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The Silent Hill Retrospective: Origins

Nov 21 // Stephen Turner
Origins is, without being too harsh, a Xerox of the original. The big picture is always in frame, but many of the details, what made the original Silent Hill so special, are faded. Familiar faces fulfill their established roles, locations are revisited and remixed, and the journey from the outskirts of town to the middle of nowhere seems oddly comforting. It's Silent Hill re-told by fans; a closeness that robs Origins of an outsider perspective and player alienation. Narratively speaking, Silent Hill's success was down to its "one-and-done" attitude. For all the weirdness on display, its character motives were clear and the important historical aspects were found on every street corner; allowing us to fill in the blanks with little conjecture. Origins, as the name suggests, fills it in for us at the expense of brevity and credibility, as all those detours into exposition and connections actually harm the original's acts of desperation and improvisation. Be honest: Do you need to know exactly how a baby girl ends up at the side of the road in Silent Hill? Isn’t it more tragic and disturbing when the Masons stumble upon her, and letting our imaginations run wild? That's the major narrative flaw of all prequels, though. They can only embellish, not establish. Silent Hill never needed Travis Grady. While he’s actually a likable protagonist, and his profession as a trucker is quite metaphorical (motel suicides and freeway escapism go hand-in-hand), his story is, sadly, just an excuse for new gameplay ideas and player agency. Origins is Alessa Gillespie’s story, from the house fire to the rear view mirror. One passes into lore, the other is just a footnote, but both vie for your attention in an act of narrative dominance. Unsurprisingly, it seeps into every scene between Travis and Alessa, as he struggles with her manipulations, before succumbing to the role of catalyst. To its credit, Origins made good on its use of mise-en-scene when it comes to giving Travis definition. The various locations were grandiose, gothic, and theatrical - each one a conspiratory labyrinth beyond the understanding of a small blue collar man - with only the Riverside Motel being intimate and claustrophobic for the sake of acceptance and heroism. For a character dragged along by established events, Travis' only form of control is through the use of mirrors, now portals to The Otherworld and back again. Though it reinforced his strength to rebel against the ruling class of Silent Hill, the act also dampened its most foreign aspect. The Otherworld (here, a fire-damaged mess until the familiar rust-and-blood takes hold) was no longer this conceptual tour-de-force that made the audience endure for its narrative riches. Now it was a tourist attraction, one that could be appraised at the flip of a switch. Though their appearances are little more than novelty, seeing Silent Hill's cast all young and fresh faced left us with a wistful yearning, not unlike finding old snapshots of family and friends. Dahlia Gillespie was a white-trash brunette, while Dr. Kaufmann looked a little more dashing without the spare tires. Sure, their stories were already told, but if Origins couldn't escape the past, at least it would have fun reveling in nostalgia. Most affecting, though entirely arbitrary, is Lisa Garland. Instead of being seen through the eyes of a child, we see the drug addict once alluded to in her diary. At the motel, that sound of her having sex in a nearby room perfectly deconstructs the naïve adoration of her fanbase, bonding them to an equally heartbroken Travis in the process. Personally, it's one of the better parts of Origins, a subtle, real-time moment that Climax would refine in every one of Shattered Memories' car journeys. From then on, a grittier, gut-punch characterisation would permeate all of the Westernised Silent Hill games. Origins isn't an awful game, nor is it a stellar one. It simply exists. There's always a shallow memory waiting to strike, deep in the mist, lost to the shadows. Psycho-sexual images roam the halls, lumbering beats loosely touch upon its protagonist's travels, nurses make their return and substitutes like The Butcher step in for missing icons. Origins works best at conjuring up warm feelings when revisiting Central Silent Hill, left to your own devices and Akira Yamaoka's bite-sized score (which is more of throwback, than throwaway). But for every right, it's bound by a necessary wrong. Personally, that's what make the game so middle-of-road, rather than outright terrible. But it's impossible to ignore the fact Origins was meant to reboot the series with a fresh set of eyes, and sell a few PSPs in the meantime. Instead, it only served to strengthen the trepidation in its fanbase. Silent Hill would go through a difficult time, of which much is still up for debate, before Konami gave up on this outsourcing malarkey. From Origins to Downpour, as much as they tried new ideas, they were always reliant on what the fans liked to sell as many copies as they could in the face of dwindling interest. And who knows if P.T./Silent Hills will get that resurrection it deserves. But no matter what happens, just like Travis Grady, Origins will always remain the little guy in the big burning house, almost consumed by the flames of the past.
Silent Hill photo
'You all left that girl to burn!'
Silent Hill: Origins opened with an outsider saving a little girl from a house fire. But when you look back on its place in the series, it meant so much more than a simple rescue. Travis Grady had problems of his own, but the...

'We're drift compatible': My favorite weird co-op games

Nov 19 // Nic Rowen
Bimini Run Bimini Run is one of those old 16-bit games where I wondered for years if it was just some kind of fever dream of my imagination or not. Forget showing up on lists of “classic Genesis games” or anything, I could never find another person who played it let alone had an opinion about it. But it was something special for it’s time. A bizarre Miami Vice meets proto-open world speedboat game with an even more bizarre two-player mode. Bimini Run could be played alone, but if you were young and had an annoying little brother who insisted on playing as well (like I totally did), there was an option to let you both play at once by splitting the driving and shooting between two players. Player one would take the wheel (rudder?) while player two would man the machine gun and mortar launcher (like all speedboats have, right?) and together you’d try and weave around a pixilated coastline and light up other boats, helicopters, and huts. Make no mistake, this was the worst way to play. But it was also the best. For a game that we only rented once and has wallowed in relative obscurity ever since (although some fans did come out of the woodwork when Giant Bomb did a quicklook of it recently), I have fantastic memories of Bimini Run. It was a trial by fire for my brother and I of just how dedicated we were to beating the game in a single weekend balanced against the urge to kill each other out of frustration. I’m pretty sure it started the long-standing tradition we have to this day in co-op games where he’s the designated driver while I man the guns. Quite a legacy for a forgotten game. Lucky & Wild Speaking of driving and shooting, did you know there was an arcade rip off of the ‘80s cinema classic Tango and Cash? It’s true. Lucky & Wild, released by Namco in 1992 was a sit-down arcade cabinet that played like a hybrid shooter/racing game. The player in the driver's seat would drive with one hand, shoot with the other, and try and keep track of everything else going on at once. Player two would shoot and feel jealous/relieved that they only had one thing to do. I suppose driving and shooting is one of the more common types of co-op play out there, but Lucky & Wild added up to more than the sum of its parts. It was an anomaly, offering something completely different from the legion of other lightgun games sandwiched into the dark and dingy recesses of your local arcade. If you were smart, you’d divide up the work; Let player one focus on driving and keeping his gun trained on large, easy-to-hit targets. Player two was on crackshot duty, responsible for shooting down incoming rockets or bombs and making your quarters stretch as long as possible. It was also funny for its day. Lucky & Wild played the braindead buddy cop setup for all its worth, an affectionate parody of the most popular kind of movies from the ‘80s. Lucky & Wild really was wild, and we were lucky to play it. It’s the kind of arcade game that emulation just can’t do justice to. You had to be there, sitting in that cabinet, mercilessly elbowing the hell out of the ribs of whoever just steered you right into another rocket or wall. It’s a co-op experience that would be difficult if not impossible to relive nowadays. I’ll be honest though, Lucky & Wild is a favorite of mine for personal reasons as much as it was a legitimately cool game. One of my favorite dumb memories is convincing my mom and grandma to sit down in behind the wheel and guns to give it try in a food court. After a few minutes they did surprisingly well! What can I say, my grandma loved dumb ‘80s action movies. Battlefield There are plenty of cooperative shooters out there, but let’s be honest, most of them just have two players doing the same thing at the same time. In Gears, Marcus and Dom are both diving into cover, shooting grubs, and chainsawing the occasional unlucky goober. Maybe you’ll divvy up the equipment -- Dom will grip the sniper rifle while Marcus keeps things clean with the shotgun -- but that’s about as diverse as it gets. If I included shooters, this article would be a lot longer and a lot less interesting. There is one big exception I’m willing to make to the rule though, because when it comes to usual co-op strategies I have to give it up for the Battlefield series. Not only does the series promote some of the coolest class synergies and co-op strategies in any game, but it tests you and your partners to make them work in a chaotic shit-show of a massive firefight that is constantly changing. Sure, there are a lot of shooters with the “I’ll drive and you shoot” divide, but none of them do it quite like Battlefield. It’s more like “I’ll pilot this specific type of helicopter and man the dumbfire rockets and flares while you take this specific gunner position and simultaneously repair the bird, man the gun, and occasionally fire a guided missile” or “I’ll drive the APC, you all get out behind the objective, toss out recon probes, and storm the place from an oblique angle while I draw fire.” If you want to make the most out of the vehicles in the Battlefield series, you’ll need at least one teammate you’re in total sync with and ideally a few more for proper Thunder Cloud Formation action. Of course I have to give extra props to Bad Company 2 and BF3 in particular. My brother and I played an unhealthy amount of both of them and had a few techniques down to a science. BC2’s amazing destruction system (pound for pound still the best in the business in my opinion) let us breach and clear like pros -- if by “breach and clear” you mean my bro opening up a hole in the wall with a grenade launcher and me running in and quickly tossing around enough C4 to bring down the whole building. Or when we’d go fly swatting in BF3 with the Recon unit’s laser designator and the Javelin missile system, keeping the skies nice and clear. With some good teamwork, just two players working together in the right way at the right time could make a huge difference in a game defined by its massive player count. Brothers gonna work it out, indeed. Portal 2 Goddamn do I love the idiot robots of Portal 2’s co-op mode. Yeah, GLaDOS get’s all the love (and she should, she’s excellent), but I gotta give it up for P-Body and Atlas, the robotic testing duo of dubious intelligence. You know that trust game where one person leans back until they fall and trusts that their partner will catch them? It’s supposed to reinforce bonds and break down suspicion. Well, Portal 2’s co-op is kind of like that, only instead of leaning back till you tip over, you’re suspended over a massive chasm filled with acid or molten slag, and instead of catching you, nine times out of ten your dickbag partner decides it would be hilarious to make you take a swim. It reinforces resentment, and encourages squabbles and problem drinking. Portal 2’s co-op mode wasn’t long, but it was memorable. It let you play with puzzles that would be impossible in single-player, forcing you and your partner to think laterally and develop all kinds of new strategies and ideas. Especially when you get far enough into the game to play with the frictionless gel and bouncy paint. What I love most about Portal 2’s co-op though was how the addition of an extra player opened up ways to break the game. If one Portal player can come up with weird speedrun routes and unintended solutions to puzzles, two players working together could bust the testing facility wide open. Me and the person I went through the co-op campaign with were so committed to being clever little assholes that I’m still not sure if we ever solved all of the puzzles “properly.” The only thing more fun than playing with your toys is breaking them in some entertaining way. Just like strapping fireworks to G.I Joes behind the school. Left 4 Dead Yeah, yeah, I know I just said no more shooters, and yes, as the default survivors in L4D, you’re pretty much all doing the same thing -- shooting zombies and smacking things with your medpack. But that’s for the boring old humans with their stupid guns and lame one-liners. What I’m talking about is when you play for the other team, when you take control of the zombies. I don’t think L4D ever got the credit it deserved for its multiplayer, but on the same blush, I can understand why. Playing as the zombies in multiplayer was a tense game of peek-a-boo, chicanery, guts, and teamwork. It took three other teammates with a solid understanding of the game, excellent communication, and the wits to make the best of things when the RNG just refused to spawn a freaking Smoker for your team when you really needed one. These qualities were what made it feel so damn good when it all clicked, and what made it fall apart into one-sided stompfests for the humans when it didn’t. Each type of special infected the players could take control of had their own role to play in the zombie apocalypse, and it took careful coordination and skill to make them work. Because you never got to choose your infected type, you had no choice but to get good at all of them if you wanted to take the multiplayer seriously. I spent a long time trying to perfect 25-point Hunter jumps and Smoker skillshots in the winter of 2008. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about just how far Boomer spray could spread or how much it would arc at a distance before becoming ineffective. Learning how to not crack under the pressure of suddenly becoming the frighteningly (somewhat less than his reputation would have you believe) powerful Tank and not just eat a molotov as soon as it spawned. I think it’s a strange and wonderful thing that playing as the drooling zombies became the “thinking man’s” part of L4D. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes Bomb disposal might just be the ultimate co-op game. Who would have guessed that the threat of sudden explosive death could bring friends and family together like Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes does? Turns out that confusing instructions, bad second-hand descriptions of what a device looks like, and the ruthless pressure of a ticking countdown is the perfect recipe for a fun evening with your crew. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is another one of those games that you have to play to really get. The Oculus version is probably the best (I wouldn’t know), but the PC version works just as well so long as nobody cheats and peeks at the screen. For anyone unaware, it's a game where one person tries to disarm an explosive device by relaying a description of what it looks like and what it's doing to his or her team of “experts” who can look things up in a confusing, often poorly organized, printed-out bomb disarming manual. Bonus points if you find a battered old binder to keep the manual in and mess it up with some coffee stains and dog ears for that “authentic” experience. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a group co-op game. While it’s fine with two players, it’s fantastic with three or four. Not because it will make you more effective bomb disposal experts, more the opposite (at least at first). Getting more hands on the manual means more chaos and squabbling, more people talking over each other and pulling the book away from one another. More sudden BOOMS. Eventually, everyone will pick up on their own tricks or areas of expertise and you can start delegating certain roles to different players. Suddenly you’ll actually start surviving and taking on more and more complex bombs. It’s like watching the Keystone Cops transform into the Hurt Locker crew over the course of an evening. Well, until the drinks start taking their toll. Then it might be time to segue over to Gang Beasts or Jackbox, something a little less cerebral. I'm still waiting for the dream weird co-op game. A kind of Qctodad meets Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes where you and four friends control the different limbs and head of a mech, Voltron style. The day someone comes up with that is the day I'll press-gang all of my friends into the robotic defense force. Until then I guess I'll have to be satisfied with forcing someone into playing Cho'gall with me. I'm always on the lookout for other weird co-op games. If you have some you love that I missed, please share them with in the comments below!
Drift compatible photo
You can always find me in the drift
I’ve been thinking a lot about ogres lately. Specifically, Cho’gall, the recently released two-headed character in Heroes of the Storm. As far as I know, he’s totally unique in the MOBA world as the only her...

Fear and loathing in Halo 5: Guardians

Nov 17 // Jed Whitaker
Anyone who knows me on a personal level knows I love Halo; I've played every game at or before launch, no matter the means necessary. While the hype train has been in full force for Halo 5 for months, I've stayed out of it. I hate getting hyped up only to be let down, and after the disastrous launch of The Master Chief Collection, I had little faith in 343 not screwing up Halo 5. At E3, I even purposefully avoided playing the build available there, though I had played and mostly enjoyed the beta earlier in the year. I say 'mostly' because it went from being fun and fresh yet familiar, to quickly catering to the screaming minority of MLG players that eventually lead to Halo 4's multiplayer being ruined when 343 heavily changed the balancing to favor the battle rifle, the go-to gun for wannabe eSports E-thletes. Suddenly the beta was all battle rifles, all the time, just like many of the game types included in The Master Chief Collection. I hated it. Almost every Halo game has launched with the default guns being assault rifles and the pistol, or something similar. The battle rifle was considered a power weapon that had to be collected from the map. Halo was a mad dash to obtain power weapons and to remember when they would respawn so as to grab them before your opponents. Not this starting with the best weapon in the game bullshit. Fast forward to just a few days before launch: I've avoided basically all hype and news regarding Halo 5, aside from thoroughly enjoying the amazing Hunt the Truth audio series. Then I slipped up and watched a video on REQ packs by GreenSkull, a popular Halo YouTuber. As much as I don't like microtransactions I have a thirst...neigh...addiction to opening blind packs of cards brought on by my obsession with Hearthstone. My hype meter instantly went off the charts. I couldn't wait. Midnight hits. My boyfriend and a couple of friends set out to finish the campaign. I typically play the campaign on the Normal difficulty, but my friends insist on playing on the game's hardest mode, Legendary. After about three grueling hours of dying, swearing, and respawning, the game freezes right at the end of chapter three for me. I can hear my teammates, and they can't hear me. They finish the mission. My progress doesn't save, and I receive no achievements. A nearby salt shaker falls, spilling salt everywhere. "Great! This new dashboard is a real piece of shit. It lags, games and apps crash, and I have constant issues with it. Somehow the Xbox One has managed to get worse since launch!" My friends sit in silence while I lament how console gaming has morphed into a bunch of hoops you have to jump through. "Remember back when gaming consisted of putting in the game, turning on the console, and pressing start? Those were the days. Now I have to update my consoles software, sign in to Xbox Live, install the game, update the game that just installed, open a party in a separate app, pray to a god I don't believe in that others can connect, and then I can play." Since then, the new Xbox One dashboard has gotten far better, but it doesn't change the fact that so much bullshit stands in the way. It is just me and my first-ever Xbox Live friend Kevin left now. Everyone else has gone to bed. It's getting pretty late. We decide to play some multiplayer, only to discover that my headset is cutting in and out. At this point, I'm still not sure if it was the software or hardware. I haven't bothered to attempt chatting since. I just yell into my Kinect, which works surprisingly well now, as if Microsoft has refined its voice functionality through updates.  After a few games of SWAT, which my friend is absolute shit at, we move onto Team Slayer, which my friend is also absolute shit at. "Kevin, we have played Halo together since the second game in the series. How are you suddenly so terrible?" He laughs. His laughter is one of my favorite things; it is contagious. Kevin heads to bed, so I decide to go back to completing matches to be assigned a rank in each of the online game types, starting with one of my go-to playlists, SWAT. In SWAT, there are no shields, a single headshot will bring opponents down, and you either start with a magnum or a battle rifle (one of the only times I don't mind BR starts). After ten qualifying matches, I am awarded the rank of onyx, or what was previously known as semi-pro in the beta. Onyx is the highest rank you can qualify for apart from being one of the top 200 players in each playlist; those players are ranked as champion. After achieving onyx in SWAT, I decided it would be a good idea to go ahead and get ranked in all the other playlists. Next on the list was free-for-all, because I'm a wolf pack of one. Free-for-all is probably my most-played game type across all of the Halo series because I don't have a lot of people I play with and tend to avoid making new Xbox Live friends for no particular reason. Even though I'm confident in my skills, I lost a few of my ten qualifying matches but still managed to achieve onyx. Then I set my sights to the all-new Breakout game type. I wasn't a fan of it in the beta, but perhaps I'd like it now. I got destroyed nearly every single match for my first few matches and managed to get carried for a few wins by my teammates. After winning my last few qualifying matches, I was feeling confident I'd be ranked at least in silver or higher. Nope. Bronze. Me in bronze, the lowest rank in the game!? The person who has played every game in the series at launch given the lowest possible rank!?!? Bullshit. I went to bed after angrily shutting off my Xbox One while cursing 343 and Breakout. The next day I finished getting ranked in the other playlists by achieving gold in Slayer and platinum in Team Arena. I couldn't stand that I was ranked bronze in Breakout, so I decided to torture myself some more and give it a go again. Turns out, I was hilariously under ranked.  "What a relief," I thought to myself, "but wow are these kids awful." My opponents and teammates were so bad, it was like competing with someone that had never played an FPS before, or like a young relative. They walked into walls, stared at the sky and ground, and were just all-around bad. I'm not saying this from a place of feeling superior, but the people I was playing with were clearly ranked correctly. Suddenly Breakout became fun. I'd hear people on my team cheering me on as they watched from the grave as I mowed down the remaining three players on the other team. This happened again, and again, and again. Eventually, I hit rank six of bronze, and the competition picked up a smidgen but would wildly vary between matches; some were a piece of cake, others were more evenly matched. Then it finally happened: I hit silver with a nice five-round sweep. I know it wasn't much of an achievement since I was grossly under matched, but I was thankful for it. Thankful for the opportunity to learn how to play Breakout without having much in the way of competition, and learning from my opponent's mistakes, as well as seeing the error of my ways in the qualifying matches. Plus, it doesn't hurt that I could easily get commendations for kills.  Breakout has quickly become one of my favorite game types, and not just because I win a lot, but because it is fun. I know a lot of Halo players aren't huge fans of it yet -- including the team that rage quit during the finals of a tournament recently by suiciding and afterward tweeted at the official Halo account, "I'd rather commit suicide on mainstage than play your shitty game type." But really, people should give it a chance. It might just grow on you. I'm sure I'll be playing Halo 5's multiplayer for some time, as it feels like one of the most balanced games in the series thus far. If you'd like the chance to hear me angrily swear from time to time while playing Halo 5, then be sure to join Destructoid's Spartan Company and prepare to be carried.
Not your dad's Halo photo
Or how I learned to love the Breakout
"Fuck this stupid fucking Call of Duty bullshit. Get your shit together,, whoever!" This is how my first night with Halo 5 ends, in a fit of rage after a kill-less losing streak in the game's new tepidl...

