The Curious Case of Pronunciation Book

This is not game related. Well actually, it might be game related! It’s definitely a weird thing that is happening on the internet.

Since 2010 YouTube user PronunciationBook has been producing videos with the pronunciation of (American) words that are either hard to say or are in current events. The videos are all quite simple: the words are written in black on a white screen while the same man says them slowly. Here’s a good example:

Pretty straight forward, right? Occasionally the PB announcer uses the word in a sentence. Sometimes the sentence seems a little odd, but hey, they’re correct and no one can blame the guy for wanting to have some fun with it. Check out the first contextual sentence for the yummy pepperoncini, for example:

A little strange, and quite evocative, but still useful for figuring out how to pronounce words! Pronunciation Book continued producing these videos on a regular basis for three years, earning almost 30,000 subscribers and even a parody channel.

Two weeks ago, something changed. This video is titled “How to pronounce 77″:

… yeah. Creepy as hell. Let’s listen to the following day’s video, “How to prounce 76″:

The videos have continued, one every day, with weird sentences and a threat or warning that something is going to happen on September 24th.

So just what the heck is going on? One popular theory is that we’re catching the beginning of an ARG. Maybe it’s for Battlestar Galactica, or perhaps for a new Halo game. The latter seems more likely, as Bungie has already proved themselves to be fans of the ARG genre with I Love Bees.

(Speaking of ARGS, one of my favorite internet moments ever is the day someone uncovered a phone number during The Beast, the 2001 ARG associated with the movie AI, and people called in trying to convince a real live person to “save” a captured character. I spent all day reloading the Cloudmakers theorycrafting forum, holding my breath. It all seemed so real.)

Of course September 24th could just be the day the Pronunciation Book guy posts his viral marketing resume, or a photo of his cat, or .. anything really. Three years is an awful long time to create a backstory, if this is all an ARG.

I do love a good creepy internet mystery though, and no matter what the final event turns out to be one thing is for certain: Something is going to happen in 57 days.

Surprise! Final Fantasy VII is really good.

Since Sunday morning I have put 20 hours into Final Fantasy VII. Considering I have also been working extra long hours at the office, you would be right in assuming that almost all my non-work, non-sleep time this week has been spent sitting in front of the television with a controller in my hand. (Yes, a controller! More on this later.) I haven’t put this much time into a single player game since the Mass Effect series.

So why do I love Final Fantasy VII? Let me count the ways:

 

The storytelling!

Until I asked around this week, I did not realize that the characters of Cloud, Tifa, Aeris, and Sephiroth existed only in VII. (And the Advent Children movie I believe, but that isn’t a game.) They’re all such prominent figures in game culture mythos that I am boggled by their limited actual presence.

And to be honest I don’t really get the character worship, but I think that is at least in part because I’m a jaded adult. I mean, Cloud is kind of whiny, Aeris and Tifa seem to have interchangeable personalities thus far, and Sephiroth .. is just 32-bit bangs.

I’m not even that gripped by the story itself. A bunch of plucky downtrodden environmentalists taking on an evil corporation to save the world is a well-worn story for me by now, and although I’m sure there are plot twists later I’m fairly certain that it won’t turn out to be high literature.

What I do find quite striking is the storytelling. Flashbacks are used really effectively, both interactive ones and basic conversations. Camera movements are clearly carefully thought out and convey mood. The traditional battle structure (which can get pretty tedious) is borrowed by the story at one point entirely to show how awesome Sephiroth is compared to a young Cloud.

The use of technology and game functions to serve the story is stunningly well done and extremely refreshing in an era where story often seems saddled with awkward game mechanics. (Bioshock Infinite, I’m talking to you.)

The JRPG features!

Final Fantasy is also the first JRPG I’ve played myself, although I’ve watched friends play them in the past, and as it turns out my inner masochist loves the old school style.

There are a ton of secrets in the game, most of which I’ll never discover because I don’t have the patience. You need to find save points before you can take a safe break most of the time. The materia skill system is insanely deep with literally hundreds of different possible combinations, some of which will be absolutely useless.  Friends have warned me about horrible grinds to get to the maximum level and obtain the best weapons (which I probably will not do, to be honest).

Earlier in the week I chose to sneak into a certain building, and the game then made me run Cloud and friends up 60 flights of stairs. Like, literally, six screens with 10 flights on each screen. The blow was slightly softened by amusing dialogue between the characters along the way, but it was still a fair bit of time to be mindlessly waggling the joystick.

Can you imagine if, I don’t know, Assassin’s Creed 4 made you run up 60 flights of stairs? There would be outrage. It’s insane, and I really dig it.

It’s old like me!

Folks who listen to the podcast have probably heard me complain about modern console games and my poor old thumbs. I’m just not good at dual thumbsticks. Fortunately, Final Fantasy VII comes to us straight from 1997, when games were 2D and controllers had a lot fewer buttons. It plays as smooth as silk on my USB 360 controller.

This is particularly useful because the default keyboard controls for the Steam version are weird and awkward. Press [PgUp] and [PgDn] at the same time to turn around in battle? Ooooh, yeeeah, no.

 

I seriously never thought I would enjoy this game as much as I do, but here we are. Once I’ve finished it (another 40 hours or so, probably), I have IV, VI, and X on my list to play. Basically I’m suddenly set for single player games for a looooong time.

 

Steam Summer Sale Post-Mortem

Previously I wrote about my Steam Summer sale shopping list. So how did I actually do, when all was said and done?

Well first, I learned that Steam does not support trans-Atlantic shopping. I’ve bought sale titles while the US with my Canadian account before, but the UK at least seems to be a different system. It wouldn’t let me use the money in my Steam Wallet, it wouldn’t accept a Canadian PayPal account for games listed in pounds sterling, and it just basically got very cross with me.

Fortunately what Steam does have is a robust gifting system, so friends were able to step in and make sure I didn’t miss the good prices. (Thank you Vajra and Corr and Ryven!) Anyway, to the shopping list:

1. FEZ at half price: CHECK!

2. Part of a Monaco 4-pack: CHECK!

3. Kerbal Space Program: CHECK!

4. XCOM: Enemy Unknown for $10: CHECK!

Of course, it’s not a true Steam sale if I don’t compulsively buy more games than I intended to, which is how I also ended up with a copy of Reus for a very reasonable $4.99. If you didn’t happen to catch its demo during one of the E3 showcases, Reus is a pretty cute-looking simulator where you play elemental gods and create a world, from placing mountains to fostering technology. I’m a huge sucker for simulators and this looked like a neat one.

(Speaking of simulators I probably would have bought Prison Architect if I had thought about it, except it seemed pretty expensive even while a daily deal particularly for a title that’s still in Alpha.)

I was also gifted a copy of Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition by the lovely Arolaide, who knows that I am the worst gamer when it comes to having played the classics. This is high up on my list of things to play.

I’ve mentioned some pretty awesome titles above, and yet my big winner for the Steam sale was something I purchased right at the end: Final Fantasy VII. The Steam version of the game launched shortly before the sale started at a price of $11.99, but who buys games at their “full” price any more? Not this miser! FF7 showed up as a flash sale briefly on Sunday for $8.03 and I scooped it up.

I have never seriously played a Final Fantasy game before (I told you, worst classic gamer ever!), but VII in particular is such a critical part of “gamer culture” that I felt like I had. And, holy shit you guys, I don’t know if anyone’s picked up on this yet but FF7 is really good. I’m going to write more about it later, but if I continue enjoying is as much as I do now I see a lot more classic JRPGs in my future.

So what was your big hit of the sale?

 

WoW character creation woes, or why I’m a neon bear
Jul22

WoW character creation woes, or why I’m a neon bear

Hello! I’m back from vacation, and it was lovely!

While I was away a good friend came up with a modest proposal: leveling up new characters in WoW with the goal of spending one night a week doing all the instances at the proper level. Some quick research showed that even without counting heroic versions or scenarios there are still 80 dungeons in the game right now. 80! That is a lot.

I’m not terribly interested in WoW but I am highly interested in my friends, and so I decided to join in the shenanigans. On Saturday I sat down with the goal of creating a new Horde character that had the option of tanking dungeons. It was more difficult than I anticipated.

The big stumbling block with creating new characters in WoW is that the original models are really, really old. If you haven’t made a new character lately it’s easy to just kind of wave your hands about this fact, but I found it extremely hard to “settle” for an old model when the new ones are just so much better.

And not just better in actual pixels or polygons or whatever — goblins and pandas, for example, have oodles of character options while trolls have four faces and four hairstyles. Still. 8 years later.

(Honestly even the panda creation options feel really limited in the era of Neverwinter’s hand size sliders and FFXIV’s tail options.)

I was also frustrated by the distribution of classes between races. I don’t like playing Warriors (they’re too mundane, in the classical sense, for my tastes) and I figured everyone else would be rushing to play a Monk. This left Paladins and Druids, only.. goblins and pandas can’t be either of those.

troll bear 500x312 WoW character creation woes, or why Im a neon bear

Clearly Blizzard has put more thought into class distribution than I have, but this bugs me. Pandas love nature and goodness, right? I can sort of understand the character motivations behind not having goblin paladins, but players have been denied tiny bear tanks for too long.

Okay, so if the Pandaria and Cataclysm races were out, what about TBC? That’s.. oh, blood elves. Pass. (They’re just too valley girl for me.)

And that is how I became a troll druid, despite the sub par character models. At the end of the day being a punk rock bear means I don’t have to look at my weird hair options, I guess.

Cat Context Episode 30: A Bouquet of Weiners
Jul17

Cat Context Episode 30: A Bouquet of Weiners

Liore abandoned the podcast this week, so Elly and Aro had to step in and make something awesome. We were once again joined by friend of the show Corr, who stopped by to offer disapproving glances on Liore’s behalf. Elly has done his best editor impression, so be sure to file a complaint with the management if something sounds off.

Aro and Elly let loose about their recent time (back) in Warcraft, and why Pet Battles are actually pretty fun! Corr offered up some insights on Kerbal Space Program, and we talked about the first few days of the Steam Summer Sale. As usual, we eventually devolved into talking about Free to Play business models and the things we don’t like about them.

And now, here are a pair of images for Liore:

weiner bouquet 2 Cat Context Episode 30: A Bouquet of Weiners

Traditional Weiner Bouquet

weiner Cat Context Episode 30: A Bouquet of Weiners

Modern Weiner Bouquet

(Oh god, Liore, come back soon! I was wrong about editing!)

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