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1:07 AM on 10.25.2009

Nothing is Sacred: End Bosses

The V8 in front of me roars as I slam into a hunter, the force of the impact killing it instantly. I take a quick glance at the radar screen on my dashboard; another one is behind me. I slam on the handbrake and do a 180 degree turn, before activating the turbo and running over the second hunter. Roughly a hundred yards ahead a strider is making a beeline for the main silo.

I kick in the turbo again, just to hear the engine's magnificent howl, and rush towards the five-story tall tripod. I hop out of my stripped '69 Charger, grab the Magnusson from the rack attached to the rear bumper, punt it at the strider, then pull out my pistol, take aim, and fire at the device, destroying the strider.

A siren wails, signalling that another strider is already close to the silo. I get back in my Charger and drive towards a giant red circle on my radar. By the time I reach the strider, it is charging up its main gun in preparation to destroy the silo. Acting as quickly as possible, I grab another Magnusson device and launch it at the strider, which is now within a second of firing. I pull out my pistol and shoot the device, saving the day with literally less than a second to spare.

Another time, another place, another universe.

Commander Arkhon Shepard, having talked Saren into killing himself, enjoys a well-deserved moment of rest. There is little for him to do now; any moment the Alliance fleet will barrage Sovereign with everything they've got, and the crisis will be averted. Around him fires cast an orange glow throughout the council chamber, and all is at rest.

But what is happening now? The walkway he is standing on collapses into the small garden below. Saren's corpse lights up red. As Shepard looks on, Saren is somehow brought back to life by something.

Bryce thinks to himself, "What the hell? You just killed yourself. This is fucking stupid." He sighs and Commander Shepard proceeds to kill Saren. Again.

There are few things I can think of that ruin my immersion in a game more than having a final boss. There's nothing like a boss to remind you that you're either watching a bad kung-fu movie or playing a video game. Bosses are so incredibly cliche'd by now that I was surprised nobody took this topic for this month's musing.

Don't get me wrong, I love Mass Effect. Its ending is just incredibly stupid. Far too many games have end bosses just because gamers seem to feel a need to have a final entity to kill, usually one that must be hit three times (always three times) in its weak spot, which must be exposed by attacking another thing, which makes no sense at all.

That is of course my second point: end bosses make no sense. In HL2: E2, players see a large Combine force en route to White Forest. At the end of the game, players must defend the base against that force. It makes sense.

Why, in all of the rest of Mass Effect, did Shepard never encounter another indoctrinated person who could magically reanimate? Obviously, if Sovereign can do that to one of his followers, he can do that to many, so why wouldn't he? And how come Saren gets a neat hover board, while nothing else in the entire game does?

Why, in Super Mario 64, does the game completely abandon all the gameplay mechanics that made the rest of the game fun when Mario is fighting Bowser? And what the hell is Bowser doing on a floating platform with spiked bombs attached to the edge? You'd think he'd have those spiked bombs removed after being thrown into them twice before. Furthermore, how can Mario throw Bowser? Why is Bowser just sitting there, waiting for Mario, when he could be sending out groups of his followers to attack the plumber?

Why does the Nihilanth from Half-Life attack in such a predictable pattern? Something as intelligent as it clearly is must surely realize that a better strategy would be to attack randomly. Why does it just float in place, instead of moving around to get a clear shot at Freeman? Why is Freeman even trying to kill it?

Why does the fight with Skorge in Gears of War 2 completely abandon the cover-based gameplay that the rest of the game is based around? For that matter, why does the battle with the giant fish do the exact same thing?

But all of that pales in comparison to the biggest argument against end bosses: they're nowhere near as exciting as that final battle in HL2: E2. Or the final stages of Left 4 Dead, where players must defend an area against huge waves of zombies until they can escape. Large groups of normal enemies are far better for end battles than a single unique enemy.

Throughout the course of Half-Life 2 and its episodes, players get accustomed to how powerful and dangerous striders and hunters are. At the end of Episode 2, players know exactly how fucked they are. The same goes for the ends of Left 4 Dead campaigns. With any end boss battle, there's simply nothing to compare the end boss to. It's the difference between "Yay I just killed some lizard thing by exploiting a weakness" and "Holy shit I just survived being attacked by ten tanks in a row."

When done well, end bosses can be good. When done well, large-scale end battles can be great.   read

5:50 PM on 10.01.2009

My Experience With Half Life

My last video game purchase was the Xbox 360 version of The Orange Box in February/March of this year (I can't quite remember which) , based largely on the fact that it was twenty dollars and I had immensely enjoyed Portal when I had played through it on my dad's computer, so I figured Portal alone was worth the money. Before this, I had known nothing of Half Life, its canon, or really Valve Software even.

Half Life 2 and its associated episodes are now some of my favorite games of all time, and certainly the best PC-type shooters I've ever played. So I decided to play through the original Half Life and the Gearbox expansion packs Opposing Force and Blue Shift, and I really have to say that I'm really underwhelmed.

The environments made me sick of corridors. The entire game takes place underground in a series of corridors, with a few levels on the surface and some genuinely interesting alien environments at the very end. I was so happy when I got to the chapter "Surface Tension" that I almost cried from joy at not being in yet another dark hallway.

The game has no characters apart from the un-named government guy, who is actually quite interesting. Every other person the player meets is nothing more than an extra. This was one of my biggest disappointments with the game, especially after all the likeable characters from Half Life 2.

The game also has basically no story. Essentially, you play as a scientist by the name of Dr. Gordon Freeman working in a stereotypical top-secret underground research facility, when some experiment goes stereotypically wrong and aliens start to appear out of nowhere, and then the story pretty much disappears altogether as players can spend really long periods of time in between major plot points, so much so that I often could not remember what my objective was, and the game provides no reminders either.

The weapons are nowhere near as cool or useful as the ones in HL2, with the possible exception of snarks, which are awesome and should be included in every shooter ever made. The SMG is less satisfying than its HL2 counterpart. The crossbow is much less satisfying than the HL2 crossbow; superheated steel rebar is much cooler than poison darts (that can somehow render automated turrets completely inoperable in one shot).

I would also like to take this opportunity to point out the fact that WASD was made for typing, not platforming. If I wanted to jump from moving platform to moving platform, I would be playing a platformer. On a console.

Opposing Force, an official expansion made by Gearbox, was much better. After growing to hate the HECU soldiers over the course of the first game, it was interesting to play a game from the enemy's perspective. The night vision goggles were a very welcome replacement for the piss-poor excuse for a flashlight that Gordon Freeman had. The weapon design was much more interesting, with the barnacle easily the coolest among many very cool organic alien weaponry. The portal gun was very inventive and is now one of my favorite video game weapons of all time.

I remember starting it up and immediately noticing how much better it was than the base game. The first such revelation was at the very beginning in the Osprey, when I remember thinking, "Holy shit, some actual exposition!" There were actual characters who appeared more than once! There were plenty of outside levels! There was a simple, overarching goal that I never lost track of! The game had some substance!

The levels were designed better, the firefights were more fun, the jumping puzzles were less dreadful, other puzzles were much better; in short, the game was more fun and had more substance, despite being shorter.

Blue Shift, another Gearbox expansion, was also better than the original game. It made players weaker with the loss of batteries and HEV stations to regain protection, the lack of really good weapons, and the return of the worthless flashlight, which was an interesting design decision and one I really liked.

What's more, it introduced an actual named NPC, Dr. Rosenberg. It was also nice to not have a traditional final boss fight like in Half Life and Opposing Force.

I am actually very glad that Half Life existed, and sold as well as it did, because without its success there would be no Half Life 2, and I love Half Life 2. That said, playing it was the most dreadful gaming experience I have ever had, and I don't think I will ever be able to bring myself to play through it again.   read

9:35 PM on 09.22.2009

A Disturbing Flaw in my Personality

I have many character flaws. After all, I'm not perfect. Nobody is. But as I was playing Gears of War 2 recently, a friend pointed one out to me that had me actually spooked.

I'm a lazy person; I can be infuriatingly laid-back. My laziness annoys me, and yet I can't seem to do anything about it. I'm incredibly scatter-brained and can never focus on anything unless I am really interested in it, and then I bypass "focus" and go into full-blown obsession over whatever it is, be it coding or playing video games or reading a book or whatever.

I hate people. I think of almost everybody else as idiots, amazed at how they just can't seem to see the answer to a problem or the general picture of things. I know in my head that the average person is axiomatically average in terms of mental capability. I know in my head that people aren't dumb, I'm just smart. Everyone from my parents to my psychiatrist to my therapist (yes, I have a psychiatrist and a therapist, for depression and ADHD issues) to every single teacher I've ever had has told me I'm borderline genius, to the point where I actually feel irrational disgust towards anyone who calls me "smart". And yet, I still somehow end up labeling people less intelligent than me as idiots in my head. I can't seem to stop, and I've tried.

But most disturbing of all, I find extreme gore funny, which scares me. I mentioned in the intro above that I was playing Gears of War 2 when my friend pointed this out to me; I was actually literally laughing out loud while chainsawing somebody to death. Most people find the gore awesome, I find it hilarious. Maybe it's because of how over-the-top it is, because I don't have the same reaction when playing less gorey games like Halo or Call of Duty. At least I hope that's what it is.

Anybody else think over-the-top gore is funny? Please say yes.   read

9:02 PM on 09.11.2009

Why I'm Glad Harmonix Got The Beatles and not Activision


Pretty much speaks for itself. I don't really like the sting at the end, it feels like it's a bit too much, but otherwise very funny. Credit goes to Youtube user chaopolis. The actual Youtube page can be found here.   read

8:07 AM on 09.09.2009

Some Excellent Underrated Handheld Titles

In the days before I really got into console gaming, a transition which I mark as when I truly began to be obsessed with video games, I played a lot of handheld games, as well as a few PC games. I just felt like I should do a post about five of my favorite games on the GBA and DS.

Golden Sun
Golden Sun was one of the best titles in the entire GBA library, if not the best. Its sprites and art were so gorgeous that they made this game look better than almost any other game on the platform. I should clarify: I hate JRPGs, but I loved this game. The battle system was much better than any Final Fantasy game I've ever played (I & II and IV on the GBA, III on the DS), primarily because it involved actual strategy, which sort of validates the turn-based system. The story was really cool to me because it wasn't about revenge or love, which seem to be way too common themes in JRPGs. Also, the game was paced so that the gameplay never really got in the way or even distracted from the narrative. I was aware of where I had to, what I had to do, and why at all times when I played it. Another cool part of the game was that, in order to progress through a dungeon or level, one had to get through puzzles that often required the use of special powers. The music was great, too.

Golden Sun: The Lost Age
Golden Sun's sequel, The Lost Age, was easily the best game on the GBA. It was, without a doubt, a better game than the first, which was already a great game, for the simple reason that it had more stuff in it. It didn't really change much with the gameplay, but that didn't really matter because the original had already gotten it right. The more attentive among you will notice that my avatar is the main character, Felix. Of course, now the less attentive among you will notice this too.

Metroid Prime: Hunters
I was blown away by this game. I never expected handhelds to be able to handle first-person shooters at all, let alone as well as Metroid Prime: Hunters. The story mode is very fun, but I never spent half the time playing it as I did playing in the multiplayer mode, whether against bots or other people over Nintendo's WFC. The multiplayer was very robust, with several different modes, lots of customizable options, plenty of maps, up to four players, and seven different characters to choose from, each with a different "affinity weapon" which was essentially a better version of a weapon that every other hunter could use. Samus's was her rockets, which could track. Trace's was the laser rifle; when wielding it and standing still, he became invisible. The main gripe I've heard about this game is the control scheme can often lead to cramped hands, but I've experienced far worse from a mouse and keyboard. Using the stylus to aim is a great idea, and it's a wonder more developers aren't making FPS's using that control scheme, because it works really well. The graphics are also very nice, especially for a DS game.

Super Mario 64 DS
This game was much more than just a port of the revolutionary N64 game. It was better in almost every way; more places to explore, more stars to collect, more characters to play as, lots of fun mini-games, which I usually hate but are a nice addition here, and much better graphics and art than the original. Many critics hated the D-pad compared to an analog stick, but I never had any problems with it; I just held the R button or whatever to crawl when I needed to go slowly, and everything was cool.

Age of Empires: Age of Kings
Often overlooked and ignored in favor of the more popular Advance Wars franchise, this title nevertheless was a solid offering and my most-played game on the DS. First of all, it involved resource gathering through construction of mines, windmills, and farms, which adds to the strategy required to win. Second of all, it had a Library function, where anyone interested could read about the history of the real world equivalents of all the technologies, units, structures, heroes, and wars in the game. I once spent over an hour straight just reading those entries. I still play this game when I'm on the go or am grounded from my 360, although that is also due in part to the fact that I have lost all of my other DS and GBA games :(   read

1:33 AM on 08.28.2009

Why There Should Be More Cats in Video Games

I've noticed that there seems to be very few of my favorite animal in video games these days, whether as main characters or whatever. Everyone seems to like dogs better, as evidenced by the most recent Zelda game, Fable II, and Fallout 3. Well I say no more! I want a feline playable character in a video game by the end of next year! Here's why:

Kittens are the most adorable things on the entire fucking planet. Why limit it to earth, though? Why not take the extreme cuteness of kittens to explore the galaxy, visiting alien worlds like in Mass Effect? They could rule the universe!

Kittens, while cute, are also stone cold killers. Their cuteness only makes them more effective at killing, because nobody suspects a kitten of anything. Even when they get caught, nobody can stay mad at something with a fuzzy face like that.

Catgirl-like creatures are very awesome. Look at her fucking claws. If you have any doubt as to whether catgirls are awesome, you are an idiot.

Catwoman was an incredible movie. I hear it even won some awards, like the Golden Raspberries, which are way more prestigious than Oscars.

Hitler was not a cat. 'Nuff said.

You can't do shit against something that's both dead and alive at the same fucking time. Even trying to do so will just make you look like a complete tool.

And finally,

Pumpkin, pictured above meditating before his next battle, is a bad-ass motherfucker. I nicknamed him MegaKitty so that he would have a name more befitting his godlike power. Just today, I got right up in his face and challenged him to a fight, screaming, "YOU WANNA GO, MEGAKITTY? HUH?" so that my voice sounded like the singer in the shitty Rock Band 2 song Visions. You know what he did? He meowed a one liner, did a 180 degree flip sideways into a prone position, then proceeded to knead the air while purring a purr so fucking vicious it made children on the fucking moon cry. That is how badass he is.

I'm thinking a stealth game where you play as a fucking ninja cat sniper. Yeah.   read

5:55 PM on 08.26.2009

I Suck at Games: MMORPGs

Massively multiplayer online games have, to me, always been repulsive in almost every way. My best friend is obsessed with one called FlyFF, and I just don't understand why. All he ever seems to do in that game is level grind relentlessly and then run around killing monsters for no reason. He is not alone in his love of these games, as millions of people continue to play World of Warcraft and the like. I have tried playing a couple MMOs but could never get into it, and I have never truly enjoyed any of them. Though my friend would say it's because I suck at them, it all really comes down to four general reasons, I think.

First of all, all the MMOs I've tried have focused heavily on level grinding. Level grinding is not something I enjoy, especially not when battles consist of simply clicking on an enemy and occasionally healing yourself. I have no problems with level grinding in games like Golden Sun, whose strategic turn-based combat and amazing graphics and beautiful sprites made it interesting, but when a game basically requires you to spend a ridiculous amount of time clicking enemies with little to no action, I start to get bored and annoyed. I don't need work in my video games.

I'm generally a shy person. If I say something, it's because that something has passed through various censors in my mind to be deemed important or interesting enough to be spoken aloud. I'm not saying I don't like talking to random strangers online, but I don't like that concept to be a central mechanism of a game.

Playing games with other people almost always breaks immersion, but in MMOs this effect is ridiculous. Everybody talks to each other in shorthand. People stand around spamming inane messages. I find it impossible to get drawn into a game when I notice how people are acting in-game. Nobody's actually role-playing, they're just questing to get a high-level character so they can show everybody else how much better they are because of how much more time they spend playing a boring game.

RPGs should always have strong plots, but the MMORPGs I've played tend to lack any seriously compelling narrative. Most of them, from what I've seen and been told, are simply random quests to go kill X number of A monsters, for seemingly no reason. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't see the point of these games. In shooters you defeat your enemies, in puzzle games you solve puzzles, in real RPGs you complete the story, but the only thing I can come up with for MMORPGs is get to a very high level and act superior to everyone else.

Every time I try to play a MMO like World of Warcraft, I just can't help but think how much work it is, and think of playing another game. And when that happens, I just give up and go play something more fun.   read

8:51 AM on 08.26.2009

How Video Games Changed My Life

I have never, ever been a particularly good student, at least not as far as grades go. In my freshman year of high school, I failed my trigonometry/precalculus course and had to retake it the next year. Mind you, in my school trigonometry/precalculus is generally taken by sophomores or juniors, so I didn't really feel too bad about that. Later, in my senior year, I struggled with my English class. My teacher was obsessed with assigning us long-term projects, which I've never been good at. I actually flunked last year because of that class, and this Monday I'm starting my second senior year via cyber school. The day I found out that I would not be graduating with all the people I had come to know over the past four years was easily the worst day of my life so far. It was definitely worse than when I found out my parents were separating, or when I found out my mom was a lesbian, or when my beloved great-grandfather died.

Let me get one thing straight: I'm no idiot, by any means. I was taking a math course two years ahead of the rest of my classmates. I took extra science courses, practically acing my AP Physics class, despite the fact I was the youngest person in that class. I have always been in the gifted classes. When I was in seventh grade, I took the SAT (before they added the stupid writing portion) and got a combined score of 1160. I got ninth place in the Patriot News regional Spelling Bee in eighth grade. In the summer between seventh and eighth grade I took a college level course on ancient Greek language via Johns Hopkins University's CTY program. The last time I got an IQ test, my score was 146. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to grow up to become a nuclear physicist. I was always the guy everybody asked to help them with their homework and whose test scores nobody was interested in knowing. My most recent SAT score was 2180: 780 math, 700 reading, 700 writing.

But I have ADHD, and have always had problems with remembering to do homework and focusing on long-term projects. I also have problems writing essays because they tend to lose logical structure about halfway through. I quickly forget what I set out to prove or say. My thoughts flow rapidly between random ideas with no logical pattern. I have taken medication for it for years, but it never seems to help with my main problems. I still don't have my driver's license because for over a year I was afraid that I would not be able to focus well enough to drive.

There are precious few things that allow me to think coherently. The first of these that I discovered was reading books. I loved to read because it was really the only time the cacophony inside my head would stop and let me focus on something. I actually got so involved with books that I would completely forget the world around me. When I got older, I noticed video games had the same effect, and just last year I found that computer programming does the same thing. Television and movies never quite cut it with me. They never seemed to be able to challenge my brain the way reading or playing video games did.

My brother, Ross, is about a year and a half my junior and has also been diagnosed with ADHD. However, he seems to exhibit none of the same symptoms as me. He's loud, obnoxious, hyperactive, and an idiot. He's never had quite as much trouble in school as I have. My thoughts need to pass through some heavy filters before they leave my mouth; he blurts out whatever he is thinking, and often says stupid, inane things simply to hear the sound of his voice. He tends to giggle uncontrollably and annoyingly at things that are only slightly funny. In short, I was much more mature than him at his age. He sucks at video games, but still demands to play them all the time, and when I tell him that I want to play a single player game he hangs around and tries to intentionally aggravate me into letting him play. The worst part about when he is around is that I can never focus on the game I'm playing very well because he's trying to be silly by walking weird and making irritating clicking noises with his mouth.

I have always been a bit of a loner, an outcast. I never really minded that I didn't have many friends in school because, to be honest, I didn't like many people at my school. Everybody was always telling me how smart I was when I would solve a problem for them, and I'd think in my head that they were idiots for not being able to see the solution. I know that they aren't actually idiots, they're just average, but humans tend to gauge others by comparing them to themselves, and I still have trouble breaking that habit. I always felt that my life was empty, though, until I got my Xbox 360 and discovered the wonders of console gaming. Now I have some goals in life. They're not good ones, but at least they exist.

Finally, I come to both the best and worst effect that video games has had on me: causing me to hyperfocus on them. I love video games because I can forget the world around me when I play them, and can think rationally and in an organized manner. I have something to think about when I'm at school. Last year, my parents told me they were getting a divorce, and I kind of retreated into my games. The problem was that, between gaming and my parents' divorce, I really couldn't focus on school projects or homework, and so my grades kept going down and down until I got the phone call that said I wouldn't be graduating.

This year I really fucking hope I do better with cyber school.   read

12:48 AM on 08.25.2009

Another Example of Why I Love Destructoid

I just got kicked twice in a row from IRC for saying that I prefer Skittles to M&Ms.

My reaction both times was to actually laugh. I was kicked for stupid stuff, and yet I'm not angry. Something about Destructoid takes away my angry thoughts.   read

9:27 PM on 08.24.2009

Why I Love Destructoid: Cool Kids Redux


5:49 PM on 08.24.2009

Why I Love Destructoid

Quite simply, Destructoid is the best gaming-related site I've ever been on, for several reasons.

First off, the community is awesome, largely because it seems so small. The same names seem to keep popping up in comments on the main blogs, the community blogs, and the forums. I always love seeing SuitcoatAvenger's latest artwork, or reading the Cblog Recaps. When you compare DToid to other more popular sites like IGN or Gametrailers, the users/members are generally much smarter.

I haven't really seen a single troll on the site, except for the occasional avatarless user who signs up just to post an inane comment on something or post a pretty crappy blog where they rant in broken grammar about something or other.

I do feel a little out of place among all of you veteran gamers, because I only recently got into gaming (and by "recently" I mean in 2007). But I have never felt unwelcome.

I also love how I often see really offbeat stories on the main page.

Most of you probably have been on the site for a while, so you all know what I'm talking about already. Nevertheless, I felt I should profess my love for this website.

Update: I'm sorry, recappers.   read

1:43 AM on 08.16.2009

Rock Band Problems

Okay, so I recently learned that you can have a 6" figurine made of one of your Rock Band 2 characters. It looks really cool for me because I love my Scary Spikes character. He looks awesome, especially with his Gretsch Jupiter Thunderbird guitar.

For some reason, Xbox LIVE blocks out the name "Scary Spikes". It also blocks out the name of my band, "Scary Spikes and the Llamas". I cannot commission a figurine to commemorate Scary Spikes's awesomeness because the Rock Band website does not acknowledge that I have ever created such a character, because his name is blocked. I really don't want to create another character and make him look exactly the same as Scary Spikes in order to get a figurine of him.

I also cannot seem to contact Xbox LIVE about this particular issue, as their support is entirely geared toward hardware malfunctions and the like.

I still want to know what is wrong with the name Scary Spikes.

On another note, my guitar controller keeps dropping blue notes. My drum controller has lost its red pad because my brother, who usually plays drums, hits the thing way too hard. We used to have two kick pedals to make fast bass notes easier to hit. My friend broke his kick pedal (Gen 1 controller) so I loaned him one of mine. After all, I don't really need two. I then broke the pedal that I kept. My friend broke the pedal that I loaned him. I'm going to have to get the full version of The Beatles: Rock Band if I'm going to be able to do anything with it.   read

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