I wanted to be The Wizard

Oct 31 // Nic Rowen
Anyone else remember the movie The Wizard? You know, that piece of shameless Nintendo product placement released to the public under the guise of entertainment? The film where we learned to “love the glove?” Well I do. Frankly, it was a real piece of shit of a movie, but I saw at an impressionable time and it will always hold a small special place in my heart. The Wizard was a weird movie. It was a cynical exercise in co-marketing that waffled between cheesy narm and uncomfortable self-seriousness. It told the story of a traumatized autistic child but also featured a pubescent Fred Savage uncomfortably flirting with some poor 13-year-old girl.  At the time though, the only message I took away from The Wizard was about being wicked sick at video games. About being so unbelievably good that people would stand up and cheer when they saw you stomp on a goomba, that they would lose their shit when you set a record lap in Radmobile. That the solution to fixing everything wrong with your life was as simple as finding the the warp whistle. I was in love with the idea. I was never a cool kid, never popular. Even in the context of our lame-ass church youth group, I was pretty low on the old totem pole. But with this game competition I knew I’d been given a golden opportunity. I was good at games, way better than anyone else I knew. While the details about the competition were a little sketchy, the one thing they were sure of was that it would culminate with a big screen performance projected on the theater screen in the camp’s main auditorium (just like the end of The Wizard!) and the winning group would receive a brand new Sega Genesis console. This was my chance stand out and impress everyone. To win a prize for our group and be a big shot. To show them who I really was. And for better or worse, I did. I remember being so thrilled the morning of the competition. The tournament had a weird structure. There would be some preliminary games played during the afternoon to whittle down the herd a bit (which for the life of me I can’t remember) and for the main event that evening to determine a winner, we’d be playing Sonic the mother fucking Hedgehog. The fools were playing right into my hands. It was like it was meant to be. Sonic was practically my best friend. I was a fucking EXPERT at Sonic. In fact, I’d already won a small competition at a local video store years ago (a story I blogged about back in the day) playing Sonic. A little piece of trivia I decided to slyly keep to myself that whole afternoon, only sharing it with a few members of my group. I let them know that so long as we made it to the finals we were good. A few years before this, I pretty much spent a summer of my young life playing Sonic 1. It was the only game we had for the Genesis at the time and rentals for the system were scarce in my area, so I just ended up replaying it over and over again. My obsessive knowledge of the Green Hill Zone had served me before, and it looked like it was set to pay off again.   That evening we slowly filled the auditorium/theater room. The councilors, bless them, had done a really great job of making it a cool event for the kids. They’d wired up a system to play on a small monitor at the back of the room while the action was projected across a surprisingly professional movie screen for the spectators. They were even handing out bags of popcorn. As an uber-geeky 11-year-old who practically worshiped games, seeing the Sonic title screen displayed 30 feet wide and hearing the familiar music piped through a theater sound system was practically a religious experience (I mean, probably not the one the councilors intended, but still). They'd rigged up some kind of scoring mechanism that rewarded both time and points. Each group would pick someone to play for them and it was up to that kid to set as high a score as possible. Truth be told, I ignored them shortly into the whole explanation because I knew that in Sonic, time and points were the same thing. The person who finished the level the fastest and cleanest would always outscore everyone else, regardless of how many robots they popped or rings they collected. In fact, it seemed almost misleading to even separate the ideas (not that I was going to tell the other kids that). We were slated to be the third group up to bat. The way the competition was set up one member of each youth group would represent their little tribe for this final confrontation, and of course I was the designated hitter. I'd talked up my Sonic skills and knew I was the one to do it, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit to a little last minute doubt, some panic. I mean, it had already been a few years since I was really into Sonic, what if I was rusty? What if I choked? This whole thing could backfire. As soon as I saw the first two teams take their turn, I knew how mistaken such doubts were. Please know that I’m not trying to brag when I tell you how badly I beat the other kids. I’m not trying to hold up my skill at Sonic when I was 11 years old as some kind of point of pride. It is just the plain fact that I annihilated the other kids as soon as it was my turn. In whatever block of time they gave each of us to rack up points, I made it all the way to Robotnik, killed him, and started on the next zone before they told me to stop. None of the other kids made it that far -- some of them didn’t even clear the first stage. The worst part about it? I wasn’t even all that happy with my performance. I knew that if I had practiced I could have done A LOT better (#humblebrag before it was cool). You have to understand, the other kids were not “gamers” like I was. They were there to play around, see the hedgehog jump over the spikes and collect a few rings. For them, the definition of being good at the game was “not dying too much”. At the height of my Sonic obsession, I was measuring success by milliseconds. It was straight up rhino versus baby stuff. Shockingly, most of the kids weren’t exactly stoked by my performance. Instead of the cheers I expected, there was a decidedly uncomfortable atmosphere. A few scattered (begrudging) applause here and there amidst a whole lot of murmuring. Even the kids from my own youth group were kind of quiet. They were excited to win of course, but they took the temperature of the room and knew it probably wasn’t the best time to bust out in jumping jacks. I saw a couple of the adults running the event talking to each other. I got the distinct impression they were talking about me, like this was a problem. Like they thought I cheated somehow -- if not in actuality, at least in the spirit of the competition. I was a little 11-year-old ball of indignity, utterly galled at the injustice of it. Nobody thought it was cheating earlier in the day during the Shirts and Skins basketball match (FYI, I was a Shirt by insistence) when the kids that played youth league basketball scored easy rebound after easy rebound on me. Why should they have? The basketball kids put in the work, practiced, and were (way) better at basketball than me. But when I got a chance to take them on in the one weird arena where I excelled, suddenly it was somehow a trick? They were acting like I conned them when really I was just incredibly over-specialized at a game they were unlucky enough to turn into a competition (and yeah, I could have probably stood to branch out a bit more with my hobbies, but shut up). In the end, our group was declared the winner. I mean, what were they going to do, say my turn didn’t count? Much to my disappointment, there was no parade. The competition just kind of petered out as the last few groups took their (pathetic) turns and shuffled off. Our youth minister took the stupid prize Sega and I never saw it again. Either he kept it for himself, or decided that video games weren’t appropriate for a religious environment, or maybe the whole boondoggle just left him with a sour taste. After that, I was pretty sure I was doomed. I had my big chance and somehow blown it by being too good (which I thought was the whole freaking point of a competition, but what do I know). I started to wonder if there was anyone out there who loved games the way I did. This was 1994, way before I would even learn what the Internet was. The only other real game enthusiast I knew was my brother. It was the heyday of Jack Thompson and the popular idea that Mortal Kombat was turning kids into crazed serial killers. Magazines like EGM and Nintendo Power let you know you weren't completely alone, but it all felt so far away and removed from real life. It was a weirdly lonely time to love games. The deflated balloon of my misguided childhood dream is why I can’t get mad at modern YouTube stars who make 4 million a year screaming at the screen while they play games, no matter how much I don’t personally like the content. It’s why I don’t sneer at eSports, even when they struggle with growing pains and identity crises. It’s why I try to book days off every year in the summer to watch EVO. For as silly as it can be, I love the growth of games as a spectator event. The now-reality that people really will gather to watch talented players being wicked sick at games, to cheer them on and lose their shit with every big play and comeback. The fulfillment of The Wizard’s promise, delivered 25 years late, but finally arrived. If an 11-year-old were to stumble on The Wizard today, he or she could take it the same way I did, but they wouldn't be so wrong. The idea of a video game tournament people give a shit about isn't some Hollywood fantasy anymore, it's a daily reality. Now, The Wizard (however dated and cheesy) would play like any other movie about garage bands making it big, or underdog athletes with a lot of heart triumphing against the odds. Hollywood schmaltz of course, but the same kind that inspires some kids to pick up a guitar, or start running extra laps before school. The kind of schmaltz that sets some kids on an arc that will take them beyond dabbling in a hobby or pastime and take it further, to see if they can turn their passion into a profession. I was too early to be The Wizard, but there is a whole generation of apprentices out there just waiting for their shot.
The Wizard photo
Games as a spectator sport
When I was a kid in the ancient days of the early ‘90s I was part of a church youth group. Obviously this was before I morphed into a surly, foul-mouthed teen (and then an even more profane adult). Every year the youth ...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: The Room

Oct 31 // Stephen Turner
Though the town of Silent Hill was the series' stalwart, it was beginning to feel stale; a terrifying place in danger of being your favourite holiday destination. It was time to move on, put roots in new places, and we found one in the form of South Ashfield. Where the eponymous town excited us with a cautionary network of alleyways and dead commerce, South Ashfield was far more narrow and alive in design; a downtown apartment building on a busy intersection, all oblivious to the horrors of Room 302. SH4: The Room is a modern ghost story at heart, assimilating the usual Eastern commentary on social estrangement and visceral Western horror. It’s Rear Window and Ringu by way of House of Leaves or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (and most notably, Coin Locker Babies). Worlds expand and contract, panopticon prisons take urban shapes, and ponderous social angst weighs heavily between the mod cons. Though Henry Townshend finds a way out of his apartment through a hole in the bathroom wall, escape is always an illusion, a false hope, and we buy into that through the contrast of a washed-out, lifeless Room 302 with the colourful and abstract worlds on the other side of the portal; not quite reality, not quite The Otherworld, but a misty recollection of both. For Henry, real hope is found in the people around him, usually just a locked doorway out of reach. Compared to Silent Hill 3's minimal cast, here, we find a microcosm of downtown life – party girls and nerds, old men who should be retired, bullies, and sweet social butterflies - while the rest are strangers tucked away in tiny shoeboxes across the street. Most aren’t destined for anything more than the 21 Sacraments, a ritualistic killing spree conducted by Walter Sullivan, but they're also refreshingly lacking in riddles and dreamspeak. Their everyday exchanges and daily routines make them real people rather than purpose built characters; which makes their inevitable deaths all the more disturbing. Voyeurism is SH4: The Room’s greatest strength, feeding and preying on our own inquisitive nature, producing horror and fascination through the flip of a coin. Information is doled out in piecemeal, letting us play the amateur sleuth on South Ashfield Height's tenants, before coming to the morbid realisation that this exactly what our captor (and the game itself) wants. And throughout it all, our intentions are never questioned when we linger on a subject longer than necessary; especially with Henry's neighbour, Eileen Galvin. “I don’t know if you’re a detective or a pervert,” wondered Laura Dern in Blue Velvet; a line perfectly apt for our machinations. When Henry and Eileen finally meet in St. Jerome's Hospital, she's a "broken doll", an image of sex and death in a plaster cast and party dress. The eroticism on display is meant to be simultaneously wanton and repulsive; a painful looking reminder of our obsession and regret. When Eileen struggles to keep up, or when Henry has to find new paths for her, the emotional attachment overrides the chore. Unlike Maria, Eileen never quietly shadows Henry on their journey. She fights back, decipher clues, and lends a comforting voice. Their companionship is constantly threatened by the presence of Room 302, as Henry is forced to leave her behind, and what was once a place of sanctuary becomes less inviting as time goes on. And the switch between needing Room 302 to Eileen becomes increasingly prominent in the second half, when the possessions and exorcisms get out of hand. [embed]317761:60935:0[/embed] The human connection ensures Henry and Eileen's survival. Between them, they quickly gain the one thing Walter Sullivan has always yearned for. His deplorable acts are underlined with abandonment issues and sinister adoption, asking the audience if its either down to nature or nuture. Walter's killings are brutal and inhumane, so divorced from his childhood that he's split into two forms. Though they want the same thing, both child and adult Walter are at odds with each other - the child being a manifestation of memory and guilt that the adult refuses, much like Locane Twins' murders, to acknowledge. As king of his own Otherworld, an inanimate space becomes a living being through the projection of self and a change within language. It's as much as a denial as the human form Walter takes, leaving everyone else to slither or stutter and peel away from the walls of his warped memories, unable to connect unless it's through white-noise and death. But despite this unique, abstract take on disconnection and projection, SH4: The Room is undermined by some questionable design choices. The emphasis on relentless, unstoppable enemies forces the player to miss out on details, the constant backtracking to Room 302 creates the slowest of start, an ill-thought out limited inventory, an arguably dull protagonist (though that's more the fault of an early lack of interaction), and most erroneous of all, a repeat of locations in the second half. Though it pains this retrospective to say this, with SH4: The Room being a personal second favourite, it's the perfect example of how video game narratives can live and die by gameplay itself. Still, when SH4: The Room works, it does so by tapping into a free flow of subconscious fears and moving on from the comforts of Silent Hill's clichés. No radio warnings, not even a single flashlight, but the Otherworld was still out there, still finding ways to reach relatives of former victims, still bleeding from the rotten core and into new corners. The idea was finally less about another physical world and more of our own human flaws writ large, all scored by Akira Yamaoka's best work. Most of it all, it made downtown life a little bit frightening again. Though it would be the last of the "Team Silent" games, it would also be the last time, for a very long time, that Japanese horror games would be this bewildering and confessional. SH4: The Room casted an assimilated eye and frustrated mind, not to mention the most violent of hands, on our deepest social anxieties. And yet, Silent Hill in its final Eastern form left us on a happy note, with Henry and Eileen joking about finding a new place, under a blinding sunlight. A human connection. After so many years of bittersweetness, you couldn't ask for a nicer send-off from the darkest of video games.
Silent Hill photo
'Did you find your mommy?'
What makes the difference between houses and homes? Is it the space itself or the people inhabiting them? Is it down to the memories we create for ourselves or the aged familiarity of the spaces around us? And if a room is in...

Very Quick Tips: Destiny's King's Fall raid

Oct 15 // Chris Carter
Getting a group: This can be the toughest part. I personally use /r/fireteams, and if that fails, Destiny Tracker or DestinyLFG. There's also niche sites like The 100 if you want a more personal feel. Yes, it sucks that Bungie hasn't added in any sort of concession, even party finders, but I use these tools on a near-daily basis with almost no issues. If the group lists a "Sherpa" or "newcomers welcome" party, odds are they'll be patient with you and teach you the ins and outs of King's Fall. The raid itself: When starting off, you'll need to split into two groups, left and right. Two designated runners will grab the relics displayed on the map and slam them into the center where indicated with an orb in the statue. You'll need to slam less than five seconds apart. Repeat this process on both sides six times, with the relics getting farther away each time. I've found that it's best to send two players each into each side, with two in the center, clearing adds, shooting down the doors that block both sides. For the ship-based jumping puzzle, you'll want to follow the group closely if you're playing it coy, like you've done it before. This ensures that you'll get on the first ship out, and you can just follow the pack from ship to ship. When it comes to the toughest bit roughly three-fourths through, you'll want to crouch at the back left to avoid getting knocked off, and then jump from the top left if you're a Hunter. After you pass through the wall in the next portion, look for a fragment before you go up the teleporter. The totem section can be approached the exact same way as the first segment. Split into groups of three, and have two on each side immediately run towards the relic and totem. Have a third player hang back to clear adds, and once the first player runs back, run in and relieve the second player from totem duty. In essence, you'll need to keep a shield on each side's totem, which shifts every 30 seconds. When you're playing middle (step on the trigger until your entire Deathsinger debuff is off), try to use supers as much as possible to drop orbs for your team, and kill the Knights and Wizards as soon as possible, or they'll cause trouble for everyone else. At the start on the front-most pillar to the right, you can pick up a fragment. The Warpriest is actually a rather easy fight. Split up into the following groups -- two up on top on the left, two middle, and two right. Designate one person from any side to run forward and look at the incoming glyph order -- this explains when players will need to step onto their panel. The last player will always get the shield buff. I've found that it's easy to just meet in the middle twice, as it's a perfect range for Touch of Malice and other guns. Usually groups at this point can smoke him in two rounds of shields. If not, you'll want to go middle, right, middle. To get the next fragment hang a left in the dark hallway, then another left -- it's at the end of the line near the door on the right. On Golgoroth, there's a unique strategy that works quite well at the start, especially with at least one Titan. You'll want to gather everyone in the back, and pop a shield where the rocks open up to prevent Golgoroth from firing in. Since all party members will likely have their supers charged (since the preceding maze is quite lengthy), blow them all, and create a cache of orbs for everyone. You can nab another fragment by heading left and jumping up on the first ledge after Golgoroth. For this jumping puzzle, you'll want to look straight down right away, and head to the right-most platform. The last fragment is there. After that, you can start making your way left and onto the first pressure plate. If you want to cheat the puzzle you can pull out your sword (legendary or exotic, it doesn't even matter if you have ammo actually) and sword-jump horizontally or vertically across. Just jump, sword, jump, sword, and rinse and repeat until you've climbed to your desired location. Practice the timing at the start if you like. If you're a Hunter, try to save your triple or double-jump for the last moment of impact, otherwise your momentum will be too great and you'll fly off the edge. On the witch encounter, my groups have found that the best spot to shoot them from is the middle, right underneath the opposite witch. It allows for the best Touch of Malice damage. If you find yourself running the relic too often and you don't have a lot of experience, you can kill yourself (and optionally self-res) to rid yourself of the responsibility. I don't recommend doing this though unless you are short on time, as everyone has to learn eventually. For Oryx, you'll need to shoot him constantly to keep his chest open while you detonate orbs -- keep this in mind in case it doesn't look like you're doing a lot of damage. Also, feel free to pop your Three of Coins before you fight the Shade.
Destiny raid tips photo
Give it a go, it's fun
As previously mentioned, I think the King's Fall raid in Destiny is the best offering yet. It's clean, doesn't have very many bugs, and has a lot of variety within its walls. At this point I'm sitting on 15 clears, some for gear, some for fun, and others for quests and fragments (a collectible questline). Whatever your reason is, here are some tips to help you through.

