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By By Emil

Once in a while, it feels really nice to step back into certain points of the past. Few games are actually able to satisfy that need for nostalgia combined with a sense of complete gaming satisfaction. Majesty in one such game. Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, to be precise. Yes, it's a 'sim' game. A unique kind of God Sim game.

The world known as Ardania is a place where the genre of role-playing games are typified, in that the common folk are more or less helpless against the greater forces that are at work in the world. I am of course referring to the forces that populate sewers and dark alleys with giant rats and marauding goblins, not necessarily in those orders; the same forces that place ancient looming dark castles of evil wizards and warlords, at convenient enough times so as to set in motion some ancient prophecy or the other, just so that some random twit can tell a really cool story. And that's why we love those forces. For the really cool stories.

And we all know what happens when such stories, I mean, prophecies are set in motion. As mentioned, the common folk are helpless, and the burden falls on the shoulders of this wandering hero or that, be it a saintly soul or a troubled anti-hero, to set things right once and for all, until the next mishap comes along.

In Majesty, you're, simply put, a king. And just as simply put, you have a kingdom to run, taxes to collect, prices to raise and economies to manipulate.

Clicking on the map (or the Play Game button) on the main menu brings up the map of Ardania from where you can select scenarios or quests starting from a Beginner difficulty level to an Expert level, and added in the expansion pack, the Master level. Selecting a quest will bring up a brief dialogue by one of your loyal subjects outlining the backdrop of the quest, and what you must do. In Majesty, you do not control heroes. You are not able to select units and send them to far off lands to their deaths. What you CAN do however is click on that far-off land covered by 'fog of war' and place a reward scroll there, which you conveniently know to be the home of some godless monster that eats humans on sight, thus sending them to their untimely deaths.

And that's how you play the game for the most part. Utilizing a Reward system to get the job done. Having buildings like the Rangers Guild, Fighters Guild, Thieves Guild, Wizards Guild, and so on forth, will allow you to hire heroes of that class. You generate income in gold through various means, like the marketplace and primarily the tax system.

You offer the gold as reward for various tasks, for example, exploring and clearing up the fog of war, destroying certain buildings, killing certain creatures, or retrieving certain items. The more amount of reward assigned to a 'quest', the more likely that heroes will flock to that quest. Heroes level up as they gain experience points from killing wandering monsters, and some become more proficient than others. Aside from the heroes, other (non-controllable) units in the game are peasants who build and repair buildings, tax collectors, guards that defend your kingdom against monsters and wild dangerous animals, and the caravans which run routes from trading posts to marketplaces bringing in heaps and heaps of gold. And gold, of course, keeps your kingdom spinning.

There's not a lot to say about the graphics of a game around 9 years old. Finely done, though, and quite cute. The musical score of the game is very awesome, by the way. Greensleeves, King Henry the VIII and all that. Particularly spiffing, really.

In the end, this has to be one of the most fun games I've ever played. There's nothing like watching a few heroes throw their lives away at the prospect of a few gold coins.

All in all, Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim is a fantastic game. Fortunately, that problem with the Windows 7 RC version doesn't exist in the retail version, which is joyous news for me. w00t, as the saying goes.

You may experience scrolling difficulty, in that it's too fast and uncontrollable. In which case, you should do the following.

1. Select Run from the Start menu.
2. Type “regedit” [enter].
3. Select Find from the Edit menu and search for “majesty”.
4. Select the Majesty folder (and/or the Majesty Expansion folder) in the Cyberlore folder.
5. Find the entry ScrollSpeed and double-click it
6. Change the default value to something lower (like 5).

Voila. That should fix it up. That's that. Have a good game, my liege.

If Films Had Gender, This One Is Female:
Sunshine Cleaning

By The Anarchist Kitten

No, Sunshine Cleaning is not a chick flick- far from it. But it's that perfect movie you would want to watch with a special person. If you enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine there's a fairly big chance you will also warm considerably to Sunshine Cleaning. Apart from the word 'sunshine' in the title, it is made by the same production company and, like the first movie, also draws pathos from a dysfunctional family. But that is the extent of the connection between the two movies.

Director Christine Jeffs's Sunshine Cleaning is very unexpected, but in the best way. It is funny and wonderfully quirky. The surprise is its poignancy and brilliant resolve. Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are amazing, and have a stark chemistry as the two leading characters, portraying sisters with a past worth considerable suffering-- their relationship is unquestioned love and explosive conflict. The bittersweet story of the sisters continues with their struggles to purge the horror of their mother's suicide, years after it has happened, and live normal lives. Adams as Rose and Blunt as Norah are polar opposites; Rose was the head cheerleader in high school and aches to regain that position of authority in her adult life while Norah is the 'screw-up', the black sheep of the family.

Rose now works as a maid and snatches precious moments with a married cop Mac (Steve Zahn); Mac is Rose's high school sweetheart who ended up marrying another lady; but it doesn't stop him from playing to Rose's emotional vulnerability towards him and continue diddling her. It is Mac who suggests that there is money in cleaning up crime scenes.

One thing that is striking about the film is that it offers a look at real working-class people doing real work, and does so in a respectful manner. Rose tries to put a positive spin on her post-mortem cleanup work. Starting out as a necessity (once Rose's son gets expelled for being too smart for his age and needs to get into private school) for both the sisters who need money, you can see them gradually coming to value the work for the good that it does. There is nothing wrong with adventure thrillers about high crimes and misdemeanours, about the far-too-well-to-do, and about easy lives, but it is heart-warming to see hard work valued, not just as a barrier to be overcome but as a thing that has intrinsic value and that does real good. Rose and Nora take on work that does real good for real people. A scene that speaks volumes about the characters shows Rose delaying her cleaning work to keep company with an old lady who has just lost her husband. However, this case of suicide unhinges something in Nora, reminding her of her mother. Perhaps it is not coincidence that their job deals with death and cleaning up all aspects of the aftermath, the physical and the human.

There is something therapeutic about restoring order to rooms violated by death and distress and the sense of self-esteem it bestows on Rose and Norah might even be enough to finally turn their life around, a thing they have sought for all of their adult life. Sunshine Cleaning is a winning combination of heartbreak and quirky humour co-starring Alan Arkin as Joe, the girl's well-meaning daydreamer of a father, Jason Spevak as Rose's wise seven-year-old son Oscar and Clifton Collins Jr as Winston, a sympathetic cleaning store clerk who takes a shine to Rose.

The film is slow. It does not dazzle you. But it has heart. And amidst the free-fall of Hollywood summer blockbusters, we enjoy movies with real heart. If films had gender, Sunshine Cleaning would be female. It's just clean, and real in a sort of far-fetched way. It is gentle, and slow. It takes you by surprise, but then again, does not surprise you.

Blut Aus Nord:
French Black Metal, German Title, English Lyrics

By Ahsan Sajid

The work, which creates pure pleasure in the minds of black metal fans- that, is how one should describe French black metal band Blut Aus Nord's fourth release- The Work Which Transforms God. In this album Blut Aus Nord creates a soundscape completely devoid of anything positive or hopeful in this world. The Work Which Transforms God will have the grim-minded smiling ear to ear. If one thought black metal was bleak, Blut Aus Nord is a new kind of evil all together, giving an added dimension not seen enough of in black metal.

The majority of The Work (...), is a magnificent example of majestic yet dreary, skin crawling black metal with various experimental, industrial elements. Stylistically one notices much influence drawn from far outside traditional black metal territory. In particular, there are significant post-punk, proto-punk and experimental/noise guitar elements featured in much of the slower paced tracks. This contrast against the deliberate omission of jazz, neo-classical, electronic and progressive elements that many other blackened artists have dabbled with.

These elements all combine to give the work a harsher and pre-meditated tone of transformed chaos featuring demonic vocals and ruptured semi-tone harmonics.

The Work sees a considerable overall improvement on the band's previous releases; the record will definitely get better with repeated listens as more and more layers are revealed.

Most modern black metal (what one can arguably call the Third Wave of black metal, all though this wave is not quite a wave like the First or Second) has ignored the garage production that characterised the genre's early classics (Venom, Bathory, Mayham, Burzum etc.) The Work possesses a stark but far from digitally perfect sound, similar and dissimilar to modern black metal- guitars are in the fore, vocals and bass get less focus and are barely discernible. The drums are clearly from a machine, but clever arrangements and layering manage to avoid steering into industrial territory.

If you enjoy metal, then The Work Which Transforms God is a ground zero necessity. But be warned, the album is not for the faint of heart. Blut Aus Nord (German for Blood From North) creates music that is quite simply put- evil.


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