Hawk it to Me, Baby!

Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD

Yeah, this is a little late (really late if you have an Xbox 360), but I wanted to take a moment to reflect on Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD. Released last summer onto to both the Xbox 360 and PS3’s online store, THPS HD is a remake… Barely. The idea was to take levels from the first two Tony Hawk games, give them a complete graphical makeover, and then release it online for 15 bucks. The problem here is that this is not a remake as much as it’s a re-imagining. Regarding original levels, characters, and gaming alterations, some puzzling choices were made. So I thought it would be easiest to list a few of those decisions.

  • Out of all the characters from THPS 1 and 2 only four original characters are available; Tony Hawk, Andrew Reynolds, Rodney Mullen, and Eric Koston. Sure, they threw in Officer Dick from the original THPS, but I’m talking about REAL skaters. Would it really have been that hard to throw in a few more?
  • One of the new skaters is Tony Hawk’s son (yawn) and two other characters aren’t even real skaters, they’re people who won a freakin’ contest.
  • The game only includes seven levels yet still includes both downhill levels from THPS 1, despite the fact those levels were one of the few complaints about the first game.
  • The revert move has been taken out. I know you couldn’t revert in the first two games, but it was one of the most popular additions of the later installments. Plus it made combos that much sweeter.
  • Out of 14 songs, only seven of them are from the first two games (the rest are brand new) and they only have ONE song from the first game. Thank god it’s “Superman” by Goldfinger.
  • Bailing has been changed in a way that slows down the game. Why do I want to watch myself screw up for a longer period of time?

I think the most annoying thing about these changes is that they were all made in the fan’s worst interest. There’s no reason they couldn’t have included all the levels and characters from the first two games, they just wanted to make more money. So instead, new levels and the revert move will be available as “Downloads”. Really? You’re gonna release a game purposely lacking content so that we can buy the rest later? That ain’t right. It makes me wonder why they didn’t just make a new TH game in the old format instead.

All controversy aside, there’s one fact I just can’t ignore. I still have fun playing this game. This style of skateboarding game will always remind me of my youth and still feels like second nature. I turned on this game and instantly had flashbacks to the early 2000s. It’s the same series of games I liked with new packaging. Perhaps some of the contents of that package are disappointing, but it’s still pleasing when you first take it out of it’s metaphorical box. Maybe it’s uninspired, maybe it’s too short, maybe it’s all a scheme, but it’s still Tony Hawk damn it! So it just barely slinks by with a positive rating.

Final Battle

The Killers – Battle Born

In high school, The Killers were my favorite band. I loved their ability to craft radio-friendly singles consistently with what seemed to be the greatest of ease. But at some point, I outgrew them. In recent years, I’ve found myself gravitating towards what I believe to be more complex or mature artists. It’s something I’ve gone through with a lot of bands I liked in high school. A band rises to peak popularity and I gracefully step aside for the new generation of fans. So I can’t say I was thrilled for Battle Born but was I still willing to give my once favorite group a shot? I’m only human… Or dancer.

Battle Born is The Killers’ fourth album and if you didn’t know where these guys were from before you’ll certainly know afterward. The Killers have such affection for their home state of Nevada that they use it as the subject for almost every song. Even the album’s title “Battle Born” is the same phrase that’s front and center on Nevada’s state flag. The Killers are proud of their American Southwest roots and explore those themes more prominently than ever. Songs fantasize about driving across the desert or by old Vegas hotels with a sincere nostalgic fondness. I love the ideas behind the songs, but the songs themselves?

The Killers used to be the band I could depend on for catchy singles, but Battle Born doesn’t swing that way. Instead, Battle Born focuses on complex arrangements that continually build. Take the lead single “Runaways”. There’s no real chorus, no hook, but is it good? It’s okay, just different. I admire that The Killers are experimenting with structure, it’s just not The Killers I remember. “The Way It Was” is the closest to The Killers’ sound I hold to my heart, but I don’t feel that way for any other song on Battle Born.

It’s funny, here I am complaining about The Killers not being mature enough and now that they’re trying to be mature I lose interest. It’s hard to say how much of a balance I’d like between radio pop friendliness and mature lyrics, but this isn’t it. Battle Born is beautifully produced but it’s too heavy on ballads and meandering structures. I like the addition of more synths but it’s not enough to truly resonant. Either way, it’s still a noble effort and I’ll continue to keep an ear out for these sons of Vegas.

Favorite Tracks: “Flesh and Bone”, “The Rising Tide”, “The Way it Was”

T3 33: Top 10 Time Travel Movies

Do you believe in destiny? Were you fated to read this podcast description or did you truly arrive here of your own free will? If you could, would you go back and change your decision to be here? Would you change it all? Would you believe we found a way to talk about Back to the Future again? If Bruce Willis traveled back in time, and you were Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Bruce Willis said, “you grow up to be me,” wouldn’t you be pretty damn psyched about the rest of your life? If there’s anything I learned from the G.I. Joe 2 trailer, it’s that Bruce Willis is the coolest old man.

Top 10 time travel movies after the break, but you already knew that, didn’t you?

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Seer Me, Feel Me

Swans – The Seer

What compelled me to listen to an almost two-hour, experimental nightmare from a band I’d never heard of? Was it the album’s almost universal praise? Was it the story of it’s 30 year journey to completion? Was it because of that scary rat-thing on the cover? Maybe it’s all of the above. The appeal of Swans’ The Seer is difficult to put into words. It’s not conventional rock music by any means, nor does it follow any linear pattern of rhyme or reason. Instead, The Seer is a highly experimental soundtrack of ambitious “songs” that don’t really have a beginning or an end. Tracks can run anywhere between two minutes to thirty-two minutes, but it’s the epic scope that makes The Seer so strangely compelling.

I was amazed when I discovered that Swans had been making music since the early 80s. How could such a bizarrely unique band fly under my radar for so long? They’ve gone through many changes in their sound and lineup throughout the years with the only constant being songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Michael Gira. Known for producing sludgy, noise-rock in the 80s, Swans has evolved into an almost indescribable combination of different musical styles. There’s no verse-chorus-verse bullshit here. The model Swans follow (if you can even call it a model) usually begins with one part played with lengthy repetition until building to an earth-crumbling climax. I’m not going to deny that this technique challenges the listener’s patience from time to time, but the obstacles are worth the journey.

“Lunacy” was the track that initially seduced my ears and still gives me chills. It arguably sums up the grandiose quality of The Seer most perfectly. Though this album isn’t all thundering moments of musical exploration. Sometimes The Seer takes a slow, minimalist approach with the only guide being the haunting baritone of 58 year old Michael Gira. While sometimes it will feel like ages since you last heard a human voice. The Seer is the whole kitchen sink thrown in while the kitchen is simultaneously on fire.

I equate The Seer more with that of a movie soundtrack than a rock album. The songs aren’t as much songs as they are “pieces” or even suites, or neither. It’s pointless to label anything here. What is worth taking note is the emotional response this album leaves. Honestly, I’m not sure how to feel about this album, but at the same time I can’t say I’ve ever heard anything remotely like this. When something like that can happen in this day and age it’s special. So if you’re feeling adventurous, explore the dark world of The Seer. Just be careful you don’t run into any scary looking’ rat-things.

Favorite Tracks: “The Daughter Brings the Water”, “Lunacy”, “The Seer Returns”

Run, Don’t Walk

The Walking Dead Episodes 1-3

That second season of The Walking Dead was rough. Not that we didn’t see it coming when the show never really could live up to its amazing pilot in the first season, but man. That was a whole lot of nothing they made us watch. Enough to make some people quit watching the show. Enough to make me completely lose interest in checking out the graphic novels that birthed this whole media empire to begin with. But now I’m excited for the show to come back, and it’s not because of the show at all. It’s because of video games.

Crafted by the adventure game gurus at Telltale – the guys behind Sam & Max, Back to the Futre and the unfortunate Jurassic ParkThe Walking Dead is a lot like those games. It’s episodic, with three episodes out now and the final two coming this year. The actual gameplay is extremely simple, mostly just problem solving and the occasional action moments that play out like quick time events. But the actual playing of the game is the least attractive part of this package.

It’s the story that makes The Walking Dead great. Basically, this is a really dark zombie-themed chose-your-own adventure. You play as Lee, a man with a mysterious past (obviously) who is riding in a police car out of Atlanta when all the zombie shit goes down. The first episode takes Lee on a journey of survival, introducing the main characters, namely Clementine, a little girl Lee takes under his protection; Kenny, a fisherman who was on vacation and Kenny’s wife and son. The first episode uses cameo appearances from the main cast of the comic and show to help get you in, but by the second episode, the game is standing on its own legs.

I’m not really going to talk about the plot, since it changes based on your play and is the primary reason to get this game, but I will say the second episode is a great horror in a messed up place story, and the third episode is an extremely dark on the road tale. Seriously, I did some pretty messed up stuff in this game, stuff so grim I can’t remember any other game doing.

Every time Lee is called upon to make a decision, there is a timer, and if you don’t chose something, Lee doesn’t say anything. This means you have to make a lot of snap judgements, and the choices are never easy. Telltale has done a great job of making it so I second guessed myself all the time, but never felt cheated or like I needed to replay a section, which the game does allow you to do.

The rest of the gameplay is pretty weak. You can go around and pick up clues to solve puzzles and there’s some action that’s not really fun but also not so terrible I had a problem with it. Basically quicktime events with slight aiming, not a big deal. I have heard some people struggle with the controls and die a lot, that sucks but it wasn’t an issue for me.

The Walking Dead is a really great game. It’s on like every platform, even iOS, and you can choose to buy the whole season or just an episode if you like. When they make it so easy, why wouldn’t you want to check it out? Because you don’t like zombies? This is better than that. Because you don’t like games? It’s probably not like any game you’ve played. Because you specifically dislike The Walking Dead franchise? Fair enough.

Good Movie/Bad Movie: Drilling

And now for something completely different. With half of us scattering across the country, it seemed difficult and impractical to put together a whole show this week. But we didn’t want to leave you good people without anything this week, so we put together a special little show. With P.T. Anderson’s new film The Master out this week, we wanted an excuse to take a look back at the director’s last work: There Will Be Blood. So we watched it and invented a new feature were we compare two movies that have something in common to determine which one is the good movie, and which one the bad. This first time, it’s not really a shocker, as the other film is 2003’s The Core, which… I don’t want to write anything about The Core. Just listen.

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