Saturday, December 25, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 25: All Is Well (Michael W. Smith)

SONG: All Is Well
ARTIST: Michael W. Smith
ALBUM: Christmas
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | 2-pack | MP3 )

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 24: O Holy Night (Sufjan Stevens)

SONG: O Holy Night
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
ALBUM: Songs For Christmas, Vol. 3
AVAILABILITY: CD/MP3 (5-pack of EPs)

"O Holy Night" has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs, and I was excited when I heard that Sufjan Stevens did a version of it. But when I first heard it, I wasn't quite sure what to think. In fact, I was even a little offended. It seemed almost sacrilegiously low-effort and bizarre. But eventually it won me over with its down-to-Earth charm, and now I think it's one of the best arrangements there is. It actually represents the subject matter perfectly. Because people were anticipating the birth of a messiah for centuries; and when they were told that it finally happened, and it was just some poor people in a stable, and he wasn't even planning to overthrow the government or anything, they also couldn't help but wonder: "Is this it?" But it couldn't have happened any other way. And that's the feeling that this version of the song captures, for me. When all of the instruments finally come in for the final chorus, it gives me chills.

So yeah, I just proved that if you don't like Sufjan's version of this song you don't know the true meaning of Christmas. I win!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 23: White As Snow (U2)

SONG: White As Snow
ALBUM: No Line On The Horizon
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | Deluxe | Vinyl | MP3 )

This U2 song about a dying soldier is heavily based on "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel".

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 22: Greensleeves / What Child Is This (Kevin Max)

SONG: Greensleeves / What Child Is This
ARTIST: Kevin Max
ALBUM: Holy Night

Each of these two tracks would seem incomplete without its counterpart, so I included them both. Kevin Max's 2005 Christmas album adhered to traditional hymnal classics rather than songs about Santa Claus and stuff, but he even went so far as to include the medieval predecessor to "What Child Is This" in a brief, one-verse-one-chorus format. This gives him some leeway to double up on the "What Child" verses and choruses, lining them straight up instead of alternating between verse and chorus. It's thanks to this that we get my favorite moment on the album: the full-octave jump between verses 1 and 2. It demonstrates not only Kevin's amazing range, but that he sounds great at either end of it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 21: Flight Into Egypt (Phil Keaggy)

SONG: Nativity Suite part 3: Flight Into Egypt
ARTIST: Phil Keaggy (featuring the London Festival Orchestra)
ALBUM: Majesty & Wonder: An Instrumental Christmas

The soundtrack to a Christmas movie that doesn't exist. Well actually, I guess the movie probably does exist... well, you know what I mean.

Monday, December 20, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 20: Walking In The Air (Howard Blake)

SONG: Walking In The Air
ARTIST: Howard Blake
ALBUM: The Snowman
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace ( CD | MP3 )

"The Snowman" is an odd little animated short. It sort of came out of nowhere, adapting a children's book most people weren't particularly familiar with. And the animation isn't really "good" on a technical level (although it definitely works, stylistically). And it's mostly silent, and a little depressing. But the score, by relative unknown Howard Blake, is legendary, and this main theme is the epitome of haunting Christmas music.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 19: Evergreen (Switchfoot)

SONG: Evergreen
ARTIST: Switchfoot
ALBUM: Happy Christmas Vol. 2 (BEC) / Happy Christmas Vol. 4 (Tooth & Nail)
RELEASED: 1998 / 2005
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( original CD compilation [discontinued?] | newer CD compilation | MP3 )

This Switchfoot rarity, available only on compilations, is one of the better "I've got the Christmas blues" type of songs out there. It starts off with the usual stuff about not feeling too great on Christmas, but then it employs the frequently-forgotten symbolism of a Christmas tree -- a tree that lives all year round, ironically enough -- to turn the singer's pity party into an object lesson about the holiday.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 18: Adoration (Newsboys)

SONG: Adoration
ARTIST: Newsboys
ALBUM: Adoration

Without really being advertised as a Christmas song, "Adoration" was quietly snuck onto the Newsboys' "worship" album of the same name. Although I would generally regard this phase of their career as a mistake, some really high-quality songs still came out of it, and this is one of the best new Christmas songs in ages. It's a little sad how much better it is than the so-called Newsboys Christmas album that recently came out, which is really just a Michael Tait Christmas album with an indistinguishable studio backup band... but I digress.

Friday, December 17, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 17: Take a Break, Guys! (The Brian Setzer Orchestra)

SONG: Take a Break, Guys!
ARTIST: The Brian Setzer Orchestra
ALBUM: Wolfgang's Big Night Out
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | MP3 | Greatest Hits CD/DVD )

Fulfilling the prophecy by Mr. Bean, this swingin' arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" (think about the title for a minute) first appeared on Setzer's classical music reinterpretation project, but it's also showed up on his Christmas compilations.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 16: Siberian Sleigh Ride (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

SONG: Siberian Sleigh Ride
ARTIST: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
ALBUM: The Lost Christmas Eve
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | MP3 | 3-pack)

This probably needs no introduction at this point; it's another good Trans-Siberian Orchestra instrumental.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 15: Winter Wonderland / Misty Mountain Hop (Fleming & John)

SONG: Winter Wonderland / Misty Mountain Hop
ARTIST: Fleming & John
ALBUM: (None)
RELEASED: I'm honestly not really sure

A little soon for another version of Winter Wonderland, you say?  Well, it's never too soon for more Fleming & John, especially since their particular version of the song sets it to the tune of Led Zeppelin's "Misty Mountain Hop".  This also guarantees that it will never get any sort of mass distribution, as the Zep guys aren't exactly known for their lenient stance on copyright, so get it while you can!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 14: Emmanuel (Michael W. Smith)

SONG: Emmanuel
ARTIST: Michael W. Smith
ALBUM: Christmastime
AVAILABILITY: Amazon - ( CD | 2-pack | MP3 )

I don't like Michael W. Smith's second Christmas album nearly as much as the first, but it does have its moments.  This is one of them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 13: Wonderful Christmastime (Earthsuit

SONG: Wonderful Christmastime
ARTIST: Earthsuit
ALBUM: Happy Christmas vol. 3 (compilation)
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace (CD)

If you've ever found Paul McCartney's original arrangement of this song to be too cheesy or oddly disturbing, consider giving this one a shot.  It's by Earthsuit, the greatest failed band of all time, and even though it lacks many aspects of their trademark sound, they still brought the song to life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 12: The Nutcracker Suite (Brian Setzer Orchestra)

SONG: The Nutcracker Suite
ARTIST: The Brian Setzer Orchestra
ALBUM: Boogie Woogie Christmas
AVAILABILITY: Amazon ( CD | MP3 | Greatest Hits CD/DVD )

To me, Christmas and big band / jazz music have always gone together nicely for some reason.  So I was glad when Brian Setzer gave it a shot, even though making 2 Christmas albums and then a "Christmas Greatest Hits" was overkill.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 11: Winter Wonderland (Steve Taylor)

SONG: Winter Wonderland
ARTIST: Steve Taylor
ALBUM: Christmas (compilation)
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace (CD)

This full-on mariachi arrangement of "Winter Wonderland" is actually one of the first versions I can ever remember hearing, so to me, it's always just felt natural.  It's by Steve Taylor, the satirical pop singer/songwriter/producer best known as the guy who finally made the Newsboys good.  (WHERE ARE YOU NOW, STEVE?!)  He also produced Sixpence None The Richer's self-titled album, which included the mega-hit "Kiss Me."  Currently, he's working on the upcoming Blue Like Jazz movie.

Friday, December 10, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 10: Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time! (Sufjan Stevens)

SONG: Hey Guys! It's Christmas Time!
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
ALBUM: Songs For Christmas, Vol. 4
AVAILABILITY: CD/MP3 (5-pack of EPs)

In contrast to the "What Child Is This?" I posted earlier, this is one of Sufjan's original Christmas songs, and it actually sounds more "modern" than most of his other work.  It's almost unheard-of for him to use an electric guitar riff as the main part of a song.  But it's Christmas time, so I guess anything can happen.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 8: Christmas Jazz (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

SONG: Christmas Jazz (Good King Wenceslas)
ARTIST: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
ALBUM: The Lost Christmas Eve
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | MP3 | 3-pack)

A bit different from the Trans-Sbierian Orchestra you may be used to; this is a very pleasant jazzed-up acoustic arrangement of everybody's favorite "I don't know what this means but it sounds nice" Christmas Carol, "Good King Wenceslas".

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 8: Carol of the Bells (Fleming & John)

SONG: Carol of the Bells
ARTIST: Fleming & John
ALBUM: (None)

Most lyrical versions of "Carol of the Bells" sound stupid.  Luckily, Fleming & John are incapable of sounding stupid.  They're the world's coolest married couple, with Fleming doing lead vocals and John Painter playing every instrument known to man.  I don't think this has been on any compilations, but it was made available on their web site a while ago.  Their 2 albums are well worth seeking out.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 7: Must Be Santa (Bob Dylan)

SONG: Must Be Santa
ARTIST: Bob Dylan
ALBUM: Christmas In The Heart
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | Deluxe | Vinyl)

Last year, Bob Dylan confounded the world by releasing an album of completely straightforward, traditional arrangements of Christmas songs.  At least, they would be straightforward, but they're sung by 2009 Bob Dylan.  This is actually the least bizarre song of the bunch... and impossible to get out of your head.  You're welcome.

Monday, December 06, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 6: First Snow (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)

SONG: First Snow
ARTIST: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
ALBUM: Christmas Eve and Other Stories
AVAILABILITY: Amazon (CD | MP3 | 3-pack)

Modern, original Christmas instrumentals are hard to come by, but I think this shows that we could use more of them.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 5: The Little Drummer Boy (White Heart)

SONG: The Little Drummer Boy
ARTIST: White Heart
ALBUM: Christmas (compilation)
AVAILABILITY: Amazon Marketplace (CD)

And now for something completely '80s. "The Little Drummer Boy" has always been a hard song for me to take seriously what with the rum-pa-pum-pums and all that, so I think ramping the cheese factor up to 11 is actually the best thing to do with it. It's so '80s it hurts... but it hurts so good. "Me and my DRUUUUUUUUUM!"

Saturday, December 04, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 4: What Child Is This, Anyway? (Sufjan Stevens)

SONG: What Child Is This, Anyway?
ARTIST: Sufjan Stevens
ALBUM: Songs For Christmas, Vol. 2
AVAILABILITY: CD/MP3 (5-pack of EPs)

Sufjan originally recorded this (and the rest of his Christmas EPs) as a gift for his family & friends, which makes the production and overall quality pretty impressive. Despite the slightly irreverent title of this track, it's a very classy and haunting take on the traditional song, with the only major differences being an odd chord here and there. It takes on a trance-like, mystical feel. My favorite thing about it is probably the tone used on the guitar (or whatever instrument that is, you never know with him).  For some reason, it reminds me of the music that comes out of the speakers of those various terrible electronic Christmas decorations I've seen over the years, like electromagnetic skating rinks and animatronic choir boy dolls. And if that's not haunting, I don't know what is.

And uh, it also reminds me of the cave music from Yoshi's Island.

Friday, December 03, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 3: O Holy Night (Rebecca St. James)

SONG: O Holy Night
ARTIST: Rebecca St. James
ALBUM: Christmas

It takes guts to tamper so heavily with one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time, but in this case it definitely pays off. Not that there's anything wrong with the original, but after so many straightforward covers, a little change couldn't hurt. Rebecca's version manages to retain everything that's good about the original song despite being in a different time signature and having several different chords.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 2: Christmas Time (Is Here Again) - The Beatles

SONG: Christmas Time (Is Here Again)
ARTIST: The Beatles
ALBUM: Free As A Bird single, limited edition vinyls, bootlegs

As if The Beatles didn't already do everything there is to do as a band, they also recorded about an EP's worth of Christmas material.  By "material" I mean some quirky radio drama stuff and a couple of musical bits.  This here is their only full-fledged "Christmas song", though, but it's a good one.  If a tad repetitive.

Below, you will find a full-length, but lower-quality, recording.  The above edit is the B-side to the "Free As A Bird" single.  (Note that this long version seems to be from a slightly sped-up vinyl.)

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN Day 1: Gloria (Michael W. Smith)

Hey guys, I feel like posting a bunch of Christmas music!  On Wednesday, December 1st, I hastily decided to find a Christmas song on YouTube and post it on Facebook before going to work.  Then I figured I could make this a regular thing.  So I've rounded up 25 Christmas songs "of interest" and I'm gonna post them and talk about them a little.  Sound good?  Okay!  Sound legal?  Partially!  This is all gonna be Rule Of YouTube, folks.

Essentially I guess this is a "list" of Christmas songs.  But don't think it means anything.  There's no theme here.  It's not THE BEST Christmas songs ever.  And it's not necessarily "the most underrated Christmas songs".  No. It's just 25 relatively non-redundant Christmas songs I feel like sharing, and I have a feeling everyone will find at least one thing they haven't heard before, or at least haven't heard in a while.  They're in no particular order other than what I think makes some sort of musical sense.

#1 is not necessarily what I wanted to lead off with, since it's pretty climactic, especially in its original context.  But I think I can work around it.

ARTIST: Michael W. Smith
ALBUM: Christmas
AVAILABILITY: Amazon - regular CD, 2-pack, MP3

As I mentioned earlier, this song is the climax of Michael W. Smith's 1989 Christmas album, which is probably the finest Christmas album ever recorded.  It's effective on its own, but it's even better when you've followed the whole orchestral suite, with the "Gloria" motif introduced in the first track and then paying off here, while also being combined with "Angels We Have Heard On High".  And even though you can probably guess that it came out in the '80s, it really doesn't sound that dated.

At the risk of "spoilers", this isn't this album's last appearance on the list.

Stay tuned for Day 2, which will be a few minutes from now!  And then Day 3, tomorrow.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

MASHUP: Beastie Boys vs. Nine Inch Nails - Suckotage

You know the drill.

I had a blast with this one.  It's the NIN version of "Suck" (originally by some band called Pigface) meets the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage".  I knew "Suck" would make a good backing track for something, so I started plugging songs in and when I arrived at this one, it couldn't have been more perfect.  I especially like it because it takes one of the Beasties' rock/rap songs and makes it more straight-up rap, until in the middle everything just sort of comes together.  (You may also notice a Run DMC sample, which is in itself a reference to a different Beastie Boys song.)

The NIN samples are mainly just from the finished song, but with a little help from the remix tracks for the Pigface version.  The Beastie samples are from a certain video game.  Neither are used with any particular permission, but if it gets popular enough for that to be a problem, mission accomplished.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

MASHUP: Beastie Boys vs. Nine Inch Nails - 3 MCs and 29 Ghosts

To paraphrase Depeche Mode, it's Mashup Time Again!

Same artists as last time.  They've given the fans a lot to work with.  The instrumental is another one from Ghosts, track 29, but heavily rearranged.  The vocal track is "3 MCs and 1 DJ" (with a few added surprises).  Some of the "3 MCs" percussion bleeds through due to the unavailability of an acapella track, but it actually works.

The NIN track is under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike license.  The Beastie track is under a "I'm sure they would be totally cool with this" license.

Monday, August 16, 2010

MASHUP: Beastie Boys vs. Nine Inch Nails - Ghost Word

To wash the taste of entry-level political commentary out of your mouth, here's one of the mash-ups I've been working on.

The generosity of the Beastie Boys and Trent Reznor with regard to their multitracks -- proportional to the lack of other artists' multitracks in general -- dictates much of my output.  But hey, you work with what you've got.  This one uses the vocal track of the Beastie Boys' "Oh Word?" (from To The 5 Boroughs) and NIN's "7 Ghosts I" (from Ghosts -- they're all titled like that).  The instrumental track has been rearranged in various ways for structure and length.

The NIN track is under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share Alike license. The Beastie acapella track falls under what appears to be a less formal "just don't sell it" dealie.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


This ad is pretty shocking. Probably not in the way they intended, though.

It'd be almost comical if it weren't so sad. The Don LaFontaine-esque action movie narration of the situation is really one of the more offensive 9/11-related things I've seen, since it's actually supposed to be taken seriously. "ON SEPTEMBER 11TH. They declared war against us... NOW they want to build a mosque. At GROUND ZERO. (directed by Michael Bay)"  The "sacred ground" claim seems a tad melodramatic as well.  Aren't we planning on building something else there?  As wonderful as this new building will surely be, I don't know if it will really live up to the whole "sacred" thing.  Just saying.  Might not wanna throw down that gauntlet.

But anyway.  I'll put my cards on the table; I'm not too high on Islam.  I think it's got plenty of inherent, significant problems.  I don't know if I accept the whole "it's a religion of peace" thing.  But that's not really even the issue to me.  See, I'm a big fan of personal responsibility.  You do something bad, it's your fault.  It can be useful to look into the factors that contributed to that action, but it's still your fault.  Always your fault, first and foremost.  When someone kills someone else, don't blame it on Islam, don't blame it on Christianity, don't blame it on Marilyn Manson, don't blame it on violent video games -- blame it on the killers.  There is no way to divert the blame when we're talking about such a major atrocity.  It takes much more than just bad beliefs or bad hobbies to drive someone to that.

I actually don't support the building of a mosque at Ground Zero, though.  Not because Muslims don't have the right to do it, or because "they" attacked us.  Just because, y'know, it's pretty inappropriate and insensitive.  It's not their fault, but it's still inappropriate.  I can appreciate the idea that we're this progressive society that can leave our emotions at the door and use perfect logic to conquer all, but we ain't robots.  You can't just say "ISLAM-NOT-RESPONSIBLE-FOR-SEQUENCE#911 -> EXECUTE-COMMAND_BUILD-MOSQUE".  Sometimes you simply have to respect boundaries.

Let's say you're a Christian, and you have an agnostic friend whose parents were beaten to a bloody pulp by an ultra-conservative Christian group because they were doing stem-cell research or something.  (I suppose this isn't a particularly common occurrence, but I hope the analogy works.)  I think most Christians in that situation would avoid blasting Christian rock music when that friend is around.  (Or even in general!  But that's another issue.)  It's not like you're compromising your faith or anything; it's simply not a good idea, and is more likely to drive that friend away than win him over.  What happened to his parents isn't your fault or Christianity's fault, but you have to respect that it's a sore point for him.  It doesn't mean you can't have cool-headed, rational discussions about your beliefs, but waving a big banner around isn't doing anyone any favors.

(This of course is assuming "mosque" is not a gross overstatement... which it's starting to sound like it is.)

Thankfully, this ad probably isn't actually going to air anywhere.  And even though the group that made it is called "The National Republican Trust", they do not in any way represent the Republican party as a whole.

...but I guess we should blame the entire Republican party for their actions, right?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Castlevania: Triptych of Disillusionment (Castlevania 3D)

My knowledge of the Castlevania franchise began with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, considered by most to be the apex of the series and still one of the finest examples of 2D gaming in existence.  Konami agreed, apparently, because they've re-used the formula for all subsequent handheld titles in the franchise, and are mimicking the general style to somewhat different effect in the upcoming Harmony of Despair.  Opinions on these handheld games vary a bit, but the general consensus is that they a) still have not quite recaptured what made Symphony so special and b) are all pretty darned fun regardless.

But on the big-screen consoles, Konami has been trying for well over a decade to successfully bring the franchise into 3D.  The results have ranged from "pretty fun" to "downright horrifying".  Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed Curse of Darkness.  The level design was largely quite bland and unmemorable, but the combat and collection/crafting systems were fun and addictive all the way through.  Clearly, though, it was still a far cry from the definitive 3D Castlevania we've all been hoping for.

So now E3 has brought us some sneak peeks of the next chapter: Lords of Shadow.  And at first glance, it... well... I certainly can't say it looks bad.  But what does it look like, exactly?  Well, what it looks like is Konami being so determined not to screw up another 3D Castlevania game that they're just clinging to something that works without really caring about how much it fits into the franchise.  Which could still be good, I guess.  I mean, Curse of Darkness barely involved a castle either.

But correct me if I'm wrong here; aren't most of us dying to play a 3D Castlevania game in which you run around  exploring a huge and freaking awesome castle?  Wasn't that the whole point of bringing the franchise into 3D in the first place?  To make Dracula's Castle more real and interactive than ever?  So far, what we've gotten are beat-em-ups that occasionally involve rooms that resemble castle corridors.  Not a bad start, but it's time to evolve.  Because we have reached the point where a 3D game that captures the same sense of adventure and exploration that made Symphony of the Night so great is entirely possible.

You want proof?  Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Without even realizing it, the designers of Arkham have laid the foundation for the definitive 3D Castlevania game.  Replace asylum with castle, replace Joker with Dracula, replace thugs with skeletons -- you're halfway there.  Now, I don't want to discredit the game here, because as it stands, it's definitely the definitive Batman game and should be viewed as such.  It has certain things that are unique to the Batman intellectual property, and the characters and settings therein are still essential to the experience.  But from an overall design standpoint, it demonstrates exactly how a 3D Castlevania should be done.

I don't claim to know how this would work from a business perspective, but if Konami really wants to keep the Castlevania franchise alive, they need to find a way to give the Arkham team the task of creating the definitive 3D Castlevania game from the ground up.  If nothing else, they need to study Arkham's design very carefully and consider how to apply the same principles to a Castlevania game.  Because it works.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Future Endeavors of Michael Tarver

Sometimes in life, we do things we can't completely explain.  This is one of those times/things.  I present to you my comic miniseries, The Future Endeavors of Michael Tarver.  It's one in-joke from WWE/NXT (you know, Professional Wrestling) that somehow inspired me to draw again after barely drawing anything for well over a year.  I think it's of interest.  To whom, well, that's a question, isn't it?

Click the images for larger Tarver. (also available on DeviantArt -- see sidebar link)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

You're Only Angry 'Cause You Wish You Were In My Position

Have you ever heard some variation of the following statement?  Usually it's made in response to somebody criticizing someone famous for doing something:

"Don't be so critical.  You'd do the same thing if you were in his position."

There's a lot of wisdom in that.  It's the basic caution against hypocrisy.  I suppose it may even be a watered-down version of Jesus' teaching: "Judge not, lest ye be judged."

Most people are content to focus on the "judge not" part, but there's more to it than that.  See, I don't think that anybody who judges is automatically a hypocrite.  That's what the "lest ye be judged" part is for.  It means "you'd better be ready to back it up."  Perhaps a more relevant modern colloquialism would be "Don't write checks your butt can't cash."  Now, technically that could still be interpreted as the lone "don't judge" again, because butts can't cash checks -- but I think you get the gist of it.

Let's suppose nobody ever wrote or cashed checks.  That would have a bad effect on the economy, wouldn't it?  It would be isolationism; no business would ever get done.  The same can be said about judging.  If you never called anyone out on anything, you'd never have to answer for anything yourself, either.  You can avoid hypocrisy this way, but it's far more useful to actively avoid hypocrisy by striving to be consistent in your actions.  As with spending money, judging is a good thing, but only in moderation.  "Judge not, let ye be judged" doesn't mean you don't have standards; it means you do have standards, and you hold both yourself and others to those standards.

That being said, I also have to make an important distinction.  Judging, on a personal level (I'm not bringing courts or deities into this), should always be done from the perspective of "I have the potential to do this, and that's exactly why I know how important it is that you don't do it."  Not from the perspective of "I don't do this stuff, so that puts me in a position to tell you not to."  The latter is more common, unfortunately, and it's why judging has gotten such a bad rap. It's actually more hypocritical, even though it doesn't carry the outward appearance of hypocrisy, because the person is refusing to admit -- or at least emphasize -- that they're capable of doing the same thing.  That matters a lot more than what you actually have or haven't done, because that's largely just circumstantial, isn't it?

And there it is.  We shouldn't put so much stock in circumstances.  To use a recent example, Tiger Woods.  I've heard it said that I shouldn't judge him because if I had billions of dollars, I'd probably have women throwing themselves at me too, and I'd probably cave in to the temptation.  Is that true?  On a fundamental level, yes.  I likes me some womens.  But here's the thing: if -- God willing -- I ever were to find myself in such a position, I believe my words would come back to haunt me.  By criticizing what this guy did, and admitting that I'm capable of the same thing, I've set the bar higher for myself.  Whereas if I just say "I'd do the same thing," I've set the bar depressingly low.

I believe that progress only happens when we set the bar high for ourselves, and to do that, we can't shy away from criticism.  We also can't be hypocrites.  But those two things actually don't have a whole lot to do with each other.  Circumstances vary, but principles are constant, and they should be tested.  You don't have to have done better to criticize someone else's work or actions; you just have to be willing to do better.

When you "judge" someone, you're making a pact.  You're not necessarily saying you don't or wouldn't do something, but that you won't; and if you can't honestly say that, then yes, you need to either refrain from judging or take the opportunity to set yourself straight.

And that, my friends, is why I am allowed to argue on the internet.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Audioslave: Audioslave - The Review (see? it's self-titled)

Once upon a time, there were two bands.  One of them played funk-infused rap metal with politically charged lyrics that no one really payed attention to, and was known throughout the land as Rage Against The Machine.  The other band played one of the hundreds of different styles that fall under the "grunge" label, featuring a singer who sounded like a baby dinosaur and sometimes sang freakishly high, and they were known as Soundgarden.  Not long before the year 2000 AD, both of these bands split up.  Shortly after 2000, they reunited, but there was a mix-up and Rage accidentally got Soundgarden's singer, and Soundgarden didn't want to wear Che Guevara shirts so nothing ever came of that (I'm the only guy who knows about it).  Meanwhile, Rage tried to abandon Soundgarden's singer at a gas station a couple of times but eventually they figured "What the heck, let's see if we can work something out."  And they did!  And it was called Civilian.  And then it was called Audioslave.

1. Cochise
The first track and the first single from the first album.  This song should've been called "Audioslave," because then it would've been the debut single and opening track and title track of the self-titled debut album.  "Audioslave - Audioslave (from the album Audioslave)."  In light of recent events in late-night television, Cornell's words ring eerily prophetic: "Conan, save yourself!"

2. Show Me How To Live
STEP 1: Breathe.  STEP 2: Eat.  STEP 3: Drink.  STEP 4: Do not collaborate with Timbaland.  STEP 5: Sleep.  STEP 6: Repeat step 4.  REPEAT STEP 4.  REPEAT STEP 4 FOR THE LOVE OF--
So does the end of the song do the skippy thing for everyone else or what?

3. Gasoline
This is secretly Al Gore's favorite song.  He plays it while burning whales.  FUN FACT: Near the end of Audioslave's touring, Tom Morello insisted that they change the lyrics to "I'm burnin' that gasoline (and I'm a bad person because of it)."  It was an interesting change, but ultimately I feel it detracted from the flow of the song.  Luckily this is not present in the album version, which rocks pretty hard.

4. What You Are
In this song Chris Cornell talks about burning himself.  Could he be made of gasoline?

5. Like a Stone
This song was our first glimpse of Audioslave's softer side, and possibly the best.  The lyrics are open to interpretation, but I'd wager that they've got something to do with the afterlife.  Otherwise it just sounds creepy.  "In your house I long to be!"

6. Set It Off
This controversial song led to one of Audioslave's several breakups during the writing of the album.  Tom Morello was uncomfortable playing music with such a potty-mouthed vocalist, and he would have none of it.  Chris Cornell won back his favor by giving him a book about world hunger written by Che Guevara and printed on recycled paper.  Ha ha, get it?  Because he supports causes.

7. Shadow on the Sun
Okay look, this song is just plain awesome.  If you don't like it, you're a bad person.  The only thing I don't like about it is how Chris Cornell boldly proclaims "I can tell you why people go insane," but then he never actually tells us.  Mr. Cornell, your research could be useful to thousands of psychologists around the world!  Isn't that more important than money to you?  Or have you spent so much time with Timbaland that you've... become just like him?

8. I Am the Highway
CIRCLE ONE: Chris Cornell is
a) rolling wheels
b) the lightning
c) a carpet ride
d) blowing wind
e) Batman

ANSWER: Trick question!  He is both b) the lightning and e) Batman.  At the end of the song, Chris Cornell sings "I am the night", and Batman is the night.  Ergo, Chris Cornell is Batman.

9. Exploder
This song is where the standard Audioslave formula begins to become apparent.  But as is the case with the Audioslave formula, it still works.  I don't have anything witty to say about this one except DAH DA DA DAH DAH, DAH DA DA DAH DAH

10. Hypnotize
Who put this techno song on here?  This is like the polar opposite of the last track; a really unique song with a distinct identity.  I'm guessing that when they were putting the album together it was a toss-up between this song and "Give", which has the same basic message.  "Give" is a cool song, but I'm glad they went with this one, because it adds variety.

11. Bring 'Em Back Alive
This album has an awful lot of songs where Chris Cornell narrates his own death, doesn't it?  "Then they buried me in an island in the sea, etc."  Can't fault the music though, it's a pretty sweet slow heavy groove.

12. Light My Way
I still have no idea why, but you can hear somebody's default ringtone in the second verse of this song.  One time in each measure.  Once you hear it, it might ruin the song for you.  Sorry.

13. Getaway Car
Here's your final ballad for the day.  Don't like it?  Then Chris Cornell knows a car you can use.  Oh snap!

14. The Last Remaining Light
This is another song with "If You Don't Like It You're A Bad Person" syndrome, which is a good syndrome to have.  It kind of sounds like "Hotel California" blasting off into outer space.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Audioslave: Out Of Exile - The Ultimate Review (Digitally Remastered)

Audioslave's second album, Out of Exile, was sort of like they took half of the first album -- the "Rage + Cornell" sound -- and then filled the rest with cream.  It was like Cookies and Cream.  But hey, man, I love that stuff.  Even though most fans were really more in the mood for another cookie.

1. Your Time Has Come
This song has two of Chris Cornell's favorite words to sing: "sun" and "stone".  In fact, if Chris ever encountered a Sunstone in nature, he would literally explode.  It's his weakness, just like how a vampire's weakness is garlic or crosses or teenage girls.  Come to think of it, I wonder what Scott Weiland does on Sundays.  Maybe everything.

2. Out of Exile
I guess if there were some sort of termite extermination product called "Exile" then this song title is something you might hear at a supermarket.  "We are out of Exile."  Eh?  Whatever, I can't think of anything to say about this one.

3. Be Yourself
This was the first single Audioslave released from this album after 3 years of anticipation, which is pretty funny.  It's scientifically engineered to be the least Audioslave-fan-pleasing song imaginable.  The mellowness is front-and-center, and in the middle of it Tom Morello is all like "Man I can't take this, here's a guitar solo, RRRRRGH" but then he sort of gives up.  The song bears sage words of advice, though.  Listen, person catching a bouquet at a wedding.  Be yourself.  Be yourself is all that you can do.  Catch that bouquet.

4. Doesn't Remind Me
This song is kinda like...  hmm...  I guess nothing?

5. Drown Me Slowly
How fast you drown kind of depends on your lung capacity, doesn't it?  I'm afraid there's only so much we can do for you, sir.

6. Heaven's Dead
This song is a lot better if you don't go into it expecting ROCK 'N ROLL DUDE, and I'd imagine that worked against it when it first came out.  Good luck figuring out what the heck the chorus is supposed to mean, though.

7. The Worm
This song is only partially related to the dance move popularized by former WWE superstar Scott "2 Hot" Taylor.  It's pretty good though.

8. Man Or Animal
Remember how "Cochise" started with Tom Morello making his guitar sound like a helicopter?  Well, this time around he just settles for making it sound like a door creaking.  Guy's not even trying anymore.  Meanwhile, Chris Cornell says a bunch of stuff about animals.  I really have no clue what it means, but then again, "Black Hole Sun" was basically just word association set to music.

9. Yesterday To Tomorrow
Slow techno-groove bassline, atmospheric guitar, haunting melodies, and... a bell.  It sounds like some kind of sci-fi Christmas music.  And that's not a bad thing.

10. Dandelion
This is another song to anger everyone who liked the first album.  It sounds upbeat but gritty, like a tropical beach with cigarettes in the sand.

11. #1 Zero
Oh snap, we're near the end of the album.  This here is what we call a "slow burn" song, folks.  All ominous  and reserved for the first half of it, then it explodes.  Like a... like a grenade in a forest fire?

12. The Curse
Despite the song title, he actually only curses in "Set It Off", and that ain't even on this album.  He also sings about being a werewolf.  Or maybe not really, but it goes along with his other animal transformations.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Audioslave: Revelations - The Definitive Review (also available in HD)

Audioslave is the result of Rage Against The Machine losing their vocalist and joining up with Chris Cornell, the lead singer of such bands as "Soundgarden" and "Chris Cornell".  They were originally called "Civilian", then they split up and got back together about 50 times and wrote about 500 songs, and some other stuff happened and then they released the album "Audioslave" in 2002.  Many criticized the album for sounding like "Rage Against The Garden" or "Sound Against the Machine" or "SoundMachine" or "Rage Soundgarden The Cornell" or "RaSoge Agoundainst ThGare Machdenine".  3 years later, they released an album that didn't seem like it took 3 years to make.  1 year later they released this, because they wanted to be like Led Zeppelin.

This album is heavier than the last one, because it goes back to its roots, but it's also a whole new and more cohesive sound.  Did you know they had never toured together before making the first album?  Wow!  This is the album they always wanted to make.  It's like Led Zeppelin meets Earth, Wind, and Fire.  (For like half of one song.)

01. Revelations
It starts with the kind of acoustic/picked guitar thing you'd hear on 
Out Of Exile.  I like this song, but I don't like how Chris Cornell sounds like he's eating a lemon when he pronounces "Revelashiiiiiiiians".

02. One And The Same
Is it "And" or "In"?  Make up your minds.  This is a fast and funky song with wakkachika guitars.  Chris assumes a little too much in this song; since when are blood and rain one in the same?  Or one and the same?  AAGH make up your minds

03. Sound of a Gun
This is another one of those Rage Against Sounds of The Garden Machine songs, sort of.  The bridge of this song was heard in "Drown Me Slowly" on the previous album.  Whoa, time travel.  Actually, I guess they just wrote them at the same time.  Deceitful varmints.  This song would be better if every time Chris Cornell said "sound of a gun" you heard a gunshot sound.  I guess you could just listen to it in Harlem and get the same effect.

04. Until We Fall
In this song, Chris Cornell reveals two things:
1) he's black, and
2) he's tired of it.
Talk about Revelations!

05. Original Fire
This song is good, except pretty much everyone's in agreement that the guitar solo sounds like Donald Duck yelling profanities and is completely out of place.

06. Broken City
This song is about Cornell's frustration with Legos.

07. Somedays
Despite the grammatically incorrect title, this is a really cool song.  Unless you're allergic to people saying "Some days" more than two times in one chorus.

08. Shape of Things to Come
I sat through this whole song waiting to find out what the shape of things to come is, and I never did.  It starts off sounding like "Out of Exile", therefore I declare the whole song unoriginal.  How did you think you could get away with that, you hypocrites?

09. Jewel of the Summertime
If you play this song in the Wintertime, the RATM guys will come to your house naked wearing tape over their mouths, so be careful.

10. Wide Awake

11. Nothing Left To Say But Goodbye

This song is about Chris Cornell being a dog.  The annoying thing about this song is that it fades out right when Tom Morello starts playing the Batman theme.  Maybe they were worried about lawsuits.

12. Moth
This song is about Chris Cornell being a moth.

Audioslave: A Look Back

Look, guys.  I like Audioslave.  I really do.  I mean, I didn't grow up with Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine, so I can't put myself in the shoes of someone who did.  I only knew some of their songs, enough to comprehend what this supergroup meant on a basic level.  Looking back on their bodies of work, I can start to understand why people had such a violent negative reaction to Audioslave.  But I think if you approach their music from as fresh a perspective as possible -- which, to some extent, simply "won't work" for some people, and I get that -- you gotta appreciate at least some of what they did.  It was simple, unassuming rock music bolstered by the undeniable instrumental talents of the Rage guys and the also-undeniable (if perhaps a bit worn) vocal talent of Chris Cornell.  (Rumor has it he lost some of his voice to cigarettes, but has regained it since; I'm not sure if there's any truth to that.)  Combining the two styles was a more intriguing idea than most supergroups -- which generally combine rock with rock and result in rock -- and they delivered on the concept.  They didn't exceed expectations, but those expectations were pretty awesome.

While they obviously weren't lacking in talent, perhaps what they did lack was "spark".  The classic supergroup problem, I suppose; there's so much mutual professional respect in the room that nobody feels specifically motivated to contribute their own ideas or challenge each other's ideas.  There was clearly a general motivation to make music, but I get the impression that each band member was on autopilot, waiting for one of the other guys to take the lead, occasionally coming up with a breakthrough idea.  That said, these guys on autopilot still do some pretty great work.

Their sonic palette wasn't incredibly diverse, and their primary song formula wore itself a bit thin by the end of the first album.  They mixed it up a little on the other two albums, but perhaps not as much as they should have.  To be fair, I feel like Rage Against The Machine was on the verge of running out of ideas when they broke up, too.  Let's just say variety has never been Tom Morello's strongest point.  I don't know if either band would've been able to sustain a fourth album.

At this point you're probably wondering exactly what I'm introducing here.  Well, I'm going to do a brief rundown of each of Audioslave's albums.  I'm starting with the last one, Revelations, because I actually did a write-up of it four years ago on my MySpace blog. Remember those?  Basically I'm abandoning ship and re-posting whatever I want to keep around.  Because screw that place.  The other day I was checking Facebook on my phone and I accidentally clicked the MySpace link and I was like "aaaaaaaaaaah, what happened to Facebook, why does it look so terrib--OH, I clicked MySpace by accident, never mind."

So part 1 of this series will be posted immediately after this.  The format for these write-ups is semi-humorous, half-serious and not even close to professional.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Chronicles of Zucker: The Coco, The Chin, and the Closet

I was trying to think of some kind of complicated metaphor for the Conan O'Brien scandal, something involving the story of King Solomon and the baby custody case, but I don't think anyone needs that at this point.  Most of us know and understand the situation well enough.  So I'm just gonna rant a little.

Am I angry at Jay Leno?  Sort of.  I don't know how angry I can be, because I don't know the complete truth of the situation.  If Jay Leno is a behind-the-scenes mastermind who pushed Conan off the air, I'm very angry at him.  If he is exactly who he says he is, I'm still a bit angry at him.  So he doesn't come out of this looking very good either way.

Conan O'Brien made a tough decision: he left the Tonight Show when NBC threatened to move it past midnight, because he respects the legacy of the brand.  He refused to go along with NBC's plan.  One has to wonder what would've happened if Jay Leno refused as well.  I would love it if NBC rewarded Conan's humility by thinking up another plan that would let him keep the Tonight Show at 11:35, but I understand that they're a business and they're going to do whatever is most profitable at the moment.  But what that says to me is that Jay should've done the same thing, instead of just going along with NBC's idea, as if he doesn't understand their motivations or Conan's motivations.  We all know NBC was desperate to keep him around.  What were they gonna do, fire him?  Then they'd presumably have gotten Conan to stay on board.  Of course, Leno apparently would've had a bigger payout... but that's NBC's problem, not his.

I guess what it comes down to is, nobody expects a big corporation like NBC to do what's best for the art.  It's the unspoken duty of their hired artists to butt heads with management and say, "No, you can't do this, it makes short-term business sense but it's infringing upon the art, here's why" and reach a compromise that's still profitable without killing too much of the art.  But I guess Jay Leno just isn't what most of us would call an artist.

But then again, enough about Jay Leno.  He's not the ultimate villain here.  He may be a villain, but the real villain is Jeff Zucker and any other NBC execs who were with him on this.  See, this whole situation came about because of a lack of trust.  A few years ago, Zucker was afraid that Conan wasn't going to stick around when his Late Night contract expired, because other networks were making him offers.  So he promised him the Tonight Show in 2009.  We all thought Jay Leno was okay with this, but apparently he didn't really want to retire.

Now, right here we can already see the massive lack of foresight on Zucker's part.  He was afraid that Conan would go to another network and create competition... so he released Jay Leno before he was done with television.  And then, unsurprisingly, he became afraid that Jay Leno would go to another network and create competition.  So that's when he came up with the plan to give Jay Leno a new show on NBC at 10 PM; a decision that was unanimously mocked when it was first announced, then mocked again, and again.  And it turned out exactly as badly as everybody predicted.  His ratings plummeted, dragging down the ratings of the local news and the Tonight Show as well.  Affiliates threatened to revolt, and the rest is history.

I'm stopping the story there because it's the crucial juncture of the problem.  Because NBC had no faith that Conan would stick around, they created a Leno vs. Conan situation where there never should've been one.  They were both talk show hosts on the same network.  It doesn't make sense that they were competing with each other.  It doesn't make sense that Jay Leno was waiting in the wings to take back the Tonight Show.

It doesn't make sense that Jay Leno's successor is Jay Leno.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Unreality Check

Unreal.  It's a game, it's a franchise, it's an engine that's always being "heavily modified".  These days, the latter is what you're most likely to hear about, even though an Unreal Tournament game was released a mere two years ago.  And according to the latest interviews, we're not going to see another Unreal game for at least a few years.  So what happened?

Back in the pre-Half-Life era, post-Doom, it was all about Unreal vs. Quake.  (Or Quake 2, to be more precise.)  They were really the only fully 3D first-person shooters around at the time.  Whereas Quake played basically like a high-tech Doom (not that that's a bad thing), Unreal was one of the first forays into truly "narrative" FPS gameplay, an attempt to break from the anthologic episode/level format that was sort of accidentally popularized by Doom.  Level breaks were signified only by loading screens that would pop up during the player's otherwise uninterrupted exploration of the game world, and scripted events spiced up the run-and-gun gameplay with some memorable moments.

Then, as we all know, Half-Life came along a few months later and refined this game style to an art.  Almost as if in fear, both the Unreal and Quake franchises opted for multiplayer-only installments: Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament.  It wasn't until later that we'd see more story-based installments: Unreal 2 in 2003 and Quake 4 in 2005.  Unreal 2 wasn't received too well, although I haven't played it myself, so I can't comment.  Unreal Tournament, however, has had 3 sequels (2 of which are actually acknowledged), and those are what I'll be talking about.

With the exception of Unreal Tournament 2004, each installment of the UT franchise has showcased a different version of the Unreal engine.  But wait, why the anomaly?  Because Unreal Tournament 2003 was, by most accounts, a disappointment.  It introduced some very impressive graphical enhancements and terrain support, but there were no radically new modes, the map selection was underwhelming, the lightning gun was way less cool than the sniper rifle, and above all, it just didn't "feel" right.  (More on that later.)  Epic quickly rectified this by releasing Unreal Tournament 2004, which literally included everything in UT2003 plus almost an entire game's worth of additional maps, vehicular combat, and the return of the real sniper rifle.  It was received very well.

The tail end of 2007 brought us another installment of the franchise: Unreal Tournament 3.  (Note the implicit erasure of UT2003 from history.)  To date, it's the only Unreal game to use the Unreal 3 Engine.  And despite the game being generally well-received by most critics and fans of the franchise, the online community is dwindling at best.  Judging from Epic's comments, it looks like it's going to be the last Unreal game for quite some time.  So what went wrong?

Facing Worlds: UT version Facing Worlds: UT3 version
Facing Worlds: before and after. I dunno man, isn't outer space cooler than China?

On the whole, people seemed to be satisfied with UT3.  The gameplay style felt closer to that of the original, but with the added benefits of UT2004's vehicular combat, various refinements to the weapons, and obviously better graphics.  But somehow, as great as everything appeared to be on the surface, the game just didn't completely... feel right.  Yes, I know I already said the gameplay style was closer to that of the original; but still, something was amiss.  I know, in my head, that the game is extremely fun.  But despite my best efforts to support the game and help its community to thrive, I am stricken by a strange lack of desire to play it.  It could be any number of things, but I can't help but wonder if the key factor here is actually the art direction.

Most people underestimate the impact of art direction on a game's enjoyability.  There are two extremes that usually dominate the discussion: those who are mainly concerned with high-tech graphics that look "realistic" and the "serious gamers" who try to counteract that by saying "It doesn't matter what it looks like, as long as it plays well."  Well, you know how it is with extremes: neither one is completely right.  It's easy to thumb our noses at those "uncultured plebians" who only care about awesome graphics, pointing out games like Tetris that are still loads of fun despite their primitive rendering capabilities.  But let's not confuse graphics with art direction.  Both impact what a game "looks like", in different ways.  There's no way you can claim that the original Unreal Tournament has better graphics than UT3, obviously.  But I'm quite free to claim that it has better art direction, and I will do so now.  It does.

There are lots of little things I prefer about UT's design compared to UT3's: the taller, slimmer characters, the more vibrant color pallette, the dominance of sci-fi elements in the architecture (how much cooler is the original "asteroid" version of Facing Worlds than UT3's pseudo-Chinese thingamabob?), and the more upbeat, memorable music.  But that's all very subjective.  A more objective way of putting it would be: simplicity.  Unreal Engine 3 is obviously capable of looking every bit as good as the original Unreal engine, and then some.  But as crazy as this sounds, the maps almost seem to have too much work put into them.  The deluxe edition of UT3 came with an artbook.  Think about that; an artbook.  It has beautiful sketches of the various alien worlds the maps are based on.  This sounds like a positive thing, but think about what kind of game we're talking about here.  Unreal Tournament is all about high-speed, turbo-charged multiplayer brawls, and yet here's Epic trying to create authentic beautiful alien worlds with detailed rock formations and stuff.  It's like building a room for your baby to play in and then filling it with fine china.  The main problem with Unreal Tournament 3's art direction isn't that it's particularly unappealing, but that it's ill-suited to the gameplay.  It isn't conducive to pure, action-packed fun.

Unreal Tournament character Unreal Tournament 3 character
Steroids build muscles, not character.

Here's what I want to see from Unreal Tournament 4, assuming it's ever made:

  • Simpler character models.  Enough muscles-within-muscles and intricate gold-encrusted ancient carvings on people's shoulder pads.  High-res textures are awesome, but give our eyes a break here.
  • MORE character models and a much greater degree of in-game player customization, without necessarily needing to use mods.  This would be facilitated by the previous one.
  • Ditto for the map designs.  A game like this needs to come with as many maps as possible (with the assumed quality control) and they need to be as recognizable and memorizable as possible, since you'll ideally be playing them many, many times over.  I suppose there's a limit point at which there would be "too many" maps, but I don't think they're even close to it yet.
  • Social networking and persistent stat tracking.  I have a feeling they'll come up with this idea without my intervention, but it's clearly the way things are going these days, and I think "the multiplayer FPS of the future" just plain has to have it.  I don't want them to go "class-based" or anything like that, but simply having an online character profile is nice and encourages play, even if every character is virtually identical.
  • Either abandon story mode entirely or make it like UT2004's sport-style mode, just trying to maintain your career through a bunch of matches.  (A "tournament" you say?!)  The storyline/cutscene framework they built around UT3's single-player mode was quite clearly a waste of resources.  It's just a bunch of maps, and nobody wants it to be anything more.
  • Bring back the upbeat music.  This is more of a personal taste issue, but I think a lot of people would agree.  More low-key, dramatic music might be appropriate for the epic team-based terrain maps, but for Deathmatch we just need awesome music to blow people up to.

Anyway, yeah.  Just a few ideas.  I think it appropriate to close by pointing to two other blogs that just so happened to coincide with this entry, which I mostly wrote a few weeks ago.  Yahtzee's past two Extra Puncutation columns have dealt with overcomplicated character design, and he links to a Jack Monahan blog that actually goes into the whole Unreal Tournament thing.  He points out the rather damning fact that in UT3's team-based modes, the character models actually have a red or blue "glow" superimposed over them to make it more obvious who's who -- despite the fact that, like in the previous UT games, the characters' armor textures are color-coded as well.  It's kind of laughable when you think about it.  It really seems like a tacit admission of design failure.