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KFC's Double Down - May 23, 2010

First off, let me say that the Double Down Sandwich from KFC has got to be one of the biggest jokes to have ever existed. You might have seen the commercial for it. In the commercial there are some guys talking about a standard chicken sandwich, complaining that it takes two to fill [you] up. Okay, sure, sometimes this is true. You do need two sandwiches, but KFC’s answer to this was not to add more chicken, it was to replace the bread with chicken. The Double Down is a cheese and bacon sandwich, with the bread replaced with chicken breasts.

I had heard about this sandwich on talk radio before I saw the commercial, and to be honest, just hearing about it, made me want to try one. It sounded good to me. It didn’t necessarily sound like a good idea, but it did sound good. I had to have one. So I looked up the sandwich on the internet, and watched the aforementioned commercial. I was still interested in the sandwich. I talked to some friends of mine who wanted to try the sandwich as well.

The three of us went to KFC. Two of us ordered our Double Downs. My other friend didn’t want to try it, it sounded too unhealthy to him. I on the other hand, was very excited to get it. So excited, in fact, that when I got up to get my order I bumped into a waitress and accidentally felt her up. Well, like all famed sandwiches of legend, it isn’t simply wrapped up in paper, it comes in a box, and it was a big box. I was excited. So after the embarrassment with the waitress I took the sandwich to my table. My friends joked about the waitress, and with a good chuckle I opened the box.

It may look like a lot of meat, but get ready for disappointment. (This photo was taken by a professional.)
I was disappointed right away. The thing was so small. It was maybe two and a half inches long and the whole thing was smaller that my fist. It was going to take maybe two bites to down it. (Hence the name Double Down, I guess.) It would have easily taken two of these to fill me up, maybe three. I don’t know if they are this small in every restaurant. I even know that commercials make everything look bigger, but I didn’t expect it to be that small. The price-tag on it warranted much more sandwich than what I got.

Feeling disappointed, I ate. The experience was already ruined for me because of how small it was. I had no more excitement. I felt empty inside. Sure it tasted okay. Not particularly great, just your standard KFC taste, with a cheese that wasn’t particularly appetizing, and bacon. Frankly, bacon doesn’t even go with chicken. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good either. I still felt empty when I was done eating.

Admittedly, I got it for the novelty. I had to be able to say I tried it. I knew I’d have only one. I don’t frequent KFC, maybe once a year at most, and KFC got me. This experience was my once a year. Last time I went to KFC was for the free chicken that Oprah sponsored. So I acknowledge that this gimmick of a sandwich worked to get me in there, but I ordered only the sandwich, no sides or anything, so they didn’t get me that bad. I had to eat more food when I got home to really get filled up, though.

Would I recommend the sandwich? Sure, it wasn’t that bad, it was even kind of fun to know I was eating a sandwich where the bread was chicken, but honestly, as I’ve said, it’s a gimmick. This is not a sandwich you are going to go out of your way to eat. A sandwich needs bread, and other fast food chicken sandwiches are cheaper, and will fill you up more.

Categories: Product Reviews

Game Reveiw: Mass Effect - May 19, 2010

Mass Effect is a Science Fiction RPG developed by Bioware in 2007. What the phrase mass effect means, exactly, is unclear. It’s mentioned briefly in the introduction, but then easily forgotten. It may have something to do with the mass relays that allow spacecrafts to jump across vast distances of space in short amounts of time. It may be something different altogether. Well, whatever the phrase means, it is synonymous with a hell of a good time in outer space.

A highly political world of the most intense type of politics. Expect backstabbing, bribery, idiot politicians, sex scandals, and everything else that you would find in Washington.
The game is set in a highly political galaxy, in which humans have literally no respect among the various alien races. In all fairness humans aren’t the only race at the bottom of the food chain, but being that the character you play as, Commander Shepard, is human, elements of the plot make apparent this fact. Now, humans are not weak by any means, they just don’t have much of a place in the political system.

