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by AJ Ramirez

18 Sep 2009

The reaction to rapper Kanye West’s interruption of singer Taylor Swift’s MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech had snowballed in interesting ways. Even the President of the United States has called West a “jackass” for taking away Swift’s microphone to praise Beyonce Knowles’ “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” video. Scores of celebrities have criticized his behavior, largely on Twitter. Meanwhile, a whole Internet meme has sprung up around West’s recent behavior. NME.com has assembled a gallery featuring choice samples of Photoshopped images where West inappropriately interrupts several pop culture figures (my personal favorite is the one where he interrupts Super Mario 64). Hell, when I checked Facebook the other day, I noticed a new quiz titled “Where will Kanye interrupt you?”

Now, it’s quite clear to anyone with a basic grasp of manners that West was indeed acting like a jackass, and he quite rightly has since apologized for the incident. Additionally, West’s behavior is a surprise to no one familiar with the rapper. West has become well-known for his attention-grabbing remarks over the years, ranging from stating “George Bush hates black people” during a 2005 benefit concert to support Hurricane Katrina victims, to exclaiming he was “done” with MTV after not winning a single award at the 2007 Video Music Awards, to repeated exaltation of his own genius. Still, this event has exploded into a cultural phenomenon because it illustrates how ridiculous West’s acts of idiocracy have become, and how much of it people will tolerate. You would think he’d stop acting like an idiot by now, but no, there he goes again. And do we really have to put up with this?

by Timothy Gabriele

18 Sep 2009

I’m usually not one to say this type of thing, but don’t The Cure own those chords?  Listen and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

by Nick Dinicola

18 Sep 2009

Last week I wrote that the perceived difficulty of a game is less affected by the individual challenges that make up said game than it is the ramp-up in difficulty and other elements surrounding those individual challenges. Essentially, punishing games can be fun. For all the negative connotations of the word, it more describes a very demanding style of gameplay than a level of difficulty. Punishing the player while keeping him entertained is a tough balancing act, but Trials HD strikes that balance: A brutally punishing game that does everything it can to remove the frustration from the punishment.

Trials HD is part puzzler and part racer. Set on a 2D plane, the player rides a motorcycle through an obstacle course, racing against the clock. The earlier courses focus more on speed and timing, while the later courses present the player with insane obstacles that require some creative thinking in order to pass. Every course demands practice and patience. For example: A beginner’s course is just filled with ramps, but simply holding down the gas will not get you a gold metal. Counter to many arcade-style racers, which Trials HD seems to be at first, you must learn when to slow down in order to gain momentum.

Forgiving Checkpoints

There are many, many, checkpoints in each course, nearly one after every obstacle. If you go off a ramp, you can bet there’s a checkpoint on the other side. This ensures that the only challenge players are ever concerned with is the one directly in front of them. It’s always frustrating, in any game, when we fail a challenge and must then replay the build-up to that challenge; having to slog through that same build-up over and over again turns playing the game into actual punishment, as in an unwanted consequence for failure. Trails HD realizes this and never forces the player to replay large sections of a level. Once an obstacle is overcome, it can be forgotten, and the player can focus all his attention on what’s next.

Retrying Is Easy

There’s also a “quick-load” feature that allows players to reload from the last checkpoint with the press of a button. If you miss a jump or go off at the wrong angle, you don’t have to wait to crash before you get the option to retry. You can just press a button to get back on the bike immediately. Having to watch the same death/failure scene over and over is annoying, especially when the death/failure scene lasts longer than the actual time spent playing. Trials HD makes it as easy as possible to retry after failing.

Variety

Variety is important in warding off potential frustration, and Trials HD has a surprising amount of variety considering how everything in the game revolves around motorcycles and obstacles. The main game is split into five levels of difficulty ranging from Beginner to Extreme. Naturally, as the player completes the courses in one difficulty level, they unlock the next, but players don’t have to finish every course in order to advance, just a majority of them. So if one level proves to be too hard, we can skip it and still be able to advance. There’s never a single obstacle preventing the player from progressing.

Then there are the Skill Games, a collection of seemingly random mini-games that offer the player a break from the main mode. They range from seeing how long you can stay balanced on top of or inside a ball, to how far you can ride up an ever-steepening slope. Some of the skill games (like the one in which you try to break as many bones as possible in a single fall, or the one where you try to fling the rider as far as possible) provide a cathartic release of any anger garnered in the main game. But for all their fun, they also teach the player valuable skills necessary to pass some of the later courses, such as balance, keeping momentum, and (especially) climbing. So even as we take a break from the main courses, the game is helping and preparing us for more.

Trials HD panders to the player in every way except lowing the difficulty. While playing other punishing games, it can sometimes feel like the game is giving itself an unfair advantage in order to up the difficulty, which can anger players and convince them to quit. But in Trials HD, it feels like the game is helping us, urging us on despite its merciless courses. We’re not actually competing against the game; the courses serve as an arena in which we compete against ourselves and our friends for the best time. The game does urge us on by offering medals, but sometimes it’s satisfying enough just to be at the top of you Friends List, even if you only have a silver medal. Competing in such passive, inanimate courses means that any mistake is clearly our fault. If we can’t get up a steep ramp, it’s not because the game is steadily increasing the incline, it’s because we’re not hitting the gas at the right time. The only person we can ever fault is ourselves. That’s what makes Trails HD punishing in all the right ways.

by Tommy Marx

18 Sep 2009

Sometimes, three really is the lucky charm.

Despite being the daughter of a musical legend, Rosanne Cash’s first album wasn’t even released in the United States. Three of the tracks from her second album became hits on country radio, but none of them cracked the Top Ten. Then the firstborn daughter of Johnny and Vivian Cash released the title single from her third album, Seven Year Ache, and a major career began.

“There’s plenty of dives to be someone you’re not,” Rosanne sang, “you say you’re looking for something you might’ve forgot. Don’t bother calling to say you’re leaving alone, ‘cause there’s a fool on every corner when you’re trying to get home.”

by Sarah Zupko

18 Sep 2009

Buddy Miller at the 2008 Americana Music Festival [Photo: Sarah Zupko]

PopMatters perennial favorite Buddy Miller swept last night’s Americana Music Association Awards at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville for his recent duet album with wife Julie Miller. Written in Chalk is indeed one of the finest albums of the year in any genre. In the clip below, Miller discusses the making of the acclaimed album, which also features collaborations with Robert Plant, Emmylou Harris, and Patty Griffin. Miller also won Artist of the Year and Duo/Group of the Year. Full list of winners after the jump.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

'Fire Emblem Heroes' Is a Bad Crossover

// Moving Pixels

"Fire Emblem Heroes desperately and shamelessly wants to monetize our love for these characters, yet it has no idea why we came to love them in the first place.

READ the article