Wednesday, December 12, 2012

DECIBEL Top 40 of 2012 by RECORD LABEL

A few months ago I cancelled my subscription to Decibel Magazine. It was partly because of the lackluster content (the excessive coverage to totally shitty bands) and partly because there were two months when the magazine did not arrive.

Since, I have bought the magazine occasionally and I actually just purchased the issue with the Top 40 of 2012, especially because of the induction of Sarcofago's I.N.R.I. into the Decibel Hall of Fame. The article is great, what's not so great is the inclusion of bands like August Burns Red and the Top 40 itself, which includes some obvious and deserving ones, alongside others that really just seem to make the cut because they either know people or are released by the right label.

The following is the main reason why I don't subscribe to the mag anymore:

Relapse 5
Nuclear Blast 5
Century Media 4
Season of Mist 2
Profound Lore 2
Metal Blade 2
Roadrunner 1
Neurot 1
Epitaph 1
Debemur Morti 1
Eone 1
Young God 1
Dark Descent 1
Spinefarm 1
No Sleep 1
Hydra Head 1
Prosthetic 1
20 Buck Spin 1
Tee Pee 1
Listenable 1
Handmade Birds 1
Self-Released 1
Inside Out 1
Seventh Rule 1
Lupus Lounge 1
Black Market Activities 1

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Diablo III VS Torchlight II: The Showdown of HONESTY, For Reals, No Payoffs

We're not sure how many of our readers are gamers, but with extreme music, probably at least 70%, so this is for you.  Over the years, there have been several PC series that have revolutionized the video game industry.  One of those was Diablo, with its incredibly awesome sequel Diablo II.  Following the success of these games, the so-called H&S genre developed further.  H&S means simply hack & slash, where you control a character who goes around chopping up enemies.  Diablo really helped solidify the idea, and when II was released it caused a revolution in gaming, one of which can still be found for sale at Best Buy (sorry, had to mention it) at the time of this entry.  Naturally, copycats abound, and they all follow the same idea, where is basically what the first Torchlight was.

Recently, though, Blizzard, the company behind Diablo, has been demonized by the fans that helped it to make it the megalith it is today.  And, unfortunately, like so many great companies, it's because money is starting to feed their creations.  That's where we come in, honest truth, from someone with no monetary attachments other than the price to purchase.  Now, we're not going to get into an extensive history of either game, suffice to say Torchlight basically owes its existence to several people who used to work for Blizzard and got sick of what they saw happening, creating the company Runic Games.  Though largely a copycat, the first Torchlight was something of a test for what would come, Torchlight II.  Before this, however, the highly anticipated, and probably most anticipated PC game of all time, Diablo III was released.

Released to high acclaim at first, but this in itself reveals the problem with modern review sites.  They typically need to get something out to readers before launch.  If you don't do it in time, who's going to want to read your site?  Unfortunately, this led to a glut of suspiciously high scores for D3, something completely at odds with popular consensus, which, if you look at a site like Amazon, is so glaringly low the false 5-star reviews on there are obvious for the propaganda they are.  Having played both of these games thoroughly, which is what it takes to give a proper review, ahem IGN, it's clear Diablo III sucks.  It sucks more than every porn actress of all time in history, and is quite possibly the worst PC game of all time because of how it has failed its critical fanbase.  You've probably read a few of these comparisons, but now you're going to read one from someone who's played both since their initial launch and knows them thoroughly.  In fact, I already have some pretty elite characters for both, but I only play Torchlight II now, haven't touched that piece of shit D3 for at least two months.  Why?  Well, best to go over this in a simple, cross-comparison format.

1. The Plot

Okay, in general terms, both of these games aren't exactly the deepest experience you're ever going to have. Torchlight II involves a plot that's basically stripped straight from Diablo II; not unusual since some of the guys who designed the former helped with the latter.  But, it has some clever little twists and interesting creatures (like the various guardians).  Still, nothing fancy, nor surprising.  Diablo III on the otherhand, holy fucking Christ.  Worse than realizing you don't have a penis at the age of 13 while reading Hustler.  The plot of D3 is so shockingly thin and childish it's almost amazing it got through the initial design phase.  A two-year-old can figure it out by the end of Act I, or by Act II it's definitely yawn-worthy, and Acts III and IV are throw-away.  And the voice acting, what the fuck?  Who in the living hell did they get to act so badly?!  They even let PC fall upon them in some of the designs?!  So, though either doesn't excel in any sense in this area, Torchlight II offers a more mature concept that plays out well.  The plot is much more believable and the dialog isn't nearly as wooden.  Plus, the bosses are fucking awesome, whereas in D3 you're treated to some of the most tame and uninspired losers you'll ever see.  And hey, look at the overall idea behind T2.  Steampunk people.  Guns, cannons, antiquated, evil robots, holy fuck yes.  Why, because it has a little variety!  Not the usual black metal doom gloom blood fest.  Sometimes we need something a little different.

2. The Graphics

This is probably the only area where Diablo III really seems to outweigh Torchlight II, but after playing both it's a matter of opinion.  D3 is oriented towards realism, T2 is oriented towards a more colorful, almost cartoony look, or perhaps best to say WoW look (meaning World of Warcraft).  As such, it depends on your tastes.  Both have excellent environment designs, integration of the world with character action, great animations, and so forth.  It just depends what you prefer.  Honestly, I didn't like T2's graphics at first, but after playing it I prefer them to D3 because they're more artistic and lush.  D3 is overall dark and bloody.  So, both excel here, it really depends on what you're looking for.  However, please note, this is a minor point when you look at a few critical areas.

3. The Sound

In general, both games have the high and low points in this area.  D3's soundtrack is terrible and you'll never notice it, whereas T2's is awesome but essentially ripped straight from D2 for the most part other than some cool, unique moments.  Each, however, has a nice set of sound effects.  T2 features steam powered machines and robots that give it a cool touch, and D3 is more realistic with various effects.  Really, they both largely excel in this area, but T2's music is much better, in spite of the fact it was lifted from ideas in D2.  But hey, don't forget, some of those guys broke away from what Blizzard once was to create T2, so you at least know where it came from.

4. Character Classes

First off, D3 has more character types, and T2 looks, on the surface, like hacks of D2 characters with little depth.  For D2 you have the Barbarian, Wizard, Monk, Witch Doctor, and Demon Hunter.  All of them, if you know D2, are basically redos of previous characters.  The Monk is a combination of the Paladin and Assassin from the preceding game, and the Witch Doctor is clearly the Necromancer but is way difficult to use unless you know what you're doing.  So, more classes, sure, but they're pretty shallow when you think about it.  And, more importantly, most of their skills suck dick.  Anyone trying the raven skill for the Demon Hunter had enough at first try.

In T2, you only have four total classes, so at first it seems inferior.  But then you see how the game works.  So, you have the Embermage, Engineer, Outlander, and Beserker.  It's clear what the Embermage is.  The Outlander is basically a ranged character, and the Berserker is clearly like a Barbarian.  The Engineer is tough to place, but think of it as almost a part Paladin, part Amazon, it's weird.  Anyway, point is most people say IT ONLY HAS FOUR CLASSES WTF.  Fools.  First off, yeah, only four, but the skill set is much different.  In fact, you can essentially create probably at least 5-7 different types of each character, so it's more like you have 20 classes in all.  An Electric Engineer, a Canonneer, a Sword Mage, whatever you want.  Doesn't exist in D3.  You pick a character, and you're done, no incentive to try it again.  With T2, you'll be thinking of a new build constantly.  Speaking of which...

5. Character Builds

One of the things that made D2 such a fun game was the ability to make almost any character variation you wanted.  Of course, only a few were true machines, but you still had the option of trying new things.  In D3 this potential is completely missing.  For some reason, the designers decided to make it so that upon reaching level 60 where it caps you have all available skills and simply select the ones you want to use.  That means, there is no way to increase their potential except through items (we'll get to why this is critical later).  WHAT THE FUCK...  Basically, you're going to see the same handful of character types all the time with very little variation because, well, really only a handful of skills are any good!

T2, on the other hand, first off lets you personalize your character's look (hair color, facial structure, etc.).  And, more importantly, it has a skill set that you place points into, just like D2, so you can adjust their powerful and usefulness as you see fit.  Furthermore, skills in T2 aren't attached to a skill tree, meaning they're all individual and you can put the points anywhere you want without previous requirements other than level for the initial opening of each one.  This means, you're going to see a shitload of character variety.  Want to be a mage that wields swords and functions like a tank?  Go for it.  Want to see an engineer who functions like a summoner and fires shotguns from afar?  Go for it bitch.  That's just the thing, T2 is a gamer's  game, you can do anything you want with it.  D3 does not give this option, and for an important, insidious reason we'll get to now...

6. Core Gameplay

So, both D3 and T2 have the H&S thing going on.  You listen to the plot, select quests, run around, kill stuff, collect items, play some more.  T2 has several better features over D3, including little ones like the ability to adjust your viewing screen into any depth you want simply by rolling the scroll wheel on your mouse.  D3 is annoyingly stuck at too far away or so damn close you can't see shit.  But that's just one detail, I won't go over all the others.  But let's mention the pets!  Man, you can select several different types of pets and personalize them, and they can be used to run items back to town for sale or come back with more potions so you can keep playing while they do the work.  FUCKING BOSS.  But, the critical issue for any game like this is finding better items and making your character a beast that can stand up to more and more pressure.  Both games function in largely the same way, other than what's already been mentioned, but there's a critical big fucking deal issue with D3, namely, the Auction House, and in particular the Real Money Auction House, or RMAH.  See, it's simple.

In T2, you kill stuff, you find items.  It has basically the same item system as D3, other than drop rate.  White items are the least powerful, followed by green, blue, then orange, and then the incredibly unique red.  D3 has white, blue, yellow, brown, and green.  In T2 there are sets for every level from blue up, D3 only has set items in green.  White items are usually stock and not very useful later, whereas low-level items will serve their purpose for most of the game.  And, even cooler, item vendors actually have good shit most of the time in T2.  The gambler, for example, will deal out some seriously good shit if you save up the money to take the chance.  Further, you get a great item drop rate that keeps you coming back.  Usually, you get at least one slightly better item almost every run in T2.  Because of the huge diversity in items (multiple sets, multiple gem types, the ability to enchant your items in different ways, etc.), pretty much everything is workable.  Many items can be used by multiple classes.

D3 is the complete opposite of this.  White items are worthless, even at low levels.  Blues are rarely good, yellows are often better but you'll get annoyed with the variety of shitty ones you find, browns almost never appear and when they do usually piss you off because they end up blowing goats, and green set items usually appear and suck even more dick because they're usually cool when you find them, but not what you need, like at all, like a DPS (damage per second) loss of over 13,000.  Gem inserts are restricted to only four different types of varying levels of perfection, but in T2 you have blood embers that give life regeneration, spark embers for electric power, certain skulls that reflect damage, you name it.  In D3 you're lucky if you find one item you need every fucking fifty runs.  But hey, that's okay if you're still finding stuff that's good.  But you're not.  Why?  Simple, Blizzard has D3 tied into the RMAH.  The auction house lets players post their items in a database and sell them for in-game gold.  But, it also includes a section where you can buy and sell things for real money.  Blizzard thought of this for two reasons.  One, it eliminated third-party sites selling items as you found with D2.  And, more importantly, two, it lets them make more money.  At least in theory.  Want to know why you're not finding a lot of good rares?  Easy, it's because it depends on the number of them for sale in the auction house.  It has nothing to do with your magic find (MF) percentage.  It has everything to do with Blizzard making more cash if you're stupid enough to pay real money on a fantasy life.  How's that?  Simple, you spend the time playing, and they actually fucking take a percentage of each sell.  Well, do it with fake gold then?  Go ahead, but they control that market too!  They take a cut of that even, and then sell game gold in the RMAH to make more money.  Motherfuckers...  That's all you really need to know about D3 in this regard.  You'll usually see people complaining about the item drops, and this is the critical reason why it sucks so much dick.  Greedy scum.

