Gaming Sessions: Infamous

Infamous for Playstation 3

Imagine a game in which you have super powers and you fight crime alla Spiderman, Flash, etc. while freely exploring a big open-world. That’s exactly what Infamous does. The game let’s you fight for the fate of Empire City, combining elements that we’ve seen in the superhero comics for decades. But Infamous doesn’t adapt any known superhero, instead  creates its own universe that, at the same time, works as an homage to the 9th art.

Feeling powerful

If there is  a single thing  I would highlight about Infamous is how it makes you feel. Cole MacGrath, our protagonist, wakes up  at the epicenter of an explosion in the middle of Empire City. He doesn’t remember much, but he can now manipulate electricity. This give Cole a series of powers that expand as you progress in the game. Since the first minutes of the game you will feel a sense of superiority over the rest of in-game characters.

Cole making use of the storm

Some attacks are really powerful and spectacular

When you fight your enemies you can unleashed lots of chaos and destruction. Combining different powers during your fights feels completely natural and organic and it is really fun. It’s important to clarify that the combat is shooting based, and most of the complementary powers are also long distance attacks. There is some physical combat involved but it doesn’t have much weight on the gameplay. I have no doubt that this is the biggest strength of the game. It translates perfectly the sensation of being a force of nature that is superior to his enemies.

Something that I would like to highlight is that your actions will give you points of light or darkness, like we’ve seen in many Star  Wars games. This adds weight to your actions and can affect the way you fight. Will you fight your enemies without caring for the civilians in the area or will you move the fight away? What will you do with fallen (but alive) enemies and civilians? Cure them? Extract any remaining energy from them (causing death)? Or simply capture them? This morality system affects the way civilians perceive and react to you, as well as the powers and secondary missions that you have available.

Infamous' Cole MacGrath shooting an enemy

When your ‘karma’ is on the evil side, your attacks area colored red

Infamous is fun but is not perfect

Though I like the game, it is  true that there are some flaws in Infamous design and presentation that area worth noting.

First of all, both story and narrative are far from great. The story is full of cliches and Cole is not the most charismatic guy around. The story is narrated mostly through conversations over the phone, with noise on the line  and the noise of the city around. On top of that, most of this conversations happen while you do something else, so t is fairly easy to miss some parts. They top this with some cutscenes made with really cool comic artwork. Is a nice touch, but it  felt somehow disconnected from the rest of the game. The story presents a final twist that creates an interesting starting point for the sequel.

Empire City

Empire City is a pretty big environment with not much to do besides fighting

In terms of gameplay, I have a  couple of issues with Infamous. The biggest problem is that there is no real reason for Infamous to be open-world beyond the fact that is really cool to move around. There is nothing interesting to do besides the missions, so it becomes a huge hub to select levels while you collect some random, irrelevant stuff. My second biggest problem is that this open-world is overpopulated by enemies, making moving around very frustrating at times. Sure, I like the combat, but  after 10 hours of game I don’t  want to stop and fight random guys while I try to reach the next mission (on the other side of the frickinig city).

A minor issue that I’ve found a bit annoying is the climbing system. Instead of working like an Assassin’s Creed game where you just press a button, Infamous forces you to jump and jump and jump and jump… Gets tiring after a while.

Looking good, sounding weird

Being from 2009 and having in mind the size of the city, Infamous looks pretty good. Textures and models are a bit  simple but they do the job. It’s worth noting that the overall design of the game and the palette used is a bit too dull. I think a more colorful approach would have worked much better. On the other hand,  FX – specially the electricity ones – and animations are very good and they give place to some spectacular images.

Cole using his powers

The lightning effects are really good, creating powerful images like the one above

When it comes to the sound Infamous is a weird game. Music is fine, though it doesn’t have much presence. Sounds effects are ok, but there area some weird ones, specially the one made by Cole while running. Is  some kind of nya nya that doesn’t make sense and can be pretty annoying.

Infamous

I think if you like superheros and open world games is almost impossible to get disappointed with Infamous. I think there are some design decisions that prevent the game from reaching its full potential but, at the same time, Infamous has some strengths that are difficult to ignore. Recommended if you like superheros and enjoy open-world games.

Fallen Kingdom and the future of Jurassic World

Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom

Have you watch Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom already? Well, I wish I had to tell you to run to your closest cinema but that’s not the case. It is, no doubt, an enjoyable film with some really good moments. I think J.A. Bayona has done a great job and his visual style and narrative works great with a production of this caliber. But in the end, we are watching a pseudo-remake of The Lost World, as it happened with Jurassic World and the first entry of the saga. There is absolutely nothing in the script that makes up for seeing a repetition of situations and overall plot. It’s on the script where we can find all the big issues of the movie, and this is becoming a (bad) habit for the series.

My problem with the  current state of the franchise

You see, I’m a huge Jurassic Park fan. The first and second movies are amongst my all time favorite. This new movies are very entertaining but they don’t bring anything new to the franchise. We are seeing a repetition of themes and situations.

