Holy Guacamole

30 Day Writing Challenge, btw, went awesomely. It became more of a journal-exercise, which is why a lot of the posts stopped appearing on Pixels & Pies.

The last month has been an interesting one. Someone with the name “War” probably shouldn’t be in fine dining, which suits this viking shield maiden just fine. I left the world of spoon-pushing and inedible garnishes in favor of a proper pub. The ultimate goal is to have either a truck or a bar, so this step makes the most sense to that end.

I could go into further deets, but shit-talking previous businesses is not what a Lady of War does! I am pushing forward, wish my previous kitchen the best, and can’t wait to get involved in this blog once more.

The next year will be an interesting one. The garden did well, but is being retired as it gets colder. Next year, the plots will be rich with nutrients, and there is even a blueberry hedge in the future.

I am working on a web series about the battle of good and evil. I promise, it’s not as hackneyed as that sentence lets on. You should check it out! http://www.facebook.com/yourlastrites.

Currently, I am re-visiting the Mass Effect series, and am in the thick of Mass Effect 2. The long-awaited Gears of War 3 recipe, and the Mass Effect recipe will be on their way soon. Hopefully, this week, as I won’t have much to do until my next job gets started. I am hopeful that a next gen system will be in my future so I can do more relevant titles, but until then, we’ll just keep cruising in memory lane.

Have a great October!

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30 Day Writing Challenge – What Do You Want To Write?

I am in fact still on track with this challenge, but I have been hand-writing my exercises the last couple days. Transferring to the internet as I go!

30 Day Writing Challenge

Day 3 – What Do You Want to Write?

The Exercise: Make a 1-2 page list of messages, influences, and goals as a writer to help bring writing intentions to light. Let the exercise help specify and define your process!

I want the descriptions (their imagery, and their word choice) to always be an under-lying current to the mood of the scene. I encountered this early on with Stephen King. Dialogue has always been easy, but descriptions have been tricky.

I don’t want to convey the message of women being better than men, or men being weaker than women. I want characters that define one another, regardless of who or what they are.

Adventure, something to keep kids and young adults reading. There is an awesome momentum that has been building for years, and I want to be a part of that inspiration.

Writing poetry is like wrestling a beautiful bear in the forest; the creature totally inspires awe and some measure of swooning, but it can rip you apart if you don’t wrangle right!

I want people to recognize themselves in characters; how they handled the best and the worst parts of life. “Oh, man, I remember when I went through that, I thought only I felt that way…” If readers open one of my books or see a film I wrote lonely, I would want my content to make them feel less alone.

Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue! As much of it as possible! Not just always having the right thing to say, but the most human thing to say. Unless… it’s an alien or something. That’s a whole different can of WTF.

I believe in food, equality, fucking up, retribution, love (so much love), comedy, being rendered to tears, sighing with relief, going on all cylinders, forgiving but not forgetting, music, exploring the unknown, asking as many questions as possible, laughing with no end in sight, that there is victory in finally being able to touch your toes, and I believe in my readers.

I love the idea that something can pop into my head, and it just lives there until I finally start writing. Sometimes it is just a character, and sometimes it is a theory or a concept, or some sort of abstract imagining of history or the future. There is no consistent through-line with these ideas, except that I always want to explore the character more than anything else. The environment reflects the character study.

The influences are numerous, because I am easily influenced by a lot of what I read in books, and hear in the dialogue of films. I try to always keep my influences unending, a pounding waterfall of inspiration and mentorship. 

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30 Day Writing Challenge: Break the Rules

There is nothing more fun than intentionally writing something terrible. This is a familiar exercise, and I was so happy to see it in Sara’s book. I had so much fun doing scrawling into this while I enjoyed my coffee. Recommend it for everyone.

At the bottom of the skit there are questions to ask yourself at the end of the exercise.

The Exercise: Break the Rules

The Hap’s: Write something that is supposed to be bad.

EXT. CITY STREETS – NIGHT

Something from Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” is playing, because of course it is, and our whimsical heroine, KATE, is heading down the street.

KATE (V.O.)

I’ll never forget the night I tried to break up with Dean.

She steps into a bar.

CUT TO:

INT. BAR – NIGHT

KATE (V.O.)

Who’s Dean?

Kate passes several men and women, each more stunning than the last.

KATE (V.O.)

No, not him. Not him. Not even her.

Kate finally encounters DEAN. He has pursed lips, perfect hair, perfect body, a perfect brooding expression, so dark and mysterious.

KATE (V.O.)

And there he is.

KATE

Hey — whoa!

Dean has swept up from his seat at the bar, and embraced her tightly, arms wrapped around her shoulders, and head nestled sharply against hers, lips close to her ear.

DEAN

(dramatic)

I didn’t think you’d make it.

KATE

Uhm, I mean, the school’s right up the street. A couple students stopped me on the way out today —

He separates from her, clenching his hands into her shoulders.

DEAN

What!? Who!? If they hurt you —

KATE

Totally fine. They just needed to go over their essays with me.

Dean calms.

DEAN

Oh. Well. Please.

KATE

Thanks.

She accepts the offered seat. Dean sweeps back into his seat, and takes her hands intimately within his.

DEAN

I’m glad you came.

KATE

Me too, yeah, look, we gotta talk.

DEAN

No, me first.

KATE

Uh, okay.

DEAN

There’s something you need to know about me.

KATE

I’m game.

DEAN

There’s a reason you only see me at night.

KATE

It’s not really a big deal, you know. Lots of people only come out at night.

DEAN

But most of them aren’t… vampire-werewolves.

KATE

I’m sorry, what?

DEAN

I knew you wouldn’t accept me.

KATE

Wait, no, I’m just… sorry, not everyone tells me they’re a vampire –?

DEAN

Vampire-werewolf.

KATE

Vampire-werewolf, right.

DEAN

Right. Demon.

KATE

Sure, vampire-werewolf-demon.

DEAN

Exactly.

KATE

Look, it’s fine, because… I’m the chosen one.

DEAN

Huh?

KATE

Yeah, I was born under a blood moon, and I’m all chosen-one, like, every day.

DEAN

Chosen for what?

KATE

I’m supposed to save the world from ultimate evil. I think at some point I find a magical sword in a cave. It all gets allegorical after that.

DEAN

Do people even need swords anymore?

KATE

I mean, maybe? But, like, it’s the only thing that can slay the time-traveling ghost-wizard that slayed my parents.

DEAN

I thought ghosts went, like, through people? How did he slay them?

KATE

I imagine very complicatedly.

DEAN

Sure —

KATE

So, I mean, with you being a demon-werewolf —

DEAN

Don’t forget the vampire, that’s really important.

KATE

And me being an all-powerful teacher destined to save the world with a magic sword that coincidentally is intended for the time-traveling ghost-wizard that also killed my parents in a complicated way…

DEAN

Uh-huh.

KATE

Right. I think we better you know, just call it. Our schedules will be really messed up, we’ll barely see each other. I’ll mostly likely find some mench of a guy that is dopey and unnecessarily emmasculated in some way, because god forbid I save the complete opposite of that. In any case, I mean, gender-roles in these things go both ways sometimes. It’s not always just about me being this all-powerful woman who still has to answer to some controlling, aloof pretty boy before I can — uh, hello?

DEAN

I’m sorry, I was brooding.

KATE

(sighs)

Anyway, it’s for the best that we —

DEAN

I think I see where this is going.

Dean suddenly clasps Kate to him, running his hands through her hair, pressing the side of her face against his chest.

DEAN (CONT’D)

I will protect you, Kate.

KATE

Uhm.

DEAN

From everything.

KATE

That’s okay, really.

DEAN

I’ll never let you from my sight. I’ll always ask you where you’re going. I’ll always stay by your side, and you will always stay by mine. Forever.

KATE

Okay, Dean –?

DEAN

No harm will ever come to you, because —

KATE

My face…

DEAN

— Oh, sorry. Because it was prophesized.

KATE

Prophesied.

DEAN

Right, that one.

KATE

What? Wait, what?

DEAN

Yes. I haven’t been totally forward with you. I knew you long before I offered to buy you that low-fat, low-carb, no sugar, light foam cappuccino from Starfuckers.

KATE

Uhm…

DEAN

Since you were a child I knew you were special.

KATE

Ew, how did you — ?

DEAN

The whole vampire-werewolf-

KATE

– demon thing, right.

DEAN

Right. Since you were a child, I knew you were special, and the shaman of my pack told me we were destined to be together.

KATE

So, you’ve been stalking me since show n’ tell and story-time and stuff?

DEAN

I mean, like, off and on. I’m a demon, I have needs, and you were, I dunno, 7. I’m really possessive and slightly obsessed to an unhealthy degree about you, but I have some standards.

KATE

Fair enough. Look, you’re a mediocre, gorgeous guy-puppy-hell thing, but I’m just way too… not into that at all.

DEAN

But destiny —

KATE

–is not the basis for a functional, invigorating relationship. I’m afraid you’re meant for another movie, and I am, too.

There’s a collective swoon from the bar, and all attention turns to the doors. There is a man in an overcoat (MALACHITE), flanked by cartoonishly unique individuals that appear ready to kick ass.

KATE

What the — !?

DEAN

I’ll protect you, Kate!

KATE

Okay, we just went over this —

MALACHITE

I am MALACHITE, and this is my Tribe of Tropes. We are here to pulverize you into fantastic banality, most likely with awesome CGI.

DEAN

(to KATE)

Can I protect you, like, once?

KATE

Ugh. Fine.

What rules did I break? I broke a lot of 4th wall, and littered my scene with Mary Sues. Shattering the 4th wall is a tender and specific art, and there is a time and a place. Something like a Deadpool comic or a Ferris Beuler monologue demands it, but I think the privelege cane otherwise be easily abused, much like injecting over-powered, over-intelligent characters into a blah story in the hopes that their awesome presence will somehow elevate a heavy, tired plot. I also over-loaded the short with exposition vomit.

How would you do the opposite to change the craftsmanship of the piece? If the overall short is meant to be a parody, I would probably maintain a lot of this, but if it were to be a serious piece there are a couple things I would change. The 4th wall would only be broken via Kate’s narration, something in tune with the occasional narration in “House of Cards” or “Ferris Beuler’s Day Off”.

Dean’s multiple backgrounds would be delegated to other characters, trading in his all-powerfulness for urban fantasty world-building. Kate’s role as a teacher would ultimately reflect her own passage into being a “chosen one”, a process she would ultimately need to study, learn, and discover discipline within. The idea of a “chosen one”, in this case, wouldn’t be about how awesome Kate is, but would be a way to convey a personal message about how awesome and incredible teachers are!

Instead of Kate and Dean relying on each other and controlling each other, they would balance each other. Their superficiality would be sacrificed, replaced instead with a process that most new couples go through together; learning each others quirks, fears, strengths, desires, and doubts. Then again, Kate says that destiny is no way to build a functional relationship, which I think would be something I would keep in the piece going forward, whether or not the item is up for parody or not. The idea of two characters not succumbing to the idea of destiny is attractive to me, because when the “destiny” card gets played in films, the relationship often loses credibility to me. Do the characters even want to be together? Are they in love with the idea of destiny more than with that person’s nuances and overall personality? So, there would have to be a lot of tinkering here, is what I’m getting at, but man, what fun.

Then, of course, there are the hunters of this weird monster-man and this divine woman. The two characters are already complete juxtapositions, coming from both two different sides of the track, so who are these guys, and which of the two would they have interest in? Maybe there are multiple groups that would be happy to be rid of the two characters, who ultimately shouldn’t be together. Does Dean’s own people turn on him? Do those on Kate’s side try to punish her for allying with a monster? Or is she simply shunned, and isolated?

To completely paraphrase something Tarantino once said: “There is no such thing as a “bad” movie”, so learn from the things that make you roll your eyes and go UGH, instead of simply dismissing them. Ultimately, that experience can be just as fulfilling as its opposite.

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30 Day Challenge: Stream of Consciousness

A friend of mine named Sara is running a special on her book The 30 Day Writing Challenge. I have not had much time to cook for fun (or for this blog) at home, and the reasons are positive. I am receiving more responsibilities at work, which requires me to be there a little more, and I am seeing the launch of my small catering company gain momentum. Still, I would like to keep updating this blog, so I decided to take part in Sara’s challenge. I’ll be posting here if anyone wants to follow, or feels inspired to tackle the 30 Day Monster! 

The Exercise: Stream of Consciousness. 

The hap’s: Write in the stream of consciousness for 10 minutes without stopping. 

Finished yoga today, and should have been focusing on how to maintain my balance, should have focused on every breath that came in and slowly went out through my nose, could only focus on how my knees don’t touch the floor when I cross them in half-lotus. Are our knees ever meant to lay flat on the ground? Is there a flexibility as a child I’m just not remembering, but still missing? Or do the crests of a human pelvic bone mean that we cannot flatten out. I remember as a kid this was called sitting “Indian-style”, and I always imagined that I could make a cobra dance with a little wooden flute. Made school a little less black and white. Then again, imagination makes everything a little less black and white. I try to use it every day, in fact I can’t help it. One moment I’m cutting garlic and shallots in the kitchen, and the next thing I know I’m wondering to myself: How can I put more color into my work? Use the plate like the canvas, and the food is the brush. I look at my line these days and I see more color; so many purples, reds, and greens. But couldn’t I have more? The deep red of beef or venison carpaccio. The tye-dye of watermelon radishes. The green-to-white of split asparagus stalks and bulbs. How can I lure people closer to eating something they have never experienced when all they want are romaine salads and fried crab claws?

There is a chill across my skin, the AC must have kicked on. The house is making settling sounds, but it’s been sitting on this hill for years. Sometimes the walls sigh, the glass ticks like a clock that wants to start again. I can hear breeze echoing down the chimney, through a hearth that has not seen a fire for some time. I wonder if I can get it going again in the winter, and cultivate a healthy reading habit by it. So many healthy habits to roll into myself, like folding flour into dough that’s too wet, too heavy, too unfeeling, with no spring. The stretching in the morning, the water on my face, the toothpaste soothing my gums and enamel, the conscious eating without succumbing to calorie counting so I don’t miss out on the finer things in life like real butter. It feels so good, but there are so many small things I miss from childhood that could breathe even more life back into me; buried in a book on the back porch of a bungalow on the Chesapeake Bay. 

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Mass Effect

The fate of the universe lies helpless, and yet so overwhelmingly heavy in your hands. You have heard it so many times, so many ways, and seen the destiny of the cosmos saddled to so many heroes. Some times they are reluctant, some times they are passionate and ready to defend the planets, the stars, the existence of all, but rarely has it ever been you. An oldie, but a goodie, and with two other successful titles following this initial space opera, Pixels and Pies pulls up a seat and binges on the first game of the deep-space trilogy: Mass Effect.

A.K.A. ... the game where you can't fuck Garrus Vakarian.

A.K.A. You Can’t Fuck Garrus in This One.

But ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, does love really matter? A Council-appointed space Punisher, also called a Spectre, also known as Sarren has gone loco for the locomotion of robo-organic death harbinger Sovereign. Armed with the power of dubstep powered lasers and a Cthulu-inspired horror horde, Sovereign represents one of sci-fi’s biggest batch of assholes after the Cylons, better known as the Reapers.

Seen here about to drop some sick bass.

Seen here about to drop some sick bass.

So, basically, a long-ass time ago, organics and synthetics never got along, because it’s a sci-fi back-story so of course they didn’t, and the Reapers were created to maintain balance between the two, but they went rogue, turned on their makers and anything else within existence-shot, and retreated into space, leaving behind a couple nifty trinkets for future races to discover. Trinkets like, oh, the mass relays you use in the game to get around, and the Citadel you use to not know where the fuck you are going. Anyway, civilizations reach their peaks with the help of these wonderful tech-turds the nightmare cuttelfish leave behind, and when civilization is totally rocking it, the Reapers come back, harvest the living Hell out of everything and everyone, and retreat back to dark space fully replenished, and ready for round who-the-fuck-keeps-count-at-this-point-really? in the next bathousand years.

Gotcha bitch!

Gotcha bitch!

Cut to character creation. You start the game with a blank slate, creating your character from the ground up. Look at that, you have your very own Mary Sue, but somehow… BioWare makes that work. Whether you walk the path of the Paragon or the path of the Renegade, the walking tabula rasa known as Commander Shepherd is a fairly awesome protagonist no matter how you spin the dialogue wheel. Going forward, and for consistency’s sake in write-ups, I went with a FemShep hailed as Commander Cade Shepherd, a space-kid who grew up to become a ruthless commander, trending Renegade to maintain her ship and stomp out BioWare NPC bullshit (I had a lot of Renegade points…), but paragon where it counts. She’s a bitch with a heart of gold…ish. Like most of their games, BioWare flawlessly connects you to your avatar within the first half hour of gameplay. Yes, I know the actual in-game intro is only so many minutes long before your Shep is introduced, but I like hanging out in character creation for a bit, because me and my custom-made ShepFace will be spending a lot of time together, so the less like a Picasso painting she can look, the better.

Nailed it.

Nailed it.

From here, you are launched into the game, tutorial be damned. I actually really, really dug this. I, frankly, can’t stand modern tutorials. After pop-up advertisements, they are the worst thing I can see on a screen. They’re like that friend who tries to MST3K movies, and sucks at it; yes, they have the right idea, but the execution is nettlesome. I grew up on those little books that came in my games that weren’t just filled with long-ass codes to input to my X-Box Live. Call me crazy, but when it comes to playing video games I believe in nature, not nurture. So, that all being said, BioWare’s unapologetic boot into the game is welcoming for me. The first stretch of the game is peppered lightly enough with challenges that don’t punish error, but help you learn from it. There are some helpful hints, but compared to the PRESS X TO DO IT ALL, PRESS B TO GO BACK, PRESS LBRTSELECTATHENMAYBEQ TO RUN ON THAT FUCKING WALL OVER THERE… they are anything but jarring to the first level. This is good, because the first level focuses on building suspense and easing you up a learning curve, as opposed to overloading you with verbiage and cut-scenes-in-lieu-of-game-play. By the way, save as often as possible, because you have a lot of decisions ahead of you, and BioWare doesn’t forgive dumb very easily. Save border-lining miserly if you can.

Why not in  life?

Why not in life?

The game unfolds as most RPGs tend to; a big bad bully threatens your proverbial sandbox, and forty to sixty hours later? Showdown time. Along the way, you get buddy-buddy with a crew made up of awesome aliens and idiot humans, one being a coyly racist trigger-happy she-bitch, and the second asserting himself with about as much character intrigue as the chair I am currently sitting in. For the most part, I chose to run around with Wrex who makes his aggression perfectly clear and therefore navigable, and Garrus… because I like a Turian in uniform. I don’t know what crop of voice acting BioWare harvested their Turian cast from, but almost every bird-faced, lizard-man alien I encountered in this game sent my ears into a hot’n’bothered tizzy.

This is what happens when you Google "sexy turian".

This is what happens when you Google “sexy turian”.

Gameplay works mostly through the Power Wheel, which comes in two flavors: weapon selection and ability selection. Want Ashley to hang back? Of course you do, so order her to the back of the formation, and arm her with a sniper rifle. Want to hit a geth with waves of fuckery?Access your abilities in the other Power Wheel. At first, the mechanic is surprising, but in just a few levels you’re loving it. Just a cool spin on turn-by-turn that I can really get behind. So, that being said, one of the best ways to approach this game, and really get the most out of the Power Wheel(s), is to balance your team more impressively than a tower of double-jointed Cirque-du-Soleil kids. Okay, it’s not that hard. Go tech, biotic, combat, and you’re golden. The more physical act of combat in this game — over the shoulder shoot ’em upping — is a little wonky and disjointed, but the technical end of things? Really smart, really fun, the beginnings of something further perfected in following Dragon Age and Mass Effect titles. As the games progress, the impression is that BioWare is always fine-tuning their work, listening to their audience’s feedback, and even catching the little bits that some of us as gamers never considered migraine-inducing until BioWare came through with the cure.  More on that in a future review.

Not my game. You can tell by the presence of the two mouth-breathers in this pic.

Not my game. You can tell by the presence of the two mouth-breathers in this pic.

Another allure of Mass Effect would be the relationship aspect. In the midst of humanity (and life) teetering on the precipice of annihilation, Shepherd finds her hands full with the personal drama of the Normandy Love Boat. The goal, ultimately, was to romance Kaiden and Liara, choose Liara, lose Kaiden on Virmire, and re-encounter Liara in the second game to perpetuate some nice drama, because at the end of the day I am really just saving myself for Garrus. That would have made a love triangle that could make Chris Claremont pop a halfy, and that dude knew his way around angles. I’m. Just. Sayin’.

Sportin' a semi under the table.

Sportin’ a semi under the table.

In any case, at the drop of a single dismissive syllable, Liara shuts her shit down, and I’m stuck with bedhead biotic Kaiden, who has a lovely speaking voice, but is alluring in the “I guess I’ll just get my taxes over with” kind of way. As much as I love BioWare games, over the years I have come to expect a certain personality when it comes to potential male suitors in the varying BioWare universes. Oh, they start funny, and plucky, and complicated, and then they get needy, demanding, soft, bi-polar, and possessive. Alistair, I’m looking right at you, buddy, you wishy-washy won’t have a threesome with a pirate asshole. Anyway, different game. In any case, BioWare, I come to you for escapism, and you give me a character that reflects that which in life drives me to hide away and play video games. I don’t need your needy, man-boys stinking up my ship, which is why I blow them up make a bad call on Virmire.

