sakanaction chose this song to be in the 2014 Japan tour. But I am glad that they liked it enough to perform it even in 2014 when they have tons of songs to possibly choose from. This is a song that feels heavy on the music that accompanies the lyrics. This is unlike “Night Fishing is Good” where the lyrics are more dominant. But this is a great song that is well paced and makes the top 5.

4. Ame wa Kimagure

It’s hard to talk about this song, but it has a sort of fading in and fading out effect that permeates the song. It’s also rather upbeat, so it is always fun to listen to

3. Word

Leading the album off is “Word”. There’s a certain simplicity to this song. We tend to hear this kind of simplicity in Sakanaction’s older albums, so it feels right at home on this album.

2. Night Fishing is Good

Here is a very interesting song on many levels. It is somewhat slower-paced, especially towards the beginning. It picks up halfway through and changes its tone and really sets itself apart as a truly original song. By the time we get back to the chorus for the end of the song, it feels like a different chorus somehow. It is the same tempo, but it feels more excited. We’ve journeyed through the slower parts at the beginning and so the ending feels all the more worthwhile. This is also one of the first times we’ve heard the other Sakanaction members sing in the song. This is something that becomes a norm for future albums, and this is a song that may have helped to start that.

1. Sample

Like Aishu Train, this song is a little heavy on the music. There’s a certain thickness to the techno style music that we hear and it sets off the song in a good direction. The first third of the song feels very energetic. Then we get to the middle third of the song which is a bit quieter than the first third. It quickly picks up to exit this part and enter the final third of the song. We get more guitar time in this last part along with a piano (I think…), and the song gets to release a lot of that energy that it has built throughout the song. Ichiro Yamaguchi’s vocals are strong, which also helps elevate this song to the top of this album’s best list.

Apr 03 2014

New (Unofficial) Catan Characters/Game Mechanics

I made these new characters/game mechanics as ‘house rules’ for Catan that I’d like to introduce to the world. These characters are meant to be used for the original Catan and the 5/6 player extension (I suppose they could probably also be used for Seafarers). They were inspired and developed using two ideas:

1. It seemed that it was difficult to stop somebody who was in the lead from winning at a certain point. These characters (especially the Tax Collector) helps to keep the game more even, at least to some extent.

2. The rules were based on the introduction of the Pirate in the Seafarers expansion; simply that these characters can be moved in lieu of the Robber if a 7 is rolled or if a Soldier Card is played. These characters all begin in the desert, like the Robber.

I didn’t research online at all, so I don’t know if there are any other people or groups who thought of these kind of ideas and are using them already. I have never played Cities and Knights, so I suppose that expansion might also have these elements…I don’t know.

And I know I just said it above, but to clarify:

-These characters are moved like the Robber and Pirate. This means that either rolling a 7 or playing a Knight card will allow a player to move these characters. And like the rules for the Robber and Pirate, you must move one of these characters when you roll a 7. You cannot choose to keep all of the characters in the same spot.

Here are the new characters. Any ideas for changes of names or back-stories for these ‘characters’ are welcome:

The Construction Union Strike (Union)

Back-story: Being a bit anachronistic never hurts. These workers are on strike and refuse to build anything else for anyone in the area they are in. They have influenced all workers who reside in that area.

Mechanic: You can use a dime or some other token to represent this character (or entity). Whatever hex they are in prevents any act of building on anything in that hex. No player can build a road or a settlement that touches the hex. Cities may also not be built. Existing roads and buildings are not affected. Unlike the Robber, the token does not stop resource production.

The Tax Collector (Taxman)

Back-story: You all owe some taxes and your buildings are worth nothing while the tax collector is around.

Mechanic: You can use a penny or some token to represent this character. He doesn’t prevent resource production or construction of anything. However, whatever hex he is on nullifies the victory point value of every building on that hex. So let’s say Player 1 has a city and a settlement on a mountain hex (ore). While the Tax Collector is present, the 3 points that Player 1 would normally have equals 0 points. This character isn’t terribly useful until closer to the end of the game when a player may be close to winning the game. The Taxman does not affect the Longest Road feature of the game.

-Note: You might be wondering what happens if somebody moves the Taxman when it is their turn and by moving the Taxman another player would have 10 victory points. Per the rulebook, that player cannot claim victory until it has become their turn. Say Player D is the player in question who is about to win because Player A moved the Taxman somewhere else. It’s very possible that Player B or Player C will move the Taxman back to where it prevents that player from winning. But the moment that a player has 10 victory points and its their turn, they have won the game (if you’re playing the original Catan game without expansions, of course).

The way I see it, all three of the characters (Robber, Union, Taxman) could potentially be on the same hex at the same time, since their influences on the game don’t contradict each other. Of course, since a Knight card can be used to move either the Robber or the Pirate in the Seafarers expansion, it can be used in lieu of rolling a 7.

If you ended up using these characters in a game of Catan, let me know how you think that the game went.

Apr 01 2014

One More Employee

With my post on why it’s not good when we wait in a line, it should be obvious for the need for more workers. Yet, we seem to live in a society that devalues a human employee because of costs. It’s one thing to replace all cashiers with automatic registers. It’s another thing to have long lines.

This comes back to other things as well. If I am waiting for service at a restaurant, it’s the equivalent of waiting in line for something. Like a grocery store, once I have entered the restaurant and started ordering food I am stuck with the speed of the service. I may not go back to that restaurant’s location again, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

I should be more specific about the scenario of which I am thinking. After all, what can you do if every table is full at a restaurant but wait? It happened last Sunday, where there were many tables open and we still had to wait outside of the restaurant. A part of me figured that maybe they just had to clean a few tables to be able to seat us. That might be all that it was, as we were seated within 10 minutes of arriving. But when we tried to order, we were turned down a few times by different servers. In Japan, you don’t necessarily have the same server over the course of the meal, so it didn’t really matter who took our order.

These are both very minor incidents, and if you want to label them as first-world problems, go ahead. But the point is not that I had a bad day. The point is that with unemployment rates still an issue, it’s ridiculous that a business like that one, where I paid $14 for a lunch with no drinks and one plate (I was hungry again less than 4 hours later…) can’t hire just one more part-timer. This is exactly how I feel about grocery stores. It’s ridiculous if there are lines and there are registers that could be used by a worker that aren’t being used. Raise your prices slightly if you have to. I know some people will complain, but I would rather pay a little bit more and employ more people.

I can see the standpoint of the employer because I worked at a grocery store. It’s easy to hire any high schooler and they might just be sitting around when it’s not so busy. You definitely don’t want people floating around. But then, you can’t always know how many people you’re going to need at any given time. Convenience stores in Japan seem to do a good job at having enough employees at any time. If they’re not at the register, they are stocking shelves.

One idea that comes to mind is this-if you are dissatisfied with the service, you don’t have to go there. That’s mostly true; as I said before, I won’t be going to that particular branch of that restaurant again anytime soon. However, it seems that many sectors of businesses have already succumbed to this style of business for its customers. I am talking about the airline industry, which sometimes really could use an extra worker or two. I am also talking about the cable company that puts you on hold for over 20 minutes (I mean…really?).

This is exactly why every company or store that serves customers in this way owes it to themselves to hire one more employee. If every airline hired one more employee per airport, it would cost the airline quite a bit of money, that is to be sure. But why are there lines at check-in that are 30 minutes long? Did the passengers and the airline just get unlucky with a surge of people checking-in? Maybe.

But I can’t stand it when companies tout how they’re going to make things quicker by installing computers. What they’re telling you is that instead of hiring a real person, we’re going to have a computer assist you. Heaven forbid it should break down, you’d need a real person to assist you anyways, but…hey, somebody is saving money somewhere.

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