It’s very clear to the public that playing “to be God” with genetics is very dangerous. And yes, we know that velociraptors are very smart and lethal. Now, by the fifth movie I would expect to have seen some consequences to playing this game, but the truth is we haven’t seen anything. The main problem is that the premise of the series can’t go much further. You can destroy a park by an accident or by the characters arrogance once (ok, twice…). And same applies about going back to the island to save dinosaurs from an external menace.

The future of Jurassic World

[Minor spoilers of Fallen Kingdom]

The original book sets a much more interesting option, as we discover that some small dinosaurs have been getting out of the island hidden in the boats that go to the mainland. In Fallen Kingdom we get to the same point by the end of the movie, but in a disappointing way. Yes, dinosaurs are now on the mainland but the most dangerous and interesting species (Raptor, T-rex) are alone with no possibility of reproduction. In my opinion that leaves a very limited setting to work with, and I’m not sure of what we will see in the next sequel. It looks like we will be following some of the characters trying to collect the lost dinosaurs and bringing them to a new sanctuary. So basically we would go back to the end of The Lost World.

To be honest, after this long and the clear exhaustion of the original premise, I would take everything one (or 10) steps further. I would make everything go out of control, with dinosaurs spreading over the mainland and humans fighting for survival in a changed, dangerous world. Of course a setting like this can easily give birth to an absolute pile of crap, but at least it would be different.

 

Creating dropdown menus inside an scrollable element

Dropdown and scrolls

I don’t usually write about work. I guess I try to get away of it every time I leave the office. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t like to code. I actually do, and I find problem solving the most appealing and enjoyable part of my job. So I decided that from time to time it wouldn’t be so bad to write about what I do for most of my weekdays. I feel it can help me review and reassure (or not) decisions I made when a problem presented itself.

The problem

I’m making responsive little portions of our in-house CRM. Making our CRM’s main features available on-the-go for our sales team would be a great improvement for the company. A CRM is not a normal website, is closer to a desktop application, and the type of data and content is not the same you usually display on a website.

One of the first issues I found was that our toolbar(s) were way to wide for a mobile device. We have a bunch of buttons, search boxes, dropdowns etc. The first impulse would be to move all the content inside a panel of sorts as we commonly do with menus. But due to the contents of the toolbar that would be difficult to implement and maintain some kind of ease of use (and it would look awful).

The solution

I opted to just add a scroll to our toolbars whenever was needed. This way we keep the same user experience that we have in desktop, we avoid pop ups and panels and we keep the whole system consistent. It is pretty intuitive to just scroll sideways on a toolbar, and I think it is the best solution.

But this solution forced me to do some workarounds. Adding a scroll was ease and useful (overflow-x:auto), but also created a new issue. It turns out that the values of overflow-x and overflow-y are dependent of each other. That means that when x or y is set to hidden, scroll or auto, the other one can’t be visible. It is automatically changed to hidden, no matter what you specify on your CSS.

The way CSS works is sometimes confusing, and this is one of this cases. Thankfully, there’s a little trick to make it work. It requires some javascript to define the position of the menus, but nothing to complex.

To start, we need to create a toolbar with an inner div and a dropdown menu inside of it.

<div class="toolbar">
    <div class="toolbar__inner">
      <div class="dropdown">
        Dropdown menu 1
        <div class="dropdown__menu">
          <ul>
            <li>Option 1</li>
            <li>Option 2</li>
            <li>Option 3</li>
            <li>Option 4</li>
          </ul>
        </div>
      </div>
    </div>
</div>

The toolbar div (position:relative) will be the one that we use to position our dropdowns (position:absolute). The toolbar__inner is the one that will serve as the scrollable menu (overflow-x:auto). Because the dropdown__menu has absolute position and the offset parent is toolbar that has overflow: visible, the scrolling of toolbar__inner can work and not interfere with the visibility of the menus.

You can see the full CSS here:

*{
  box-sizing:border-box;
}
.wrapper{
  width:800px;
}
.wrapper--small{
  width:300px;
}
.toolbar{
  position:relative;
  width:100%;
}
.toolbar__inner{
  background:#ddd;
  border:1px solid #aaa;
  width:100%;
  padding:10px;
  overflow-x:auto;
  white-space: nowrap;
}
.dropdown, button{
  display:inline-block;
  font-size:15px;
  line-height:15px;
  font-family:arial;
  padding:10px;
  border:1px solid #aaa;
  background:#eee;
  cursor:pointer;
}
.dropdown__menu{
  position:absolute;
  display:none;
  overflow:hidden;
}
.dropdown--active .dropdown__menu{
  display:block;  
}
.dropdown__menu ul{
  padding:0px;
  margin:0px;
  list-style:none;
  background:#fff;
  border:1px solid #aaa;
}
.dropdown__menu ul li{
  padding:10px;
  width:100%;
  box-sizing:border-box;
}
.dropdown__menu ul li:hover{
  background:#eee;
}

Because the offset parent is not the dropdown button but the toolbar, we need to use JS to position the dropdown menus in the right place. Also, we need to have in mind that being inside an scrollable div, the position of the dropdown menus can be different every time we open them and every time we scroll. The code to do all this is a bit longer that I expected in the beginning. Let’s see the code and then briefly comment on what every bit of code does:

(function(){
  let dropdown = document.querySelectorAll('.dropdown');
  
  dropdown.forEach(function(node, index){
    let _this = node;
    let menu = _this.querySelector('.dropdown__menu');
    let container = getScrollable(_this);
    /*
    * Dropdown on click
    */
    _this.addEventListener('click', function(e){
      let activeDropdown = document.querySelector('.dropdown.dropdown--active');
      //close other dropdowns if opened
      if(activeDropdown && activeDropdown != _this){
        activeDropdown.classList.remove('dropdown--active');
      }
      //toggle dropdown visibility
      _this.classList.toggle('dropdown--active');
      //Update the position of the dropdown menu
      setDropdownPosition(_this, container);
    });
    /*
    * Stop propagation of click inside the dropdown to avoid the dropdown closing when clicking on one of the options
    */
    menu.addEventListener('click', function(e){
      e.stopPropagation();                       
    });
    /*
    * If the dropdown is inside an scrollabe element
    * we want to change the position of the dropdown menus on scroll
    */
    if(container){
      container.addEventListener('scroll', function(){
        setDropdownPosition(_this, container);
      });
    }
  });
  /*
  * Close dropdown when clicking outside
  */
  document.addEventListener('click', function(e){
    let activeDropdown = document.querySelector('.dropdown.dropdown--active');
    
    if(activeDropdown){
      if(!(e.target.classList.contains('dropdown') || hasParentWithClass(e.target, 'dropdown'))){
        activeDropdown.classList.remove('dropdown--active');
      }
    }
  });
})();
/*
* Control dropdown menu positioning
*/
function setDropdownPosition(dropdown, container){
  let menu = dropdown.querySelector('.dropdown__menu');

  let topPosition = dropdown.offsetTop + dropdown.offsetHeight;
  let leftPosition = dropdown.offsetLeft;
  let rightPosition = dropdown.offsetLeft + dropdown.offsetWidth;
  let scrollPosition = container.scrollLeft;
  let position = 0;
  
  menu.style.top = topPosition + 'px';
  // Define position
  if(menu.classList.contains('right')){
    position = rightPosition - scrollPosition - menu.offsetWidth;
  }else{
    position = leftPosition - scrollPosition;
  }
  //Visibility depends on the scroll
  if(position < 0 || position > dropdown.offsetParent.offsetWidth){
    menu.style.height = '0px';
  }else{
    menu.style.height = 'auto';
  }
  
  menu.style.left = position + 'px';
}
/*
* Check if a node has a parent element with x classname
*/
function hasParentWithClass(node, className){
  let parent = node.parentNode;
  
  while(parent != document){
    if(parent.classList.contains(className)){
      return true;
    }
                                             
    parent = parent.parentNode;
  }
       
  return false;
}
/*
* Find a parent element (inside the offsetparent) that has a scroll
*/
function getScrollable(node){
  let container = node.offsetParent;
  let parent = node.parentNode;
  let overflowStates = ['auto', 'scroll'];
  
  while(parent != container){
    if(overflowStates.indexOf(parent.style.overflow)){
      return parent;
    }
                                             
    parent = parent.parentNode;
  }
       
  return false;
}

dropdown click event: closes other opened dropdowns and toggles the one that has been clicked. Calls the setDropdownPosition() function.

container scroll event: we add an scroll event to the scrollable parent of each dropdown. On scroll, we call the setDropdownPosition(). To get the right scrollable container we use the method getScrollable().

setDropdownPosition(node, container): it sets the position of the node (dropdown menu) inside it’s offset parent. We get the dropdown item offsetLeft and the we substract the scrollLeft position of the scrollable parent of the dropdown item. There’s a little variation in case we want the dropdown menu to be aligned to the right side of the dropdown item.

getScrollable(node): it returns the parent element of the node (dropdown item) that has overflow auto/scroll and is at the same time inside the node’s offset parent.

There are a couple of extra features in the code above (dropdown item click behaviour, out of dropdown click…), but is to improve the behaviour of the dropdown and not strictly necessary.

The final result

Change between “mobile” and “desktop” by clicking on the toggle button. This code can easily be translated into a JS class or jQuery plugin.

See the Pen Scrollable responsive toolbar with dropdown items by Francisco Canete (@Francisco_caal) on CodePen.

If you have any ideas to improve the code or solutions that you think are better for this same issue, please leave a comment below or contact me on SM 🙂

Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash

Gaming Sessions: Resistance Retribution

Resistance Retribution Chimera

I’ve owned a PSP for probably more than a decade. I have around 80 titles for the platform (I know, madness) and I’m still playing games that I haven’t touched before. What I consider the 2 best action games in the platform have been in my collection for quite a while, but is now when I’ve played them back-to-back. I already talked about (and praised) The 3rd Birthday. Now, it’s the time for Resistance Retribution. Maybe is not as  good as the former on gameplay, but overall has nothing to envy of the Square-Enix title.

Resistance Retribution, the Chimera invasion in 3rd person

Resistance Retribution is a spin-off of the main series for PS3. While those games are first person shooters, the responsible studio decided to move on to a third person perspective. The game is still a pure shooter, but it puts some emphasis on the use of covers. Somewhat similar to what we’ve seen in Gears of War or Uncharted. The cover system is automatic, meaning that we don’t need to press any buttons, the character will automatically hide when we approach a cover.

The decision to move the game from a FPS to a TPS made sense due to BEND Studio’s experience in the platform. They developed both Syphon Filter games for PSP, 2 of the best TPS’s in the platform. In fact, this game feels like a natural evolution of what we saw in those games.

Europe is under siege

The game makes an effort to tell an interesting story. We will visit Rotterdam, Luxenburg and a couple of places in France, including a devastated Paris that has become the central base for the Chimera. The plot is interesting and the main story line is well narrated. It’s important to note that Retribution’s story is placed between Resistance Fall of Men (first game) and Resistance 2, and it works as a nexus between them.

Resistance Retribution

Raine Bouchard will be more important than we would think at first

My problem with the game is that characters and dialog are quite poor. The main character – Lt. James Grayson – is a maniac (and an ***hole). He is not likable at all and that affects the game negatively. The other characters are a bunch of walking cliches and they’re not likable either. Obviously, if the characters are like that, the dialogs can’t work.

Shooting our way to Paris

The game is quite good when it comes to gameplay. It’s obvious that BEND had a lot of experience creating third person shooters, as the control it’s really solid and takes PSP’s weaknesses into consideration.

The best example is with the aiming. The game makes use of a semi-automatic aiming. There is a big rectangle (about 3/5ths of the screen space) that works as aim. When an enemy gets inside that aiming area, the auto-aiming will take effect. We can change to manual aim by pressing the up arrow, but why would we do that? The PSP lacks a second analog joystic, making aiming difficult. Well, the game forces you to use it. There is an specific type of enemy that walks to you and explodes and it can be killed only by headshots. Is not easy to accomplish that with the autoaim, so we will change to manual. But wait, this enemies are usually not alone and you’ll have to change between aiming modes fast and be efficient in order to survive.

Voilà, the lack of second joystic is not a weakness anymore, it is part of a game mechanic.

Resistance Retribution Chimera

‘Gorillas’ will be our main enemy, but there is a big variety of foes

The game has a diverse cast of enemies, each of them with different mechanics that will make us use different strategies. This combines really well with the different weapons that Grayson can use. There are 8 weapons in total, one of them pretty original. The way we use and combine this weapons is key to be successful in combat. We can’t just enter a room shooting without thinking, we need to plan and react quickly to what happens on the screen or we’ll get stuck easily. In the bosses it’s specially easy to die, and using the right weapons is a must to kill them.

I have the feel that the game starts a bit slow but starts to really shine throughout the second chapter. Level design is great, and there is a fair variety of situations for a TPS game. With that said, the game is quite long (and difficult) and I think it can take between 10-12 hours to finish.

A portable blockbuster

Resistance Retribution not only plays great, it also looks fantastic. The game makes great use of PSP’s hardware, and it’s no doubt one of the best looking games in the platform. It could have shined even more with a different art direction and color palette, but I understand is part of the series’ identity.

Resistance Retribution graphics

Resistance Retribution is one of the best looking games in PSP

There is something strange about soundtrack. Melodies and orchestration are great, but the influences of cinema is so obvious that it creates a constant feel of deja vu. It specially takes a lot from John Williams’ music, and you can hear some of his trademark sounds all over the place. It’s not a bad thing, but it is there.

A PSP must have

Overall, I think Resistance Retribution is a must have for Playstation Portable but we can’t forget that nowadays there are better TPS in other platforms. This game can’t play the card of originality and personality that other games can (like the mentioned The 3rd Birthday). That makes it difficult to recommend but it is undoubtedly one of the best games in PSP’s catalog.

The long take

Long take, children of the men

Knowledge is key. Knowledge helps us have an understanding of the world and everything that surrounds us. That very same rule applies to art. If we have an understanding of how rhythm and melody works we will be able to appreciate music better. If we understand the fundamentals of light and color and composition, we will be able to go to a museum and enjoy it more.

I can’t presume of being versed in any art in particular, but I am a cinema lover. And over the years, my knowledge of the medium has growth allowing me to enjoy movies (and TV) on a whole different level. Something I would like to do this year is explore some filmmaking concepts and techniques that I find interesting, starting today with the long take.

The Long Take

First of all, let’s check the definition in wikipedia:

In filmmaking, a long take is a shot lasting much longer than the conventional editing pace either of the film itself or of films in general. Significant camera movement and elaborate blocking are often elements in long takes, but not necessarily so.

So, basically It’s a take longer than usual. In spanish we refer to it as ‘plano-sequencia’, what basically means that the whole scene is taken in only one shot, with no camera cuts. This takes are usually very expressive, and can be used for multiple purposes. Sometimes, the director wants to show us a particular moment in the life of a person. The long take can change our perspective as viewers and help us connect with the character, bringing us closer to him/her. Another common use is in action scenes, like in the famous Oldboy scene.

The first time I remember identifying it while watching a movie was on Inglorious Bastards. It’s a take that starts with Shosanna at the cinema hall. The camera ‘walks’ with her down the stairs and shows us how she engages on a conversation with Daniel Bruhl’s character. After that the camera follows a waiter. This walk is used to give us a a feel of the place, showing us the cinema hall and the people that is there. After that, another change, this time to follow Col. Landa (magnificently portrayed by Christoph Waltz).

It’s not the most complex long take, but is a good one and it’s greatly enjoyable to see. This scene in particular helps us understand the environment. It gets the viewer in the middle of the pre-movie cocktail giving a glimpse of what’s going and who is there. It also builds a narrative where for the first time all the main characters (alive at that point of the movie) are on the same room.

A couple of examples

Obviously spoilers ahead

This technique is more commonly used that you would think. There are a series of directors that have a taste for it and they use it often in their productions. I’m going to start with Cary Fukunaga, famous for his role as the sole director of season 1 of True Detective. It’s on this series where I first got to see displayed his ability for the long take:

I recently watch his movie Beasts of No Nation (Netflix), where Fukunaga also uses the technique with great (and devastating) results.

Alfonso Cuarón is another director that has been famous for using the long take in his films. The use of the long take in Children of the Men is exceptional, and it gets the viewer into the chaotic England seen in the movie.

The scene is sensational. It has a little bit of everything: conversations, tension, action… The camera is in continuous movement inside the car to show us what is relevant. The ending with the camera seeing the car go at the end is genius and reinforces the ending of the scene and the situation itself.

On the previous two scenes we’ve seen lots of action, but there are other uses for long takes. For example to make the viewer feel a place and a situation. Joe Wright and his team did an amazing job in the scene from the movie Atonement:

This is scene is not only beautiful, it’s also incredibly inmersive.

Planning

I can guess that planning is a very important, if not the most, when recording a long take, as It involves a great deal of coordination. Everyone needs to know their roles perfectly: actors, camera, special effects… Everything needs to be in place and move in time, otherwise the scene might not work. If you want to see what I’m talking about, have a look to this behind the scene footage of the movie Hugo. I personally find this fascinating:

The Unexpected Virtue of Trickery

Have you watched Birdman by Alejandro G. Iñárritu? The movie plays like a single shot. The whole fricking movie. But is it recorded in one single shot? No it’s not. The movie is a collection of long takes connected through different tricks to make it look like one shot. The movie looks amazing, and it’s difficult to identify where are the cuts. It’s, no doubt, a very interesting exercise and something quite unique. The movie won 4 Oscars including direction and cinematography.

Long take Birdman

Director Alejandro G. Iñarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel ‘Chivo’ Lubezki during the filming of Birdman

Believe it or not, there are films that have actually done what Birdman makes us thing it does. There are not many of these, but they exist and you can see a list here.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing and researching for it. Cinema is a beautiful art and long takes is just one of the many topics I’d to explore in the future. If you know of any movies with epic long takes, let me know in the comments or through any social media channel 🙂

I started using Beanstalk and it’s just what I was looking for

Beanstalk

As I mentioned in the past, it’s not easy to work alone in development. I have so much work to do and so little time, that I often don’t give myself enough time to explore tools and methodologies that could improve my day to day. This year I’m trying to change that and one of the first things I’ve done is try to improve my deployment workflow.

Until now, I’ve been working locally on a Git repository and making deployments with and FTP software. You don’t need to tell me that is crazy to do that, I know very well. It’s really easy to make mistakes and as the project becomes more complex, deployment becomes a pain. I needed to fix this issue and I wanted something simple and straightforward. A problem that I found while researching for the right tool is that most solutions are overtly complicated and full of team-oriented options that are great, but are completely useless to me.

Git to FTP with Beanstalk

I finally started using Beanstalk, a very simple yet powerful tool that has improved greatly deployment at work. Beanstalk is really simple, it works as a remote repository (works with Git and Subvesion) and it allows you to connect through FTP to your server for deployment. You have full control of when and how you deploy. You can either do an automatic upload every time you do a push request (not recommended at all on production) or you can manually deploy. They even let you include an special command in your commits to trigger an auto deployment: [deploy:production]. You also have the option to configure different environments for the same repository, for example staging and production.

Deploying on beanstalk

You can add notes everytime you deploy code to one of your servers

Usually, before you deploy you want to review the changes to be sure that everything is ok. Beanstalk let’s you do that on site. It provides a section where you can check every commit, with a view of the changes file by file. There you can comments and notify your colleagues, edit the files or ask for a review by your co-workers. Once verified that all changes are correct, you can navigate to the Deployments section and just push the changes to the server.

Beanstalk review code page

Reviewing code is painless and built for collaboration

A good option thanks to its simplicity

As you can see, Beanstalk provides few but very useful tools to make deployments easy and painless while maintaining a high level of control. They claim that they ‘have a global redundant infrastructure and make use of the latest encryption techniques to keep your files secure and available world-wide’, that sounds really good but I don’t have a way to verify that it’s 100% true.

The only thing I can add is that it is working really well for me and so far I’m happy with the results. The learning curve is close to zero if you’ve been using Subversion or Git and you’ll see the benefits immediately. I think I’ve made the right decision here, but I’m always open to hear anyone’s opinion.

P.s. If you want to check it out they have some free options.

P.s.s: images are examples taken from Beanstalk’s website.

 

The Turntable Series: Jamie Lenman – Devolver

Jamie Lenman Devolver

Jamie Lenman has become over years one of my favorite artists. He started a band named Reuben in the early 2000s that was an underground hit. During the 7 years they spent together, Reuben released 3 fantastic albums, each of them evolving their sound. They always characterized for being able to go from a truly hardcore metal to the most sweet and pop-y sound, sometimes even in the same song. After the split, Lenman spent 5 years dedicated to illustration before coming back to music in 2013 with the double album Muscle Memory. One day I’ll talk about that weird but extraordinary album, but today is time for Devolver.

Carrying the flag for variety

At it’s core, I think Devolver is a rock album. It has a series of metal tunes but I think it would be misleading to put it on that genre. The album moves constantly between different genres, making it difficult to classify. In a way, it goes back to that Reuben sound but taking it to the extreme. That could make for an inconsistent experience, but Lenman is able to make it work.

Jamie Lenman Devolver

The guy’s look is just… I don’t know how to describe this xD

I think an excellent example of this is the song I Don’t Know Anything. The song starts with an 80s punk sound, it evolves to a melodic rock song and then it changes again and again. We have what it sounds like a string quartet, a very melodic part and finally something similar to a military march. It is crazy but it works and is pretty unique. We also have tunes like Waterloo Teeth and Mississippi that are fairly conventional metal songs, or songs like All of England is a City that could easily be part of a Foo Fighters album.

Jamie Lenman’s Devolver

Lenman voice’s range allows him to dive into different sounds and genres and perform well in all of them. It is not that usual to find artists with the ability to pull out an album like this, as is not only musical skills what are required, but also a taste for other genres and the willingness to push those boundaries. In a world where music fells constantly in common grounds, we need more people that tries to offer something different and refreshing.

Favorite track: difficult,  but I’ll go with the title track – Devolver (Mississipi, I Don’t Know Anything and Bones are also really good)

Listen to Jamie’s album here:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

I swear to your God or whatever you believe in, I never expected one day I would read a Harry Potter book. My little brother (8 years younger) grew up with this, not me. I’ve never been a fan of young adult books, not even when I had that age.

So why read it now? Well, it happens that Aneesha is a huge fan of Harry Potter and I’m a huge fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. Both sagas are seven books and she hasn’t read any Dark tower either, so we decided to start some kind of reading challenge. She would read The Dark Tower, I would read all the Potter books.

I recently finished The Sorcerer’s Stone and I thought it would be nice to share some thoughts on it. I hope she agrees to come here and review The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower first book) too. Quick preview: she hated it.

About J.K. Rowling’s writing

The book is obviously aiming for a child-to-teenage audience, but independently of this, it’s a well written and compelling book. It uses a language simple and direct, and the author narrates the story with a really good pace. The book gives you the feel that there are things happening all the time, specially after they reach Howarts. By the way,  I was surprised to see that almost half of the book is spent before that.

In general, I think J.K. Rowling’s work is really good, and I can easily see how she captivated a  whole generation of kids and teenagers.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Mary GrandPré / Art Insights Gallery / Via artinsights.com

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I have to admit that it’s been a bit difficult for me to detach the characters from the actors. At the time, I took my brother to see all the movies and whille reading Snape’s lines I was unable to forget the great Alan Rickman. I could almost hear his voice while reading.

Talking about the characters, I was quite surprised with Harry. The kid I had seen on the movies is quite different to the one pictured in the book, where I think he is a bit more asshole-ish. His relationship with Draco Malfoy is product of how both behave, and at no moment Harry is kind or nice (yeah, I know Draco is worse).

