Shared posts

18 Aug 21:12

It’s Elliott Smith Week!

by AJ

It’s Elliott Smith Week!

This week, either/or celebrates the artist who gave us our name. That’s right, it’s a week devoted to the musical work of singer/songwriter Steven Paul “Elliott” Smith! Just like our Beatles Week, we’ll be bringing you a selection of songs from every album he released in his lifetime. You’ll get two tunes from each album a day: one from Hugh and one from myself, and altogether they’ll (hopefully) represent the most appropriate set of tunes to introduce you to his wonderful range of work. So without further ado, a with a (belated) happy birthday to the man, let’s head on in!

18 Aug 21:17

Elliott Smith – Last Call

by Hugh

Elliott Smith – Last Call

I won’t be specifically attempting to post Elliott’s most depressing songs, but him being the troubled soul that he was, it’s inevitable that a good few of his songs are also troubled. Since he never intended his first album to be released, many of the songs are incredibly personal, dealing with subject matter that he may not have wanted to have an audience. His vocals on Last Call barely subdue the frustration and anger evident in the lyrics, while the guitar dances around in your head. An amazing song that any honest musician would have killed to write, though very few could deliver with the same emotional force that Mr. Smith does here.

17 Jul 10:12

Molly Contogeorge – Bad Boy

by AJ

Molly Contogeorge – Bad Boy

Most ridiculous album art that we’ve ever posted? Quite possibly! But enough about that, because it is time for some more from Molly Contogeorge. I was rather smitten with her wonderfully infectious Lead On, Lead On and its charming blend of jazz and pop. I seem to recall spontaneous bouts of dancing resulting from listening to the track which is saying something because I am rubbish at dancing.

Anyway, Molly has a new EP out now, and here is a song from it. Aside from being as equally infectious as Lead On, Lead On, this also feels quite slick as well. And just a little bit sexy too, making that album art all the more confusing!

The post Molly Contogeorge – Bad Boy appeared first on either/or.

07 Jul 07:00

TrackMania

Ant Ant

Innovation can salvage anything.

While I maintain a fondness for the racing genre, it's one that I can safely say does not receive a great deal of attention with regards to innovation. Arcade or deep simulation tend to be the flavours of choice: be it the inspired lunacy of Mario Kart, or the granular, statistics-driven depth of the Gran Turismo series, most racing games generally slot themselves comfortable between those two spectrums.

TrackMania's approach falls within arcade, but in a way that not only rewards lap-time purists, but those who enjoy puzzles. Its elegant, gravity defying tracks tend to require split-second reflection at times, particularly when the track blends from hard-surface, to dirt and then essentially disappears altogether. It is certainly not uncommon to wonder which direction to turn, with a wrong decision sending the intensely speedy car careening off the track in a stomach lurching display of flips through extended air-time.

In a way, TrackMania features the same exhilarating and rage-inducing appeal as Super Meat Boy. Finding the perfect path through a full-speed track (one that, if done right, does not require the player to slow down at all) is an exercise in patience and on-the-spot thinking. Upon success, the challenge comes in not only trumping your own time, but the times of the other players running the track at the same time. Seemingly insignificant, it's an important distinguishing characteristic compared to Super Meat Boy: seeing other players on the track run through the map, and witnessing their success and folly is wonderful. The insular nature of Super Meat Boy means that raging against failure becomes far more painful as it isn't attributed to anything other than the player's performance. In TrackMania, if 20 out of the 24 players racing on a track weren't able to finish, there is instantaneous feedback from a group of vexed players, alleviating the player's shortcomings on the track.

This combination of pure gameplay-based player skill mixed with social interactivity elevates TrackMania beyond that of other 'wacky' racers. It relies so much on realistic racing concepts (holding the correct line, the balance between acceleration and braking) but is applied to a game whose tracks defy logic for the most part. It's an unusual blend, but one that takes the best components of several sub-genres and applies it a main genre that doesn't generally invite ideas of grand innovation. It's a shame that genres that purport to be more open in scope (i.e. shooters) don't follow Trackmania's lead in stepping out of perceived genre shackles.

My colleague over on the right and I have been running through the current version of TrackMania, TrackMania 2 Stadium, for a couple of weeks now. I find his interest in the game to be rather, well, interesting. He is certainly not one to play a 'traditional' racing game, yet he has certainly become quite a fan of this one. He is, in fact, substantially better at the game than I am (an Oceania ranking of just over 100, compared to my ranking of 470, at the time of publishing). It's clear that the genre mash-up is proving to be a winning formula, helping to sell and enjoy the more traditional racing elements that he perhaps isn't wedded to. It stands to reason that virtually any 'disliked', pure genre can be salvaged with an interesting spin: let's keep them coming.

LogicAndTrick LogicAndTrick

TrackMania falls into a category of games that I absolutely love.

While I am able to enjoy quite a large variety of games, like everyone else I find certain categories are much more enjoyable than others. Racing is typically not one of those categories: I find most racing games repetitive, boring, and overly reliant on multiplayer competition as a gameplay mechanic.

For me, TrackMania is none of these: it bucks the trend of pretty much every other racing game out there and makes something addictive, exciting, challenging, and engaging. It does this by doing exactly what games do best: by removing itself from reality.

Many racing games are firmly grounded in reality: Gran Turismo, Dirt, Forza, and similar games attempt to emulate real life racing as closely as possible. There's certainly a market for a realistic driving simulator, but for somebody like me, that's terribly boring. If you venture a bit further into game territory, you come across games like Grand Theft Auto and Need For Speed. These games are grounded in reality, but put the player in fantastical situation that wouldn't possibly happen in real life. These games are more enjoyable for people who aren't hardcore racing fans.

If you go even further down the path, you eventually come across the racing games that ignore much of reality. For me, these are the racing games that are consistently fun, easy to pick up, and hard to put down. Mario Kart is one example. TrackMania is another.

TrackMania falls into one of my favourite game categories. I can't think of a proper term for it (let me know in the comments if there is!), but the best way to describe it is that your enemy is yourself. In TrackMania, beating the other players is a secondary goal: the primary objective is to beat your own time. I absolutely love games that challenge me in this fashion, as the goal is to beat a time set by somebody with less skill than you - that is, yourself in the past. For me, this triggers an urge to constantly improve my times.

Many of my favourite games have similar mechanics: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Elite Beat Agents, Rhythm Heaven, and Trials 2: Second Edition are some examples of similar games. Some are time-based and some are score-based, but all have the same goal: beat your personal best.

TrackMania is a particularly good example of a game like this, because of the additional element it adds: multiplayer. While I said before that beating the other players is a secondary goal, it is still a very satisfying achievement to score a time that puts you above everyone else. Similarly, finishing down near the bottom of the scoreboard motivates you to improve.

The final thing that makes TrackMania stand out of the crowd is variety of the tracks in the game. It's just more fun to play a racing game with loops, jumps, spirals, wall rides, and many other concepts that would be ridiculous in real life. Once you couple these track sets with a powerful track editor and strong support for custom content, you have a game with a huge amount of content and replayability. TrackMania 2 hasn't been around for very long, and it already has thousands of custom maps. And that number isn't exactly decreasing. When you combine that with excellent mechanics and addictive, self-competitive gameplay, you get a game that will stay in my "recently played" list for a very long time.

28 Jun 00:30

Ash Grunwald – Walking

by AJ

Ash Grunwald – Walking

“But AJ,” I hear you exclaim. “You’ve already posted about this song!” That is indeed the case, but this is a cover version, so that excuses me. And who is the cover version by? The exact same artist.

Allow me to explain! Mr. Grunwald managed to finagle two-thirds of Australian alternative band, The Living End (I’ll post about them soon), into a recording studio for a few days, where they proceeded to cover his back catalogue of blues and roots tunes with a hard-edged dose of rock. The result is something even more badass than the original song, a feat I would not have thought possible!

The post Ash Grunwald – Walking appeared first on either/or.

18 Jun 06:09

The Coppertone – Young Blood

by AJ

The Coppertone – Young Blood

Indie artists, we love you. You’re totally the reason why either/or and websites like it exist: in amongst posts about the Foo Fighters or Radiohead, there is a metric truckload of musical gold from all the independent artists that have sent us songs over the years.

Amanda Zelina, of the Coppertone, has a bit of a problem. Her catalogue of songs is currently stuck with a record label that she backed away from, after a less than wonderful contractual agreement finished. So, unless she forks over $20,000 to them, they’ll own her work.

That is total balls!

Enter IndieGoGo. Amanda has recorded a new song for you all to listen to (and it’s brilliant too), and if you dig it, you can throw some money at her campaign to reclaim what’s rightfully hers. Yep, you are directly helping the artist, and I can think of nothing more rad than that.

The post The Coppertone – Young Blood appeared first on either/or.

28 Apr 07:00

Pokémon

Ant Ant

Seemingly simple games, but stock full of complexity.

I've recently started replaying Pokémon Red (after paying a somewhat exorbitant price for a copy of it off eBay). It's been a wonderful trip down memory lane with a game series that I mostly abandoned following the second generation.

It's easy to dismiss the monumental success of the series as a result of its appeal to children, but playing through Red in a more critical manner than I would've perhaps done back in 1998 (has it been that long?) reveals an almost flawless RPG, one where complex mechanics and depth are expertly communicated through memorable character and level design.

The two main gameplay tenants revolve around battling and collecting, with each of them designed to garner the maximum amount of player satisfaction out of the experience. Finding a Pokémon out in the wild requires the player to weaken it with their own Pokémon, until they are confident that it is weak enough to be caught. the sheer tension, excitement, and ultimately relief (or disappointment) brought on during an encounter is wonderfully palpable. The turn-based nature of the battle system, while purely statistics driven (and utilised by more in-depth players), initially feels as if it is driven by chance. It promotes a 'risk/reward' relationship for the player, ensuring that its consequences, whether positive or negative, are felt. For a game built upon highly repeated gameplay sequences, this is an absolute must.

The battle system does fall apart at times, particularly when the player encounters a Pokémon that they have previously captured. In this situation, there is no real reward for the player beyond a trivial amount of experience points, although it does potentially ramp up the excitement when a useful encounter occurs after a string of useless ones.

Even the music and sound effects serve to amplify (no pun intended, I assure you) the experience: the music for the battles is suitably intense, but with a thread of stoicism and determination. It's then contrasted sharply with the victory motif, which is celebratory and also quite relieving.

Battle music from the first generation Pokémon games.
Victory music

The surprising characteristic of the second tenant is that the act of collecting Pokémon is, for the most part, optional. The game can be adequately completed without really requiring any more than 6 different types of Pokémon in the player's roster, despite the extended cast of 150 types that exist (at least, in the first generation). It's a testament to the solidness of its design that many players actively pursue the game's tagline of catching them all: the allure of seeking out and completing the set outweighs the relative lack of purpose in doing so.

The Game Boy's rudimentary hardware necessitated simplification, not only in the amount of information communicated to the player, but also in terms of overall scope. It was not a platform for cut scenes or gratuitous amounts of dialogue, but one that bred clarity and conciseness. Pokémon is one of the most prime examples of this, and a successful one at that. It's certainly one that's stuck in my mind, despite the 15 year gap between plays, and I don't imagine I'll forget it any time soon.

LogicAndTrick LogicAndTrick

Could the Wii U see a return of Pokémon on the home console?

The Pokémon games are a huge selling point for Nintendo's handheld system, and no doubt the release of Pokémon X and Y on the 3DS will boost hardware sales of the console. However, Pokémon has never had a huge presence on Nintendo's home consoles.

Sure, there are a few spinoff games on the consoles, and notably the Pokémon Colosseum series has survived in some form all the way through to the Wii with Pokémon Battle Revolution. However, these are just battle games, and they only have limited (if any) story modes.

With the Wii U currently at the starting blocks, waiting for a big injection of games to shoot forward and start selling some units, Nintendo are now poised better than ever to get a full Pokémon RPG onto their main console. Ignoring any statements made in the past about why they might not want Pokémon on a console, let's look at why it could work.

Pokémon is one of the biggest selling points of any Nintendo handheld console. We already know that the Wii U needs to move more units, so there is a good incentive for Nintendo to do it. But Mario and Zelda move hardware, too, so why would Pokémon be any better? The key here is that Mario and Zelda are already very established on home consoles, while Pokémon isn't. Basically, it's something new for the series - and new experiences are something that the Wii U needs right now.

Looking at Pokémon's target audience - it's much larger than many would expect. Nintendo and Game Freak both know it well enough, but there's a market for Pokémon outside of the primary target of children aged 8 to 14. There's quite a bit of hidden complexity sitting underneath the forward-facing simplicity of Pokémon, and there's quite a large hardcore community who appreciates this complexity. Another group of people simply grew up playing Pokémon, and like to enjoy watching the series evolve and improve over time. All of these target audiences for the handheld games would transition over to the home console just fine. (As an anecdotal aside, a full Pokémon RPG would definitely get me to buy a Wii U.)

The "console experience" would allow the mechanics of the series to expand, as well. There's potential to turn Pokémon into a much more interesting, immersive world, utilising the mechanics that most JRPGs have had for years. A 3D game world would enable fights to take place on the field, rather than shifting off to battle mode. Also, the gym battles and the elite four sequence would be made much more interesting and would bring the feel of the gameplay closer to that of the anime series.

Anyway, now is the time for Nintendo to strike with Pokémon on the Wii U. Even if they're not going to be doing a full RPG on the console, perhaps it's time for a revisit some older spinoff titles. Notably, Pokémon Snap would be a perfect fit for the Wii U: The controller could act as a camera of sorts, using the "virtual space" 360 degree movement tracking that the Gamepad provides as a way to track down Pokémon in the scene. Another potential spinoff to revive is the Pokémon Trading Card Game, which would work well on the touch screens of either the Wii U or the 3DS.

30 Apr 10:23

Clint Mansell – Death is the Road to Awe

by AJ

Clint Mansell – Death is the Road to Awe

It’s our 600th post! I laugh in the face of Hugh, who thought he could snatch the mystical cup of victory from my grasp and partake in the sweet nectar within. But I foiled him, and now my I stand proudly over his carcass, my foot triumphantly placed on his head. But I’ll share the nectar with him, I GUESS.

Considering this monumental moment in either/or’s history, it’s only fitting that some equally monumental music accompany it. This piece featured in Darren Aronofsky’s critically divided film The Fountain. Personally, I liked it, but it’s not the kind of film you go and watch for cheery happy times: this piece will certainly demonstrate that. The film deals with death, loss, life and life beyond, and it’s all wonderfully encapsulated in this rather haunting piece.

Anyway, here’s to more either/or! See you at 700.

The post Clint Mansell – Death is the Road to Awe appeared first on either/or.

09 Apr 10:04

Bird to Prey – Emily

by AJ

Bird to Prey – Emily

Twitter informed the either/or account that perhaps it would enjoy following @birdtoprey, the handle of New York-based but Australian-born folk songstress Sarah Turk. Twitter clearly wasn’t aware that either/or is not a sentient being, and is in fact, run by humans. Check mate, social media!

After begrudgingly, partially accepting the advice of the Twitter robot, I discovered that Bird to Prey play some pretty mean folk-y, alternative country. There is no part of that musical pot that I wouldn’t heartily chug right on down, so here we are! This is one charmingly catchy tune, simple in scope but a whole bag of fun. Twitter, it seems you are good for something!

The post Bird to Prey – Emily appeared first on either/or.

12 Apr 10:59

Kingsley Flood – Sun Gonna Lemme Shine

by AJ

Kingsley Flood – Sun Gonna Lemme Shine

This song winged its way to me recently from a fellow called Nick Loss-Eaton, with a claim that the video for the song was the best he’d ever seen. Big words, Loss-Eaton!

As it stands, the video is infinitely adorable and almost makes me think that maybe I don’t mostly dislike children so much. Why can’t all kids be this charming? The song is also quite marvellous: infectious indie-pop at its finest. I guess you win this round, Mr. Nick Loss-Eaton!

The post Kingsley Flood – Sun Gonna Lemme Shine appeared first on either/or.

17 Apr 10:35

Parov Stelar – Let’s Roll (feat. Blaktroniks)

by AJ

Parov Stelar – Let’s Roll (feat. Blaktroniks)

I probably shouldn’t post any more stuff from Parov Stelar, owing to the 50 billion previous posts I’ve done on him. Then again, there’s no hard rule on this, and rules are for saps anyway!

There’s not a heck of a lot to this tune, and it sort of sounds like that ‘cool’ soundtrack to some ‘cool’ dance video. In fact, I’m pretty sure you could slip on the parachute pants and go to town, MC Hammer style, and it’d suit just fine. Having said that, the bass line is too addictive to be legal, so I’m not complaining!

The post Parov Stelar – Let’s Roll (feat. Blaktroniks) appeared first on either/or.

18 Apr 11:07

Air Marshal Landing – Little Town

by AJ

Air Marshal Landing – Little Town

One day, I will overcome the perennial problem that is checking out the pile of tunes that hit our inbox most days. I assume that this solution will coincide with the moment the human race reaches singularity with the universe, but for the time being, here is some indie pop! Air Marshall Landing are yet another Canadian group (it seems Canada loves us; right back at ya, kiddo) who play music that feels somewhat inspired by The Strokes: a little bit of 80s glam mixed with peppy pop rock, with big ‘ol chunks of supreme catchiness. If it were a cookie, you’d be dunking that baby in milk and chowing it the heck on down.

The post Air Marshal Landing – Little Town appeared first on either/or.

13 Apr 00:00

The Legend of Zelda: Clockwork Empire

by Steve Napierski
The Legend of Zelda: Clockwork Empire

Aaron Diaz, the creator of Dresdan Codak, has put together a proposal for new Legend of Zelda game where Zelda is the hero sent to rescue Prince Link. Here’s what he says on the topic:

Clockwork Empire is set 2,000 years after Twilight Princess, and is not a reboot, but simply another iteration in the Zelda franchise. It just so happens that in this case, Zelda is the protagonist. I’m a very big Zelda fan, and worked hard to draw from key elements in the continuity and mythos.

This concept work is meant to show that Zelda as a game protagonist can be both compelling and true to the franchise, while bringing new and dynamic game elements that go farther than being a simple gender swap.

Here’s my question: If Link is now the prince instead of the hero, wouldn’t this game be The Legend of Link and not another installment in the Zelda series?

source: Indistinguishable From Magic