Welcome to Pages of Fun!

This is the personal Web site of Robert Wm. Gomez. I am an artist, musician and nerd living in Chicago, Illinois who has been maintaining this site (in one form or another) since 1996. Enjoy your visit!

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice on PC (8/10)

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This game goes out of its way to let you know that it’s about mental illness; and that they hired doctors and experts to make sure that got it right; and if you are a bit touched this may trigger you because it’s scary, intense and realistic! Well, as realistic as any game about fighting mystical Norse demons and beasts with a glowing sword. Not to nitpick, but I was really distracted by Senua’s period-inaccurate pristine dental hygine. When she’s not hearing disembodied voices she must be regularly brushing and flossing.

It takes a while for the story to settle in, but when the pieces start to come together it’s pretty satisfying. The basics are that her man has been killed and Senua is on a spiritual journey to release his soul or something. All the while she is taunted by the voices in her head that feed her with doubt and guilt over having possibly caused his death. Thus follows a series of levels that slowly build on puzzle mechanics and are punctuated with the occasional sword fight. The combat is pretty simple: dodge then swing sword. The puzzles are mostly built around spatial perception and, if you’ve played The Witness, it will seem like old hat to you. The Steam package also includes the VR version of the game which seems very apropos to the mechanics.

I, however, wasn’t completely smitten by the experience. At times its linearity makes it feel borderline like a walking simulator. There’s a bunch of boring, filler backstory about Norse gods and myths which is triggered by interacting with runes. And, I hate to say it, but the schizoid voices start to become a bit much after a while. I get it. That’s part of the point, but I hear enough from kooky-brained people in real life on my Facebook feed.

Nox Archaist on Apple ][ (8/10)

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Nox Archaist (no relation to Nox) has come up several times before on this site as it was a Kickstarter that I supported. As part of the project, they asked contributors to submit artworks for the game’s manual and several of my images were used in the finished book. You can see some of that art here and here and I will probably post more drawings in the future.

The game doesn’t just look like an old Apple ][ RPG, it is an actual Apple ][ game playable on real hardware. A custom version of the MicroM8 emulator is also included for playing the game on a PC or Mac. For the most part I used AppleWin as it is much easier to switch between system speeds.

Nox Archaist’s design is mostly inspired by Ultima (featuring an important cameo from Lord British), but makes several advancements in terms of interface and gameplay. This is especially evident in the inventory/stats management screens and the large, animation-filled tiled maps. The dialogs retain the excellent parser-based system with highlighted keywords alá Ultima VI. Note taking is still essential, but there is a simple quest log to keep you on track. Many NPC interactions feature lovely character portraits and there is a bit of Mockingboard music that plays as you enter new locales. It still feels like an Ultima game enough to make me almost forget just how tedious those old games were. I’m am thankful I didn’t have to avoid being poisoned every three seconds, manage stores of food, or endlessly mix spell reagents.

Even beyond the nostalgia, I enjoyed the game quite a bit. The combination of the dialogue system and the need for careful note taking helped me to immerse myself into the story and the world. I even kept a journal of my progress from session to session. Conversations and in-game books always lead to more exploration and more areas of the world opening up.

The other half of the game is combat and leveling up your party. This can get to be a little grind-y at time. You will find yourself being slaughtered without much warning and it’s at those points that I would switch to grind mode in order to make progress. That’s when it helps to throttle the emulator to full speed and just blast through minor enemies collecting XP and gold. Then parts of the map that seemed impossible all the sudden are a piece of cake. It didn’t really pay off to try and build well-balanced characters. Just dump all your points into the relevant stat for your class and don’t think much about it. Other character traits are skill-based meaning, for example, the more you pick locks the better at picking locks you become. Over time, the characters begin to excel at the play style you push on them.

With the grinding and limited resources the game can feel a bit repetitive at times. Usually, just when I thought it was a bit much, a new means of travel would be discovered and/or a new area would open up piquing my interest once again. Overall, I enjoyed Nox Archaist and was glad to have played a miniscule part in its creation. I’m hopeful that something may grow out of this project to see more tile-based RPG games of this style released. I would love to have a game like this with an integrated noted taking and map making system built in (like a Steam overlay).

Words on the Move: Why English Won’t – and Can’t – Sit Still (Like, Literally) by John McWhorter (8/10)

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While it’s almost structured as a defense of the “misuse” of words such as literally and like, McWhorter’s book is a very thorough investigation on how and why language evolves. I listened to the audiobook as I felt it would be better to actually hear a book on language rather than read it. My only quibble was his pronunciation of the word Neanderthal as Neander-THALL rather than Neander-TALL. You see, I have had a single semester of anthropology and that pretty much makes me an expert on the subject. I have made it my life’s goal to correct people who say it with the TH sound. My expertise is my gift to the world.

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (4/10)

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A dystopian novel that predates Orwell’s 1984 by a decade or two and was banned in Russia until the 80s. Unfortunately, I found this to be a bit of a slog. A lot of the setting is barely described or approached in a poetical manner that makes everything confusing. It’s a “perfect” society based on rationality and numbers where there is no privacy and your entire day is regimented. A small group of revolutionaries lure in the main character into a plot to escape to somewhere else where there is more grit and individualism. And birds or something.

The Etruscan Kills Again (5/10)

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An alcoholic archeologist (aren’t they all?) is at the center of this murder mystery that jumps from scene to scene without much cohesive logic. A couple is murdered at the dig site in a manner that matches a heretofore unexcavated tomb. Next thing you know we are following a conductor in a patterned jumpsuit as he abuses everyone working around him. The film’s only saving grace are the few scenes of the mustachioed lead actor raging in his alcoholic flashbacks.

Assault (7/10)

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A British mystery thriller featuring Suzi Kendall. The more I see of Suzi the more I like her acting and her style. This is by no stretch a great movie. It’s hardly even a good movie but there’s a certain charm to it. For one, is bright and colorful. Not in a Bava lighting sense, but an overall color palette that permeates every frame. Second, the soundtrack is truly awful to the point of wrapping around and becoming ironically funny. It’s like something you’d hear in a 70s television drama. And then there’s the ridiculous plotting. An art teacher thinks she sees Satan killing a teenage girl and she paints Satan in hopes of luring out the killer. Britain is weird. That’s all I have to say.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow (9/10)

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On the surface, this a horror movie about a small mountain town that has been plagued with a number of murders of which many of the locals are beginning to suspect there might be a werewolf involved. But horror takes a backseat to the story of a recovering alcoholic policeman who is desperately trying to emerge from his father’s shadow and prove that he can actually accomplish something in the world besides his drunken fits of rage. Overall there is an underlying comedic tone to the grim goings on. The horror elements feel like they are happening in the background and it isn’t until the end that you realize that it has all been a carefully crafted and subtle build up of clues leading to the final climax. So subtle, that a Agatha Christie style wrap-up may have helped ring the right bells at the end. The point is moot because I would gladly re-watch this in a heartbeat.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst on PC (6/10)

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The original Mirror’s Edge was one of only a handful of games that I had gone back and replayed almost immediately after completing it. It was an excellent game that had you puzzling through levels using parkour skills. This sequel does not hold up to the original at all.

First, it’s open-world. I’m really beginning to dislike this gaming format. It tends to make games longer than they should be by filling game-play with mindless item collection and dull side missions. Also, in Catalyst every place in the world has the same white minimalist design so there is no way to get your bearings. It’s cool art direction but it hinders game-play.

That brings me my second gripe. The first game was built upon well-designed levels. A single object would be colored red and that would guide the player’s eyes in the proper direction. There was just enough there to make the player feel like they were instinctually finding their way through the world when it was all a finely crafted race course. The new game does this dynamically and it just doesn’t work the same. You follow a ghost image which is referred to as your runner’s vision. This really just ends up feeling like following a standard RPG quest arrow.

Finally, the story here is just a dud. Turns out this is a reboot and has nothing to do with the first game (which wasn’t exactly Moby Dick either). It’s not just a grittier retelling or something like that. Faith’s backstory has been changed and now major characters that were good are now bad guys. And, of course, in this world corporations are evil and have no incentive to be good to their customers (let alone not kill them). Lazy, lazy, lazy.

At least the parkour aspects remain pretty solid. I don’t think there have been many new moves added to your repertoire except for maybe swinging around corners and a grappling hook attachment. Combat has improved. There is no shooting and it’s all just fists and kicks. This makes mastering parkour a more integral part of fighting.

In the end though, completing the main mission was about enough for me. I have no desire to test my skill in all the user-created races that pepper the world. Races in which the leaderboard is always topped by some player that managed to complete a two-minute race in twelve seconds. Hmm.

The Fifth Cord (6/10)

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The two big positives of this giallo are: a creepy, abstract Morricone score and lots of wonderfully composed shots featuring various modern/brutalist architecture backdrops. One of these days I need to see that hotel spiral staircase in person (also seen in Dr. Goldfoot and a few other 70s Italian films).

I mostly found the story to be lacking in suspense or even just a basic sense of mystery and intrigue. It think most of this had to do with underdeveloped supporting characters and confusing/bad/unfocused editing. There a scene where a paraplegic woman is stalked by a killer except that they never establish that a killer is actually stalking her. It just becomes woman crawling on the ground for five minutes.

Don’t Torture a Duckling - Wood Engraving

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I ended 2020 with the largest wood engraving I have ever created. This print is the first in a series I am creating in which I encapsulate the plot of a giallo movie in a detailed print. This one is based on Lucio Fulci’s legendary film Don’t Torture a Duckling. The movie is about a small Italian village which is plagued with a series of child murders. The movie can get pretty sleazy, but it’s not the usual gore-fest one would expect from Fulci (with one hilariously bad exception).

The block took me many weeks to engrave and I think I have arthritis now, but it was worth it. I also managed to come close to perfecting my laser print transfer process which made seeing my design much easier than usual. Here are some images of the process: