Kevin C. Wong

Apple Arcade - The Bradwell Conspiracy (2019) [+]

The Bradwell Conspiracy is a first-person puzzle game, like a first-person shooter except instead of a gun you have a matter dematerialize/materializer.

I think you are a new employee of the Bradwell Corporation visiting its Stonehedge Museum facility when disaster strikes. You wake up in the ruins of the museum. You have VR glasses on which is also a guide giving you instructions, a camera that allows you to take pictures, and a communication device.

After wandering around a bit through the tutorial phase you "meet" another survivor, Dr Amber trapped in another part of the museum. Thereafter she will be talking to you constantly (voice of Rebecca LaChance whilst the guide is voiced by Abubakar Salim) and giving you objectives. Oh, your throat was injured so you don't talk and can only communicate to Dr Amber via taking pictures. Sometimes she will give you hints, sometimes the pictures are used to trigger an action from her (i.e. a picture of a door to open that door), and sometimes she will not understand. It's also nice that if you are taking your time Dr Amber has little bits as she finds random things or tells an anecdote. The dialog is pretty good and keeps you from getting bored.

Controls are very simple. Walk/run, turn left and right and crouch (there is no jumping; strangely with a controller I couldn't run which doesn't matter except for one part of one puzzle where you have to run because you have 30 seconds to accomplish something; speaking of controller I did use one almost all the way through and it mostly works though a little finicky getting the cursor to point at an object to interact with it). If you walk up to some objects you can interact (there is a + icon to show that).

The most complex action is using the Bradwellian matter converter. You can use it to scan some objects into storage and if they are new objects you also create a blueprint. Thereafter you can create objects that you have a blueprint for. As you create an object you can turn it horizontally (in 90 degree angles) and move it around and the holographic of the object will be when if you can place it. Most puzzles involve getting material and blueprints then printing them out in the right places.

This game is on the order of 10 to 20 hours long. I like it because it's not scary: no monsters, occasional dark places and foreboding music but not too bad. You can't die and I'm not sure it's possible to screw yourself and make a puzzle unsolvable. The museum and underground labs are not maze-like so you can't get lost wandering around -- for the most part you are stuck in small sections, green doors show which doors you can go through, and if you unlock a door the guide tells you (a lot of the unlocking is done by picking up the guide some with more access to the complex and you can also then read their email which tells more of the back story but no must have clues since Dr Amber tells you what to do all the time).

This is a medium or maybe less complexity puzzle game with a fairly good narrative. Not a AAA title but more like what you can get from an indie developer and the game is designed on lower end iOS devices. I did finish it. I did have to use a walkthrough guide three or four times. It was a fairly satisfying challenge for me. Overall a good game.

Spot Reviews 01/27/23

Klingon Bird-of-Prey Owners' Workshop Manual [/] This 120 page hardback book is an in-universe overview of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey as seen in around the time of Deep Space Nine. A few pages with small deck plans but it's mostly text, full color semi-technical drawings and screen caps. I think it's both interesting and has too much Star Trek fictional technical jargon which makes the text a bit boring to read at times. Still, it's a good bookcase book especially paired with the USS Enterprise Owners' Workshop Manual.

Trader Joe's Homestyle Salsa Especial (Medium) [/] This is a plastic container salsa so better than glass jar salsas (which I think last longer but are mushier). It's sort of like fresh salsa but nowhere as good as Mission Pico de Gallo salsa. Does have good heat though.

TV Series - National Treasure: Edge of History #1.1-#1.2 (2022) [-] An hour-long drama not really based on the National Treasure movies but the same look and feel. College student Jess (Lisette Olivera) and her friends are after lost Mayan treasure which apparently her now-dead father was secretly after also. They are opposed by well-funded treasure hunter Billie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her minions... I didn't like the National Treasure movies because they go for the gonzo and not trying to be believable and this series is much the same. Two episodes was enough for me.

Anime - The Demon Girl Next Door (2019) [+]

The Demon Girl Next Door is a light comedy anime. Yuko (Konomi Kohara) is a 15-year old high schooler who one day wakes up with horns and a tail. Mom Seiko (Sayaka Ohara) reveals that their ancestors were demons but their family has been cursed to be poor. It's up to Yuko to defeat a Magical Girl, steal her blood, and break the seals binding their first ancestor Lilith (Minami Takahashi) currently trapped in a small statue that Seiko uses as a doorstop and paperweight.

Yuko immediately runs into Momo (Akari Kitō), a somber Magical Girl attending the same high school. In subsequent episodes Yuko challenges Momo to various combats but Yuko so frail, clumsy, and scaredy-cat that Momo never takes her seriously and instead offers to train Yuko to be a stronger demon. And such is the start of a friendship...

I like the first season more because it concentrates on Yuko and Momo more. Cartoon style is not great for something made in 2019. Three years later season two comes out and it's a lot better animation but also introduces more characters. Season two kind of meanders along and even though there is an overall goal there are time out episodes and the season seems less focused on the story.

Overall though it's pretty entertaining.

Apple Arcade - Pilgrims (2019) [+]

Pilgrims is a short point-and-click type adventure game with some replayability. You are a tramp who meets three other people: granny, bandit, and devil. Your companions each have a goal to accomplish and once you help them do that you finish your own goal and end the adventure.

The game play is that there's a map with locations. Tap to go to that location where you are presented with the location and some inter-actable person or object. Slide up the card of whichever person you want to interact then slide up an object card and something will happen. Sometimes there are picture talking bubbles so you know what you need to use and other times you experiment.

It's not a complicated game -- I finished it in less than two hours. I feel it's more for a younger crowd. The animations are good and the music thematic. I think a reviewer mentioned the themes are Czechoslovakian. When you do the right character and object at the right place you reveal a story card and I guess there are 45 story cards.

Then you start the game again and everything is exactly the same. The objective now is to find a different way to achieve the goals, thereby revealing more story cards. I think in one run through I revealed 10 or so cards so it would take several runs to reveal them all. That's definitely not enough appeal for me to keep trying but other people may like the challenge. I would have preferred more randomized goals and object placement even if reusing the four characters.

Still, it's a nice game even though it's short.

Spot Reviews 01/20/23

Apple Arcade - Assemble with Care (2019) [/] You hear the story of Maria (with voice acting) as she travels the world fixing objects. Each puzzle is an object that's broken: take it apart, fix it, put it back together. A slower-paced contemplative game.

Trader Joe's Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips [/] Like the Yellow Corn Tortilla Chip Rounds these are thin and light and easy to use with not-very-thick sauces. I think I like the Yellow Corn chips better because it tastes a bit like corn whereas these White Corn chips don't have a distinctive flavor.

Documentary - Fire of Love (2022) [-] Documentary about married vulcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft. Almost all visuals and audio are pictures and films they took (or tv interviews and documentaries) as they observed volcanos around the world before their deaths during the 1991 Mount Unzen eruption. A soothing narrator provides background and explanations. But other than putting the couple's created materials out into the wider world I feel the documentary lacks focus. I guess I want it more apparent "what am I supposed to get out of watching this?"

TV Series - Sonny with a Chance (2009) [/]

Sonny with a Chance was a Disney Channel teen sitcom that ran for two seasons.

Wisconsin native Sonny Munroe (Demi Lovato) arrives as the newest cast member of So Random!, a variety skit show. She quickly becomes friends with established cast members Tawni (Tiffany Thornton), who sees Sonny as a rival for female lead, Nico (Brandon Mychal Smith) and Grady (Doug Brochu), two pranksters whose plans rarely succeed, and Zora (Allisyn Ashley Arm), the weird girl whose also bossy at times.

Meanwhile there is Chad Dylan Cooper (Sterling Knight), the star of So Random!'s backlot rival Mackenzie Falls, a teen soap opera drama. Throughout the two seasons there is a faint then growing attraction between Sonny and Chad which is a nice subplot.

The show often does a So Random! skit, usually as the intro or ending sequence and the skits become the main thing after Lovato leaves and they rebrand the series as So Random! There are also rare musical numbers and Lovato gets to show off her singing talents. Otherwise it's a typical Disney Channel sitcom of the time. It's an entertaining show but not one of the best (objectively harder to tell since Lovato left early, the most popular Disney Channel shows during the 2000's+ get a fourth season which sometimes brings big chances since actors are signed for three years).

Book - Sicily '43: The First Assault on Fortress Europe (2020) [+]

Sicily '43 by James Holland is a historical narration of the Sicily invasion during World War II covering a few months before to when the Axis finally retreated off the island, though more material towards the beginning than towards the end. Holland uses a lot of interviews and diaries written at the time to also tell the personal experiences of a couple of dozen people, mostly soldiers on both sides, during the invasion.

There are a good number of maps at the beginning so you can follow the action. The maps are both theatre-wide and some closeups of a few key battles detailed in the book. For the most part I didn't use the maps as the text is fairly good at placing units and describing where they are enough that I could picture it in my mind.

I haven't read any books on the Sicily campaign. This feels like a fairly good book with a good narrative but it is a narrative book so nuts and bolts details are there for highlight battles but not otherwise. For me a good followup book would be something that focuses on the tactical details of the actual invasion day.

My only real retraction is how often he apologize for Montgomery and criticizes Patton. He also apologizes for the whole upper level command (Alexander was in overall command of the campaign). I don't know the critiques about the Sicily campaign so it seems odd to me and especially for Montgomery and Patton it gets a bit annoying as it comes up often. Eventually I had to look it up and he's English so I guess that explains the slant.

Still, I did find the book interesting and a good read with an interesting mix of high level view and low level man-on-the-ground anecdotes.

Spot Reviews 01/13/23

Love, Corn with Sea Salt [+] Crunchy fried corn kernel snack. It's like the kind of snack dad brings back from Peru except better. Smaller, lighter, crispier -- less effort to crunch and eat. Delicious.

Netflix Movie - Anonymously Yours (2021) [-] Mexican, teen romantic comedy. Valeria (Annie Cabello) and Alex (Ralf Morales) are two high school kids who don't like each other but are thrown together for a school project. Meanwhile due to a wrong phone number the two start texting each other but anonymously, developing an attraction via text while antagonizing each other in real life... Didn't feel the romance so only watched like half the film.

Listen Notes [+] This is a podcast search engine which I guess means they have an engine to convert podcasts to text then index that. Lots of podcasts in their database and I used this to find podcasts for some of my favorite streamers and found some obscure ones they've been in.

Movie - Moneyball (2011) [+]

Rewatched Moneyball, a dramatization of the Oakland A's from the end of the 2001 season to the end of the 2002 season. After 2001 they lost three stars (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen) because they couldn't pay them and at the time they had the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball.

A's general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is kind of at a loss until he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young assistant who's written a computer program that rates baseball players based on Bill James' methodology. Beane hires Brand and decides he's going to replace his losses with undervalued players including former catcher Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) who has to convert to first base, an aging David Justice (Stephen Bishop) at the tail end of his career, Giambi's lesser brother Jeremy (Nick Porrazzo) and no-speed unconventional pitcher Chad Bradford (Casey Bond).

But unfortunately this sets him at odds with his scouting staff and he ends up firing the head scout. Meanwhile A's manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is both unhappy he's still on a 1-year contract and doesn't like using the retread players. Beane has to fight his staff and the media and believe that statistically the team he's assembled will make it into the playoffs even after a 20-26 start...

Drama, baseball, statistics. It's a good film even though there's not that much baseball action.

Apple Arcade Reviews

Apple Arcade - Cat Quest II (2019) [+] Simple RPG where you control a cat-person and a dog-person (two people can play at the same time) as they fight monsters, explore dungeons, and try to reclaim their kingdoms. Combat is Zelda-like, arcade-style where you attack, cast spells, and dodge in real time. Nice graphics and story, good mechanics and gameplay. Played it for a couple of hours but time to move on.

Apple Arcade - Big Time Sports (2019) [/] Kind of reminds me of Track and Field. Various "sports" boiled down to simple mechanics using one or two buttons (mostly tap, some tap+hold-to-aim+release-to-shoot). A couple dozen sports though most are kind of boring but most only take a minute or two to play. One or two players so I can see it being fun for two kids competing.

Apple Arcade - Cricket Through the Ages (2019) [-] A bit of a joke app. Narrator tells the history of humanity, which is really the history of cricket from neanderthals to the future. Meanwhile we get two combatants trying to kill each other with a ball and a bat in various combinations. You can only tap and hold to get your guy to start spinning his weaponed arm and release to throw if you have a ball. I can only imagine that this game is aimed at three year olds.

Spot Reviews 01/06/23

Apple Arcade - Dear Reader (2019) [/] Word play puzzles based on literary works. You get a "book" where each chapter is about a paragraph from the relevant work. Puzzles can be (1) select the missing word, (2) rearrange sentence fragments, (3) unscrambling words and probably others. You earn credits which are used to buy new books. I did some of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice and half the difficulty is parsing the archaic text. Overall it's interesting if you like these kinds of puzzles.

Apple Series - Earth at Night in Color s2 (2021) [/] Season two continues this half-hour documentary series filming animals at night with very good light enhancing camera systems and post-processing. Main animals covered: African elephants, Patagonian puma, Australian Kangaroo, a coral reef, Namibian seals, polar bear mother and cubs. It's nice and short.

Netflix Anime - Romantic Killer #1.1 - #1.3 (2022) [-] High school tomboy Anzu Hoshino (Deneen Melody) is haunted by a small wizard who's mission is to make her fall in love which she is definitely against. Due to its machinations she ends up having to live with senior hottie Tsukasa Kazuki (Jason Griffith) for a month and to add to the drama another boy shows up at the end of episode 3. I didn't really like the comedy aspects. The occasional romantic moments are nice but the series is too silly for me.

Movie - Top Gun: Maverick (2022) [+]

In Top Gun: Maverick Captain Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is reassigned to teach a special class at the Navy's Top Gun school. The mission is an almost suicide run to destroy weapons-grade nuclear enrichment facility of an unnamed rogue nation. Maverick's personal hurdle is that one of the students is Goose's son Lt Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller) who resents Maverick maybe for getting his dad killed and definitely for blocking his initial admission into Annapolis. There's a second subplot where Maverick tries to reconnect with old flame Penelope "Penny" Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly).

Much like the first movie we have great fighter jet training scenes, an outdoor sports in the sun scene, a bar scene, rivalry between the top two students: Rooster and Lt Jake "Hangman" Seresin (Glen Powell), a great mission which leads to deadly aerial dogfights. We also get a cameo with Admiral Tom "Iceman" Kazansky (Val Kilmer) and a woman fighter pilot in Lt Natasha "Phoenix" Trace (Monica Barbaro).

I watched this on my 11" iPad and it looks great. Definitely would look fantastic on IMAX. Good number of callbacks to the previous film. Although, like many sequels, it sort of does the first film again, it's been 35 years so it's fine reusing the same plot elements and beats as the first film. Overall quite happy with Top Gun: Maverick.

Podcast - Return to the Shadows (2022) [+]

Return to the Shadows is a tv series rewatch podcast based on Freeform's Shadowhunters (2016). Primary actors Katherine McNamara and Dominic Sherwood rewatch the series and comment on each episode. Some episodes are interviews with other actors or production people.

Both hosts are lively and engaging and have lots of anecdotes. I think I watched the better part of two seasons of Shadowhunters when it first aired but it did kind of get boring. I started listening to the podcast and later started rewatching the show and now I'm caught up with the podcast and rewatch on episode #2.6 and it's much more entertaining watching the series again.

I think part of it is even if I didn't quite pay attention to the episode you get a refresh listening to the podcast so it sets things a bit more in my memory. Especially after holiday breaks or summer breaks if I come back to a series and don't remember what's been going on I start losing interest. Rewatching is nice because it's going to be one episode per week or two with no breaks.

Overall a really nice podcast and even better if you're watching/rewatching the series.

2024-06-05: Guess the podcast was cancelled. They got up to covering episode #2.12.