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A Design For Life

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I'm not sure what exactly triggered this, but lately I've had this strong craving to play The Sims 2 again. The thing is, I only have the original game. I've been thinking about getting an expansion pack or two. Or three. Or....EIGHT?! What the hell, EA has sure been busy.

I looked them all up and I'm most interested in the following:

The Sims 2 Nightlife for PC - The Sims 2 Nightlife PC Game - The Sims 2 Nightlife Computer GameThe Sims 2: Pets for PC - The Sims 2: Pets PC Game - The Sims 2: Pets Computer GameThe Sims 2 Seasons for PC - The Sims 2 Seasons PC Game - The Sims 2 Seasons Computer GameThe Sims 2: Bon Voyage for PC - The Sims 2: Bon Voyage PC Game - The Sims 2: Bon Voyage Computer Game

So basically, I'm wondering if any of you guys played any of these titles? I don't usually seek advice on which game to buy because I know what I want, but there's quite a few of these expansions so I want to know which ones are most worthy additions to the core game. Especially since The Sims series is one of the very rare PC games that refuses to go down in price.

So...HALP!

Reflections: July 2008

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Welcome to another edition of my feature where I'll round up the games/music/movies I've been indulging in for the past month. Let's just get right into it.

Games

Over the past month I've been slowly but surely unlocking some Pyro achievements which netted me the Flare Gun and the Backburner. The Backburner grants critical flame when burning an enemy from behind and a 50 health bonus. It was pretty sweet until Valve decided to nerf the health bonus. Now the vanilla flamethrower seems more appealing what with its compressed air feature which has many uses in battle from sending rockets back to where they came from, blowing stickies out of your way or seperating/pushing back uber chains. Check out some gameplay videos I've uploaded featuring brilliant user-created maps. [Turbine] [Castle] [Chaos]

  • F.E.A.R.
  • Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
  • Developer: Monolith Productions

After putting Oblivion aside for a bit, I decided to finally replay F.E.A.R., something I wanted to do for a long time. It's also a good chance to play the expansion pack Extraction Point which I recently picked up. I'm six levels in and having a blast. The firefights are just as amazing and intense as they were three years ago, this time I'm also using slow-motion a hell of a lot more than on my first playthrough which makes every encounter (hell, every shot fired) all the more cinematic. Slow-mo is tha ****s. Check out the gameplay videos I've uploaded so far. [Watchers] [Mech Boss]

Music

  • MGMT
  • Oracular Spectacular
  • 2008
  • Red Ink/Columbia

I was introduced to MGMT through the fantastic single "Time To Pretend" which I featured in my last Song of the Day entry. It's such a unique and brilliant celebration of youth, dreams, living fast and dying young - with an everpresent dose of irony (or was that heroin, hmm). Now that we've grown up and have jobs and obligations, we need songs like these to remind us of how young, stupid and without a care in the world we were. After such an opener, the album has nowhere to go but downwards. The next two tracks fail to impress, but happily, things pick up midway with the awesome "Electric Feel" and "Kids". Oracular Spectacular does get a bit too hippy-ish and acid-y for its own good, "4th Dimensional Transition" is just an unlistenable mess. After that crap, MGMT completely redeem themselves with "Pieces of What" and the last three tracks are strong as well. Overall, Oracular Spectacular is more than a worthy listen, it offers several truly great tracks. It also has a very original sound boldly mixing rock with electronica, psychedelia and computer samples straight outta The Sophtware Slump.

  • Highlights: "Electric Feel", "Kids", "Pieces of What"
  • Definitive track: "Time To Pretend"
  • Rating: 7

  • Mono
  • You Are There
  • 2006
  • Temporary Residence

This is the best post-rock album I've heard in years. This albums takes me straight back to 2001 when I was just discovering Godspeed You Black Emperor and the entire Canadian post-rock galaxy. It's just as strong, just as fantastic. Just as quiet and understated, just as loud and epic. Every word used to describe the best post-rock records can be used for You Are There. The only thing I resent Mono is for not making it apparant that they're Japanese. You could sell Mono as Canadian, American or Scottish post-rock and no one would suspect a thing. It's disappointing that Mono don't incorporate at least just a bit of Japanese flavor to their music. For example, DJ Krush does hip-hop, but with a distinct Japanese flavor. Or how Gorky's Zygotic Mynci can't be mistaken for anything but Welsh, Sigur Ros Icelandic, etc. But I suppose that's a deeply personal gripe as I like to see bands that embrace and use their heritage in their music. In any case, you owe it to yourselves to check out the track "Are You There?" - if it doesn't break your heart, it's a sure bet that you don't have one.

