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A brick wall that read 'We like you too"

You are more than your job title

In this time and age, it seems like career is all that matters. You have to do this, you have to accomplish that and is your career what defines you. If you ask me, that’s utter bullshit. Your career is just a little part of who you are as a person and of what you bring to this world. Your job is what you do to make money. To survive in a capitalistic world that is harsh and relentless.

Obviously, in an ideal situation, you like your job. I’m lucky to say that I like what I do. It has good and not so good moments (like everything), but overall I’m satisfied. Not so long ago I wasn’t that happy about it. I had that attitude towards my job that I was describing a few lines above. I was obsessed with reaching certain goals, accomplish what I thought it would demonstrate that I was worthy. Because if I didn’t reach my goals as a professional I was a failure.

It has taken me lots of unhappy (and scary) moments and almost two years of fighting anxiety and depression to realize that I’m much more than a what my job title says. I’m a partner, a son, a brother, a friend… I’m a naturally curious person with countless hobbies and a strong creative gene that I’m still trying to develop every day. Fuck, I’m even an occasional blogger 😀

In this two years of struggle I’ve changed the way I look at my job and my career. I’ve learnt to develop myself as a person instead of as a professional and the benefits of it have translated to my workplace.

Your job is just that, and it’s ok to set goals and wanting to progress in your profession, but don’t let it take your happiness away. I can tell you from personal experience, is not worth it.

Photo by Adam Jang on Unsplash
Internet privacy

Internet privacy matters but we don’t protect ourselves

I’ve never been an advocate for internet privacy. I’ve used all types of services without reading any of those privacy policies (who reads that shit? It’s unreadable), I’ve had location services active in my phone for long time, etc. I think at some point I let myself go, I trusted the don’t be evil motto. When they give you great products for free you  don’t question as much what Google (and others) are doing with your data.

But this attitude has negative effects. I (we) have given this companies a message: do whatever the fuck you want, I’m not going to do anything about it.

The Instagram listener and  behavioral retargeting

I think what made me think about it seriously about it, was this Medium article about Instagram making use of the phone’s microphone to listen and process the collected data to show relevant ads. If what is explained on that articles is 100 percent accurate is irrelevant. It’s consistent enough with my personal experience using Instagram/Facebook/Google/whatever.

Reading that article made me think about what I already knew. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple… they all have an extense file on my with interests, internet habits, search, how I use their software, etc. This data has my name all over it. That way they can show me “relevant” ads everywhere, all the time.

I’m not going to go into why this is a bad thing. If you don’t thing it is, good for you. If on the other hand, you don’t like massive corporations having so much information about you, I’ll move to share some tips I believe can be helpful. But first let me be clear about something. This will not save you from this problem, it will only help you you in some fronts.

Start using Firefox Quantum

Mozilla Firefox has been with us since the late 90s. Their last version, Firefox Quantum, is a great browser, fast and efficient. More importantly, Firefox is developed by Mozilla, a non-profit organization that has demonstrated over 2 decades that the care about internet freedom and the users right to  surf the net safe and privately.

In addition to this, they give the user a lot of control and what do they share with mozilla and the default privacy options are already very reasonable. While  preparing to write this post I’ve read their privacy policy.  It is reasonable, clear, easy to read and understand. Because when a company is not trying to use you as their product, they don’t need to hide anything.

Search with DuckDuckGo

But Google is the best! What are you talking about? Yeah, well, I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for a few weeks and there’s  barely any different. Actually I’m gonna say something crazy: DuckDuckGo results are better thatn Google’s.

DuckDuckGo only personalizes your results based in location. That’s not the case with Google, they try to predict the most accurate results having in mind your previous searches (and I think other factors like pages you’ve visited). This could seem like a great idea, and  I think it’s done in good faith, but the result of this system is biased search results. This might seem irrelevant.  It probably is when you’re looking to  buy a new tv, but it is not when you are looking for things like politics, news, etc. What Google will show you will be biased and will reinforce your belives  without letting you see the other point of views. If you can’t see what is bad about that…

I highly recommend you to read this post by DuckDuckGo’s CEO in Quora.

Review your phone settings

I’ve spent some time lately going through app permissions on my phone. Things like location, mic, etc. are rarely going to be used by apps to offer you their service, but they still ask you for it. I was amazed by how many apps on my phone had location perms requirement, when at the end only 5 or 6 do we really needed them.

Taking five minutes to review these permissions can help you avoid sharing undesired data. Same applies to your desktop OS of choice. Spend some time  looking at what you are sharing with the OS provider.

Other steps you can take

  • Consider using Linux: Yes, I’m serious. Linux can be rough, but there are distributions that are very user friendly (Ubuntu, ElementaryOS, etc). Unless you need a specific software not available for Linux (photoshop, 3d studio…) there is no reason to stick to Windows/Mac OS.
  • Use Proton mail: Proton Mail is a secure and encrypted mail service. It’s free and has apps for the main OS  in the market. I’m seriously considering this move, but is no doubt one of the most painful you can do. I’m sure there are other options out there that offer a similar. approach
  • Be careful with what you share in  social media: if Facebook or other SM can identify your face in photos, bad.

There aremore things that can be done, but I’m not an expert on the mater and I don’t  want to talk without knowing.

Protoct yourself

We are not products, but massive companies with huge ecosystems and advertising interests are using us as such. We must be aware that even if their intentions are not bad, their actions are guided by the rules of capitalism. That is not bad per se, but it can become an issue with actors of this size.

Resistance Retribution Chimera

Gaming Sessions: Resistance Retribution

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.

Long take, children of the men

The long take

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 🙂

Beanstalk

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

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.

 

Jamie Lenman Devolver

The Turntable Series: 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:

Web design

I, Designer

My first job was as a web designer / front-end developer. It was a different time, and I was fresh out of university where, apart from a bunch of other things, I studied some design. That first job was quite easy, I had clear guidelines that I couldn’t bypass and web design wasn’t as complex as it is today. After that first job, others came, but never as a designer. I fashioned myself more as a coder (I still do) and, being completely honest, I’m not good at designing. I can appreciate good design, I understand the theory behind it and I have the knowledge. But anyone with a bit of experience in life knows that from theory to practice there’s a long way.

I’m writing about this because I’ve spend the last (almost) five years working on a designer-less environment. It never bothered me. The CEO had a clear vision of the company’s brand and image, so between my limited designing skills and his input we’ve managed to create a product that is quite decent, if not good. Or that is what I used to think. Recently I’ve been reviewing our website in detail and I’m not happy with what I’ve seen. But not everything is negative. Yes, we have a lot of inconsistencies and some poorly designed elements, but I believe we have the foundations of a good design.

So I got back to work (is not like we can hire a designer at the moment) and I’ve started a digital Design Guideline. So far I’m just trying to put things together. We have a lot of good stuff on our website but is not standard. There are variations of the same elements here and there, and that is the first thing that needs to be addressed. I’m using the Material Design guidelines as a reference. We have relayed on Google’s guidelines in the past and I believe is gonna help me find the consistency that we need.

In the near future I’d like to post the new guide and some examples of how we have improved things. I’m never gonna be an excellent designer, but I trust myself to do this job.

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.

Gears of War 4 Cover Art

Gaming Sessions: Gears of War 4

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.

Intervals The Shape of Colour

The Turntable Series: 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!