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The Daily Hotness: Cupcakes


Check out everything Destructoid did today
Oct 11
// Daniel Starkey
And I love them dearly. Destructoid OriginalCommunitoid 001: It BeginsImpressions: New Super Mario Bros. 2 DLCPodtoid 222: Weird Hairless Chicken-babiesIt Came from Japan! Splatterhouse: Wanpaku GraffitiLive show: Worms: Revo...
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The Daily Hotness: I <3 Pokemon Music


Oct 04
// Daniel Starkey
So... earlier today my Pokemon Black and White 2 review went up. I wasn't super kind, but I wasn't super mean either. Anyway... somehow Pokemon music entered the conversation, and that made me want to highlight one ...

Review: Pokemon Black and White 2

Oct 04 // Daniel Starkey
Pokémon Black and White 2 (Nintendo DS)Developer: Game FreakPublisher: NintendoRelease: October 7, 2012MSRP: $34.99 Playing a new Pokémon game for many people tends to be a war with their own nostalgia. Every time a new title in the core series of games is released, fans of the originals become rabid children and flock to the new game in a desperate attempt to "Catch 'em all" -- a task which gets exponentially more difficult with each generation. It's a roller coaster of sentimentality that messed with my head a bit. For the first few hours, I went back and forth between belting the Pokémon show theme song and practically yelling at the DS for not telling me what to do and where to go. BW2 needs some kind of recap feature or journal or something. NPCs will often mention to go find certain things, but it never explicitly tells me where they are. There are so many random buildings and people wandering around everywhere that it's impossible to know at first glance what is and isn't important. Important names are only in the last lines of the dialogue with NPCs and never mentioned again. I have no way to look it up, no way to find a hint, no way to get some kind of reminder, even. Every now and then, people just walk up to me and hand me items without any explanation or context. No one tells me what I need to get through which area or how, or even the general direction I should be going. Black and White had a fairly linear path. This sequel, on the other hand, seems to just send you off with all of your options apparently available, but not really showing you where you can and cannot go until you try. [embed]235932:45277[/embed] I've also noticed that it's harder to use only one Pokémon in this game. It's the first time I've ever had problems with that strategy. I'm being forced to pick up other Pokémon and use them because I simply don't have the ability to learn any decent moves.  While initially frustrating, this actually makes me glad in a way. For years I've been playing this game in a really cheap, easy, shortcut-y way and this is the first time I've seen some real effort to balance the trainer and wild Pokémon distribution in such a way that my old, rather boring strategy is totally unusable. Kudos, Game Freak. You did something right. Conniving bastards. Sucking me in again... Despite these extensive, nagging complaints, I'm really surprised at how well the core Pokémon formula continues to hold up. With minor tweaks, the basic game becomes exponentially more complex over time while simultaneously being simple enough that children can get into it and appreciate the basics. The entire game is centered around the core theme of growth and gradual maturity as well, reinforcing the appeal to younger audiences. Most people started playing Pokémon when they were young and had little agency in the world, but by tapping the dream of growing up and being more and more important within a relatively small time frame is a powerful appeal to kids. It seems then, as the Pokémon generation ages, the nostalgia is reinforced by this longing to fulfill those same childhood dreams that were planted in our minds back in the '90s. Wow. This has to be some really sick, decade-long marketing scheme ... it's genius. Maybe Nintendo and Game Freak are actually Team Rocket. If so, they've managed to create another compelling installment in the long-running franchise. Pokémon embodies the maxim "easy to learn, hard to master." Even after 15 years, I still only know a small portion of what I potentially could. While I don't have the time or the patience to dedicate to that endeavor, it's comforting to know that even in what is, ostensibly, a children's game, that if I chose to take that leap, I would have something substantive on which to land. Unfortunately, that same level of refinement and care cannot be found in the narrative. Black and White attempted to tackle several legitimate moral issues with their plot -- and they were, more or less, the first games in the series to do so. They posed a question which any legitimately moral individual inhabiting the world of Pokémon would eventually have to ask themselves: is it okay to capture small animals and force them to fight one another for sport? For most, the answer is a resounding "no." However, Black and White backed away from the implications of the very question they raised, and I'm sad to say that their sequels are no different in that regard. Normally, I could forgive Pokémon for so poorly handling a fairly legitimate moral issue, but the plot has been so deeply integrated, and spans such a large portion of the game that I really can't let it go. It feels like I have been tantalized with a potentially subversive, thought-provoking game that never appears. In that sense, Black and White 2 are clearly the products of Nintendo. The paired titles hint at so much more than they are, that when the whole journey is over, I'm left wanting what could have been. Most people won't care, though, and for those folks, Black and White 2 represent a perfectly adequate, even addictive sequel that falls a bit short short of its full potential. Then again, at some point, a giant, flying, solar-powered pirate ship shows up and freezes whole cities with an ice laser. So... take the good with the bad.
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Pokémon is practically a cultural institution. Every true child of the '90s knows every word to the theme song, lost a lot of their parents' money on the trading card game, and spent many dozens of hours testing playgr...

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The voice of the Twin Cities


Sep 30
// Daniel Starkey
While pretty much everyone these days games, it still seems that most of the best events always hit the bigger cities. When I was growing up I longed to visit the Pokemon Center in New York or E3 in Los Angeles. There were no...
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The Daily Hotness: Learnin' some stuff


Sep 27
// Daniel Starkey
I dunno if this is the right audience, but I really enjoy documentaries and educational things. Recently on YouTube a bunch of people have created some pretty interesting content that really boils dow...
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Super smexy Need For Speed: Most Wanted trailer


Sep 25
// Daniel Starkey
So ... Burnout is awesome. Always has been, always will be. And while it is true that we haven't seen a true game from that franchise in a while, Criterion has been doing its best to bring all of the insane, anarchic fun we ...

Review: Palo Alto Cubik

Sep 24 // Daniel Starkey
Product: CubikManufacturer: Palo AltoInput: USBOutput: 2.2MSRP: $199.95 The first and most obvious trait that you’ll probably notice is the rather futuristic shape. Each piece is shaped like a cube with divots on its sides. The back panel, as one might expect, has all of the connectors and ports for power and input. On one face of the “cube,” there is also a small hole for the built-in, miniature subwoofer. All together, it’s an aggressively modern aesthetic. Not so much sleek and clean, but more of an allusion to a dystopian parallel world. Weather or not you personally prefer the look is obviously up to you but, sitting beside my Asus G73 and my Alienware M15x, I thought they fit in nicely. As stylish as they may be, if they don’t sound any better than an average set, they’re largely pointless, especially at that price point. Thankfully, they do perform extremely well at normal volume levels. Mids are nice and clean, highs are crisp and playful, and the bass has a significantly higher fidelity than what you can get from standard laptop speakers. That said, their most attractive quality isn’t quite as easy to articulate. Most audio equipment has really stark directionality; rotating your head or moving around a room will quickly demonstrate that. Cubik, on the other hand, has a very large, open soundscape. They create an aural bubble within which everything sounds roughly the same from any given position. It’s really an odd thing to hear, and I had several of my friends come in to try it just so I could prove to myself that I wasn’t crazy. This bubble of sound is probably caused by the the mini-subwoofers on the back and the two tweeters that point directly up at the listener’s ears. In that sense, they are engineered much better than your average desktop stereo setup. Unfortunately, the generally solid performance and wow-factor cannot make up for a few key frustrations. While at moderate volume, Cubik performs admirably, but if you have some friends over and want to watch an action flick, or need some oomph for a room party, you will be sorely disappointed. Cubik lacks that tight, low-end bass that you get from larger, dedicated subs, and at higher volumes, even the included mini-subwoofers simply cannot keep up. Explosions and gunshots will either come off as dull and flat or cause the audio to tear a bit. Either way, for a set that costs $200, that isn’t really something I can forgive. Additionally, while it’s great that the option for USB input is included, the fact that nothing is supported -- no TOSLink, no 3.5mm, etc. -- is really underwhelming. Versatility is highly important and the option to use this set with any source could have made it a much stronger contender. Beyond that, all cables are either proprietary or not user-replaceable. Again, a few simple design oversights dramatically limit the long-term viability and utility of this set is capped far lower than it should be. At this price level, consumers should expect more. If the design alone is enough to win you over, then I highly recommend them. If not, you should probably look at a more powerful system from someone else.
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If you haven’t been able to tell by the fairly large number of headphone reviews I’ve done for this site, I have a thing for audio equipment. It's probably the single biggest investment I make beyond my daily caff...

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The Daily Hotness: Friggin' Pikmin


Sep 20
// Daniel Starkey
Pikmin is just fantastic. I mean... we all kinda know it, because it's Pikmin, but my roommate powered through the first one again a couple of days ago, and now he's working on Pikmin 2. It's just... so great. Oh yeah, the To...

Review: Astro A50

Sep 17 // Daniel Starkey
Wireless headphones -- hell, wireless products in general -- suffer from lower response times, battery hassles, and generally inferior ... everything. To a degree, this reputation is certainly deserved. In the same way that laptops will always be inferior to desktops in every way but one, so too have peripherals paid the price of convenience. It’s unfortunate, too, because the headphones, especially those meant for home theaters, do not at all lend themselves well to a perpetually tethered environment. For the best comfort, for the best experience, wireless is arguably the ultimate goal. The A50s are incredible in their ability to assuage my general trepidation towards the cordless world. The A50s have a number of design changes over Astro’s bread-and-butter A40 set. The most striking of these is the primarily metal frame. It gives the set an excellent feeling of quality and strength that the plastic-framed A40s lack. Even the Creative Tactics can’t measure up. The cups are lined with a soft, velvet-like fabric -- a welcome change from the leatherette standard. The headstrap is also lined with this material, coating the padding. The microphone sits on the left side, activated only when pulled down in front of the user's face. The other controls, including volume, power, a switch for three different listening modes, and a basic equalizer are jammed into the the outer edge of the right cup. The proximity of each can be a bit confusing at times. So much packed so closely together -- and the simple fact that while gaming, you can’t see any of the components -- can make selecting the wrong setting or bumping something unintentionally an occasional annoyance. Aurally, the A50 is a phenomenal set, packed with rich, booming base, soothingly smooth midtones and crisp highs. The soundscape is huge and open, not unlike Sennheiser HD 650 -- a pair that retails for nearly twice as much. The effect is so notable that I actually had to ask whether they were closed or open-back. My only gripe here is the inability of the set to handle higher volumes. Don’t get me wrong, they sound spectacular at anything that even remotely resembles “safe,” but it is a bit disconcerting to hear their fail conditions. Wireless sets, unlike their tethered relatives, don’t have to cope with amps or absurd amounts of power streaming in because some idiot 20-something wants to be deaf in five years. The positive side of that fickle coin is that, in contrast to the Creative Tactics, you will never encounter a situation where the volume level of the source limits you to to quiet and muted tones -- it will always get louder. Microphone reception and quality is prismatic. Everyone I asked online said I came through very clear without any issues in understanding me. As mentioned before, the mic boom can be flipped up and away from the face to mute -- a simple yet brilliant feature that makes the whole system just a bit more user-friendly. If you’ve used the A40, then you are familiar with the Mixamp, Astro’s term for the base station. It includes a USB port to charge the headset itself as well a a few basic controls to turn the system on and off. Provided with the station is a small plastic tower that acts as both a tray for the station and a rack to set the headphones on when not in use. Unfortunately, for inputs, the system only accepts optical. The set is largely console-focused and both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 natively support TOSLink. If you’re a PC user, you’d be hard pressed to find a cheap, consumer-grade card that would be compatible, but for everyone else, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The final effect, however, is definitely worth the trouble. Because the set only takes optical, Astro thought it would be absurd to compress the the audio stream to the headset as most other wireless sets do. To accomplish this, they used the 5.8 Ghz band, which has the added benefit of being largely free from any form of electromagnetic interference. Astro has been in the business of creating high-end gaming headsets for some time now; building inroads with MLG and other competitive communities has secured their spot as a respected manufacturer. In my experience, however, their products have suffered from lackluster build-quality and a juvenile, ostentatious design. That trend seemed a bit true when they released the A*, a slick, modern reinterpretation of a cell-phone headset. My pair, for example, has survived everything from door jams to being put through a washer and dryer at full heat. While I can’t say with any certainty that the A50s will endure the same punishment, they have given me a bit more confidence in the design and engineering of Astro’s products. At $300, they run on the high-end, but they at least seem to be in the same class as their price would suggest. Gone on are the days of cheap, plastic-y $200 boondoggles. From those ashes have risen a respectable, clean vision of the future of high-end gaming peripherals.
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It doesn't take much to really improve the gaming experience. Better seating, better lighting, better company, etc. are sometimes all it takes to go from an utterly insufferable trek through your simulated world of ...

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The Daily Hotness: Wiinter is coming


Sep 13
// Daniel Starkey
Over the past 24 hours we've been utterly BOMBARDED with Wii U news. Fifty launch titles, $350 for the top model, coming November 18th, etc. etc. So... stuff's intense and we should be seeing Msoft and Sony pick-up their...
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The Daily Hotness: Coop Native Amber


Sep 06
// Daniel Starkey
It's been awhile, folks, but now I'm back with more beer reviews along with your daily recap. Today's beer comes from home state of Oklahoma. I picked it up around New Year's Day, and just never got around to trying it. I was...
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The Daily Hotness: Yeah, SimCity's pretty baller


Aug 16
// Daniel Starkey
So... Dale was bragging that he got to play SimCity at gamescom. That's pretty awesome. It was my personal game of show for E3, and the stuff I saw there was impressive. After the exceptional disappointment that&nbs...
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The Daily Hotness: Home Brew IPA


Aug 09
// Daniel Starkey
Last Friday, one of my coworkers brought in a homemade IPA. Now I realize that this is kind of a BS review because no one else will be able to pick it up… like ever. Still, I thought drinking boss-approved-beer at work...
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The Daily Hotness: Moos Joos Oatmeal Milk Stout


Aug 02
// Daniel Starkey
There was a huge sale going down at my local liquor store and I thought it'd be a great time to pick up some local microbrews. After looking around a bit, I settled on a case of "Moo Joos Oatmeal Milk Stout". Head was a ...
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The Daily Hotness: Bud Light


Jul 26
// Daniel Starkey
It's fizzy water. Also, it tastes like sadness. Destructoid Original: Exclusive: Meet the Kingdom Hearts 3D sound teamLive show: Finally, Kai has come to Vindictus!Community: Next-Gen: Gaming's handheld camcorderFor...
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The Daily Hotness: Stone Self-Righteous


Jul 19
// Daniel Starkey
I've been a huge fan of Stone in the past. Their Arrogant Bastard is easily one of my favorite ales, and I'm in love with their Imperial Russian Stout (the non-anise version). When I got my hands on the Self-Righteous I was e...

Review: Falcon Northwest Tiki

Jul 18 // Daniel Starkey
Falcon Northwest TikiProcessor: Core i7-3770KStorage: 2TB HDD, 256GB SSBGraphics: Nvidia GTX 680RAM: 8GB @ 1866 MhzPrice as reviewed: $2,881 Being a LAN junkie, I approached this review from the perspective of a person who would want something light and fast that had more longevity than a laptop. From that perspective, the Tiki is a fantastic product held back by one really awkward design choice. The first of these will be immediately apparent as soon as the machine arrives. It’s like an adorable Pomeranian puppy named Meatloaf that weighs 80lbs. The Tiki has a large stone block on the bottom -- ostensibly to keep the very narrow tower standing up straight. While I can understand their approach, it seems like the whole package would just have been better if it was designed to operate sideways. On the plus side, a slim form factor means that it can fit almost anywhere. It’s even small enough to fit in a standard bike cargo basket. Just in case you need to play games next time you’re in a triathlon. It wasn't until my last day with the unit that I realized that the granite plates were removable. So if the weight is a bit much, you can cut the brick and have one may be one of the lightest towers I've ever seen.A combination of liquid and air cooling, the Tiki is whisper quiet and runs cool as ice. Under full standard load, I never saw the temp climb past ~50 degrees. After a Futuremark burn-in, the GPU was sitting steady at 65 degrees. Like most top-end things these days, the Tiki could run Battlefield 3, Portal 2, Skyrim, The Witcher 2, and StarCraft II at 1080p with full AA, 16x anisotropic filtering, VSYNC, etc. all at 60 frames per second. Loading times were obscenely short, as one might expect given the SSD. Everything ran like butter. The chassis is made with steel and aluminum, which is nice to see given the preponderance of cheaply-made PCs running around. Construction and general design are excellent, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen something so small that has so many USB ports. There’s a half-dozen 3.0s, a few more 2.0s, and one specialized port for a factory reset with a special flash drive provided by Falcon. Exceptionally well-equipped for creating ad-hoc networks and helping out with LAN-party backbones, the Tiki comes with a dual Wireless-N card and two magnetic antennas that you can slap on the side of the case or on something nearby like a fridge or whatever. As I mentioned earlier, unlike a laptop, it’s possible to replace some of the components in the Tiki, though, to be fair, it probably wouldn’t be fun. When I was younger, and I built Micro-ATX systems for friends, I often ended up with cuts on my hands because of the utter lack of workspace. This thing is quite a bit smaller -- akin to two notebooks stitched together. None of the hardware I saw in the case was proprietary, but it would be a pain in the ass to mess with anything other than the HDD and SSDs. If I could level any complaint that was inherent to the design other than the granite base, it would be the lack of PCI ports. Other than the slot for the video card, there aren't any expansion slots. That means no new audio card, NIC, or other peripherals. It's fortunate then, that the Asus P8Z77-I is perfectly competent. Compared to most integrated options in other systems, it's significantly above average. What's on display here is excellent, but whether or not this is really worth it depends upon a lot of things. There's no doubt that at $3,000, this isn't exactly the cheapest high-powered solution, but it's certainly unique. That said, it's wise to remember that the base configuration doesn't have a monitor, keyboard, or mouse. If it did, and held the same price point, I'd be blown away. Unfortunately, at $1,800 base, if you don't already have the other components, it might not be your best option. If you can't build your own system, or you need something exceptionally tiny and the Alienware X51 isn't cutting it, then the Tiki is definitely a viable option. All around, you won't find anything else this small, this powerful, this quiet, at this price point.
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There’s a steadily growing market for smaller and smaller desktops. These are machines that keep all of the advantages of a full computer (e.g., more power, ventilation, interchangeable parts) and the portability of a l...

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The Daily Hotness: Hoegaarden


Jul 12
// Daniel Starkey
THE BEER REVIEWS CONTINUE.I'd always heard Hoegaarden was a pretty nice light summer beer, and I thought "What better way to celebrate the fourth than to drink an import"? I was very impressed with the whole thing. Most wheat...
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The Daily Hotness: Left Hand Milk Stout


Jun 28
// Daniel Starkey
My favorite beers are definitely the stouts. They're thick, full-bodied and packed with flavor, without being too nuanced. With Trappist ales, for example, I always feel like I need to focus on the taste because there's so mu...

Review: Origin EON 11-S

Jun 28 // Daniel Starkey
The EON 11-S' build quality is fantastic. The whole case has the no-slip textured surface that feels really nice to the touch, rather than feeling cheap. The chassis is made of really sturdy plastic that is resistant to force and pressure. No part of the frame flexed or bent when I pressed on it. There's also a nice weight to it; not so light that it feels like you're holding air, but not so heavy that it loses utility.  The touchpad feels great, while the buttons themselves are nice and responsive. It isn't overly sensitive, nor is it a pad that will have you dragging your finger across the whole surface three or four times just to get the cursor to move across the screen. The keyboard feels nice as well, though, as one might expect, it is a little cramped. The only real disappointment I had with the machine in terms of basic usability was the lack of a backlit keyboard. While by no means critical, it is a luxury that I have grown very much accustomed to, and given that most machines at this price level come equipped with backlit keys, it is a tad disappointing that they aren't present in this machine.  Sporting an Ivy Bridge i5 clocked at 2.5 Ghz, 8GB of RAM, a 750GB HDD, and an NVIDIA GT 650M with 2GB of VRAM, this pint-sized portable is a powerhouse. Then again, looking at those specs, I was concerned with the unit's battery life. Part of the reason that netbooks are such practical options is that the specs are kept low specifically to maximize the longevity of the limited power they have. To be sure, when running Deus Ex: Human Revolution at maximum settings, the battery was emptying at a rate of about 0.5% per minute. That's quite a bit better than most gaming notebooks we are used to seeing, but it won't survive a full cross-country plane ride. It does, however, give you a fantastic distraction from the creepy guy who's trying to chat you up and the crying baby in the next aisle. If you're mostly just running productivity software, however, then you'll definitely be set for all but the longest of plane rides. When you're on battery and aren't running any graphically intense applications, NVIDIA Optimus dynamically switches to the integrated GPU, saving metric assloads of power. Seriously, this stuff is ridiculous. With full screen brightness, I was able to write for an entire hour using less than 10%. Granted, most of the time you won't be able to eek out quite that much, but you won't be running to the nearest outlet every five seconds, either. During the chaos of E3, for example, my Galaxy Nexus' battery was being routinely slammed by the awful cell phone reception, endless tethering, staff emails, and our regular "Hey, anyone up for grabbing some beers?" Thankfully, the EON 11-S has an always-on USB port. I could actually charge my phone with the tiny netbook resting in my messenger bag, pop the computer open, take some notes at appointments, and go about my business. Not only that, but I could do this all day on a single charge. The sheer utility of this thing is incredible: a netbook fast enough to keep up with the big boys, sturdy enough to take a few hits, and versatile enough to be useful to almost anyone. Hell, even the Great Conrad Zimmerman used the thing to get a quick charge at one of the after parties. In terms of actual power, the EON's general 3DMark score was P3844 with graphics, physics, and combined subscores of 3552, 7470, and 3453, respectively. This clearly demonstrates that the workhorse here is the processor. As such, it excels beyond what one might expect in any game or program that taxes the CPU. I thought that a fair portion of people who would play games on this thing would be doing so with a larger monitor. I used a standard 1920x1080 ASUS screen. Skyrim ran fairly well with 60-second averages (as measured using Fraps) ranging from 42 to 56 frames per second, never dropping below 28 frames per second. I had shadows, textures, and radial blur all at max with 8x AA and 16x anisotropic filtering. Keep in mind that I was also running with over 70 mods, including extreme distance mods, better textures, better shadows, and the like. The strongest case that can be made for the EON 11-S is its sheer utility. I went into last week a skeptic of the high-powered, 11-inch netbook, and I came out very satisfied. This is one of the few pieces I've reviewed that I would absolutely purchase for myself. It's fantastic all around and I truly believe this deserves our Editor's Choice Award.
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As I'm sure everyone who is familiar with my previous work on Destructoid is already well aware, I have a thing for portable electronics and laptops in particular. Last week, I was able to put Origin's new 11-inch "netbook" t...

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The Daily Hotness: Finnegan's Irish Amber


Jun 21
// Daniel Starkey
After the spectacular feedback I got from last week's beer review... I've decided to keep doing it. Every Thursday night, I'll have a new beer (new as one I haven't review before) and I'll incorporate it as part of the Hotnes...

Review: Civilization V: Gods and Kings

Jun 20 // Daniel Starkey
Civilization V: Gods and Kings (PC)Developer: FiraxisPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: June 19, 2012MSRP: $29.99Gods and Kings adds a lot of the features that were lost between IV and V like religion and espionage with mixed results. There are a total of nine new civilizations including Austria, Carthage and the Mayans. Naval AI has also received a ton of tweaks and there are new units including the Great Admiral, the maritime equivalent of the Great General. Religion is easily the most robust and interesting addition. Faith works just like other resources. There are certain buildings, abilities, and tiles that produce faith each turn, and when you've earned enough of the resource you can either purchase units or buildings, spawn a great person, found a pantheon, start a religion, or upgrade that religion. All of these are tied very deeply into the Civ mechanics and mesh pretty well with what is already there -- a far cry from the system employed in Civ IV. Each pantheon gives the player a certain set of bonuses akin in both type and magnitude to those afforded by the various world leaders, like extra happiness for cities founded near rivers. Later, the option to found a religion will become available. Again, the player selects one of several buffs, while also establishing a name for the faith as well as picking a symbol. Religious bonuses are a bit different, however, in that they almost exclusively rely on spreading to new cities and civilizations. They aren't usually static either; the more you push your religion on others, the greater the buff for you and your allies. You can found up to three religions, and they are spread city by city, so you don't have to commit your entire country to "MutantJediNinja-ism". My general strategy in V has always been to wonder rush with Rameses II, and I found that religion was very easy to incorporate.  All the bonuses I chose gave me bonuses to science and productivity with additional trade routes. These buffs allowed me to raise tons of money, buy Settlers, expand aggressively, boost science output, buy new productivity buildings and start cranking out more and more gold and science. This kept me on the bleeding edge of tech development so I could grab wonders before anyone else had a chance. Of course, evangelizing is also important. Real-world moral quandaries aside, the system that Gods and Kings uses is fairly intuitive and easy to apply. Once a player has gathered enough faith, they can buy a great prophet. Generally, these units travel to up to five different cities converting up to ten citizens. This puts a lot more control in the hands of the player when compared to the system that IV used.   This creates a really cool dynamic that both highlights the actual applications of real-world religions and allows you to faith for diplomacy, especially with human players. Giving buffs to followers as well as founders means that you can convert-a-friend and help them out. None of the effects are deleterious or trade-offs. It serves to add more nuanced dynamics to what is probably one of the weaker facets of Civ’s gameplay. Effective use of faith and religion will greatly benefit astute players. Espionage is the other new gameplay addition. After researching the tech, players have access to another screen that shows all of your available spies and all known cities. Spies can be placed in rival cities to help steal technology, in city-states to help rig elections and gain favor, or your own cities to provide counter-intelligence and prevent your tech from being stolen.  The interface is very well-executed, but the whole system is largely pointless.  I could see civilizations that are pretty far behind being able to steal tech from more advanced players, but they will likely have all of their spies guarding their own tech.  Espionage also comes into the game so late, comparatively speaking, that it’s difficult to smoothly mesh it with the rest of the gameplay. The Civilization IV expansion, Beyond the Sword, handled spies much better by allowing you to sabotage cities, poison water, destroy buildings and stall production. Here, technology and elections are really the only trick in the bag. It’s more than a little underwhelming. In addition to the new gameplay additions, Gods and Kings adds a new mode called “Empire of the Smokey Skies”. Resident Captain of Awesome, Ryan Perez, wrote quite a bit about it in his preview back in May. The mode hasn’t changed too much since then, capitalizing on the steam punk aesthetic to mix up the rigmarole. It would be nice to modify some of the rules of “Smokey Skies”, because I really enjoyed messing around with the new units. Sadly, however, you can’t play “Smoky Skies” with others, and there’s no option to use dirigibles or landships in place of bombers and tanks. The scenario pulls away from known history around the discovery of steam power. uranium, aluminum and other modern materials all receive funny-sounding names indicative of their alternative universe origin. Other than that though, very little is changed.Players will be given five goals including the usual military and economic dominance objectives. In order to win, a player must be leading in three of the the five categories. At that point a timer kicks in and counts down giving everyone else one last chance to clinch victory. It's a nifty little addition, but I only played through it twice. It just isn't different enough to keep me coming back. If you were a fan of the changes made in the vanilla release of Civilization V you’ll probably enjoy most of the new bits. Gods and Kings is a strong expansion overall, but it fails to live up to the series’ own pedigree. Religion adds so much subtlety to advanced strategies that, by comparison, espionage comes off as a half-assed attempt to add back an old mechanic. Oh yeah and they fixed the opening movie problem.   
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Civilization has always had a special place in my heart. As a turn-based 4X strategy game, it is the antithesis of damn-near everything in the shooter-saturated landscape that is the modern game market. When it was initiall...

Slicing up dudes in Dust: An Elysian Tail

Jun 15 // Daniel Starkey
Dust is a project headed up by basically one person. The titular protagonist is a cool, mysterious warrior and a weird Sly Cooper-esque raccoon ... thing who is also a magic-wielding swordsman accompanied by a guardian named Fidget. It's a totally silly premise, but it works. The first thing I noticed about the game when I started was the vibrant, imaginative world. Everything from the landscape to the baddies are gorgeously rendered in an art style that resembles a clash between Braid, Outland, and the aforementioned Sly Cooper. Taking both Western and Japanese influences, it's fun and adorable while also sparking a subtle sense of intrigue and foreign. Controls were spot on. Combat was tight with elaborate; combos were easy to pick up and chain into one another. Flashy and fun, there is enough variety, even initially, to keep things from getting old too fast. You won't be able to get by simply through mashing the same button or two over and over again. Sadly, the E3 show floor isn't too conducive for really digging into and understanding the background, the story, or really anything beyond how something looks and plays. Though, towards the end of the demo level, about a dozen people walked up right behind me. 'Twas Sir Shiggy and his posse. So yeah ... that was cool.
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You'll have to forgive the lateness of this preview. I was bed-ridden for damn near four days after E3 on account of nerd-flu. Still, if you'll stick around for a little bit, I'd like to tell you about one of my favorite game...

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The Daily Hotness: Rocheforts are tasty


Jun 14
// Daniel Starkey
Not too many people know this, but I'm a budding beer snob. Thanks to JRo, Conrad, and plenty others giving me crap about my beer selections last PAX Prime, I've started trying to broaden my horizons, get out and try new beve...

E3: Dishonored's quiet revenge

Jun 09 // Daniel Starkey
Dishonored takes place a genuinely steampunk, neo-Victorian setting (not unlike Bioshock: Infinite). For example, "electronics" are powered by steam and whale oil, though precisely how is some crazy form of demon magic. It's a great setting, but at this point there isn't anything unique about it. Still, the execution is great from what I've seen and played. The demo opens in a dark corner with an objective to capture a target; there were some guards nearby, and several means to dispatch them, allowing the player to choose their own weapon à la Skyrim. If there were a continuum between first-person shooters and role-playing games, then Dishonored would lean quite a bit more towards the RPG side. You collect experience, level up, and develop your personal take on Atano.  Choosing the non-violent route, thinking it would at least be a bit more fun, I equipped a crossbow with some sleeping darts and started picking dudes off, sneaking forward, and dragging their bodies into the same dark corner from whence I spawned. I then proceeded to loot their bodies and move along my way. This standard stealth process felt very smooth, but I never really felt like I was cloaked by the shadows, somewhat like sneaking in Deus Ex: Human Revolution as opposed to a heavily modded Skyrim. Moving through a dark alley, I was presented with several branches, people to interact with and different ways to approach the objective. Here, the non-linear level design begins to present itself. You can help, hurt, avoid, sneak, stab, or "hack" your way through. It allows and even encourages multiple ways to play and explore. This is all very reminiscent of earlier FPS/RPGs like Deus Ex, System Shock, and even Thief, to a degree. It's well done and subtly implemented such that the mechanics aren't immediately obvious, rewarding those players who do more than just mindlessly pursue an objective. After knocking the target unconscious, I carried him back to the extraction point after dodging several more enemies and something that seemed like a Strider from Half-life 2, disabling or sneaking past each of them on my way to an awaiting ship. I managed the entire level without killing a single person. Which is rare in games, and I can honestly say is the only time I got to do that all E3. I'm really excited for Dishonored's potential as a slightly different take on the neo-Victorian setting, and I can't wait for the chance to play the entirety of it this October 9.
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Revenge is probably one of the most universal stories we tell. It's in practically everything from Star Trek, to Moby Dick, to God of War. Now we have Dishonored. The main character, Corvo Atano, is a former member of the Emp...

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm will shake things up

Jun 08 // Daniel Starkey
 Each race gets at least two units, and several others get upgrades and new powers. A Blizzard representative said that they focused many of these multiplayer add-ons on giving players defenses against popular tournament strategies, and trying to refocus some of the powers such that players use a broader spectrum while also keeping with the original concept behind each piece.The revisions made to StarCraft II are subtle but game-changing. As I mentioned earlier, everything that was added is designed to very specifically alter how two races interact. For example, one new Zerg unit, the Viper, can grab enemies and pull them to wherever the Viper is. This can have dramatic consequences for Terran players as their siege tanks can be neutralized almost immediately. Protoss can now begin building their mothership earlier, starting with a core before upgrading later in the game. The mothership core has some of the abilities of the full unit, like mass recall. The sheer cost of material for the Protoss often dissuades players from taking risks and this was added to encourage Protoss players to be more aggressive in the early game. Terran players can expect a number of new units and mechanics as well. A new deployable mine, the Widow, can attack both air and ground units, dealing huge splash damage. It is intended as a manner of guarding against unit drops and defensively pushing the border of your territory. There's plenty more than what I've mentioned, but Blizzard wanted to make it clear that this content may be replaced or completely dropped at any time. Additionally, there are a handful of units from the original SCII pantheon that might be removed from the final release. The only unit that was absent in the build that I played, however, was the Protoss Carrier. In addition to all of these unit/mechanic modifications, Blizzard has been working on some game modes and tools to help new players jump in more quickly and old players refine their games. Soon, replays of past games will allow multiple people to watch simultaneously, and pick up and begin playing at any point in time. These are some exciting tweaks, and I can't wait to see how they are used by the community. Unfortunately, the campaign mode wasn't playable tonight, but Blizzard did confirm that they will be releasing more information soon. The closed beta will also be launching sometime in the next month, allowing the team to fine-tune the balance of the new units and figure out how the best strategy (get it?) for moving forward. No word on a release date yet, but then again it is Blizzard, so it probably won't be for another several years. Oh, yeah, and not one word on Ghost yet. They seemed pretty angry when I asked too...
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The Major League Gaming Anaheim Spring Championships are running today through Sunday. At the event, Blizzard was offering the press an opportunity to come in and play a few hours worth of multiplayer matches of the Hear...

E3: Need for Speed: Most Wanted sure feels like Burnout

Jun 08 // Daniel Starkey
The Burnout series' signature takedowns, tricks, and boost (aka "nitrous"), are all here, but the cars are quite a bit heavier. You can't, for example, hit the nitrous and immediately accelerate so fast that Danica Patrick's eyes bleed. Vehicles are able to take a lot more punishment as well, giving the whole game a death-rally feel. The core of the game is built around collecting SP, or "speed points," and everything you do is recorded via AutoLog. The more ridiculous and daring your stunts, the more points you earn. As you go, you'll rise up the list of "most wanted." These points can be spent to unlock cars and upgrades and items to customize your cars and build up your collection. I squeezed out almost a full hour with a bunch of other game journos in a variety of multiplayer events. We had everything from distance jumps, slaloms, checkpoint races, top speed in a given time, and most takedowns. Taking people down in races is especially satisfying as it removes them from the competition. When a player is taken out, however, they can come back and harass other players. It is entirely possible to knock everyone out and keep anyone from winning. It's devious, douchey, and utterly delightful. For single-player, they're adding a ton of tiny new features. There are, for example, dozens of super and hypercars hidden throughout the city. If you are being pursued by the cops, you can jump into one as a quick way to lose them. The instant-paint, body repair, and car-switch stops from Paradise are back, but with added functionality. Unfortunately, the Criterion crew didn't mention anything about how they've addressed complaints with the open-world nature of Paradise. While the focus on a continuous driving experience, free from loading screens or menus definitely has its appeal, it could be a pain in the ass to drive for five minutes or more just to start a race. So if that was something that annoyed you previously, I can't say one way or the other that it has been fixed. The Criterion team definitely buys into the "fun is all you need" notion, and they have done so much to execute that mantra with surgical precision. Most Wanted, for me, was an oxymoronic cocktail of sophomoric engagement and sophisticated design. Sadly, I'm going to have to wait until October 30 to gleefully tear through the streets, wiping out anything that stands in my way.
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I freaking love Burnout. Rewarding wanton destruction in a race is right up there with the printing press for the greatest accomplishment of our species. When Criterion took the stage at the EA press conference, I hoped it wa...

E3: Free-to-play PlanetSide 2 impressed us

Jun 07 // Daniel Starkey
Patrick Hancock I have absolutely no experience with the first PlanetSide game. I knew about it, but I was pretty young and probably still used AOL. Apologies if I just made you feel old. I do play a ton of first-person shooters, though, so jumping into PlanetSide 2 still came naturally. The classes don’t depart very much from the ones you’d see in something like Battlefield 3, save for perhaps the MAX, a large armored unit with no vertical movement. I ended up mostly playing the Light Assault, with his ever-so-handy jetpack, and the Medic, which allowed me to heal and revive my buddies on the field. What really captured me was the 64-square-kilometer map. We were playing in one tiny section of the larger world, and when I hopped in an airplane and just flew east I could only think about how amazing it will be when there are smaller firefights going on all along the ground that I can drop in on. The idea of such a large, constant battlefield has me really anticipating PlanetSide 2. I’d bet that this will be one of the free-to-play titles that will remain on everyone’s hard drive for a long time.Ryan PerezI'm absolutely in love with PlanetSide 2. Ever since I saw it at this year's GDC, I've been anxiously awaiting the chance to get my hands on it. And considering how I loved the first game, it's pleasing to see someone finally giving it the sequel I felt it deserved -- not to mention carrying on an MMO subgenre that makes total sense. I was very impressed with the level of customization that's featured in PS2. Not only do you have several weapons to unlock -- plus the upgrades for each one -- but your skill tree is separated into several different categories, with multiple choices within them, giving each class many different roles to play. Playing as a big-assed heavy soldier can have you either equipping anti-personnel weapons for foot soldiers, or flak cannons to deal with those pesky eair vehicles.Then there's the stealth, which I can't wait to sit down and experience on my own time and really get to know. The original PlanetSide had some sweet stealth gameplay; nothing was more gratifying than hopping onto your cloakable four-wheeler, driving to a hot spot and hacking the enemy post. After seeing some of the old-fashioned, intense gunplay, I know stealth trolling will be a blast. And to add to the awesomeness of all this, the game will be totally free.Am I sold? You bet your ass I am.Daniel Starkey PlanetSide 2 took me by surprise. I went into it dreading the appointment, and left pretty excited. The variety and scale of the maps is patently ridiculous. In the short game we played, there were about a dozen different airships flying overhead, harassing positions, and dogfighting for aerial control, and that's not exactly common.My primary concern is with the longevity of the play model. It's difficult to see how they might develop what they have into the all-important "end-game content." While tanks and planes are great, larger war machines or heavily entrenched bases would give players a more distant goal to work towards, hopefully inspiring guild formation and activity. Then again, plenty of non-MMO shooters have done just fine with less content and less customization for quite some time without any problems, so chances are good that I'm making mountains out of molehills. We're all pretty excited to see where PlanetSide 2 goes and we really hope the free-to-play model works here. Look for the beta to open within the next few months, with a full launch later this year.
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Ryan Perez, Patrick Hancock, and I all got about 30 minutes of hands-on time with PlanetSide 2 earlier today. As a free-to-play MMOFPS from Sony Online Entertainment, PlanetSide 2 is set to enter a rapidly crowding market. Wh...

E3: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate preview

Jun 07 // Daniel Starkey
I had about 30 minutes with the game, and it took some time before I began to notice the poor controls. It's the little things. When you jump and catch a ledge, for example, you can't drop straight down. Movement options are limited, especially against larger opponents, ultimately leading to frustrating bouts. I understand that the game expects me to try harder to not get hit, but for that to even matter I need the tools to do that.Mirror of Fate isn't a total disappointment, however. I can honestly say that it's one of the most beautiful DS games I've ever seen, and the 3D effect adds quite a bit to the experience -- if you can find that elusive sweet spot. It does drive home a critical flaw with the system itself, though, especially how it relates to Dawn of Sorrow.Both of the screens on the original DS had the same resolution and were roughly similar in terms of graphical fidelity. In Dawn of Sorrow, all of the action is taking place on the bottom screen -- the touch screen. Mirror of Fate has the opposite setup. Because the 3D function only applies to the top screen, developers will naturally use that for the core game and the touch screen for auxiliary information. So things like the Magic Seals, which added a lot of flavor to Dawn of Sorrow, can't be implemented as effectively on the 3DS.If you're the kind of person who's willing to sacrifice tight controls for some really slick graphics and an interesting take on the Castlevania series, then Mirror of Fate might be worth a look.No solid release date has been given, but you can expect Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate to drop sometime this fall. 
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I am exceptionally wary of ridiculously titled games. They have a tendency to be exceptionally awful. Still, I made an attempt to swallow my prejudice and dig into the latest installment in the Castlevania series.  I pla...

E3: Hands-on with Zone of the Enders HD

Jun 06 // Daniel Starkey
The first beat of this mecha movement is the "rerelease" of the of the first two Zone of the Enders titles as part of an HD collection I played through the first 30 minutes or so at the Konami booth, and I left thoroughly impressed. That said, my shock had very little of it had to do with the improvements Konami has made (which are substantive) and everything to do with the sheer quality of the original game. In terms of an "HD remake," Zone of the Enders is about what you'd expect. Frame rate and resolution have been boosted, as has the quality of some of the textures; they've added achievements and cleaned up a lot of the audio as well. There isn't any new content, however, and they haven't tweaked anything in terms of gameplay. So you're really only paying for the higher resolution and the ability to play ZotE on a modern console. It's nice that almost every facet ages well, and I think it makes for an excellent downloadable title. Combat is fast-paced and feels brutal. Animations are nice and smooth, and the whole package fits nicely together. If I had to level one complaint, I'd say that the voice acting is pretty god-awful, but that's a small price to pay for such fantastic gameplay. The release date is set for October 25 in Japan, so keep an eye out for this sometime in Q4.
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Thanks to my semi-adolescent brain, mech battles are easily some of the most awesome of which I can conceive. The notion of pitting giant robots with lasers, machine guns, and jets against one another is at the top of my...


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