Monday, March 20

Beauty and the Beast

I had such mixed feelings when I heard that Disney was remaking this. At first I was completely ecstatic, especially when I heard that Emma Watson was playing Belle. Unfortunately though, the more I saw, the more uncomfortable I became with the look of the adaptation.

For, you see, the original Beauty and Beast is so dear to me. Disney has shaped my life. Whether that's good or bad doesn't matter, but it is true. Most people can relate to this, having grown up with these stories in one way or another, so I wasn't sure if the new movie was going to make me happy or not. I hadn't seen any of the new live-action remakes, so I wasn't sure if I wanted to. After a while I even started nitpicking about stuff, and I wasn't sure if it was going to do my memories any justice.

Oh, but it did, and it exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds! I was actually quite surprised by how quickly I took to this film. The tale was beautifully retold, wonderfully executed in 3D, and was unique enough to be its own thing. It brought me so much joy and I'm absolutely elated now.

It's funny how cinema has so much power over us. That's actually one of the reasons that I am apposed to seeing much violence on screen, or in any form of media for that matter. I have become so sensitive to it, and I'm not interested in partaking any longer. I believe that we create our world, so it's up to the individual to take responsibility. Beauty and the Beast represents that to me, and was such a refreshing departure from the norm. Sure, there was tension and drama, but for the most part this PG film was such a wonderfully fanciful experience.

When I met Aaron years ago, I told him that I wanted adventure in the great wide somewhere. Those lyrics became his vow, and we decided to spend our lives together happily ever after. Life imitates art after all, and the other way around. So, if the classic version holds a special place in your heart, like it does mine, then go see this masterful rendition. I'm sure just as I did, you'll love it all the same.

Happy movie watching.
~Claudia

Monday, March 6

DIY Beauty: Deep Conditioning Dry Hair with Oil

Winter has almost come to a close, but what better way to pamper hair than with a deep conditioning oil treatment. It's always best to apply your oil (coconut, jojoba, or olive oil) to dry hair, because it soaks in better compared to damp follicles that are already filled with water. I like to do this right after I've oiled my body. When I'm done, I gently massage the leftover oil on my hands into the ends of my hair. It's the perfect amount of oil, and over time your hair will become noticeably softer and silkier.

Cheers and here's to happy, healthy living.
~Claudia

Wednesday, March 1

Metroid Prime

The first door has been opened.

With the perfect introduction completed, Claudia and I traveled to the planet Tallon IV, where we followed Samus Aran on her continuing mission to thwart the Space Pirates' endeavors of dominating the galaxy....

The first of the series to be in first-person perspective, Metroid Prime is a radical departure from the series' traditional gameplay, and it certainly garnered an appropriate amount of attention for that. The 3D environments are immersive, and place the player deeply within the peril of the Space Pirates and the mystery of the Chozo. The conventions that are familiar to veterans translate perfectly in the extra dimension, but while that newfound depth may make for longer adventures than are typical for the series, it is exactly that encouragement of exploration which forms the core of what makes Metroid one of my absolute favorite franchises.

I've chosen to share the series with my Truelove in chronological order, so we come to this chapter second, as it immediately follows the events of the first game. Metroid: Zero Mission has significant improvements over the original, such as illustrative story scenes, so I felt starting with that version would be the best experience for her. In fact, Metroid as a whole was completely unknown to Claudia until seeing Samus in Super Smash Bros.: Melee, so I've been absolutely excited to share this part of my life with her and guide her through all the mysterious details. She had seen material from Prime when it was released, but never personally had the chance to play until now. With that opportunity fulfilled after 14:12 of play time, we can now reflect upon our achievement of 97% with fond memories.

For the Prime games, I will be writing specifically on the Metroid Prime Trilogy versions, as I chose to keep the compilation primarily for the notable adoption of the excellent Wii Remote motion controls that were pioneered in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. That review will be written at the appropriate time, but suffice it to say now that those controls are most assuredly the best I've ever experienced in a first-person game, and is the essence of what makes Trilogy so impressive.

From the beginning of its debut, Metroid Prime astounded me as all the details abounded. Particles impact geometry, such as raindrops on Samus' arm cannon or the projectiles of her weaponry. Certain environmental phenomena that visibly contact Samus' visor are present throughout the game. The different views her visor gives the adventure bring depth and mystery, as they reveal more of what the planet holds than might initially be thought. Gravity simulation was something completely new to me, so to see it being used in a game and in real-time forever changed the way I thought about controlling a sphere, or simply using it to give motion to any freefalling object. Finally having a 3-dimentional representation of Samus and everything so celebrated about the series was a visual treat. Hearing both adaptations of old favorite melodies like never before and beautiful fresh material was an aural treat.

