Learning Guitar

August 27, 2008

Nope, not another video game post. Today I've decided to discuss my little journey of learning to play the guitar.

Ever since high school I always wanted to learn how to play the guitar. For some reason I was reluctant to really give it a try as I had a few misconceptions about playing the guitar. First of all I thought that I needed to have long fingers in order to be a good guitar player, but it turns while having longer fingers may help, all it really takes is practice. I also thought that guitars and guitar equipment was really expensive, and while it is expensive, you can also find good beginner equipment or used equipment which is perfect for someone getting started.

Around last Christmas, I got into playing Guitar Hero III for the Xbox 360. I had never played any of the Guitar Hero series before and it turned out to be a lot of fun. I had originally stayed away from it, figuring the game for a silly DDR-style rhythm game, but the guitar peripheral really made it a lot of fun. After getting good on the hard and expert difficulties, I had a renewed need to learn the guitar. I figured it was time to stop being a Guitar Hero poser and learn to play for real. No sense spending hours getting good at something "fake" when you can spend the same time to learn becoming a real guitar player.

I did a bit of research online first of all to decide how best to go about learning. I found a few different resources that helped a bit, but by far the best one was Justin's site helped immensely with a great beginner course with detailed explanations and videos to help get started. I decided I would learn on an electric because they are a little easier to learn on in the beginning and there are plenty of cheap electric guitars and starter amps to be found.

My Gear

Epiphone Les Paul Special II

The guitar itself has great sound for whatever type of music you want to play. I've been using it primarily for learning different metal songs, but it has a very nice clean sound as well. With tweaking my amp a bit on the "crunch" channel, I can even really get a nice punk or grunge feel out of the guitar as well. If you are interested in this guitar or how it sounds, there are tons of people messing around with this guitar on youtube to give you a good idea. For the price, you really can't go wrong with it, great sounds, and excellent for the beginner.

Line 6 Spider III 15w

This amp rocks. Another great beginner item, this amp doesn't have too many complicated features. It's simply great for quickly making music the way you want it to sound, dial in one of the preset buttons and you are good to go. You can also tweak the sounds a bit by adjusting the gain, bass, mid, and treble as well as adding 2 other simultaneous effects. For 15 watts this amp can wake the neighbors, I've never even pushed the main volume past 1 on the dial. My next amp will probably be the 120w or 75w version of the same amp as they have hundreds of pre-set sounds which gets you more time playing and less time trying to dial in sounds when switching songs.

Both the guitar and amp are very solid beginner products. They aren't too expensive and if you purchase them separately you can basically build your own beginner starter pack that you often find around at Guitar Center or Musicians Friend.

Great Learning Guitar Resources
Essential Guitar Guide
Fretboard Guitar Trainer
Ultimate Guitar Tabs

My next Amp :)

Too Human Review

August 25, 2008

I finished the campaign of Too Human on my first character over the weekend and decided to give a review post about the game. Overall it’s a good game; I only really have a few gripes. Since they are planning on creating a trilogy for the franchise, I expect to have these issues resolved in the next installment of the game or maybe if lucky, a patch via Xbox Live. I have a feeling they are more likely hard at work on the sequel.

Game Play
Fundamentally the game play is solid, the controls are a little difficult to master at first but once you get the hang of it, Baldur is pretty easy to control around the environment. Movement itself is very simple, it gets complicated when you start wading through mobs of enemies with larger mini-bosses towering over you mid-battle.

At first I had a very difficult time timing the juggle move and the instructions weren’t clear that you had to move the right-stick 2x in the same direction, without that you end up slide attacking all the time and while that may work well for the weak enemies, you will find yourself dead quickly when going up against “leader” mobs. Leaders or mini-bosses usually are named and will display a health bar underneath Baldur when you have them targeted. Learning to master the juggle move is essential for successful game play or you will end up frustrated and resurrected by valkyries every few minutes.

Every class seems to kind of be a one-trick pony, you do attack A to kill weak mobs, juggle and try out attack A & B on the tougher mobs, trolls require a decision to go destroying it piece by piece or just enough to deliver the final blow while atop the great beasts. You’d think it gets boring after a while, but it really doesn’t because there are enough enemies coming at you as well as your special attacks (spider abilities, battle cries, and ruiners) to keep things interesting.

The levels themselves are very long and just when you think you are getting close to the end of a stage you find you have another 15-20 minutes of enemies to slog through. The promise of new shiny loot keeps you going from enemy to enemy, level to level. There is so much loot that if you don’t take a couple minutes of looking at what you have recently received in your inventory every 5 or so minutes of playing, you can easily be overwhelmed with the amount you need to go through sifting the good from the bad from the epic. Luckily there is a salvage assistant which you can set to auto-salvage certain quality types of items, but you still find yourself looking for armor/weapon upgrades that you can quickly toss into a slot.

It almost seems like the cut-scenes in the game get a little better in quality as the game progresses. In the beginning, the don’t quite have the same level of polish as the rest of the game areas that you are playing in, almost seeming like they are from a 1st generation Xbox title, however, once you are about half-way through the campaign they all of a sudden get a little better and the few graphics quirks I noted originally seemed to disappear.

