Game Maker's Toolkit: Breaking Down Your Favorite Games

Game Maker's Toolkit: Breaking Down Your Favorite Games

Game Maker's Toolkit is Mark Brown's fantastic playground of video game research and philosophy

I first came across the work of Mark Brown on Youtube through his series “Boss Keys.” “Boss Keys” is a selection of videos dedicated to playing through, analyzing and breaking down the structures of the dungeons throughout the “Legend of Zelda” franchise. As a “Legend of Zelda” fan and a bit (okay, more than a bit) of a hopeless nerd, I quickly found myself watching through the entire series and subscribing to his channel. I later found out that Mark had been an editor-at-large (among a variety of other roles) for the UK's mobile and handheld gaming publication “Pocket Gamer”. His time working for the publication came to an end in January of 2017 in order to allow himself more time and energy for his main Youtube show.

Mark’s main show, which he funds through a Patreon, is called “Game Maker’s Toolkit”. This series covers a variety of games, franchises, and genres in an attempt to dissect various elements of gameplay and game design. The idea is simply to study the inner workings of video games and video game design philosophy in a palatable, approachable format. The execution, however, is so much more.

The essence of Mark’s videos is a sort of honesty. Far from the sometimes cringe-inducing attempts at humor that many of the major gaming publications strive for, when Mark says something cheeky it often feels authentic and warm. Instead of strictly gushing about a game or critically panning it, the viewer can usually rely on him to find a specific aspect of a game and present it in a nuanced fashion. It all feels like he’s truly passionate about the subject matter rather than going through articles and video essays for work’s sake.

That genuine feeling that he is just as intrigued as you are is important to an audience that wants to learn more about the industry and medium that they love. Mark also brings a sense of refinement to each video. They look sharp, with professional editing that sets him apart from some of the other gaming content creators on Youtube that may not be part of larger groups or companies like IGN or Gamespot. This is not at all to disparage budding gaming and tech journalists (trust me I’m in no position to judge), but instead to note and appreciate a level of quality that is not always seen in this niche.

Though I have yet to watch all of the videos on his channel, I feel that I can safely say to anyone interested in video gaming and game design (or just in good video essays) that Mark is a must watch. I look up to the way that he is able to balance intellectual dissection of a topic with the excitement of a fan. You never feel like he is going overboard in one direction and neglecting the other. To me personally he and his videos are an example of things that we need much more of in video game journalism.

Out of Mark’s videos I’d highly suggest starting with his episode on the idea of “versatile verbs” and his episode talking about the so called “language” of games. You can follow Mark Brown on Twitter and support him on his Patreon, linked above.

Cover Image Credit: PocketGamer

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The Neighbourhood Adds Some Color With "To Imagine EP"

Who spilled paint on this album?

Why is there color on my The Neighborhood album art? You used to refuse to even let color photos of them circulate by major media companies, but now you guys hit us with this?

I know it might sound like I'm mad, but I'm actually super happy. This EP is going to make a lot of fans angry, but I'm going to go on record by fully supporting this move, even if it replaces my downbeat sad music with upbeat sad music.

Enough with vague gushing about the album's departure from The Neighbourhood we grew up in, though. Let me walk you through this new synth-filled melancholy hill.

1. "Dust"

With that weird synth bass building at the beginning, the semi-chanting of "No more water in the lake...," I knew something was up. When the heavily-autotuned vocals of the pre-chorus and chorus came in alongside the uncharacteristic dance-like melody, I realized everything was about to change.

"Dust" sounds almost like an 80s synth-pop track and I am almost completely onboard. The music fits well with the theme of ignorance of others' thoughts, making sure you aren't listening to the lyrics to demonstrate the fact that no one wants to listen to what anyone else is actually saying, we just like what sounds good.

The only thing I'm not a huge fan of is the ending. I get what they were trying to do, and they did a good job with the song slowing down like a tape spilling out of its cassette, but I felt like it could've been saved for the very end of the EP or, at the very least, replaced with a better end.

Overall, this is a great opener and left me wanting more!

My favorite lyric: "Didn't want to listen to nobody so everybody went out of control."

2. "Scary Love"

Another dance track, but this one takes more cues from (what sounds like) The Weeknd and other dance/R&B artists before breaking out into a pop chorus that's super catchy. It sounds like driving too fast down a highway at night feels.

This one preys on the insecurities people often feel when starting a serious relationship after being heartbroken countless times. It also focuses on the feeling of moving too fast in a relationship and the anxieties that come with that.

As the song goes on, it moves from a place of fear to a place of longing, moving from fear of moving too fast to a fear of caring too deeply.

It's super fun to dance around to and easy to sing along with, but it's not as complex as other songs on the EP. There's nothing really wrong with it. It's a solid single, but it's also pretty boring in comparison to the rest of the EP.

My favorite lyric: "You're too pretty for me, baby, I know."

3. "Heaven"

This one is pretty eerie when it starts out, almost sounding like one of Kyle Dixon's tracks for "Stranger Things" with some high-pitched synth chimes and then the bubbling arpeggios of the bass.

The verses also have some rap influences, like a lot of The Neighbourhood tracks have, but it's a bit more like Drake or other radio-friendly rappers than songs in the past (like "$ting.") The chorus is also sickly-sweet, clearly coming from an infatuated guy.

I love this track, from the mixture of synth-horror themes and rap with alternative rock to the traditionally emo-reminiscence lyricism The Neighbourhood is known for, I think this track is the perfect fusion of new and old The Neighbourhood.

My favorite lyric: "No mistaking that I need ya. There's something 'bout you, baby."

4. "Compass"

This one is, I think, the most traditional of the entire EP. It almost sounds like a normal The Neighbourhood song, save for the dance synths and falsetto. The lyrics are a little bit less like traditional The Neighbourhood, a little bit more sweet than sad, but that's not a bad thing.

It's definitely one of the slower songs on the EP, but that's not a bad thing. It comes right towards the end, right when the listener needs a break, following the slowing of each track down until the final one.

I like this one, but similar to "Scary Love," it's not super-impressive in comparison to the rest.

My favorite lyric: "You're always there to help me when I'm down. I'm lucky you've been keeping me around."

5. "Stuck With Me"

These lyrics are the most like a traditional The Neighbourhood song, but the song itself has a much happier beat than old The Neighbourhood, though it is still relatively slow.

It actually delves into a little bit of nihilism before the chorus hits with disjointed harmonies that don't make much sense. They are a little off-putting, and though I still enjoyed them, some fans or other listeners will really dislike this part.

Definitely not the strongest track on the EP, but still a good addition, this is a great closer, leaving listeners wanting more for when the next album finally comes.

My favorite lyric: "I'm not tellin' you for any certain reason but now I'm feeling guilty for it."

Overall

I recommend this EP for fans of synth-pop, artists like The Weeknd, or even all of your fans of the old The Neighbourhood. Change isn't always a bad thing and The Neighbourhood proves it with the "To Imagine EP."

Of course, some songs are better than others, and I have to say that "Heaven" is the best track, with "Dust" coming in close at second best, followed by "Scary Love," "Compass," and, finally, "Stuck With Me."

The change in direction of The Neighbourhood makes me excited to see how they do in the future. Give them a listen!

Cover Image Credit: Google Play Music

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Dream Theater: 'Images and Words' Album Review

Dream Theater made an incredible leap in song writing that would result in one of the most impressive progressive metal albums of all time

Line-up:

James LaBrie - vocals

Kevin Moore - keyboards

John Petrucci - guitars, backing vocals

Mike Portnoy - drums, backing vocals

John Myung - bass

Additional info:

Produced by David Prater

Images and Words is the second studio album by American progressive metal band Dream Theater, released on July 7, 1992 through ATCO Records. Its total length is 57:04. It is the first Dream Theater release to feature James LaBrie on vocals. This album was not only a huge success when it comes to the band's massive amount of progression in song writing, but also the commercial success that the album had.

Images and Words demonstrates the band at their finest thanks to improved vocals and impressive instrumental elements throughout. I really enjoyed the soulful elements as well that made Dream Theater's technical mastery be balanced with emotion and lyricism that make their brand of progressive metal special. Their are no glaring weaknesses on the album.

Top Tracks:

1. "Under a Glass Moon"

2. "Metropolis—Part I: 'The Miracle and the Sleeper' "

3. "Take the Time"

4. "Pull Me Under"

Grading Scale:

1-1.5: Garbage

2-2.5: Awful

3-3.5: Bad

4-4.5: Disappointing

5-5.5: Mediocre

6-6.5: Satisfactory

7-7.5: Good

8-8.5: Great

9-9.5: Excellent

10: Perfect

My Verdict:

Images and Words is an amazing album that I have loved since I first listened to it. The album is full of Dream Theater classics and features Labrie's finest vocal performance as well. John Petrucci is also fantastic throughout this entire album as well. Images and Words is a perfect album from start to finish.

Grade: 10/10

Cover Image Credit: teamrock.com

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