GOOD!

GOOD!

So, I’ll probably get in trouble with this, but you know, fuck that. Aside from back-story and general plot fluffiness, the relationships are not super integral to the game. Sure, they are something (or someone) else to do on the ship other than pick your nose over the Galaxy Map, while you wish that Admiral Hackett would get his silver-fox ass to your captain’s quarters. I’m sorry, I’d tap that, I’d drop and give that twenty. Aside from appeasing this secret place in some sort of gland or other organ for romance, intrigue, and drama, the relationship status does not serve too much of a purpose toward the end of the first game. There are ripples throughout other games, sure, but ultimately the power of love is not what defeats Sarren at the end. This was probably my only complaint about the relationship options. Entertaining, sure, but functional? Not really. The impulse that has you bumping Barbies and Kens (or Kens and Kens/Barbies and Barbies/Barbies and Stacies? No, that’s fucked up. Aren’t they related? Anyway…) is ultimately appeased… I guess? I mean, the love of my space-life was basically stuck in the Mako cabinet with no-balls-to-the-walls Wrex, and the “That 70s Show” violent Jackie space knock off racist known as Ashley, drooling Tennyson all over the place like she even knows who the fuck that be-stanza’ed mid-term English major trap is. So, I wasn’t really fulfilled in that character-building respect, because my options were racist, snoreville, and the overly-sensitive Liara. Thaaaaanks. I mean, sure, there are echos of your personal decisions in the sequels — that’s fine! — and relationships are affected (depending on your outcomes), but unless you’re a story-crafting completionist like me… you really won’t care.

I can't.

I can’t.

Speaking of the Mako, I’m going to let my multi-terrain vehicle flag fly here, and say I legitimately loved that machine. I mean, God forbid you ever have to throw that big-booty into reverse, but the planet exploration was cool. This element is further refined in the sequels in a R.I.P. Mako kind of way, but the idea of a planet exploring tank that could flip end over end with the suspension of a pogo stick and STILL deposit all my team in one piece was astounding to me. I took that white thunder for a spin countless times, and just imagined it being picked up by the Normandy, Liara popping the hatch, and the broken-boned bodies of Shepherd, Wrex, and Garrus dumping out into a pool of compound fractures and internal bleeding.

The most comfortable death trap you'll ever experience once in a lifetime.

The most comfortable death trap you’ll ever experience once in a lifetime.

At the end of the day, how do you really review an RPG though? A lot of friends vouch for the technicality, others for how you mold your character’s stats, many love the un-ending vanishing points of the virtual sandbox you can explore, and then some go for the story, the characterization, the surrounding cast, all the things that generally make movies and books and other story-telling mediums go tick. Frankly, I’m a fan of each, sampling these aspects like a picky buffet customer. I want the best parts of all these things every time, every “visit”. Every bit should be tasty, and worth the fact that you can’t take buffet food to go (seriously, what the fuck? Don’t give me a food-cost lecture either, I’m uninterested). Now, I have certain sections that I annihilate with a stomach that could rival dark space; like how I just pick up a dim sum basket and take it with me to my table, but I still have some lo mein, cookies of unknown origin, and spicy pork, too. Despite my preferences, I think that a good RPG still focuses on all aspects of what I (and friends) believe make up the difference between an “okay” game, and a GREAT game. Much like picking your team, much like balancing your relationships, much like the path between the ultimate Paragon and the edgiest Renegade, and much like navigating the best strategy for taking out a whole room of geth, BioWare does everything I want it to do when it comes to an RPG: balance. From there, we can make the choices that will ultimately save the universe, or doom us all. Or, you know, determines who visits the Commander’s quarters – bang. mass-effect-2-9-27-2012 Replayability 2

Design 2

Story 1

Sound 2

Gameplay & Mechanics 1

It is easy to fall in love with this game again. The story is a pretty straight-forward space opera plot, eclipsed by entertaining character development. An epic score and fantastic foley that blends sci fi with realism highlights intense, suspenseful and intimate moments. Although it boasts innovative game play and game mechanics, it is clear that the best of what this BioWare series has to offer is yet to come.

Final Score: 8 nightmare cuttlefish out of 10

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Reboot

Reset button. Quit and go back to menu. That’s the name of the game, so here I am, and the menu is about to get really good. I look back at this blog, and can’t believe the last update was a year ago. So much has changed, for better and for best. What happened? Why did the scatter-brained bloggess disappear? The answer is simple: I entered the food industry.

Tired of simply playing with my food, I decided to start perfecting my craft. The pay cut was enormous. Let’s say getting 35K a year to $10/hr. enormous, shall we? The video game purchasing, even renting, had to go, and I had to focus on that which mattered most. “That” being the burns, cuts, triumphs, disappointments, emotional integrity, and the bonds forged in the weeds while working on the line. I disappeared into the cramped confines of any kitchen that would accept a greenhorn like me, and I found a home in the den of Muss&Turners. From there, I’ve worked at Battle & Brew, Slice, and am currently working as a garde manger line chef at Daniel George Restaurant.

Let’s just say, I look back on my previous recipes and find them adorable compared to what I can do now. I am lucky in that my current job has landed me with a pay and educational raise. The video games can come back into my life, and the recipes are going to get tastier.

This blog will also start focusing on video game musings, as well as adventures in catering and gardening. Yes, I have started my own catering company, which I will shamelessly plug right now. You can find out more at R&D Catering. I am also spending money to save money in the long-run by attempting Garden Plot 2.0. I did have a garden in the past, but we don’t talk about red clay victimization here. Considering so many chefs and caterers (in general) are emphasizing “farm to table” these days, I figure the joys and pitfalls of gardening from the ground up would be fun to include in the general game-gourmet scheme of things.

Posting will be regular(ish) once more, and you will have an awesome time. The whole point is to have fun, and eat the good stuff, and my friend, this is the good stuff.

Bon App.

Posted in And then some | 2 Comments

Gears of War 3

Whenever I procrastinate, I play video games, which lulls me into a false sense of “it’s okay” whenever I put off a review, because I’m just back-logging games to review later, right? But I’ve had a Gears of War 3 review staring me in the face for the better part of the last few (mumble, throat clear). I even have the dish ready to go with this bad-boy, but I come back to the keyboard and make small talk with a blank screen. You know what? Enough is enough, because you know what? There is no small talk in war, no time for waxing poetic, no time to put the “pussy” back in “pussy footing around”. I’m pulling the trigger.

The Gears of War franchise has impressed me from the moment Marcus bolted on screen to that sick “Mad World” cover. It was an interesting break from the formula of slapping heavy metal over a soldier recovering from some kind of blast impact in a way Guy Pearce only WISHES he could.

How do you set out and make a war-time, sci-fi shooter that not only gives gamers what they want, but what they didn’t even know they wanted? Well, from the beginning Epic has made it look too easy from the over-the-shoulder 3rd person interpretation of 1st person game-play tropes, to the psycho simplicity of cutting someone in half with a chainsaw bayonet. I didn’t know I wanted that until the first time I did it, and then I wanted a chainsaw bayonet in every game.

 

Every. Game.

Okay, maybe that would break the whole ambiance of Shadow of the Colossus, but there’s no excuse for Mario.

Didn't have to be this way.

I was up all night playing the first game. There were things I liked, and there were things I loved, and my expectations rode high once a sequel was announced. I was pumped, one might even say “amped”, so much so I put most of the bro-skis in the midnight line outside GameStop to shame.  Then, I got the game home, fired it up, and it was okay. Wait, what? “Okay”!? I mean, yeah, it was cool to get a closer look at the Horde side of things, but nothing much was being changed, and nothing felt pushed further. The game, to my dismay, was a filler, a decent one, but nothing compelling was keeping me completely involved. I was playing a formula, a beautiful equation with a simple answer: turn your brain off and shoot. This couldn’t have been the first game as well, right? Because that one pushed the norms and balance between what was a flashy gimmick and what was totally innovative. It challenged me to accept these new characters, this new world, this story pieced together from imaginative scraps. The gimmick in the second game was good, don’t get me wrong, but in my opinion, to be wholly memorable, a franchise shouldn’t rely on gimmick.

I wasn’t really hooked back in until Dom finally found Maria again. That, for me, brought the game back around to what made the first game great, because there was always a theme of the heroes going out with a bang, no matter what. They didn’t go out shooting because they thought they were going to make it, either. In the first commercial alone, Marcus turns to face a pack of Corpsers, resigns, and pulls the trigger on the lot of them anyway. Dom having to solve a problem like Maria brought back what I loved from the first game; the damn character, the damn story!

"Let me do that scene again. I'll bring the intensity. The human struggle!"

Gears of War 3 took this moment and came full circle. Not only does the franchise return with new tech, a refined and cleaner multiplayer, and the tried-and-true combat, but the focus swings back to the characters and the story. Even the supporting cast gets a face-lift. Anya has shaken her role as the team Cortana, and is armed up, ready to take on the Horde. Colonel “Depends” Hoffman maintains a COG stronghold with his bad-ass dread-locked silver-fox wife. The latest Carmine … well, I’ll let you see for yourself. There are more characters than ever before in this game, which really fleshed out Sera as a world to me. There was even a distinction between regions and cultures through some characters, and a return to the Stranded keeps it all so flavorful and even a little trashy. The pièce de résistance, for me, would have to be my newest girl-crush Sam; Baird’s feisty foil. Did I leave someone out?

 

Nope. Don’t think so.

The Epic team is not through playing with mechanics. The roadie run is smooth and speedy, and neither bullet nor cover’s corner will impede you. Aside from a few other house-cleaning additions, some new firearms challenge you to pay attention to the physics of the weapon, and no two weapons fire or work the same. My favorite tweak involved picking up Locust weaponry. The active reload mechanic becomes inverted, making  your rival’s weapon truly an alien piece of  machinery.

Oh, yeah. These are pretty cool too.

The level design has taken a great turn. The first two levels connect to one another, stacked like Pulp Fiction vignettes; at first they seem unrelated, and then it all comes together. Another mission sees our heroes in a city that was the focal point of a Hammer of Dawn attack early in the war. The town is dusted in ash, reminiscent of a haunted house, complete with its ghosts; the people caught in the blast, turned to ashen statues reduce to dusty piles at the faintest touch. There is an excellent horde attack on Colonel Hoffman’s COG bastion that pits you and your team against an all-out Horde assault, only to be interrupted by an incredible “aw shit” moment. The environments are excellent; more colorful this go around, more detailed than ever before. Sera comes to life, and you really get a sense that this alien planet is through posing as an Earth knock-off. It’s like they’re practicing for an MMO or something.