Some fantastic looking environments and lots of eye candy to please in this one. They do a good job of pushing the 360 to it’s limits and you will only find there is any considerable amount of game slow down when there is just an absolute amount of stuff going on in the game. At one point I was fighting a troll, surrounded by smaller enemies and also being shot at by missile-goblins, the game finally succumbed to the madness as about 20 rockets exploded all around me and there was a few seconds of slow-down while the explosion animation was multiplied across the screen. All the stages have their own unique look and feel so you don’t get bored playing through the campaign, there is enough to mix it up and keep things fresh. This is essential as you will spend time replaying levels to gain additional experience and hunt for elusive armor and weapon sets.

Music & Sound
The game does a good job of creating the environments along with sounds that surround Baldur’s position. Whether it be explosions off in the distance, or characters speaking near you while in Midgard, they are believable. The music will quicken pace when entering combat areas with lots of enemies to provide the player with an epic feel and that lends to the satisfaction of cleaning out a large group of enemies without taking much of a scratch. The only complaint I have is that the in-game sounds are extremely loud compared to the voices at the default levels. I had originally cranked the volume up while watching a cut-scene and nearly went deaf when the game came back in, trolls around screaming for my blood.

The multiplayer system allows you to run back through areas you have un-locked with your character in the campaign and bring a buddy or random Xbox live player along for the ride. You get to pick the area, the loot distribution, and that is all you really need besides someone to join. What you embark on is a 2 player loot drop romp back through a previously cleared stage. The enemies you fight will be a mixture between your level ranges which is best if you have players fairly near each other level-wise. I had a game with my level 30 champion bringing in a level 48 commando and it made things difficult when I was one shot-stomped by a troll while trying to break off its armor. The game scales making the enemies more difficult as you progress, keeping it challenging.

If you happen to lose a connection while in the middle of a game, a new player can re-join right at the same spot in the level. There is no need to restart the session, just drop them in and keep killing things.

This is probably the most important aspect to the game if you want to consider it for a long time purchase over a rental. The campaign itself only houses about 12-13 hours of game play before you finish and will start over again either with a different class or continuing on with the same character to try and reach level 50. There are quite a few things to attain beyond the campaign for any individual character. First of all, reaching level 30 from one play through really only starts to scratch the surface of the human vs. cybernetic skill paths, you will want to continue to level and pump points into either of your skill trees to make your character even more powerful. Loot, loot, and more loot! There is so much loot to obtain, out-level, re-attain, that it is easy to find yourself re-playing areas and trying to win all of the best loot you can out of them. There are even areas in cyberspace that are only accessible after you have obtained all your cyberspace powers that garner you with fancy charms that in and of themselves have their own quest chains to complete. So while the main campaign is a little short, there are plenty of reasons to re-play through that content as your characters progress in level.

Final Thoughts
Too Human has been a long awaited game, and it does not disappoint. I wish that the campaign had 1-2 more levels in it to round it out around 20 hours of game time, but the extensibility of all the other content that is not just story but character progression more than makes up for that. If you are the type of player that likes action-oriented RPGs with a very deep class specialization system and all the loot you can get your hands on then you will like this game. If you are on the edge about the game, give it a rent or give the demo a try and see if you can stay away from all the awesome loot.

I will soon be broke

August 22, 2008

Looking at all of the great games still due out this year, I can hear my wallet making small whimpering sounds. There is so much to buy and it all looks great, I'm sure I'm not the only gamer considering working two jobs to be able to afford it all. Here's the quick run down on what I'm looking forward to over the next few months.

Release Date : 8/19/2008 (out now)
Price: $59.99
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft (Silicon Knights)
Comments: I just got my copy and have played through 30% of the game, it's really fantastic so far and definitely fun for the loot whore in all of us.

Release Date : 8/31/2008
Price: $59.99
Platform: Multi
Publisher: EA (Pandemic Studios)
Comments: This one looks to be a lot of fun, they took a good solid game concept and really enhanced it for the next gen consoles. Can't wait to drop a nuke down in this one.

Release Date : 9/7/2008
Price: $49.99
Platform: PC
Publisher: EA (Maxis)
Comments: The next games from the genius of Sims creator Will Wright, one of the most ambitious games of the year. I have been playing with the creature creator and can't wait for the rest of the game.

Release Date : 9/17/2008
Price: $59.99
Platform: Multi
Publisher: LucasArts
Comments: The force is strong with this one, check out what I thought of the demo.

Release Date : 10/21/2008
Price: $59.99
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft (Lionhead Studios)
Comments: The much anticipated sequel to one of the best original xbox games Fable, Fable 2 promises richly detailed environments, an epic story, and some very interesting multi-player options that will invite players into worlds that are different than the one they create for themselves.

Release Date : 10/28/2008
Price: Varies by platform and edition ($49.99 - $79.99)
Platform: Multi
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Comments: Another fantastic RPG released in Oct, if you haven't been a part of the Fallout series, I recommend you check it out.


Whew! That is some list and there are some big players I haven't even mentioned yet. This just gets us to Oct and there is still Nov/Dec yet to deliver some big titles for the holiday. I think I hear my wallet screaming...

The Force Unleashed Demo

August 21, 2008

In the wee hours of the morning of August 21st, Star Wars fans everywhere finally got the chance to download the demo for The Force Unleashed and finally get their own taste of the upcoming game from LucasArts.

Taking place during the time period between Episodes III and IV, The Force Unleashed gives players the opportunity to play as a very powerful sith who is Darth Vader's secret apprentice. The basic plot of the game has you doing Lord Vader's dirty work, and obviously will there are hints of a showdown with Darth Vader himself as the culmination of the story.

While other games in the past such as Dark Forces: Jedi Knight, have given players the opportunity to feel all powerful while wield light or dark force powers, TFU is the first game to really explore the limits on what you can do with those force powers. The game engine sports being able to pick storm troopers and other enemies up like rag dolls, toss them, impale them, use lightning on them, throw them into any other object you see. It's really quite entertaining and actually makes you feel like a god amongst men. This past Wednesday Penny Arcade comic is hardly an exagerration of your powers.

The level in the demo, a TIE fighter facility, takes place early in the game and your amount of power as a player is simply astonishing. One poor storm trooper had the misfortune of getting zapped by lightning, lifted into the air at my whim, impaled with my lightsaber, then blasted over the edge of a platform as my lightsaber returned to my side. I thought it a little extreme, but hell, it sure was fun!

The controls are a little difficult to master at first, there are simply so many objects that you can interact with, you sometimes grab the wrong thing. The good thing about that is, whether or not you wanted to pick up a box or the storm trooper behind the box, either item is just as useful in your hands. The game promises to increase your powers as you play by using different types of combination of force powers. At first in the demo you cannot charge your force push power, but after a little bit of play, you then unlock the ability. There are also different combination attacks you can do with your lightsaber, the demo shows 3, but I stumbled upon at least 2 more while just messing around with different ways of slaughtering enemies.

In 3rd person games, the camera system always seems to be a bit of a hinderance. Each game has their own subtle ways the camera either works with you or fights every move you make. Thankfully in TFU the camera isn't broken by any means, you have the ability to lock on to targets which keeps the camera behind you as you manuver. While very helpful, most of the time it seems you will only use this when fighting a larger mini-boss or boss in a stage.

The graphics are very well done, Star Wars fans will notice a lot of attention to detail. While using the force there are effects popping all around the screen and even with a large battle going on, TIE fighters flying around, explosions and blasters going off all around you, the game performs very well on the Xbox 360 platform. I'm glad that LucasArts takes the time to do a very good job on all their games. They are in the position that they could just make a crappy game set in the Star Wars universe and millions of rabid fans would purchase it willingly, but instead they have a commitment to making great games and really step it up to make great games.

Now we just have to wait until the release date, to get our hands on the full game. I'm sure after playing through the demo thousands of fans are already frothing at the mouth, and they have execellent reason to do so.

Welcome to Geek Gray Matter

August 20, 2008

I guess it was inevitable that I would start a blog at some point in my lifetime. So now I have my own little personal place on the Internet to rant, rave, and bitch about whatever. I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to be putting in this space but it will probably cover the majority of things I do in my free time which at the moment include playing video games, learning the guitar, and other forms of geeky entertainment. With that said, let's get started!

I finally broke down and decided to pre-order Too Human for the Xbox 360 this week. It turns out I should have given in sooner as my pre-order on Sunday the 17th was too late to get a copy from ebgames. They sold through all their pre-orders and my game is now on backorder. To be honest, this game wasn't "must have release day" for me, I have been interested in it since early in the year when it started getting a lot of hype and first-looks and was going to be released finally after a very long time in the development cycle. The story and setting using a re-telling of Norse mythology is a great idea and thankfully something new to the action/rpg genre. I've played through the recently released demo several times and really got a good feel for the game. I had only a few concerns about the controls but assumed that with some practice I would be a fierce Baldur soon enough. The only other issue from the demo was that the cut scene graphics seemed to be out done by the rest of the game. That isn't to say they are bad, just that for whatever reason the cut scenes don't seem to have the same level of polish that the rest of the game environments posses. Since time to get the special pre-order armor sets was dwindling and I knew I'd end up owning the game sooner or later, I figured I may as well get the pre-order bonus armor sets with the purchase. I'm not sure how much of a "bonus" that really is as you will probably out level the armor pretty quickly but it should at least help in the early few levels of game play. Too Human should sport nearly endless re-playability with the massive amount of obtainable loot and specialization you can do with your character so it's probably well worth the $60 price tag and easily will keep me entertained until The Force Unleashed is released next month.

Here are some pics of the special Too Human bonus armor sets that were available with pre-orders.

Additional Places for all things Too Human:
Official Too Human Site

8/21/2008 Update:
Looks like my copy of the game got shipped in the 2nd round of pre-orders after all and I should be receiving it on Friday. I'll provide a more in-depth post on my thoughts on the game when I have had a chance to play through more of it.