Friday, December 31, 2010

ErikTheAwesome's Personal Best Movies and Games of 2010

Before we begin, I want to stress the importance of the word 'personal' in the title. I do not play many games outside of ones released on Nintendo systems. This is not due to any contempt or fanboyism, just merely that I pay more attention to what comes out on the Wii/DS than the 360 or PS3 or PSP. I still play other games, just not as much. A large contributing factor to this is likely the fact that I don't care very much for first-person shooters which rules out many of the big names that always show up on lists like this. This list is totally from my perspective, derived from my experiences. These are the games and movies released in 2010 that I played or watched that I consider to be the best.

Let's start up with the films. Before we get to the Top 5 list, I have special mentions.

Movies I did not end up seeing but wanted to: Despicable Me, Legend of the Guardians: Owls of Ga'Huul

Pleasant Surprise
There's not to much to say about this film that hasn't already been said. Just about everyone who saw it loved it. The film came as a pleasant surprise because I initially had no real interest or expectations for it. It turned out to be a very plot-driven experience as well as one of the most original films I've seen in years; a unique idea in an ocean of sequels and adaptations.

Biggest Disappointment
The Expendables
You probably saw this one coming. A movie that is just terrible in every aspect other than action and totally and utterly mediocre in that remaining aspect. I don't care to waste any more words on this movie. Ever.

Honourable Mention
Disney's Tangled
Seeing as this movie came out late into the year and I rarely saw ads for it, it almost didn't make it into this post. Having now seen it, I ultimately decided not to include it in the Top 5 feeling that it wasn't quite that good. However, it was definitely good enough to warrant a mention. Much like The Princess & The Frog, Disney has given us an OK story with great characters, great animation, good songs, etc. If there's any reason to see this film, it's to see it. This is a gorgeous film to behold with very vivid colours and a great 'painting' feel to everything.

On to the list!

Personal Top 5 Movies of 2010

Speaking as someone who has never read the comic and early on in the year honestly asked someone “Who the hell is Scott Pilgrim?” I actually really liked this film. Based on what I've heard, it's a mostly faithful adaptation except for the final part, which the comic had yet to reach. But adaptation or not, accurate or not, it was a lot of fun. Being the only movie I'll ever be able to describe as “What if getting a girlfriend worked like a video game?” made it a perfect candidate for one of my top movies of the year.

The first and only repeat title in this post. Inception reached this spot much for the same reasons I placed it in the Pleasant Surprise category. It's a unique experience, well-written, well-acted and fun to watch. You're bound to catch new bits of plot details and foreshadowing on multiple viewings as well.

This movie was a no-brainer in terms of movies that had to be on the list somewhere. Not giving it #1 was honestly an easy choice. Not giving it #2 was admittedly a bit more difficult (read: painful). Still, Toy Story 3 stands as the best finale I've ever seen for a trilogy of movies and like it's predecessors, so much fun to watch. The characters are just as great as ever and Pixar delivers another awesome adventure for them to go through.

Not to be confused with the 2006 live-action film The Illusionist. A large part why I knew I had to include this in the list was because most people will sadly never see this masterpiece. However, that's not a great reason to call it the second best movie of the year. The fact that it's a masterfully animated, unique, thought-provoking, enjoyable and touching film is a great reason though. As I've mentioned in the past, I saw this film's North American premier at the Ottawa International Animation Festival and left feeling it was pretty good. The more I thought about it as time went on, the more I found it was not just pretty good but simply amazing. If you ever get the chance to see this movie, see it!

And my personal choice for Best Movie of 2010 goes to....
I'm sure a lot of people are sick of hearing about this movie by now but I can't get over how much I loved this film. Even thinking back on my review, I feel I had criticized incorrectly on account of remembering certain scenes wrong. Having long since bought the movie on blu-ray, repeated viewings have not yet overstayed their welcome in my life. As a story, it manages to be both straight-forward and symbolic. Visually beautiful, highly entertaining, full of emotion...a wonderful movie.

Now we move on to video games. I have to say making this list was much harder and there are still things I'm not totally certain of. A lot of great games came out this year and having to try to rank those I played was a grueling task. In addition to that, Christmas tossed in some extra titles that forced me to rework my original plan. With that said, let's look at the special mentions:

Games I wanted to but did not get around to playing: Goldeneye 007 on the Wii, Epic Mickey

Pleasant Surprise
This probably seems totally out of left-field and rather controversial, but having just played this game for the first time this past Wednesday, I knew I had to work it in. Before E3, I didn't even know there was a Just Dance 1. During E3, when I first saw the trailer for Just Dance 2, I was positive that I could not like this game and never would have expected I would ever even play it. However, at a party that I went to against my still slightly sickly body's wishes, I got my first taste of dancing with the Wii...or dancing video games at all (I've never touched DDR or the like). I was in shock and awe at how much fun the game turned out to be, and here's the kicker: Even though I was at a party, I was totally sober when I played this.
It works as a great party game, great exercise game, and just a great (if very minimalistic) game. It could use a better tracklist though, but that's totally up to personal preference so I can't reasonably penalize it for that.

Runner-up for Pleasant Surprise
*On the Wii. Sonic Colors on the DS being great came as no surprise after Sonic Rush. The Wii version on the other hand turned out to be pretty damn good. Almost all of the major flaws of previous 3D Sonic titles are absent with the remaining flaws being thoroughly tweaked to the point that they're just minor clunkyness in the experience. Not to mention, it is a visually stunning title; and I don't just mean for the Wii. It looks mysteriously good for the hardware it's running on.

Biggest Disappointment
What would happen if you took Metroid, got rid of everything that makes the franchise great and instead replaced it with wonky controls and about a million painful-to-watch cutscenes? Why you'd get Metroid: Other M of course! A lot of hype surrounded this game and all of the trailers, right from E3 2009 to the week leading to its release, looked fantastic. But alas, in a time of several games surprisingly living up to their hype, Other M turned out to be nowhere near the game that it looked like it was going to be.

Runner-up for Biggest Disappointment
Truth is, deciding between whether Kirby's Epic Yarn or Metroid: Other M was the biggest disappointment of the year was tricky. Other M “won” due to it having more hype and having a higher standard in its respective franchise, whereas Kirby games can be all over the place. Still, Epic Yarn needs to be mentioned here as it was a disappointment with a lot of hype around it. The only thing special about the game is the presentation. It has a unique charm but that's it. When you really think about the mechanics, it's nothing but Kirby lacking the ability to fly or copy enemies' powers, just visually presented in a different way. What's really sad about this title, however, is that it's the only Kirby game I can think of that features co-op play but is actually more fun single-player.

Of course, before we get to the Top 5 list, we must start with honourable mentions:
Red Steel 2
A visually and interactively slick shooter/sword-fighter that makes a great addition to any Wii library. Taking this off of my top 5 on account of a more recent game was a very tough choice. Still, if you want some great swordplay to experience with the Wii, and I know you do, Red Steel 2 is where to find it.

Sonic Colors *On the DS*
I said Inception was the only repeat title in this post and that's still technically true as the DS Sonic Colors is a much different game from its Wii counterpart. The DS version falls just short of being in my top 5, delivering a through-and-through classic Sonic experience with some extra goodies and all the elements that make a great platformer.

Now the main event: The list!

Personal Top 5 Video Games of 2010

The XBox 360 Version
I wish this could be higher on the list due to it being the only game not on a Nintendo platform up here, just for the sake of diversity. However, I can't bring myself to knock down what I've put above it. Anyway, War for Cybertron turned out pretty damn good. Delivering almost exactly what I had expected based on trailers. It's a license-game that's well-tweaked with good mechanics, a good difficulty curve and a solid fun factor.

With what began as one of the most ambitious and original video games ever came back with a sequel that improved the concept to perfection. Not much else can be said except: Mutant Zombie Radioactive Cactus.

Those who recall my review of Mario Galaxy 2 will remember that I said it was effectively flawless and nothing has changed my mind since. The only fault with the title is its insistence that it has a 2-player mode. Perfect platforming from the perfect platforming king. One title that lived up to its hype and surpassed it, receiving many well-earned perfect scores.

Aha! Here's the culprit that shook up my plans and forced me to drop Red Steel 2 from the Top 5. Where Kirby's Epic Yarn failed to deliver a satisfying co-op platforming experience, Donkey Kong Country Returns succeeded...big time. Is it fun? Yes. Is it really fun? Oh yes. Is it challenging? Oh Hell Yes. This is classic 2D platforming at its absolute peak. There's simply nothing to complain about with this title.

Erik The Awesome's Best Game of 2010 is...
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle
Being released way back at the beginning of the year, this game is pretty old news. That doesn't mean it's not a candidate though. I said it back when I reviewed the game and I'll say it now: No More Heroes 2 stands firmly on its own merits, being just short of absolutely perfecting the simple-but-effective-action-game formula it uses. Being an experience like no other (well...except maybe its predecessor), being a ton of fun and maintaining a solid difficulty curve, this is one great game. Keeping this at #1 rather than giving it to Donkey Kong was tough but ultimately the full experience both games have given me decided it. Not one moment of either game felt flawed but Desperate Struggle has just a slight edge in appeal over Donkey Kong.

And that wraps it up. 2010 was an amazing year for video games and a great year for movies. Here's hoping 2011 will be the same!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Late Art

So it would seem I must apologize for my lack of posts in the last couple of days as I said I would put some art up 2 days ago.  Unfortunately, I ended up being a bit sick and unwilling to do much of anything, but I'm feeling much better now.  With that said, here's a sample of one of my rare instances of landscape artwork:

Those familiar with my older posts will probably realize I've drawn this same scene before as a very rough digital sketch.  I said at the time that I wanted to make it a full digital painting and still would like to, though I haven't gotten to it yet.  I decided to totally redraw it from scratch here though for the sake of getting better details and line-work.

...I can't help but notice that it all seems a bit tilted even though I adjusted my sketchbook many times to be certain it lined up with the scanner.  Oh well.
I'm working on some similar type of art that I'll post here when it's done as well.

As for New Year's, well the end of 2010 jumped up extremely fast to me.  I'm planning to do a Personal Best of 2010 Movies and Games and I've been working out my lists for it, but since Christmas dumped some new gems on me, I'm going to need to rework them.  In any case, if I don't get it up tomorrow, it shouldn't be long after that I do.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Productive Start to Boxing Week

Well, yesterday was Boxing Day which means all the stores in my area have started putting things on sale, and most will continue the sale throughout the week.  I picked up volume 5 of Futurama on blu-ray as well as a 1TB external harddrive; something I sorely needed for the sake of school.
As for today, I wrapped up watching the special features and listening to the commentaries for Futurama and I finished my first digital portrait that I've been commissioned for.  So it's been a good, if uneventful, day so far.  I'm having some nice relaxing holidays and couldn't be happier about that.

I've got some art to post but I don't have it scanned and may be going out soon.  That will have to come with either an edit later tonight or a post tomorrow.  Later, for now.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Haul Is In

Merry Hanukkah, Crazy Christmas, Happy Kwanza and all that.

With another Christmas comes another handful of games.  And with a handful of games, a handful of reviews is imminent.  Of course I haven't beaten anything yet but lets go over what I got and my impressions so far:
-Donkey Kong Country Returns - 3 levels in, playing co-op with my brother, and I can already say this is much better than Kirby's Epic Yarn.  Difficult, fun as hell, moments for great laughs, pretty much no complaints as of yet.
-Sonic Colors (Wii) - Well, right now I think the DS game is the superior version of the title.  However, with what I've played of the Wii game, I'm calling this the best 3D Sonic title to date.  The issues have been dealt with on a large scale leaving only some minor problems; the movement can feel a little clunky, particularly starting to run from a stopped position, and jumping (while handled infinitely better than previous 3D Sonics) could still use some tweaking.  Those aside, it's fun, it's pretty and, unlike Sonic Unleashed, I should actually be able to stomach this game through until the end.
-Goldeneye 007 (Wii) - Haven't played it yet
-Racket Sports (Wii) - Haven't played this either.  I'm not even sure that's the title.  I didn't ask for it, but it was an extra little treat.
-Beauty and The Beast (blu-ray) - Considering the nature of Disney releases, I was worried this wouldn't be around long enough to get as a Christmas present.  Thankfully I was wrong.  The movie itself I've seen before so I really just have the blu-ray package itself to give first impressions on.  The special features I've watched (i.e. all except the audio commentary) have been really good; entertaining and informative.
-Scott Pilgrim VS. The World (blu-ray) - Well, I have seen the movie but I never gave my opinion on it on here.  To make it short:  I liked it enough to put it on my Christmas list.  As for the extras, I have not watched them yet.
-Monopoly Canada - Another gift I didn't ask for but is still pretty neat.  The player figures make no sense; an airplane, a cheeseburger, a cell phone, a dragster, and something else.  My hometown (Chatham Kent) is the most expensive property on the board, outranking Ottawa and Toronto despite being a much smaller city (you can thank the power of facebook for that; the properties were decided by vote).

I believe that was my haul, aside from some pants and socks.  My brother got Epic Mickey (Wii) from me and Dragon Quest IX (DS) from our parents.
So all in all:  Lots of stuff to play.  Better get to it.  Ciao.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Superhero Voices in My Head

As you can see on my Twitter feed, I felt the need to correct what is, to me, a large error on the behalf of G4's Reviews on the Run.  I'm currently watching one of the show's annual 'Rockets & Rayguns' episodes which are their 'Best of The Year' series.  Currently, I'm watching an episode dedicated to blu-ray releases and among the nominees in, I believe, a voice-actor section, they listed Kevin Conroy as the voice of Batman in Batman: Under The Red Hood.  Again, as you can see on the Twitter thing to the right, this information is incorrect as Kevin Conroy was not involved in Under the Red Hood, Batman being portrayed by Bruce Greenwood.  But nerdy nitpicks aside, this incident reminded me of a few things worth talking about, i.e. voice actors of considerable merit.

As though it's any secret by this point, I love cartoons.  I love all the things that goes into making a great cartoon, and among those is voice acting.  I have tons of respect for select voice actors for their abilities and I'll often come across stories that increase my respect for them.  I've also been able to pick out certain actors but occasionally I'll be wrong and incredibly surprised by it.

On to the substance:

Tidbit 1:  The aforementioned Bruce Greenwood has reprised his role as Batman for the new Young Justice series.  As far as I know, only the premier of the series has been shown so far, with the series planned to take off early in 2011, much like Transformers Prime starting off with a 5-part mini-series.  Anyway, Bruce Greenwood did a fantastic job in Under the Red Hood and in the Young Justice premier so I honestly would have no problem with him taking over the role permanently.

Speaking of Transformers...

Tidbit 2:  Frank Welker and Peter Cullen have reprised their classic roles of the original Megatron and Optimus Prime (respectively), playing the same names in the new Transformers Prime series.  Frank Welker is quite possibly the best voice actor on the planet, with an IMDb page that lists seemingly thousands of roles, known for doing just about every animal sound heard in any western production and being technically the 'biggest box office star in Hollywood' due to being in so many movies, just for voicework.
So of course Welker's role extend far beyond the evil transforming handgun.  The original voice of Freddy from Scooby-Doo, Nibbler from Futurama, Wheelie from Transformers, and many many others.
I do want to make special mention of a story that was told on a special feature included with the boxset of the original Transformers series.  Frank Welker was recording a scene that involved only characters that he voiced and thus was the only person in the recording booth.  A rule of voice acting is to avoid overlap; when one actor starts speaking too soon and their line overlaps another's.  During the session, the director wasn't paying attention to the booth and only looking at his notes.  At one point, he asked to stop because there was an overlap.  This is obviously impossible since Welker was the only person recording at the time but, evidently, he was able to switch voices fast enough to make the director think it had happened.

Tidbit 3:  The aquatic sponge that lives in a pineapple under the sea had his voice given to him by another fantastic voice actor:  Tom Kenny.  In addition to Spongebob Squarepents, Kenny has played roles such as Yancy Fry Jr. as well as Philip Fry Jr. (Yancy's son) on one occasion on Futurama, Starscream on Transformers Animated, Penguin on The Batman, Plastic Man on Batman The Brave and the Bold, and, of course, many more.  I have to bring this man up because he's relevant to one of the times I've been incredibly surprised at being wrong when trying to recognize a voice.  Recently, while watching Phineas and Ferb, a show I don't watch regularly but had heard good things about, I would have sworn on my life that Phineas was played by Tom Kenny.  Sounding so much like Spongebob, it seemed to be a no-brainer, but alas I was mistaken.  Tom Kenny does however have some credit to the show, but only additional voices.
That of course leaves the question:  Who does play Phineas?

Tidbit 4:  Vincent Martella was the, boy behind the oddly-drawn boy.  Once again, I discovered a person of interesting voices, expanding to roles such as the young Jason Todd who appeared during flashbacks in Under the Red Hood, as well as Spider-Man in the yet to begin Ultimate Spider-Man series.

Tidbit 5:  Of course I need to put some special focus on my favourite show and that will lead me to talk about Billy West.  Not only does the man play Philip J. Fry, the lead character of Futurama, but he also plays Doctor John A. Zoidberg, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, Captain Zapp Brannigan, among others.  So, like Frank Welker, just within one show Billy West has often found himself conversing with himself time and time again.  He's also become the modern voice for Elmer Fudd and played Skeets on Batman The Brave and the Bold.

Speaking of Futurama...

Tidbit 6:  You can't really talk about Futurama without talking about Bender.  Yet again, the man behind the character, John DiMaggio, is a well-established voice actor spanning many roles I'm familiar with.  In addition to being a large part of my favourite show of all time, he's also a large part of my favourite superhero cartoon; The Spectacular Spider-Man; playing Hammerhead and Sandman.  He's one of the announcers in MadWorld, Marcus Fenix in the Gears of War series, Joker in Batman Under the Red Hood, a handful of others on Futurama (such as Flexo, Sal, Url and Randy), Aquaman and Gorilla Grodd in Batman The Brave and The Bold and (wait for it....) many others.  DiMaggio has a very distinct sound to his voice, almost static-like, and I never have trouble picking him out.  Yet even with that tell-tale sound, he still creates voices for characters that set them apart from the others he plays.

Tidbit 7:  Josh Keaton is a man who plays roles across many of my favourite things, from Disney movies, to superhero shows, to a character in the new Transformers show, to video games.  He was the younger Hercules that appears in the earlier part of Disney's Hercules, he's the voice of Spider-Man in The Spectacular Spider-Man, he's Jack Darby in Transformers Prime, he plays Ultimate Spider-Man in Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions, and he plays Ryu Hayabusa in Ninja Gaiden (or rather, the post-NES Ninja Gaiden games that actually contain voice acting).  His performance as The Spectacular Spider-Man is among the best I've ever heard.

I think I will leave it at that.  There's certainly more names I could mention, Maurice LaMarche sticking out particularly far in my mind, but this is already long-winded enough.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Boredom = Drawing

Well, here's some new artwork.  First off, I finally finalized the design for the main character on my personal project (tentatively titled 'The Tenna Legacy'; the meaning of the title is a bit of a long story and chances are it will change in the long run anyway):

I drew this with two semi-orthographic views with the idea in mind that I would use the drawings to make a 3D model.  I don't know how that will turn out as symmetry is impossible to eye, which I attempted here.  Additionally, the image will need to be rotated a bit as it would appear I didn't have it properly aligned on my scanner.  Well, moving on.

Additional concept art for the character.  As you can see, the details were simplified overtime; mostly the pants.

And a colour scheme test (using a semi-final version of the design).

Moving on to the products of simple-minded boredom:  Dragon Ball Z Mugshots!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the School Year

Well, one week to Christmas and my fifth semester just ended yesterday.  I have a good chunk of time off for the holidays this year (about 3 weeks) which means plenty of time to draw, animate, model and, of course, post on here.
I've been getting some more character designs done so I'll be posting those and I'll be making 3D models of them as well, which I will also likely put up here.  For right now, I don't really have anything new to show (I do have my leica reel for my final film but I'd rather hold off on posting that until the film is done) so here's some tidbits that I've come across lately:
-The Dragon Ball Z Super Butouden series of video games that started with 3 games on the SNES and had left off with Final Bout on the PlayStation is to be continued this coming February with Dragon Ball Kai Ultimate Butouden on the Nintendo DS.
-FansProject (third party toy designer that often makes add-on kits for Transformers) recently released their Protector set; an add-on kit for the Classics Rodimus (Hot Rod) toy that allows it to take on the appearance of a modernized version of Rodimus Prime in both vehicle and robot modes.  Additionally, they've also released a Targetmaster (transforming gun) for the toy.

I plan on ordering prints of some of the 3D models I make over the break, with particular attention to the main character for my final film.
Looks like that's all I have to say for now.  Later.

EDIT:  Just for some extra content to the post, here are some images of the Protector set in use that I've gathered:
I don't own the kit (...yet) so I take no credit for these images.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Post #100: The Coolest Thing I Have Ever Seen

I wasn't sure what to do with my hundredth post; I mean had I made this a daily habit like I wanted to, it would have come and gone long ago and I would have thought little about it. But, since my life ended up being a little too busy to find content to post everyday, I feel entering the triple-digits is quite a milestone. With that in mind, I would like to talk about The Coolest Thing I Have Ever Seen. This is no exaggeration, no sarcasm, not even a speck of non-genuine awe in my feelings about this subject. Nothing has ever wowed me and made me more excited in my life, and I doubt anything cooler will ever come up.
As for what this subject is...brace for potentially anti-climactic info...3D Printers.
Let me explain:  I know 3D printers have been around for a while now and I've known about them for almost as long.  However, they're still not that widely known and the entire concept still excites me so much.
For those who don't know what they are, assuming you haven't guessed by their title, 3D Printers are machines that print 3D models.  So, for example, I could model something in a 3D modeling/animation program (like Maya), import the model into whatever software the 3D Printer uses, and then print out a physical copy of that model.  Having looked at a few different 3D printers, it looks like most of them use something akin to powdered-plastic substance (if that's not exactly what it really is) that gets compressed layer-by-layer to achieve the shape of the model being printed.
As both an animation student and a toy collector, it shouldn't come as a surprise that this is such a cool concept to me.  Shortly after first discovering that these machines existed, I discovered more...coolness.  There are 3D Printers that not only print the models but also colour them.  In fact, the coolest thing I've seen so far was this video I found on youtube yesterday, depicting a printer in use by a UK-based company.

Of course, these machines are incredibly expensive; averaging around $20,000; and it will likely still be a long time before they become common household items.  I have found some great alternatives however.  First off, there are online companies such as Shapeways which are built around having customers submit designs and order prints of them.  Not only can you order prints of your designs from them, but you can also make your designs publicly available and sell prints through these companies.
The second alternative I discovered yesterday is the company MakerBot.  Through their website, you can order (relatively) very low-priced kits to build your own 3D printer. Having no personal experience with these kits, I can't make my own comments on whether they're worth it.  From what I've seen, it's definitely something that you would want to be very hardware-savvy to manage, which I unfortunately am not.
In any case, all of this is beyond cool and even if you have no design skills or plans to make use of 3D printers, they're still absolutely amazing devices.

In conclusion, I strongly urge you to check out the following websites:

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Happiness Sucks by The Amazing Atheist

While doing some work today I've been looking through some new videos on my YouTube subscriptions, and this one seemed worth sharing.  It's insightful, amusing and, unlike most of his videos, less than 3 minutes long.  Enjoy.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Fur. Fur Everywhere!

Well, after an intense week of schoolwork; one particular assignment I had to redo twice thanks to technical issues; I've found a moment to relax, so I can whip up a quick blog post now.
So, as for news on...well, my life:  I got a new cat and named him Max.  He's been living with us for a little over 6 days now and has gotten really comfortable.  He also sheds like crazy.  I haven't had my shirt remain uncovered in fur since we got him.
I named him for the lead character in a book I no longer remember the title of.  It was about a cat that got lost and had to go through multiple homes, gaining a different name each time.  The home that he found his happy ending in called him Max; because he had extra toes ("maximum number of toes").  Incidentally, the orange tabby sitting beside me also has extra toes.  I tried looking on Google to see if I could find what the book was called but the results didn't sound at all like the book I had read.
Well, anyway, my semester is nearing an end (2 weeks) and with that, I'll be getting back to playing games some more once it's all wound down; and of course more reviews will result from that.  In addition, I'll likely be posting some of the animations I've worked on this semester (most notably the animatic for my final 2D film) as well.