Add to all these virtues what's been improved in Prime Trilogy, and a better understanding of my affinity for this series is a certainty.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Metroid goes 3D! The transition Metroid made to 3D has the same significance as when other games did the same: simple platform navigation has become world exploration, realizing what once may have only been a player's imaginative extrapolation of elements, such as backgrounds, in 2D games.

- Textures, both static and animated, expertly maximize the aesthetics of the low-polygon game models of the time. Physics simulation gives realistic movements to objects, while particle effects bestow life to the environment with details like raindrops.

- Starting with art that shines is always important in game development, and the Prime team at Retro Studios was top-notch. Unlocking the art galleries gives access to the ideas being considered for this masterpiece, regardless of how many ideas might have been implemented. One prevalent design element used throughout the game is the blue-orange compliment color palette: it not only sets the mood at various times, but provides the game with continuity, which is important in storytelling.

- Everything excellent about the map in Super Metroid has returned and has been expanded. Some might recall the area map comprised of hexagon tiles that would display when resuming a file in Super Metroid: this has been included as an active function of the map in the Prime series.

- The beam weaponry system was a clever use of the Gamecube controller, and has been elegantly adapted for the Wii Remote. Speed and simplicity are the virtues of an intuitive, effective control scheme. The individual beams do not stack together as was the case in Super Metroid, but this makes sense for the "beam combos" within the Prime games.

- Just as with the beams, the Wii Remote was given a perfect system for interchanging between what's needed. The very concept of the visors is another radical enhancement for the series, and gaming as a whole: to see the field in such starkly different ways, to solve puzzles and gain the advantage over enemies, changed the fundamentals of what play I thought was possible.

- My preferences for enjoying favorites for longer periods of time finds a welcoming abode in Metroid Prime. Customarily, quick mission clear times are rewarded with the opportunity to meet Samus; however, for Prime, the percentage of items acquired is what determines the ending seen. This is certainly a welcome departure, because thoroughly exploring a 3-dimensional world requires more time than does a flat play field.

- The music in this game is amazing, and sharing its composer with Super Metroid makes that excellence an easy feat. There exist such nuances to the soundtrack, that only later while listening through my Sennheiser headphones were those intricacies revealed. Playing with HD headphones or with a deep, crisp surround system is absolutely recommended.

- Having the fortune of the first two games in the Trilogy being retrofitted with the controls of the last is the core of my determination to keep the compilation version of these games over their individual original releases. Intuitive control is a topic you'll see me discuss regarding every game I experience: being absolutely paramount (more so than visuals, music, or even story), the ability to fluidly interact with a game is as essential as our ability to sense and interact with this physical realm. Transparent controls help us truly experience our virtual adventures.


Cons

- Because of the more developed detail and realism a game of this caliber has over its classic 2D counterparts, what follows is also an increased violent nature in its action. Claudia was quick to voice her surprise with this situation, and we mutually shared how dreadful the deaths of some creatures and enemies could be at the arm of The Hunter, Samus Aran.

- Although Metroid Prime raised the bar for gaming in several ways, including at least those I've mentioned, during our time with the game there was the occasional moment or setting where its age was apparent. The conventions of the day certainly worked perfectly for some types of settings and creatures, but for those times where more organic visuals were appropriate, those softer details were lost in the hard, low-polygon geometry.

-  Scanning objects and bioforms was an excellent mechanic and interactive way to tell the story of Metroid Prime, except for those amusing rarities when the computer within Samus' suit would provide incredibly apparent descriptions of what can be clearly gathered with our eyes. Granted, there's a desire to make games more accessible, but when it sacrifices a valid challenge to use one's own deductive abilities, what's lost is what makes an adventure series like Metroid so celebrated. The days of "Nintendo hard" can stay in the past, and we can still have a balanced, rewarding sci-fi adventure that's steeped in mystery.


During the many years between Super Metroid and Metroid Prime, I wondered how there could be nothing on the Nintendo 64, save for a most-appreciated inclusion of Samus in Super Smash Bros.; but eventually, the answer arrived with complete clarity in the form of Metroid Prime. Do acquire the opportunity to quench your own curiosity.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Wednesday, February 15

Working on Closed Captioning Our Videos


This is taking a little longer than we thought, so be patient with
us while we’re working, and we’ll be back soon.
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Content, editing, and compositing by Claudia Sutton.
Music composed by Alvin Muolic.

Thursday, February 2

Metroid: Zero Mission

It all begins here.

It's been a while, Zebes. These games have been a staple of vicarious action, adventure, and mystery for me throughout the years since my introduction to the series with the release of Metroid II on the original Game Boy; and because it was a vast departure from anything in my young gaming experience to that point, it instantly became a favorite. I was eager to play every chapter to come, and to this day the overall story still has me intrigued.

Before sharing this game with Claudia, I realized it'd been a few years since last playing it and that I'd forgotten some of the many secrets within the subterranean corridors of the planet. Revisiting this world was exciting for me, and my hope was that her first foray into the galaxy of Metroid would be as well. It turns out that it was, and she is excited to continue exploring this part of my life.

For the uninitiated, Metroid: Zero Mission retells and expands upon the events portrayed in the original Metroid on the NES, and completely overhauls the gameplay and art direction with the capabilities of the Game Boy Advance. This was significant to me for one critical reason: the gameplay in the 1986 classic was atrocious. The physics programming was brutal; regaining energy was a tedious, time-consuming task; the signature map system had to wait until 1993 to be born; and for some reason, Metroid (and Kid Icarus) missed out on the save feature that was introduced with The Legend of Zelda that same year… and all this was just for starters.

Had I been introduced to Metroid when it was still the only game in the series, my only choice would have been to adapt if I wanted to play. However, because I'd only made my first attempt with it many years after its debut, it felt more like a punishment than a challenge; hence, I've never finished it.

Zero Mission is a completely different creature. Thanks to the GBA hardware, the development staff recreated the beginning of this series as it may have initially been envisioned. Visually, only a few cues of the old classic remain within the brilliant new design. The music is re-orchestrated and supplemented, and the sound effects are fresh but familiar. The continuity of Samus' abilities is a peculiarity throughout the series because of the chapters chosen to be told on each successive platform, but this game does a great job of explaining how she first acquired the signature capabilities for which she is known.

Classic 2D platforming and shooting action at its best, Metroid: Zero Mission is an excellent introduction for anyone interested in the series, and is why I chose it for Claudia as well. She explained to me that her gaming expertise lies in other genres, so she was most appreciative to have my experience at her disposal. Puzzling obstacles requiring timing and precision await those seeking a 100% item collection rate and fast mission clear times for the customary chance of meeting the heroine inside the suit. For this particular session, our clear time was 7:19:20, and our collection rate was 88%, but I'm thankful the game saves the acquired gallery entries for later viewing, so Claudia still got the opportunity.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- The update is immense. Metroid: Zero Mission is a complete recreation of the original in every detail, and it's all for the best. Nintendo started an extraordinary, profound concept in this series, but a little time was needed before reaching its renown.

- The art direction is unique within the series: the high contrast motion-comic cut scenes give the story a style of its own. During gameplay, the pixel art is highly detailed, and the red terrain outlines help the action plane stand out from the atmospheric backgrounds.

- Perfect remixes of classic tunes, entirely new music, and masterful sound effects breathe life into everything on screen. Audio is a bigger factor in presentations of any sort than are the visuals, and this title delivers.

- Taking every advantage of the Game Boy Advance, the game adheres more to the conventions established in the innovative Super Metroid; thus providing intricate, yet intuitive control to the player.

- Storytelling during gameplay has become a bigger part of the series, thanks again to Super Metroid, wherein the transition from simple text narratives to animated cinematics began. Most story details can still be found in the manuals, but the inclusion of more elaborate theater helps immerse the player further.

- Gameplay is paramount for me, and is therefore more fundamental in determining the quality of a game than are its audio and visual properties. Zero Mission not only preserves what makes the series so outstanding, but refines and expands upon previous installments.


Cons

- Collecting some of the more valuable items like energy tanks requires some fairly over-the-top executions of skill by the player. Although I remembered the solution to some of these, multiple attempts (and plenty of patience) were necessary.

-  Not exactly a point of objection, but favorite experiences are awesome when they're longer. Understanding, however, that part of the quintessential Metroid experience involves the potential for short clear-times makes this list entry almost moot, as every 2D game in the series encourages and rewards swiftness.


Metroid is one of my absolute favorite game series, so naturally Zero Mission also comes with my utmost accolades and recommendations.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

Wednesday, February 1

LET'S Mingle: Living Life to the Fullest

Come, relax, and have a conversation with us. Let's Mingle!

 LET'S Mingle: Living Life to the Fullest

For more information, please read the YouTube info box.



Content, editing, and compositing by Aaron Rhyne Hendren and Claudia Sutton.
Music composed by Alvin Muolic.

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Please let us know what you think and if you have any questions feel free to ask.

♡ Aaron and Claudia

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