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  • Wendy's Says it Plans to Implement Surge Pricing in 2025

    Fast food giant Wendy’s plans to test out its own form of surge pricing in 2025, according to comments made by its CEO during the company’s February earnings call. "Beginning as early as 2025, we will begin testing more enhanced features like dynamic pricing,” Wendy’s CEO Kirk Tanner said on the call, according to Gizmodo. Tanner said the company plans to invest approximately $20 million in digital menus, with an additional $10 million “over the next two years to support digital menu board enhancements for the global system.” The digital menus will allow the company to change its prices easily at any time of day or night, depending on whatever arbitrary justification they feel allows for a “dynamic” shift in price. Tanner also said the company plans to move forward with “AI enabled menu changes and suggestive selling,” according to Nation’s Restaurant News. Wendy’s will also reportedly spend $55 million over the next two years to market its breakfast menu in the US and Canada. Thanks to rideshare behemoths like Uber and Lyft consumers have become forced to accept companies worming surge pricing into more parts of our lives. While price changes based on whims has been common in industries like travel and hospitality, with airlines charging more for tickets based on peak travel times and hotels charging more based on peak tourism numbers in an area, the practice is becoming increasingly common in other sectors. As if there isn’t enough price gouging already when it comes to concerts and sporting events, surge pricing dynamic pricing is becoming increasingly common when purchasing tickets. Changing prices based on vibes is a practice designed to extract as much wealth from both consumer and worker, especially when it comes to goods and services. We’ve already begrudgingly accepted that a Dave’s Single in New York City ($6.99) will be a couple bucks more than in other places like its flagship location in Dublin, Ohio ($5.49). Drivers pay more at the pump based on geographic location and time of year. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, 36 percent of toilet paper increased by 20 percent, and 11 percent at least doubled in price, with the highest price increase coming in at just under $80 ($30.95 to $109.99) for a 36 roll package. Wendy’s seems to believe that people will embrace and even celebrate the move. "We expect our digital menu boards will drive immediate benefits to order accuracy, improve crew experience, and [prompt] sales growth from upselling and consistent merchandising execution,” said Tanner. But the reason why surge pricing works for ride sharing or concert tickets is because a very small amount of companies have a near monopoly on the good or service. If you need a ride and are out of other options like public transit or cycling and can’t find a cab, Uber and Lyft are the only games in town. Almost every major tour sells through Ticketmaster. But in a good chunk of America, you can throw a rock in almost any direction and hit a car in a drive-thu. Many times, if there’s a Wendy’s, there’s also a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and probably a KFC or Taco Bell, not to mention any number of regional chains or independent owned fast food joints. Whether or not surge pricing will be the windfall the company’s executives hope it will be is up in the air, but the really unfortunate part for all of us is that if one of the fast food chains is toying with the idea, it probably means more of them are. Which means as we march bravely into the future, we need to be prepared for a sea of digital signs screaming ever changing prices in our faces that are most likely far too high for what they’re offering.

  • Analog Horror and the Rise of the Found Game Storytelling

    There have been two fascinating trends I’ve seen growing over the last couple of years. Analog horror in the Youtube space and the fake found game within the gaming sphere. While they can be separate, there is a tendency for overlap. It’s a new groundbreaking way to tell a story outside of the traditional pen/paper and film. These both use multi medium ARG’s (Alternate Reality Gaming) to tell an intricate story, create a mythos and develop something wholly new, but for those without this background knowledge, let me explain. Before we dig into the meat of this discussion, I’d also want to explain to you what an ARG is. This stands as the modern day scavenger hunt. Taking a series of dots and dashes seen in a Youtube video, and deciphering it in morse code to get a URL to a separate website with more puzzles to solve. These generally have a start and an end, but are usually community driven, as Reddit has become a popular place for people to convene and trade notes to progress the plot of the scavenger hunt. One of the more unknown mainstream ARGs was for the film Cloverfield, which had the community decoding and traveling sometimes in the real world, to get more story on the film before its release. These projects are massive undertakings but work as marketing tools in a lot of ways, leaving fans chomping at the bit. Now let’s talk about Analog Horror. The conceit of Analog Horror is using older technology, cryptic messages and late 20th century television style. Things like The Blair Witch Project. Not all analog horror is found footage, but the idea of camera scan lines, jump cuts, CRT static fuzz. There are dozens of different Analog Horror youtube series that are just clips of various cable access programs from the 90s but with hidden messages, secret URLs and an entire rabbit hole of codes to decipher leading you into a spooky tale of demonic invasions or serial killers coming through your TV. The level of polish and quality of these videos are fascinating because they are created out of love for storytelling. Watching clips of Local 58’s channel, you would be hard pressed to think that these weren’t anything but 90’s news briefings when really they are warnings about the moon watching us waiting to strike. I’ve never been one to join in on any active ARG’s but I can’t help but be in awe of it all. Watching explainer videos on The Mandela Catalogue, Don’t Huge Me I’m Scared or The Walten Files have been my late night ritual for a few years now. The stories are great, but the real appeal is  understanding the minds that are running numbers through decoders, or audio signals through spectrograms. Polybius ciphers are lost on me and digging into website HTML code never clicked in my brain but the fans persevere. Similarly, Found Game Storytelling, is another form of Analog Horror, but the old tech used is Videogames. Games like Amanda the Adventurer and Inscryption are promoted as long lost games of the NES and Floppy Disk era while Petscop, and Shipwrecked 64 are from the Nintendo 64 and Playstation 1 days. All seem fairly harmless but after a playthrough, the games all start to go off the rails in their own way. Amanda the Adventurer and Mr TomatoS both pose as edu-tainment styled learning games that when given incorrect answers, the characters in game react in extremely unnerving ways while Petscop’s backwards speech conversations and wall breaking gameplay can lead to mysterious graves. The newest in this trend, Shipwrecked 64, plays similarly to  Mario 64, where you are  Bucky Beaver trying to get his friends off an island full of bossy wolves. That seems simple enough as a premise, and traditionally the game can be completed in 30 minutes, the games in game description talks about its mysterious release and quick removal from store shelves. When failing quests, walking through walls and discovering hidden passcodes, a rivalry between a game publisher and developer is discovered. A sorted tale of suicide, murder and undead mascot monsters all lies underneath the surface for you. Also this year came Home Safety Hotline, a game of answering phone calls for a hotline service, giving people advice and services based on the pests they describe in their home. As you progress you find that the pests end up being more and more cryptids including hobs, slimes and mirror nymphs. It’s as mundane as it is surreal and leads to some very fun conversations, but it’s that shift from the humdrum to the supernatural that catches you off guard. What makes it Analog Horror is its use of the retro style Microsoft ‘95 interface to interact with the calls as well as its unassuming work-like appearance to hide something sinister. It’s the fake out that is common to the genre. I think that’s what makes these kinds of phenomena so bewitching to me. I love learning about niche cultures that lie just underneath the surface and that’s exactly what these games are. Face value means nothing, Analog Horror and the Found Game genre are the epitome of an iceberg. There’s a group of dedicated fans and creators, all working together to create and discover new stories to tell and new ways to tell them. Hell, there’s even a new ongoing series that’s neither Youtube nor Video Game but just a website that is an ARG all it’s own, with a rich unsettling lore inspired by Mr Rogers called Welcome Home. There’s just so much more to explore in this space as far as storytelling. All you have to do is just look a little deeper, I know I’ll continue to do so.

  •  WRATH: Aeon of Ruin Is Great but Unconventional for a Boomer Shooter

    I appreciate the fact that video games of all eras are being represented by contemporary developers. It’s no surprise that even tried and true formulas will be tweaked by modern developers mixing up the formula a bit. WRATH: Aeon of Ruin is an example of a game that has a great retro feel with some “why’d they do it?” tweaks the developer made to the formula that actually end up not entirely ruining the whole experience. WRATH: Aeon of Ruin is a first person retro style shooter in the vein of Quake or other fast-paced 3D shooters that came out of the mid to late 90’s. It's set in a vague afterlife type world with a flimsy story that sets up the most important part: gibbing lots of low poly enemies with extreme prejudice. As with any other “boomer shooter” movement is fast, and enemies are plenty. There are a good variety of different enemy types with behaviors that will make you stay moving. Unfortunately, the enemy types stay the same between the multiple different zones you’ll fight across. There also aren’t many boss encounters, which is a bummer. One of the most important parts of a first person shooter is the shooting, and WRATH: Aeon of Ruin does a great job, even if its selection of weapons is unconventional. I’m not unused to strange weapons in first person shooters. The '90s, in fact, were a time when developers were trying to come up with the most unconventional arms you can imagine. That tradition stays alive in this title, with weapons that fire teeth instead of bullets, or globs of explosive acid instead of conventional grenades. There are normal firearms like the shotgun, and the pistol. But every weapon has an alternate fire mode that makes them more interesting than just a normal gun. And let’s talk about that blade. The Outsider also has an arm blade that is absolutely one of the most fun things I’ve had the pleasure of using in a retro themed first person shooter. While most default melee weapons are boring or just useful as tools, the arm blade is a powerful weapon that gibs enemies and even works as a traversal tool. Instead of rocket jumping, you can blade jump after charging up your blade. It’s very cool. Fights take place in a variety of environments, both tight corridors and open arenas. While there are the normal traps with walls sliding away to reveal enemies and such, I can’t say that any of the levels were particularly clever. They were competently made, and had a flow that made it so I never quite felt like I lost my bearing. I never spent too much time wandering around looking for where to go. The biggest departure that WRATH: Aeon of Ruin takes from conventional retro styled shooters is the save system. Traditionally you are allowed to save as much as you want in these games. However, WRATH: Aeon of Ruin incorporates an item-based system. You can only save when you have a soul tether to expend, or if you come across a single-use shrine. Having limited saves is a bold move, as it feels antithetical to the boomer shooter style. It doesn’t really add much to the gameplay, beyond having a bit of extra stress, but I find it didn’t really detract too much, either. Enemy encounters can be difficult, however–and dying does have the potential to derail gameplay significantly. There are power-ups to employ that can help stave off death, and armor/health pick-ups scattered around the level so you never feel too starved of resources. WRATH: Aeon of Ruin feels great to play. It has great shooting, strange but good feeling weapons, and a nice variety of enemies. I do wish there were different enemies for the different zones you fight through, but the limited enemy types kind of fits with the theme. I do wish there was an option for a conventional save system, however. And lack of controller support is a strange decision, especially since WRATH: Aeon of Ruin is exactly like something I’d want to play on the Steam Deck. If you’re into boomer shooters, WRATH: Aeon of Ruin is a no-brainer. I’d even argue it was essential if it didn’t make strange design decisions. WRATH: Aeon of Ruin leaves Early Access tomorrow and will be available for PC via Steam.

  • Time is a Flat Circle: True Detective Gets Renewal for Season 5

    So Night Country won’t be the last season of True Detective afterall. Which isn’t really surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to the sheer amount of viewers that Night Country has attracted due to its controversies. Audiences don’t seem fooled, with Night Country’s fresh rating sitting around a rotten 58% as of this writing. However, critics were much more generous with the Issa López driven season, with the majority of critics giving it a 92 percent fresh rating on RottenTomatoes.com. I wish I could have watched the same show they did, because despite Night Country’s careful depiction of Native Alaskans, I didn’t find the portrayal particularly flattering for that group, and the story itself was a jumbled, illogical mess. The only thing saving the season was the great portrayals of Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) and Officer Carol Danvers (Jodie Foster) who really played the hell out of their roles. “From conception to release, Night Country has been the most beautiful collaboration and adventure of my entire creative life," López said. "HBO trusted my vision all the way, and the idea of bringing to life a new incarnation of True Detective with Casey, Francesca, and the whole team is a dream come true. I can’t wait to go again.” Pizzolatto, the show’s original creator, has taken to social media to create backlash against the show. Which, to me, is a baffling move bound to hurt his career more than anything else. And while there are a lot of fans and some critics that didn’t enjoy Night Country, there are some fans (and most critics) that did. Francesca Orsi, EVP, HBO Programming, Head of HBO Drama Series and Films had nothing but kind words to say about Night Country and its creator: “Issa López is that one-of-a-kind, rare talent that speaks directly to HBO’s creative spirit," she said. "She helmed True Detective: Night Country from start to finish, never once faltering from her own commendable vision, and inspiring us with her resilience both on the page and behind the camera. Alongside Jodie and Kali’s impeccable performances, she’s made this installation of the franchise a massive success, we are so lucky to have her as part of our family.” This controversy has definitely led to higher viewership for Night Country. Will this trend follow through the 5th season of True Detective? Or is it the curse of that show’s lead to only strike gold once? Only time will tell.

  • Notes from the Cinema: Madame Web

    I'll be honest, there was no way I was heading into Madame Web with an open mind and that kinda sucks. But it's not entirely on me. Sony have sculpted a very, VERY, bad superhero reputation after accidentally stumbling upon a good one in the 2000s. Spiderman and Spiderman 2 were fantastic movies that really let Sam Raimi go wild in creating his particular vision of Spider-man, that 60s nerd turned hero but somehow jettisoned into modern day, and made it work. But almost immediately after Spiderman 2, that gold started to tarnish. The Punisher is not the worst thing ever, but it's far from great. Nicolas Cage Ghost Rider? That's wholeheartedly in the so bad they're good spectrum. The rebooted Amazing Spider-man? So many great ideas overstuffed into two movies, making for an exhausting unfinished experience. For every Spider-man Into the Spiderverse there's Morbius and two Venoms. Pretty much literally. So instead of giving you an in depth review about how bad this movie is (and boy is it terrible) and how much I actively enjoyed watching it (I love this dumb movie), I'm going to give you my slightly abridged notes that I took while watching Madame Web in theatres. I've omitted any of my acting comments (just assume the actors were bored or confused throughout) and focused mostly on plot point so spoilers ahead. But if we're still being honest, it doesn't matter. I could rundown every bit of the movie and they way it actually happens on screen is so unbelievably silly that spoilers may improve it. Also here's the trailer for Madame Web, which after watching the movie I am incredibly confused as to what movie they thought they were advertising. This driving seems erratic for an emergency vehicle Is that supposed to be Ben Parker? Why can't you bend cardboard? Are they not allowed to mention Aunt May? Hey, Mike Epps! If this is Pespi product placement, why does she not want Pepsi? I would say all those names are pretty close to Peter... Wait are they not allowed to mention Peter Parker? These goofy future whispers don't work Is that a Spider-man S (spoilers its better (?)) This ADR or dubbing or completely replacing a characters voice is done REALLY badly. Like old martial arts movie badly. NO MIKE EPPS! Why is she watching a Christmas movie in the summer? FEET Spider-Person? FEET Is he switching in and out of that costume or are they all hallucinating? Wait, those are the only connections between all the characters? Just leaving the teens in the woods huh? The cat doesn't care about your embarrassment Madame Webb. OMG HER NECK I know it's a movie but they probably shouldn't have made the trek to the diner on foot be shorter than a car racing to it from the same spot, short cut or not. Hit more Evil Spider-Persons with cars Why are you returning to the scene of the crime? oh its a dream sequence but also a thing that actually happened because they are psychically connected? HOW ARE YOU LEAVING THE COUNTRY? YOU'RE WANTED FOR KIDNAPPING! Do the spiders slow aging? Didn't Mother Webb write anything about her unborn child's illness in her diary? or did you not read it Madame Webb? WHY BLOW UP THE BUILDING? WHY ARE YOU MAGIC? WHY IS THE "S" FROM A PEPSI SIGN? FIREWORKS ARE DANGEROUS ...Madame Webb is Batman but her wards' families are just assholes and not dead. But the high-tech wheelchair is giving Professor X vibes so maybe that's a more apt analogy. Much like the Fast and Furious series this movie is about FAMILY

  • Howl is a Tight Turn-Based Strategy Game with a Melancholy Atmosphere

    2023 was packed full of great video games, so it makes sense if you missed a few. I know I did–I’m still playing catch-up. That means I missed some great games, and Howl is definitely one of them. A delightful hand drawn surprise, more people should be talking about this game. Howl is a turn-based tactics game that is set in a hand drawn fantasy world. You play as a deaf protagonist making her way across a world beset by a “howling” plague–one that turns all who hear it into ferocious beasts. You’re not a trained warrior, but you’re not exactly helpless either, as you have your crossbow, wits, a hell of a strong push and a few other tricks that you’ll pick up along the way. Howl is extremely tight little game, with most of the chaff removed and the meat being a neat hand drawn experience that even manages to eke out some poignancy through its moody music and dramatic voice overs. It also has a sleepy, casual quality to it–but it doesn’t skimp on the challenge. She only has three arrows at a time, so you have to plan your encounters wisely. Two hits and you’re dead, so you can’t suffer too much damage. If you take too many moves to complete a level you exceed “prophecy” you'll receive a lower score based on how much over prophecy you went. It’s best to stay within the prophecy, since you get more points that way to spend on upgrades. There is an assist mode that can be turned on to make some of your tasks easier. While Howl is technically a tactics game, it’s such a tight game it can be argued that it’s a puzzle game foremost. There aren’t many tactical decisions you can make since the margin of error is so low. There was usually room for me to find a more optimal solution, and that was through trial and error. I may not have been playing “correctly” but I found myself playing each level a few times so I can see how the enemies react and respond accordingly. There isn’t much hand holding, so I found myself experimenting with abilities before I locked in my optimal run. Different enemies have different behavior. At first you’ll encounter wolves that can attack adjacent spaces only, but soon you’ll be encountering fiercer beasts that can attack from a distance, while running into scenarios where you have to meet a certain goal–like protecting innocent bystanders. Upgrades are bought with points you earn through level completion. The better you do, the more upgrade points you  have. This is a bit of a novel concept, as I don't remember explicitly running across a system that uses the star rating you earned for the level for currency you use to upgrade your abilities. However, this also gives those who are already apt to do better an advantage over those who may be struggling Its story is told in voice over narration. Unfortunately, for a game touting to be “folklore” there is little lore here. What you read on the tin is pretty much what you get, with the story boiling down to “the prophecy says go here and stop wolves.” I do enjoy its art style, but the hand drawn animated roguelike/turn-based game is pretty commonplace at this point. Howl is an underrated game from a year full of great games. If you’re looking for a tight puzzle-like turn-based tactics game that is close in play style to games like Into the Breach, Howl is a safe bet. It is, however, a game that sits on the shorter end of the time scale–I was able to get through it in about six hours. But because it’s puzzle adjacent, your mileage may vary. Howl is available now for PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store, for Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series S|X and PlayStation 5.

  • Journalist Charged with Crimes for Leaking Unaired Fox Footage

    A Florida journalist and media consultant was arrested and charged with more than a dozen federal crimes on Thursday morning. Tim Burke, who formerly worked for outlets such as Deadspin and the Daily Beast and currently runs Burke Communications, a media and political consulting company, has been charged with seven counts of intercepting or disclosing wire, oral or electronic communications, six counts of accessing a protected computer without authorization, and one count of conspiracy. According to Rolling Stone, the charges stem from an FBI investigation on how unaired video clips from Tucker Carlson Tonight made it to Vice News and Media Matters. The clips included an antisemetic rant by Kanye West and Tucker being really creepy with staff on his since canceled show, among other things. Carlson, who frequently promoted fascist conspiracy theories, racist, sexist, and homophobic views, and generally awful and terrible things, was dropped suddenly from the network in 2023. The leaks embarrassed and caused chaos over at Fox News, who “full on freaked out” over the Kanye clips. According to The Tampa Bay Times, Burke’s Home was raided by the FBI last year in May. A letter obtained by the Times between a federal prosecutor and Fox News confirmed an “ongoing criminal probe into alleged computer hacks” at the cable news giant. Agents took Burke’s phone, computer, and hard drives in the raid, which reportedly took 10 hours. Lynn Hurtak, Burke’s wife and a Tampa Bay City Council member, said in a statement “I am confident in my husband’s innocence, and I support him completely.” Burke’s lawyers maintain that the raid violated the law and Burke’s activities are constitutionally protected. “It’s not hacking, it’s just good investigative journalism,” Michael Maddux told the Times. “We obviously emphatically deny these charges and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to defend him and exonerate him.” In an August interview with the Columbia Journalism Review, Mark Rasch, another one of Burke’s lawyers, explained how his client obtained the footage: Fox, like many other broadcasters, are livestreaming continuously to many different entities—to their affiliates, and so on—and these live feeds are in high definition and encrypted. But at the same time, they are also broadcasting low-definition, unencrypted feeds. They’re internet addressable, with no user ID and password required. All you need to know is the URL. There are third-party sites that transmit these live feeds as a service. They have password-protected websites. And in this case, somebody on the internet provided Tim with the publicly posted user ID and password for a demo account on one of these services that are used by broadcasters. So Tim logs in to the site, and the site automatically downloads to his computer a list of all the livestreams on the site. The important thing to note here is that those livestreams did not require a user ID and password to access them, just a URL. The fact that Burke didn’t do any kind of “hacking,” but merely accessed already available footage of powerful people being shitty and passing it along to news outlets, shows that despite all of their braying about “free speech,” the right isn’t actually interested in it, but the opposite. The fact that the government is going through charging Burke with crimes will have a chilling effect on both free speech and journalism during a time where both of those things - and democracy itself - are under attack from fascists. Just as troubling is the federal government’s assertion that Burke was apparently not doing journalism when he shared the leaks because he wasn’t working for a news outlet at the time. Burke, as both a freelance journalist and a human being, doesn’t need to wear a fedora and a flashbulb camera around his neck or be the host of a show with millions of viewers in order to be able to do journalism. A January statement from the American Civil Liberties Union agrees. “One does not need to work full-time as a journalist in order to engage in protected journalism,” the ACLU wrote, adding that the law “protects anyone ‘with a purpose to disseminate’ information to the public, regardless of whether their own byline is attached.” “It's quite common for journalists — including freelancers, producers, researchers, editors, news services and consultants — to provide research and documents for stories they do not themselves write, or even provide written copy without receiving a byline. That does not deprive them of constitutional protection. Courts have rightly warned against limiting the First Amendment’s press clause to established media.” There are countless bullshit traffickers who sit behind comically large microphones screaming fascist nonsense all day. These are people who are literally making shit up which has resulted in people getting killed. They’re also free to do so without being arrested and charged with crimes, though sometimes they get sued into oblivion. That Burke is being prosecuted for his actions amounts to the federal government doing the bidding of Fox News. A legal fund has been set up for Burke.

  • Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor Is a Combination of Two of my Favorite Things

    I’m a sucker for Vampire Survivors style casual games, and since I’m already a huge fan of Deep Rock Galactic, a game that meshes those two things up sounded like a great combination. And it is. Like peanut butter and chocolate, Deep Rock Galactic Survivor is a great blend of two of my favorite things. Sometimes when you mash up two great things like this, they don't turn out well. Deep Rock Galactic Survivor ends up being an exception. It adds just enough variation on the Vampire Survivor formula to keep it interesting. When you drop into each stage your task is to survive until the next, or until you finish all five stages by killing the dreadnought. Each stage has secondary objectives to complete, like collecting morkite or apoca blooms. There is also gold and nitra to collect on each stage, both of which you can spend on upgrades between stages. Gold is a little more useful, though, as it allows you to reroll upgrades when you level up, and you can spend it to replenish health between levels. There are four different classes to choose from. Each of these classes has 3 subclasses you can eventually unlock. Each of these subclasses has different strengths and weaknesses. You can play as the scout, the gunner, and the engineer.  Each of which unlock as you play the game. The classes aren’t exactly how you remember them. Not only do some characters share weapons between them, characters like the driller do stuff their Deep Rock Galactic equivalent can’t do like place turrets. Sadly, some of what makes Deep Rock Galactic great is lost in Survivor. Most notably the traversal methods aren’t even attempted here, except for the driller’s drill arms. I would have loved to see the Scout get a grapple to get him away quickly–or maybe even the ability to jump over obstacles. Similarly, the Engineer could have had a platform gun that blocked enemies or something similar. Instead we get nothing at all. Unlike a lot of other Vampire Survivor style games, Deep Rock Galactic Survivor has a bit more to do than just survive. Each level has a side objective–like mining morkite or collecting Apoca blooms. These are required to finish the level, however. All you need to do is survive and kill bugs–which goes hand-in-hand for Survivor as there are never ending waves of bugs coming for you. You have to mine gold and nitra for upgrades during your run–but there are also other minerals like Jadiz, Enor Pearls, etc. that you use to upgrade your character between runs. It’s a lot like how Deep Rock Galactic handles things. I mean, that’s okay, it’s just notably different. Lore-wise, it hilariously adds more questions than answers. Which is totally apropos for Deep Rock Galactic, which left us with lingering questions about mini-mules, alien eggs, error cubes and Karl himself. I’m honestly just okay with how inconsistent everything is, because there’s some consistency in that. For an Early Access game Deep Rock Galactic Survivor is pretty well polished. I’ve already spent about a dozen hours and I’m losing time on other games I should be playing because I’m obsessed. Developer Funday Games plans to keep Survivor in Early Access for 6-12 months–and I can’t wait to see how it improves. Rock and stone!

  • True Detective: Night Country Final Review

    True Detective’s fourth season is done, and man: what a disappointment. I’d say Night Country is probably the biggest disappointment after season 2 failed to live up to what made the first season so excellent. But boy did new showrunner, writer, and director Issa Lopez try. Not only did she try to capture the crushing nihilism of the first season, she went back to the bleak philosophical navel gazing that made Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle so fascinating. I can’t say she exactly succeeded, but it was an interesting attempt–even despite the original showrunner Nic Pizzolatto reveling in the bad press the fourth season has been getting. I had high hopes for Night Country based on the first glimpses and promos we got. Jodie Foster is taking the reins in an investigator's role. And man, does the Alaskan setting have potential. I was expecting heaping spoonfuls of nihilism served up with a confounding mystery–and we got that. The Tsalal Research station is empty with only a severed tongue left behind. Something obviously strange is happening, and by the end of the first episode the frozen mass of corpses confirmed that it was going to be a confounding mystery. But the only confounding element turned out to be odd character choices, nonsensical plot developments, and a mystery that was intriguing at first. Except Issa Lopez failed to stick the landing in a catastrophic way. Let’s make this shit into a sandwich, because while Night Country does some great stuff, it is logically unsound. The stuff I was initially excited for worked out: it had a great setting it utilized well. The cinematography was great, and the atmosphere was thick–dark and with the feeling that danger lurked in the dark. Even the supernatural elements had a bit of an ambiguity to them that I could initially look over–and when I couldn’t, I learned to accept. Spoilers Follow! First of all, there were some great characters. Also, the atmosphere at times absolutely oozed dread. There were some genuinely great beats, like when the frozen bodies of the Tsalal researchers were being excavated. And while the season was uneven, episode 5 was the high water mark and I actually started to change my mind about the series after seeing it. But the lack of urgency around the central mystery, and the logical lapses  were ultimately too much for me to enjoy the season. I’m sure there are explanations why the ice cave was blocked from the wrong side, or the fact that Navarro’s sister’s body was found by the coast guard, identified, and her next of kin notified all within a couple of hours. I mean, I guess her ghost could have pointed them in the right direction. However, the show’s lack of investigation around Tsalal Research station–you know, presumably where part of the crime took place–seemed ridiculous by the end of the show. Even the supposed remote ice caves they were investigating had to be adjacent to Tsalal research station. The lack of logic there is really mind boggling. And while I didn’t exactly hate the concept of who the killers turned out to be, there was lots around the reveal that I found to be anywhere from ridiculous to downright infuriating. I mean, as Jake from Brooklyn 99 said “cool motive, still murder.” I mean, the fucking cleaning ladies doing it could have been brilliant, but the landing was so flubbed it makes the whole concept laughable. I wasn’t thrilled about how it was revealed, either. With terrible acting by our murderers who were wearing a wry smile on their face the entire time. I mean, you could forgive them because they made all of these men out to be absolute monsters–again, something that I highly doubt would have happened. I mean, unless they really believed that they were sacrificing this single woman to save the entire world. Or something. And despite the mine CEO seemingly having a deeper connection in episode 5, all of those threads are ignored for that silly final reveal. Absolutely wasted potential. But it wasn’t all bad. There were some good characters, even if Issa Lopez did her best to write them like we’re not supposed to like them. But that’s okay because they’re flawed, and they were buoyed by fantastic performances by Jodie Foster and Kali Reis. The people themselves were terrible, but the writing and portrayals were great. True Detective Night Country is destined to be known as bad TV–and rightfully so. It wasn’t the worst, but it very well might be the end of True Detective. At this point, I’d be okay with that. Time is a flat circle, everything we’ve done or will do will be done over and over again–and fuck me if I’m forced to watch this show all over again someday.

  • Surprise Sequel Slave Zero X Is the Wrong Nostalgia, and a Bit Flawed

    I don’t think I would have ever had “sequel to 1999’s third person mech game Slave Zero” on my radar. But if I did, I definitely wouldn’t have guessed that it would have been a side scrolling beat’em up style fighting game. Slave Zero X has you play as Sho, who takes a biomecha called X on a rampage against the oppressive government. It’s over the top, with a premise that reminds me of Ghostrunner. It’s done in a Sega arcade style, aping a time when bigger characters meant better graphics. But while Slave Zero X has its heart in the right place, it doesn’t manage to be very good. First of all, I have to complain about its visual style. While I’m a huge fan of retro games, and I even like those games that came around in the infancy of 3D. However, Slave Zero X is just an ugly game with a confused, incoherent art style. There was an attempt to blend 2D sprites with 3D low poly backgrounds. And while that doesn’t sound terrible in theory, the execution in Slave Zero X is abysmal. It almost feels like the sprites and the backgrounds are from two different games. Scrolling through the “2.5D” space looks awkward most of the time–like you’re playing with paper dolls. That isn’t to mention how the 2.5D aspect doesn’t lend anything at all to the gameplay. There are a few filters you can slap on to make Slave Zero X look a little better. But these filters are at the cost of in-game currency that you can use to enhance your character. It might just be a personal preference, but I don’t think you should have to choose between optimizing your character and choosing the visual style you prefer. The best part of Slave Zero X is its gameplay, and even that has its issues. I really appreciate the combo-based fighting game style. There are a number of moves you can pull off by using different combinations of movement and strong/light attacks. Fighting feels okay, even if the character movement feels sluggish. But that sluggish feeling fits right in with the old school Sega arcade style feel. However, there are no I-frames when you get hit–which means there is potential for you to be juggled around the screen. Especially when you have to fight large groups of enemies at once. If you mess up once, it could mean you could be juggled until you die. Thankfully, there’s a way to spend energy to break out of these combos, but it’s just annoying to deal with. Another issue with the gameplay is that it's a little too unrelenting. There are few meaningful moments of respite even to just enjoy the world in which Slave Zero X is set. Because its world is pretty well realized and amusing, even if its not exactly novel. But I also found that I was getting literal hand cramps from its gameplay–and I’m someone who plays a lot of video games. And I realized that its aping a style the Sega arcade style of game, and most of those are over in about an hour–far shorter than Slave Zero X’s 6ish hours of gameplay. Still, Slave Zero X just didn’t work for me. Its interesting blend of 2D and 3D graphics doesn’t work because the art style is so ugly. It does have compelling beat ‘em up style gameplay, but there isn’t enough variation to keep me interested enough to want to keep playing. It’s a shame, because there is a lot of potential in Slave Zero X, but it’s just not a fun game. Slave Zero X is available now for PC via Steam and on Xbox Series S|X, and PlayStation 4/ PlayStation 5.

  • Review: Sarah Jarosz & The Ballroom Thieves Gave Thalia Hall Some Much Needed Love

    Last week Thalia Hall was treated to a wonderful pre-Valentines Day gift. Amidst all the love in the air, Sarah Jarosz and The Ballroom Thieves graced the Pilsen venue's stage for an evening of incredible music highlighted by some fantastic performances. The Ballroom Thieves  started off things off with a magnificent set that truly set things up perfectly. The duo of Calin Peters and Martin Earley stood at the center of the Thalia Hall, facing each other throughout, and delivered gorgeousness renditions of their songs. The pair shared vocal duties throughout, jumping from beautiful harmonizing to tender solo verses, always playing so well off each other. "In the Morning" was an obvious standout in there set as they trades off lines and left the everyone in awe of their tender performance. There was no time to waste as Sarah Jarosz and her band made their way to the stage and jumped into their set. Fresh off her latest album Polaroid Lovers, Jarosz made sure to dedicate a hefty amount of the setlist to it; just shy of playing the entire new album live. But that's alright since most of the set was stuffed with exquisite songs. Opening track "Jealous Moon" found itself in the same spot for the live crowd, ramping up the night with heartbreak song. But this was a night all about love and as the next song "When The Lights Go Out" serenaded the crowd with endless thoughts of falling completely in love. There were plenty of older songs at play too. "Green Lights" saw the stage light switch form the warm tones of the night to the green hues to match the song. The gentle love of "Build Me Up From Bones" had the crowd completely entranced by Jarosz's pristine voice. The emotionally heavy "Morning" hit all the right notes. She explained that all the songs off Blue Heron Suite are meant to played together, to evoke all the feelings she was experiencing during her mother's cancer diagnosis and the memories of her youth flooding in. But that didn't stop her from somehow synthesizing all that into "Morning", letting it overflow with it's beauty. One of the biggest highlights of the evening came late into the set as Jarosz stepped to the age of the stage, leaving her guitar behind and performing with only her mic in hand. A familiar groove emanated from the band, slowly building to let Jarosz absolutely blow everyone's mind with a cover of Massive Attack's "Teardrop" The song is so iconic at this point having been covered endlessly and being the theme song to shows like House, but it safe for me to say that this may be the new acme of the song for me. Jarosz's voice was immaculate and the track fits snugly in her set, showing off her vocal range as eloquently as possible. The covers didn't end there as she gave Thalia Hall a little treat in her encore with Bob Dylan's "Ring them Bells". Jarosz and the band really gave it there all for this one, taking there time with great track. She ushered the appreciate crowd off with "Mezcal and Lime" a self assured love song that is perfect for warmer nights. But Jarosz made it work regardless of the temps outside. With lines like "You intoxicate me like mezcal and lime", you couldn't help but feel the love in the room. All photos by Julian Ramirez This post was originally published at Third Coast Review.

  • Record Store Day 2024: First Impressions

    Ah Record Store Day. To some it's a day to celebrate the vinyl music hobby where special limited edition copies of records are released. It's a day where you camp out and hopefully talk to some like minded music fans and wax poetic about what release is you're hoping to score. For others is a corporate money grab where unneeded represses flood shops that are barely hanging on and add to the FOMO culture that is unfortunately inherent in the collection game. But like a little girl in the old El Paso commercial once said: por qué no los dos? Record Store Day (RSD) is as nuanced as my own thoughts on collecting in general (I hate capitalism but love me some kickbacks), but at the end of the day I try my best to only get what I can afford, support my favorite record shops, and share my love for music pressed on vinyl as much as I can. This year's list is interesting. I'm usually of the opinion that if there is at least one thing I really want, it's a good list. I think too many people tend to want a huge lineup of their favorite niche albums ready to pick up on that fateful 3rd Saturday of April. But vinyl collecting is already a niche hobby and expecting that super rare, impossible to acquire private press record from the 70s to get a repressing is well, silly. The same goes for those lamenting the records that don't "deserve" a repress. While I agree they are clogging up the vinyl pressing lines with their less than desirable chaff, it's silly and honestly elitist to just disregard them. That being said, there are always a few confounding releases (which I'll touch on in another post). Here I'm taking a moment to share my wish-list and maybe even direct people to some gems on this years RSD. Although if I'm honest, this first of many RSD posts is my personal list of release that called to me on first glance. I'm sure that some releases that a skimmed over will end up ranking higher that these, but for now these are the ones I'll be searching out on RSD. Various Artists - Lost In Translation Deluxe Edition This is definitely one of the more conflicted picks in my list. This at one point was a very sought after RSD release. One that was snapped up quickly upon its release and remained so until a repress came a few years later. Now I'm not opposed to represses especially if they are in a different color (in this case the RSD was maroon and the regular release was plain black). But it does feel weird to see it back on the list, even if it is a hefty upgrade with an extra two sides of music from the film and kitschy karaoke versions. Ugh. But those extra songs, supervised by one of my favorites Brian Reitzel, really do make it a worthy addition to the list. Son Lux - Stranger Forms I'm a huge fan of Son Lux, dating back to their early days on Bloomington Indiana label Joyful Noise. The trio of Rafiq Bhatia, Ian Chang, and Ryan Lott released Bones in 2015, their first together as a group as Son Lux was mainly Lott's project previous. This release is a great little collection of re-imagined and expanded tracks from that era of the band, and much like last year's Alternate Forms, gives fans a deeper look at the incredible group. As a Son Lux completionist, this is a must get. Team Sleep - Team Sleep Team Sleep came out at a time where my music habits were finally being cemented. I was listening to everything and anything I could get my hands on on the pre streaming days. Algorithms weren't dictating things just yet and music blogs/forums were my guides. And despite that wealth of information, I had no idea that Team Sleep was a side project of Deftones' Chino Moreno. If anything I was drawn to the album by the album cover and was hooked by the incredible jams on the album. It didn't take too long (but definitely longer than I care to admit) for the Deftones connections to hit, but this is a perfect example of an RSD release: never pressed to vinyl, getting a cool color release, and featuring extra tracks with Mary Timony (!) and Mike Patton (!!!). Parliament - Osmium Ok, I know that when it comes to Parliament records, people want those first or early pressing that all sound like liquid gold being poured straight into your ears (this analogy got away from me). But unless you're willing to shell out hundreds, that's not really an option. This is the first US press since the original (there are foreign presses but those are dubious at best and the alternative titled Rhenium isn't the same), so this is a great opportunity to get the iconic group's debut on vinyl Dean & Britta - L'Avventura (Deluxe Edition) This is another conflicted one. Years I ago, while Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips were on tour with Luna, I saw that they had listed vinyl copies of their debut album L'Avventura on their website. The album only ever had a single pressing and it was hard to come buy even then, so I grabbed a copy. It's a favorite of mine, standing it's own to the duo's stuff in Luna and Wareham's Galaxie 500 output. So, while I do own a copy, this deluxe edition comes with an additional disc of material that's never been pressed on vinyl. I'm not a variant collector and I rarely double dip. When I do, I tend to give my old copy to a friend or sell it, but this is one of the rare instances (four off the top of my head) where I'll keep both copies because this album is fantastic.

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