 

/please!?

There was one aspect of this third installment I was not looking forward to: the Lambent. One small nudge and they’d be the new “Flood”, a concept that always seemed cool on paper when it came to playing the Halo games, but in practice made me OD on my own pathetic tears as I snapped my 5th controller in half.

Fuck right off.

However, Gears of War 3 pulls off the Lambent, showing the player a new depth of “we’re fucked” when it comes to dealing with the Horde. They come with weaknesses to be exploited, and strengths to be avoided. The player is challenged to re-think their strategy, and even develop a few more tricks, such as exploding Lambent next to other Lambent. It’s like a fleshy 4th of July!

 

“Shit! This is what you guys have been doing when I’m not out here? Deuces!” – xoxo Anya

Now, when it comes to multiplayer, I’m a stick in the mud. My idea of multiplayer has always been about going to a friend’s house with your controller, where the price of admission is a couple of Cokes and a promise to go in on pizza. I do understand our current multiplayer hooplah is about connecting us with other players all over the world, blah blah blah, but I’m old fashioned, and I’ve noticed most of that time that “connection” is spent trying to ban an infamous de-leveller known only as HempNHoller420, or yelling at Chinese gamer prodigies taking a break from playing all Rock Band peripherals to indulge in some headshots. That being said, I actually do like the multiplayer in Gears of War 3. The maps are excellent, bringing the combat into closer quarters, with an improved UI that keeps players up to date as they scramble to be the next “King of the Hill”. My favorite had to be “Beast”, which puts the player in the Horde’s shoes. It’s awesome; you play the Locusts, you squish humans, everyone goes home happy. Especially, if they get to play a Ticker.

 

See? That’s me in the front.

For those new to the franchise, I recommend checking out the original trailer for Gears of War before firing up the first game, keep your Kryll pimphand strong in RAAM’s Shadow, check out the trailer for Gears of War 2, and then drop yourself into that installment. Of the three games, it may be the weaker, but that doesn’t make it a waste of time. The last stretch of the game is worth it, and really kick-starts the mood for the third game. The fix doesn’t have to end there.

 Far from it.

Gears of War 3

Replayability 1

Design 2

Story 2

Sound 1

Gameplay & Mechanics 2

Total: 8 heroes’ journeys out of 10

Epic kicks the franchise back into gear, taking the risk to really focus on plot in their third installment of their successful series. New mechanics and beasties keep the player on their toes, and multiplayer provides hours of fun once the battle is done. The world and its inhabitants see remarkable improvement from the previous two games, the world of Sera is defined enough to inspire a little awe in even the hardest soldier.

Stay tuned for the dish inspired by the game!

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The Saboteur: Shepherd’s Pie au Gratin

In honor of culture smorgasboard The Saboteur, the French and Irish mix, mingle, and defeat Nazis in this tres bizarre take on the classic Shepherd’s Pie. That’s right, I’m bringing fusion cooking up in here. I was joined by a very special guest “sous” for this post.

OurMommyWar 🙂

That’s right, my mom dropped by! After a trip to the Marietta Square’s farmer’s market, mom and I whipped up some champagne mojitos and tackled this recipe together. By the way, we used a mojito mix from Mo’ Mint. Check them out!

Since it’s a bit of a monster, let’s get started. I’ve never made Shepherd’s Pie, so I turned to one of my favorite sources of inspiration: Alton Brown. If you would like to try your hand at a more classic rendition of this recipe, you can find Alton Brown’s complete version here.

Until then?

Shepherd’s Pie au Gratin

Hardware: Mandolin (optional, I just like it for the potatoes), 11″x7″ baking dish, micro-plane grater (if you are going to use a nutmeg seed), saute pan, and stock pot.

Mandolin!

Filling

(Potato au Gratin will follow)

  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbls. all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsps. tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsps. freshly chopped rosemary leaves
  • 1 tsp. freshly chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen English peas

Preheat your oven to 400(F).

Place the canola oil into the saute pan and set over medium high heat. Give the oil some time to heat up, and then add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine.

Add the lamb, salt and pepper. Brown and cook the lamb through, and then sprinkle with the flour. Stir that around to combine. This will soak up a lot of fat that the lamb will sweat out.

After about a minute, add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine.

Might I recommend the fresh stuff?

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover the deliciousness and let that simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Add the corn and peas, and spread the whole shabang into the baking dish.

Set aside.

Potato au Gratin Topping

  • 1 tsp. unsalted butter
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tsps. salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg
  • 3 lbs. white or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 8 oz. Gruyere, grated

Place the cream in the stock pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Add the salt, pepper, thyme, and nutmeg, and stir well. Add the potatoes, adding more cream if necessary to completely cover the potatoes. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost fork tender

Remove from the heat.

Filling and Topping

Using a slotted spoon, transfer 1/3 of the potatoes with some of the cream to the prepared dish of Shepherd’s pie filling, forming an even layer across the top of the lamb mixture. A lot of cream still carries over with the potatoes, so the slotted spoon helped me control how much cream got into the overall dish.

Top with 1/3 of the cheese, and continue layering the potatoes and cheese, ending with cheese on top.

Before!

Roast the dish for about 30 minutes, or until everything is golden brown and bubbly.

After! (Also, promise the next recipe will not be "casserole style" of kitchen fu.)

Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving. I served mine with a small dash of Worcestershire on the plate. I really liked Alton’s use of the stuff, and the edible garnish just looked nice to me, too.

Yep. Time for a new camera.

Get ready to bare your teeth for the next review!

Posted in The Pies | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s coming…

This one was some kind of fun monster. It’s worth the wait! Also got a great batch of games and gourmet coming up. Welcome to autumn, bitches!

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The Saboteur

I remember one night when a friend of mine was the last clone in his squad on Star Wars: Battlefront. We skipped seeing a movie and were instead beholden to his Spartan-like struggle against the enemy. Sure, drinking was heavily involved, but I like to think the experience would have been appreciated just as much if we were sober, too. Destroy All Humans and Mercenaries was incredibly fun, and brought some cool takes to the world-destruction genre that Rockstar had cornered for years. Okay, so that being said, I am really bummed out that I have to give a review like this to a treasured studio’s swan swong.

Because I could not stand The Saboteur.

The game is set in World War II, and you play Sean Devlin, a sneering Irish race-car driver on a revenge path laden with death wishes and whiskey. He is after Dierker, a high-ranking Nazi official who tortured and killed Sean’s bucket-seat buddy, Jules. On his road to vengeance, Sean is unwillingly recruited into the French Resistance, which he supports and observes with about as much enthusiasm and begrudged quipping as Statler and Waldorf watching “The Muppet Show”.

"There goes the neighborhood." "Can we go with it?" Ohhh-hohoho!

For the most part, the design is cool, and plunges the player into the black-and-white world of Nazi occupied Paris. Every time Sean completes a significant mission that delivers part of Paris back to the Resistance, color is restored to that area. It is a neat effect, if not a bit hokey, and the first time I saw it I thought someone had opened the arc of the covenant. I covered my eyes, and subsequently ran my snazzy buggy into a wall.

Not a wall in sight. Perfect!

The controls, actually, are at their best when you are driving in this game. And ya know, the cars are more unique than most of the characters, which does not bode well for, oh, character arcs in the long run. Anyway, each one demands a certain touch on the controls, and reflect the weight, design, and abilities of the car being deftly maneuvered and muscled for rank.

Fuel burning fast on an empty tank!

However, step outside the car, and the controls mess with you. Not the best button layout, but you do get used to it. This is if you can get through the unresolved bugs and denied feature requests that could not be totally addressed as Pandemic started closing its doors. The resulting finish for the game is rushed and rough on the gamer.

So, all bugs and unable-to-save-during-missions aside, I still have trouble with this game. I do understand that Sean Devlin is based off a real figure that was very involved with the French Resistance, but I sooooort of wanted to see a French person in the French Resistance game? Sorry, I’m being unkind. What I mean to say is… I wanted to see more than three French people in the French Resistance game.  Everyone else was Irish, Scottish, British, German (duh), Italian, African, or Spanish.

I couldn't find a good example picture of multiculturalism, so I went with this. I also liked Pandemic's censoring decision here.

I know all of these nationalities were involved in some way with World War II, but I really would have been interested to see the culture of the French in the French Resistance. I was bummed out by the clumsy batch of ethnocentric jokes and Sean Devlin’s brand of likening things to vessels for his dick. Usually, these sort of things don’t bum me out, but this game could never really decide if it wanted to be cheeky with moments of drama, or dramatic with moments of cheeky, it just sort of waffled.

"I've got some warm topping for your Belgian pastry right here!"

There were some ideas and elements that did come together, though, aside from the whole bringing rainbows back to the land of Nazi corn-holed Paris. Driving your getaway car into a mob of French freedom fighters, only to tear ass out of that vehicle to stand with them against your Nazi pursuers was engaging and incredibly fun. The races you can compete in are a rush, and infiltrating Nazi bases did tease the stealth nut in me.

But elements like sloppy highlights indicating where you can climb, and Nazis with super-sensory perception of how much you reek of “final solution” just dragged things down for me. Surely, the voice acting helped cope with – surely, it did not! Wow, that was rough. Wow. I could not get on board with that either. In a game where everyone uses accents the way most people use your mother, I clung to my in-game car radio to take me away.  And god…. DAMN if I had to go back to Santos of Mexico-Spain one more time for transit papers I was gonna choke a bitch.

Guest Caption: "Listen 'ere, Santos, thar's more transit papers in this damn game than thar is sabotage, and the name of the game ain't... "Transit Papers". Visit Andy at http://www.thehollywoodprojects.com.

Pandemic produced some really fun games back in the day, games I would be more than happy to throw on right now, but The Saboteur is just not one of them in my book. Games can be multiple things to multiple people, but this game never quite hits that sweet spot for me. There are great ideas mulling around in the concept, but it never quite comes to life. When a studio shuts down, it can be a slow death or an abrupt end, sometimes even a slow death that leads to an abrupt end. Regardless, it’s always depressing, and it’s sad that Pandemic didn’t have the time to get this game where it needed to be.

Replayability 0

Design 1

Story 1

Sound 1

Gameplay & Mechanics 1

Total: 4 transit papers out of 10

For all its prettiness, the story is a touch flat, and drags. Shoddy voice acting is eclipsed by a decent sound track. Fun driving mechanics spin circles around an otherwise shot control scheme. The Saboteur pulses with potential embers that never quite sparked for me. Pandemic, you deserved more than the time you got to give us this game, and we miss you.

Posted in The Pixels | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment