I’ll Take You There: Why Mavis Staples is the New It Girl

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It wasn’t until I heard Mavis Staples’ unapologetic purr on Arcade Fire’s newest single “I Give You Power” that I found myself wondering who this mystery woman was. As it turns out, her role in the music world isn’t really that big of a mystery—a realization that made me feel like a bit of a cultural illiterate. After schooling myself a bit on Staples’ musical history, I also learned that she’d be appearing on the new album by Gorillaz, which then led me to wonder why these alt-rock luminaries were so eager to collaborate with her at this particular moment in time. After a bit of contemplation, I remembered Johnny Cash and his alt-rock revival a few years before his death. He revitalized the scene at a time when music somehow needed him, and I believe Mavis Staples has come forth with a similar mission.

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Johnny Cash – cool uncle to thousands of angsty teens

When Johnny Cash covered “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails, it created a strange quantum bridge between old school country music and contemporary angsty pop-metal. In working with Rick Rubin and American Recordings, the legendary country musician suddenly shared a label with the likes of System of a Down, Slayer, Danzig and Lords of Acid. While this was indeed an outcome that no one could have predicted, there was something about the last few albums that Johnny Cash recorded that felt at home with the more nihilistic members of American’s roster.

What’s interesting about of Cash’s Hot Topic-friendly fame is that it came as a result of his own musical interests. He approached Chris Cornell and Soundgarden about covering “Rusty Cage” in 1996, and he also approached Trent Reznor about covering “Hurt”—Reznor was initially worried that the request was some kind of gimmick—but his take on both of those songs introduced Cash to a whole new audience that he would fascinate during the final years of his life.

So what was it about Johnny Cash’s concluding years that made him so endearing to the cynical Gen Xers of the 1990s? Why did fans of Marilyn Manson’s Antichrist Superstar find themselves listening to an artist whose devout Christianity led him to appear in the 1973 film The Gospel Road: A Story of Jesus? The long answer has to do with Cash’s musical instincts, some expert use of the music video format, a bit of borrowed nostalgia and a lot of legitimately great music. The short answer? It was a sign of the times.

In many ways, the late 90’s and early 2000’s saw the last battleground between angry, conservative culture Nazis and musicians who built their careers on shock value. When artists like Marilyn Manson and Eminem started to rise in popularity, the sad remnants of the Parents Music Resource Center once again took up arms against the forces of evil that were running rampant across the radio waves. With groups of angry moms blaming heavy metal music for everything from teenage pregnancy to the Columbine Massacre, Johnny Cash arrived like a badass uncle that bought beer for you and your friends. I remember being a teenager during this controversial time period, and let me tell you—watching this rough-lookin’ bastard in a black duster ride up and start covering Nine Inch Nails gave all of us angsty teenagers an unexpected upper hand in our fight for the right to party.

It’s been almost a decade since the release of Cash’s last album, and it’s starting to feel like gospel legend Mavis Staples is stepping up to fill the void that the Man in Black left us with. Staples is a powerhouse in her own right, boasting a music career that began in the early 1940’s when she was singing with her father and two siblings as part of the Staple Singers. Since then, she’s had one hell of a musical career.

Prince Staples

Mavis Staples and Prince

During the 1960’s, the Staple Singers became mainstays in the Civil Rights Movement, appearing at several rallies and gaining a following that included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Right around this same time, Mavis Staples had the honor of refusing Bob Dylan’s hand in marriage—“I told him I was too young,” Staples recalls in an interview with The Boston Globe. Staples also enjoyed a longtime friendship and collaboration with Prince, who she considered family. As if her career as a civil rights activist, her refusal of a marriage proposal from Bob Dylan, and her role as the surrogate mother of one of the PMRC’s “Filthy Fifteen” wasn’t badass enough, Staples has never stopped making music. With a resume like that, it’s starting to become clearer as to why some of today’s most respected artists are clamoring to collaborate with her.

Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy produced her Grammy-award winning 2010 album You Are Not Alone. M. Ward gathered up a list of heavy-hitting songwriters that include Justin Vernon, Neko Case and Nick Cave for 2016’s Livin’ on a High Note. Oh, and have you heard Staples ripping it up with Pusha T and Gorillaz on “Let Me Out”? Fan-fucking-tastic.

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Staples with Arcade Fire’s Win Butler

With a roster of collaborators that could easily headline any Coachella Festival, Staples has started to generate some considerable, college radio street cred—much like Johnny Cash’s experience with the goths and metalheads of the late 90’s. Again, these collaborations are a result of the fact that Staples has remained a prolific and respected musician in her own right, but the cultural underpinnings of her indie-rock appropriation are too massive to overlook.

Johnny Cash’s presence in the late 90’s music scene was like that of a surrogate father to those who perhaps grew up too fast or read too much Palahniuk and realized that their dreams probably weren’t going to come true. Despite that glaring cynicism, something about Cash’s music made it easier to accept a reality that had been built on the dashed hopes and broken dreams of the younger generation.

With her history as a civil rights activist and the seemingly unconditional love that Staples seems to have for everyone who has influenced her life, her presence in today’s music scene appears like a beacon of optimism and positivity in a world that is nearly crippled with xenophobia and self-congratulatory ignorance.

I suppose it just goes to show that, most of the time, we really don’t know what we’re doing until someone older, wiser and more talented shows up to dust us off and whisper the comforting words, I’ll take you there.

 

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A Week With the Wolves

Skolas doesn't play very nice.

Skolas doesn’t play very nice.

So it’s been one week since Destiny‘s newest expansion “The House of Wolves” hit the galaxy, and I have to say that it’s a big step in the right direction. We were given a set of story missions that told an actual story (and a pretty decent one, at that), we were given two new gaming modes that offer new and engaging ways to snatch up the latest loot, and, overall, we were given a glimpse at Destiny‘s true destiny.

The Story

I don’t think I’m alone in my criticism of Destiny‘s patchwork of a story. At launch, we didn’t have much reason to zip around the galaxy slaughtering hostile aliens. When “The Dark Below” came out, the story involving the detached Eris Morn and her unsuccessful encounter with Crota had its own set of problems (sure, I’ll destroy this crystal that houses Crota’s soul. That should do the trick. Whaaaa? He got out? And now we have to kill his body too? Drag.)

The story behind “The House of Wolves” involves a fanatical Fallen leader named Skolas who is on an idealistic quest to unite the individual Fallen houses under his banner. I think my favorite thing about this story is that it’s not focused on the Traveler or Guardians–it’s just a simple case of stopping a tyrant before he gets too powerful. The story only gets more interesting as you delve into the history behind the House of Wolves. According to the Destiny Grimoire, The Queen of the Reef led an assault on the House of Wolves, killed their kell, and took control of their house. As the story isn’t extremely fleshed out, it’s easy to see Skolas’s uprising as a kind of redemption story. In the scheme of Destiny‘s rogues gallery, the Fallen have always seemed like a race of scattered rejects who have turned to piracy and guerilla tactics to survive. Skolas’s attempt to unite the Fallen houses after his own house has been enslaved by the Queen could be seen as the actions of a zealot with a god complex, but they could also be seen as the actions of a revolutionary hero.

Petra Venj & Variks the Loyal

         Petra Venj & Variks the Loyal

The story mode also introduces a bunch of new characters and vendors through opening up the Reef to Guardians. The two most prominent characters, Petra Venj and Variks the Loyal, inject a refreshing dose of personality into the story missions. Venj’s enthusiasm about being back on the battlefield is contagious, and Variks is an enigma all to himself. He’s endearing because of his weird, Fallen mannerisms, but at the end of the day, he’s turned on his own kind to help those who would see them kept under a boot. Plus, I harbor animosity towards him for his challenges in….

The Prison of Elders

There was a nice buildup to this terrible place during the Winter’s Run strike on Venus–it’s where that damned Aksor, Archon Priest was held captive. In “House of Wolves,” players team up to face increasingly difficult waves of enemies for fortune and glory. It kind of reminds me of the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3. As the enemies get tougher, Variks also throws some objectives like disarming mines or eliminating priority targets. While it isn’t quite as fun as the ME3 stuff, it’s still a nice addition to the quest for shiny loot that makes Destiny so addictive. I also like how the challenges in Prison of Elders change every week–that damn Cabal encounter on level 32 was a bi-itch.

Other Stuff

“The House of Wolves” also fixes a problem that many people have had with the weekly strikes. From now on, the Nightfall and Weekly Strikes are different! No more do we have to play the same strike six times every week! It’s amazing how much that little change makes me more psyched to tackle them weeklies.

I haven’t played through any of the Trials of Osiris–I’m relatively new to Crucible, so the intense, 3v3 combat in Trials scares the hell out of me right now. As soon as I get my nerve, I’m going to hit this pretty hard.

Verdict

I remember being upset that there wasn’t going to be a new raid included with “House of Wolves,” but it more than makes up for it by expanding the sheer amount of stuff to go and do in Destiny. I find myself more interested in the Queen’s bounties, and feel like the world of Destiny has expanded quite a bit.

My one big gripe is the rarity of Etheric Light, a new resource required to level up previous armor and weapons. Example! Last night, I knocked out all three Nightfall strikes hoping for at least one drop. Instead, I got two Ice Breakers (first world problems). I’m going to have to prioritize the level 34 Prison of Elders–I hear you’re guaranteed one every week from there.

Anywho, “House of Wolves” appears to have fixed a lot of things that were causing Destiny to sour for myself and many others. It’s hopefully a precursor to what the game can become, and it’s nice to see that Bungie seems to be listening to the feedback of its fans.

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$5 Chicken and Waffles = The Best Thing About Thursday Night

photo by Yelp! user Vivian F.

photo by Yelp! user Vivian Y.

Thursday is the eternal bridesmaid of the modern work week. Sure, she’s nice to hang out with after that Wednesday bitch breaks your heart, but you can’t change the fact that Thursday knows you’re just waiting around for a chance to hook up with Friday. It’s been a tough row to hoe, but I think Thursday’s ship has finally come in.

For those along the Wasatch Front that genuinely love breakfast, Pig & A Jelly Jar has probably come up on your radar. It’s been cranking out Southern comfort food and Pabst Blue Ribbon in the Liberty Park area for enough time to make it into a staple of our humble food scene. As I don’t often get the opportunity to eat there during breakfast/brunch hours, I was thrilled to learn that the Pig offers five-dollar chicken and waffles on Thursday nights. From 3 pm to 9 pm, diners can swing by for a decent helping of the restaurant’s signature chicken and waffles for a great price.

The Pig’s chicken waffles are straight up, unassuming goodness. They do a great job of preparing their chicken so it’s not dry when it comes to you, and the waffles are the right balance of crispy and chewy. There is a wide variety of hot sauce available for those who like a little spicy with their sweet and salty, and it truly is a beast of a portion for just five bucks.

While chicken and waffles isn’t the only dish that is being served–their regular menu items are up for grabs as well–there’s something special about taking Thursday by the hand and saying, “Don’t worry about Friday, pretty lady. You’re chicken and waffles night, and can’t nobody take that away from you. Now let’s go home and watch Scandal.”

Pig & a Jelly Jar on Urbanspoon

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Ten Great Superhero Food Scenes

While I’ve never saved a city (or most of a city, even), I can totally relate to the idea of snagging a post-credits shawarma after fending off an intergalactic invasion. Observe:

There’s something satisfying about the way the Avengers solemnly dine on their Middle-Eastern comfort food as they reflect upon their major victory. The scene illustrates an important truth about eating (a truth that even superheroes recognize): Food tastes better after accomplishing something mighty. Since The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now upon us, I thought we could celebrate by taking a look at some of the best food-related scenes from superhero movie history.

Dinner With Vicki Vale; Batman (1989): Traditionally, wealthy bachelors who can split a tree in half with a roundhouse kick don’t have too much trouble with the ladies–which is why this scene is so great. It’s one of the few moments that we get to see Bruce Wayne have the same awkward first date that we’ve all experienced. This was also a good opportunity for Tim Burton to own his rendition of Mr. Wayne. In this scene, we can see how Wayne isn’t really comfortable with the opulent surroundings of his dining room because he’s more concerned with punching drug dealers in the face.

Never Pay Full Price For Late Pizza; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990): Since pizza is an integral part of the TMNT mythos, it makes sense that one of the more existential conversations of the film takes place while Michelangelo and Donatello are waiting for their pizza to arrive. We get a good glimpse of both characters’ personalities here–Donatello is looking to have a serious conversation with Mikey, who in turn can’t stop thinking about the money he’ll save since the pizza guy is late. I’m actually with Michelangelo on this one. Don’t talk to me about the uncertainty of the future when there’s pizza on the way. Also, why don’t pizza places offer this deal anymore? Figure that one out, Nietzsche.

Eggs in a Basket; V For Vendetta (2005): Pretty much all we know about V at this point is that he likes to put knives into people and blow up political administration buildings. So, it’s a nice contrast to see him grilling up a delicious-looking breakfast for Evey after a night of vigilantism. Seeing the burns on V’s hands during this scene is also the first glimpse we get at his violent backstory. It’s nice to see a well-rounded superhero; one that cooks as well as he trashes the minions of an oppressive government.

That Quicksilver Scene, X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014): The only thing I want to write here is that the X-Men Quicksilver is way cooler than the Avengers Quicksilver. No offense.

Randy’s Donuts, Iron Man 2 (2010): After achieving superhero status, everything is a spectacle. No longer do you eat your donuts over the dirty dishes in your sink like the rest of us (or maybe that’s just me). You now eat your donuts while sitting inside a donut. The scene is a cool nod to Randy’s Donuts, which is an iconic piece of L.A.’s culinary landscape, but it also provides a serious turning point for the film. Up until this point Tony Stark has been mopey and self-destructive, but it’s here at Randy’s that Nick Fury and Black Widow give him the kick in the ass that he needs to discover a new element and all that crap.

Another!; Thor (2011): It doesn’t matter who you are, you’ve always wanted to do this after drinking your morning cup of coffee.

Vegan Police; Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010): It turns out that all one really needs in order to defeat a powerful vegan bassist is some well placed half and half. It’s a tough call, but I think Todd Ingram was my favorite evil ex. Also, great cameoes by Tom Jane and Clifton Collins, Jr.

She’s About to Eat a Cat!, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008): One thing I’ve always respected about Hellboy is that he has a soft spot for kitties. Here he doesn’t hesitate to blow his team’s cover so he can stop a pudgy demon in a baglady disguise from eating a cat.

Gut Bomb, The Dark Knight (2008): Okay, this doesn’t technically have to do with food because the Joker obviously stuck a bomb in this dude’s gut and sewed him back up again. But I can’t help but feel a little sympathy for this poor bastard. I don’t know how many times I’ve eaten way too many street tacos and then ended up on the floor, counting down the minutes until the inevitable explosion.

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PSN Roundup: Tower of Guns & Never Alone

Despite the fact that I’ve lived in a state that claims it has the greatest snow on Earth, I’ve never liked the winter season. I have this theory that my distaste of being cold/wet and driving through early-morning snowstorms have coupled with my crippling fear of Wampas has resulted in a general hatred of what I call the “season of the dead.”

Guys, come on. We really need the moisture.

The result of not having an arctic fox for a companion. And madness.

But now spring is here, bitches (EDITOR’S NOTE: Spring was here when I originally wrote this, but then winter showed up again like a booger that won’t slide off of your finger no matter how hard you flick it at the wall)! And with the month of April comes two free games via PlayStation Network (if you have a PlayStation Plus subscription, that is–but why wouldn’t you? Free games!) This month, I’ve been trying to shimmy up the Tower of Guns and navigate the Alaskan wilderness with Never Alone.

tower_of_gunsTower of Guns by Terrible Posture Games
Grade: C

It’s a fairly straightforward concept: player outfits him/herself with a unique weapon in order to ascend a tower. Of guns. It’s a little odd playing a first-person shooter in which I’m not trying to rack up headshots–instead, I’m trying to navigate through walls of autonomous cannons, kamikaze robots, and environmental pitfalls. While the lack of living enemies is disorienting, I grew to appreciate the fact that the game’s conflict revolves around surviving traps and a hostile environment.

From a gameplay perspective, Tower of Guns is just okay. Shit starts to get real about seven levels in, and the slow-moving controls don’t really facilitate the quick movement needed to successfully navigate upwards. It’s also tricky to evade the zillion bullets coming your way when your vertical leap is that of a legless tree sloth. Yeah, there are power-ups that fix this, but it’s teeth-grindingly aggravating until that random item drop.

I haven’t played many rogue-like FPS games, but as far as my memory serves, Tower of Guns is a decent addition to this pantheon. The game’s level generation is awesome, especially when combined with the steampunk aesthetic and cel-shaded graphics.

Never-Alone-cover-image Never Alone by Upper One Games and E-Line Media
Grade: B+

I’m a bit of a sucker for puzzle platformers–especially those that involve an intelligent animal companion. In Never Alone the player takes control of an Iñupiat girl and her arctic fox as they quest across the Alaskan tundra in search of the man who destroyed her village. Each character has specific strengths and weaknesses that the player must understand and use to get through environmental puzzles.

The game reminds me of Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts in both gameplay and in the fact that it’s packed with tons of fascinating information about the Alaskan environment as well as Iñupiat culture and folklore. As the player progresses, he/she unlocks mini-documentaries that were put together with the help of honest to agaayun Iñupiat tribespeople.

As a hybrid of a documentary film and a video game, Never Alone delves into territory that is as uncharted as the Alaskan wilderness. It’s not often that an engaging game rewards your hard work with bits of knowledge instead of points or achievements, and it’s something that I think more games should feature. As long as it’s interesting, of course. I wouldn’t want to cleverly elude a polar bear just to be rewarded with a video that chronicles the origins of polyester, for example.

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Indie Jones: “Jazzpunk” by Necrophone Games

Jazzpunk 2

After playing Jazzpunk, I feel like I owe the avatars of every game that I’ve ever played an apology. After guiding them along on the most important journey of their code-generated lives, I drop them like a bad habit and damn them to utter nothingness. Only when I get a hankering to bring them back to life do they get a chance to run, fight, and rack up the points–but even their repeated rebirth carries a tinge of melancholy with it, for they have been resurrected only to complete the same series of predesignated quest commands that we’ve previously accomplished. Our video game avatars essentially become nothing more than digital incarnations of Sisyphus, forever cursed to repeat the same actions over and over–but what is their crime?

Throughout the process of playing Jazzpunk, your character, a secret Jazzpunk 1agent by the name of Polyblank, slowly comes to the realization that he’s actually stuck inside a computerized simulation (which is little more than a fancy term for a video game). None of his missions served a purpose, and he was left navigating through the belly of a crocodile while the game’s credits hovered innocuously above his head. Something about this intentional rejection of what a video game avatar truly is made me think long and hard about the nature of our existence.

Considering the fact that Jazzpunk sends a mixed message about the lives of video game characters, it does so with a beautifully surreal backdrop. Characters that look like they were ripped from the kingdom of Fisher Price’s little people populate the dank urban sprawls and ominous beaches of the game’s story, and it’s packed with Easter eggs that will get a chuckle out of gamers–my favorite was a mini-game called “Wedding Qake” which was an FPS that required players to shoot each other with champagne corks and wedding-cake gatling guns.

It’s also a game that rewards random exploration and interaction with NPC’s, resulting in moments like this:Jazzpunk 3

And this:

Jazzpunk 4

Every so often, one needs to experience the batshit crazy in order to gain wisdom. As he is a prominent fixture in the misadventures of Polyblank, I feel it’s necessary to quote Hunter S. Thompson: “Buy the ticket, take the ride.”

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Video Games: The Movie…Or Is It?

Video Games MovieEver since the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, I’ve been looking for things to fill the zombie-shaped hole in my Sunday night TV watching. While searching my Netflix queue, I scrolled past Video Games: The Movie for the billionth time and decided that tonight was the night that I’d watch that beast. While it didn’t satisfy me in the visceral, “everything’s gone to hell” way that The Walking Dead does, it had its moments–interspersed with a lot of self-congratulatory posturing, that is.

The whole point of a documentary is to either prove some kind of point or to raise awareness for a specific cultural phenomena. What separates good documentaries from not-so-good documentaries, however, is defined by the film’s use of one tiny word: objectivity. A good documentary makes its point or shares its concept objectively, allowing the viewer to form their own opinions about the content. When this doesn’t happen, you’re left with something that veers into propaganda territory, which is both dangerous and insulting.

While I wouldn’t call Video Games: The Movie a propaganda piece, it was sorely lacking in objectivity. Instead, the filmmakers gathered up a large amount of video game developers and celebrities whose nerdité is inextricably tied to their notoriety. They are all pleasant enough, and they’re honest about the impact that gaming has had on their lives, but none of them are going to offer a point of view that allows for a proper discourse on their thesis–many of rely on video games for their livelihood.

Additionally, I couldn’t help but notice how the film glossed over certain gaming controversies. While I don’t think there’s much of a relationship between video games and violent behavior, the film touched upon the controversy only to criticize it. It would have been interesting to bring in someone who might deign to disagree with the people who crank out the stuff for a living. Even though the film was pre-Gamergate, it was surprising that the it didn’t mention any disparity between male and female gamers. In fact, it seemed to be contributing to that disparity by featuring the statistic that 47% of gamers are women while simultaneously featuring a cast that is only 8% female.  Though it was inadvertent, the film managed to position itself as a convincing piece of evidence regarding the long history of gender stereotyping that has plagued the gaming community since its birth.

Also, can we please give the “nerds get picked on” trope a rest? I can’t think of a better time to be a nerd/geek than right now. The job market is recruiting STEM majors like crazy, everyone who lives and works in a developed part of the world is dependent on technology, comic book movies are dominating the box office, video games are studied on college campuses, and we have a new Star Wars trilogy on the way. When will it be enough for nerds to say, “You know what? We’re good. Thanks, world.”

If you’re after a documentary that offers a few interesting factoids about the evolution of the gaming industry while making you feel like patting yourself on the back for being in to video games since the Atari age, then this is worth dedicating a Sunday night to–at least until The Walking Dead comes back on.

 

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Top 10 Video Games of 2014

Fight GIF

Though 2014 was the year that publishers finally started cranking out worthwhile content for the PS4 and Xbox One, I continued to be impressed by the work of a few indie developers thanks to my rapidly expanding Steam library. Before I kick off my list, I’d like to throw out some honorable mentions for Alien: Isolation and Dragon Age: Inquisition, which are two games that I haven’t played yet, but know I will love the hell out of them when I get them as Christmas presents from my mom.

 

theelderscrollsonline10) The Elder Scrolls Online
Zenimax/Bethesda

Many MMORPG’s have tried to capture me with their siren song of online heroism, but The Elder Scrolls Online was the one that came the closest to succeeding. Not as cartoonish and mainstream as World of Warcraft, ESO channeled the old school D&D vibe that I grew up on. Not only did the game open up the entire continent of Tamriel for exploration, but it offered the same gameplay and customization nuances that made Skyrim such an amazing piece of interactive entertainment. My trial period for the game lasted 3 months, during which I merely scratched the surface of the game’s potential. If they tacked on an extra free month, they might have had me hooked for life.

 

9) Age of Wonders III
Triumph Studios

There were a lot of great additions to the 4x genre this year (I was really, really close to giving this spot to Amplitude’s Endless Legend), but Age of Wonders III was the one that stood out to me the most. Triumph Studios was able to capture a rare balance of old-school gaming nostalgia and new-school aesthetic. The game is absolutely gorgeous, offering up vividly-rendered landscapes to conquer, along with enough class/racial customization to please the most hardcore RPG fan. For those who appreciate the fantasy genre for its ability to create a temporary escape from reality, Age of Wonders III is well worth the countless hours you’re likely to spend with it.

 

Transistor8) Transistor
Supergiant

Perhaps the most jaw-droppingly beautiful game on this list, Transistor also manages to throw a new spin on the top-down platformer. Taking control of Red, a lounge-singing murder suspect on the run through a neon, circuital city presents a unique type of combat that rewards strategic planning. It’s engaging enough to hack your way through hostile robots, but it’s really the game’s design that makes Transistor stand out. Supergiant has taken the melancholy and tech-saturated environment of Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar and given it a neo-noir jumpstart. It’s my go-to example when someone steps to me about video games not being an art form.

 

7) A Bird Story
Freebird Games

This effing game. It looks like it’s just going to be a harmless story about a boy and his bird, told through pixelated graphics and wistful music–which it was, if you think uncontrollable sobbing is harmless. The term “video game” can only be loosely applied to A Bird Story, it is nonetheless a powerful piece of storytelling. The only interaction that the player has with the story comes from thoughtfully-placed intervals that make you an emotional bitch when you have to push a button but really, really don’t want to.

 

6)Valiant Hearts: The Great WarValiant Hearts
Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft

There’s something about the strong contrast between Valiant Hearts and other games about war–which, let’s face it, there are a ton of. While your Call of Duty and your Battlefield glorify the act of war, Valiant Hearts offers a more realistic and heart-wrenching perspective. Like A Bird Story, Valiant Hearts is more of a visual short story that the player interacts with solely for the sake of the tale’s progression. It shifts perspectives between multiple characters, occasionally finding them working together, and overall, it leaves the player with a different perspective on how war not only decimates buildings, terrain, and the lives of soldiers, but it also strikes a vicious blow to cultural morality as well.

 

5) Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
Blizzard

Even though it felt like Hearthstone was developed on a whim by Blizzard, it managed to become one of the most addicting, free-to-play games out there–and it didn’t help that I’ve been a fan of Magic: The Gathering since high school. It would be easy to argue that Blizzard simply leveraged the popularity of World of Warcraft into the world of free-to-play gaming if Hearthstone wasn’t so damn fun. Perhaps my favorite aspect of this game is the fact that, though players can pony up actual cash for new packs of cards, you totally don’t have to for it to be an enjoyable experience.

 

4GTA V) Grand Theft Auto V
Rockstar

A video game for the Breaking Bad generation. GTA V doesn’t just settle for a gigantic, vibrant virtual city, excellently-tweaked vehicle controls, and enough Easter eggs to satisfy the most anal-retentive of gamers. Instead, it uses all of the above to craft a story that would make for award-winning television. Hell, why settle for TV? Give it the Oscar, already. Admittedly, I stuck around to see what seedy adventures were in store for our trio of ne’er-do-wells, but the cinematic quality of the gameplay and that feeling I got after completing my first heist were unforgettable.

 

Shadow-of-Mordor3) Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Monolith/Warner Bros. Interactive

After years of being a Lord of the Rings fan, and having suffered through several mediocre games based on the property, it’s so nice to have found one that does Middle Earth justice. Taking control of Talion the Dark Ranger and letting him loose in the Orcish fortresses of Mordor is a Tolkien fan’s dream. And the combat system! I loved it in the Batman: Arkham games, and it’s even better with swords in both hands–it’s all about the mid-combat beheadings. In addition to the above-mentioned awesomeness, Shadow of Mordor‘s Nemesis system creates a living hierarchy of enemies that grows and evolves along with your character–something I’ve never seen in a game before. I imagine the number of virtual bad guys that I’ve slaughtered is pretty substantial, but I remember very few of them. Each Orc that I put down in Shadow of Mordor makes damn sure that I remember our fight.

 

2) Destinydestiny-4th-horseman-exotic-shotgun
Bungie

Oh, the online playground that is Destiny. Despite the game’s lackluster storyline, when you simply view Destiny as an excuse to get with some buddies an blow the hell out of hostile aliens, there’s something very special here. By streamlining the MMO format and throwing some top-notch graphics and Bungie’s penchant for tight FPS controls, it’s something that is enjoyable in small bursts or when investing a few hours in the six-player Vault of Glass raid. I’m already struggling to contain my giddiness for the upcoming expansion–four-barreled shotgun!

 

Dungeon of the Endless1) Dungeon of the Endless
Amplitude

I fully realize that listing this title as my favorite title of the year is 100% an act of self-indulgence, but I can’t remember the last time a game appealed to such a large combination of my gaming interests. Dungeon of the Endless plays like a mixtape of the last few years’ most popular gaming trends. Usually when developers try to create a game that tries to blur the edges between gameplay dynamics, you get something like Brutal Legend–clunky, watered-down, and ultimately disappointing. Dungeon of the Endless pulls it all off very nicely, and it does so with great audio and visual style. It’s ambitious without being pretentious, and FlybyNo’s excellent soundtrack elevate this title into territory that is both familiar and new–and that’s what I love about video games.

 

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That One Time That I Interviewed Katie Weinner From “Top Chef”

SLUG-Magazine-new-typewriterMy tenure as a staff writer for SLUG Magazine has given me all kinds of great opportunities to meet fascinating people.  Last week, I had the chance to interview Katie Weinner of SLC Pop about her time on Bravo’s Top Chef.

Despite having to wrap up a fly fishing trip early, she offered a pleasant conversation about the high-pressure environment that Top Chef creates for its contestants.

Check the link for the interview!

If you’re a local and don’t want to bother with preparing and cleaning up after a huge Thanksgiving feast, you can also check out my article about local restaurants who are open for this year’s celebratory gorge-fest.

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Local Eats: Mai Bun Mee

2014-11-14 19.05.47

Curry Noodle Bowl w/ Chili Lemongrass Pork

Mai Bun Mee
850 S. State St.
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
P: (801) 575-8888

I’m a staunch advocate of Oh Mai, Salt Lake’s finest purveyor of Vietnamese comfort food. My wife and I eat there at least once a week–though now that the weather is getting colder, I may need to gradually increase my pho consumption. When I heard that the success of Oh Mai’s two stellar locations had generated enough momentum to open a sister restaurant called Mai Bun Mee, it was a moral imperative to check the place out.

Those familiar with Oh Mai’s menu will recognize a similar culinary theme at Mai Bun Mee–the restaurant boasts a wide variety of bahn mi, traditional Vietnamese sandwiches on a French baguette, along with some rice and noodle bowls. Much like the trendier atmosphere of the restaurant, the menu appears to have been crafted with some more accessible options to diners who are unfamiliar to the world of Vietnamese sandwich-crafting. One thing that today’s conscious eater will appreciate is the wall adjacent to their menu which provides an exhaustive detailing of what menu items are gluten-free, vegan, and vegetarian–it’s nice to see an eating establishment offer a proactive approach to dietary needs instead of rolling their eyes when asked to be accommodating.

Mai Bun Mee’s sandwich menu is vast, and surprisingly varied. Sandwiches can be ordered with fish, chicken meatballs, beef, or with veggies. It’s the kind of menu that begs you to try everything on it at least once. For our inaugural journey, my wife ordered a sandwich called the Fisherman ($6.98), which is a seared tilapia sandwich topped with mango slaw, cucumber, and garlic aioli. The tilapia was juicy and fresh, but I found that the other elements of the sandwich didn’t really pop as much as I was hoping. Tilapia and mango slaw is a match made in heaven, but the flavor combo wasn’t quite there. I also preferred the baguette at Oh Mai, which is a bit crustier on the outside, whereas the baguette here lacked the crunchy bite that I have come to expect from a bahn mi.

I ordered the Curry Noodle Bowl with Chili Lemongrass Pork ($7.48), and got that sucker slathered in their Hot Red curry sauce. There was a slight mix-up with my order–these things happen at new restaurants, and it was cheerfully rectified by a manager, who brought my order herself. The Curry Noodle Bowl is a comfy mix of rice noodles, taro, julienned carrots, and bean sprouts and they do not skimp on the sauce. The inclusion of taro instead of potato was interesting–the texture was more smooth and yielding than the traditional root veggie. As it should be, the sauce was the shining moment of this dish. It was indeed hot, but not too hot so as to burn away that earthy, coconut-laced flavor of a good curry. Delicious as it was, the curry flavor overpowered any remnants of the pork’s chili lemongrass seasoning, but the meat was tender and plentiful–plus pork always goes well with curry.

Overall, Mai Bun Mee feels like a well-thought out concept. It has the trendy design and easy service that is present at chain restaurants like Zupa’s or Rumbi, but it offers a menu that most diners will find intriguing without feeling alienated–not to mention the fact that it’s locally owned and operated. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Mai Bun Mee on Urbanspoon

Mai Bun Mee Sandwich Shop

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