Destiny's Taken King expansion alienates casual fans more than Year One did

Oct 07 // Chris Carter
People often note that "I haven't given Destiny a chance" when I talk about its shortcomings, and I kind of die on the inside hearing that. I have every Year One Exotic, every piece of raid gear (both armor and weapons, including primaries) for all three classes, and I've completed all of the Year One Moments of Triumph. As of this week, I'm working on my third Exotic sword and fourth Oryx clear. Let me explain my situation a bit. I have a group of MMO friends that I move from game to game with. When we settle on a title, we go in, and surgically crush its PvE content into oblivion. Sometimes we splinter off and try different games, but after each expansion, people usually move back to Destiny for a while. Destiny isn't an MMO by any stretch of the imagination, but other dungeon crawlers like Diablo fall into our purview too, so it's fair game. Yes, it is fun to play with friends, despite its many, many shortcomings. But thankfully, The Taken King, along with the drip feed of Year One quality-of-life updates, has made Destiny much more enjoyable. But I say that with the perspective of a hardcore raider. A lot of my casual friends are not having a good time. Let's look at why. End-game content still doesn't have matchmaking After taking an impromptu Twitter poll earlier this week, I saw that many players still hadn't partaken in a lot of endgame activities, mostly because they couldn't find anyone to play with. Raids, Nightfalls, and all of the post-game quests do not have any matchmaking capabilities. Instead, they're left to try their luck on sites like or reddit Fireteams. As an outgoing person, I'm completely okay with filling out a team member or two using these tools, but most people want an in-game solution. Bungie could address this in a ton of different ways. Yes, endgame content is by definition tough, so matchmaking may be hard to do, but what about actually making the game Open up the Tower to more players, and have the lounge area actually do something. Make it a hangout for players "looking for groups," complete with billboards and a full-on LFG system built in. Players could look at terminals, post what activities they want to do along with their Light level and class, and it could automatch accordingly. This would alleviate the issue of matchmaking in one fell swoop. Raids are still the only way to max out your character Certain players don't want to raid because they aren't comfortable, and I don't blame them. Bungie doesn't make anything clear for newer players in terms of what to expect from raids, or how to acclimate to the pressures of a six-man group. Many of those issues could be solved by a training session of raid mechanics, on top of a "Sherpa" system that could be built into the Tower groups idea. Because in the end, players will need to best King's Fall to get the good stuff -- the post-level-300 items, which will be necessary for the presumed Hard Mode version. Some 310 Exotics can be picked up here and there from bonkers questlines (more on that later), but for the most part, players will find themselves stuck teetering below 300 without going to face Oryx. I definitely think, as a raider myself, that raid gear should be special, but many multiplayer games out there have equivalent gear that can be earned with enough tokens. Right now, the vendor gear only goes up to 280. It could stand for an increase. The new Light system that takes weapons into account encourages dishonesty With Year One, players had a Light level that was indicative of the armor they wore. It was simple to understand after a few hours of max-level play, and you only needed to manage four pieces of gear to maintain it. Now, Destiny has three more equipment slots with Light on them (Ghosts, class items, and Artifacts) and weapons also play into your Light ranking. Things can get real confusing real fast, but I'm noticing a trend where players "fake" their Light and switch back to their weapons of choice. For instance, some people might have a Light 280 shotgun, but a particular mission almost exclusively calls for sniping. Since players only have a 220 sniper and would "look bad," they equip the shotgun, pass for 280 Light, and switch back once the mission starts. Now, the old way wasn't perfect either -- armor was limited in that you could only wear pieces that had higher Light ratings on them. This has been alleviated by the ascension mechanic, which lets you rank up gear of your choice by sacrificing other items to it. But tying that same principle to weapons has had mixed results. Since Light influences how much damage you do and how much you take, even just a few points can make a mission that much tougher. By limiting players who may not be comfortable with certain loadouts, Bungie is forcing people to use specific pieces of gear, and that changes the entire way the game is played. It's the same problem, amplified. All the new system has done is made the game more elitist by adopting a Gearscore mentality. Having played MMOs since Ultima Online, I'm used to it, but many people are turned off by it. Allowing more flexibility with the weapon side of things would help. Some of these new quests are off-the-wall hardcore Now, this is actually my favorite aspect of The Taken King. There is so much more end-game content now, with hidden tidbits like the Black Spindle quest or the aforementioned Exotic sword questline. But all of those come with a price -- extreme amounts of grinding or crazy-high difficulty ceilings, both of which aren't viable options for casual fans. Take the Exotic sword mission. After completing a bunch of busywork, players will eventually come to an impasse -- the grinding step. Here, they'll have to down over 500 enemies with abilities in line with the element of their sword of choice, and attain 10 special resources, hidden within drops of Helium Filaments, Spinmetal, or Relic Iron. Oh, 10 resources, that's not bad, right? Well, it really is. For this particular quest, you'll have to acquire resources within resources, which are said to drop at a roughly 5% rate. For my first sword, it took me over two hours straight of grinding, and I knew the routes from playing so much of Year One. For my second sword, it took five hours. Then you have to do a Strike that requires everyone to be roughly 300 Light (20 more than raid-ready). If my group wasn't so hardcore, I wouldn't even go for the third. Bungie has claimed in the past that it doesn't want to make players grind, but it has introduced such a boring task here that so many people won't do it out of principle. Which is weird, because the Exotic sword is an essential item for a number of reasons and completely changes the way you approach most content (I highly recommend getting one for the Court of Oryx -- to quote a great 20th century philosopher, "it is... so choice"). The Black Spindle isn't easy for casual players to get, either -- the quest nearly requires a full three-person fireteam of raid-ready team members. And forget doing the Court of Oryx's third tier by yourself, or even with a public group. Destiny is still growing as a game, and it's not quite there yet It's clear that Bungie still doesn't know what to do with Destiny. On one hand, the developers claim "they don't want to revisit legacy content," but many of the old Strikes have been re-done with a Taken flair. To go ever further, these select Strikes have been hand-picked for a zombification of sorts, while others are eliminated entirely lest you play the useless, no-incentive legacy playlist. Bungie also notes that it wants to be welcoming to new players, but gates most of its meaningful content behind a lack of matchmaking services and grindy, exclusive questlines. The game is much better than it was, but it has a ways to go. In some ways, the entire Destiny experience feels like a beta test for the sequel, which is reportedly going to drop next year.
Thoughts on Destiny photo
There's more dependency on groups now
Destiny has noticeably improved since The Taken King dropped. This is partly because there's a lot more to do than just grind the awful Prison of Elders activity from the last bad expansion, but additionally, the game has gotten much more hardcore. It's great news for me and my group of comrades, but I've been seeing a lot of people cut back on their playtime lately.

Joe Mad (Darksiders, Battle Chasers) has answered your questions

Oct 06 // Jonathan Holmes
[embed]314164:60637:0[/embed] Kevin Bowyer: Wii U version? Loved Darkstalkers II for the Wii U. Joe Mad: It’s not currently in the plan, unfortunately. We are a small team on a tight budget, so we had to be choosy about which consoles to launch on. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen further down the road though. Jesse Johnson: How does he feel about the new apple flavored skittle? I feel it ruined the candy as a whole. I'm a bit pissed really. Joe Mad: I actually really like it (sorry!). I usually buy Darkside Skittles (because I like to pretend it says Darksiders) but for some reason the yellow skittle in the blue ‘Tropical’ bag is one of my favorites. Pineapple I think? ThePich: How does that armor bra on the redhead work?  Joe Mad: I honestly have no idea. Magic, probably! [embed]314164:60638:0[/embed] Dango: Who are these Darksiders that the games are named after? Joe Mad: It was meant to describe the Horsemen, but really encompasses the game as a whole, since even the ‘good’ guys are ‘dark’ characters. You seek the aid of Dead Lords and go on quests for Demons. Angels are corrupt. It’s not your typical ‘save humanity’ hero story! Cosmonstropolis: What's your go-to while pooping? What book are you currently reading?  Joe Mad: Usually, if I’ve forgotten to bring my phone into the bathroom with me, I’ll just grab at whatever’s nearby—shampoo labels, toothpaste, etc. But I’m currently reading The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Black Company. And don’t worry, I always put my phone back in my pocket before I touch anything nasty. Swear! Barry Kelly: With a very ambitious game and what appears to be a very frugal budget and development time, which changes in the industry over the last few years do you most attribute to being able to deliver a project like this? Better experience? A tighter, closer knit team? A more focused and defined game design and scope? Better development tools? etc  Joe Mad: All of the above! Our small team is very experienced, and we’ve all worked together for years. We carefully scoped this game to be manageable for our team size and budget from the onset. You’d be surprised what a small dedicated team can do when it’s a passion project. Alex Heat: Darksiders 3 when? Joe Mad: We get this question a lot. The information is out there, but for those that don’t know, Vigil Games was dissolved when THQ went bankrupt, and Darksiders was sold to Nordic Games. They own it now, and seem very committed to continuing to do great things with the series (Check out the Deathinitive Edition, coming out in October!) We are just as curious/excited as you guys about the possibility of a DS3! It’s out of our hands! [embed]314164:60643:0[/embed] Ahr Ech: Why is the guy from Berserk just standing in the background of that header?   Lex: Same reason why Miss Fortune is in the front maybe? Joe Mad: Heh. Not taking the bait! Keiichi Morisato: What is your favorite Zelda game? Joe Mad: Gameplay wise, Ocarina of Time. Art wise, Windwaker! John Seiler: Are we going to see new collections of the old Battle Chasers book along with new comic stories? I really liked the issue that Adam Warren did and would love to see other writers and artists take a stab at that world. Really, I just miss that world. Joe Mad: Thank you. Yes, I plan on making all the old books available again in physical form. Stay tuned for details! Brandon Dunlap: From what we see from the game play videos there will be 3 active players and everyone else will be reserved, will there be an on the fly swap feature in combat, and why did you choose to go with 3 active characters, and not 4? Joe Mad: There’s more weight to choosing your party makeup when you’re forced to pick 3 (out of 6 available characters). You can switch them out at any point when you’re in town prepping for your adventure. It also speeds up the combat a bit, the pace feels better. And visually, it allows the characters to all be larger on screen. So, lots of reasons! [embed]314164:60639:0[/embed] Adolfo Arredondo: Have you thought about selling Battle Chasers action figures? Cartoonish like Disney Infinity or more detailed? Joe Mad: Yes! There’s no solid plan at the moment, but it’s something we all geek out about, so hopefully we can make it happen before too long! Anthony Griego: Any chance we will see Akimon in the game? He was one of my favorites and I was always bummed he was *spoiler* killed! Joe Mad: Actually, Akiman is very much alive, it was Bengus who we saw get blasted (though there’s no proof he’s actually dead). I will for sure touch on these guys in the books again—as far as the game, we will have to wait and see. Toshiro Miphony: Will Battle Chasers the game be released as timely as Battle Chasers the comic? If so, I can't wait until it's released in 2021. Joe Mad: No, it’ll be on a tighter schedule. Mastersith40: Will Liquid! return to color the comics? Joe Mad: I would really love for this to happen. Both Aron Lusen and Christian Lichtner have gone on to become video game art director rock stars, so they are out of the comics biz these days. But I will use all my powers of persuasion (and guilt!)  to try to lure them back when the time comes… [embed]314164:60640:0[/embed] churchofvirus: Why no physical copy of the game at any backer level? This turns off a large amount of potential backers. Joe Mad: We would really love to do these! We decided against it for Kickstarter since we were strongly cautioned against it by some of our good friends who had large successful KS campaigns. It mainly comes down to (very unpredictable!) shipping costs, production costs, and managing order fulfillment (among other reasons).  Maybe we can make it happen later down the road. I’d love one sitting on my shelf too! Mike Payne: Of your own work, what sticks out in your mind as some of your favorite pieces? what's your least favorite?  Joe Mad: I definitely think my BC era stuff is among my best as far as comics go. I was really happy with the splash art I did recently for Battle Chasers: Nightwar. Sadly, I tend to hate most of my stuff shortly after I do it, so I don’t latch on to specific pieces very often. And of course, I absolutely hate all the older stuff I’ve done, like Excalibur, Deadpool, and a lot of my X-Men stuff (sorry guys!!! ). I was just going through growing pains still as an artist back then, and I only see the bad when I look back on it, never the good! Mike Payne: When you started to bring anime into your style were you ever unsure about it? Did editors ever make you doubt your style choices? Joe Mad: No, actually the editors were very supportive! It was some of the fans who really, really hated it and made me doubt, lol! Specifically on the Uncanny X-men stuff. I’d get comments on the dumb hairstyles, missing nostrils and giant eyes quite often. Back then, we still had fan mail in the form of letters, so I would have these huge piles of hate mail that I eventually stopped going through in order to preserve my sanity! [embed]314164:60642:0[/embed]  Jonathan Holmes: I'd love to see Battle Chasers crossover with other games, like Darksiders, Shovel Knight or maybe Skullgirls. Is it possible? Do you want me to get you in touch with those guys? The Skullgirls team just announced just announed a party based RPG, so it could be a perfect fit.  Joe Mad: Oh man, Shovel Knight rocks. You don’t know how bad we wanted to make a Metroidvania game (cannot wait for Chasm!). An intro would be awesome. I definitely wouldn’t rule out a Darksiders crossover. We are still good friends with those guys (which is why they let us use the Chaoseater in Battle Chasers!) And Indivisible looks fucking gorgeous. I’m backing it for sure.
Battle Chasers photo
Comics, game development, and Skittles
The Battle Chasers: Nightwar Kickstarter is in its final days, and to help celebrate its resounding success, comics legend Joe Mad, creator of Battle Chasers and Darksiders, has answered a boat load of questions from you, the...

How the hell did I become a MOBA player?

Sep 20 // Nic Rowen
I remember trying Dota 2 a few years ago. I had just watched the International and it seemed like everyone else did too. Hype was at an all-time high, and it felt like the moment to finally try it out for myself. I did it right, I did my homework before I started playing: read a few beginners guides, watched a few videos to prepare myself; I was a professional. I had modest expectations, I knew the game's rep, that it was complicated, had an abrasive community, and could be rough on new players. I thought I was ready for it. As you might have guessed, I wasn't. I wasn't just bad at Dota, I was horrific at it. Looking at the action on my monitor was like staring into a void of despair. Every single one of my few matches was a ghastly car wreck that would tumble and twist and dismember over the course of 40 excruciating minutes, and I was forced to look it all straight in the eye. After all, I was the one behind the wheel. I was, despite my best intentions, despite my goody-goody studying and prep work, possibly the worst Dota player of all time. It turns out there is a huge gulf between knowing what you're supposed to do, and actually doing it. I was never where I was supposed to be, never doing what I was supposed to, constantly buying the wrong items, requesting the courier at the wrong time, and my teammates were sure to let me know it. I've been playing online multiplayer games for more than half my life, I'm used to a little shit talk now and then. But I've never encountered vitriol so purely distilled and highly concentrated as I did as a noob in Dota. The worst part was that it didn't even make sense. Sure, I sucked. I sucked hard. But so did they. I was being matched in with other new or low-performing players, and while I didn't have an expert eye, I could tell none of the chucklenuts I was teamed up with were exactly pro-players in their own right. They were heaping scorn on me, and each other of course, not out of a place of superiority, but a place of expectation. They knew Dota was supposed to be foul and mean, so they acted that way. It didn't matter if they had the chops to back it up, shit talking was done for the sake of shit talking. Not that I want to imply being great at a game gives you license to be an asshole (it doesn't), but there is something especially grating about being told to “git gud” by someone failing just as hard as you. Is there anything less appealing than a community that embraces an ethos of shittiness? So yeah, I might have been the one driving, but there were four other assholes in the backseat pulling my hair and messing with the radio. Is it any surprise we all wound up mangled in a ditch? So I begged off. MOBAs were not for me and never would be. I couldn't hang in that group and I had no interest in even trying. However enchanting the action on the International tournament stage was, however interesting the genre seemed to be in the abstract, however cool/funny/cute any particular character was, it wouldn't be worth putting up with all the crap surrounding it. Flash forward to a few weeks ago. I've got the nebulous idea of giving a MOBA another shot for this series, I'm thinking, obviously, Dota. But, when I tell a few friends about it, they remind me they've been trying to get me to play Heroes of the Storm with them for months now and if I'm gonna play a MOBA, it's going to be that one on pain of excommunication. Well, might as well hit two birds with one stone right? Heroes of the Storm will give me plenty of material to work with, right? Well, yes and no. Sadly, I don't have sadomasochistic stories about suffering to share. On the bright side, I am pretty excited to talk about my new favorite game. I have to explain to you how bad it's been. How quickly this new addiction spiraled out of control. I went from begrudgingly playing Heroes of the Storm as an academic exercise to subscribing to two different Heroes of the Storm-centric podcasts to listen to while I'm not playing. I went from thinking “oh, some of those characters might be kind of cool” to owning a bunch of mini-figs of the cast. Please understand, I haven't bought plastic crap for my desk in years. I got away from the pre-order statue, premium action figure game when I realized it was getting difficult to find room for a coffee mug in my work area and never looked back -- until now that is. What the hell is wrong with me? I can't say what exactly it is about Heroes that makes it so much fun. I mean, the basics are obvious, it's a well-constructed, highly polished game with excellent variety and constant influxes of new content in the form of characters, maps, skins, and balance adjustments. It's more welcoming to new players, with (from what I've experienced) a less abrasive community. Sure, you still run into the occasional jerk, but they're rare (it helps that there is no communication between opposing teams and muting someone is as easy as clicking their name). I'm not sure that explains it entirely, but for some reason this one hooked me, badly. When I love a game, I really love a game. I'll play them with a pretty scary amount of fixation. Since becoming a (somewhat) more professional games writer in the last year, I haven't had the time or focus to really deep dive on a game like I used to. But I can feel it happening with Heroes, all the old symptoms are there. I've already started pushing the game on others as a per-emptive defense mechanism, building a network of enablers. Like some cliche schoolyard drug dealer straight out of a PSA, I got my girlfriend and family to “just try it out” too and dragged them down to my level. Judge me now, but know that you judge yourself. To me, Heroes triggers the same impulses as Team Fortress 2 did when I was at the height of my passion for it. A wonderful combination of enjoying the silly characters and goofy aesthetic (Blizzard knows the premise of the game is ridiculous and the characters are appropriately flippant about it) while being absolutely captivated by the mechanics underneath. I've always loved class-based team games, and Heroes is very up front with character roles and the niches they occupy. If you squint hard, it almost like playing something like Team Fortress 2 from a bird's eye view, or maybe the commander's chair. I like the wheedling, the finagling, the uncountable little nuances of positioning and timing and situational awareness that make all the difference. How spotting just the right place to be in a team fight can secure a crucial kill that you know deep in your bones wouldn't have happened if you didn't scout it out right. How using the right skill at exactly the right time can be game winning. While using the same skill half a second earlier or later would be meaningless. How the mini-map becomes your very best friend in the world. How you slowly learn to fear the enemies you don't see on it more than the ones that are clearly charging towards you. The ones you don't see are the clever girls about to Velociraptor you from your blindside. Right now, all the MOBA players reading this are shaking their heads, “No shit, that's exactly what we've been saying for years!” and they're right. What I've discovered isn't some big secret about MOBAs that I'm sharing the hot scoop on. It's only revolutionary to me. But life is made of tiny, personal revelations. Practically everything you love was appreciated by others before you stumbled onto it. I don't want this to read as a hit piece on Dota 2 while I lavish praise on Heroes of the Storm. Despite my rough introduction to it, I still think Dota 2 is one of the most entertaining and interesting games on the market. I bet that if I tried it out now with the skills and basic familiarity with the genre that I've built up with Heroes I'd have a much better time with it. Really, it's the concessions and cuts from other MOBAs that are a big factor of why Heroes is so much more fun for a new player. There's no item shop to overwhelm you with options, no last hitting, or creep stacking. Ideas like jungling, capturing Roshan, and using minions to push lanes are more formalized into mercenary camps and map objectives in game. Everything has timers on it, things are explained. The inscrutable mysteries and highly specialized, uber-obscure knowledge of Dota is one of the things that makes that game so interesting to watch and to think about. But, and you're free to call me a wimp here, when it comes to actually playing something, maybe explaining what you're supposed to do isn't the worst idea in the world. I like mystery in games, I like mental work, but it has to be in the proper context. In something like Dark Souls I'm more than willing to explore the world, experiment with mechanics, and generally take a few lumps in the process. But that's a (mostly) single player experience built on those ideas. MOBAs are more like a sport, a competition between two teams where you have up to 9 other people depending on you to do your part to make it a good match. Thinking about it like that, it seems insane to me to hide half the rules of the game. To suddenly throw another ball onto the field and then scream at someone when he gets hit in the face with it. You could call Heroes of the Storm “baby's first MOBA” and you wouldn't be entirely wrong. But is it really that bad to want to get your feet under you before being asked to run a race (on a course with deathtraps and spike-pits, where all the other competitors are swinging around bicycle chains and throwing lawn darts at one another)? Who knows, maybe my infatuation with Heroes won't last. Maybe in a month or so I won't be feeling the rush as much as I did the first time, and I'll be looking for a more concentrated, more complex dose of MOBA action. I'll come sheepishly up to Dota, or even League of Legends, looking for a new kind of hit. Who can say? I'm a MOBA man now, and whatever the flavor, I don't see that changing anytime soon. Previously on Out of my Comfort Zone: #01: Thirsty, hungry, and crappy in ARK: Survival Evolved
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Out of my Comfort Zone #02
Okay, I'm going to let you take a peek behind the curtain on this one. I chose to tackle a MOBA for the second entry of Out of my Comfort Zone because I thought it would be funny. I thought it would be a story of failure, pai...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill 3

Sep 19 // Stephen Turner
At its heart, Silent Hill 3 is about a girl coming of age. From the opening nightmare sequence, we’re treated to very familiar horror iconography: blood red hues, a fascination with blades, of something foreign inside the body, and a cute mascot in disturbingly lifeless poses, all set in an abandoned amusement park. Heather’s journey home takes her through teenage hangouts and public places, their dark sides brought to the fore, all the way to Silent Hill and deep within. Little Red Riding Hood by way of Dario Argento, if you will. Her survival depends on a reconciliation between childhood and adult life, with her former selves being these literal, separate slices of life. By the end, Heather is not Alessa, nor Cheryl, but its through their remembrance that she ultimately becomes her own person, able to make her own decisions in life. On the other side of the coin, there's Claudia Wolf, the story's misguided antagonist; a colourless imitation of a reasonable young adult, preferring the comfort of blind faith over autonomy. Adulthood, or at least what we find of it in Silent Hill 3, is represented by the messes of men. Douglas Cartland is a walking list of mistakes, whereas Vincent Smith takes a perverse pride in belittling the ignorant few. One seeks redemption, the other deals in exploitation. The cast might be minimal, but it works for the duality on display. Lines are drawn and lesson are learned. Douglas, himself, finds redemption through parental guidance, something he thought he'd lost, a lifetime ago. [embed]311452:60439:0[/embed] As a direct sequel to a fairly obtuse original, past events are recalled and plainly deconstructed. Riddle speak is deftly cut down by barbed tongues, infallible fathers are shown to be weak and vulnerable (breaking down our own hero worship in the process), and The Order is explained in definitive detail. It's this clarity that ends up being vital to Heather's character growth. Particularly telling is how her descriptive texts turn from dismissive to thoughtful, reflective and empathetic, along with the bloodstains that are eventually splashed across her pure white jacket. The Otherworld returns to its original form, now a higher-definition of improbable locations, foetal-like defects and rattling heads (for his final game, Masahiro Ito's designs were part-freakshow, part-macabre fairytale). It's a harsher world, full of abattoir tiles and maddening works of art, an intensity that almost goes overboard in places; bringing back the surface level scares that were missing in Silent Hill 2. It's visceral, but it needed to be that way. The Otherworld doesn't adapt, it grows with its protagonist. And it's most obvious in the way the skeletal walls and beasts of raw flesh develop rippling layers of skin as you progress. The Otherworld is a fearful representation of pregnancy and birth, all of which ends with an abortion of sorts. For a series that prides itself on subversion, Silent Hill 3 is rather transparent with its humanist values. Both pro-choice and nihilistic towards religion, the messages come through clearly at the most shocking of times and even breaks the philosophical fourth-wall when needed (note how Vincent usually addresses the audience through POV angles). At one point, the player is asked to forgive or condemn Claudia's actions, and the answer doesn't lie in the usual act of altruism. Silent Hill 3 will always be most famous for the line, “They look like monsters to you?” but that's always been a sly misdirection at best, or a love letter by a dev team on their way out. Personally speaking, it’s a symptom of why Silent Hill 3 never crawled out from Silent Hill 2's shadow; the constant post-modern distractions took focus away from the bigger picture. But you could also argue that it was down to a waning interest in survival horror, or an emphasis on unrefined combat, badly paced locations, or even the re-use of assets for a quick turnaround. And none of these would be wrong, either. That said, especially after replaying it for this retrospective, Silent Hill 3 is a game in need of re-appraisal. The tired, introspective tone from the developers is actually more relevant now than on release. Heather Mason also manages to be a strong female character, one that earns that title, rather than put on a pedestal from the get-go. And this was in 2003, remember. The Otherworld was as close as we were ever going to get an HD remake, complete with so many hidden details and huge advancement in character design. And it's rarely said enough, the haunted house section is completely underrated in the way it pulls the rug from underneath the player. Hey, maybe, ironically, it's a reconciliation with the past speaking. In any case, no matter where you place it – best, mid-tier, worst (personally, mid-tier) – Silent Hill 3 signaled the dying days of "Team Silent," but there was one more oddity that would send us tumbling down the rabbit hole and into a realm of existentialism that hasn’t been explored in video games since.
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'It's about your birth.'
Silent Hill 3 is a mean-spirited game, but then that was always the point. In order to value her future, Heather Mason is dragged, kicking and screaming, through the muck and mire of her past. Yes, she’s given the tools...

Metal Gear memories

Aug 29 // Nic Rowen
I remember the entire route through Shadow Moses. I remember the area with electrified tiles inset in the floor and steering a tiny rocket over them. I remember resenting not being able to use my guns in the nuke disposal area. The cave with all of Sniper Wolf's wolves running loose -- one of them pissed on my cardboard box. I'll sometimes forget the best way to get downtown, but the map of Shadow Moses is burned into my memory. The bosses were legendary, both for their design and the surreal conversations you'd have before, during, and afterward. One-on-one with an old west gunfighter, circling each other around a hostage in the middle of a room rigged up with C4. He showed off his fancy carnival trick-spinning and made comments that distinctly implied that he wanted to make love to his pistol, or that gun fighting was an allegory for sex to him. I don't know, he was a weird dude. There was that shaman who you'd fight twice, once in a literal tank and once while he carried around a gun the size of a small tank. He discussed ear-pulling competitions and the futility of struggling against fate. He was eaten by his own ravens. Then there was the suffocating tension and isolation of dueling a single sniper hundreds of yards away. The battle with Sniper Wolf would be eclipsed in every way six years later by Naked Snake's duel against The End, but at the time it was one of the most intense fights I'd ever experienced. I feel like there has probably been enough ink spilled on how crazy the fight with Psycho Mantis was, but holy fucking shit. How did any of that happen? It was like stepping into some alternate reality where Andy Kaufman had been a game designer and somebody cut him a blank check. Memes of plugging the controller into the second slot, or the infamous “HIDEO” error screen are well worn now. But I don't think secondary accounts can do justice to just how crazy and bizarre that fight, and the rest of Metal Gear Solid, truly was. All of that weird fourth wall breaking shit -- holding the controller to your arm for a massage, having the Colonel explain combat maneuvers to Snake directly referencing the DualShock and a bunch of video game jargon, it was something that had to be lived in the moment. It felt like Kojima was peeling back our skulls and attaching electrodes to areas of the brain that were previously entirely unstimulated. He was showing us a new way of making and thinking about games. I remember taking that instruction book with me while on a short shopping errand that Saturday afternoon in a calculated move to ensure I wouldn't have to stop thinking about Metal Gear. It had its hooks in me, and once I was in that world of spies, rogue special ops groups, and shadowy conspiracies, I never wanted to leave. We were supposed to visit our grandparents that Sunday, but stopping wasn't an option. So we took the PlayStation with us, hooking it up to an ancient TV in their dusty basement where we could continue to save the world from nuclear disaster and learn more dubious information about genetic engineering. I know, it was a scumbag move. But in our defense, we'd just finished the torture scene, found the corpse of the real DARPA chief, and escaped a jail cell using a bottle of ketchup -- neither of us were in the best head space to make positive decisions. It was a weekend I'll never forget. My brother and I tackled Shadow Moses together, experiencing the entire mission as a single unit. It was was a battle march, a do-or-die suicide mission to finish it in a single weekend. Even if it meant wearing out our welcome at our grandparents with multiple pleas of “just 15 more minutes!” as we pummeled Liquid Snake to death and tried to watch the hour-long ending without completely alienating the rest of the family. So yeah, we kept the stupid manual. Call it a battle trophy, or a war memento. My brother still has it buried in some desk drawer. Besides, we did Blockbuster and the next person to rent the game a solid. When we returned the game, we taped an index card with Meryl's codec number to the inside of the sterile white and blue plastic box. We had to crack that puzzle with brute force after we couldn't convince our mom to drive us back out just before midnight to look at the back of the CD case on the shelf. Kojima never accounted for us rental kids with his fourth wall shattering puzzle, but I forgive him. How could I not? He made some of my favorite memories. The best moments I had with Sons of Liberty all happened years after the game first hit the shelves. Nowadays, I consider Sons of Liberty to be one of the most important and subversive games of all time. When we picked it up on day one though, I thought Raiden was a turd and Kojima was playing a mean spirited prank on us. You want to talk about memories? I remember thinking “boy, I hope this is just a joke and Snake takes over again reallll soon” about a million times during the first few hours with it. That's not to say I didn't like Sons of Liberty or that it was a bad game or anything, it was just frustrating. It seemed to exist only to validate every criticism of the original. That it was a bunch of nonsense for the sake of nonsense, or that it was a nice movie with some neat game bits in between. I wanted to love it, but it didn't seem to care one way or the other for me. Subliminally, I was picking up on the entire meaning of the game. But it'd be a long time before I could fully appreciate it. Sons of Liberty isn't a game you tackle in a single weekend of obsessive dead-eye play. It's an intricate and nuanced criticism of the industry, players, and power fantasies that you revisit every few years with a scalpel and a fresh set of eyes. It's a game that was so prescient that only now, with games like Spec Ops: The Line and Hotline Miami, are other titles even attempting the same kind of criticism it levied. It's a game that I've enjoyed reading about more than I enjoyed playing. And I've enjoyed playing it a lot. It would be easy to dismiss Sons of Liberty's message as postmodern gobbledygook, or its criticisms of Raiden, and by extension the players, as overly impressionable rubes playing pretend at being a super solider as a creator taking a shot at his audience. But I remember a time in high school when I skipped Mr. Hogarth's class in the morning and couldn't afford to be caught. How the blood in my veins began to pump as I saw him looming just in front of the door of one of my afternoon classes having a conversation with Mr. Jones. How I slipped seamlessly, without consciously thinking about it into STEALTH MODE, creeping up just behind him, turning with him as he turned, like I was staying just outside of the vision cone of any of Metal Gear's hapless guards, slipping in just past him to take my seat, no alarms activated. The S3 plan worked better than Kojima could have dreamed. Even a pudgy high school nerd could have his own Solid Snake moment with the kind of training he provided us with. The Substance Edition on the Xbox was where I really came to love Sons of Liberty. The VR missions more than made up for the intractable cinematics and radio conversations of the main game, finally letting me feel like I played Sons of Liberty rather than watched it. With a few years to get over the shock of playing as Raiden and absorb the message of the game's screwy third act, I was able to enjoy the story and characters. It's one of the few games I can think of that benefited from a remaster in a way that was more meaningful than just a graphical update. But when it's all said and done, I think my favorite memory of Sons of Liberty has to be slipping on bird shit and falling to my death. I don't know why, but that's the moment that crystallized Sons of Liberty to me. Snake Eater is one of my favorite games of all time. I've completed it maybe ten or so times give or take. Certainly more times than any other game I've ever owned. The reason I played through it so many times is simple -- it kept giving me something new every time I did. I'm not sure how many people appreciate how incredibly dense and rich Snake Eater is. If you just want to mainline the game on normal mode, stick to dependable tactics, and don't care too much if you get spotted or have to drop a few extra people, it can be a fairly straightforward affair. If you want to dig deep though, if you want to get weird, that's when Snake Eater really shows you what it's really made of. I did all of the normal things. A regular playthrough where I slit every throat I saw, blundered into enemies and tripped off alarms, and was admonished by The Sorrow who seemed very cross with the number of Russians I set on fire. I did the professional thing, where I snuck in like a shadow over Groznyj Grad, with no alarms and no surprises. Then I did the goofy stuff -- theme runs where I would try and see if I could complete the game as a North Vietnamese regular (all black camo, unsilenced pistol, AK-47, grenades, and SVD only). I did runs where I would only eat fresh killed food, no Calorie Mates or insta-noodles. Runs where I tried to kill as many people indirectly as I could, to see how many I could poison with rotted food or knock off of bridges, the spirit of bad luck. Runs where I made a point of blowing up every supply shed and armory in the country. Every time I thought I exhausted the very last bit of Snake Eater, there was just a little bit more to find. A new mechanic or trick (that of course was almost totally useless and impractical, and great), or some new weird quirk of enemy behavior (did you know you can kill The Fury with a few swipes of your knife? He even has custom dialog for it), or a new radio conversation or song I had never heard before. I played Snake Eater for years, and I'll bet there are still one or two things left to find; Kojima's bag of tricks never seems to end. I still have the memory card with all of my Snake Eater saves on it, just in case I ever feel the need to get down on my belly and crawl through the weeds and marshes of Tselnoyarsk again. I had a whole library of saves, most of them right before discrete scenes or moments I knew I'd want to play again and again. The mountain infiltration right before you rendezvous with Eva and the treacherous march back down again. Dodging KGB special operation units armed with flamethrowers, mindful of the differences in elevation and the gun emplacements littering the hill. I've heard The Guns of Navarone was one of the movies that inspired Kojima when working on the series, and I like to think this area is his little homage to the cliff-side raid of the movie. I saved right before the sniper duel with The End, two different versions. One where Snake would run into his valley clad in camo greens, ready to fight a war of attrition with the legendary marksman. Another, where I assassinated the old man earlier on in the game with a single split-second crackshot (Snake Eater lets you do this because Snake Eater is a game that gives and gives every time you play it). In that version, his valley was full of Ocelot's personal entourage of soldiers to play with. Can you slip by unnoticed while being hunted by a pack of red beret-wearing hotshots? Or maybe it would be more satisfying to unzip each of their throats one by one, or to fight them all in one glorious running battle of machine gun fire and shotgun blasts (I never really used the thing unless I was goofing around). Of course, I saved just before the final showdown against The Boss. It's probably the single greatest scene in the entire series and one of the best boss encounters ever designed. Sure, taking down the Shagohod was satisfying, and sneaking up on The End and forcing him to give up his special camo and rifle made you feel like a sneaky master, but this was the real test. Fighting a person with all of the same skills and tactics you've spent the game developing and mastering, but she's better at them than you. After all, she invented them. I have less personal attachment to the other games. Guns of the Patriots I had to enjoy vicariously, reading about it and watching other people play. Same with the Metal Gear Acid games. I've spent a good chunk of the last month catching up, reading wikis about them and watching Let's Plays to fill in the gaps of my Metal Gear knowledge. I think I'm ready. I'm ready to finally close the loop on this series I've been playing my entire life. I'm ready to experience the last chapter in this decades long story of espionage, betrayal, and hiding in cardboard boxes. I can't wait to get into The Phantom Pain next week and see it for myself. I'm hoping Kojima can give me a few more memories on his way out.
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More than the basics of CQC
We stole the instruction manual when we rented Metal Gear Solid from Blockbuster. It's the one and only time we ever did that. Normally we were fine upstanding rental citizens who held manual-thieves in smug contempt. But in ...

Thirsty, hungry, and crappy in ARK: Survival Evolved

Aug 18 // Nic Rowen
There are tons of survival games to choose from these days, but I downloaded ARK: Survival Evolved almost entirely on the promise of weaponized dinosaurs. If I was going to go down this road, I would do it in style -- on the back of a giant, heavily armed lizard -- and indulge all of my Dino-Rider fantasies. The fact that ARK's character creator is busted and will let you roll up with a nightmarish mutant of disproportionate body parts and bizarre growths is just the icing on the cake. I never read any instructions or watched any tutorials; I went in completely blind. My survivor woke up on a sandy beach as God and Studio Wildcard intended – confused, nearly naked, and shivering. I don't know much about these games, but I do know that they all boil down to collecting resources and building things with them. I start picking up stones on the beach, slightly disappointed that I can't seem to pick up any of the glittering sea shells scattered around. My survivor almost immediately shits himself, somewhat spoiling the moment. But hey, bonus, I can pick up the turd! I can't collect sea shells, but I do start a catalog of dookie samples. I come across a flock of dodo birds on the beach. They're dumb as bricks and don't seem to react to my presence in any way. I punch them and punch them, but only succeed in rendering them unconscious. I savage the flock until I'm standing over a pile of comatose birds and have somehow learned how to write notes and sew pants in the process. This is caveman education at its finest. Soon my pockets are heavy with stones, the beach is awash with pulverized birds, and my survivor is complaining. In fact, complaining seems to be all he does. I never knew the raw nature of primitive man was so whiny. During the day he complains that he's too hot. At night, the big sulky baby is too cold. And he's hungry, and thirsty. I'm starting to worry that Child Services is going to come and take my caveman away. A series of icons depicting sweltering fires and frigid ice cubes, along with unending penalties to my stamina let me know what a terrible job I'm doing of keeping him alive. I stuff some narcoberries I've picked off the local plants down his gullet, hoping the natural sedatives will fill his belly and put him to sleep for the night letting him doze through the cold. But he just staggers around in a haze for a bit, stamina lower than ever. It's time to engage with the crafting system before I get arrested for criminal neglect. As a species we are tool users, after all. It's time to take advantage of that. Looking at what I have available to make, it seems like building a pickaxe would be a good start. I'd need stone (check), thatch (nope), and wood (na-da). Can't I just make it with narcoberries? I still have plenty of those. I waste a good 20 minutes wandering around a small forest looking for loose sticks to collect, thinking they'd be like the stones on the beach. I can't find any and the, "I can't get wood" jokes got old about 19 minutes ago. I punch a tree out of frustration. Gouts of blood spray from my hand and a piece of wood lands in my inventory. Oh, so it's like that, huh? I punch trees until my knuckles are bloody and broken and I've managed to pick enough splinters out of my hand to fashion a crude pickaxe. Then I get into the holy guts of these games – hitting shit to build more shit. I hit rocks with smaller rocks until they give me the other kind of rocks I'm looking for. Then I use those rocks to hit other rocks more efficiently. I make hatchets, spears, a shirt to cover my misshapen body. Caveman essentials. Is this really all there is to life? We've lost a generation of gamers to this? I suppose the closest comparison to ARK would be Rust, which also throws you into the wild with nothing and expects you to build up from stone-aged flint spears and hemp pants to assault rifles and flak jackets. But ARK has a different vibe. You're a caveman sure, but there is a pulsating metal jewel embedded in your arm. You have a number and, ominously, a projected survival expectation based on your performance. You're tagged and tracked like an animal, which begs the question of who exactly is doing the monitoring. At night, pillars of light and energy reach into the heavens. High-tech obelisks stand alone in the middle of miles and miles of untamed jungle and roaming packs of dinosaurs. Clearly something is going on here. If there is a concrete storyline, I haven't picked up the thread yet. I'm sure it exists out there in wikis and forum posts scattered around the net, but I don't want to seek it out that way. I want to know what my survivor knows and live in that reality. And right now, it's all just sci-fi mystery and terrible giant lizards that look like they could snap me up as a light snack without even thinking about it. It's terrifying and fascinating, and truth be told, I kind of like keeping it vague. My mind wanders while I play. Are we all futuristic criminals banished to an otherworldly penal colony? A kind of Space-Australia complete with raptors and megalodons? Are the inhabitants of the island subjects of some kind of twisted social experiment? Or is it somewhere in-between? Like the '60s British classic The Prisoner? Do I need to be careful of Rovers if I try and leave the island? The best moments I have in the early hours of ARK are moments of transgression. Moments that I'm not particularly proud of. Players are given unfettered freedom to do what they like in ARK, and somewhat predictably, most people like to be jerks -- myself included. I came across a player's unguarded camp once and looted everything that wasn't nailed down. I even stole the charcoal from his fire, blackening my hands and soul with the theft. I stumbled on an unconscious player, half hidden under a rocky outcrop. I knew I should just leave him alone, but I hovered over him, freshly made spear in hand. I mean, I should probably take a chance to test it out right? It's just good survival. He wasn't the last. Like the old lady from Mad Max, I killed everyone I ever met out there. Or at least I tried to. My belligerent, mutant caveman would shake his spear and charge at everyone, no matter how unclear the actual threat they posed or how hopelessly outmatched he was. Maybe it speaks to some deep-seated trust issues of mine, but I never saw the point in playing nice with the other neanderthals. Better to go down spitting and stabbing than take a chance. I know I should probably reach out, join a tribe, engage with others. Maybe find someone with skills I don't have and combine our efforts to mutual benefit. You know, like our ancestors did. I know we could work together to make this land livable, to build a life. But, it's a matter of motivations. I didn't come here to make the world a better place. I came here to strap machine guns on a T-Rex. I came to trample, shoot, and devour anything that stood in my way. I came to make the world a distinctly worse place. I die a lot. I die of malnutrition and deprivation. I die from giant mosquitoes and their toxic stings. I die from dinosaurs I don't even know the name of. Each time, I respawn in some new random location with nothing in my inventory, right back to the raw state of nature. But I keep the knowledge and skills I've accumulated and it's easier and easier to rebuild with every attempt. Well, except for that one time I respawned right next to a saber-toothed tiger and had to play hide-and-go-seek with it on a pile of rocks for a good ten minutes before it finally got on top of me. It's hard out there for a sci-fi caveman. I still haven't yoked and tamed a dinosaur. My dreams of loading up a T-Rex with cannons and missiles and riding it around like some prehistoric Metal Gear haven't come to fruition, and I don't think they will anytime soon. It just takes too long to level up, to learn the skills you need to tame a thunder lizard, or stitch an appropriately intimidating saddle to ride on (I'm thinking skulls, but I'm open to rows upon rows of claws and teeth). It's even more effort to make a pen to keep a three-story tall dinosaur in and gather enough food to prevent it from turning on you. Then of course there's the long, painfully slow journey towards making gunpowder. I'd have to mine for raw metal and build a furnace to stamp out just a simple blunderbuss, never mind a high caliber mini-gun (as a consolation, I just recently discovered slingshot technology). It's too much for any one would-be warlord to do on their own. It really would take a village. A savage, bloodthirsty village. But I think I saw it. I glimpsed the abyss, the way one would get sucked down into these sorts of games and never come back. At the end of my third or fourth night of playing, after hours of exploration deep into the island, I realized that I didn't want to die and start over again. It was late, I was tired, but I couldn't go to sleep and just leave my caveman to die in the wilderness like I had at the end of previous sessions. I found a nice spot secluded in the trees and laid down a simple foundation and a campfire. It was a simple hut. Four walls, a door, a roof, and just enough room for a sleeping bag if you stood outside and dithered the placement just right, but it was home. I had enough wood in the fire to last all night, a bounty of meat to feast on, and full waterskins. My caveman was looking sharp too, fully dressed, new shoes, a backpack full of extra spears -- this was a person who was going to make it. My mind immediately unspooled reams of future designs. A bigger house, wood and stone structures, spikes for defense. If I built near a river I could make a simple plumbing system, grow my own patch of berry bushes, maybe tame a few dodo birds for pets (or food, the line is blurry for cavemen). I could make my survivor more comfortable, I could provide more for him, and he'd be okay, protected and safe. I went from Kull the Conqueror to Mr. Nanny in the space of one night. It was the same feeling I used to get from placing all of my action figures in their proper boxes or play-sets when I was a child. It reminded me of an article I once read explaining why people get screwy sometimes and start adopting all the neighborhood stray cats or obsessively outfit their backyard with squirrel feeders and multiple kinds of birdhouses. It's that fleeting feeling of control, of finally, actually taking care of all of a creature's needs (inanimate toy, video caveman, or small wild animal). To be able to give something the kind of security and finality that is outside of your control and impossible to provide in your own life. I think back to what it was like in grade school; All the uncertainty, the nasty and brutish classmates that made those formative years a gauntlet of survival. I used games to escape from that setting, but it was all about hopping into other worlds, being a tourist. I wonder how much more time I would have spent in any one of those worlds if they let me build with the same degree of granularity a game like ARK or Minecraft does. I always assumed the appeal of survival games was the trolling, of ruining the fun for other players. Or failing that, the creativity of playing around with the tools. While I'm sure those things are the reason some players come to these games, I think the reason they stay is more simple than that. Maybe it's just the pleasure of building a home, of having something to come back to. Maybe it's time I learn to play nice with the other neanderthals.
Ark experiences photo
Out of my Comfort Zone #01
[Out of my Comfort Zone is a new series where I try to combat complacency in my gaming habits by trying different genres and tackling challenges I might otherwise never attempt. In this debut entry, I try my hand at a surviva...

My completely inaccurate Rising Thunder tier list

Aug 05 // Nic Rowen
Crow Crow is like a mini-Evangelion mech with a chakram, which I'd normally consider a strong look. But, when compared to the rest of the much goofier and lighthearted Rising Thunder cast, he just looks like he's trying too hard to be edgy -- like Hot Topic opened a mech garage. I can't wait for the DLC to give him a wallet chain and a checker pattern. Crow also looks like he'll be annoying as hell to fight against. Rising Thunder may be the first fighting game to actually do invisibility right (because it's online only, the Crow player will be able to see an outline of their character on their screen while the opponent will see nothing) and that will be sure to attract the trollish kind of player who likes to mess with people. I can already see the YouTube clip reels of time-out victories where a Crow player gets a life lead and dances around invisible for the rest of the match on the horizon. His spinning disk can be delayed to float in the air for a long time, which is the kind of thing that is always a pain to deal with. Any character that can force an opponent to defend while still being able to move and attack themselves seem to do well, so I wouldn't be surprised if Crow actually turned out to be one of the better characters in Rising Thunder. For the purposes of this list however, his high school-ish gothy design and my prediction that I'm going to hate fighting him will land Crow squarely at the bottom of this list. What, you thought this was going to be useful? Edge So, we can all agree that Edge is basically Zero with the serial numbers filed off, right? I mean, red armor, green energy sword, slim build. Heck, he's even got a freaking pony tail! It would be scandalous if Capcom hadn't already abandoned the maverick hunter. Someone might as well rescue him from the scrapyard and put him to work. The in-game description labels Edge as a rush-down character with a high skill difficulty. Given how Zero played in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the resemblance isn't purely coincidental. Edge looks like the kind of character who is designed to reward dedication and practice by becoming a sheer nightmare in the right hands. The kind of character I can never quite seem to grok but can look forward to being bodied by, over and over. Joy. Oh well. Here's hoping he doesn't have any lightning loop nonsense at least.   Dauntless I want to like Dauntless more than I do. She has all the right pieces, a goofy expressive face, extra large hands for Rock'Em-Sock'Em style fisticuffs, and a pleasingly robot-ish squared off design. But something just doesn't click. There is nothing wrong with her, but she's just a little too bland to really crack the top half of the list. Sorry, Dauntless, it's the curse of being the mascot character. Too inoffensive to hate, too milquetoast to love. Speaking of Rock'Em-Sock'Em, that's a cross marketing opportunity if I've ever seen one. Someone should get on that Kickstarter fast. Talos Talos is the big dumb grappler character of Rising Thunder and he knows it. He's got a silly accent, a boisterous attitude, a dumb haircut, and incredibly overdone command grab specials; everything you need to make Zangief, the patron saint of grapplers, proud. Talos goes one step further by joining the ranks of some of my other favorite big dumb characters like Iron Tager and Lex Luthor by having an electromagnetic suction mechanic to pull opponents in close for that real soviet damage. Come here and give daddy a hug.  Also, his forward dash makes him pivot on his arms like a gorilla. Perfection. Vlad I can't tell if Vlad is going to be the Dan of Rising Thunder, or the Akuma. All I know is that he's going to be a fan favorite and I'm no exception. He's so damn cute and silly that I almost don't want to love him, but I do, I do. How could I not? He's like if the Iron Giant had a goofy Russian step-brother. While all the other fighters of Rising Thunder are cutting-edge robots ripped from futuristic anime series and discarded Jagger design documents, Vlad is like a tin robot stumbling out of the 1950s, with all the adorable goofiness and Cold War tension that implies. He's got a jetpack, a tiny flag antenna, and he windmills his arms and torso about like a madman. He even fires a tiny elbow rocket! Vlad has everything I'm looking for in a robot. But I suspect Vlad harbors a darker secret underneath all that silly charm. Inside that metal chest beats the heart of a real terror, the kind of character everyone writes off as a joke until he shows up in a tournament one day and cleans house. It's that jetpack, and all the fly-canceling shenanigans it could allow. I bet we'll see someone break the game with it sooner or later, and then no one will be laughing anymore. Chel Chel makes the top of my list by virtue of sheer adorability. She's a little ball of energy with a whole lot of personality for a robot. A big plume of pink hair, a charming accent, and cute little rocket boosters on her hands for when she does a forward dash. Robot girls just want to have fun! In a weird coincidence, Chel is the one place where my dumb personal tier list happens to overlap with reality. As it stands in the alpha, Chel is one of, if not the, strongest character. Her keep-away fireballs and one-button uppercut lead to a simple, but brutally effective game plan that is easy to implement and difficult to work around. That Shoto archetype set the standard for a reason. Given how upset people seem to be at Chel right now, I'd expect to see some balance changes that will make her a little less of a cruise-control character. So I guess now is the time to scumbag it up and establish that character loyalty cred while sneakily enjoying a top-tier character. Rising Thunder is still in the earliest of early days, so any talk of actual tier lists is super dumb and I'm sure everything will change twenty times before the game is launched for real. There are still characters to be revealed, mechanics to iron out, and decisions to be made. As it stands though, Rising Thunder is remarkably fun to play, even if it represents a dramatic shift from traditional fighting game models. Has anyone else been playing the alpha or watching some streams of it? Picked out a favorite already or have a particularly despised foe? I'd be interested to hear what other people think of the game so far!
Rising Thunder tier list photo
From rust bucket to top-bot
Rising Thunder is an experiment I'm not quite sure about yet. On one hand, it seems to be custom made for me: an aging fighting game fan with a well-documented obsession with robots and a pair of cinder-block mittens for hand...

Neverwinter: Strongholds might get me back into the game

Jul 31 // Joe Parlock
Building your Stronghold [embed]296961:59747:0[/embed] With the goal of providing “interesting and meaningful experiences to guilds”, the process of creating and upgrading your guild’s stronghold is at the heart of the expansion. All buildable structures and upgrades are ultimately decided by the leaders of the guild, but those goals are worked towards by every member through the “Coffers” system. Coffers are the total resources available to a guild to help build up their stronghold, and they’re separated into three categories: materials, which are found in the lands surrounding your stronghold such as lumber; treasures, which are earned by playing through the campaign zones of the wider game such as the Dread Ring campaign; and stockpiles, the normal loot, gold, and astral diamonds players earn throughout the game. Finding these resources ensures creating a good stronghold for your guild isn’t just a case of the leaders fiddling with the UI; every member of the guild would have a role to play, be it collecting resources or planning out where structures will go.  Once there are enough resources to build a new structure in the stronghold, or to upgrade an already existing one, the guild leaders can then start the work of upgrading, while also setting the next goal for the guild to work towards. However, the amount of upgrades you can apply to a structure depends on the overall level of the guild’s keep. While structures have a maximum level of 10, the keep can grow up to level 20. However, structures can’t out-level the keep, so sometimes an effort must be made to upgrade the keep rather than simply rushing for all the new and shiny buildings. As players donate these hard-earned resources to their guild’s coffers, they are awarded guild marks with which they can buy new gear and items for themselves at the marketplace. It’s a way of incentivising altruism among the guild, and is one of the few times in the game players can make decisions for themselves that aren’t directly linked to the decisions of their wider guild. Another way the guild must coordinate in building their stronghold is in the new added boons. Boons are passive bonuses granted to players, and in Strongholds, structures can be built to grant the entire guild specific types of boons. There are currently four categories: offense, defense, utility, and Player vs. Player (PvP). The catch is not every type of boon would available for a guild at the same time, as there are only a limited number of boon structures that can be made. This requires decisions to be made about how players within the guild will be buffed. An example given would be a raiding guild may put more emphasis into PvP or offensive boons to increase their power. The boons in each category would be optional for each individual player, however what type of boon is available is up to the guild. It’s a neat mechanic, as now other players who you’d regularly play with have an active impact on how your character works, and how these buffs influence your character may well change in the future. Should the guild decide to change an offensive boon structure to a defensive one, the boons you previously had would no longer apply. It’s interesting, however I could also see it causing some conflict within guilds. The area given to a guild to build its stronghold on is the biggest zone Neverwinter has ever seen: it is three times bigger than the biggest previous one. The zone is split into multiple, smaller themed areas, each with their own enemies and quests. For example, there may be faetouched areas, or there may be areas that are more desolate, and different enemies may be encountered in each one. It’s nice to see some variance in the zone, as Neverwinter does have a problem of each zone being its own themed thing that gets boring sometimes: the snowy zone, the desert zone, or the city zone and nothing but that. Some areas will be sealed off and hidden until the stronghold has been built up and expanded on, but what’s interesting is that the future of the zone isn’t entirely known even to Perfect World yet. The strongholds system is planned to be expanded upon over the course of at least the next two expansions: Strongholds and a currently unannounced expansion after that. According to them, being “done” with building a stronghold simply isn’t possible, as new structures and boons will be made available in future updates.  While there is a storyline planned out for Strongholds and the expansion after that, the specifics of what sort of boons and structures will be included in them are apparently down to player feedback and community suggestions. New Player vs. Environment Content Building up a guild’s stronghold isn’t the only new addition to Neverwinter. Alongside it comes a new range of player vs. environment content, much like in the previous expansions before it. However, a lot of this will still directly help your stronghold grow. Firstly, the act of actually acquiring your guild’s new keep will be part of a quest line that changes as the stronghold grows. At first, your guild and a travelling band of Orcs will both arrive at the same time, causing there to be multiple skirmishes and missions available. Finding guards, protecting farms, and driving off Orcs to ensure that your keep is safe in the early days. As the keep levels up, new enemies will start to appear in the zone. For example, the second phase of the zone involves mercenaries appearing to try and steal the keep from you, giving you multiple quests involving dealing with them. The zone’s campaign appears to play out in much the same way as previous campaign zones such as the Dread Ring have, however there is also the added dimension of it being dependent on your keep’s level. Of course, there will also be a series of daily quests available from your stronghold’s steward too, and they will also help guide players to the next of their campaign quests. Greed of the Dragonflight That’s all pretty standard expansion stuff: more of what Neverwinter players will be used to. What’s particularly interesting is the major new boss fight that occurs in the Strongholds zone. Dubbed Greed of the Dragonflight, the boss is designed to be played by guilds of 40 or more players who must coordinate and plan out how to take down four powerful dragons simultaneously across the map. If one dragon is killed, the other three will flee shortly afterwards, requiring guilds to figure out which players are best suited to take on each dragon, and make sure all four of them die at the same time. Doing so will net the guild huge rewards, some of the most powerful items in the game, according to Perfect World. However, failure to nab all for dragons doesn’t mean nothing was gained. Due to some guilds not having enough players to take down all four dragons, there is a sliding scale of what rewards are given. The more dragons the guild can kill, the better the loot given. What I saw of this event reminded me of my favourite bit of Neverwinter: the timed boss events. Instances are great, questing is fun, but seeing the alert to head to an area of the map to slay as big-as-hell lizard was always really cool to me. It’s involving, it’s hectic, and it looks as though adding in the extra element of needing to size up who takes on which dragon will make it all the more satisfying when the guild succeeds. The difference between normal timed events and Greed of the Dragonflight is that it isn’t only a timed event. Due to a large amount of player requests, Perfect World is allowing guilds to trigger the event manually whenever they like, and so it could become a pretty big part of guild social life somewhere down the line. A New PvP mode inspired by MOBAs Player vs. Player in Neverwinter has been the centre of Perfect World’s attention for a while now: originally offering a fairly basic 5v5 arena mode, an open-world PvP was later added in Icewind Dale, and of course Strongholds will be adding even more for those who like stomping other players. The PvP added to Strongholds is a 20v20 Guild vs. Guild mode, which when I first heard about it reminded me a lot of Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World feature. However, it appears as though the new mode is being more inspired by the likes of Dota and League of Legends. This isn’t a compulsory feature, guilds must queue up to enter the mode. Once in the game, guilds will find their strongholds and surrounding lands “glued together”, with a river separating the two. The MOBA inspiration comes on the emphasis of controlling the various lanes between the two strongholds, while pushing forward and sieging the enemy guild. Perfect World has also catered to smaller guilds that might not have 20 players online at a time. When in queueing, if a guild has enough players to spare, they will be transferred temporarily to the other guild and fight for them instead. It’s a nice way of evening the playing field, but it will also be interesting to see where their alliances lie once the match is underway. It’s worth noting I didn’t get to actually see any PvP in action, due to the problems setting up a game with 40 players just to show me it would’ve caused. As such, all of this is only how it was described to me by Overmyer. Final Thoughts As previously mentioned, I’ve got a fair amount of experience with Neverwinter, however the lack of something to keep me interested once I’d finished the story quests meant I dropped out of the game soon after. Guilds have always been something in MMOs I’ve had an interest in, but never found the right match – I always ended up in quiet, inactive guilds where nothing ever happened. Strongholds looks like it wants to solve both of my problems, while giving me more of the solo content that got me into the game at first. I’m somewhat concerned that finding decent guilds might still be tricky, but maybe the new toys guilds can play with will convince people to give running guilds a go. PvP has never been a big interest of mine. I got into Rift’s quite a bit, but still eventually found myself going back to questing. Neverwinter in particular has been quite notorious for equipment you can buy in the store being perceived to be more powerful than stuff you can earn in-game, which always put me off PvP. However, if it’s true that the rewards from Greed of the Dragonflight are some of the strongest in the game, it could go a way to fix that problem. Overall, I’m excited. I’m definitely going to be going back into it just to see how all of these new mechanics change how people interact within guilds, if at all. Plus Dragonflight is a condensed version of everything I like about Neverwinter, which is great. Neverwinter: Strongholds will be released on August 11 as the next free expansion on PC. Neverwinter is free-to-play on both Xbox One and PC.
Neverwinter: Strongholds photo
An in-depth look at all the new stuff
On August 11, Perfect World will be releasing the latest expansion to their Dungeons & Dragons-based MMO Neverwinter, Strongholds. With its action-based combat, fantastic locations, and relatively simple mechanics, N...

Superhero games Rocksteady should be making

Jul 25 // Nic Rowen
The Punisher Look, I love the Arkham games, really. But after four games of playing the part of the morally upright caped crusader, fighting the same damn villains over and over again because he refuses to cross the line and put a permanent end to Gotham's insane clown problems, I'm ready for a more practical superhero experience. A hero who sees a problem and deals with it. Maybe it's me, maybe I just grew up with too many '80s action movies and I see every problem as something that can be solved with an UZI and a handful of hollow points, and I know deep down that isn't true. But, it is a worldview Frank Castle would certainly agree with. I would love to see a big budget game finally do right by everyone's favorite PTSD-stricken vigilante. The Punisher has had a mixed history with games, ranging from a fondly remembered but completely standard beat-em-up in the early '90s, a bizarrely violent PS2 outing that felt like the The Punisher as directed by Eli Roth, and his last showing was a completely dismal PS3 downloadable title. The greatest crime to go unpunished in that case was inflicted on the fans. Frank needs a win, and the Rocksteady team could pull it off. Picture a slice of New York City rendered as impressively as Gotham was in Arkham Knight. Not some sprawling open world nightmare where 90% of the budget gets blown on world assets, but enough room to let Frank move around and explore, a hunting ground to stalk and shank his way through the criminal underworld. Give him a list of targets and goals that force him to move around the city, digging up his own leads and carving his own path through the local vermin. Force players to think about their actions and plan their attack carefully, always mindful of potential innocents that could be caught in the crossfire and escape routes to take in case the cops show up early. Borrow from Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system and let Frank bully and threaten around lower level bosses and snitches to build a stepladder of bullet-riddled mobster corpses up the food chain. And please, don't skimp on the guns. This is THE PUNISHER we're talking about here, he doesn't have any super powers to reveal or fuss over. All he has is grit, every edition of Jane's Directory of Small Arms ever written, and a creepy warehouse full of meticulously maintained weapons to obsess over -- so pay them the proper due. I want to see armament so overly-detailed and described it would make Solid Snake blush. I want gun worship so intense that it makes the Counter-Strike custom model scene look casual. I want glorious matte-black and nickle-plated idols, not items. Hrum. Maybe reading all of those issues of The Punisher Armory when I was a kid had a lasting effect after all. Zatanna Zatanna would make a dope video game protagonist. Look, I know it may seem hypocritical just after opining about the idea of a Punisher game, but there is something to be said about getting away from the typical brooding, depressive, vengeance-obsessed dude protagonists of the comic book world and doing something a little different. The mystical world and glitzy stages Zatanna trades in isn't just a step in another direction, it's a leap into an entirely different dimension. Most superheros come from some kind of pseudo-scientific background. Amazing abilities thanks to a solar-powered alien physiology, a robotic suit of goodies powered by an artificial heart/fusion generator, a kid gets bitten by a radioactive honey badger and gains all the proportional rabies and hatred of a man-sized honey badger, and so on. They may be implausible, silly, and ridiculous, but they all come from some semi-believable point in reality. Zatanna is having none of that. Zatanna is capital M Magic. No science, no excuses, just real deal “as I speak I create” world bending, wizards and warlocks stuff. When Zatanna's will and the hard solid wall of reality collide, it's reality that bends, buckles, and inevitably breaks. She lives in the DC universe, filled as it is with its infinite supply of nameless muggers, tacky C-list theme villains, and alien tyrants, and sure she deals with them like any other upstanding member of the JLA. But she also has one foot in a much stranger world, a shadow realm of ghosts, astral projections, and scheming devils, the kind of threat that the Elongated Man or any of the other rank and file heroes aren't likely to deal with anytime soon. She rubs shoulders with weirdos like John Constantine and the Sandman. Her rogues gallery includes the biblical Cain, infamous brother-slayer and lord of vampires. Oh, and in her “downtime” she stars in her very own internationally famous magic show, impressing sold-out crowds with unbelievable displays of sleight-of-hand tricks and impossible escape artistry (no cheating). C'mon, there has to be an interesting game just waiting to be made with all of that. I would love to see a title that embraces all the craziness of Zatanna's character, how different and unique she is compared to the rest of the DC line-up. I want to bust thugs and necromancers on the same night and still make it to the stage when the lights go up.  Lex Luthor Everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story, even a madman like Lex Luthor. Sure, he may be singularly obsessed with ridding the planet of its greatest defender (without whom everyone in the DC universe would almost certainly be dead by one cataclysm or another) for often vague and seemingly irrational reasons, but they're his reasons. They make sense to him. In his mind everything he's done to force the alien off his planet, no matter how despicable, has been in the service of a greater good, as illustrated beautifully in Brian Azzarello's magnificent Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. I want to play as that version of Lex, the last sane man who sees what a threat Superman is to the human spirit, the man who is forced to play the part of the villain to attain a greater goal. And who says Rocksteady has to work on another third person action game? There is a ton of talent up in that studio, and while I'm sure they're incredibly proud of everything they've accomplished with the Arkham series, they've been at it for more than half a decade. I'm sure they'd appreciate a change of pace. So how about an evil management sim? A game where you play as the bald genius presiding over Lexcorp, trying to figure out how to smuggle parts of your doomsday laser into orbit. Maybe if you win the contract to to build the next international space station you be able to send up a few extra rockets without tipping your hand (not to mention, the proceeds could be used to fund the sentient virus a deniable subsidiary in Istanbul is working on). Or how to quash the hazardous material team's recent attempt to unionize without attracting any eyes on the mechanized centipede project. Of course, all that will have to wait until you deal with the PR nightmare of a dead superhero with suspicious laser burns turning up on your property, again. Call it a breather between projects. There will always be another big budget action game with another big chinned boy scout to make. Rocksteady could recharge the batteries and stretch its creative muscles with something different, something sinister. Ghostrider Ghostrider is stupid. I mean, look at him. He's the ghostly reincarnation of a stunt driver who haunts the streets with his hellfire-powered motorbike, flaming skull, and “penance stare.” He's the most '90s thing to ever happen (even though he was created in the '70s) and HOLY SHIT, COULD YOU ASK FOR A BETTER BASIS FOR A VIDEO GAME!? What kind of world do we live in that the “best” representation of Ghostrider in a video game was as a character in Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3? How do you squander such a sublimely stupid concept with a tepid PS2-era game and a few cameos in dreck like Maximum Carnage? No, this won't do. Rocksteady has a mandate, a new mission: Go forth and make the biggest, dumbest, raddest, motorcycle-riding-ghost-vigilante game possible. In fact, screw it. I don't even want Rocksteady to do it. It'd probably do a good job of it; it's got the chops to sculpt a decent game out of any source material. It's not the studio's talent I doubt, but its taste. I bet it'd take Ghostrider a little too seriously, try to do too good a job establishing him as a real character with believable motivations and villains to fight. The developer wouldn't mine that rich core of ridiculousness that lies at the heart of Ghostrider for all its worth. This is a job for Platinum. We need that Metal Gear Rising treatment of the source material, the kind of self-aware winking charm of a Bayonetta, the breakneck pace and visual assault of a Vanquish. We need the fastest, prettiest, and dumbest Ghostrider we can get. Anything less would be a waste.
Superhero games photo
Who needs a Superman?
Rocksteady has accomplished some amazing feats with the Arkham series. It's the first series of games to finally nail the feeling of being the Dark Knight, it perfected the combat system to a point where “Arkham-style f...

Video game movies to watch this weekend instead of Pixels

Jul 23 // Jed Whitaker
Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban) [embed]296492:59644:0[/embed] Whether or not you're a fan of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games, the movie based on the series is pretty decent. All the characters look and act like their game counterparts and even with the subtitles the movie still nails the games' humor. Sadly the film has never officially been released for sale in the US, but if you have a way to watch it I highly recommend it. Sweet Home [embed]296492:59645:0[/embed] Sweet Home had a Famicom game by the same name, which Resident Evil was planned as a spiritual sequel to. It might not be the best horror film but it is certainly worth a watch. Those who go in thinking the movie will be a Resident Evil movie will be disappointed, as this is more a haunted mansion story than a zombie story. The Sweet Home game influenced a lot of survival horror games and could be painted as the original survival horror game. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters [embed]296492:59646:0[/embed] This documentary follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to take the world record high score in Donkey Kong from (at the time) current champion Billy Mitchell. While that alone may not sound exciting, the real life characters in the movie make it something special. The film plays more like a drama than a documentary, so much in fact that a scripted film adaptation has been said to be in the works. The documentary was also parodied in a South Park episode where Randy Marsh attempts to take a larger shit than U2 frontman Bono Vox. It's one of my favorite movies ever and highly recommended. Dead Rising: Watchtower [embed]296492:59647:0[/embed] When the free-to-watch Dead Rising: Watchtower was announced I wasn't too excited, and upon release I went into it with low expectations. Turns out it is a rather competent zombie film and has enough fan service to make Dead Rising fans happy. Frank West may not be the lead character but he makes many appearances throughout the film as part of a news program, dickish charm intact.  Animal Crossing (Dōbutsu no Mori) [embed]296492:59648:0[/embed] Does anime count? Well I'm saying it does and you should watch the Animal Crossing anime film that was released in Japanese theaters. The anime follows the same plot as the games; a new girl moves to town, is an indentured servant to Tom Nook, and befriends and helps the other animals in town. Animal Crossing's anime adaptation was never officially released outside of Japan but a fan dubbed version is out there somewhere. The Lawnmower Man [embed]296492:59649:0[/embed] What list of video game-related movies would be complete without The Lawnmower Man, a movie that is more relevant now than when it came out as it deals with virtual reality headsets. A dumb dumb lawnmower man in town is approached by a scientist to be his human guinea pig in an experiment using drugs and a VR headset, and this somehow turns him into a genius with magical powers... I remember watching the movie when it came out and being amazed at the cutting edge special effects, though today they look extremely dated. Strangely enough the effects were made by Angel Studios, which later became Rockstar San Diego and went on to make Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and Grand Theft Auto V.  Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World [embed]296492:59651:0[/embed] Whether or not you've read the graphic novel series you should give the Michael Cera-led Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a shot, as it may be the best video game movie out there. The film is basically oozing with references to video games from band names, to Zelda music, to epic fight scenes that would feel at home in any beat 'em up. Speaking of which, if you haven't already, give the game a try because it is just as good as the film and plays very similarly to one of the greatest beat 'em ups of all time, River City Ransom. -- These are some of the best video game-related movies I've seen and surprisingly I don't see them getting the credit they deserve. Also don't let me stop you from watching Pixels, by all means tell Hollywood you want more garbage Adam Sandler films if you so wish. I know I'll probably be watching Pixels sometime this weekend because clearly I'm a masochist, and I'm part of the problem. 
#StopSandler photo
Think of the children
This week the critically lampooned Pixels movie opens in theaters nationwide in the United States, and if you'd rather spend your time and money on movies that don't blow consider these other video game-related films. Don't worry though, this list won't just be the movies you've all seen before, because I'm so much cooler than that.

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill 2

Jul 18 // Stephen Turner
Silent Hill 2 was always more of a character study than any other game in the series. Whereas Silent Hill used its cast to drive the story forward, the sequel firmly kept its protagonist in focus. The world literally revolves around him, from location to creatures; a deconstruction of a seemingly infallible man. His quest is examined through existential conversation and perspectives, as Team Silent (or at least this iteration) comments on survival horror heroics and the audience’s passive tendencies towards empathy. At its core, Silent Hill 2 is about two adults dealing with loneliness and compromise. James is unable to move on from his dead wife as her sexualised doppelganger, Maria, adjusts to his ideals. You might not think it, but their companionship takes many of its cues from film noir. The broken man struggles with the femme fatale; a fate that can only end in destruction. For all its surrealist theatrics, one of Silent Hill 2’s most memorable scenes happens to be the sparsest. It’s a brilliant example of visual storytelling in a video game as Maria tells an uneasy story under a single light bulb and between bars. A schizophrenia plays out under washed features and fluid shadows. The duality on both sides of the room suggests two prisoners, not one. Without revealing too much, you completely understand the characters without being told what to think. [embed]296234:59589:0[/embed] Perceptions are constantly challenged in James Sunderland’s new world. The town draws in an eclectic cast of runaways, each with their own conflicted reasons for being there. And it’s through them that our protagonist is slowly shaded in and exposed, along with our own participating flaws. The brattish Laura recalls the parental fears of Silent Hill, but also provides a catalyst for Maria’s maternal instincts. Eddie Dombrowski, all sloven and immature, highlights our own dismissive stance towards imperfection. And then there’s Angela Orosco; a layered subject of meta-commentary and character complexity. Just because we save her from the Abstract Daddy, it doesn’t mean we’ve saved her from years of sexual abuse or the murder that finally breaks it. The best we can achieve is an understanding of her desperation and hopefully find genuine sympathy for her self-judgemental inabilities. For Angela, The Otherworld is a Biblical hell, quite unlike the world seen from James' perspective. The Otherworld is no longer the industrial nightmare of before. Gone are the obvious sirens, the collapsing machinery, and the reflections of a childlike mind. Now it’s just damp, moldy, and earthy, full of soil browns, fleshy whites, and dank greens. Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack deals in regretful synths and piano-led sorrows instead of blaring cacophonies as James pieces the world together. Instead of schools and fairgrounds, we find apartments and date nights; the little reminders of domestic life. Rather than being the outsider looking in, James is confronted by his own subconscious. Repressed images become disturbing manifestations of the self. They scream with distorted female voices and click their heels in the dark. The Pyramid Head – now a defanged mascot of the series – is this relentless, mysterious force, a puzzle that can only be solved at a distance. It’s as much as an embodiment of The Otherworld as it is James’ dark half. Silent Hill 2 is a flawed game by today’s standards; sharing the rough gameplay of its predecessor and the Japanese attempts at Americanised dialogue. But that does not make its success overrated. It’s like that one landmark album that influences a hundred more, each one a little more refined than the last. What Team Silent did, or whoever you deem this development team to be, was to introduce audiences to the idea of cinematic codes and keys. They highlighted the need for more complexity in our characters, to show relatable ideas in unfamiliar ways. Silent Hill 2 is a milestone in video game narrative. Sure, maybe not in dialogue, but in the mise-en-scène of every location, every dress code, and every creature. It’s a game that says a lot without actually saying much at all. That opening 20 minute walk into town was everything you need to know about Silent Hill 2’s intentions. At times you were apprehensive, reluctant, lost in the unknown. But you kept going because you had to know how it all ended. You were James Sunderland without even realising it.
Silent Hill 2 photo
In our special place...
It started with a worried look in mirror dimly lit. For Silent Hill 2, this was a statement of intent; a progression in not only hardware, but also in narrative. Out went the B-movie horror about gods and the occult, and in i...

This Japanese FPS just misses its mark

Jul 04 // Kyle MacGregor
The Legend of Alfur isn't particularly good, but I was more than willing to overlook its rough edges, at least at first. The experience pulled me in from the get-go. It begins when our protagonists, a lass named Shalnawaz and her brother Leon, are taken captive by soldiers from a neighboring kingdom. And to make matters worse, the men openly plan to sell the siblings into slavery.  Things quickly take an unexpected turn, though. One of the soldiers kills his commanding officer, then frames the siblings for the murder, forcing them to escape and fend off their pursuers. It's just a pity that the actual game doesn't back up the intrigue of the premise. Despite being a few years old now (and being created by a small team on a limited budget), this thing was dated when it launched. It isn't pretty. At all. But its graphical shortcomings pale in comparison with the gameplay. [embed]295318:59341:0[/embed] While engaging in shootouts, I often found my character clipping through objects and getting caught on scenery. Hiding behind cover isn't always effective, as enemy fire can travel through boulders, hillsides, and trees. And firing back is just as troublesome, thanks to some truly awful iron sights.  Still with me? Despite those many issues, I still somehow managed to glean a bit of enjoyment out of The Legend of Alfur. It is by no means great (or the best use of $10), but the sheer novelty of an anime-style first-person shooter cannot be denied. It's something I'd honestly like to see more of. If you'd like to see more Doujin Dojo, check back with Destructoid every weekend for more (hopefully positive) coverage of Japanese indie games and the people that make and localize them. Want us to report on something in particular? Hit me up ([email protected]) and stay tuned!
Doujin Dojo photo
Alfur isn't so legendary
Welcome to Doujin Dojo, a new column dedicated to the Japanese indie scene. Maybe I should have started this out by gushing about Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale or Astebreed (which is now available on PS4, by the way). Or mus...

Review: Super Star Path

Jun 29 // Jed Whitaker
Super Star Path (PC)Developer: DYA Games Publisher: DYA GamesMSRP: $2.99Released: June 22, 2015 Flying through tons of enemies to get to a boss at the end of a level is nothing new, but how Super Star Path makes you get there is unique. Enemies approach from the top of the screen and are mostly static aside from some small animations. Shooting them causes them to blow up, taking any adjacent enemies of the same color with them. The final enemies to explode in a chain will cause nearby enemies of different colors to crystallize which then can't be cleared from the screen.  After navigating through the maze-like wave of enemies on every level, a boss will appear. Boss battles play similarly to what you'd expect see in a bullet hell shooter; tons of bullets covering the screen with a boss that requires a lot of shots. Luckily the difficulty of a bullet hell boss can be curbed by purchasing upgradeable ships. After normal enemies are destroyed, they leave behind crystals that are used as currency to buy one of the 10 ships. Each ship has some kind of added benefit -- like being immune to certain attacks or increasing the value of crystals -- and stats that can be upgraded. During each stage, three special enemies appear that, when killed, drop upgrade points; one for speed, health, and damage. These upgrades can then be applied to each specific ship to power them up. Upgrading health allows ships to take up to five hits before exploding and is really necessary for some of the later boss fights, unless you're a veteran bullet hell player. Each level has its own unique twist. Some levels have added enemies flying at you, while others have mines that explode when you get too close or lasers that shoot in straight lines, clearing anything in their way. Figuring out which ship to use for each level feels almost Mega Man-like, as each stage's hazards have a ship that is immune to them. Every level also has three black bat enemies that drop green emeralds that are required for completing the game; thankfully, you can play levels over until you come across them without much trouble. While blasting through each 16-bit-esque level, an awesome soundtrack plays and the main character makes quips about what is happening around him. Something these quips include swearing, which may be off-putting to some, but they are far and few between. Nothing you wouldn't see on Dtoid every day. If anything, the swears add some flavor and character to the game, something most space shooters are lacking.  Super Star Path nails the mixing of space shooter, roguelike, and puzzle genres in a way I didn't even know I wanted. Sadly, the whole experience is over within an hour. But at a measly three dollars, I find it hard to complain -- though it did leave me wanting more. If that's the only complaint I had with the game, it is easily recommendable. I just hope we get to see more space shooter puzzlers in the future! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Super Star Path review photo
Space puzzles, the final frontier
Space shooters used to be popular. Back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, everyone knew Gradius and R-Type, amongst others. These days they are few and far between, at least quality ones. Sure Steam is flooded with them...

Goodnight sweet Knight photo
It looks like Warner Bros. is doing the right thing and pulling Batman: Arkham Knight from Steam. The publisher released the following statement on the game's Steam community: Dear Batman: Arkham Knight PC owners, ...

Steam Summer Sale, an embarrassment of riches

Jun 24 // Nic Rowen
Wolfenstein: The New Order Embarrassment factor: A Neville Chamberlain ass-tattoo From the moment I first laid eyes on Wolfenstein: The New Order I thought “that looks like a great game!” followed almost immediately with a second thought “I'll wait for a Steam Sale.” And so it was. Yes, I know, I'm the kind of scumbag that disincentivizes publishers from backing games like Wolfenstein, and I feel bad about that, really. But I know in my heart of hearts that between work and every other game tugging at my arm, I will probably never find the time to run through a single player shooter, no matter how much fun the nazi-murder spree looks. At least it's there for me now if I ever re-watch Jin-Roh and feel compelled to dump a belt-fed machine gun into a human wall of Wehrmacht. Long Live the Queen Embarrassment factor: Mortified monocle dropping Look, sometimes I buy games because I think they might be fun to play with my girlfriend. Stop judging me. Also, the trailer was cute, and it was $2.00, and sometimes I like nice things, and you're going to stop judging me right now or I will cut off your head and parade it around court on the end of a pike. Iron Brigade Embarrassment factor: Serving with pride I don't think I need to make excuses for wanting to ride atop a glorious mobile trench/mecha, obliterate endless waves of lethal cathode ray enemies with ridiculously oversized cannons, and sport a splendid hat while doing so. If you don't understand the self-evident joy of such things, we're just never going to see eye-to-eye. Sunless Sea Embarrassment factor: Muttering about mutiny Sunless Sea looks like Darkest Dungeon, but on the water, so it's bound to be a delightful time. The embarrassment factor isn't too high here because I'm sure I'll get some play out of this one and I love to support indie devs like Failbetter Games. Besides, any game recommended by our very own Ben Davis has to be worth a look. Borderlands 2: GOTY Embarrassment factor: C:/My Documents/DankMemes Ever hear of the sunk cost fallacy? Well this is it. I loved Borderlands 2, played through the main campaign with my brother, did a bunch of co-op and challenge stuff with Dtoid's StriderHoang, and bought the big dumb fancy DLC pack. Problem was, I did most of that playing during the first three weeks of the game's launch and never quite got back to all that expensive DLC. This is why you never buy the season pass folks. It's always loomed over me and I'd like to revisit those characters and see all that content I missed, but most of my 360 friends have moved on to other consoles and it's not like I'm going to solo another character through the game, that's not how I get down with Borderlands. But, the Steam sale gave me and my brother a chance to grab the game on the cheap on our PCs, so we can delude ourselves all over again that somehow we'll find 30 hours of mutually schedule-friendly time to plunder, raid, and explode all over Pandora again. Look forward to next year when I tell you all about how I picked up the Pre-Sequel Definitive Edition on the cheap and will toootally play through it.. Sometime. Westerado: Double Barreled Embarrassment factor: I aim to misbehave No embarrassment here. Everything I hear about Westerado makes it sound like a hell of a game. Rustlin' cattle, solving mysteries, and laying down the law by whipping out a gun mid-dialog scene, these are all things I can stare at over the horizon and give a knowing nod. Gravity Ghost Embarrassment factor: WHEEEEEE! Mea culpa. I did not do the research before I bought this game and I just assumed that you played as the deer wearing socks that you always see in the screenshots. 100% of my purchasing thought process was based on loving the idea of a deer wearing socks. Sadly, you do not play as a deer wearing socks. On the plus side, it's a beautiful, charming, and magical experience and all that... Sigh, I really wanted to play as a deer wearing socks. The Fall Embarrassment factor: File not found The only embarrassment here is that I didn't pick up The Fall sooner. Seriously, this is a gorgeous indie game about a possibly malfunctioning robot-suit trying to save his unconscious pilot while stranded on a planet populated by insane drones and fascist super-computers. Just saying that last sentence out loud activates my saliva glands. Payday 2 DLC: Clover Character pack, Alesso Heist, and the Butcher's BBQ pack Embarrassment factor: A poster of Waingro in the family room I picked up Payday 2 during last summer's Steam Sale and it was a gift that kept on giving. Surprisingly fun co-op heisting with months of content patches and bug fixes behind it, and I picked it up for a song. I ended up playing it for months before my attention drifted and I don't think I ever spent more than $15 or $20 on it all told. With that in mind, even though I'm living on the straight and narrow now, I thought it might be a good idea to pick up some of the cooler looking DLC bits I've missed just in case the bastards ever pull me back in. See, smooth over the truth enough and you can justify something as dumb as buying DLC for a game you don't even have installed any more. That's the kind of moral flexibility the Payday crew can respect. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Embarrassment factor: Listening to “Love Deterrence” by Paz Oretga on loop It's Metal Gear for like $5.00, how could I not? I know, buying Ground Zeroes is essentially paying for the privilege to play a demo of The Phantom Pain (which is not too far away from coming out itself now), but you know what? The demo from Metal Gear Solid back on the PS1 was dope as hell and I ended up playing it over and over again FOR HOURS. That demo was basically a loading dock and the front yard of Shadow Moses, so imagine the kind of fun I can wring out of an entire military base. Again, I miss demo discs. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Embarrassment factor: Mistaking a shadow for a ghost and making a little yelping noise The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks like a positively beautiful mystery/horror game that will sit in my Steam backlog with pride. I'll be glad it's there, and think of playing it often. “Maybe around Halloween” I'll say. But then the month will come and some big name title will drop hoping to get a jump on the November rush, or Team Fortress 2 will do some adorable ghost themed event and I'll end up plugging hours into an eight year old game again, and poor Ethan Carter will be forgotten. Left to haunt my backlog forever. More like The Vanishing of my Free Time, am I right? Wait, no, that doesn't make much sense. I'll show myself out. Alien: Isolation Embarrassment factor: Closing your eyes in the theater and hoping no one notices Oh man, I hope I don't lose this one to the backlog, because so far it's pretty great. Alien: Isolation is one of those games I was really interested in at launch, but just couldn't bring myself to cough up $60 for it. Now that I've had a chance to play it, I'd say it probably would have been worth the full sticker price (but I'm much happier paying the $10 or so it ended up costing me). The best part of the game so far has just been noodling around the station, checking out all the little touches and messing with the retro-future computers and technology. It's a lot like Gone Home, only instead of being “a little spooky” it's a full-on assault on the nerves that ratchets up the tension until finally skewering you on the end of a Xenomorph's spiked tail. I'm still holding out hope that Amanda will just find some nice girl to elope with and get out of the station. Marine Sharpshooter 2 Embarrassment factor: Marine Sharpshooter 2 I didn't buy this one. A friend “gifted” me a copy, and oh what a gift. Marine Sharpshooter 2 apparently came out in 2004, but after five minutes in it's muddy, jagged jungles, you'll swear it was 1999 all over again. With what I would describe as a “generous” Metacritic score of 52, it doesn't have many upsides. So of course I immediately installed it instead of any of the other many fine games I spent actual money on. In the clinical world, this is what they call “self hate.”
Steam Sale haul photo
We all have our vices
I still firmly believe that one of the greatest upsides of being a PC gamer are the twice annual fire-sales hosted by Steam. Those sales, alongside the multitude of other deals and bargains that can be scooped up from Humble ...

Review: Kholat

Jun 09 // Jed Whitaker
Kholat (PC)Developer: IMGN.PRO Publisher: IMGN.PRO MSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 9, 2015 Picture this: You're famous Hollywood actor Sean Bean and you're investigating the deaths of nine hikers while stumbling around Russian mountains and collecting letters and pages from their journals. Now picture that as a game and you have Kholat. It would be easy to write this off as another Slender clone, as part of the formula is the same: you walk around finding pages, while occasionally having a run in with a shadowy figure. What sets Kholat apart is that the ghostly figure isn't constantly chasing you, and every page discovered delivers another piece of the story, be it via text or top-notch voice acting. Kholat plays out in three acts, of which the second is the main meat of the game. Act Two takes place in the snowy mountains where the hikers met their demise. You've got a map with key locations listed in longitude and latitude, a compass, and a flashlight. The goal is to visit each of the nine marked locations to discover key pages to give insight on what exactly happened to the hikers. While finding the nine main locations is the overall goal, many other pages can be found throughout the mountains that provide tidbits of information into what happened there. The game saves each time a new page is found, which gives some incentives to find them other than just experiencing the story, as you may find yourself dying often. Gaseous orange shadows will show up in certain areas of the mountains mostly requiring stealthy movement to avoid, though at times running is the only option. Scripted events occur where orange clouds start to close in around you, and a nearby page must be found before the monsters within can take your life, though these are few and far between. If you're like me, you're going to get lost a lot. Turns out when everything is covered in snow, it looks very similar, but at least Kholat is easy on the eyes. There are some varying locations, from caves, to a charred forest, to a giant spooky tree, to a throne of bones. Each one is a unique and memorable set piece where something important is to be discovered. The scariest part of Kholat isn't the monsters that lurk in the dark, but the feeling of anxiety and urgency brought on by it capturing the feeling of being lost in the wilderness. Each location is coupled with realistic ambiance and weather that when combined with the equally realistic graphics really nails the feeling of being lost on a mountain in solitude. At one point I considered muting the game to give myself a break from the dread coming over me, but I pushed on. The voice-acted pieces of the story are very believable and chilling. While some pages you'll find just read like generic journal entries, others are downright horrifying thanks to a well written and acted script. There are various people writing the pages, providing different perspectives on what happened on the mountain over time. Unlike many games with collectible journals, I find these actually worth seeking out. Little to no directions are given to the player -- you're just dropped into the world and expected to figure things out on your own. It wasn't until my second play session that I realized the locations marked on the map were of importance. After figuring out proper use of the map and compass, it was easy to complete the game in just around four hours, which felt a bit light for the asking price of $20, considering most of your time will be spent looking at snowy rocks. Overall an enjoyable experience that has a fantastic presentation but just lacks much depth in gameplay. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Kholat Review photo
Sean Bean's Mystery Incorporated
Kholat is based on the Dyatlov Pass incident, which is arguably one of history's greatest mysteries; nine hikers go missing and are subsequently found dead in the snowy Russian mountains. The hikers had cut their wa...

Newstoid #3 photo
Get your tentacles ready!
We are back with another episode of Newstoid, your favorite video game news show. On this episode we discuss all things Fallout 4, dogs, and Splatoon takes over. I might be a bit biased, but I think this is our best episode ...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill

May 30 // Stephen Turner
Silent Hill was as much about crumbling economics as it was about night cries and picket fences. Much like Resident Evil’s Raccoon City, the dilapidated lakeside town was undone by greed. America losing its values to modernisation was a recurring theme in survival horror. It was a warning from those whom had lost their own traditions to capitalist growth, not that far removed from the J-Horror zeitgeist at the time. But more often than not, Silent Hill takes its inspiration from days gone by. Old Silent Hill's influences are worn on street names and ledgers, from Stephen King to Sonic Youth to Psycho. Even the intro pops to the sounds of vinyl, its theme song in equal parts Eastern tremolo and Western twang. These influences come together to create small-town America on the slide, full of “mom & pop” stores and tight-knit suburban mazes. But rather than a tourist, you’re a trespasser. Horror in all its forms has this element of invasion. Here, Harry Mason breaks into homes, schools, and hospitals, as he searches for his missing daughter. Though the overall plot ends up becoming more about the Otherworld, his parental fears are always at the forefront. Essentially, it's not Harry's story, but Alessa Gilesspie's. As the player, and as Mason, we're the outsiders looking in. Perception is the key to the story and scares. Memories are skewered to point where friendly faces are misjudged and emotional attachments lead to narrow-minded decisions. Harry falls through the layers of reality, like the waking waves of a bad dream, and sees the town for what it really is. The Otherworld is an abstract place, clearly a concept that reflects its tortured conduit. What could’ve possibly been a new paradise takes a horrific form because of Alessa's abuse and lack of care by her mother, Dahlia Gilesspie, and Dr. Michael Kaufmann. Later games would force the perspective onto the main protagonist, and at times would suffer for it, but few would capture that “traveller in a foreign land” feel of their predecessor. It's because of the Otherworld that Silent Hill is relentless and oppressive. It constantly toys with the audience, waiting to take shape, and gradually stripping away the safety nets. Harry is shown to be extremely vulnerable, early on. He stumbles off steps, puts out his hands as he crashes into walls, has to catch his breath, and is a terrible shot. Our first contact with the Otherworld ends in seemingly death. It’s a far cry from the shrug-it-off antics of S.T.A.R.S. or Edward Carnby P.I. Every attempt is made to obfuscate the audience, either by claustrophobic gaze, location, sounds, or virtual threat. Radio static is both friend and foe; warning us of monsters beyond the flashlight's reach and ramping up the tension just by letting us know that something's there. Ominous, hollow synths give way to industrial noise, punishing and overbearing. Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is comparatively brutal to his later work, the kind of unsettling cacophony that would give a pre-Grammy winner John Congleton nightmares. Even at its most calm in the Fog World, the music still sets your teeth on edge. And yet, by the final act, where reality is in actuality nothingness, Silent Hill does an amazing job of drawing sympathy out of horrific circumstances. To many, Lisa Garland is the human face of Silent Hill (both town and title), and our perception of her stems from Alessa’s own memories. She’s seen as this kind and selfless nurse that only wants to help, but as we delve deeper, endure and learn, we discover what lies beneath. The bright smile, the homely uniform, and her position of warmth and care, are all her “picket fences.” By the end, we find out Lisa was a drug addict, terrified of her only patient. Through Harry, she finds the strength to push onwards, only to realise her own fate was already set in stone. Truth shatters the façade, breaks down her body, and we’re confronted with yet another disturbing subject of horror. For Harry, it's too much and he runs away. But for once, instead of the oppressive percussion of Yamaoka’s themes, we’re treated to the melancholic Not Tomorrow. These were people, not monsters. [embed]292927:58733:0[/embed] In a time of hi-five heroics, Silent Hill offered no such compliments. The best ending closes on a bittersweet note. The town is still lost to the Otherworld, though probably not as powerful as it once was, and Harry doesn't quite get his daughter back. In a shot mirroring the intro, and with his cop friend, Cybil Bennett, standing in for his deceased wife, there's the nagging suspicion that for all we've done, it might just happen again. Sure, we saved a young girl's soul, but we didn't really win anything. Only lessons and traditions were learned. Maybe that was the point, considering the start of this article. As a game, the first and only PSX release has undoubtedly aged in the last 16 years. But much like the low-budget horror movies and low-fi recordings it emulated, Silent Hill overcame handicap through inventiveness. The Otherworld, the town, the storytelling, they were all informed by thinking outside the box. Everything we know about Silent Hill – every fan theory, every femme fatale characteristic, run-down aesthetic, social commentary, urban quest, childhood memory, occultist lore, and personal demon – stems from this very title. So it might be a little frayed around the edges, and certain conveyances are needlessly obscure, but for a mainstream horror game that was intended, quite cynically by Konami remember, to chase after that sweet Resident Evil success, it really was a very unique and artistic beast. It's still wonderful to think how something like that could be produced by such a small group of rag-tag developers, left alone to their own devices in a fairly corporate environment. Of course, though we had survived our first trip through the dark side of Americana, the world had been left open for more lost souls and more horrific layers to come…
Feature photo
What's going on with that radio?
Western horror, Eastern eyes. That was what made Silent Hill memorable for a generation. It was visceral and relentless, oppressive and paranoid, and underlined with a tragic tale that hadn’t been seen on the normally e...

My greatest gaming regret is never making it to one of those ridiculous BattleTech Centers

May 29 // Nic Rowen
While BattleTech Centers were a video game experience, I'd say they had more in common with a laser-tag joint than an arcade. It was a production; one part video game, one part fantasy. They'd sit you down inside an overly-complex facade of a mech cockpit they called a “battle pod,” complete with WWII bomber-style tail art and mock technical information plastered on the side. Inside were a dizzying array of peddles, throttles, joysticks, and an assortment of quasi-functional warning lights and buttons. The pod was totally enclosed, fully immersing the pilot in the fantasy of actually being in command of a giant war-machine. They'd give you a call sign, have you watch poorly acted in-universe tutorials of how the game worked (staring Jim Belushi of all people!) and print out “after action” military reports (scorecards) of your performance. Mechwarriors would play a networked multiplayer death match, piloting their giant mech against with other real live humans piloting their own mechs from separate pods. All of this in the year of our Lord 1991. It was astounding for the day. In just a few short years, they'd have the technology to allow players in different BattleTech Centers around the country play against each other, likely the first introduction to online multiplayer for many mech nuts. Again, this is in the early '90s! [embed]292997:58730:0[/embed] Even voicing the idea out loud, I have no idea how it got off the ground. It sounds like a pipe-dream. A mad fantasy scribbled down in the margins of a high school notebook during the last few minutes of a particularly boring English class. Not something real people would spend real money on. It sounds exactly like the product of one of the “wouldn't it be cool if...” head-in-the-clouds conversations I'd have with my brother when we were kids. Even at the absolute height of the franchise's popularity, I can't imagine dedicating an entire building to mechanized combat. Nowadays, The Avengers are about the most popular thing on Earth, with their combined movie franchise making more money than some national GDPs. Still, I can't imagine getting any investors jumping on board to make Iron Man Centers where you strap on some fake Tony Stark gloves and a helmet and shoot repulsor blasts at other players. It's insane. Still, BattleTech Centers happened. There was a time when you and 15 or more friends could pile into a couple of vans, drive to a BattleTech Center, and spend the afternoon recreating the 4th Succession Wars of the early 3000s from the comfort of your personal cockpit -- and I fucking missed it. Nothing gold can stay. As the popularity of BattleTech as a whole began to wane, and the general market shifted away from arcades in favor of home consoles, BattleTech Centers around the world began shuttering their cockpits. There were reattempts at the idea. BattleTech: Firestorm came out in early 2000s with improved Tesla 2 cockpits (capable of “Advanced Mission Mode” which actually turned on all of the extra switches and controls in the cockpit, changing them from a cute cosmetic affectation to necessary instruments). But despite a small hardcore audience of enthusiasts, battle pods are on the brink of extinction. There are a few places still running BattleTech pods, but they are scattered throughout the country and operate on a much smaller scale. A few half-functioning pods tucked in the back of an arcade at a Go-Kart track in New Mexico. A small mech cache in Houston that is only open on occasional weekends or by appointment. Or the Fallout Shelter Arcade's wandering BattleTech exhibition that travels between conventions and events, dropping pods in the middle of a show floor for curious attendees. Even with these last few preservationists, the clock is ticking. The machines are getting older, spare parts and the knowledge to repair them increasingly scarce. Soon, the few remaining pods around may suffer the “lostech” fate that befell the advanced Star League technology of the BattleTech series (an end that is deeply depressing to the part of me that still wants to climb into a cockpit, and bizarrely exhilarating to the part of me that is a bone-deep MechWarrior nerd). Look, I know these centers are dead for a reason. I get that they were cheesy as hell even when they were new. I know the games probably haven't held up. The once quasi-mystical LAN multiplayer experience is completely unnecessary these days and there are any number of better mech games and pilot sims to spend your time on. [embed]292997:58731:0[/embed] But good lord, I just would have loved to have gone to one back in their heyday. Just the idea of dragging a few of my friends and family (who aren't obsessed with giant robots) to one of those centers puts a smile in my heart. Sitting through the terrible videos, climbing into one of those big fake cockpits, it's just the right blend of something I would enjoy both ironically and completely sincerely. Of course I would immediately switch it to the so-called Advanced Mission Mode and spend most of the time flailing about trying to figure out the controls and basically waste the opportunity. I know myself, I'm exactly that kind of jerk. I guess I should start planning a road-trip to catch up with one of the few remaining clutches of pods scattered around the country. The big, silly BattleTech Centers of yesterday are gone, and I'll never get the chance to go to one, but their legacy is still around -- at least for now. I don't want to add another regret to the pile. 
BattleTech Centers photo
They'll never bury me in my robot
I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of in my life. I've made a lot of mistakes, missed some opportunities that still feel like a cavity in my heart, know that I've done wrong. But if I'm being honest? My number one regret...

Halt and Catch Fire explores the early days of online gaming

May 28 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]292774:58672:0[/embed] Twenty months after the end of season one in 1985, the lead characters have essentially moved on from work on PCs and plan on striking out into something new. After the launch of the Giant, the PC they spent all of the first season building, Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) seeks to rebuild his life after ultimately compromising on his vision for what the future of computers could be, and realizing that his methods of success have harmed others. His number two, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), struggles to find direction after departing Cardiff Electric, and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna Clarke (Kerry Bishé) have been hard at work on their new start-up company Mutiny, an online gaming network running on the Commodore 64 platform. With users paying a monthly fee to play multiple titles online with a community of gamers, they seek to expand the company and plan to change the way people seek entertainment and communicate with others. Much like the last season, Halt and Catch Fire's attention to detail and faithfulness to the era is as strong as ever. Focusing on the early stages of the consumer version of what we now know as the Internet, there's a lot of ground to cover for a start-up that deals with the state of online gaming. Though there were other (real) online PC services that offered gaming and many other functions around 1985 -- such as Prodigy, CompuServe, and Quantum Link (now known as AOL) -- the fictional Mutiny of HACF is a service that exclusively streams games to users. With such titles as Tank Battle, Checkers, Chess, and Backgammon serving as the basics, much of their attention towards game creation is focused on a title known as Parallax, a MUD (Multi User Dungeon) RPG series that spans multiple chapters. Looking back, the 1980s was a strange time for games. With the console video game market in a crisis, arcades serving as a hub for social interaction and competitive gaming, and the home PC audience gradually expanding, it's certainly a far cry from what we experience now in the present. What I really like from these episodes so far is that we're seeing a sense of  uncertainty during the time. Given that this is set post-video game console crash, games on cartridges are often regarded by characters as inferior to the offerings and potential of PC gaming. During one of my favorite scenes, the coders at Mutiny are discussing what game to work on next, with one of the new hires suggesting that they focus on technical innovation rather than game creation, as the former usually gives rise to the later. [embed]292774:58671:0[/embed] It's interesting to see a television series focus not only on game development, but the building of an online community during 1980s. Let alone doing it in a way that actually depicts realism, and quite frankly, honesty for what the gaming audience is all about. I watch a lot of television. I'm quite used to seeing different programs spout out random catchphrases and obligatory references to popular games in order to connect with gamers. But the brilliant thing about Halt and Catch Fire is that it not only features characters who are hardcore gamers, but they use their passion as the fuel for their creative endeavors. And that is refreshing to see on a television series. I was a big admirer of the first season, and though it felt a bit uneven and had some pacing issues, it definitely showed potential to become something great. And I can safely say that its potential is finally being realized in its second outing. I was impressed with the beginning of this season, and though I may be biased because it's got a deep focus on gaming, I feel that the new change of scenery, and a new focus, has given the series a much needed rejuvenation. It sure feels much more energetic and hipper because of it. If you haven't seen the show yet, the first season is available now on Netflix, and its second season is set to debut May 31 on AMC. If you're interested in the creation of technology, and hearing a bumping soundtrack to go along with it, then I highly recommend giving it a watch. Also, this series has by far the coolest TV intro ever. That alone is enough to deserve it your attention.
Halt and Catch Fire photo
The thing that gets us to the thing
In case you couldn't tell, the 1980s is having a bit of comeback. With so many games and films (Kung Fury is out today!) seeking to emulate the vibrant and lively era, there's plenty of people out there feeling nostalgic for ...

Newstoid #1 photo
The day is finally here!
The moment you've all been waiting for that has been months in the making, Newstoid is finally officially here! We have all the hot scoops, hot hosts, and side-splitting laughter you could ask for. Not to mention the hot bea...

Squid Now Art Film photo
By your favorite person alive, me!
"Better than anything David Cage has been making" - Edgar Velasco (MoonSpiderHugs) "You've gotta be squidding me." - Zainré Fang "So Nintendo hired David Lynch to create a Splatoon commercial?" - quetzalcoat...

Things that the Persona 5 trailer is better than

May 01 // Steven Hansen
[embed]287234:58408:0[/embed] The first thing I did the morning I knew the trailer would launch was paw around in the dark, eyes half closed, for my phone to watch it and it was somehow as good as I expected it to be despite unreasonable expectations. But how good is that? We need context. Here are some things that the Persona 5 trailer is better than: 1) Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. 2) Having ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. 3) The love and acceptance of a parent, because a parent is just going to die and leave you alone. Persona 5 will never leave you. 4) The Iditarod. 5) The episode of Seinfeld where Elaine dances badly. 6) When America legalized standing with your feet close together, thus freeing public transport from sweaty, leg splayed wafts. 7) Ants. 8) Some cats. 9) This joke: "Need a friend named Nick so I can say 'what do you call a guy with no balls?' Eunuch." 10) The time 50 Cent's grandma made him take out the trash and he tweeted, "I'm rich fuck this I'm going home I don't need this shit." 11) Brett Makedonski's basketball game. 12) The time when I was like five years old, playing on the top of a bunk bed. I grabbed the guard rail, looked over the side, and the guard rail came loose, taking me down with it. I split my head open and lost so much blood that I had to be carried around the house (no, of course I didn't go to the hospital, what am I, made of money?) 12) List posts.
Persona 5? It's good photo
The Persona 5 trailer is better than a lot of things and here are some of those things
Kyle posted some new Persona 5 screenshots earlier, which got me excited, which got me watching the Persona 5 trailer again, which just got me more excited. I like when a trailer can turn me on (not sexual). I watch a lo...

Great alternative hamburger toppings that wouldn't go so well in a first-person shooter

Apr 30 // Steven Hansen
EGG "Egg" is short for "eggscrement," as it is the foul (hah!) byproduct of most poultry. In America, egg typically comes from the chick-hen, named for being the ladybird amore to the male cock. But just because egg comes from a chick-hen's buns doesn't mean it doesn't belong on yours! A nicely fried egg over easy with a drippy yolk makes for a great treat when biting down on a hamburger. It ain't a burger if you don't have to wash your hand after! Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? You have to crack an omelet to make a few eggs and executive types are more likely omelet someone work on wall textures than devote the processing power necessary for shell splattering particle effects or new viscous liquid engines -- and that's just in the butt-fresh, pre-cooked state. While the egg would serve as a good "Easter Egg" (hah!) in a grenade lob animation, the only scramble I want in my multiplayer shooters is towards a flag that needs to be captured. TOMATO CHUTNEY Have you seen what's in your grocery store ketchup? The All-American spread has been perverted by some strange new system wherein quality and safety become secondary to profit. And so ketchup becomes a slurry of high-fructose corn syrup, tomato flavoring and "spice." Take beck-up the ketchup! Or substitute it with a sweet, fresh tomato chutney. The onion, vinegar, and brown sugar will get you where you need to be. Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? Sounds foreign? GUACAMOLE No, not the 2D platformer, Guacamelee! We're talking the foodstuff for which it was named. I wanted to go "avocado" here -- a fine burger topping in and of itself -- but why not go-uacamole all the way! There are quite a few spreads that make surprising burger fixings. I recently mixed guacamole and an even spicier Calabrian pepper spread and loved the unexpected kick to my 'burg.  Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? The only spread first-person shooters seem to care about it bullet spread when discussing weapons such as shotguns. Also another spread they like are sheets. You know, like for accounting all the money they're making. Making guacamole, even if you throw the ingredients in a food processor, requires some manual dexterity to deseed peppers, deshell tomatillos and garlic. If you tried to make guacamole in the next big first-person shooter, it'd probably end up like playing Surgeon Simulator while the your enemy makes a nice spread of their own -- you! From your gutshot abdomen stirred up by your sucking chest wounds. JETPACKS My co-workers, public transit companions, and dentist have always expressed a universal thought when asked on a date: "Yeah, when pigs fly." The desire for airborne swine transcends race, social classes, and the irresponsibility of my request based on my familiarity or lack thereof with the responder. While not a "topping" per se, eating a hamburger (named for the gentle ham, the most ground-bound of all the lord's creatures) while in the air would be a noble gesture to the beast from which we derive so much pleasure. Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? No, no, no. Tightly controlled lanes of combat and no-more-than-two-story buildings are the "name of the game," and the game they are the name of is the first-person shooter. Jetpacks would require a complete design overhaul to account for them and do you know how hard that would be? I already know the buttons for shoot gun, aim gun, throw bomb, damn it. Look at Titanfall, languishing with no one playing but Nic Rowen and the "story-mode" robots. They think he's one of them. They don't even know he is alive. They trade self-deprecating asides about their faulty coding and sometimes run menial errands -- oil changes, circuitry hacks, taxes -- like he isn't even there. The idea of putting a jetpack into a first-person shooter is preposterous. That's what the sprint button is for. Are we supposed to just throw the stamina gauge baby out with the we-must-have-jetpacks-and-a-new-gauge-for-fuel bathwater? It's like putting a pineapple on a burger. Redundant, stupid, dunderheaded. Let me know in the comments if you have alternative hamburger toppers!
Hamburger toppings photo
Lettuce think outside the gun!
I recently picked up a controller to play some Mortal Kombat X with my lawyer after we finished working out (not sexual!) in the basement of his hilltop home. While he'd signed, sealed, and delivered (legal jargon) some Morta...

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