Grand Theft Auto V (2014)
When a young street hustler, a retired bank robber and a terrifying psychopath find themselves entangled with some of the most frightening and deranged elements of the criminal underworld, the U.S. government and the entertainment industry, they must pull off a series of dangerous heists to survive in a ruthless city in which they can trust nobody, least of all each other.
There is little left to be said about Grand Theft Auto V which hasn’t been said before. There is a reason that this mammoth game is one of the best selling games of all time, why five years down the line it still features in the annual top game lists, and why it continues to be an absolute unit of a cash cow for parent company Rockstar Games.
Now I’m not interested in the massively successful multiplayer mode, instead it is the campaign which I want to gush about. Extremely late to the party, all I can say that this is once again a masterclass in merging story into an open world sandbox title. The seamless story/action transitions, the character switching, the seemingly endless amount of things you can interact with or do in the world is astounding. Sure, the gunplay could be seen as a little simplistic (even at the time of release), but mixed in with the rest of the elements, the cinematography, the exceptional soundtrack… well, everything just works.
Honestly, I can see exactly why GTA V sits with as high a metacritic rating as what it does.
Cities: Skylines (2017)
There isn’t a story blurb for this one, but basically Cities: Skylines is hands down the best city builder currently available on the Xbox. After the last Sim Cities dropped the ball in a horrible PR negative way, developer Colossal Order and publisher Paradox Interactive unleashed this modern city builder that quickly became a firm fan favourite, so much so that developer Tantalus Media was approached to produce a console port.
The end result is a magnificent city builder that works flawlessly with a Xbox game controller, one which is guaranteed to suck up MANY precious hours of your lifespan. Urban planning, zoning, districts, taxation, policies, road, subway and rail placement, public works – its an absolutely delightful time sink.
The game runs well, is particularly well supported with DLC, and in my opinion is an absolute must for anyone with an inkling of love for the city building genre.
Naturally, I’m completely in love.
Netflix added a few game shows to its South African offering the other day, one of which did enough to pique our interest and then subsequently have Chantelle and myself happily make our way through all of the first seaon over the next couple of days.
Idiotest essentially pits two teams of two against one another as they strive to answer a series of brain teaser and puzzle questions. None of the questions are devilishly difficult and there is always only one answer to any screen – all you have to do is make sure that you figure out the trick before time (and the money meter) runs out.
The wonderfully sardonic Ben Gleib ably hosts the show and although the stakes aren’t particularly high (the big prize is $10,000) and essentially only the very last question screen is the one that decides who makes it to the final screen, the series is wonderful to watch with your partner as you battle it out to see who can a) get the answer the quickest or b) see who can figure it out at all.
It’s all a lot of brain scratching fun really. For example:
(The answer is the flowers in case you were wondering…)
If you are a long time follower (or perhaps just someone who occasionally checks in on this little corner of the web), you may have noticed that I haven’t exactly been blogging this year (or for that matter, much last year either). It’s not that I’ve stopped, or that I don’t feel like it, or that I don’t have content – it’s just that I started to rather enjoy playing games again, after quite a long period of not enjoying them all that much.
So yes, instead of banging out words on the keyboard, I’ve been digitally slaughtering and racing all manner of things instead.
The truth of the matter is that the quality of AAA games being released for current generation consoles these days is simply put, phenomenal, and as such I’ve had an absolute blast losing myself in their slick, well crafted worlds for more than just a short while now.
So exactly which titles have been keeping me away from this blog then?
Well, interrogating my Xbox Live profile (CraigLotter in case you want to look me up) and then extracting the biggest time offenders in order, the list currently looks something like this:
BioWare’s superb action RPG Dragon Age: Inquistion is probably the title which first brought me back into the gaming fold, with my time played clocking in at around 134 hours.
Then, the punishing Lords of the Fallen, my first taste of a Dark Souls type of difficult, measured combat Action RPG game, sucked up a good 19 hours or so of my life.
Ubisoft and Ivory Tower’s rather fun, online multiplayer arcade racer The Crew next stepped up and cost me just over 29 hours of racing around and exploring all the major landmarks of their digital version of the United States of America.
In a rather surprising turn of events (primarily because I haven’t been into wrestling since I was a teenager), Yuke’s rather fun, and pretty content-packed, wrestling title WWE 2K16 also stepped into the ring, did an Austin 3:16 on me, and managed to extract a further 72 hours from my evening leisure time!
Plus, I have no idea why I spent as much time on the colourful, Chinese mythology borrowing, frantic button masher (but graphically not so great) Warriors Orochi 3 Ultimate as what I did, but this action beat-’em-up borrowed a full 19 hours of my life.
Then the strikingly brilliant, action-packed Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor arrived, allowing me to hack away at hordes of orcs and trolls for a glorious 29 hours of unadulterated, slick, brutal head hacking action.
Ryse: Son of Rome backed this up with even more bloody, fast paced swordplay, allowing me to defend Rome against all manner of barbarians that were knocking at her doors (not to mention time spent in the Colosseum) for a good 14 hours or so.
One of the best Action RPG titles that I have ever played also jumped into the fray, with the sublime The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt from CD Projekt Red weighing in with a hefty 105 hours of monster hunting, side quests, and of course daughter saving action.
Despite having played it before on the Xbox 360, I decided to replay the action excellent DmC: Devil May Cry Definitive Edition from the insanely clever guys over at Ninja Theory. Pulse pounding hack and slash action accompanied by the crazed aggrotech sound of Combichrist – no wonder that smacked 6 hours off my life.
Staying with the slightly retro vibe, I also culled a further 6 or so hours from my time here on Earth by tackling the backwards compatible Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. Decent enough game, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever willingly play a Xbox 360 title again – there’s just too great a jump in quality on the current generation consoles.
Now I’ve been playing EA Sport’s FIFA football franchise for literally most of my life, and pleasingly the FIFA 17 entry didn’t disappoint one bit, with the Frostbite engine powered “The Journey” story line mode being a particular highlight for me. While I did play a bit of offline season mode, in the end I finally succumbed to FUT, which is probably then the reason my play time now stands at around 76 hours of digital soccer action.
All of which then brings me to the current game that looks like it might be keeping me busy for a VERY long time to come.
Hi-Rez Studio’s F2P objective-driven, competitive team hero shooter Paladins has unreservedly dragged me into the world of online competitive shooter play. First person shooters have never been a genre that I have particularly enjoyed, but there is definitely something about this particular, rather frantic and fun title that has thoroughly entranced me.
After plus minus 21 hours of shooting other people with a variety of heroes (though that said, with a perfectly average win ratio of around 50%), I’ve at last unlocked the Competitive mode which now means that hopefully I get to play with people who take the matches a little more seriously.
(And no, I’m not quite sure why this matters to me all of a sudden).
So, carefully tallying all those casually dropped figures amounts to about 530 hours spent playing games on my Xbox One, or roughly 22 full days if you prefer it more harshly put that way.
Right. No wonder my blogging has suffered more than just a little bit then! ;)
I’m familiar with the concept of a cartoon hand in animation being drawn with four fingers only (image simplification, cartoon proportions, etc), but I’ve never really pondered as to why so many of the classic cartoon characters (like say Mickey Mouse and Goofy from the Disney stable for example) wore white gloves.
Luckily for us then, the Vox team went in and took a closer look at the possible reasons as to why:
In summary (just in case you can’t view the video, you know, thanks to work restrictions or something like that):
1) Image simplification to save time and thus money. (Less details, curves instead of angles, etc.)
2) To contrast black hands against a black body in the age of early black and white animation.
3) Humanizing an anthropomorphic creature by giving them more human-like hands.
4) Vaudeville and blackface minstrels style that was originally associated with the art of early animation performances.
So a good number of plausible, possible and quite interesting reasons then!
If you enjoyed the Lego Movie or any of the licensed property Lego games from the last couple of years then you will definitely enjoy this one.
For starters, the show is set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, meaning that you know straight away that you are in at a minimum for Lego Darth Vader and his Lego Stormtroopers to make an appearance.
Then there are the titular Freemakers, consisting of the young Rowan who first starts all the ruckus by discovering the hilt of the shattered Kyber Saber and then insisting on hunting for the rest of the crystal fragments, the older sister Kordi who is forever looking out for the family, and finally the eldest brother Zander, the mechanic who is good at building ships and probably the most important when it comes to keeping the Freemakers’ salvage operation afloat!
(Plus, there is the reprogrammed battledroid R0-GR, who as you may have guessed – in the tradition of the Star Wars universe – is funny as all heck.)
Anyway, essentially the setup is that you have these two forces, the Freemakers and the Galactic Empire who are both racing to find the Kyber crystal fragments in order to restore the powerful, legendary Kyber Saber lightsaber. There is the usual good versus evil, a clever twist and a lot of guest appearances – all generously mixed into this very fun action/comedy story.
It’s thirteen episodes long. The boys/girls will love it, you will grin at it, and essentially, the fanboys will adore it.
Pretty much a winner all around then! ;)
For some reason my mom opted to store most of the toys that Ryan, Claire and myself played with as children. As it turns out, both my kids and Claire’s kids love this very decision of hers – because it means that when the grandchildren arrive at Granny and Grandpa’s house for a visit then there are loads of toys already there, just waiting to be played with!
One of the favourites for the girls to pull out of the toybox is this old wind-up, red and white toy music box/record player.
Despite coming from the ’80s, this brightly coloured music box still winds up and plays tunes via its rainbow coloured selection of plastic ‘records’, basically pretending that it hasn’t just spent the last 30 years of its life in the back of a dusty cupboard!
But that’s the thing though – my mom held Fisher-Price toys in high regard, believing them to be the best in terms of quality and longevity, and this record player from them then kind of proves that very point.
The plastic hasn’t perished, the wind-up mechanism still works, and the colours haven’t really faded all that much either.
More importantly, the girls get an absolute kick out of playing with it.
For some or other reason, Fisher-Price kind of disappeared off the radar in South Africa in recent years though – with the result that both Emily and Jessica missed out on the excellence of their toys through, which really is a pity.
The truth of the matter is that most of the toys that they had as toddlers have long since been donated already, with most of those toys being already near the end of their lifespan anyway.
Pleasingly though, Fisher-Price have now themselves recognized the fact that they have managed to miss out on a whole generation of kids playing with their toys – and are now putting a whole lot of focus on rekindling their relationship with us the South African parents.
Which is kind of neat when you think about just how good their toys really are.
So, the question then is – do you have any memories of your favourite Fisher-Price toys from when you were a kid?
Related Link: Fisher-Price Facebook
Games developer Tt Games has been producing its silly/fun franchise-tied Lego games for more than just a few years now, and if you are a gamer, then no doubt you’ve bumped into at least one of their titles during your gaming career – particularly if you are a middle-aged gamer with children like me!
Whilst all the licensed property Lego have always been brilliantly funny in their storytelling, one of the earliest franchises easily stands out as one of my all time Lego game favourites – the Lego Star Wars series.
Obviously, with parent company Disney now finally getting around to doing what Lucasfilm should have done a long, long time ago, i.e. capitalize fully on the amazing Star Wars universe with a seemingly endless slew of films, television shows, toys and of course video games, it makes complete sense for the guys over at Lego to also want to jump back in on this super hot bandwagon at the moment – translation, hello Lego Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures.
Essentially, the Freemaker Adventures chronicles the search for Kyber Saber crystals in order to restore a powerful lightsaber. The hunt is undertaken by a small salvage team made up of the Freemaker siblings, Rowan, Kordi and Zander (plus one friendly, reprogrammed battle droid called R0-GR), and naturally, the Empire kind of wants this thing too.
So a lot of interesting action adventures to be had, a clever twist, and of course a story featuring a host of familiar characters from both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi timeline.
And yes, because it is a Lego story, it is a whole bundle of silly fun.
As for where to catch it, it kind of makes sense for Disney XD to pick up this new Lego Star Wars show – after all, Star Wars: Rebels worked out pretty well for them, didn’t it? So, if you are one of the lucky DSTV subscribers with Disney XD available back home (channel 304), then consider yourself now informed – you have something rather fun to sit down and watch with the kids again!
A little while ago I got sent a pair of Hi-Tec Trail OX Chukka | WP boots to give them a bit of a run and see what they are all about. (The odd name becomes a little less odd when you realise that OX stands for crossover – i.e. intended for both casual and trail use, and that the WP stands for waterproof).
When I was younger (and believe it or not, extremely sporty), I used to swear by the Hi-Tec brand when it came to squash shoes which I used for both my badminton and squash court running about. Then I got into hiking, and it was a natural move to again favour the Hi-Tec brand in this particular realm.
Fast forward to today, and I am rather pleased to see them delving into the idea of making boots that are both practical and reasonably stylish as well.
The first thing that surprised me was just how light the shoes felt when I lifted them out of the box. Don’t get me wrong, these are not light as a feather shoes by any stretch of the imagination, but given their very rugged styling, they are in fact a lot lighter than what they look!
As expected, the padding and support from the boot is exceptionally good, whilst the Michelin branded rubber soles are firm and quite ‘grippy’. (Plus, this shoe is so damn comfortable in its fitting. I don’t know how they do it.)
The waterproofing seems to work surprisingly as well, as my socks are yet to get wet whilst wearing these shoes (a mind-boggling feat for my little girls as you might imagine!). That said though, the waterproofing does come at a price of the shoe not being ‘breathable’ in the slightest – so expect sweaty/clammy toes when removing these boots after a long day’s worth of walking!
I’ve genuinely fallen in love with these shoes, meaning that they have now become my defacto go to shoes whenever I need to wear jeans or any other long pants – even if it is for no more than a quick walk to the shopping mall!
(Oh, and naturally they perform quite brilliantly on the more rugged and natural stuff like gravel roads, river beds, vineyard fields, and grassy hills. As one would have expected them to I guess.)
Good shoes then these Hi-Tec OX Chukkas. #EverydayAdventure
I’ve mentioned it more than once on these pages that I’m quite fond of Afrikaans music. It’s a delightful medley of over the top silliness all the way through to the real serious stuff. More importantly, it almost always has that ‘local’ feel, which is probably why I secretly enjoy it so much.
Anyway, halfway into October I was lucky enough to be able to catch a live performance of Theuns Jordaan at the Barnyard Theatre here at Willowbridge Mall in Durbanville – and as expected, it was a great evening out!
(If you aren’t familiar with him, essentially he is one of Afrikaan music’s biggest names, however at the same time, he flies so low under the radar that you pretty much almost never hear about him. Characterized by his deeply emotive bass voice, his music is the stuff that works best when sitting reflectively around the fire with a glass of red wine in hand! Also, now that I’ve seen him live, he tends to point his knees at one another when singing the slow stuff – which is kind of comical and can’t be unseen once you spot it.)
As it happened: Jessica and Emily got to spend some time with my folks, while Chantelle and I joined hers for the Thursday evening performance. Drink was obtained from the bar, and pizza ordered from the pizza counter – which was delicious I might add. (Not so much for Monty and Cheryl mind you, as for some or other reason, their order got kind of lost in the system).
We had a great view from the upper tier as Theuns and his super distinctive, deep voice got off to a slow and serious start, but halfway in he started applying the energy, waking the crowd up with a great mix of both his own material as well as classic English (like Neil Diamond and Johnny Cash) covers.
And of course, once his big hits started making their way into the set, well then things really became alive!
For example, “Net Voor Die Storm Kom” (my favourite by the way):
Also, how can you not like “Sal Jy Bly?”:
And of course, he saved the best for absolute last. I suspect though that the crowd may have killed him if he had walked off without performing this legendary track of his – “Soos Bloed”:
As for the venue: The Barnyard Theatre is a privately-owned group of small to medium-sized, intimate theatres and entertainment venue spaces across the whole of South Africa, primarily used to host local music events and stage performances.
Durbanville’s Willowbridge Mall (which long term readers might recall as playing host to the market that Chantelle and I traded at for the longest during her Cupcakery market stall run), is home to the Cape Town edition of the Barnyard Theatre, which is advertised as being able to seat around 500 guests.
The atmosphere is brilliantly informal and always ready for a party, with guests being able to consume both drink and food in the venue. (Drink can be grabbed from the downstairs bar, and as for food, if you don’t want to brink your own, then you can grab a pizza or two from the pizza service next to the bar as well!)
Always a fun option if you are looking for something to do with your evening in the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town.
Of course, just in case you are looking for it on the map, there you go: