Friday, October 11, 2013

Beyond . . . .

Well, me writing another post this soon is either a good sign or a bad one. Either I'm more motivated in general or I'm just more bored with life. I can't quite put my finger on either one, so maybe it's a little of both? Anyways, whatever the reason, here I am writing this so I might as well get some stuff off of my mind.

First, I played with some of the settings for my DAC and found out that Windows (7 at least, not XP, not sure about 8) has a "Bass Enhancement" feature that allows the lower frequencies to be boosted. I was a little apprehensive since most "Bass Boost" EQs crush the sound quality with a boot of bloated, over-bearing bass. After trying it I was very pleasantly surprised. I couldn't hear a drop in sound quality and the bass is much more pronounced! You can amp any bass frequency you want but since there is such a nice depth to the bass I amped 50 hz by 6 db and that seems like a sweet spot for my 990 Pros. I still get the amazing detail from the other frequencies but get a much better, tight kick from the bass. I'm actually starting to like the sound better than the "midnight" mode on my surround receiver, which I didn't think would ever happen with this amp. Anyway, that's one of the updates.

The main thing that's been bugging me is Beyond: Two Souls. I watched stuff about it, trailers and such, it looked awesome so I decided to pre-order it. I wouldn't have done it except that I was able to upgrade to the special edition for free from GameStop, which included the soundtrack and a DLC along with some smaller things like some avatars and a theme.

I pre-ordered the game without playing the demo because I wanted the
game to be as new as possible to me.
The morning it came out, October 8th, I laid in bed scrolling through the day's news stories on my phone and I saw IGN had a review for it and from the title it sounded like they didn't like it.
"What? I thought this was going like The Last of Us and just blow everybody away!"
I opened the story and scrolled down the review, reading bits here and there, most of which were along the lines of, "I had a really hard time giving this game a score."
"I was really frustrated by this."
"It was really confusing."
I was flabbergasted when I saw the dismal score of 6/10 at the bottom. I started to get that pit in my stomach that happens whenever I waste money on something that I regret.
"Can it really be that bad?" I thought to myself.

I scrolled through some more stories and saw Joystiq gave it a terrible score of 2.5 stars. In an almost panic I went to to see what other reviews said about it. It had a cumulative score of about 75% and after seeing some of the scores I saw that it got 9s and 6s. It's very unusual for a game to get a score that are on both end of the spectrum. I felt slightly better after seeing that it did get a couple of 9s so I decided that I wouldn't try to cancel by pre-order (which I'm not sure I could have done even if I wanted to since it was already out).

This is a picture of the special edition steelbook. I will say that the packaging
is pretty much super awesome. I wish I had The Last of Us in a steelbook.

I drove to the store, went in, and told the clerk that I had pre-ordered it. As he was getting the game ready he starting telling me that  it was an awesome game. I was slightly surprised and I asked him how he already played it, he told me that he got an advanced copy since he was the manager of that GameStop and he had already beat the game and loved it. I told him that I had heard mixed reviews, to which he responded by asking if I liked Heavy Rain (a game made by the same studio) to which I said that I did. He assured me that I would like Beyond since it was better than Heavy Rain.

Heavy Rain was an awesome game but it was kind of psychologically
disturbing in quite a few ways. 

I left felling a little better about my purchase although I realized it was in his interest to try and get me to buy the game since it would help the store. I went home and did some work that I had to do that day, the game weighing heavily on my mind. I knew, however, that I needed to finish Mass Effect 3 first before I started Beyond since I was so close to beating it. The ending of Mass Effect was interesting, but that's a story for another entry. After beating Mass Effect 3, it was around midnight but I decided to give my new game a try anyway. By the time it installed and I had downloaded the bonus content it was getting pretty late (or early depending on how you look at it) so I just played a few minutes of it to which I was very impressed with Beyond: Two Souls.

I really liked Mass Effect 3 but I thought Mass Effect 2 was a better put together
game with less technical hiccups. But the cover of Mass Effect 3 is reversible,
either male or female Shepard. How cool is that?!?

I beat the Beyond: Two Souls today, and I couldn't disagree more with the reviewers. The Last of Us is hailed by everybody that I've talked to for being a masterpiece and I agree. After finishing Beyond: Two Souls it felt almost identical to when I finished The Last of Us. I was a little conflicted with the ending like The Last of Us and thinking back playing the game felt similar too even though the games are very different.

If you haven't played The Last of Us, you are missing out on a great game!

Beyond: Two Souls is a technical masterpiece. It blows every game this console generation out of the water. The only games that even comes close is The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, and maybe Uncharted 2/3. The character models are fantastic! It's so realistic you can even see the pores on their skin, scars, dirt, snow, mud, blood and anything else that makes it onto their face or clothes. The facial animations of the characters, especially Jodi, are mind-blowingly realistic. Very few video games can do water or tears on skin well, but Beyond does without a hitch, literally. Aside from the characters, the environments and everything else (like creases on a piece of paper that casts shadows!) is on the same level of fantastic with how the characters look. I played through the game and there was never a frame rate drop, stutter, or clipping of any kind. It rarely had to pause to load which boggles my mind considering the detail the game has. Smooth transitions, and fluid framerates all around!

This is the AMAZING level of detail the characters have in the game. And
yeah, that's an in-game screen shot. Blown away yet?

The sound was also fantastic from the voice acting to the Foley. When walking on the carpet you can hear the carpet fibers crush. When looking through papers the sounds are all synced up and sound super realistic. The only game that has better sound would be The Last of Us which isn't a surprise considering how much of the game depends on sounds. Lighting and particle effects also deserve a mention. A building in full flames complete with embers floating through the air while there is a full blown blizzard going on outside. Did I mention that the frame rate never dropped? Oh, also no v-sync issues. All frames were synced with no tearing at all . . . ever. The level of polish from a technical standpoint is simply amazing!

This is one of the most impressive scenes from a technical standpoint.
Fun fact: they did the particles for this game in Maya! :)

The graphics alone should put this game in the sevens or eights, but the story is also great. Following Jodie through 15 years of her life you see her grow up and mature. Many people didn't like how the game swings from when she is older to when she is younger, I personally thought it added to the story. She says at the very beginning that was going to try to remember her life so that someone knew what she had been through and that it was hard to put it in any particular order. In addition to that, at the end she gives a very compelling reason for the story line to be fragmented. It make perfect sense after you play it. If they had added more narrative of Jodie telling a story with her voicing over in between chapters I think it would have helped more people accept the story line order.

You follow Jodie though her life. This is a life story, not just a game. You can't
put a life story in a genre. Stupid reviewers . . . .

Others also had issues with the lack of big choices. But you make some pretty important decisions near the end and if it was her telling the story having less control over the direction makes sense, to me at least.

The only thing that I had issue with was that the controls were kinda wonky at times since there are just interaction points on the screen that you move the analog stick to and sometimes it was hard to tell which direction. Also, I was terrible at the fighting sequences that required stick controls in the right direction to punch or block but without prompts (like an arrow flashing on the screen for which way to move) you just have to figure out what to do and sometimes it's hard to tell (I think I might have had a harder time since my tv is kind of dark). Part of this was my problem since I usually panicked and didn't pay enough attention to what was going on.

Time slows down when you fight giving you a little time to figure out what
action to do. I suck at this kind of combat.

Anyway this post is getting really long-winded so I'll finish this up. Overall I feel that Beyond: Two Souls falls squarely in the 9ish range. I would say it's a solid 9.4/10. While this is a lower score than I would give to The Last of Us (10/10), if I was making a list of the best games I have every played, Beyond would be up there and it takes the cake for the best looking game ever. If not for The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls would be the best game this year in my opinion. I liked it better than Heavy Rain although it got a 9 from IGN and Beyond only got a 6 . . . . Go figure.

Between The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls that's more than enough reason
to buy a PS3 right now! Not to mention all the other awesome games there are. :)

My final thought is playing Beyond: Two Souls is like looking at a fine painting or reading a really good book, it's not about the player and their choices or personality, it's about Jodie and her life. Beyond: Two Souls is a one-of-a-kind experience and truly a masterpiece. I can't say the same about most games. Anyone who didn't like it, missed the point of the game, in my own humble opinion, it's more than a game, it's a life story.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Magni & Modi Sound Impression . . . .

So one of these days I am going to update everyone on my life, but for now, I'm going to give the impressions of my new DAC and amp stack, the Schiit Audio Magni and Modi. I tried them with three different headphones, the AKG K240s, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50s, and the Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro.

First, a picture! :)
Here they are, right after I un-boxed them (they were packed very well by the way).
The Magni (amp) is on the left and the Modi (DAC) on the right.
Before I get into the sound I want to talk about the size of these. If you take an Altoids tin and place it long side to the side of the amp, that's how deep it is. Take another tin and place it next to the first, long sides together, that's about how wide the amp is. Now stack two more tins on the top of each on the lower level (so you have two stacks of two next to each other) that's how tall it is. All in all each piece occupies about the same space as 4 Altoids tins.... Sorry if that was confusing. Now, onto the sound.

AKG K240s 55 Ohm Headphones

These were the first high-end (meaning more than $30) headphones that I ever bought. And, quite frankly, they have had the snot beaten out of them... more than once. They are currently glued in several places and the wire is so stiff from the oil on my skin it won't go straight anymore. Anyway, my point is, they are very well used.

The thing I noticed right away is how dark these sound. Not much bass, lots of mid, and not a ton of treble. These benefit from this stack as opposed to unamped out of my mp3 player (Zune).  The biggest gain these get is in bass extension. Listening to these unamped, you would think that they can't produce bass... at all. However, plug 'em into the Mangi and there is bass, just not a ton of it. The mid on these phones is over powering. Pretty much all you can hear is warm, dark mid tones. Good for NPR or documentaries but not so much for music (according to my taste). I do, however, like these much better amped than not, I'm just not fond of the sound signature overall now that my taste has refined.

Audio-Technica ATH-M50s

Out of the three headphones that I tried these have the fewest hours on them. Since they are my portables, I don't wear them when I'm sitting at a desk, that's what the Beyerdynamics are for. I would use them more for that use except that they get uncomfortable after a while since pleather, skin, and heat don't go well together.

I didn't expect much from this since these are advertised as an amp-free audio solution, but I tried them anyway. First thing I noticed was that the bass was there. Now the signal coming into the amp is flat (no EQ) and the sound out of my Zune 120GB is flat. However, the bass from the amp was much more than that mp3 player. But, that being said, I can achieve almost the exact same sound on my Zune 30GB with some EQ (this is the best EQ that I ever heard in an mp3 player). So out of the three, these benefited the least from the amp but they also have the most bass out of the three as well. The mids and highs were pretty much unchanged. They maybe gained some soundstage space and clarity but it was minimal.

Beyerdynamic DT 990 Pro

These headphones are my go-to headphones whenever I'm not outside. They are super comfortable since they have velour ear pads. It's like your head is getting hugged by a stuffed animal. I never sweat with these and since they are cloth, they are washable! The DT 990s have some serious use but have been treated better than the AKGs. "Well broken in" is the phrase I would use to describe it.

These had the biggest change, I feel, out of the bunch. However, not all of the change was to my liking. The amount of change is understandable since they have the highest impedance out of the group (250 Ohm), so, by extension, need the most power to drive. They gained width and breadth to the sound stage. Better accuracy and extension on the treble. I also started hearing more imperfections in my music... However, the thing I'm most disappointed with is the bass volume. The bass turned in from a monster's roar to a cat's meow. It's there, but not in the front at all. Granted, the bass extension greatly improved. The stereo that I was using to power these had more bass but it missed some of the bass frequencies, especially the super low stuff (20-30 Hz range). Now all that is there (Yay! No more missing bass), but it's in the background (Boo!). When a sliding bass scale is played, all the bass is the same volume, from 20-80 Hz. This shows that it's a good headphone but it's not nearly as fun to listen to with dubstep. :(

The midrange also gets a boost from this amp, which, in turn, makes the bass harder to hear, but add clarity overall. Out of the three the 990 sounds the most reference and neutral which I was not expecting at all. I guess if I want a boost of bass I can always pop in my ATH-M50s to get my bass fix. That's the beauty of having lots of headphones! :)

Well, if you endured my ramblings, you deserve an award. Since I can't give you one, here is a picture instead. :)
This is the combo in action! They look pretty nice together and not bad with
good 'ole faithful DT 990 Pro
Anyways, keep it real people. And remember, life is too short to waste it listening to crappy quality audio equipment! :)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Of Scouts, Graduations, Moving, and Jobs . . . .

So... I have been a bad blogger lately. I guess there are more important things than blogging in life so maybe my priorities were in the right place? Anyways, lots has happened since my last entry. The last time I left you I had just redesigned my blog. Pretty neat, huh? About the same time I also decided on a design for my portfolio site. It can be found here. It is still a work in progress since I still am working on finishing up the final renders for my portfolio in addition to the additional objects that I want to make for it. That being said, I'm happy with the design and layout. What I'm most proud of, however, is that I made it compatible on every browser that supports @font-face (IE 8 and up). That was really the only limitation. It works on mobile browsers just dandy and Opera, Safari, Firefox, Chrome, Dolphin, IE, etc. So hard to do, if anyone was wondering.

In other news I got a girlfriend.... NOT! There was a girl that I liked who came into the lab every once in a while who I called Headphones Girl in my head because she would always be wearing a pair of white Sony headphones. Sadly, however, as soon as I decided to ask her out, she became scarce and I was never able to break the ice with her and thus set up a date. Small potatoes, I guess, in the grand scheme of things. She was really cute though.... Good at art too.

If you want the biggest news, skip this paragraph. I took senior project this past semester and for that project I decided to do a character from concept art in Maya. Here are some of the results.

This shows the original concept art on the bottom and the finished, final character on the top.

My favorite of the renders that I did. I added a dead tree for additional wasteland effect.

I spent about half of the allotted time (75 hours) doing the modeling and the other half was spent texturing.

Each piece of armor has its own 2k map with about 20 layers total of scratches, dirt, chips and paint.

I am happy with the result although he isn't perfect. Hopefully he will impress potential employers.

If you look closely at his exposed arm on this side you can see veins that I added in.

This is probably my favorite part of him is his air hose and the glowing terminals. It reminds me of Dead Space.

This is his life support backpack. Pretty neat, huh?

I continued the glowing theme with his grenades.

This probably showcases the maps on the armor the best.

This was the only main project that I finished during the semester due to time constraints. I did, however, do a series of 45 tutorials designed to take students through all of the necessary tools to complete the Maya modeling class as Dixie State University. They can be found here. They took a surprising amount of work and without the help of my two good friends at school, Bryan and Kraig, it might not have gotten done on time.

Stop scrolling here if you want to hear the biggest news. I'm happy to announce that I graduated from Dixie State University with a Bachelor's of Science, Visual Technologies emphasis, with Summa Cum Laude honors! My final GPA was 3.96. I am also proud to announce that I got a 4.0 my last three semesters giving me the hat trick that I was shooting for.

From the left,
Back: Kraig, Rob
Front: Tyler, Me

To go along with this would be the sad fact that I would be moving away from the St. George I love. In the last few weeks of school, however, this was changed. My mom got a job at Dixie Regional Medical Center and my parents move down to St. George this weekend! I'm helping them move (Boo!) but when I come to visit them I can see some of my friends that are living is St. George (Yay!). It will be great. I really like the house that my parents bought and I'm super happy that they aren't living in the Crazy Town (Spring City) anymore. There were just getting to be too many overzealous end-of-the-worlders who were convinced that there was going to be some horrendous disaster and they were going to be ready with their rifles and 100,000 years of food storage. News flash! If there was a calamity like that I would rather die than live through it, but that's just me. Oh-so-glad to be out of there for good. I will post pictures of my parent's new house later when I have access to a camera and the house.... :)

The last news of the day is that I have officially applied for two jobs!!! One is in New York (ouch! >_<) and the other is in Bellevue, WA (slightly less ouch!) The one in New York I would be modeling objects for a 3D printer to print, which would be pretty fun. It would be super daunting to move all the way across the country, however, especially for my first job. The other one is an environment/prop artist (my dream job!) for ArenaNet (they make Guild Wars). This is really what I want to do for a living and they use Maya so it sounds ideal, I just hope that (if I get the job) I could handle living in Washington state for 5 years minimum. I would actually feel safer living in California just because I could be much more sure that I would like the weather. I will be applying for more jobs soon, they are just so time consuming to apply for since they require you to sign your life away.

Anyways, if any of you read this entry from back to front, I am impressed. I should really update more often and then I wouldn't has such a long post. Although, honestly, most of this stuff happened in the past week so it wouldn't be that much shorter. Well, have a good day/night/morning/evening/whatever! :)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Future . . . .

Starts now. In honor of finally redesigning my blog I decided to write a post to commemorate the event. It won't be a very long post, or very interesting, but a post nonetheless.

Because I don't want all of you to feel slighted by the brevity, here is a picture.

"It is better to die for the Emperor than live for yourself!" --- Various Space Marines
(I made Mortifax ---this chainsword--- in Maya)

Stayed tuned for more posts.
Keep it real folks.