Not a real review: Fable Anniversary (Xbox 360)

Fable Anniversary

Fable Anniversary (Lionhead Studios) – beautiful, but buggy.

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I was ecstatic when Lionhead Studios announced Fable Anniversary last June. The original Fable – the game that sparked my interest in video games (beyond racing, sports, etc.) as an adult – turns ten years old this year, and remains one of my favorites. A long-hoped-for, remastered-for-HD version of my favorite Xbox game, originally expected to release less than five months after its announcement? I was 100% there.

Of course, it was pushed back to February, ostensibly so that Lionhead could add some final polish and make it the great remake that it deserved to be – and that its fans deserved, and craved.

I picked the game up on its release date (February 4), but I didn’t get around to starting it for a couple of days. Since then, I have put approximately 25 hours into it over the course of a half-dozen play sessions. I’ve spent my time in-game savoring the HD graphics, basking in the soundtrack, and exploring every nook and cranny of Albion. It’s wonderful to see the original Fable in its updated glory. The adventure can be completed in a relatively short amount of time, but I’ve been taking my sweet, sweet time, and I have no regrets about doing so.

The not-real review:

Graphically, Fable Anniversary is a pleasure, although this is expected: in the Xbox 360 era, we’ve already had Fable II and Fable III, which both look bright and colorful; Anniversary feels right at home when compared to those two.

The gameplay is faithful to the original, with the added option of using the Fable II controls. Personally, it’s a pleasure to play a 360-quality Fable game with the map on-screen again, and while the menu interface design has been updated, it still feels like old times, in a good way.

I won’t go into detail about every aspect of the game. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself, and I’m sure most fans of the original game would have a lot of fun revisiting Albion in Anniversary. Plus, this is not a real review.

However, I will note a handful of troubling issues with the game.

1. The original game’s “trade between shops for gold” “bug” – where a player can buy out a vendor, instantly increase that same vendor’s demand (and buy price) for items, and then resell those items back to the vendor for a profit, instantly re-lowering that vendor’s demand (and sell price), ad infinitum – made it into the remastered game intact.

It’s fairly obvious that Lionhead isn’t terribly concerned with the ease of gold-making in the series. After all, Fable II and III both had fairly simple, repetitive job systems that made gold-making a mindless afterthought after players put in a little bit of initial work. However, I would argue that this a broken system that needed to be fixed. They did fix it to some extent in Fable II, which had a much better “sale” system, but in remaining faithful to the original in this case, they trivialized several other systems. For instance, with basically unlimited gold, the use of Health/Will potions and Resurrection Phials goes from somewhat strategic (in the first hour or two of play) to completely trivial: when you’re sitting on 500+ Health/Will potions, you can use them like candy and it’s not challenging. Additionally, getting very good armor and weapons becomes simply a matter of opening up new areas (and thus, new vendors), with little-to-no real cost. And getting the “Choosing My Religion” achievement for donating at least 100,000 gold at the Temple of Avo (which also rewards a very strong melee weapon) is a drop in the bucket. There is no real choice necessary there (unless you deliberately choose not to make gold that way); instead of making choices have consequence, you simply buy what you need – even an achievement – while suffering virtually no effect on your overall gold balance.

2. The game freezes way too often, which is a problem. It’s happened to me more times than I’ve cared to count. On Sunday, for instance, I played for just over two hours and had to shut off/restart my 360 three times. The first time it happened was early on in the game, when I was halfway through the “Twinblade’s Camp” core quest. I was mollified when I realized that I could load from the latest checkpoint, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. I’ve had to hard-restart my 360 almost 20 times with Fable Anniversary, and even though Lionhead came out with a stability update a few weeks after release, I’m still having many of the same problems.