7. Max Levels

Another big issue.  D3 maxes at 60.  SUCKS.  Sucks for a few reasons.  One, the game keeps going and monsters keep getting more powerful while you don't.  They tried to fix this with what they call "Paragon Levels", but it's boring as piss because the core gameplay remains the same.  Two, the only way to counteract this is with better items.  Three, the better items are in the auction house.  Four, the really, really good items you need are guessed it, sale in real dollars...  It all makes sense, doesn't it?  Further, D3 really has no balance.  The first four difficulty settings are FOR PUSSIES.  The last one, Inferno, suddenly went to fucking death from all directions with the first zombie you encountered.  So hard it wasn't even enjoyable anymore, but you wanted to prove you could win.  When you did, you didn't give a shit anymore and quit the whole fucking thing.  Thus it goes with D3.  There's no incentive to play.  Why make another Demon Hunter when you can simply switch out your skills?  There's no personalization of play whatsoever!

T2, however, maxes at 100.  This matters for several reasons.  First, it provides balanced play throughout, going from easy to hard, a setting which, by the way, you can change at any time.  Currently playing it on Normal but want to try the next task on Elite?  Go ahead, and it won't take starting a new game to do it!  Second, skills aren't tied to items, so when you raise more levels, so do your skills, and you can make them better as you see fit using a wide variety of gear, most of which can be used by almost every class.  So how do you level further in T2?  Easy, you can either create a so-called NG+ (each + meaning you've played it that many more times), where everything resets based on current level, or you can do what most players do, go to a special world called Mapworks where you can purchase a variety of random maps with a boss creature at the end to keep leveling.  After that, you have the 105-level maps that really test your skill at any level, or, if you want to try, you can actually modify your own maps by programming them and create worlds where you fight absolutely elite bosses all packed into a single room.  All up to you!  Won't find that in D3.

8. Online Community

One problem with D3, no offline mode, you have to play the whole thing online, and everyone knows what happened the first day.  The servers crashed and no one could play.  Good one, Blizzard.  This is one thing many have complained about.  However, D3 is slick in that you have an online list of friends attached to any game in the Blizzard universe, and you can chat with them during play at any point.  If you want to join a game with them, you simply request invite or they ask you.  So yeah, if you've played D2 you know immediately what the problem is there.  No more created games.  D3 runs entirely on a system that either puts you with random players, or you create a game and invite your friends, provided you have any who are even still playing this hunk of shit.  At launch, you'd see numbers in excess of 10,000 public games with slots for up to four players max (another issue, T2 enables up to 6 max).  Today, usually around 300-500, no joke, open public games.  That tells you a lot.

T2, however, has the good old create and name your game feature.  Remember those awesome "Tristy001" runs in D2?  You'll find that kind of shit again in T2.  The online mode, should you select it instead of offline, which yeah, this has, enables you to see what friends you have on, where they're playing, and also enables you to create any type of game you want almost with passwords, level caps, and the like.  In the offline mode you can actually play the same character as online and level them up without playing with others, something you never saw in D2.  There are only two issues with T2.  One, you can't chat to your friends outside of a game.  Two, if you choose to enter a NG+ or higher setting, you can't play with anyone below you anymore.  That's a little annoying, and not sure why they chose to do that, but it's something you can assume they'll fix in the future.  Which gets us to another critical area.

9. Game Modifications

Blizzard has already gotten an asston of fire for the various changes they've made to D3 since launch, and they've been very sneaky about it at some points, which just pisses off players.  There are some people who say that they're probably manipulating drops and the RMAH to make themselves more money (by, say, making the really good stuff only available in there, sold by characters they actually own), but that's hard to prove.  What can be proven, however, is the constant, draconian methods Blizzard has been using that are downright fucking propaganda in certain cases.  Here's one: the Demon Hunter has a cool, upper-level skill called Trail of Cinders.  When you flip out of the way of enemies, you'd leave a trail of fire that once did 1500% of armed weapon damage.  Very useful for a character that's usually not able to take many hits.  So, during one patch, they announced this damage increase.  A patch or so later, suddenly they were stating that the 1500% of damage done by ToC was actually a "bug" or "glitch" and was "never intended" to do that, when, in fact, the fucking previous patch notes stating otherwise from their own fucking mouths was still fucking online.  That, my friends, is the kind of shit real gamers don't enjoy, not one bit, and it's only one example of countless times this has happened.  It's understandable that certain skills may work too well or not so well and need altered, but sure as hell make sure you don't fucking lie about it.

T2 has gone through changes too, such as a recent implementation of different languages into the game text and storyline for foreign players, since more and more are appearing.  At launch you'd see around 2 pages of open games without about 4000-5000 players online.  Now, you can pretty much quadruple that.  One reason why is that Runic Games largely leaves the core play alone.  Why?  Simple, because skills are not set to predetermined conditions.  In T2, as already mentioned, YOU control how much power you want a skill to have, it's capped at a certain level, and that's it.  Do what you want with it, get items to increase potential overall, and have at it.  You will not see this same kind of core play manipulation because of this simple issue, which, in essence, has been a way D3 was envisioned as a money-making machine that has largely failed because we aren't fucking idiots.

Further, and even cooler, you can modify almost any aspect of T2!  That means, create your own super maps if your character is too powerful for what they provide, create more sockets than possible in an item, add enchantments you usually couldn't outside of what the game provides, etc.  So wait, that means people can cheat?  Yes, it does, but thankfully, their character is then marked with items that say CHEATED or special symbols when they log in so other players know they're either just having fun or cheating sons-of-bitches.  You won't see many people doing this because who likes to admit that?  But, they do exist.  Thankfully, Runic Games foresaw possible problems with this, so characters are then marked with a scarlet ! symbol, no joke, so everyone knows they're full of shit.  Modifying your own maps and levels to make them more challenging, however, is considered totally fair game, and it should be.  Sadly, you won't see any of this in D3.  If you're even suspected of doing anything close to this, your account will be banned and locked like a concentration camp.  Recently there was the issue of players reducing the screen view size so they could see monsters farther away and attack them without activating their motion, so Blizzard banned them.  Really?

10. Player Versus Player

Anyone playing D3 is aware of this.  This some bullshit.  Player VS Player fighting, otherwise known as PvP, was supposed to be available during launch and still fucking isn't for D3?!!!!  What the fucking fuck?!!  If you know these games, inexcusable.  They're apparently working on it, but it looks lame as shit and their new act they're working on sounds retarded and is sure to be as lackluster as what they already released, probably worse.  T2, folks, has PvP, and you can set it at any time, anywhere.  Fucking intense too.

In conclusion, and having played both of these games to death, Torchlight II is really the only way to go anymore.  Diablo III was ruined by the time it was conceived, and there's no possible way they can get out of it.  The problem is easy to understand, money.  Torchlight II is all about the player, and Diablo III is all about the cash, so the game is constantly manipulated in order to make it in their favor, not yours.  By adjusting various skills, they make it more difficult for you to find the good shit, which will undoubtedly, and unfortunately, force many players to spend real money on game items to feel good about their pathetic, up-until-4AM existence.  This is not a way to run a gaming business, and it's likely the first step in Blizzard's eventual demise.  As it happens with many gaming companies, they get full of themselves, and they think that whatever they fucking release is going to be awesome or no one will notice when it sucks.  This may have broke sale records, but it also likely broken the fanbase that made it possible.  More likely than not, all downhill from here.  Runic Games, on the other hand, shows incredible promise and insight through Torchlight II, and if you're a true gamer who cares about actual play, that's where you need to look.  Don't fall for the bullshit you might read out there ever, ever again.  Show Blizzard that without you, they're the piece of shit that they are.  Fuck you, I'm done with you.  For further information, usually in very short reviews, just check out the overwhelming negatives on and you'll get all you need to know.

The First DJ in North Korea

We tend to forget in the West how important music is to us, and how big of a part of our lives it is.  Sure, we sometimes harp on how sites like Myspace turned underground music into a rotting cesspool of inadequacy, but when you read about things like this, even the worst crust punkabilly band in the world sounds awesome.  The following is a short interview with DJ BO, a Westerner who recently became the first DJ to ever perform in North Korea.  Short, but very interesting read with some cool pictures: