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5:59 PM on 05.26.2011

P2 Press Start: Earning the respect of my students through Smash Bros


I don't remember the Nintendo characters making Batman sound effects in this game


When I graduated from college with a degree in film and television production in 2001 I faced a post-dotcom economy in the gutter, especially in my hometown of Seattle. All of the film work had dried up with companies reluctant to produce commercials and corporate videos and investors wary to invest in feature films. The only work I could get was pulling cable for the Seattle Supersonics (R.I.P.) video crew and that hardly paid the bills. To make ends meet I took a day job as a daycare teacher. I figured it would be a breeze, I'd get to play with kids all day and could still work Sonics games at night. However, I quickly learned how a group of determined hooligans can disrupt a classroom and make my life a living hell.



My first few days at the daycare were pure bliss


When I first started all of the kids loved me. This honeymoon period lasted for about a week. While most of the kids were very sweet and obedient, there was a group of three older boys, probably around 11 or 12, whose hormones were kicking in and that caused them to be little punks. The first time I disciplined them they completely turned on me and devoted all of their energy to disrupting the class and testing me to see how far they could push me. I tried reasoning with these kids, I tried punishing them, I tried talking to their parents, nothing worked. I was getting incredibly frustrated because these three boys were taking all my attention away from the other kids, which isn't fair at all. At my wits end, I decided to turn to the last tool at my disposal: The Playstation 2.



This ad really makes me want to drop acid, I mean buy a Playstation 2


At the time I was sort of a hippie so I didn't want the kids to waste time in front of the tv playing videogames when they should be learning. That conviction was tossed aside when I discovered that videogames were the ultimate carrot to dangle in front of children. I promised the kids that if they behaved, did their homework, cleaned up, they could earn points to trade in for videogame time. This worked like a charm, especially with the juvenille delinquents who caused the most trouble. However, playing the Playstation 2 with the kids opened up a whole new problem I never anticipated: I was terrible at PS2 games and this made me an object of ridicule in the children's world.



SSX is way easier on controllers than 1080 for the N64


During college I double majored in Goldeneye and Smash Bros but I never played the PS2. The children, being freakishly good at games naturally, routinely wiped the floor with me when I tried to take them on in SSX or ATV Offroad Fury. I laughed it off but it really started to get under my skin when the 7 year old who pooped his pants was racking up million point combos and I could barely get my snowboarder to grind a rail without falling off. I'd tell them, "I am good at games, just not Playstation games. I'll beat you all at Smash Bros." They would laugh extra hard at me and say that they would destroy me at that game too. Luckily for me, fate would soon intervene and I would get my chance to test my Smash Bros skills against the young rapscallions.



This is what I imagine the scumbag who stole a PS2 from a daycare looks like


One Monday I arrived at work to discover that someone had broken in and stolen the Playstation 2. The children were devastated but not half as much as I was. The video games were the only form of control I had over them, without it my class would dissolve into dissaray. I managed to keep a reign on them for a week or so but soon the whippersnappers were back to their old tricks of mischief and defiance. Out of options I decided to bring my Nintendo 64 into the class and let the kids play it. They loved it, in fact the girls in the class spent more time playing Mario 64 than they ever did the PS2 games. I avoided playing any games with the kids for awhile, even though they challenged me to throw down with a little Kart or Smash action. While pretty confident in my abilities, I was rusty and the last thing I wanted to do was lose to them in these games too. It would cement my place as a sub-par gamer and relegate me to the lowest rung on their social ladder. Finally, after weeks of pressure I relented and set up a Smash Bros tournament with the kids.



I spent more time in college staring at this screen than any text book


The day of the Smash Bros tournament arrived. Choosing Link as my main I took all comers and beat them easily. I mean, it wasn't even close. I don't know why I was even worried. Kids may be naturally great at games but they didn't factor in going up against a guy who spent 4 years living with super competitive roomates whose game of choice was Smash Bros. I plowed through the field and the 3 troublemakers who had become the bane of my existence also kept winning in their brackets. As fate would have it, I ended up facing off against those hellions in the finals. Without breaking a sweat I eliminated them one by one until I triumped. Exhilarated, I just laughed as they whined and complained and demanded a rematch. Fine, I said. In fact, I offered to take them all on, 3 on one in a fight to the death in a stock 5 battle. They tried every tactic in vain as I countered their fireballs with bombs, knocked them off with my boomerang, used my spin attack to clear the entire board. I am not exagerating when I say that I eliminated all 15 of their lives and didn't lose a single one myself.


Victory has never tasted so sweet


After a thorough drubbing, the boys had to admit that I was a better player than them. In fact their demeanor completely changed: I had entered their world and earned respect on their terms. They told stories of how good I was to other kids. They begged me to teach them my techniques. When they looked at me I could see the awe in their eyes. For the rest of the time I worked there I never had any trouble with these kids again. In all the years I've played games since, I've never had a competitive experience as completely satisfying as this Smash Bros tournament. And probably never will. Sometimes I wonder where those kids are today, hopefully the brief time I spent with them molded them into upstanding young men who went on to atttend college or at least graduate high school and get a job. Oh who am I kidding, I'm sure they're all dead or in jail right now.