To be honest, when you first start this game, you might be disappointed. The game immediately throws you into a seemingly generic mission on a planet called Eden Prime. Being that it is called Eden you would think it would be a beautiful planet, but it is ugly, extremely ugly, the worst planet in the game, and not a very good introduction. Don’t let this discourage you, however, the game gets a lot better once you get off that planet. It’s tough not to be discouraged. Many gamers have given up on this game because of how lame the first environment is, but I highly recommend giving it a chance.

Now, that is not to say that everything is perfect about this game once you actually get into the game. It is far from perfect. There are basically five story missions (including Eden Prime) which are all well crafted, and are very fun to play through. The game also offers an open galaxy, which you are free to explore, and you’ll find various side missions along the way.

The side missions are a complete failure in this game. They are generic go-here and kill-this or find-this missions. Further, they actually use the same maps. There are three types of maps, a mine, and two different buildings. So you basically get three maps for these missions, the only difference between the various missions is that the furniture is arranged differently. Needless to say the side mission get old fast.

Landing on a planet and exploring in an all-terrain armored vehicle is not as exciting as it sounds.
Along with the side missions is the Mako. An all-terrain landing vessel, which takes your shore party down to a planet, and lets you drive around on the planet’s surface. This is worse than the repeated maps. The Mako handles like a rubber raft. It bounces around like crazy, and further, every planet surface is extremely boring and generic. You have to drive up and down hundreds of mountains. There is simply nothing fun about this vehicle. I’m sure it looked good on paper, but it simply doesn’t work.

The next big complaint is the inventory, there is too much of it. You’ll find dozens of new weapons with every map you fight your way through. Most of the items are useless, some of them are good. Luckily you can carry 150 items, so you don’t have to go to a shop owner and sell your loot very often.

I actually bring up the Mako and the inventory, because in Mass Effect 2 both the Mako and the inventory have been removed, and believe me, you’ll know why they made that decision after playing the first game.

Don’t let these things distract you, though. The game is quite fun, especially the story missions. With that said, the story is not going to make a lot of sense, until you really get into the game. The game features a codex which explains a lot of background information on the galaxy, but honestly, who’s going to read that? It’s a game, you don’t read in games, you play them. You’ll be fine without reading. Hell, you’ll be fine if you skip most of the dialog. I did. The important parts of the story will come out, and when you finish this game, you’ll be ready for the sequel.

Combat is very fun, especially when you have powerful abilities.
Like most RPGs, your characters start out fairly weak, but as you level up and improve your skills, you’re characters will become very powerful. I played as an infiltrator, and focused on pistol and sniper rifle assaults. The pistol is a surprisingly effective weapon, not the useless sidearm that you might expect it to be. With a strong party that has some really good biotic and tech abilities (i.e. spells) weapons will be a matter of finishing off enemies that are already out of play. Part of the beauty of the game is that you don’t have to tell your squad members everything that they should do. They will automatically use their abilities to take out the enemy. So combat is not as complex as you might expect. The game was originally released on X-Box 360, and on the PC version combat and aiming feel a little stiff, but it hardly hurts anything. By the end of this game, you will have the satisfaction of having a tough character that can’t be defeated by anything, and that’s the way an RPG should be.

Overall, if you are an RPG fan, like science fiction settings, and a lot of combat in your RPGs, you will like this game. Further, it has a sequel out now, and promises of another sequel. You can import your character from this game into the sequel, and it will have effects on the story. I played this game because I wanted to play Mass Effect 2 and I heard that you should experience this game first. Even if I never play the sequel, I still had a really good time with this one.
Rating: 7/10
Alternatives: Deus Ex.

Categories: Video Game Reviews

Burning Building - May 18, 2010

On Friday I was casually relaxing away the end of the night, when I smelled smoke. At first I figured something in the oven was burning, so I went to the kitchen. Nothing there, but I still smelled smoke, so I opened the front door. The smell of something burning was much stronger, and I realized that the source was outside. Being that I wasn’t dressed to go out, I put on a trench coat, and, looking like a streaker, I went out to the sidewalk and looked in the direction that the smoke was coming from. Off in the distance I saw smoke billowing into the air, and I knew that some house or building was on fire.

Well, like almost anyone, the prospect of a burning building excited me, and I knew I had to investigate. I got dressed, and made my way out into the night air. The fire was to the west, and as I made my way towards it, I greeted some passerbys that were also curious as to the situation. Being that they knew nothing of the situation I declared my farewell and made my way closer to the burning building. I found myself in a parking lot across from the building, where there had formed a gathering of spectators.

The burning building was an apartment complex. Three stories high, with about twenty five units. The fire was on the upper right hand floor, and this was where the firefighters were focusing their attention. Of course, by the time I got there, no flames were visible, and I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. I was hoping for the exciting display of flame. I made my way closer. As close as possible, in hopes of seeing something more exciting than smoke. There was nothing to see. Yet, I stayed. I stayed there for maybe half an hour. I wasn’t the only one to stay, maybe a dozen of us stood there, hoping to see the building collapse or explode, or otherwise see something more interesting occur.

Being that I was as close to the building as I could get, some of the tenants of the burning building were nearby, and I overheard a conversation that some of them held. They suspected that their apartment unit would be fine, as the fire was localized to two apartments. I also learned that the tenants of the apartment that had first caught fire had left town for the weekend. They’d already been contacted, and were on their way back to town. Tragic, I thought, to leave town, and receive a phone call that everything you owned had burned up.

A fire I watched on April 1, 2005 at 9:15 PM. The crowd couldn’t help but gather.
I eventually lost interest, and somewhat felt out of place, as I didn’t know anyone that lived in the burning apartment, so I made my way back home. Though, admittedly I couldn’t help but ponder why most people, including me, have such a fascination with the tragic. Perhaps we’re looking for some excitement, something more real than what we see on television or in movies. Some chance of an actual tragedy. The smoking building certainly looked less exciting than the action packed explosions seen in films, and yet watching it for half an hour wasn’t at all boring. Why? I don’t know. Maybe because reality is more exciting than fiction.

I read about the fire in the paper the next day. They didn’t know anything that I hadn’t learned from witnessing it.

Back in 2005, I saw a much more exciting fire. It was another apartment complex, but on that occasion I saw flames, and I have to admit I got a certain thrill out of it. I watched that one until the flames were no longer visible, and even then I stayed for several minutes longer. Just the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles are exciting, especially with the backdrop of the night sky. It’s no wonder why we watch these things.

Categories: 2001-2011 College

Game Review: Heavy Rain - May 9, 2010

I commented in an earlier post that I didn’t plan on playing this game for a while, but the demo really got the better of me and I just couldn’t resist it. Overall it has been an enjoyable experience, but it is certainly not the perfect game, and many of the remarks I made in my earlier post held true.

Heavy Rain is, as claimed, an interactive drama. That is to say like its spiritual predecessor, Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy, it is not a game in any traditional sense of the word. You don’t play it, you watch it and interact with it. Though it is definitely a good thing that not all games are played the same way that this one is, having one game like this is not a bad thing.

You start out playing the character Ethan Mars. He wakes up, it’s his son’s birthday. You can make Ethan do various tasks such as brushing his teeth, taking a shower, or other mundane things that normal people do. The opening gives you a sense of how to interact with the world, and it begins to show off some of the great animations that you are going to see throughout the game. Many tasks are fairly simple to carry out, and include holding down a combination of buttons, or moving the joystick in a simple pattern. There are also quick thinking sequences where you have only a split second to press the buttons as directed. The game features a lot of mundane tasks that are utterly worthless to do, and certainly a second play through of this game would warrant skipping most of these sequences. Making a character go to the bathroom every time they see a different toilet gets old pretty quick.

ARI crime scene investigation, the technology of the future. Next year in fact. (The game takes place in 2011.)
Further into the game the real drama begins when the plot introduces the Origami Murders a series of killings that have taken place over several years, where the victim is drowned and an origami figure is found near the body. These are introduced while you play the character Norman Jayden, a profiler for the FBI. As Norman, you use something called ARI to investigate the scene of the most recent victim. ARI is basically a computer system which scans the area, and brings evidence or clues to the attention of the person using the system by showing information in an Actual Reality Interface. It is certainly an interesting way to go about investigating crimes, but not very realistic.

You will also play as Scott Shelby, a private investigator, who is investigating the killings. And as Madison Paige, a journalist, who gets mixed up with the killings after meeting Ethan Mars.

The plot is that Ethan’s son is kidnapped, and he is given a series of clues by the killer, which, if followed, will lead him to his son. No details will be given about the plot here, as the game is certainly best experienced the first time by playing it out, and letting the end be a surprise, but some illusions to the plot will be made to point out some of the problems with it.

The plot has many classic fallacies of fiction writing, and is certainly not perfect. There are huge plot holes, many of which are in the game simply to keep the player guessing, but they are distracting and will lead the player to believe that the characters in the game are idiots. There are several sequences surrounding a mob boss, which really have nothing to do with the main plot, and seem to be in the game simply so that it lasts longer. The police in the game don’t seem to be doing any actual investigating, they just interview people that have already been interviewed and then beat them up, or get beat up by them. The lead detective, Carter Blake, is basically a moron, and it’s a relief that you never play as him.

The story is somewhat intriguing, but at the same time it is pretty mediocre, and not necessarily as intense as the ads made it out to be. The Ethan Mars character is interesting, and Madison Paige has some good moments as well, but the rest of the characters fall pretty flat. Norman Jayden basically seems to be randomly put in situations where he gets beat up, which is kind of funny, and he has a drug abuse problem, but the details surrounding him never really play out, and he is never that interesting. Maybe if there was some more back story on him, he would have been a much stronger character, but as it stands we don’t get much. Scott Shelby is about as boring as all hell. As a private investigator he never really does any investigating, and very early in the game the player will wonder why he is even playable.

Admittedly a lot of problems with the plot are because it is a game, and a game needs to give players a certain amount of play time. If this had been a movie, many of the problems with the story and characters would have been cut out, and it might have been a much tighter story, although it would still be pretty generic. There really isn’t anything that foreboding. It’s just the story of a serial killer, that has a somewhat interesting modus operandi.

The facial expressions of the characters are particularly telling.
What the game does very well, is animation. There are literally thousands of different animations for the various tasks that the characters do. Standing up, sitting down, juggling, and playing with a boomerang in the park, to mention a few. The game used motion capture not only for body animations but for facial expressions as well, and in that regard the expressions on the character’s faces are very realistic, and very telling of what the characters are thinking. The facial expressions are probably the best part of this game, and the details of the faces of the main characters are especially good. Most of the emotion in the game is brought out through the those small shifts in a the character’s lips, jaws, and eyes.

A word should be said about the voice acting. It’s terrible. Especially the actors that played Ethan and Norman. Both actors are obviously Europeans doing American accents. Ethan sounds like he’s from Scotland half the time and America the other half of the time. Norman’s actor uses both Brooklyn and California accents in the same sentence. The children in the game were badly acted as well. Being that this game made such a big deal of facial expression, it should have had the professional voice work to match. Despite the voice work, in general the soundtrack is pretty good, very emotional, some of the tracks are particularly memorable as well, but it is very repetitive.

I want to comment on the multiple endings. The game boasts hundreds of them. Realistically speaking that is a flat out lie. Each character has several different endings, and depending on the choices made throughout the game some of those endings will be shown, and yes, the same character can have two different ending sequences in the finale, so, sure, when combining everything together maybe there are a hundred different endings, but you don’t have to play the game a hundred times to see them all. You will probably get one fourth of the endings on your first play through, and you only have to play the last two chapters to get another fourth of them. Other endings require different decisions earlier in the game so you have to go back further for them. Overall, however, the game is very linear with only a few choices that affect the ending, like letting a character die, or not finding all the clues at a crime scene. This isn’t really a bad thing, it just isn’t the big deal that the PR people made it out to be.

Of course the only really important thing, when it comes down to it, is whether or not the game is fun. Certainly this game doesn’t have the fast paced action of a shooter, or require the intuition and detective skills of a more traditional adventure game, but, to be perfectly honest, there is something very satisfying about pressing the buttons and doing the actions required to make the characters carry out their scripted sequences. Yes, it is surprisingly fun and satisfying to play.

Now since there are different ways for the game to end, the question arises as to whether or not this game is re-playable? Sure, you can replay it, but honestly it’ll be pretty much the same every time you play it, with only minor differences, so it really isn’t going to be a whole lot that is new and exciting on your second play through. Like a good movie, you’d have to wait several months, or even years, before experiencing it again.

The ultimate deciding factor concerning your like of this game is the demo. Log onto the PlayStation network and download it. If you enjoy the demo, you will enjoy this game.

Rating: 8/10
Alternatives: Indigo Prophecy, Sherlock Holmes: The Awakened.

Due to this post getting excessive spam comments I’ve disabled comments for it, if you really feel the need to comment on this, please use the contact form with Heavy Rain Review in the subject line, and the comment will eventually be posted, thanks.

Categories: Video Game Reviews

Assembly Line - April 27, 2010

When I was ten years old I went on a road trip with my dad to New York City. On the way back we went through Michigan, and my dad decided to take me to the Henry Ford Museum. To be honest, I wasn’t really that interested in the cars that they had on display there, though they did have a very interesting antique car that was supposed to have been manufactured to the safest specifications possible. What I remember about that car was that the steering wheel was in the middle, and some of the seats were facing backwards. As I said though, I wasn’t so interested in the cars, I was more interested in the activities that they had for children.

Being that it was Ford, the big deal was, of course, the assembly line. They had two activities with the purpose of teaching children how productive an assembly line is. The first was sort of a mini car manufacturing line. Each child, and their parents if they chose to participate, would stand along a small conveyor belt, with a pile of parts in front of them, axles, wheels, etcetera. Several wooden blocks would then be placed on the belt and the conveyor would start. Then each person would do their one job, for example one kid would do one axle, and I mean one axle, another kid would do the other axle. The same was true for wheels. At the end of the line there were about five of these little wooden cars produced. Comically enough it was kids putting these together, so the belt had to be shut off constantly in order for the kids to catch up.

The other activity they had, was a giant machine. The sole purpose of the machine was to get plastic balls, the kind found in children’s ball pits, from one end of this machine to other. Like I said it was a giant machine, and each part of the machine required some kind of human interaction for it to work. For example there were exercise bikes, that while pedaled would pump air through a tube, in order to push these plastic balls further along. My job was to use a stick with a baseball mitt attached to one end to lift the balls up and place them in another tube. Overall the entire machine was an impressive spectacle, though admittedly it would have been a lot faster to simply carry the balls across the room.

What I learned from this, however, was not that a group of people working together can accomplish a lot. No, what I learned was that assembly line work was just about the most boring thing I could think of. Using the baseball mitt to move balls around a couple feet was the most boring job I could think of, but then I reflected on all the different jobs there, and they were all just as bad, riding one of the exercise bikes wouldn’t have been any better, and none of the other jobs were particularly exciting either. Sure, the whole operation was impressive, but it really wasn’t that satisfying to know that I was a part of it.

I knew from a young age that assembly line work was one of the worst jobs you can get into. I knew that any job where you do the same thing over and over was a lousy job. Though, I can say, that at least in reality you get paid for doing it, and maybe, just maybe, that makes it worth it.

Categories: 1988-1995 K-6

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