Christien Murawski

Movie spaceship of the day: Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov

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“The catch is, a boat this big doesn’t exactly stop on a dime.”

The Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov has three things going for it that made me immediately fall in love with it the first time I saw 2010 in a theater in 1984. First, it is massive. I love a massive ship in space, just as I gravitate to the largest ships in water. There is something comforting about an aircraft carrier, or even a cruise ship. A couple years ago I was on a cruise ship out in the Atlantic and that sense of being out in the middle of the ocean was awe-inspiring. I would sit for hours out on the tiny little stateroom balcony and just stare out at the ocean and the horizon and the unfathomable expanse of what was before me and feel this amazing sense of relaxation slowly move in over me like a tide. Having been on a small boat out of sight of land, I have to say that bigger is better. It just feels like so much can go wrong out there on a small boat, and if it does…well, let’s just say my imagination was fertile as a young boy, and this was decades before I would see the movie Open Water. I had already seen Jaws.

After the jump…it’s also the motion of the ocean Continue reading →

The best thing you’ll see all week: Girls

, | TV reviews

-I’m sorry you don’t get what’s so hilarious about me peeing on you.
-Okay, you are not a good apologizer. Just FYI.

Hannah Horvath sits in a dark theater, watching the tech rehearsal for a friend’s play. Opening night is two weeks out, so the edges are a little rough, but she is entranced. For good reason. The man she is watching, her friend Adam, is utterly captivating. Confident. Sexy. Powerful. Raw. Scary. She is almost alone with him in the theater, and as he shifts from his monologue to the next beat in the tech rehearsal, she seems about to lean forward and give a bit of direction. It’s a jarring moment, since while Hannah is played by Lena Dunham, the creator of the show and a woman undoubtedly able to give direction, Hannah the character could never do that. At least not competently.

Shortly after that theater scene there is a moment in this eighth episode of the first season of HBO’s Girls when the show seems to be directly talking about itself. Hannah is telling Adam why he should do the play when he has decided to quit. But Girls is not only talking about itself–plenty of shows do that–it’s also pulling thoughts out of our heads:

Do you know how unusual it is to see someone doing something like that? Like what you were doing, okay? That’s so open and honest and weird and you’re not making fun of them in your mind?

Lena Dunham has found a way to scramble our brains. She does it naturally, instinctively, just the way Adam does his monologue, and just the way he quits it. She shows us herself and not without fear, but without winking. She’s created something that is open and honest and weird and I’m not making fun of it in my mind.

Weekly Little Big Planet: my enemy, myself

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An online friend sent me a message after E3 asking how excited I was about the upcoming LBP karting game. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he made me miss LBP. I took a break to highlight Trials Evolution community tracks in this space for a couple of weeks, and while I love the game, it is somewhat limited in creative scope when held up against LittleBigPlanet. Motorcycles are cool, but are they really as cool as a helmet that shoots cupcakes? I’m a pie man, and even I’d have to say no to that.

Sadly, firing up LBP after a few weeks is going to mean updating. Not a problem with my Xbox, even when it has been similarly dormant. Somehow that works through the process without a hitch. But my PS3 updating LBP? That’s always going to take at least two days of various rebootings and the entire home network falling to pieces. So…

This week’s Trials Evolution track is Heavy Machinery 1.1. It was designed by Fruity Gudness. Yes, the Escher part took me about fifty tries to get past, but I love the shifty loopiness of this track. It brought to mind the orange Matchbox Car tracks of my youth. More importantly…

After the jump, fear of a chrome planet Continue reading →

Weekly Little Big Planet: loosen up

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Target down, this week’s Trials Evolution community track, forces you to learn how to use the brakes. Be ready for that. You have to get to know this track before you can beat it. From time to time when talking about Little Big Planet levels I’ve been known to complain about compulsory deaths. I think I whine about surprise deaths being unfair. That they violate the rules. There are no such rules in Trials Evolution. Sometimes a ramp is going to drop on your head without warning. You’re going to faceplant into a stone pillar on your first time trying some tracks. That’s just life on a motorcycle. Deal with it.

Some tracks let you buzz through them on your first run. If you get how throttle and balance coexist in the game doing well on those tracks comes down to shaving seconds off your time. Target down isn’t about shaving seconds so much as it is about eliminating faults, and doing that requires trial and error. There’s no way around that. It’s a track that makes you learn it, but not one that relies upon impossible rock slabs to up its difficulty rating. After trying to beat one called Squirrel Island about a hundred times this week, and failing, I can appreciate that.

Target down was designed by CONPExZii. Difficulty: hard.

Weekly Little Big Planet: hold the cheese

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The thing about Trials Evolution is that you can cheese your way through certain levels by stumbling past a checkpoint here and there. You feel yourself starting to lose control of the bike, you’re tipping over the handlebars after clearing a particularly difficult incline and you think you’re going to have to start over yet again. But wait! There’s the next checkpoint marker! You’re falling forward. Will you plant your rider’s face in the asphalt, or like a sprinter straining for the tape will you nose across the marker and turn it green before the crash indicator flashes? That’s not cheating. You take a fault and move on to the next stage. Not perfect, but legit. But sometimes…

The thing about Neosphere, this week’s Trials Evolution community track, is that it never let me cheese the checkpoints. Or rather, it didn’t let me feel okay about it. I’m thinking in particular about a checkpoint I call The Guillotine One. I crashed as I cleared that every single time because I just couldn’t finesse the throttle properly. The game, feeling sorry for me, let me continue as if I’d really cleared it, but deep down I knew I hadn’t. I’d cheesed it, and if a track is really good, you just won’t settle for cheesing it.

Neosphere was designed by DrittesAuge.

Weekly Little Big Planet: Roy G. 450cc

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Trials Evolution track of the week: Rainbow Road. Track designer: LatChoX. Difficulty: Medium.

I’m flying on this track. I’ve totally nailed the opening, where you immediately have to finesse the throttle so you approach that first trough with just enough momentum to be able to nail the first jump, but not so much that you smash into the incline. I’ve learned not to over-think the loop. I clear the track without a fault. Great. I’m flying.

On the leaderboard I’m somewhere past one thousand. What the hell?

I start thinking about parity. I’m riding a Scorpion 450cc. That’s the best bike I’ve unlocked so far, the best bike I can unlock given my license level. Am I supposed to put in more track time in the game before I mess around with the community tracks? No. That can’t be it. But still, I realize I’m running against folks with far better bikes. How am I supposed to compete with them? This doesn’t come up in LBP. In LittleBigPlanet, all sacks are equal. My sackboy is only limited by his human. Not so in Trials Evolution. Here we are also limited by our equipment. Ahem. At first I find this disturbing. Then I find it brilliant. There’s a sort of feedback loop here. A reason to return to the actual game beyond cosmetics. If I get more medals I’ll get a higher license and a better bike, and thus a better time on this community designed track. I start to see a beautiful back and forth.

Rainbow Road, you deserve to be featured on your own merits, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that our president’s announcement about marriage equality this week helped your chances. Politics aside, once I get a better bike, I will be back. You can count on it.

Rainbow Road was designed by LatChoX.

Weekly Little Big Planet: mind the gap

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It’s not that I’m over LBP, but for the next few weeks or so we’ll be tooling around in a new community, the RedLynx community that is designing tracks for the Xbox Live game Trials Evolution. This game is my current addiction and I was pleased to find that it somewhat mirrors LBP in allowing its community to tinker with creating tracks and racing them. My favorite thing about LBP is the way its design community is structured, and while Trials Evolution is not remotely close to that level of robustness and accessibility, it’s fresh and doesn’t involve burlap. Sometimes you need a break from burlap.

So we start with my first track suggestion, Bridge Race.

After the jump, unabridged Continue reading →

Weekly Little Big Planet: two by four

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4×4 from hell. I found this one quite by accident, stumbling into something called 3D FP House that was suggested under the Cool Levels header, but which was really just a demo. Luckily one of the rooms in the 3D FP House, the bathroom, had level links to the designer’s other work. Since I mentioned my occasional longing to return to Screamer 4×4 last week, I decided to jump into 4×4 from hell. So glad I did. While I find the lack of a scoring system to be irksome, I loved the shape of the world. It perfectly fits into the game I can’t get enough of right now. Another driving game.

Only this one is on two wheels.

After the jump, the jump Continue reading →

Weekly Little Big Planet: play this not that

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Every six months or so I bug Tom to resurrect a game at our weekly gaming night, Shoot Club, because I have fond memories of being good at it. Usually it’s some old Half Life mod where you get insta-kills with the crowbar in death match. Or Screamer 4×4.

“What’s that motorcycle game I totally rocked last year? The one with the cool physics?”

“Trials HD. It wasn’t last year. And you didn’t rock it.”

I totally did, and since I’m annoyed with LBP this week for screwing up my home network with its [failed] updates, I’m just going to give some love to that game’s successor, Trials Evolution, which I played for the first time last night. This works out just fine since the motorcycle game and the sackboy game use some of the same muscles. There was a particularly sweet moment when I had to negotiate my Scorpion over two giant rotating gears, and somehow I cleared the obstacle without a fault on the first try. “How did you do that?” It was more of an exclamation than a question. I was surprised too until I got to the end of the track and realized I was using skills instilled in me by LBP. Jumping. Balance. Timing. So, thank you Sackboy, but you’re in the doghouse this week in favor of Trials Evolution.

Weekly Little Big Planet: detangled

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A couple of months ago LBP came up with a new invention called Attract-o-Gel, a substance that enables your sackboy to walk on walls and ceilings. I rejoiced, hoping this would mean less of those hanging-from-the-ceiling elements I so hate. R1Grip, swing, release-and-quickR1. R1Grip, swing, release-and-quickR1. Ugh. So tedious. Attract-o-Gel to the rescue!

Except, not. It’s too easy, and unfortunately too many community designers use it as a crutch. Because of that I came to despise it. But it was a new tool, and designers, they adapt.

Designers like EDOGAN1, the creator of Rapunzel’s Rodent Problems, for example. Yes the level is so dark in parts that you can barely see what you’re doing. Yes, Rapunzel looks creepy and talks too much. And yes, your sackboy’s main ally is a hair vermin that is freaking out the teachers and parents of elementary students everywhere. Just typing that is creating a phantom itch on my scalp. Ignore that and dial down your squick, because someone just figured out how to make Attract-o-Gel a worthy LBP tool.

That, and decent level music. Well done.

Weekly Little Big Planet: hard cell

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I find myself gravitating more and more of late to levels that stretch beyond the usual jumping puzzles and platforms. Not that there’s anything wrong with platforming (can you say it like that?), of course, I’m just in a phase that calls for different challenges than bounce pads and grappling hooks usually provide. Unfortunately this can lead me into community levels that are beyond my ability.

Such is the case with Perfect Cell: V2 Remake, which feels like it’s making me use separate halves of my brain simultaneously. But I don’t care when a level is too hard, especially when I get the sense that I will eventually turn the corner. I’m almost there with this one, and I like that. So, you know what? Strike the word ‘unfortunately’ from that above paragraph. If I’m going to expect the level designers to stretch, I should expect the same of myself.

Weekly Little Big Planet: my current agendum

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A creepy scientist named, uh, Creepy Scientist, has experienced something called the YLoD. My sackboy naturally feels bad for the guy–who wouldn’t?–and allows himself to be miniaturized and transported into the scientist’s PS3 in order to fix it. The result, Electric Momentum, has some of the coolest and quickest platforming I’ve played in a long time. That little spark in the middle of the screenshot there? That’s my boy, translated into electricity for a moment.

Bring your reflexes.

Weekly Little Big Planet: the thin ruled line

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Maybe it’s the jaunty Toy Story music juxtaposed against my little stick dude getting splatted by a speeding car doodle. Or maybe it’s the fact that the designer gives me the option to instantly become a cat in order to avoid being blown up by a cannon. Or perhaps it’s the part with the jumping truck doodle where you blow the horn and scare away the giant. Or the part where the notebook page tears away (pictured). Whatever it is, Paper World 2: Doodle hit the spot this week. It scratched a similar itch as last week’s community level, where I just needed to try something different.

Speaking of something different…

After the jump, I’m in the shit Continue reading →

Weekly Little Big Planet: attack the block

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Two consecutive weeks of jaunty music and Muppets. I’m all cuted out, and so is my sackboy. We’re looking for something simple, yet challenging. Enough with all the jumping for now too. Platforms, platforms, platforms. What else ya got?

A puzzle? Okay. I’m listening. What are the directions? “Get the block to fall into the square hole to progress to the next level.” Um…you’ll have to forgive me if I think that sounds a little boring. “Inspired by the flash game ‘Bloxorz’.” Well, I’ve never heard of that. I guess I’ll give it a try.

BlockThing 3D. Exactly what I needed. Thanks, AliensWearHats. Although I must admit I wish you’d capitalized that first ‘s’ in your PSN name, instead of the ‘w’. Something to consider for the future.