[embed]202117:38785[/embed]
Still one of the greatest commercials ever   read


1:48 AM on 04.26.2011

Forgotten Gems: North & South


This image just screams "historical accuracy."


Back in the NES days I didn't have my own system so all of my gaming was done at other, luckier kids' houses. Since my friends didn't want to sit there for hours while I played "The Legend of Zelda" on their Nintendo most of the games I played were multiplayer. I experienced the co-op and VS hits like "Double Dragon," "Super Mario Bros 3" and "Contra" but the game I have the fondest memories of is the little discussed "North & South." The game is a crazy mix of real time strategy, competitive platforming and overtly racist cartoon caricatures. I seriously doubt this game would be made in today's politically correct climate but it remains a rarely discussed gem that's worth revisiting.



Note the Indian in a loincloth and sleepy Mexican. Classy.


The core of the game was: One player controlled the North, the other the South and you would try to win the Civil War. The overworld map was set up as a grid with icons indicating which side controlled what area. Visually it's very similar to a game like "Advance Wars" and other strategy games that came later. Players would take turns moving their units around and when your paths crossed you would engage each other on the field of battle. You could also merge your units together to create a larger force. And I think occasionally the Indians or Mexicans would decide to get involved and mess with everyone.



Dumbass horses are gonna run right into that river, I just know it.


From here, you are able to select your different units and fight in real time. This was the real hook of the game for me. Frantically firing a cannon to try and blow up the bridge, then switching to the cavalry to rush in and take out your opponents and then sending in the ground troops added up to hours of hectic fun. It was a real challege to manage all your troops at the same time. The cavalry could not move backwards so many times you'd be riding towards an assured victory only to have the bridge blow up in front of you, sending tiny horses and men plummeting to their deaths. And many a controller was thrown in rage because someone wasn't quick enough to modify the position of their ground troops and half of them fell into the canyons.




The key to winning these stages is knife management



What really set this game apart from other RTS games was the inclusion of side-scrolling VS stages. If you moved your troops to an enemy fort or train the game would move to a 2D view as your lone soldier attempted to conquer it over armed only with a few knives. The other player had a limited number of soldiers, each armed with a knife, to stop or slow down your progress. If you didn't have any more knives you could punch the opposing soldiers and send them flying into the air. And there was a time limit. These stages turned into some of the most intense gameplay experiences I ever had. One mistep could lead to failure, especially when you're running low on lives. I think this mode led to the most punches thrown in real life.


[embed]199643:37962[/embed]
This video gives a good idea what the game was like, even though the person playing is terrible


Overall "North & South" was a unique title that boasted a variety of gameplay and a VS mode that was infinitely replayable. I find it odd that I never see it mentioned alongside NES classics but I'm sure that those of you who played it have fond memories. If you haven't experienced it it's worth checking out just to see how far ahead of its time it was. Now all we can do is wait for another cartoonish RTS/Sidescroller turning one of the most tragic events in American history into a children's videogame. I'm not going to hold my breath.   read


2:34 AM on 04.05.2011

Aaamaazing: Videogames Enter 3 Dimensions (in 1996)


Sorry Mario, but your Princess isn't in this castle, as per usual


It's easy to forget in this day and age with the internets and the youtubes and the videogame blogs but it used to be really hard to get a sneak peak at videogames before they came out. I'll never forget back in Jr High huddling around a friend's television watching the VHS tape previewing "Donkey Kong Country." The graphics were leaps and bounds beyond anything we had ever seen. However, nothing could prepare our feeble little 16 bit minds for what Nintendo would unleash on us in a few years: 3D gaming!!!! And I'm not talking about the latest 3D gimmicks, I'm talking about the Nintendo 64 and the fact that it sucessfully moved gaming into the 3rd dimension. This is the story of the first time I ever experienced that world.



This kid has no idea what he's in for

Back in early 1996 the schoolyard was abuzz about the imminent launch of the Nintendo 64. We'd seen pictures in magazines and on primitive gaming websites and the fleeting images promised a magical world of polygons to explore. I didn't know what the hell a polygon was I just knew I had to get my hands on some as soon as possible. Luckily I would have an chance to play Super Mario 64 months before it was to be released stateside. That opportunity would be at a traveling videogame expo that gave gamers an opportunity to go hands on with upcoming titles, or in this case, upcoming systems. My friend got wind that the exhibit would be coming to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and Super Mario 64 would be on display. I knew that my purpose in life was to go there and play Mario's latest adventure before anyone else.




The Pacific Science Center, usually an educational experience for kids' field trips but not today

The day finally arrived, my buddy and I braved the typical Seattle rain and high tailed it to the Seattle Center. I remember weaving my way through the show floor, brushing past kiosks with titles like Crash Bandicoot as I worked towards the centerpiece of the exhibit: Super Mario 64 running in all its glory on a gigantic screen. I'll never forget peeking between cabinets running lesser titles and catching glimpses of Mario running around, jumping on fully 3D Goombas and, *gasp* DID I JUST SEE MARIO BLAST OFF FROM A CANNON!?!?!?!?! Finally we made it to the front of the line, able to experience the glory of Mario in 3D for ourselves.




HOLY SHHHHIIIIIIII.....

Aaamaazing!!!! is an understatement. Gripping the controller, gently nudging the analog stick to move Mario around the screen, pulling off my first triple jump, I felt as though the neurons in my brain were being rearranged. This was the sort of thing we'd dreamed about since we first clutched an NES controller. Nintendo had created a 3D world and it was perfect. It looked perfect, controlled perfectly and was so beautiful I was enthralled simply wandering through the environment. After the initial wow factor I was taken aback by the sheer freedom the game offered. Want to climb to the top of that tree? Go for it! Think you can blast out of this cannon and grab a flagpole? Give it a shot! My few short minutes with the game were not enough, I wanted to live in the 64 bit Mushroom Kingdom. Walking out of there I felt as if my world had truly changed. The Nintendo 64 was going to usher in 3D games that would push the medium towards total immersion.



THE FUN MACHINE, or considering how much sleep it robbed me of it should be called THE CRACK MACHINE


A few months later my buddy got an N64 and we stayed up all night playing Mario 64. It was the first time I can remember being just as happy watching someone else play as when I was in control. Discovering things like the penguin race, flying to the top of the pyramid in Shifting Sands, the first time we grabbed Bowser's tail and flung him out of the ring; it was a transcendent experience. Sure, time has dulled the impact of first playing it but to this day Super Mario 64 has one of the most fully realized 3D environments ever created. The world is so expertly designed I will never get tired of exploring it. With each generation's subsequent upgrade of graphics and control types games are looking and playing closer and closer to real life but nothing again will ever leave me in awe like the first time I popped out of that pipe and took my first tentative steps towards Peach's castle.




[embed]198119:37457[/embed]
Of course, it wasn't ALL perfect   read


8:27 PM on 04.03.2011

Thank You, Dtoid Community!



Last year the shift at my job changed so I'm working overnights which some days leaves me with lots of free time. To relieve boredom I decided to start a videogame blog and scoured the internet to find the right home. After being turned off by the discourse on most sites I discovered Destructoid to have a very smart, funny and supportive community. And even though I don't post regularly I am always blown away by the thoughtful comments you guys all leave on my writings. Thank you all so much for creating this safe, welcoming place for videogame enthusiasts to write and share thoughts.

I was prompted to write this note after meeting with my dad last week. He said he enjoys reading my blog, even though he has no clue what I'm talking about, because of the comments from the community. He was impressed by how nice everyone is, saying most of his experience with internet posters is negative. I wanted to share that with all of you, and thank you all for making Destructoid a great place.


Special shout out to Elsa who went out of her way to make me feel welcome when I first joined the site.   read


11:20 PM on 03.28.2011

3DS launch impressions: "Why are you getting this then?"


The first thing I did with my new system


“Why are you getting this then?” a mother asks her young son standing in line next to me on 3DS launch day. Her question was prompted after the child gave a big, “Meh…” to every game the clerk suggested he pick up to go with his magical new toy from Nintendo.

“Monkey Ball is pretty fun,” the beleaguered clerk offers.

“I don’t know …” the kid responds. He is even less enthusiastic about “Steel Diver” and “Madden” (which I forgot was even a launch title)

“Super Street Fighter 4 looks pretty cool, that’s what I’m getting,” I suggest. The kid looks at me blankly. Realizing I wasn’t going to be able help him, I pay for my pre-orders and leave the store.



On the drive home, I couldn’t help but think about the mother’s question. “Why AM I getting this?” I wasn’t planning on picking one up but after I saw video of AR games online I wanted to have one just to experience the new technology. Another reason I used to justify my purchase was the fact that I’ve bought every Nintendo system since the Gameboy Advance at launch. Sure, the only game I got with the Advance was “Namco Museum” which grew old quickly. And, yes, after amusing myself with the novel touch controls of “Feel the Magic: XY/XX” for a couple hours and struggling to play “Super Mario 64” without an analog stick my DS went unused for months until “Kirby’s Canvas Curse” and “Mario Kart DS “ came out. Nintendo handhelds have never had the strongest launch titles. I knew this yet I was compelled to purchase one anyways. Why?


Is Nintendo trying to tell me I was stoned when I created my Mii?


When I got home the first thing I did was create a Mii from my photo. I was amazed at how that worked and quickly got my girlfriend to create one too. She loved the Wii and DS but now games exclusively on her iPhone. I thought this might be enough to bring her back to the Nintendo side of gaming. After taking her picture and watching her Mii come to life she was still unimpressed.

“Eh, I already did that on the Wii,” was her response. Unfazed, I then proceeded to show her the AR games. While initially intrigued, she quickly lost interest when she saw how you had to move around the table to play them. “I like my iPhone,” she sighed as she plopped back onto the couch to play another round of “Word Ace.”

“But, but, this isn’t trying to do what the iPhone does,” I pleaded to no avail. I had hoped she’d be taken in by the new technology but she was more concerned about how much cash I’d just dropped when the Kinect I bought a few short months ago sits atop my television, neglected, just staring at me, shooting beams of infared light into my eyes to remind me what a waste of money it was.

After checking out the gimmicks I decided to get down to it and play some games. As soon as I started my first match of “Super Street Fighter 4” I was instantly happy. The 3D effect is pretty neat but unnecessary. I was just thrilled to have such a deep fighting game on a portable. I’ve never taken the time to get good at the game but having it on the go I’ll have more opportunities to take it out and play in bite-sized chunks.


In Jr HIgh if you would've told me that some day I'd be able to look at Cammy from this angle, IN 3D, from the comfort of my own home I would've messed my pants.


While the 3D effects didn’t do much in normal mode, when you play in “3D mode” with the camera behind your shoulder the 3D really pops. I found myself drawn in while playing like this, even if it takes getting used to. The depth of field is amazing and makes the fighting much more visceral. Still, I have one huge huge complaint about the whole setup. Maybe it’s because I’m a button masher but I found I jostled the handheld around so much the 3D effects kept getting distorted when the screen moved. Hopefully this is something that future titles will take into consideration when planning control schemes. The game runs at a a higher framerate without 3D on so I suspect most people will play in two dimensions.

After a couple hours with "Street Fighter" I popped in “Ridge Racer 3D.” While the graphics aren’t anything special, I loved the depth that the 3D gave. When it comes to showing off the potential 3D will have for racing games like “Mario Kart ” or "Burnout 3D" please “Ridge Racer 3D” is a really exciting proof of concept. Still, the key word here is POTENTIAL, the game doesn’t knock your socks off. It's still the same basic gameplay, in all it's sliding glory, which is familiar fun but feels like a relic in this day and age.

While I drifted (no pun intended) off to sleep the question, “Why are you getting this, then?” echoed through my mind. Sure, I’d had fun with the gimmicks and two games but is the 3DS really worth the money? I fell asleep anxiously excited for the next day when I could show off my new toy to the people who will really appreciate it: All the geeks I work with.


Me and Mii and the 3DS and an iPhone in a mirror. Whew, I'm exhausted.


The first thing I did when I got into work was fire up the “OK Go” video and pass the system around. Everyone was blown away. Having had the system for 25 hours and already used to the gimmicks I complained, “The resolution isn’t what I had hoped it would be.”

“Yeah but it’s 3D!” was the consensus from the 3DS virgins. When I busted out the AR cards people were absolutely floored. I watched with delight as my friends took turns messing with it, completely in awe. The AR shooting games garnered the strongest reactions.


My co-worker Adam checking out the AR for the first time. Mind = BLOWN


“THIS is why I got this, then” I thought to myself. It was a delight to see the looks on peoples' faces when they first witnessed the 3D and AR. Who cares if the launch lineup is weak? Who cares if the AR gimmicks will grow old fast? I am showing people a new technology that they’ve never even imagined was possible and that is worth the price of picking the 3DS up at launch.




Now I am sitting alone at my desk. The occasional coworker comes over to check out the 3DS, plays with it for a few minutes and gives it back, probably to never pick up again. I look over my game library and don’t really feel like playing any 3DS stuff. A cartridge catches my eye and I think to myself, “I wonder if…”

I eject “Street Fighter” and pop in “Super Mario 64.” My thumb rests comfortably on the analog stick and I fire it up. A smile comes to my face as I pull off Mario’s jumps and turns with ease. Finally, 7 years later, I am playing “Super Mario 64” on a handheld and not battling the controls. The 3DS might not have the best launch lineup ever but the games I got are fun, the tech is impressive and finally having an analog stick to control “Mario 64” and “Mario Kart” is the icing on the cake. And that’s enough to keep me going until “Ocarina of Time” comes out.



Sweet, sweet analog nub. You'll keep me company until better 3DS games are on the shelf   read


12:23 AM on 03.03.2011

Beyond Good and Evil HD impressions: WTF is up with the camera!??!



Beyond Good and Evil is easily my favorite game of the last generation. The combination of graphics, characters, music and variety of gameplay added up to one of the most immersive video game worlds ever created. It was far ahead of it's time in 2003. I've been anxiously awaiting the HD remake and downloaded it as soon as it was relased on Xbox Live. As I fired it up for the first time, the soothing strains of the theme music instantly brought the memories flooding back. After a few minutes of playing, however, another memory came back to me. One so traumatic that I had blocked it from my mind: the horror of BG&E's camera controls.



Maybe it's because I was weaned on Microsoft Flight Simulator but for whatever reason it is mandatory for my in game camera to be inverted. I cannot play with a camera set to normal. So when I first started walking around Hillys I noticed the camera wasn't inverted. I went to the settings and changed the camera to "reversed." Diving back into the game I pressed down on the thumbstick, the camera went up, then I pressed left on the thumbstick and the camera went right. "Huh?" I thought. I went back into the options to try to fix the camera settings and realized there's no option to seperately change the Y and X axis. So since I want my Y axis inverted, the only option is to reverse the X axis as well. After another 30 minutes of wandering into walls, the camera not responding the way I wanted it to I was instantly transported back to my tiny apartment in 2003, playing this game on the Gamecube and having the exact same problem. I remember I finally got used to it but I can't believe they didn't update this option along with the graphics. It's 2011, people! It was frustrating enough that I cut my gameplay session short.



I wish I had more to talk about in this impression but I only put about an hour into the game. Once I get used to the borked camera I'm sure I'll be drawn back into the world. The game still looks great, plays great, sounds great. I remember the combat getting repetitive but for now I'm really enjoying it. And just piloting the hovercraft around taking pictures of creatures is so much fun to do all over again in lush HD. This game is truly great, everyone should pick it up. It's just a shame that they put so much time into updating it to look modern and yet they didn't fix a simple thing like camera controls. I worry that the clunky camera will put off gamers checking out the demo, and that's a shame. BG&E deserves to reach a wide audience and hopefully renewed interest will speed the development of a sequel.

Bottom line: MUST BUY, EVEN WITH MESSED UP CAMERA   read


9:04 PM on 01.31.2011

2010 Sucked: All The Money From My Bank Account




I've put off writing this monthly musing because I genuinely think 2010 was the best year for gaming ever. Starting off with "Mass Effect 2" in January and continuing all the way through December with the mind-blowing iPhone game "Infinity Blade" I was never left wanting a good game to play. In fact, that's the problem. 2010 had too many outstanding titles. Gone are the days when I'd find maybe 3 quality games to keep me occupied for a year. It seemed like every week a new title came out that I was eager to get my hands on. May 18th saw the release of "Red Dead Redemption," "Alan Wake," "Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands," and "Split/Second." All some of my favorite games of the year but if I bought all those new it would've cost me 240 bucks plus tax. Gaming is an expensive hobby but that's an absurd amount of money to drop at once. As a result, I've had to change my purchasing habits and figure out ways to play the games I want without going broke. And so far I'm almost succeeding.



The first way to game on the cheap is obviously Gamefly. I've been using this service for years now and love it. You can always get the brand new releases if you time it to send your game back the week before a game you want is released, then clear your Q of everything but the game you want. I have always had the brand new title sent to me within a few days of launch. Unfortunately, many games now require you to imput codes to play online or unlock the entire game. I've found two ways around this. First off, I've noticed at my local Blockbuster they put the cases for new games on the shelf with all the manuals and codes still tucked into the sleeve. If there's a game I've rented from Gamefly that I want to imput an online pass I'll just stroll down to Blockbuster and casually tuck the slip with the codes into my pocket. Is this ethical? I figure Blockbuster already paid for the game and if I don't snag the code someone else who rents it will. Obviously there are some games that I want to keep and that's the best part of Gamefly's "keep it now" option: They send you the case with all manuals and codes intact! Within 5 minutes of playing "NFS: Hot Pursuit" I knew I wanted to own the game. I immediately went online and opted to keep the game, it cost me 40 bucks the same week the game came out and I had my online code the day after the 2 day free pass expired. I've also managed my gaming dollars by purchasing games new with online codes and using Gamefly to rent games that don't require any online registration ie: Kirby's Epic Yarn and Goldeneye for Wii.



Another way I managed to play more games by spending less is by waiting to buy them until price drops. I mentioned May 18th as being a particularily stuffed day for releases. I purchased both "Alan Wake" and "Red Dead Redemption" on day one and they kept me entertained for quite some time. However, I never forgot about the new "Prince of Persia" and after a few short months I was able to get it new for 20 dollars! And I loved the game! Is it my fault that it didn't sell well initially and Ubisoft had to mark down the price? Possibly, but I say it's their fault for releasing it in such a crowded marketplace. The same goes for buying games used. Honestly, I think it's ridiculous to buy a used game at Gamestop for $55 when you can get it new for $60, considering that none of that money is going to the developer. But when I find "Bayonetta" for $10 in November, I have no problem picking it up. And if I enjoy it, maybe I'll buy Platinum Games' next offering new. I still do buy new games, I just have to be smart about it.



Even after all my tricky money saving I still find my bank account low and video games are to blame. The main culprit: Downloadable Titles and Content. This year I bought "Limbo," "Flower," "Pinball FX 2" plus DLC for "Red Dead," "Mass Effect 2" and "Alan Wake," just to name a few. 10-15 bucks here and there really adds up. Sometimes this DLC goes on sale but I'm too impatient. I don't think DLC is a bad thing at all, whatever gives the developers money to make more games is OK by me. In fact, I've bought DLC for games that I have bought used and loved because it's a way for me to give some cash to the creators of the game.



Being a gamer is expensive, being a cheap gamer is difficult but necessary if you want to enjoy all that our hobby offers. I know some people think it's unethical to buy used or use Gamefly but I honestly don't know how else you could play all the great games that are offered. Everything I did I did legally and I still gave the game companies plenty of dough. The other problem I had this year was finding time to play all the games I wanted to. I loved my time with "Enslaved" but when I was playing in the back of my mind I just kept thinking about all the XP I was missing out on in "Halo: Reach." It's a tricky balancing act to figure out how to get the most out of the games you love. By mastering one, you can miss out on experiencing all that is out there. But that's a topic for another time.   read


5:58 PM on 01.19.2011

Can the Kinect save lives? Maybe some day...



Recently a University of Washington electrical engineering student hacked the Kinect to enable it to work with robotic surgery. It's pretty cool stuff. For my day job I work as a photojournalist in Seattle and I shot and edited this story. I usually don't post stuff on this blog relating to my television work but I thought this story was appropriate. If you want to see video of it in action, click the link.

http://udistrict.komonews.com/content/uw-students-hack-kinect-enable-robotic-surgery   read


8:25 PM on 12.10.2010

2010 wrap-up: Best year for gaming ever?

Could 2010 be the best year for videogames ever? Back in June I found myself wondering that, I'd never seen a year front loaded with such amazing games. I hoped that the rest of the year would continue to deliver such strong titles. Despite a few notable disappointments like Epic Mickey (damn camera), Donkey Kong Country Returns (damn waggle) and Heavy Rain (damn X for Jason) 2010 delivered such a plethora of high quality titles I believe it could be the best year for games ever. I had a hard time narrowing this list down to 10 but I decided to go with the games I simply had the most fun playing. I invite you to read my list and share your thoughts.


10. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

This game is by far my most pleasant surprise of the year. I loved the last gen Prince of Persia games but hated the Nolan North reboot from a couple years ago. Many were quick to dismiss The Forgotten Sands as a quickie movie tie-in but that would be doing it a disservice. It lacks the charm of The Sands of Time but maintains the clever platforming, beautiful graphics and tight controls of the series. No other game I played this year gave me quite the rush I got when I lept from a pillar onto a frozen waterfall, then jumped the other way, unfreezing the water and flying through to another platform. The combat is not the most challenging but I found the emphasis on crowd management and attack timing to be quite satisfying. If you missed this title, you can pick it up for 11 bucks used on Gamefly and it's well worth it.


9. Limbo

Striking. That's the first word that comes to mind when thinking about Limbo. The haunting gray scale environment is unlike any other I've experienced. And the gameplay is deceptively simple but very challenging. You will die in this game. Repeatedly. But thanks to liberal checkpoints and tight controls, it never gets controller throwing difficult. Although, I will admit I had to consult YouTube for a couple of the harder puzzles. This game is an indie triumph and stays with you long after some of the big budget titles have left your memory.


8. Super Mario Galaxy 2

The most important thing to me in games is the feel. And damn does this game feel good. Basically a streamlined version of SMG 1, it is such a delight to navigate the environments in Galaxy 2 I keep coming back to this game. Nintendo has perfected the platforming formula and they make it look easy. After playing this game it's hard to go back to other platformers with their wonky cameras and cheap deaths. The only problem I can think of is: Where will Mario go from here? Super Mario Galaxy 3 would be a little stale, I can only imagine what Miyamoto and Co. have up their sleeves for the next evolutionary step.


7. Enslaved

Remember what I just said about "feel" being the most important criteria for me when it comes to games? I'm willing to make an exception for Enslaved. The auto-platforming isn't that satisfying and the combat gets repetive but the story and character interaction is so good I pressed on anyways. And after awhile I actually quite enjoyed the controls, especially on the levels where you jump on your "cloud" hoverboard, blast the mechanical "dog" with your bowstaff, then jump off to take it down. Those sequences were thrilling. But what Enslaved does best is character interaction. I've never seen subtleties in the faces of video game characters convey emotion quite like this. The only thing holding Enslaved back from true greatness is the bizzare inclusion of full motion video at the end. Seeing video of real humans in a computer generated world only serves to cheapen the entire experience. Still, this game is well worth playing for anyone that loved Beyond Good and Evil and a good story.


6. Call of Duty: Black Ops

Having Ice Cube bark orders at me was one of many fantastic revelations in Black Ops. Story-wise, this is easily the best of the Call of Duty games. The missions are varied and filled with "HOLY SHIT!" moments but nothing that approaches the absurdity of Modern Warfare 2. And I could not believe how gory some of the sequences were but that's not a bad thing. The campaign essentially devolves into a corridor shooter but it is so satisfying to fire those guns and there's so much going on that you hardly notice in the moment. As for the multiplayer, Treyarch took the foundation of Modern Warfare, removed the annoying things like killstreak chaining and added the brilliant credit system so we can unlock the guns and perks we want rather than grinding through a bunch or crap first. While I don't think the level design is quite as good as Infinity Ward's last title I will find myself playing this long after I quit MW2 in frustration. The only disapointment is the removal of Spec Ops which knocks it down a few spots on this list.


5. Alan Wake

This game has been a long time coming for 360 owners. I have been extra interested in it because I love the Max Payne games, I love Twin Peaks and I live in the Pacific Northwest where it's set. While Alan Wake falls short of greatness, it tells a mind bending Steven King-like story and has really satisfying combat. I don't know what it is about taking down the enemy shields with my flashlight then blowing them to smithereens with my gun but I never got tired of it (until the DLC episodes, but that's another story). Alan Wake has some of the best environmental effects I've ever seen (I've never jumped at so many shadows) and the episodic structure fit the game perfectly. I only hope Remedy gets a chance to keep the Alan Wake story going. The post-release downloadable episodes didn't vary the combat enough but the surreal environments that take place in Alan's head (or do they?) hinted at some very creative places a sequel could go to.


4. Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit

The Burnout Series have always been my favorite arcade racer and my roomates and I wasted many a night playing cops vs racers in Hot Pursuit back on the PS1 so the new NFS:HP seemed like a match made in heaven. And it is. The cars control exactly like Burnout, only thing time they're actually licensed exotic cars. Playing as both a cop and racer are extremely fun and no game delivers a sense of speed like this one does. I prefer this game to slogging though the open world of Burnout: Paradise and the online co-op and vs modes are the best I've seen on any racing game. My only caveat is that I haven't put nearly enough time into this game because I keep getting sucked back in by:


3. Halo: Reach

Fun. That's what Halo is all about. In terms of pure content, this game literally delivers so much you could play nothing but Halo: Reach for years and never run out of stuff to do. I feel Halo has always had the best controls of any console FPS and Reach refines them to perfection. Each level has so many ways to approach your objectives it plays different every time. Add in the daily challenges, the fantastic enemy AI and the skulls that modify the game settings and the campaign is something that I find myself replaying over and over. And the multiplayer is pure perfection. I don't know what sort of magic algorithms Bungie has conjured up but every match I play sets me up with people of a similar skill level. And I love that everyone has the same guns, unlike Call of Duty. On many matches I will completely eviscerate players 30 levels higher than me and likewise find myself getting pwned by noobs. But it's never frustrating. Unlike Black Ops where after getting killed for the 10th time in a row by an unseen enemy I want to shut off the game forever. Halo: Reach offers so many ways to be creative that you don't have to be the best shot on the team to contribute. I could go on and on about how much I love this game but I won't suffice to say this disc will be spinning in my disc drive long after all the other games on this list have been collecting dust on the shelf. Did I mention the jetpacks? Pure gaming bliss.


2. Mass Effect 2

My only regret of 2010 is that I never had sex with Miranda. I was so focused on everything else going on that by the time I got around to wooing her it was too late. Mass Effect 2 is one of those games that completely takes over your life. From the moment I started playing this it was all I could think about. During work I'd be counting down the hours to when I could jump back into the Normandy and go on missions. I'd dream about it. This is the game I've always wanted: A sci-fi RPG with great combat controls. Where ME1 had pretty crappy gunplay and a horrible framerate, ME2 ups the shooting controls to near Gears of War levels. The game is a pure joy to play. And BioWare has created the most convincing, lived-in sci-fi universe since the original Star Wars movies. I've never felt so attached to characters, I almost shed a tear when the reapers captured my crew, and those weren't even my squadmates. Over Christmas break I'm gearing up for another playthrough, this time as a renegade. And Miranda better watch out, this time I will not be denied!


1. Red Dead Redemption

There was a moment, hours into my playthrough of Red Dead Redemption where I was using the Dead-Eye targeting system to take out some enemies and I accidently targeted my own horse. I watched in horror as the yellow faded from the screen and I unloaded multiple bullets into my steed and he went down to the ground. I stood there, shocked, mourning over the corpse of the horse I had spent hours exploring the beautiful world with and I realized this was a moment that trancended games. I had become attached to a digital horse that was essentially transportation, the same thing as a car you'd drive in GTA. I hadn't even realized how much I cared for this horse until I had killed it. I actually had to stop playing for a while out of respect. This seems ridiculous but that's how amazing Red Dead Redemption is. It is by far the most convincing open-world game ever made. The citizens actually feel like they inhabit this world, whether you are there or not. Months later when I was playing the excellent Undead Nightmare expansion I had a moment where I was trying to rescue a woman from zombies but accidentally shot her in the foot. As the zombies surrounded her I jumped onto my horse and rode to safety but felt a twinge of guilt for letting her die rather than risk my own life and waste bullets trying to stop the zombie horde. I don't know what else to say about this game other than it is a masterpiece that everyone who loves videogames should play.