  • Highlights: "The Flames Beyond The Cold Mountain", "Yearning", "Moonlight"
  • Definitive track: "Are You There?"
  • Rating: 8

Movies

  • 300
  • Directed by: Zack Snyder
  • Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey
  • 2007

What is there to say, really? This movie rocks. The effects are fantastic, the combat scenes are actually a new take on an old and tired formula, and it's totally badass. Totally badass. The entire presentation is mind-blowing.

Rating: 9

  • Transformers
  • Directed by: Michael Bay
  • Starring: Optimus Prime, Megatron
  • 2007

The only reason I decided to watch this is childhood nostalgia. Yes, I too was a Transformers fan. And it's apparant off the bat that Michael Bay wasn't. He admitted it actually, but he didn't need to. Even from the previews, it was obvious that Michael Bay doesn't understand what Transformers were about. He tried to introduce the human element into the story, but there's two major problems with that - Transformers weren't about humanity, the Transformers themselves were always the centre of things, humanity was just a very small part of a bigger picture. The second problem is that this is Michael Bay who doesn't know **** about making movies with the human element being an integral part. We barely see any Transformers in the entire first hour of the film in which Bay manages to cram a plethora of lame cliches including a nerd teen scoring the hottest chick on the planet, U.S. Marines in the Middle East, supermodel scientists and every black stereotype imaginable. All that said, I actually enjoyed the film more than I thought I would. It wasn't a complete waste of my life, but I don't really have any desire to see it again. Ever.

Rating: 6

  • Munich
  • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
  • Starring: Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush, Daniel Craig, Mathieu Kassovitz
  • 2006

I liked this film a lot. Interesting theme, uncompromising and relentless. Surprisingly objective considering the subject matter and who made it. Its brutality and utter hopelesness may have been a turn off for some, but it's exactly that which so vividly and truthfully describes the Israeli/Palestine situation. Once again, Spielberg proves that he can make truly great films and not crap like Saving Private Ryan.

Rating: 8

That's it for this edition. Hope you guys enjoyed it. If you haven't already, check out these games, check out the music and movies, leave comments, and take it easy. This is UpInFlames, signing off.

This Is Our Decision, To Live Fast And Die Young

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Song of the Day:

MGMT - Time To Pretend

I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw, I'm in the prime of my life
Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives
I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin, and **** with the stars
You man the island and the cocaine and the elegant cars

This is our decision, to live fast and die young
We've got the vision, now let's have some fun
Yeah, it's overwhelming, but what else can we do
Get jobs in offices, and wake up for the morning commute

Forget about our mothers and our friends
We're fated to pretend
To pretend
We're fated to pretend
To pretend

I'll miss the playgrounds and the animals and digging up worms
I'll miss the comfort of my mother and the weight of the world
I'll miss my sister, miss my father, miss my dog and my home
Yeah, I'll miss the boredem and the freedom and the time spent alone

There's really nothing, nothing we can do
Love must be forgotten, life can always start up anew
The models will have children, we'll get a divorce
We'll find some more models, everyting must run it's course

We'll choke on our vomit and that will be the end
We were fated to pretend
To pretend
We're fated to pretend
To pretend

Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah

Nobody Cares When You're Gone

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The Greatest Bands of All Time: Mansun j k

The Greatest Bands of All Time: Mansun

How can a four-peice band from Chester, England whose three albums were released over the course of four years before they silently disappeared into the midnight be considered one of the greatest bands of all time? Such a question can be raised only by those who never heard or understood the bands story--and more importantly--their music. Mansun is a tale of success, self-sabotage and ultimate failure woven through approx. three hours of beautiful, ambitious, original, daring, pretentious music.

An Unexpected Rise to Short-Lived Fame

It all began in 1997 with the release of Mansun's debut album, Attack of the Grey Lantern. It shot straight to the UK number 1 spot knocking down Blur's self-titled album - a band which was at their peak at the time. It was praised by critics, fans and other British bands - Radiohead were quoted as saying that the album was "a real musical achievement". And that it was. In a time when Brit-pop was all the rage, Mansun came in with something completely different and were actually a great success in every way imaginable. From the haunting and harmonious orchestrations of the album opener "The Chad Who Loved Me" to the fantastically ambitious 9-minute epic "Dark Mavis", Attack of the Grey Lantern never ceased to offer something new and unique to the listener at every turn. It didn't matter if it was a stroke of pop genius that was "Wide Open Space" or a rock-anthem-turned-club-banger "Taxloss".

Mansun also showcased their lyrical genius. Attack of the Grey Lantern is somewhat of a concept album with re-appearing characters such as the mysterious Mavis, it also contains jabs directed at faith and religion. "Stripper Vicar" revolves around Paul Draper (vocals, lead guitar) writing a series of letters to Mavis discussing their local vicar and his publically unknown weakness ('Should we lie while he's still alive? Cause when the vicar strips, he gets away with it'). The topic is further addressed in "Dark Mavis" ('His tights are nylon, his nails by Revlon, he's got high heels on...and his flock don't care now').

The Fall From Grace and Why It Couldn't Have Gone Any Other Way

Only a year later, Mansun released their sophomore effort, Six. By this time, the band already had a reputation of changing musical styIes as fast as changing their image. Their live performances were drastically different from anything recorded in the studio and they regularly changed outfits. In the wake of the Six review, NME put the band on the cover with the headline - Mansun: The Changing Men - Who Do They Think They Are Now? This time, Mansun weren't critical darlings, Six was dismissed as being a prog rock mess. What they missed was its sheer and utter brilliance. It's certainly not in any way accessible nor does it ever attempt to be. Whereas Attack of the Grey Lantern treated the listener with something new with every track, Six did it almost every minute or two for over an hour. Songs like "Six", "Shotgun" and "Cancer" literally changed direction and styIe multiple times. "Cancer", in particular, goes on for 9 minutes and changes as often as six times ranging from loud, repetetive guitar riffs, mellow singing to a piano solo. The albums' lyrics are extremely self-aware and pretentious with "Cancer" once again being the prime example ('I'm emotionally raped by Jesus...what now of my faith? Just a desperate exercise to limit pain...uninformed, you have harboured those who nurtured Europe's war').

The remarkable thing is, with all its extremes - it works. Only a handful recognized its excellence. Six made critics and the mainstream fall out of love with Mansun and Mansun wouldn't have had it any other way. On "Special/Blown It", Draper prophetically notes 'Just one more Greatest Hits Tour for the devotees, the same old faces came, they loved their Summer spectaculars...they could've bought me a brand new car and a house in France...I've really blown it now, blew it all away on a whim...I could've been somebody special' which does nothing but indicate that Six was, in fact, a deliberate attempt of a commercial and critical sabotage. Remarkably, the song is followed by another painfully prophetic affair - "Legacy" ('I wouldn't care if I was washed up tomorrow, you see...I feel so drained, my legacy...a sea of faces just like me...nobody cares when you're gone'). In a yet another prophetic take, "Legacy" truly turned out to be Mansun's biggest legacy, it is by far their best song and one of the best songs I've ever heard.

A Time To Say Goodbye

Two years later, after a hard creative and recording process, the band released their third and final album, Little Kix. Of course, they did a complete 180 yet again, this time going in a straight pop/rock direction. The result wasn't nearly as amazing as their first two efforts and despite a few truly superb tracks ("I Can Only Disappoint U", "Electric Man", "Until The Next Life"...), it was a merely "good" Mansun album. It was a critical and commercial disaster. The closing song of the album is entitled "Goodbye".

Mansun probably remained nothing but a brief encounter or a complete unknown for the vast majority of people, but for me, it's one of the most interesting and amazing stories in music. Their music marked my teenage years unlike any other band and for that they will have my eternal adoration and gratitude. They may be long gone, but as long as the sounds created by their genius keeps blarring from my stereo, they will live on.

Thank you for reading.

Reflections: June 2008

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Welcome to another edition of my feature where I'll round up the games/music/movies I've been indulging in for the past month. Let's just get right into it.

Games

In a month in which the Pyro weapons and achievements hit, I was actually playing a lot with Medic and Heavy. You see, even though the Pyro is one of my main cIasses, I'm a team player first and foremost so I feel stupid playing Pyro when there's already like five Pyros on my team. So this has turned out to be a good time to get some Medic achievements (need four more to get the Ubersaw) and break in the Heavy a bit more which turned out to be a lot of fun. Of course, I'm not neglecting Pyro completely. :wink:

I always planned to return to Cyrodiil someday and that time has finally come. On my first walkthrough I was a goody-two-shoes warrior who saved the world and stuff. This time around, I'm playing as a female High Elf whose prowess lies in the arcane arts of conjuration and destruction. She is not interested in higher goals so she just walked up to Jauffre in Weynon Priory, handed the Amulet of Kings over to him and told him to go **** himself effectively erasing the main quest from the log. Not possible, you say? Oh, but it is - with mods. Speaking of mods, this time around, I'm modding the game to hell and back.

  • Gears of War
  • Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
  • Developer: Epic Games

So I finally played Gears of War. A good game, but didn't exactly blow me away - then again, I never expected it to. What it did provide was 10 hours of visceral combat. However, the game has more than its fair share of issues. The AI is downright moronic (Dom, don't run into the wilderness like an idiot--again!), the level design is fairly predictable (pillars and blocks galore), even the combat itself isn't as intense as I expected. That said, I'd definitely love to play it through in co-op so any of you guys with the PC version, give me a shout if you want to play.

Music

  • The National
  • Boxer
  • 2007
  • Beggars Banquet

Boxer is my first exposure to The National, a band originally hailing from Cincinnati but now belonging to the New York indie scene. Upon hearing the opener, "Fake Empire", I was immediately reminded of Nick Cave and, to a lesser extent, Tindersticks--mostly because of the lead singer's deep baritone voice and sort of mumbling as opposed to full-on singing. But that would be selling The National short. The music they make is not only great in and of itself, but wholly unique. Boxer isn't an album that will floor you on the first listen, it will rather creep its way into your heart with you barely realizing it until you're quietly mumbling the lyrics while working and listening to the album first thing as you arrive home.

  • Highlights: "Mistaken For Strangers", "Brainy", "Apartment Story"
  • Definitive track: "Slow Show"
  • Rating: 8

That's it for this edition. Hope you guys enjoyed it. If you haven't already, check out these games, check out the music, leave comments, and take it easy. This is UpInFlames, signing off.

Steam Machine

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Just a little announcement. I created a Steam group GameSpot GGD Players. Basically, it's a little place for all the GGD regulars to come by when on Steam. We will also use it to schedule game nights and stuff like that. All guys and girls from GameSpot are welcome to join up. So if you're on Steam, drop on by, kick up your feet - but watch out for those stickies!

Higher Than The Sun

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Darijo Srna celebrates putting Croatia in front

CROATIA 2 - 1 GERMANY

The city is burning. The country is in delirium. It's hard to describe. I feel higher than the Sun right now. For such a small nation to beat the mighty Germany...there are no words. Not only did we beat them, we outplayed them.

HRVATSKA!

The Turns We Took

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Just a little update here. From now on, I will be uploading some videos of recorded gameplay footage.

To show off this new feature, here's a 3-minute video of GRID demo. The track is San Francisco and the car is a Ford Mustang. Please try to ignore the framerate as FRAPS completely kills my fps - in reality, the game runs nice and smooth with almost everything maxed out....1152x864 resolution, 4xAA, all that jazz. FRAPS causes a slight decrease in performance just by running in the background, but when it's recording, it halves my fps. That's mostly down to my crappy CPU which uses everything its got just to run these games which makes multitasking a problem - especially recording gameplay footage on graphically intensive games.

Then there's the compression. This was originally a 500MB file which I've compressed to--wait for it--10MB. Then of course, there's GameSpot's conversion process which just massacres every video you throw at it. But despite all that you can see that the game looks fantastic. The level of detail, smoke effects, lighting and shadowing and destructible environments - spectacular.

Anyway, if you guys approve I'll be cranking more gameplay videos in the future - Team Fortress 2 would be fun, no?

Also, some of you may have noticed that I now have a Live account. No, I haven't bought a Xbox 360. I installed Games for Windows Live along with Gears of War, so for all intents and purposes, I also have an Xbox Live gamertag and all that jazz since the service is unified like that. So if you've gotten a friend request from a character named Flames Superior - it's me! If you haven't, then get even by hitting me up with a friend request.