The rest of the characters are more or less as I  remembered. Hagrid is the not too bright but in some way adorable bearded giant. And Ron and Hermione are the perfect complements to the protagonist, with great chemistry between the three of them. The rest of the characters have a very brief appearance and I guess they will be developed further on the sequels.

Magic world, (almost) magic-less wizards

It surprised me how the book introduces a new magic or mythological element almost evrey chapter. It doesn’t create much new, but one chapter we are talking about trolls, the next will be reading about a dragon and after that we will be riding a centaur while we look for a unicorn. This brings a lot of variety to the whole and it keeps the reader wondering what will come next.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Mary GrandPré / Parker Jordan Fine Art / Via parkerjordanfineart.com

My main issue is that wizards are pretty unmagical. What I mean by this is that magic itself, the one we expect from the wizards,  is almost unseen through the story. And I feel there are moments when it gets a bit silly. I can understand that the kids just started to learn, but to see how the ‘bad guy’ (with the help of Voldemort himself) is unable to pass an oversize dog… I’m sorry but I don’t buy it. I understand that for the purpose of the story, it has to be this way, but I can’t understand how an expert wizard can’t overcome certain things.

Because of the movies, I know this type of situation is a constant on the series and it is by far what I like the least. I also found funny that at some point a character says that Harry is able to see things that other can’t, and that’s why he is so good at Quidditch, but he is the only one wearing glasses. I know is a silly thing, but it is there.

Quidditch & Voldemort

To end this little pseudo-review of mine, I just want to point out a couple of things. I don’t see the point of Quidditch. For me it feels like an unnecessary element on the book and it seems that it exists with the only purpose of show how ‘special’ Harry is.

And when it comes to talk about Voldemort, I’ll admit that I’m quite fascinated by the character. I hope in the rest of the books the author goes deeper into his past. His role in this novel is not too big, but enough to make him interesting and intriguing. And by the way, the final twist is very well written, and I doubt many people could predict it.

To summarize, I think Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a good book, that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It is not perfect, there are some minor things that I don’t like here and there, but I would recommend it.

Gaming Sessions: Gears of War 4

Gears of War 4 Cover Art

It’s become a tradition to play the first video game of the year with my brother. We started some time back, and now that we live in different countries it has even more meaning. We don’t get to spend much time together over the year, so it’s good to be able to share something that we both like. This time we’ve played Gears of War 4. It’s a game that perfectly fits the description of what we want to play: a not too long, co-op, action packed game. Actually, Gears of War is somehow becoming a synonymous of Christmas, as we’ve played all the games in the franchise this time of the year. I know, kind of weird.

A new generation for Gears of War 4

Gears of War 4 jumps into the future around 30 years. The game puts us in control of a band of 3 formed by JD Fenix and his friends Kait and Del. One of the first things you’ll notice is that the characters on this entry are (way) more charismatic. It helps that the script is well written and the narrative is clear, two of the biggest issues I found on the original Gears Trilogy. JD plays well as the charming hero, something that his father Marcus didn’t have. It’s a character that feels way more human and less military machine. Del and Kait are good characters too. Kait will be at the center of most of the emotional moments on the game due to story events that I’m not gonna spoil here. Del plays as a comic relief in some moments, a bit typical, but plays his part well.

Gears of War 4 characters

It’s also a new generation game in the sense that they moved from Xbox 360 to Xbox One. Gears of War 3 was probably the most impressive visual feat on the 360. I don’t own an Xbox One, but Gears of War 4 is probably one of the most stunning games on One. Characters and environments have a huge level of detail and both lighting and effects are exceptional. In terms of visual design, we find a game that follows the evolution seen in Gears3. That means a better use of color and light that gives the game a fantastic look. It’s maybe not as stunning as Uncharted 4, but it is pretty close. Only facial animation is clearly better in U4 and even so, facial animations here are good.

… but same old Gears

If you are a Gears fan, you won’t be disappointed. Gears4 offers the same game play we’ve enjoyed all this years, with little improvements here and there. The main issue on the previous games was a lack of agility on the characters, and a feel that they are very heavy. It is annoying when you run and your character is unable to turn a corner. I understand that is part of the identity of the saga and they didn’t want to make a radical change, but they should consider doing some adjustments for the next game. In terms of shooting and moving in general I have no complains, it’s a really good game with a very polished control. My brother tends to disagree but… who cares? xD.

Gears of War 4 robots

The Swarm is not the only menace we’ll have to fight, The Coalition will also chase us

Talking about old Gears, some of the characters from the previous trilogy appear in the game as secondary characters. They are there for a reason and it’s good that they don’t become an obstacle to tell a new story. It works great as an homage and it’s really well done. Kudos to The Coalition for this.

New situations and menaces

There are a couple of innovations to the classic formula. Good additions that help to bring some variety to the game. The first and most notable is the storms. For whatever reason, the planet Sera suffers a series of catastrophic electric storms. The winds will affect the character movement and you’ll have to be careful if you want to use grenades. Also, there will be elements in the environment that are suitable of being used as weapons thanks to the wind. Occasionally, there will be areas where a couple of dozens of lightnings fall in the your area. You’ll have to run and avoid getting hit by them while you try to reach a safe place. It’s not a revolutionary addition, but everything helps to give variety to the campaign.

Gears of War 4 Electric Storms

The electric storms are some of the most impressive moments of the game

The menaces in Gears of War 4 are multiple. We will be fighting another species that JD & friends call The Swarm. Are they the Locust again? Well, maybe, but it is better if you find out yourself. The Swarm counts with a few different types of enemies and some of them introduce new combat mechanics. There are some huge dog-like enemies that jump around  the environment. We will have to avoid their attacks while we shoot to their belly if we want to actually hurt them. These fights are difficult the first couple of times but, at least for us, after a while we became really good at them. Another great addition are the Snatchers. This are huge ass (pardon my French) creatures that will throw acid at our heroes, jump around the environment (potentially crushing you) and will capture our characters and try to escape with their prey. This fights are difficult and very intense, some of my favorites on the game. The rest of additions are more normal and more grounded in the classic combat mechanics.

Gears of War 4 enemies

We will be fighting ‘cuties’ like this one

This time you won’t be part of the established human Coalition of Governments and you will have numerous fights with them. I believe that there was a bit of criticism to these parts, but in my opinion is a welcomed addition. In this sections we will be fighting robots and drones and we’ll have to use different strategies as the ones we use against The Swarm.

Best “tank level” ever?

It’s very common in shooters, specially if they have a military component, to have a one or two levels where you have to get hands on with a tank or similar vehicle. In Gears of War 4 we have one of these levels, but for once it’s a really well designed one. The game puts you in control of a huge robot and makes you go around fighting the biggest enemies of the game. The difference is that now we’ll be as big as they are. The robot is agile and you can do almost everything you do when controlling JD and his friends. This gives a really good dynamic to the level, and it doesn’t feel out of place. It was a very enjoyable moment on the game, and I hope in the future we see more of this.

My favorite Gears of War

I believe every Gears has improved its predecessor, at least when it comes to the single playe/co-op experience. The 2nd game improved the level design greatly and gave the game a bigger scale. And the 3rd game jumped again, including new characters, a better narrative and improving vastly it’s art design.

This Gears of War 4 takes another step forward with the best narrative in the series, better characters and script. It does all this without forgetting about the game play, where The Coalition included a bunch of little changes and new elements that improve the series’ formula. Overall it’s an excellent action game and a great debut for a new studio like The Coalition.

The Turntable Series: Intervals – The Shape of Colour

Intervals The Shape of Colour

There was a lot of movement and changes for Intervals in the period that goes from 2013 to the publication of The Shape of Colour in late 2015. They went from instrumental music to non-instrumental with the addition of Mike Semesky. They launched a great album in 2014, A Voice Within, that with the addition of voice surely brought them closer to the public. That was followed by Mike leaving at the end of 2014. With the band being voiceless again, a conflict rose between the remaining members: do we keep it instrumental or not?

The end result was that drummer Anup Sastry and guitarist Lukas Guyader left the band, leaving Intervals as a one man show with Aaron Marshall in the middle. The Shape of Colour is the first album by this new Intervals, and excellent record, with great songs and a lot of personality.

Metal at its core but different

Intervals is part of this new wave of metal & rock musicians that appreciates and understands a bigger and broader amount of music. They don’t stick to their genres, and that pays of in many ways when they compose themselves. We’ve seen it in the past with bands like Animals as Leaders, The Dillinger Escape Plan or Between the Buried and Me. They’re a bands that break barriers and bring something actually new to the table.

Intervals The Shape of Colour

The colorful cover of Intervals – The Shape of Colour

In this album, that can be seen in many places. The use of guitar effects is pretty significant. Even though there is a fair amount of guitar distortion, it is subtle and lighter than the usual in the genre. The use of clean guitars is also not very common, but it can be heard in tracks like ‘Sweet Tooth’. There are other aspects that show the abundance of influences. Some percussion rhythms here and there. Guitar riffs that are closer to rock. They even included a sax in the track ‘Fable’.

Guitar as an instrument to express emotion

Being an  (metal) instrumental album, there is a lot of guitars in here. But we find a very expressive guitar, with lots of solos and complex riffs. But this complexity is well understood, not a guitarist trying to show off his/her skills. The album is full of great melodies that are very expressive and beautiful. I might be crazy, but for me this album transpires happiness and joy for the music itself. Tracks like Fable, Sweet Tooth or Meridian have a halo of optimism that feels really good in a genre that has a tendency to follow darker paths.

Listen to Intervals – The Shape of Colour

As you might be guessing already, Fable and Sweet Tooth are my favorite tracks on the album. But to be honest, there’s not a bad song in The Shape of Colour. Enjoy!