Monday, December 31, 2007

The Closing of the Year

Wow, what a year 2007 has been. This year started out full of hope and promise, and then turned into reality. It didn't turn into a bad year, just didn't live up to the potential I had hoped. I would be remiss if I didn't even mention the lofty goals I had intended to be for this year, but I stopped tracking them around June-ish. Part of that was developing a new goal process, and part of that was knowing they were too lofty to be worthwhile. In any case, I didn't finish them for many reasons.

My job for the vast majority of the year was a good job for my skillset, and developed me in a good path for my career, but it was also insanely busy with constant multitasking, and I think it trained me to be mildly ADD. It also wore me out mentally, and made it very difficult to work on anything after work or on weekends. Now that job has ended (ah, the joy of being a contractor), and I'm looking for more.

We moved into the city in August, and also got rid of a car around that time. The move was huge, and it took months to clean the place up for Thanksgiving and our subsequent Christmas party. But now we live in a home, and a lovely home it is. Our office (third bedroom) is full of boxes that we need to take care of, but we have some time to do so; we can take care of one a weekend for the next several months, while still enjoying the home that we have.

Being a one-car family has its challenges, but it's a good transition for being in the city. Both of our jobs were close to public transportation, so Heidi could take the car or take the bus/train, depending on her mood that morning. I really couldn't take the car, as there's no way to cheaply park downtown. Parking in this neighborhood can be a challenge sometimes, but it's better than other places I've lived, and it's a lot better than trying to find space for two cars.

Our marriage hit a pretty rough spot this year, and I didn't write about that (not publicly, anyway), but we came through it and we're much stronger than we were before. I've had one friend say, "Marriage is the most difficult thing but the best thing that you can have." Although I think I would phrase it differently, I agree with it conceptually. In any case, that's a good thing. I've written about how we have grown stronger, and we keep going in that direction (admittedly, we're still kind of newlyweds). That fills me with hope for the future.

I didn't get much of a chance to see movies in the theatre this year, having had a gap between Stardust and National Treasure 2 (yes, I know... my brother wanted to see it). This has led me to be more of a gamer, and I've had a lot of that to keep me occupied. I've written about The Orange Box, which took up a large portion of my time, and I have yet to write about Mass Effect, which took up just as much time.

I got two voiceover gigs this year: one non-union and one union. I can see that being an actor is going to take a lot more work, and I've been doing a lot of work already. Sometimes, it's difficult to not get frustrated, but then I kind of put things in perspective: I'm making an adequate wage (at least I was), I have a good marriage, I have a lovely home, and I get to do what I love on the side (gaming, acting, whatever). Although I'd like to do what I love for a living, I'm pretty cool doing what works for right now.

I only brewed once this year. I'm disappointed with myself for that, but the beer turned out pretty well, and I've had a busy schedule, so I'm not going to kick myself too hard. For my birthday, Heidi got me two, count 'em, two kits. So that will change for next year.

So that be me. That be 2007. Bring on the new year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Heavenly Sword

My father-in-law recenly got a Playstation 3, in order to entice me and his biological son to come and spend time with the folks. Well, it worked.

In any case, it's been a difficult Christmas, and for various and sundry reasons, we haven't been able to see Heidi's parents for a few weeks, which was to end today. We got there early in the morning and, due to some poor planning and miscommunication, ended up sitting alone at their home for a good four hours.

Since I try to take advantage of situations as they arise, I chose to play one of the two games they happened to have: Heavenly Sword.

The game focuses around Nariko, a sort of supernatural sword-weilding Lara Croft. She has been charged with the protection of the Heavenly Sword, a magical sword of tremendous power, but which comes with a curse to take the life force of the one who weilds it. As it happens, King Bohan (played by Andy Serkis) wants the sword for himself and, since he's subjugating the known world anyway, comes to claim it. Nariko figures the best way to protect the sword is to use it to destroy everyone in her general vicinity, and hilarity ensues.

This is, as can be expected, a hack and slash game. And as a hack and slash game, it's really fun. The amount of damage you can dish out to the various enemies nearby is a lot of fun, as is the figuring out of the fighting combos. But as far as gameplay, there are some notable differences; the swordplay is a heck of a lot of fun, but when you get into playing with projectiles is where it gets to be a real kick in the pants.

There are a few times when you get to shoot stuff, many of which are when you're playing as Nariko's kid "sister," Kai. The gameplay in shooting can be pretty straighforward: you point, you shoot. But that's not all that interesting. When you hold down the fire button, you jump to a Sam Raimi follow-the-projectile shot and, using the PS3's sixaxis control (the motion sensitive controller), you can guide the arrow/cannonball/whatever to your target. It makes for a heck of a lot of fun, guiding your ammo to its destination, not by guiding a stick, but by actually moving the controller itself. It's sort of like when you watch a bowler try to psychically guide his bowling ball down the lane, but actually effective. And crazy fun.

Another huge note about this game is that it features digital actors. Convincing digital actors. I've seen this before (I have yet to write about Mass Effect... expect that to come soon), but this game has cutscenes that, with limited exceptions, could come from a movie. The actors are expressive enough to be considered actors, pulling facial expressions so real that you have to step back for a second and think if it's a game or a movie, if it's digital or actual. The characters are incredibly over-the-top, but the acting within those characters is stunningly real, and sometime freakin' hilarious.

This game is exclusively for the PS3, and I can see how it uses the hardware's capability to its fullest. The environments are huge, and there's no real transition between what's right in front of you or what's over that hill. A lot of games will have "filler" in the background to make it easier on the hardware. With a PS3, not so necessary. The visuals are also stunning. Ina lot of games, they make the cutscenes outsie of the game's engine, and they're beautiful, only to go back to the semi-bland game. These cutscenes use the game engine (with maybe a bit of polish) and are freakin' gorgeous!

So yeah, fun game. For the first time in my life, I have gamer's thumb. And I gotta say, I'm glad to have earned it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

DIY Messiah

OK, first off, I haven't posted in a while. Nothing I wanted to discuss, no time in which to discuss it. But anyway...

Last night we went to the Do It Yourself Messiah at the Lyric Opera. Holy wow. In this, there is an orchestra, conductor and four opera singers. The professionals cover the solos, but the chorus, that's all the audience. And what a kick in the pants it was.

There are four parts to sing: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. You have a copy of the music (which you can buy there), and you read along, hoping you can read music and know what to sing. Here's the deal, though. I didn't know what to sing (I settled on Bass), and I can't read music. Completely. At first, I had to study the score to even figure out what was going on, but I found it quickly began to make sense. Reading the music felt a little like watching a subtitled movie. At first, you're reading, and not really being able to focus on the action so much, but after a few minutes, you're able to absorb both. Now, to be fair, I had a few years of piano when I was a wee lad, so I knew the basic premise of musical notation, but it has been nearly three decades since that. It helped that I was sitting near some other Bass folks, but I found myself able to adapt to the music before the intermission.

In any case, this was a wonderful experience, one that I can recommend to anyone that has even a passing interest in classical music. The conductor was witty and clever, the music was absolutely wonderful, and the sensation of singing this brilliant piece of music with hundreds of other people was powerful. That, and it was free.

Next year, go. I command thee.