3. There are some annoying jagged edges in the game. The one that has annoyed me the most – probably because I’ve used it so many times – has been a problem where, if I run straight into a cullis gate (usually at the Heroes Guild), I can’t actually get onto it. I have to approach it in a semi-circular manner in order to avoid the jag, which is just a pain. There are some other ground jags, but nothing that has been as consistently frustrating as the cullis gate issue. Fortunately, we have the Guild Seal, and I’ve taken to using it almost exclusively for teleportation.

4. On that note, I’ve also noticed some instances where, when attempting to use the down button on the d-pad (Guild Seal) to teleport, the game instead reflects that I’ve used either the right or left d-pad buttons, which means I use some type of expression (usually a fart, which I guess is hilarious in its own way), eat something I didn’t want to eat, or something to that effect. At certain points, that has been frustrating, particularly at times when I was some distance from the nearest cullis gate. Since the update, this seems to have toned down, although I don’t know if that’s just a coincidence.

There are other gameplay elements that aren’t the cleanest, but these bugs are the ones that have bothered me the most, because they’re particularly immersion-breaking and because I would think that, aside from #1, Lionhead would have been able to smooth out the game’s rough edges (bugs) with the extra time afforded them by the delay.

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In general, I’ve had a heck of a lot of fun playing Fable Anniversary. It’s been great to revisit the old stories, places, music, and choices. I’ve laughed a lot, and enjoyed the coziness of the game. At the same time, I’ve found myself getting chills during certain quests, even though I’ve done them before: the quest sequences where you a) find out Lady Grey’s secret at Grey House and b) fight through the graveyard on the way to Bargate Prison were, in particular, very cool combinations of atmosphere, music, and spooky situations.

Looking back at the original through this fresh experience, it’s easier to see how Lionhead took some big leaps forward from Fable to Fable II, with jobs, the vendor sale system, combat system, expanded pub games, and the social/Renown/relationship overhauls. While I still sort of want to look back on my experiences with the original and tell people that the first Fable was the best game in the series – and I do think that it’s still my favorite – I have a much greater appreciation for the changes in game mechanics that Lionhead made in the second game now. Fable Anniversary is great, and it’s a loving tribute to the original classic, but it also shows both its age and its limitations when compared to its newer brethren. As such, it generally deserves its decent-but-not-smokin’-hot review scores.

I would definitely recommend Fable Anniversary to fans of the original Fable, as well as fans of Fable II and III who haven’t played the original, if for nothing other than to experience the original story. Albion is rich with lore, and for those who never played it on Xbox (or never owned an Xbox), this is a wonderful opportunity to visit that era in its history.

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My experience with Fable Anniversary:

  • Previous Fable experience: played the original several times. Also played II several times, and III once.
  • General game thoughts: beautiful – and still a lot of fun – but also a bit buggy, and shows its age.
  • Graphics: not cutting-edge anymore, but generally on par with other 360 Fable entries.
  • System/game performance: generally consistent with the original, and very playable, but – again – has some unfortunately frustrating bugs.
  • Music: excellent, as usual – a game soundtrack worth buying.
  • Xbox Smartglass: I didn’t test the Smartglass features. Additionally, I didn’t feel like spending extra money for the premium features, and they aren’t totally necessary anyway (although from what I’ve read, they’re pretty cool).

Note: Not a real review is a new series here at Dischordant Forms, where I write about my experiences playing through various video games – usually older games that I can get at bargain bin prices (although this game is something of an exception in that regard). These posts should not be considered actual reviews, which are usually written by people who are both competent gamers and decent writers. These are simply my impressions, and the context in which those are formed may be vastly different from that of most other players/readers.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!

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Sad as I am to say it, winter can ‘wrap it up’ any time now

This is the ground outside right now: downed branches, tightly frozen into the icy snow beneath them.

The ground outside: downed branches, most of which are firmly frozen into/under rock-solid snow.

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It’s the first week of March, and we’re nearing the end of the most winter-y winter I have experienced in almost ten years.

This past weekend, we braced ourselves for the 673rd snowstorm of the season. Thankfully, we only got about an inch or so. Nonetheless, when I decided to brave the cold for a walk on Monday, it only took being outside for about 90 seconds of mid-teens temps and wind for me to change my mind.

I do get outside most days, if only briefly. I go to work five days per week, and I park a good distance from the entrance in order to get some brisk walking in for a minute or so on the way in and out.

If this sounds strange, let me explain why I do this.

The barrage of snow we’ve received here in the northeast over the past couple of months, combined with generally erratic weather, has left snow piled high and sidewalks icy or otherwise impassible. Because the last thing I need is to break a leg (or worse) on the ice, I decided to only take walks this winter when the weather was well above freezing and I could walk on dry ground.

I’ve started parking my car away from the entrance to my job, because I’ve found that the parking lot at work is generally clear, and I can usually walk from my parking spot to the door without endangering myself. Of course, I will park close and tread carefully when ice is king, but I like that I’m at least forcing myself to get a modicum of exercise most days.

I do stand and walk around all day at my job anyway, and I’m glad for this, because it means that I’m not completely neglecting exercise just because walking outside is dangerous. However, I’m looking forward to spring, and the opportunity to get outside for sustained walks on a regular basis.

Since global warming is obviously a myth – Exhibit A: the 2013-14 Polar Vortex (Ha ha!) If next winter is as volatile, snowy, and cold as this one has been, I’m seriously considering investing in something that I can strap to my shoes in order to have a sure grip on slippery ground. I don’t want to go through another winter taking one walk per week-to-ten-days like I have this year. Sure, eating moderately well, parking far away from my job entrance when possible, and getting that occasional real walk in has kept me relatively trim this winter, but I’ve still wrestled with cabin fever from time to time, and I don’t really enjoy that at all.

I actually love winter – particularly at the beginning of the season. I like the cold. In theory, I can always put more clothing on if I’m cold, whereas in the summer, when it sits between the high 80s and the low 100s for a couple of months in a row, I’m sweaty and miserable. I love the beauty of snow, and I love Christmas time, and so on. But right now, winter is little more than a dirty mess on the ground. And I’m not physically up to weathering the wind chill on a long walk due to my determination to avoid slipping.

But I don’t like walking outside and then turning around to go back in because it’s too frigid. It’s embarrassing, for goodness’ sake! I’m not even sure why I admitted that! Oh well. Next winter, I want to be armored and ready to handle those elements… by taking plenty of walks, despite the weather.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Thoughts on the Ted Wells report

Today, Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP released the firm’s findings on the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito bullying case in a report commissioned by the NFL on behalf of the Miami Dolphins on November 6, 2013. The report is available in its entirety at nfldolphinsreport.com. It is a difficult read, to say the least.

In his introduction, Wells notes that they interviewed every then-current player and coach on the Dolphins, as well as the management team (including owner Stephen Ross and former-GM Jeff Ireland), for a total of over 100 interviews. In the course of his investigation, he had the privilege of wading through a mountain of vulgar text messages, voice mail messages, and testimony, and while every player was cooperative, he did face hostility to his endeavors from the head athletic trainer.

His findings include, in general: that Martin was certainly subjected to textbook workplace bullying, led by Incognito and abetted by fellow linemen John Jerry and Mike Pouncey; that another young lineman was subjected to constant homophobic bullying by the three; that an assistant trainer – who is of Asian descent – was repeatedly and mercilessly bullied about his heritage; and that the Dolphins’ management and Head Coach Joe Philbin were not aware of the bullying.

I’m not going to recap Wells’ entire report; it contains great detail about his findings. However, I will say that if one were to make judgments based solely on what’s been available via various media over the past few months, and then make comments such as this one made to Peter King about “the pussyfication of this country” without actually reading the Executive Summary (pages 9-49), one would be making such comments (and underlying judgments) having only skimmed the surface.

(Yes, I know that is a gross understatement.)

There are a few impressions that I want to share with respect to the report.

On the vulgarity:

The scope of vulgarity is eye-opening and cringe-worthy. Abuse ranged from race-baiting to disgusting taunts about having sex with Martin’s mother and/or sister (and explicit comments about their genitals), as well as implied sexual preferences of the victims. Other transgressions included aggressive, inappropriate touching, particularly in the case of the lineman who took a great deal of abuse about his supposed sexuality.

I am being general here; the report is full of specific examples of violent verbal abuse along with physical and mental abuse.

On being trapped:

Wells consulted a psychologist, William H. Berman, Ph.D., who is “an expert in matters relating to workplace dynamics, interaction and culture and interpersonal dysfunction within workplace relationships,” who concluded that what happened in the case of Jonathan Martin was consistent with an abusive workplace relationship.

Martin was drafted by Miami in 2012, made the team, and started all 16 regular season games on the offensive line for the Dolphins that season, along with the first seven of the 2013 season before he hit his boiling point and left the team. He was obviously valuable to the team – and he obviously wanted to be there, to play football, and to contribute – but he did not have a chance to choose his team or his teammates. As such, in such an abusive environment, he made attempts to alleviate the situation by attempting to befriend his abusers/fellow line-mates, in a manner that is described in the report as a classic response to one who is victimized this way and for whom it is not within his nature to simply retaliate with violence.

Without physical “eye-for-an-eye” retaliation, Martin used what he had in his personal repertoire, which ranged from attempted friendship to responses of “fuck you,” to deal with the constant abuse. Like many victims of bullying, he had little other recourse that made sense in order for him to remain playing football for the Dolphins. He didn’t feel that he could report the abuse – evident in the pressure put on him by his o-line teammates to not be a “Judas” or a snitch – nor could he just quit the team. It was not a part of his nature to fight his persecutor whenever he reached a boiling point. It’s apparent from the report that he tried to fit in several times, which often backfired on him.

He was trapped. He couldn’t “break the code” and talk to someone in authority. He couldn’t simply go to a different team, because the Dolphins own his rights (and he is under contract). He couldn’t be like the others. He couldn’t reason with his abusers. He considered suicide. Something had to give, and since the torrent of abuse did not abate, it ended up being Martin leaving the team.

On how this reflects on certain people:

What this report means for Jonathan Martin’s future in the NFL remains to be seen. I have a bad feeling that this will be another of those situations where nobody – not even his former Stanford coach, Jim Harbaugh (49ers), who testified that Martin was a tough, prepared, and sound player at Stanford who fit in just fine in the locker room – will give him another chance to play in the NFL. I hope this isn’t the case; in any event, we’ll see.

One thing the report does is expose the questionable mindsets and deplorable actions of several people on the team and in the organization, including:

  1. Richie Incognito – to quote Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk: “That sound you hear in the distance could be the evaporation of any team’s potential interest in Richie Incognito.”
  2. Mike Pouncey and John Jerry (fellow linemen) – both come out of this looking like total assholes. If you need more evidence, read the report.
  3. Jim Turner (Dolphins offensive line coach) – according to the investigation, Turner was aware of the constant homophobic taunts made to the young lineman mentioned above: for Christmas 2012, he gave all of the linemen gift bags, which included a female blowup doll; except for the young lineman, to whom he gave a male blowup doll. Upon being questioned, he “couldn’t remember” it happening, which the investigators found was not credible. His repeated attempts to get Martin to lie about Incognito’s behavior shortly after the scandal surfaced were also certainly not commendable.
  4. Kevin O’Neill (Dolphins head trainer) – laughed at several of the racist insults thrown at the assistant trainer mentioned above, did not intervene or defend his subordinate, and grew hostile (and apparently terminated the conversation) when he was interviewed for the investigation.

Closing

I was appalled reading the report. It would be virtually impossible (without drastic, demonstrable personal changes on their parts) for me to ever be a Richie Incognito, Mike Pouncey, or John Jerry fan after doing so.

However, I’m curious to see how the NFL, the Dolphins, and other teams respond to the report, and how (if at all) things change in NFL locker rooms. Hopefully, positive changes will be made toward making the league more accommodating to players (and employees) of different races, cultures, sexual orientation, and personalities, providing them with a reasonably safer working environment.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome.


Not a real review: Homefront (PS3)

I recently picked up a used copy of Homefront (2011, PS3). Since the game is more than two years old, and was neither critically acclaimed nor a blockbuster, I got it at a fairly rock-bottom price. This is especially good: I am not a big fan of first person shooter (FPS) games, and consequently, I’m not a very skilled shooter. Thus, I usually pass on such games, even when they’re in the bargain bin.

While there’s almost always a “fun” factor with video games, there was one specific reason that I wanted to try this particular game: the setting. To summarize:

Kim Jong-Un, leader of North Korea since 2011, unifies Korea in 2013 to form the Greater Korean Republic (GKR), which becomes a world power. Iran and Saudi Arabia wage war with one another, driving U.S. gas prices to $19.99/gallon. Economic unrest and hysteria ensue; the U.S. calls much of its military home. The GKR annexes several weakened Asian territories, including Japan. Eventually the U.S. dollar collapses. Avian bird flue kills 6 million people, forcing Mexico to close its borders to Americans. In 2025, the GKR detonates a high-altitude nuclear satellite above the U.S. and invades Hawaii and the west coast. At the time the game begins (2027), GKR occupies and controls virtually everything west of the Mississippi River (which is irradiated).  

(Watch the video of the opening sequence above for more detail.)

Ever since I first heard about the game, I’ve wanted to see this vision and story for myself. And so, it was into this world that I stepped when I fired up Homefront for the first time on Tuesday.

After the opening cinematic (see top), which set the tone for Homefront by getting the player up to speed, I assumed the character of Jacobs, a former Marine chopper pilot. I was captured, and was being transported to a re-patriation camp, when suddenly the bus I was on was attacked, and I was rescued by American resistance fighters Connor and Rianna. From there, I was running through abandoned streets and houses, shooting at GKR gunman, and… dying. A lot.

I played the game for almost an hour before I remembered that I had a scope. A scope! which I could use to train on enemies and actually kill them with some consistency, rather than waving my crosshairs around like I was in the color guard! I wanted to be angry at myself, but I had to smile instead. It’s been so long (years…) since I’ve played an FPS that I forgot about the scope. For an hour. Nice.

Anyway, once I remembered that I could use my scope, I started making some actual headway in the game.

One poignant event in Homefront came when, after killing a ton of enemies (and acquiring some beacons for a future mission) at the local detention center, we (Connor, Hopper and I) came to an abandoned baseball field, where the GKR was in the process of dumping American corpses into mass graves with a front-end loader.

Upon witnessing this unspeakable outrage, Connor lost his sanity for a minute, and with a stream of obscenities, started firing madly at the GKR – who outnumbered us quite thoroughly. Fortunately, Hopper kept his head and led us around the perimeter of the field/grave, where we managed to kill every soldier in the area and destroy two sentry towers, only to be approached by Korean choppers as we surveyed the mass grave. Connor’s solution? Well, we stepped down into the grave and pulled bodies over ourselves until the coast was clear.

That was a powerful experience: to see, to “participate in,” and to think about later.

At that point, I was about a quarter of the way through the game. I finished it on Wednesday, but nobody wants me to walk through them through the whole game here. Suffice to say that I enjoyed the sniping missions, stunk badly at the helicopter mission (it was probably the only really frustrating part of my game-play experience – being a noob and all), and thought that everything from that point through the Golden Gate Bridge gauntlet was pretty fun. The game ended abruptly, and I was left feeling like it wasn’t supposed to be over; like there should be more there, but there wasn’t – it was just over.

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I wanted to play Homefront because I wanted to see the developers’ vision of America in such a dire circumstance. Obviously, I hope that such an event never happens, but my interest in alternate history scenarios was what drove my desire to try out this game.

Ultimately, while I wasn’t blown away by Homefront, I’m glad I took the time to play through it and experience the story for myself. The story wasn’t terribly long, and the graphics, music, and voice acting weren’t anything to write home about, but I still had fun playing it. I probably won’t ever play it again, but it was definitely worth the $5 to satisfy my curiosity.

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My experience with Homefront:

  • Previous FPS experience: not much (“noob”).
  • Single-player thoughts: a very short, good-but-not-great game; interesting story premise (which felt unfinished); conventional FPS gameplay.
  • Multi-player thoughts: none.
  • Graphics: unimpressive, but serviceable.
  • System/game performance: no freezing or game-breaking issues.
  • Music: not a standout feature; typical, but still fit well with the game by my meager standards.

Note: Not a real review is a new series here at Dischordant Forms, where I write about my experiences playing through various video games – usually older games that I can get at bargain bin prices. Since I’m simply terrible at most video games, these posts should not be considered actual reviews, which are usually written by people who are both competent gamers and decent writers. These are simply my impressions, and the context in which those are formed may be vastly different from that of most other players/readers. 

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Life upon discovery: Cynic’s “Kindly Bent To Free Us”

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On last week’s episode of the Metal Sucks Podcast, Chuck and Godless talked with Paul Masvidal, guitarist/vocalist/co-mastermind of the band Cynic. Cynic has a new album coming out on February 14th, Kindly Bent To Free Us. The title track – which is awesome! – is presented in a lyric video at the top of this post (the track is also played at the end of their interview).

I had heard of Masvidal before – he played on Death’s 1991 album Human, and toured in support of it – but for some reason I had never taken the time to seek out any of Cynic’s music. That was an error on my part.

However, thanks to Chuck and Godless playing “Kindly Bent To Free Us” on the podcast, I am no longer oblivious. And I’m extremely happy, because I now have a new, genre-defying album to look forward to. And beyond that, there’s the rest of their catalog (yes!).

I like listening to the interviews on the podcast. A lot of listeners have negative things to say on the weekly podcast notes at Metal Sucks, but I don’t mind the hosts. For the most part, their conversations with musicians are entertaining and enlightening. The interview with Paul Masvidal made that episode a highlight of the series thus far, as he spoke quite a bit about his personal philosophy, the work he does in service to others, his “day job” writing and recording music for TV (and so on), and some of his thought processes with respect to his band and music. The interview was one of the longest they’ve done, stretching the episode to about twenty minutes longer than usual. It’s definitely worth the time to listen to it.

One thing that has me excited is that Cynic’s music alters my personal perception, yet again, of what both “metal” and music can be – and this will influence how I think about creativity as I work on writing my own music. It’s similar in this way to bands that I’ve discovered in the past that have blown my mind; Opeth comes to mind, and Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt has himself cited Cynic as being an inspiration in the past. It’s awesome that I’m finally making that connection, even belatedly.

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Chuck and Godless obviously love the album and the band. After the interview, they wrapped up the show with a short discussion about whether the album is going to garner any new fans for Cynic, and if that even really matters to the guys in the band anyway. Here’s an excerpt:

Chuck: That album is pretty amazing. It really is.

Godless: I hope lots of people pick this thing up.

Chuck: (. . .) It’s so not metal, though. It is just not… metal!

Godless: (. . .) but that’s OK!

Chuck: It’s noodle-y and awesome and like… yes! But, what were you saying about (it)? Like, you’re not sure if it has legs – I kind of agree with that. I don’t know, but I think, as a fan of Cynic, I’m in. 100% in.

Godless: Exactly.

Chuck: Just… is it gonna get new fans? I dunno. I don’t think so.

Godless: Yeah, I don’t know.

Well, it has one brand new fan here, and from comments I’ve read around the internet, there are several others like me. I’m very excited for Kindly Bent To Free Us, and looking forward to picking this up in a couple of weeks.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Fable Anniversary is around the corner!

I first became aware of Fable when it was released in September of 2004 for the original XBox. However, I didn’t start playing it until March of 2006; in fact, it was the first RPG-classified game that I completed.

I can remember the first day I played it. I had bought it (Fable: The Lost Chapters) on a Sunday, and had that Monday off. I started playing at around 11 AM, and with the exception of meal and bathroom breaks, I played until past 2 AM that first evening. The soundtrack is amazing, and the game was beautiful and immersive in a way that I had never experienced before. As such, it was my first experience with putting that much time into one session of a game (but hardly my last).

Much has been written about the first Fable game, so I won’t go into an explanation. Suffice to say that the information is out there if you aren’t familiar, and also that I played through it several times. I also played Fable II several times, although it took me a few years to get around to it – and felt that it was also a great game, although not quite as awesome as the first – and Fable III once. I wasn’t as into Fable III, having had some serious issues with the user interface, which I felt went several steps in the wrong direction (I loathed the Sanctuary – which I found highly inconvenient and cumbersome as a substitute for the menu system – although I know people who loved it). Beyond those, I haven’t played the other entries in the series – Fable: The Journey for XBox/Kinect and Fable Heroes on XBLA. That doesn’t diminish the love or the high hopes I have for the series.

Last year, Lionhead Studios announced Fable Anniversary for XBox 360, an HD remake of Fable including the The Lost Chapters bonus content, as a celebration of the ten year anniversary of that first game. From what I’ve read, the game will have not only improved graphics, but also a remastered soundtrack (which is awesome, and I seriously want to buy that soundtrack if it ever becomes available…) and even a couple of new achievements. At $39.99, the game is a bargain, although at $34.99, its accompanying strategy guide is not. (Note: I’m poor.)

I played through Fable II as recently as last year, because I do love that game, but I haven’t played through the first game in several years. I was toying with the idea of playing the original again before the remake arrived, but ultimately I decided not to, mainly because of a desire to have the game be relatively fresh for me when I do play Anniversary: had I played it in mid-January, it might not have had the same impact that it will have when I put the disc in, create my character and play through it for the first time in a long time. I want to savor the experience. I know that since I’ve already played it (and the other games), there will be some familiarity, but I’ve decided that this will nonetheless be the path to my best experience.

I don’t know my work schedule for next week as I write this, but I’m sure that I will be able to put some hours into Fable Anniversary once it arrives on Tuesday. It’s safe to say that I’m excited!

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Epiphany: I will expand my musical vocabulary

While playing guitar the other night, I had an epiphany.

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I’ve been “playing” guitar for twenty years now. I never had any formal lessons. I remember sitting in the living room in our old house as a teenager, picking up my mother’s acoustic guitar, and fretting the low E string the first time. The pain in my finger tip was a major deterrent. A couple of months later, I tried again, and stuck with it.

In the beginning, I learned chords from a chart my mother had on the piano. I could do E minor okay, but C chords always sounded like crap, and F was a disaster. G major was nice, once I could manage to fret the G on the high E string. E major and A minor came next, and sounded all right. It was slow going.

Eventually, I learned about barre chords, and was banging out terrible versions of Nirvana songs. And breaking strings left and right. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine those days, but they happened, and we all start somewhere. We learn…

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About fourteen years ago, by which point I had progressed past banging away at simple three- and four-chord strummers to playing with a little more finesse and skill, I reached a self-induced crossroads. I became sort of paranoid, feeling that everything that I created was derivative. At that point, I decided not to learn any more songs that were relatively close in style to the things I was writing.

I can remember a pivotal point in that thought process. I was fiddling around on my acoustic one day, and I accidentally stumbled on Mike McCready’s opening/verse lick to “Given To Fly” by Pearl Jam. My initial reaction was “oh… cool!” – followed immediately by a weird feeling of guilt. The self-censor won – I never played that lick again, and never forgot that moment.

From that time on, I’ve maintained a strict “I will not learn other people’s songs” method. Which isn’t much of a method, in reality.

This is not to say that I’ve not learned any guitar licks since then. For example, I’ve spent hours working on songs like “Holy Wars… The Punishment Due” (Megadeth), along with riffs from songs by Pantera, Metallica, and other metal bands, because I don’t “create” metal songs, so they were in what I considered “fair territory.” And I’ve certainly benefited musically and technically from those experiences. But there is a lot that I’ve shut out, and since my goal has never been to become a competent metal guitarist, those experiences have only taken me so far.

Instead of learning other people’s songs, I found that I enjoyed writing my own songs. At the time, I got a lot of fulfillment from writing guitar parts that were slightly above my current skill level – and then learning how to play those songs. In this way, I improved as a guitarist, and came up with some pretty good songs… but I also ran into a lot of brick walls. Over time, those walls got higher, and my interest ultimately diminished.

Over the past ten years, the volume of creativity has decreased, and the amount of recording that I’ve done – even just riff demos – has slowed to an occasional drip. I basically trained myself to hold my playing within that holy grail of originality when composing music, so that, if I was not playing something that I’d already established, my censor-alarms would go off more and more urgently. Occasionally, I would have some small burst of creation, but for the most part, songwriting / guitar playing have generally been at odds with me for a while now.

This has, very likely, contributed to the long musical droughts I have experienced over the years.

* * *

However, my philosophy on originality has changed.

I mentioned before that I had an epiphany the other night, which is this: I have been stunting my musical ability, technical skill, and creative palette by not learning how to play more songs.

As we learn to play various songs, we build our musical vocabulary: the individual notes – the musical alphabet – are there; we can use those letters to create words or phrases, and we can make them our own by accenting them in the way we choose. Furthermore, learning via songs gives those notes and phrases context, which helps us understand how they work within the music, with the added benefit of being fun (rather than just a pure exercise). As I was playing that night, I realized that I’ve limited my musical options by refusing to learn how to play a wide variety of songs, missing out on opportunities to expand my vocabulary. Building a working vocabulary simply gives me more tools to use in the creative process, just as the practice of reading and writing hones a person’s ability to learn, comprehend, and write.

I realized that, since I am not a savant who is destined to rediscover everything that has already been discovered on the guitar, it can’t hurt me to learn more of what’s already there. In some way, I think that I wanted to repeatedly experience the joy of discovery, but, while it was a well-intentioned ideal to hold myself to, in reality I slid so far into my own little hole on the guitar that I painted myself into a corner of ignorance – and, in turn, frustration. The cost has been great: I was stunting my language skills by not playing new things, or things that are uncomfortable or difficult to play – or even familiar things that I enjoy listening to or singing along with. While I have limited skill and am closer to middle age than to childhood, I can still learn a great deal from developing new skills and applying them in different ways as I try to create songs.

In retrospect, I think that what I’ve done to myself as a musician over the past couple of decades has shown a severe lack of trust in my own ability to use established musical language to create something new. I know now that the result was that the holy grail of originality – an ideal that I clung ferociously to, to my detriment – ended up inhibiting my songwriting process a great deal.

* * *

I need to not be afraid to learn how to play music of any style that I enjoy. Doing so will open up a world of possibilities by expanding my musical vocabulary, giving me (relatively) more mastery over the instrument and removing some of the barriers to creation that I’ve experienced.

Recently, I’ve begun to try to figure out the horn melody to “Godchild” by Miles Davis, from his classic 1949 album Birth Of The Cool (in the video above). While it’s currently not exactly the style of music that I would typically write, I’m also looking at expanding the boundaries of the kind of music I create (which in itself is a post for another day), and is also a song that I’ve enjoyed for a long time.

The important thing for me is to play, and to learn, with a “no rules” attitude as opposed to a restrictive code like I did for so many years. This is probably a many-layered concept that will hopefully reveal itself further as I continue my musical journey. For now, I’m simply happy to have broken the dam.

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Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!