Wednesday, April 12

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland | Audiobook

Come away with Alice down the rabbit-hole for a grand adventure! Narrated by yours truly, this
 classic story is one of my favorite books of all time, so of course I had to share it with you.

 Alice's Adventures in Wonderland | Audiobook | Chapter I - Down the Rabbit-Hole

For more information, please read the YouTube info box.



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

Monday, April 3

Metroid Prime Hunters

YO DAWG I HERD YOU LIKE SIDE QUESTS.

Many extensive games in the adventure genre have what has become known as the "side quest". The Metroid series takes a different approach by incorporating one that encompasses an entire game: Metroid Prime Hunters. Interestingly enough, Hunters is considered an aside in the Prime series, which is itself considered an aside in the overall Metroid timeline; a side quest within a side quest. Whoa.

All jokes aside, this chapter actually does qualify as quite the detour for Samus, as it takes our heroine to a completely different galaxy, to quash a menace unrelated to our favorite infamous galactic horde. What havoc will they be harvesting? Please tune in next time!

Hunters is notable for a few reasons, including being the first 3D handheld game in the series, the first to introduce other bounty hunters as prominent (and playable) figures, and is the first time the player traverses the vacuum of space to help Samus complete her mission. This is also the only time in the entire story line where the series' traditional puzzle element of collecting or recovering signature abilities has been altered; instead, the only significant acquisition for the power suit this time is the selection of six weapons wielded by the other hunters. Presumably, this was done to accommodate the (now discontinued) online multiplayer mode, which would be unfavorably affected by the possibility of a square-one Samus facing fully equipped adversaries.

Favoring action far more than exploration and puzzle solving, the game has only minimal depth in story: it's just enough to rationalize the collection of weapons for use during multiplayer, and to maintain some curiosity about the ending. The time was certainly taken to develop the game with intent, but considering how the Prime experience has established itself, Hunters feels shallower, mainly an effective way to demonstrate the unique and versatile capabilities of the Nintendo DS. Despite its attractive attributes, there are a few deficiencies that directly detract from the experience, including errors in the map system, jumping input issues, and occasional hand fatigue during intense action.

Again, this title is primarily a multiplayer experience, with a solo adventure to contribute some replay value and provide an avenue to unlock weapons and maps for use in said versus play. Because that single player mode was so basic, we completed the game with the lowest statistics so far in our marathon; furthermore, those recorded stats are indeed more befitting the interests of frag-fest titles. We cleared this mission in 12hrs, 47min; collected 88% of items; died 12 times; defeated a total of 73 guardians and rival hunters; and emerged from the final battle in 24min, 55sec.

Claudia was happy to see the pre-rendered cut scenes in Hunters and their creative presentation across the dual screens, but feels that storytelling is treated like a side note in the series, which is a critical point for her. After having not played for so long before this marathon and hence gaining a fresh perspective on the series as I share them with her, I must agree that (with the current exception of Zero Mission) most Metroid games leave the primary portion of story to be found in the manuals. This retro methodology may have been an ideal solution when hardware limited what could be conveyed during play, but today those limitations are gone, so that same approach can simply disrupt or even prevent the potential for a deeper connection between player and game. Please rest assured though, m'Love: more narrative missions await us.


So here are my thoughts about the game:

Pros

- Nintendo is a leader of gaming innovation, and so too with the DS came types of controls that were previously impossible in handheld gaming. The touchscreen is a brilliant example of this, and anyone familiar with first-person perspective titles on PC will be instantly familiar with the perfect combination of both speed and accuracy absent in console first-person dual-stick controller interfaces.

- The pre-rendered cut scenes are cleverly presented across the dual screens using independent and even merging camera angles, and are a first for the series. They provide a flavorful way to segue game events.

- Effective color usage was something that was immediately apparent for Claudia. She noted consistency between the interfaces and environments, which she also mentioned during Metroid Prime: colors help communicate in any presentation. Furthermore, each of the other hunters has a distinct color, making them readily identifiable.

- As of this review, Hunters is the second and last Metroid game released where portals have been utilized. These devices provide crucial shortcuts back to Samus' gunship: this is the only place players may save their progress this time.


Cons

- Despite the aforementioned innovations in controls, Hunters does have one significant problem: depending on the version of DS hardware and hand size of each player, there exist varying possibilities of fatigue during long intervals of intense gameplay.

- Another minor shortcoming of the DS is its relatively low screen resolution. The number of pixels is perfectly suitable for virtually all the games developed for the device; however, for applications like Hunters, it can be problematic because the screens have fewer pixels with which to display high detail textures on the polygons of the game models. The resulting visuals can at times increase the difficulty of identifying objects in the distance and at certain angles.

- Timed escapes are a tradition in the Metroid series, much to Claudia's chagrin. Being a veteran myself, I've certainly grown accustomed to them, and have even discarded the stress that I once associated with those precarious scenarios. These things considered, what surprised me was the challenge encountered during those moments in Hunters: discovering that the portals mentioned earlier had been deactivated was predictable for such an ordeal, but errors in the map system presented the majority of problems.

- Maps have been a vital, industry-influencing asset since Super Metroid, so to have Hunters possess the map errors it does is surprising and certainly disappointing. The most notable problem occurs in certain locations, where the marker indicating Samus' position and orientation is incorrect: there was most likely a mistake in marker programming or map modeling. The reasons are irrelevant, but this made navigation a chore, despite the situation. Amusingly, there was even at least one instance of a small room missing completely, with the same "topological view unavailable" message displayed, as is the case during certain boss battles.

- The amount of work put into the development of any form of entertainment is something that we highly appreciate, so when we see that assets are recycled by simply changing colors or behavior patterns, it can arouse suspicions that development was forcibly rushed or even lazily completed without concern for quality. Unfortunately, this was something that spanned this entire experience. There were very few unique creatures, and most mechanism obstacles were presented with version numbers that simply indicated the weapon with which they were equipped. The largest instances of this issue were the bosses guarding the Octoliths, which had a grand total of two different models, and were presented in four different versions for each.


Despite its faults, Metroid Prime Hunters is an experience I was happy to share with my Truelove. Now that this aside has shared its details of Samus' story, we are relieved to return to our own galaxy and get back on track.

Happy gaming,
- Aaron -

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.

Jojoba Oil Benefits - 10 Amazing Ways To Use It | CLAUDIASUTTON.blogspot: Health and Lifestyle