The Significance of the Facebook-Oculus VR Buyout

facebookFacebook has been sitting on a lot of money as of late.  A company that once started as a social media website connecting people from all over the globe has now grown to be a multi-billion dollar company that seems to have a major say on where the internet is, and where it is to go in the future.  Facebook has once again made a big ripple in the tech industry with its news of a buyout of virtual reality company Oculus VR.  This news broke last week and Facebook reportedly signed an agreement with Oculus for two billion dollars that would grant them the controls to the successful technology up-start.  So, what does this mean for us?  First off, we have to look at what Oculus actually is.

Oculus VR, which was founded in 2012, has created a product called the Oculus Rift, which is a virtual reality headset that puts you in a fully immersive digital environment.  The product, which started as a Kickstarter project, received massive support and it broke Kickstarter records as it raised more money than their intended goal.  The Oculus Rift, which uses head tracking and a wide field of view, gives you almost 360 degrees of view.  The headset has been mainly tailored towards gaming.  Developers have already made games that use the headset to give players a truly immersive experience unlike any other before. oculus dev kit

However, now that Facebook has bought the company, some are questioning where the device’s focus will head in the future.  It seems unlikely that the focus for the Oculus Rift will remain on gaming.  Instead, Facebook will most likely broaden the scope of the technology to other facets of media, which is the most exciting part of the whole deal.

The technology can be used in a plethora of new ways.  For instance, imagine watching a Miami Heat versus Chicago Bulls game from the front row, all the way from your coach in Pittsburgh.  You would be able to have a full 360 degree range of motion, which would allow you to take in the atmosphere while watching the actual game live as it happens.  It’s these kinds of applications that Facebook will most likely look in to.  Another example, would be sightseeing.  Have you ever seen the Eiffel Tower before?  Well, if you haven’t, you could strap on your Oculus headset and walk around the tower in a fully realized 3D space.  It would give you the sights and sounds of actually
being there, without ever having you leave your home.

oculus coasterThese kinds of applications of the Oculus technology will bring the world to your home, which has been Facebook’s mission since day one.  Facebook has been connecting you with people from all over the world, so it only makes sense that they would use Oculus to give you an even deeper connection to the rest of the world.

Despite all of the potential and excitement regarding the buyout, there has also been a fair share of grumbles, specifically from the gaming community, who expected the Oculus to give them a virtual reality experience in their games.  Some say that Facebook is going to ruin Oculus and bring them to the ground.  Has Facebook ever ruined something that it has bought?  When they bought Instagram, nothing changed.  In fact, Instagram has gotten better ever since Facebook instagramcame in.  This is the same for the other companies and start-ups that Facebook has bought.  Facebook will not ruin Oculus, but instead, they will make it even better than it was from the start.

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Ideas for a New Modern-War Game

Table-top war games have always been my go-to games whenever I want to have a game night with family or friends. Why? Because they offer a unique form of fun that makes them stand out from other board games. Games like Stratego, Axis & Allies, and Risk all offer great experiences. They are not only a lot of fun, but they also require you to think. If you were to go into one of those games without any plan, you will most likely lose. Every move seems to have a weight to it and they all seem important. There are momentum changes and tense stand-offs that make this type of game really appealing.axis and allies

That is why the type of game I want to make is a table-top war game. It will be one that brings in other concepts as well, which will make it different than a lot of war games out there. I want it to not only contain the strategy of a war game, and chess, but to also have some random elements in there as well in the form of cards. The game will not totally be a chance-based game though because there will be plenty of strategy for players to grasp and use to accomplish a win.

The game will be a board/card game hybrid. It will be a two player strategy game that will pit the two players against each other in an all-terrain game of war. Each player will have a base, with a strong defense, that the other player will have to destroy. The bases will be on opposite sides of the board, which means players will have to form strategies to bring this base down. The board will also contain different terrain zones in different areas. Some examples of terrain we want to include are urban areas, flat valley areas, and mountain areas terrainto name a few. We will also probably want to include water as well.

Players will be able to move around the board in the form of units that they can produce. However, they will not start with all of their units on the board at the start of the game. This is where some of the chance-based mechanics will come in. Each player will have a deck of cards that will have different units on them as well as different resource cards. They will almost be like trading cards, with each card having a strength stat, defense stat, and other things like special abilities and range of motion. At the start of the game, players will draw 7 cards from their respective decks. Their hands will contain a variety of resource and unit cards. Each unit will have a description of how much resources are required to place the unit on the board. Once a player gets enough resource cards for a certain unit, they will be able to spawn it on the board near their base.unit card

Their will be a variety of units in the game, each with their own strategies and abilities. We will have vehicles like hum-v’s, tanks, and other armored vehicles. We will also have units like infantry and spies (scouts). Some of these units will have ranged attacks, while others will require you to go up next to an enemy unit in order to attack. Each unit will also have a range of movement that they can have each turn. Where you move on the board is also important, because we envision that some terrains on the board will offer different units special abilities on top of the abilities they already have.

tankThe object of the game, as I mentioned before, will be to destroy the other players base. Players will have to constantly make the decision of defense vs offense. While it will be important to go on the offensive, they also can’t forget about defending their base back home. It’s these types of strategies that players will have to develop as they go.

As with most strategy games of this nature, there are some challenges and difficulties that we will have to overcome. First of all, balancing will be a prime issue that we will have to take care of. Will some units feel more powerful than others? This will have to be overcome and tested through numerous play-throughs. We also talked about the possibility of having air vehicles in the game, but this also might add to the balancing issue of the game. These planes will seem pretty powerful and invincible if no other unit can touch them.resource cards

Another problem we will face is the aesthetics of the overall game. Basically, we will want the game to look pretty and fun to look at. Nobody wants to play a game with a board that has scribbles all over it and post it notes as their units. We have to make a professional looking game in the short amount of time that we have. This problem can be solved by tackling the game early and getting the mechanics worked out. We just need to be vigilant and smart about what we are doing.

war game board piecesLastly, we will need to make the game have a lot of complexity, but not at the expense of the player’s understanding. Even though we want the game to have a lot of features and strategy, we need to make sure that the game is not overly complex and hard to learn. This is a major detractor and it will drive away players if they can’t grasp the game’s concepts and rules. We will need to make sure that we clearly explain the rules of our game, as well as make the mechanics simple, yet complex at the same time. It’s this balance that we will need to maintain as we work on the project.

The game has a lot of potential to be fun, with its challenges aside. If we can overcome these challenges and make a fun and strategic game, we will have a fun game on our hands that differs itself from other games of its kind.

Free to Play: The Reality of E-Sports?

Whether you care about it or not, it is hard to deny the rising significance of e-sports in today’s world.  If you would have brought this idea up around 15 years ago, people probably would have looked at you funny and write you off as some lunatic.  Well, the idea of people playing video games for money has become more realistic and it has turned into a massive phenomena.

free to play 3“E-Sports”, as they are called, started as small tournaments and gaming leagues.  Basically, people would play each other with some cash involved for the winner.  These kinds of tournaments were mainly niche and they obviously didn’t have as much money at stake.  Players back then would not be able to make a living off these cash prizes.  However, e-sports started to gain a massive following and their popularity started to grow.  Gaming leagues and tournaments got bigger, all over the world.  Professional teams with sponsor-ships formed and with all of the money that was going into these things, the cash prizes started to grow exponentially.  E-sports now are a new and popular trend in the industry that only seems to be growing more and more as they days go.

Valve, the creators of massively popular Dota franchise know a thing or two about e-sports.  Their game, Dota, is becoming a mainstay in the e-sports arena.  I have never gotten into Dota but it is still fun to watch matches.  From what I have learned, each team has five heroes and the main object of each match is to defeat the other team’s heroes.  This may seem rather simple, but in fact, it is far from it.  Throughout the course of a given match, there are a bunch of momentum swings that go in each teams favor.  The momentum is the most desired aspect in a Dota match.  The team with the most momentum will most likely win the match.  But, the momentum can change any moment.free to play 2

Recently, Valve went out to make a documentary, titled Free to Play about Dota and e-sports in general.  More specifically, it focused on a single tournament that was groundbreaking.  The grand prize for the winning team was one million dollars, which was unheard of up to that point.  It’s insane when you really think about it.  One million dollars is a lot of money, for video games.

Free to Play follows three players during this massive tournament.  Danil ishutin, or Dendi, was born in L’viv, Ukraine and has been playing video games ever since his brother got a PC from his grandmother.  Benedict Lim, or Hyhy is a pretty respected Dota player from Singapore.  The last player, Clinton Loomis, or Fear, is basically the underdog of the tournament, coming from the US.  He is regarded as one of the most formidable players coming from the west.free to play dendi

It was very interesting to see all of the work that gets put into training for these tournaments.  During the course of the documentary, we get a glimpse at each of these player’s personal lives and the struggles that they have to deal with.  Dendi was raised in a poor family, with his father dying when he was young. This was probably the saddest part of the documentary.  Sure, there’s a lot of glitz and glamour that goes into e-sports, but rarely do you see the personal side of the players who participate in the tournaments.

We also got a glimpse into Hyhy’s life.  He is a student attending college back in Singapore.  He goes to the tournament in Barcelona, leaving his studies and exams behind.  We later find out that he will probably have to repeat his semester because of the time he has devoted to Dota.  It shows you the types of sacrifices that these players have to face when they are involved in e-sports.

free to playNot only did we get a glimpse at their personal life, but we also got a behind the scenes look of the International Tournament 2011, hosted by Valve.  This was probably the most intriguing part of the documentary.  There is a lot of emotion that goes through the players as they face other teams.  You can see the momentum swing in the favor of the teams as players get excited and yell in their sound proof boxes that they play in.  It’s fascinating to watch.  The final round, which is the best 3 out of 5 was also exhilarating to watch.  There was lots of heartbreak, but also lots of success and hard work payed off.

But this is where I started to question the documentary a bit.  We get the glitzy spotlight on Dota and the tournament, but what about the rest?  We saw a little about the player’s personal lives but we didn’t fully see how they rose to the point where they are today.  How did they get to this level of tournament play?  Where did they acquire all of their skills?  It seems like the documentary itself, which is made by Valve, is more of a promotional video for Dota than it is a true look at the struggles and triumphs that e-sport players go through.free to play 4

Perhaps I am being picky, but it’s hard to deny the fact.  A lot of focus is spent of the tournament and the game itself, but little emphasis on the player’s personal lives.  Each of the three featured players had pretty interesting lives.  Fear’s was really intriguing because, in a tournament dominated by a lot of foreign players, you didn’t really see to much teams from the states.  I would have loved to see more about his rise to stardom in the Dota universe.

With all of that being said, I still thought that Free to Play was an interesting experience.  It was eye-opening, as well as educational.  I learned a lot about how e-sports worked and the culture behind it.  I have my doubts about the legitimacy of it all, and I probably would have wanted to see more, but it was still fun to watch.

You can get the full documentary on Steam for free.  There are some bonus features like deleted scenes and commentaries that I also recommend checking out as well.

Final Fantasy and Civilization: Why They Are Great Storytellers

When it comes to stories in games, they break down into two types of experiences.  Some games, which tend to be more common, offer embedded narratives that involves a story that is already given to the player.  On the other side, there are emergent narratives, where the player decides where the story goes and it evolves as the game goes on.

When it comes to embedded narratives, there are a lot of games that come to mind.  They are common, and there are a lot of good examples out there. (i.e. Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us)  However, one game truly captures the essence of a brilliant embedded narrative, and that is Final Fantasy IV.kain final fantasy IV

Final Fantasy IV, which was released all the way back in 1991, did a lot of good things that really stuck with me.  Sure, it had good rpg elements and the game played pretty well, but that was not what I remembered from the game.  I remembered the well-made story that went along with those elements.  It was the aspect of the game that makes it a stand out from the rest.  The narratives in the succeeding Final Fantasy‘s get more complex and deeper, but this was the first game in the series that really contained a narrative that was significant.

The story throws you right in the middle of a heated conflict between the Red Wings, the regions elite air force unit, and the city of Mysidia. The Red Wings are after the Water Crystal, which happens to be located in the city.  You’re then introduced to one of the primary characters in the game, Cecil Harvey, the captain of the Red Wings.  After the attack, he begins to question the kings motives behind the attack, but is then stripped of his rank and is forced to deliver a package to a nearby town with Kain, commander of the Dragoons.  It is from here that the story starts to get deeper.

Final Fantasy IV red baronDuring the course of the game, you run into twelve playable characters in total.  The coolest part about this game was that I actually cared about all of these characters too, which tends to be uncommon in games these days.  Characters like Rydia, Rosa, Yang, Palom, Porom, and Fusoya all meant a lot to me during the course of the story.  Another one of my favorite characters was Cid, who tends to be the comic relief throughout the story.  He is a big jolly fella who is the mechanic of the team.  He always has something to say about the situations that the group found themselves in.

But, as the story went on, not everything was a happy walk in the park.  There were story twists, which involved characters switching from being the good guys to the bad guys.  There were also some sacrifices that characters made in order to save the team.  The situation was rather unexpected, and I felt pretty awful after I witnessed the cut scene that showed the two characters sacrifice their lives to save the others.   On top of all of this, there was also the narrative of Cecil, and his progression from a Dark Night to a White Knight.  I was constantly rooting for him to change his ways, and finally (during a pretty powerful cut scene) Cecil transitioned from dark to white.  final fantasy IV

When I finished the game, I remember thinking a lot about what happened.  I met a lot of characters through the journey, and not all of them made it to the end.  It was a moving story that up to that point, I never really experienced before in a game.  Final Fantasy IV truly demonstrates the power that games can have in the realm of storytelling.

Sitting at the other side of the storytelling table is the case of emergent narratives.  The game that sticks out to me the most in my experiences was Civilization.  The Civilization games don’t give you a story to start out with, but they give you a region of the world to rule and progress.  The task at first seems daunting.  How can one person keep a great civilization on its feet for so long?  This is where the emergence of the game starts to poke it’s head.

civilization 5In Civilization, the story is in the players hand.  Everything that happens in the game is a result of your doings.  The thing that makes this game great is the possibilities that can arise from giving players such power.  To illustrate this, let me give you the example of Feudal Japan.

As you most likely know, Feudalism in Japan didn’t last forever.  The system of rule had it’s glory days, but it didn’t last the test of time.  However, I took the civilization of Japan far into the future, and I managed to take over large parts of the US and Great Britain along the way.  I was soon the primary superpower of the world, and many of the other, now puny, civilizations crumbled under the weight of my regime.  I was aggressive, but I didn’t forget about the people at home.  My citizens were well taken care of and they prospered.  They gained a good education and they maintained a good way of life, free from any stress.

It’s stories like these that show the true complexity of Civilization.  Sure, you can start as America and try to reenact how the course of history actually played out, but where’s the fun in that?  In fact, it would be almost impossible to accomplish that.  The game encourages you to step out and change the course of history.  It’s always fascinating to see the alternate histories that arise out of the dust as players progress in the game.  Not one player has the same experience.civilization 5 sweden

Don’t get me wrong, there are probably a ton more games that I overlooked, but these were the games that really stuck out to me the most, considering the two aspects of storytelling.  Games offer a unique advantage when it comes to storytelling.  Movies and TV force you to sit through a narrative from start to finish, without any input or interaction.  Games, however, are more hands-on and flexible when it comes to narratives.  That’s what makes them great.

Review: Rise of an Empire by Young Money

young money rise of an empireIf you remember Young Money’s original compilation album, We Are Young Money, you probably recognize a lot of the stars that were featured on the album got their careers launched by the release.  We Are Young Money was a good showcase of the talent that was coming from the record label of YMCMB.  The same can be said about Rise of an Empire, Young Money’s second compilation album.  The only difference is, their second going doesn’t seem as significant as the first album.

Rise of an Empire still features a lot of star-power.  The likes of Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Tyga, and Birdman are featured on the album.  Not surprisingly, some of the stand out tracks on the album come from these artists.  My favorite track on the album, by far, is “Trophies” by Drake.  It’s a powerful anthem that really shows off the confidence and skill of Drake.  It also has a catchy beat that features a pretty sweet and triumphant trumpet track in the background.

I also liked “Looking Ass” by Nicki Minaj.  I am pretty impressed with how far Nicki Minaj has progressed as an artist since We Are Young Money.  She want from an up-and-coming female rapper to one of the leaders of the female rap scene.  “Looking Ass” demonstrates her lyrical skills.

When it comes to everybody else, there are a lot of forgettable tracks on the album.  Rappers like Euro, YG, and Chanel West Coast show a lot of potential.  However, I didn’t really find their contributions to the album very impressive.  I feel like they still have room to grow, and who knows, maybe this release will really help propel their careers.  We still have yet to see.rise of an empire tracklist

This leads me to the main point that I made earlier. The album does a good job of showcasing the talent from Young Money, but it just doesn’t live up to their first album.  We Are Young Money was a huge collection of artists that seemed to all have made a name for themselves in the rap game.  On this album, a lot of the same artists have returned, which doesn’t give it the same feel as the first album.  Rise of an Empire almost seems like a “check-in” on the progress of artists that have already made a name for themselves.  I guess what I am trying to say is that I would have preferred to see a lot more new names.  I already know that rappers like Lil Wayne and Drake have what it takes, how about some of the others?

Whether the other rappers will succeed is perhaps a work in progress.  The potential is there, but I wouldn’t say their necessarily “part of the empire” just yet…

Review: Lego Marvel Super Heroes

lego marvel cover Greetings true believers, welcome to Lego Marvel Super Heroes, a game about, well, super heroes…and no, I am not going to continue the rest of the review in Stan Lee’s voice, sorry.

Anyway, Lego Marvel Super Heroes came out about back in October of last year.  Let me just get something off the bat before I continue on with the review, this game is pretty similar to most of the Lego games of past.  If you have enjoyed those past games a lot, you will most likely enjoy this going.  You will also most likely enjoy this game if you are a big Marvel fan.  This game has a metric ton of fan service catering to those fans.

The game begin with Dr. Doom conjuring up a grand scheme to take over the world, while keeping it safe at the same time.  He develops a weapon called Dr. Dooms Doom Ray of Doom.  Yep, its a mouthful, and it presents a danger to the city of New York.  Well, have no fear, the Avengers have assembled, along with a plethora of other marvel super heroes.  The Avengers, Fantastic Four, X-Men, and more are here and primed to go.  Throughout the campaign, they are met with a ton of villains, like Loki, Rhino, Venom, and Magneto to name just a few.  You travel all over New York, and Asgard, visiting locations like Stark Tower, The Daily Bugle, the Fantastic Four’s Laboratory, the Raft, The Statue of Liberty, and more.

lego marvel cutsceneWith all of that being said, the story is alright.  Like I said earlier, it’s just fan service at it’s core.  Throughout all of the missions, random super heroes show up to help out, as well as villains.  The marvel brand of humor is largely present throughout the game.  A lot of the jokes are puns and seem kind of cheesy.  The game is aimed towards kids with it’s lighthearted humor, but don’t worry, there is a ton of stuff for the older Marvel fans.  The voice work for all of the characters are also well done.  Obviously, TT Games couldn’t get the voices from the movies, but they do a pretty good job at getting actors that sound like their counterparts.  The only voice that seemed kinda off was Tony Stark’s.  The voice just didn’t match for me.  On the other hand, the voice for Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D.  sounds spot on.

The gameplay plays out exactly as you would expect.  There are fifteen story missions to play through, as well as some additional side missions which are new for the Lego franchise.  You play through these levels using the character’s abilities to get through.  You collect studs (the game’s currency) as well as minikits throughout the levels too.  Stan Lee makes a cameo in every single level via the “Stan Lee In Peril” parts of the levels where you have to save Stan Lee from stan lee excelsiornumerous scenarios.  You end up playing through the levels initially to get through the story and then you can go “free play” the levels to collect all of the collectibles that were unattainable with the given characters.

All of the marvel characters have a variety of abilities that are used during the span of the levels.  They do a good job of giving each character variety and making them all feel unique.  LMSH contains a TON of characters.  All of the main staples of the Marvel Universe are here as well as some niche ones.  (H.E.R.B.I.E. anyone?)  The past Lego games have had a lot of characters but a lot of them seemed the same.  In this game, it’s a different story.

lego marvel asgard

The level design is pretty neat and the scope of the levels are massive, probably more than any other past game.  For example, the first level, which pits you in New York’s Grand Central Station, is about as big an epic as a final level in one of the past Lego games.  The levels only get bigger as you go on.

The hub area in this game is the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier that floats high above the city.  Here, you can do some various side missions as well as access Deadpool’s room, which is where you can unlock red bricks, look at comics acquired via minikits, and enter cheat codes.

lego marvel deadpoolThe Deadpool stuff was probably the best part of the game for me.  Deadpool shows his face whenever you partake in the side missions throughout the city.  The humor during these sections shines among the rest and Deadpool, Marvel’s quirkiest character, provided the comic relief for the game.  It’s during these missions that you get the Deadpool bricks (red bricks) that allow you to gain abilities like stud multipliers and other things, similar to past games.

Like recent Lego games, there is an open-world that accompanies the levels and the open world has more collectibles, time trials, side missions, and other stuff.  In LMSH, the open world is New York City.  The city in this game is actually pretty vibrant and full of life.  Cars go along the streets and numerous minifigs walk along the sidewalks.  In terms of scale, the city is probably the biggest world yet, excluding the Wii U exclusive Lego City Undercover.  Although for some this may be the best part of the game, this is probably where I found most of my complaints.

Let me at least start with the positives.  The games version of New York contains a lot of recognizable landmarks like the Empire State Building and Times Square along with Marvel landmarks like Stark Tower, Daily Bugle, and Oscorp.  Anything you see in the city, you can fly to, or get to somehow.  Some of the side missions are fun to mess around with and there are a ton of collectibles scattered throughout the city.lego marvel city 2

The flying, in my opinion is one of the worst parts of the game.  I have yet to play a Lego game that actually has acceptable flying mechanics.  The flying in this game just seem janky and messed up.   You start to get the hang of it later on but I never felt like I was gracefully flying along the skyline.  These mechanics made the flying time trails awful.  They were never fun and they were always more of a chore.  The time trails in general are just not fun.  I may be biased towards time trial modes in games because I don’t like time trails in general.  I just think that time trails in this game are especially a pain in the ass.

Lastly, there are numerous times throughout the game where glitches and bugs poke their head through.  This should be standard fare for Lego games, which are usually buggy to begin with.  However, this game included more than usual.  During the battle with Loki, halfway through the game, I defeated him and instead of getting the level ending cut scene, I got a black screen.  I had to restart the game and retry the battle three times before it actually worked.  There was a sequence of events that had to happen, which I had to look up online, for the game not to glitch out.  This is unacceptable, and it made me wonder how something like that made it through play-testing.  lego marvel city

All in all, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, apart from it’s troubles, still remains an enjoyable experience.  I had a good time playing through the game, and I am not even the biggest Marvel fan.  I know a little about the comics but there are definitely people out there that will find the fan service more satisfying.  There are definitely spots where this game could be improved, but the final product is not that bad as it stands.  With great power….comes great responsibility.

Sorry, that really didn’t make sense, I just wanted to end the review with another quote.  To quote Stan Lee, “Nuff Said….”

Oscars 2014 Wrap-Up

The award season for movies finally came to a close last Sunday night with the Oscars.  The show, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, was full of memorable moments that overall made the show fun to watch.  12 Years A Slave took home the award of the night with Best Picture, which was the closest category that the Academy has had in years.

ellen monolougeTo start off, Ellen opened the show with a strong start.  This was her second time hosting the show and she felt pretty comfortable with the program.  She cracked jokes directed towards the likes of Jared Leto and Jonah Hill and ended her monolouge with an almost prophetic prediction.  She said that either 12 Years A Slave will win best picture or every one’s a racist.  We all saw how that one turned out.

One of my favorite moments during the show was actually the musical performances from some of the artists that were nominated for their work on their movie’s soundtracks.  Pharrell Williams, who was still sporting the iconic hat that was two sizes to large, gave a joyous performance of “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 and Idina Menzel, who’s name was butchered horrendously by John Travolta, gave an inspiring performance of her hit from Frozen, “Let It Go.”  (Which did later on go on to win Best Song, as well as Best Animated Picture)pharrell oscars

Another inspiring moment was when Lupita Nyong’o was announced as the winner of Best Supporting Actress.  Her acceptance speech was completely genuine, honest, and moving as she got through it with tears and overall appreciation for the help she had recieved from her peers.  She ended out her speech in a memorable way when she said, “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child, that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid.”

Actor Matthew McConaughey probably gave the best speech of the night when he was presented with Best Leading Actor.  His speech was very thoughtful and it including God, his late father, his wife and children, and even a look into the future to the man he aspires to be 10 years from now.  Twitter went crazy when McConaughey won the award, for two reasons.  Many were praising McConaughey and the others were pretty vocal about how Leonardo DiCaprio got robbed of the award. My take on the whole situation?  Every movie, actor, actress, and director that got nominated for an award all deserve a huge amount of praise, but there can only be one winner in each category.  In this category, McConaughey edged out DiCaprio for the award, but that shouldn’t take anything away from DiCaprio’s Matthew McConaugheyperformance in The Wolf of Wall Street.

Ellen also pretty much broke Twitter when she took the famous selfie that included the likes of Brad Pitt, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Channing Tatum, Jared Leto, Kevin Spacey, Julia Andrews, and Lupita Nyong’o.  It shattered Twitter’s retweet records with almost 2 million retweets. Ellen also had more memorable moments like when she ordered pizza for some of the guests near the front.  The pizza delivery man ended up getting a pretty hefty tip too.

But, the night was building up to the final moment, when the winner for Best Picture was announced.  In the end, it ended up going to 12 Years A Slave, which was extremely deserving of the award.  The cast walked up and the acceptance speech was given my director Steve McQueen, and he ended his remarks with a jump for joy to close out the show.  It was a truly memorable night and lots of awards were given out.ellen selfie

Cate Blanchett, for her work on Blue Jasmine, ended up taking home the award for Best Leading Actress and Jared Leto took home the award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a cross-dresser in Dallas Buyers Club.  Gravity also wrapped up a lot of the technical awards, like best direction, which was given to director Alfonso Cuaron. The Great Gatsby got a lot of the costume and production awards too.  Here is how I did with my picks:

Best Picture My Pick: 12 Years A Slave.  What won: 12 Years A Slave.

Best Actor My Pick: Matthew McConaughey.  Who won: Matthew McConaughey.

Best Actress My Pick: Amy Adams.  Who won: Cate Blanchett.

Best Supporting Actor My Pick: Jared Leto.  Who won: Jared Leto.

Best Supporting Actress My Pick: Jennifer Lawrence.  Who won: Lupita Nyong’o

Best Director My Pick: Alfonso Cuaron.  Who won: Alfonso Cuaron.

12-years-a-slave-So I was 4 for 6 with my predictions.  I did a pretty bad job with the actress categories.  I overlooked the fact that Lupita Nyong’o was getting a lot of buzz before the Oscars, which was the same case for Cate Blanchett.  If you want the full list of award winners, you can find the list here.

Review: Mastermind by Rick Ross

rick ross mastermindGod Forgives, I Don’t, Rick Ross’s last studio album, was a rare misstep for the rapper.  It was almost like he was trying just a bit too hard.  He was constantly boasting about his latest projects and it contained so many features and ad-libs that it could almost be considered a mess.  With Mastermind, Rick Ross’s sixth studio album, he cleans up the mess, and he does a good job with it too.

When you listen through the album, I began to marvel at what Rick Ross has become.  He went from being a young signee of Slip n Slide Records, a division of Def Jam Records, in 2006 to basically owning his own record label, MMG.  He has come a long way, and there were definitely a fair share of struggles along the way for the rapper.  In fact, the track “Nobody” goes into more detail about the shooting that he was a victim of back in the day.  He came from a rough place, but he did end up progressing to the point where he is today.

Tracks like “The Devil is a Lie” and “War Ready” are where the album shines.  “The Devil is a Lie” features two powerhouses on one track (Rick Ross himself and Jay-Z) and they both give verses that truly demonstrate their brilliance.  It’s also an interesting song because it delves a little into the topic of faith, which is an area that most rappers don’t really go.  On the other hand, “War Ready” is the definition of street rap at its finest.  Jeezy, who gives a verse is the highlight of the track, outdoing himself as well as Rick Ross with his iconic raspy voice. rick ross

Other features that appear on the album are Diddy, French Montana, Lil Wayne, Big Sean, and Kanye West.  There are some others too, but overall, there are far fewer features on this album than God Forgives, I Don’t, which is actually a good thing.  There was so much features on his last album which made it seem all over the place in terms of content.  With Mastermind, Rick Ross brings on some of the best in the game that give their take on the successes and struggles of the rap game.

The album has its fair share of deep cuts and street beats but you also see some blues, reggae, and R&B that give a break to those familiar Rick Ross tunes.  The Weeknd, who is becoming one of the biggest names in R&B offers his talent in “In Vein”.  We also see some features from Mavado and Sizzla who are becoming big names in the Reggae sphere.  In general, there is a lot more variety on Mastermind than there was on previous albums from Rick Ross.

Don’t get me wrong, Rick Ross still raps about his money and his fame.  That’s what he does.  Rick Ross has become a millionaire through persistence and hard work, and that is what Mastermind is an example of.  It’s a great example of where Rick Ross has come from, as well as why he has become one of the most successful rappers in the game.