Archive for October, 2009

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So…Next Month is NaNoWriMo…

October 22, 2009

Writing on Laptop

That’s National Novel Writing Month to the uninitiated and, long story short, I’ve been thinking of writing something this year.

I found out about it back in late ’07 and while I thought I wanted to write something, I never got around to taking the project seriously. Last year, NaNoWriMo passed me by, without me remembering that it was going on until it was too late to contribute something. To be honest, I just remembered it a few days ago when a buddy of mine brought it to my attention. Now, I’m frantically trying to come up with something to write about.

See, the object of this month long literary event is to encourage aspiring writers of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The way I have it planned out; I’ll have to write some 2,000 words a day every day (excluding Thanksgiving, I figure I’ll want a break around that time) until the end of the month deadline. Whew. That sounds like a great deal of sitting in the glow of my laptop’s screen with a Microsoft Word document open, typing away whilst trying to resist the temptation to aimlessly browse the web, prowl around internet forums, watch reruns of My Wife and Kids or turn on my Xbox 360 to play another round of the upcoming Forza 3 or GTA IV expansion The Ballad of Gay Tony. This will unquestionably be a true test of my willpower.

As I lay in bed last night trying to get to sleep, a torrent of questions flooded my mind, leaving me restless for a while before I was finally able to drift off to sleep. What will I write about? Can I really write 50,000 words before the November 30th deadline? Can I crank out something that’s actually worth reading in such a short period of time? And, perhaps most importantly, do I have the discipline to stick to my writing schedule for 30 straight days?

One of my biggest flaws is that I am a chronic procrastinator. I’m worried that I’ll end up putting this off over and over again until a few hours before midnight on the 30th when I finally decide that I need to get something done but by then it will be too late and the challenge would have passed me by…again. This isn’t something I want to take lightly but I’ve never been able to discipline myself like this before and perhaps that’s because I’ve never had to. I’ve put off even the largest school projects until the last minute (sometimes, even, the day they were due) and still managed to put out “A” quality work. That fact has made me understandably cocky regarding my ability to do anything at the last minute. I guess the difference here is, if I do procrastinate, it won’t be like I’m failing a major assignment, I’ll just be letting myself down.

I haven’t decided whether or not I want to do this. I recognize this as something that could be hugely beneficial to me but recently, I haven’t been in the mood to write. I guess the best remedy for this is to…write. I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of things by writing a few reviews but so far, nothing has really rekindled that creative spark that has been lying dormant for so long. I will say that the idea of working on something for NaNoWriMo has gotten me a bit more excited as of late so maybe all I need to get back into the mood to write is to start writing in the first place.

Whatever I decide, I’ll keep a steady stream of updates coming. If I do decide that I want to participate in this, I’ll probably create a new blog for chronicling my progress on a daily or weekly basis. If I do, I’ll be sure to spam the links everywhere. Who knows? I might even revive my long dead Twitter account to keep folks updated.

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Gran Turismo PSP Review

October 6, 2009

GT PSP Screen1

At a Glance: Gran Turismo PSP is a game that gets the fundamentals down but drops the ball in its execution.

Originally announced as one of the flagship titles of the then yet to be released PSP, Gran Turismo Mobile quickly dropped off of the radar into vaporware territory. Well, imagine everyone’s surprise when, at E3 2009, Sony and Polyphony Digital confirmed that Gran Turismo PSP was not only in active development but that it was also going to be released this year. After all this time, you’d think the PSP iteration of the long running and obscenely popular Gran Turismo series would measure up quite nicely with its console predecessors. Regrettably, if you thought that, you’d be mistaken.

While this title boasts a very impressive 800+ car roster and a fairly large selection of tracks, many of which can be driven in reverse, and a realistic handling model lifted from Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, it can’t compete with its console brethren due to one very large and disappointing omission. The career mode of Gran Turismo games past is missing in action in Gran Turismo PSP.

In lieu of any kind of career mode, you have the option to run a time trial, single race or drift trial and only the latter two will earn you the valuable credits you’ll need to build a vast collection of automobiles, both classic and modern. In addition to this, there are a large number of “Driving Challenges” to test your skills. These challenges are almost identical to the dreaded license tests in Gran Turismo games past, the primary differences being that they (thankfully) aren’t mandatory completions in order to enter certain races and reward you with credits for completion in the bronze, silver and gold tiers.

Starting out, you are given 100,000 credits and presented with four of the game’s many dealerships from which to buy your first car. Every two in game days, there will be a random selection of four dealers to choose from and none of them will offer you more than ten vehicles to choose from on any given day. There’s no option to bypass this system, so if you’re looking to buy a particular car from a particular dealer, you have to participate in a couple of events to advance the game forward a couple of days and hope the dice roll in your favor.

This was particularly annoying when I spotted one of the cars I’d been dreaming of (the ’09 Corvette ZR1) and tried to buy it, only to realize I didn’t have enough credits. I was forced to cope with the frustrating realization that I couldn’t possibly earn enough credits before a new selection of dealers and cars appeared the next day. On one hand, this is an interesting way to introduce players to cars they might otherwise have overlooked but to leave everything to the luck of the draw seems asinine.

Before this turns into a giant hate fest, allow me to say that there are a number of things that Gran Turismo PSP does right. The visuals on display here are among the best the PSP has to offer, running at a liquid smooth 60 frames per second, the car models are surprisingly well detailed, given the limitations of the platform. Control wise, everything is completely customizable, which is a great inclusion. Handling physics are another high point, but this is no surprise, as the Gran Turismo series has always delivered fairly realistic physics. This also seems to be the easiest Gran Turismo to get into and it’s very easy to pick up and play from the very beginning, especially with the much less strict and inviting Driving Challenges.

With no career mode structure and everything unlocked from the very beginning, there’s a prevailing feeling of pointlessness in your actions. With everything unlocked from the start, there’s no brass ring to reach for and no sense of accomplishment to be gained. Eventually, the endless grind of racing for credits to buy new cars gets stale and combined with the lack of online multiplayer, the long term appeal is limited quite a bit. Ultimately, Gran Turismo PSP is a good game that’s buried underneath a series of poor design decisions. The gameplay, visuals, car roster and track selection are rock solid but without any sort of direction to guide players through the game, I can’t imagine this will appeal to any but the most hardcore of Gran Turismo fans.

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Picked Up A Few Albums Recently

October 3, 2009

While I was driving home from some errands I had to run a few days ago, I passed by a local FYE store and decided to go in. Normally, I shy away from FYE because they are typically more expensive than other, larger retailers such as Best Buy but there was a huge sign in the window that said “All CD’s $9.99 or less” and that’s a deal I just couldn’t pass on.

I walked in with the intention of buying Life After Death by late-great rapper The Notorious B.I.G. I thought I’d be able to grab the CD for the $9.99 price I saw in the window, which is an absolute steal. I was wrong. Turns out the deal doesn’t apply to multi disc albums. I was crestfallen, since the album was $25 and there was no way I was paying that much for a single album, especially since I can find it cheaper elsewhere. Instead, I picked up the following three albums.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. II – Raekwon

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt 2

As one of the best examples of the Mafioso rap subgenre popularized by the likes of Nas, Jay-Z and Raekwon himself in recent memory, this album is packed with drug references but that’s to be expected. What makes this album unique is its composition, which is akin to some sort of purely musical cinema. Each track blends into the next as if they were scenes in a 70 minute long film. It’s a very interesting concept that works incredibly well in practice, as it apparently did in its predecessor Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.

The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest

The Low End Theory

What needs to be said about this album that hasn’t already been said ad nauseum in just about every Hip-Hop related publication out there? The blend of jazzy beats and lighthearted and always insightful lyrics delivered by the duo of Phife Dawg and Q-Tip is among the absolute best the Hip-Hop genre has to offer. I can easily recommend this to anyone, even those who are new to or still wary of the genre.

Me Against the World – 2Pac

Me Against The World

This is considered one of 2Pac’s best works, alongside his last album All Eyez On Me released 7 months before his death. Me Against the World is an unquestionably excellent album. Thematically, 2Pac’s obsession with death takes center stage with such tracks as If I Die 2Nite and Death Around the Corner and his lyrics are his usual sharp, poetic and consistently brilliant.

And there you have it. I was definitely in the mood for some new (well, new to me at least) Hip-hop and rap music to listen to. I know that there are those of you out there who don’t like rap and others who downright hate the genre. I’m not going to try to sway your opinion on the matter here but so far, these albums are excellent, as I expected and I’d recommend them to anyone with any interest in the genre.