So there's my list of favorite games of the year. Is 2010 really the best year for games ever? It's hard to say. As much as I love these games, they'll never compare to the hours I put into Super Mario 3 as a kid or all the college classes I skipped to play Ocarina of Time. Objectively, though, 2010 had a ton of great games and something for everyone. 2011 has a lot to live up to but I can't wait. In the meantime, I'll be splattering fools in Halo: Reach

Runners Up: Kirby's Epic Yarn, Goldeneye, God of War 3, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Just Cause 2, Pinball FX 2

Best Downloadable Content: Undead Nightmare for Red Dead Redemption (it completely changes the combat of the game and gives the environment a new eerie feel), The Shadow Broker for Mass Effect 2 (a fun mission that hints at what we can expect from Mass Effect 3 if they fix the wonky hover car controls), The Writer for Alan Wake (loved the surreal level design but the combat is getting stale)

Most Anticipated 2011 games: Uncharted 3, Bulletstorm, Rage, Gears of War 3. So sue me, I love shooters.

Please leave your thoughts on my list and what your favorites of the year are!   read


1:20 AM on 12.02.2010

Waggle makes me a Cranky Kong



I'll never forget watching the preview for "Donkey Kong Country" on the VHS tape that came in the mail to "Nintendo Power" subscribers back in the day. The visuals were truly astonishing, it was like glimsing the future of gaming but it was going to be on the Super Nintendo. When the game finally came out, it did not dissapoint. Sure the platforming wasn't as deep as "Super Mario World" but it played great, had awesome co-op and did I mention how spectacular the visuals were? Over the years I've revisited the game numerous times and still find it enjoyable, especially DK Country 2.

When Nintendo first announced "Donkey Kong Country Returns" at E3 I was instantly transported back to when I watched that preview on VHS. It looked amazing, with updated visuals that kept the same look of the original and similar platforming. For my money, this was the game to give "Super Mario Galaxy 2" a run for best Wii game of the year.

After playing through one and a half worlds, I have to admit that I am absolutely heartbroken by this game and the blame lays solely on the choice to map the roll function to waggle. When I first played I found the waggle annoying but figured I could just play with my classic controller. Bafflingly, this option is not included. For a platformer this precise, why not give us a button for moves that require such quick reflexes? I powered through the first world and a few levels of world two but after the hundredth time I ran into a crab because the game hadn't registered my waggle movement yet I shut off the game in frustration and will never pick it up again.

I just don't understand why Retro Studios didn't give us the option to use the classic controller! They'd have to see that the target audience likes playing side scrollers the way we did on the Super Nintendo. For Mario Kart they gave us the option of motion controls or not. Same with Smash Bros. And Goldeneye. I am so upset with this because I was really loving the game but the frustration proved too much to handle. Now I'm going back to finish "Kirby's Epic Yarn." Sure it's easy, sure the visuals are naseautingly cute, but damn if it doesn't control like a dream, exactly how I expected it would.   read


7:48 PM on 10.21.2010

What happens in New Vegas stays in 2006

After years of hearing my friends share tales of their adventures in the Fallout universe I became increasingly jealous of their ability to immerse themselves in the game. I put a few hours into Fallout 3 but something never clicked for me. The main issue I had is, like Oblivion before it, I never felt that my character was connected to the world. I felt more like I was floating around rather than walking on the ground. And I absolutely hate the gunplay. I'm sure it's because I've been trained on shooters but the V.A.T.S. system infuriates me. I don't want to have my bullets land based on an algorithm of my stats, if I line up a shot it should connect. I had the same problem with Mass Effect 1, but then BioWare tweaked the combat for ME2 and made it a joy to play. Sure you upgraded your weapons and made them more powerful but even from the beginning of the game they were very satisfying to shoot and made the firefights a blast. So when I heard that New Vegas was coming out I waited with baited breath that similar tweaks would allow me to lose myself in the massive world and have fun doing it. Instead, I found


  read


7:37 PM on 06.24.2010

Could 2010 be the best year for games ever?



As I near the end of Red Dead Redemption I've been thinking, could this be the best year for videogames ever? Already I've played three games that I would put in my top ten of this generation: "Mass Effect 2," "Read Dead Redemption," and "Alan Wake." As I put some more time into "Mario Galaxy 2" that might get added to the list as well. Even some of the games I wouldn't put on that list would've made my top games list any other year like "God of War III," "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" and I'm even loving the new "Prince of Persia." Plus we've still got "Halo: Reach," "COD: Black Ops," "Metroid: Other M" among other promising titles to look forward to. It's an embarassment of riches and a great time to be a gamer, even if it is hard on the wallet. Thank God for Gamefly.




Honestly, I can't think of a year that had this many stellar titles since 1998 or possibly 2007, but if you look at the sheer volume of outstanding games this year I think 2010 takes the cake. And I've got a theory why. With the impending release of "Kinect" and "Move," it's clear that this hardware cycle is going to last at least a few years longer than previous generations. As a result, we've got game developers really mastering the intricacies of the systems and pushing them to their limits. It's mind-blowing to see footage of "Rage' and "Crysis 2" running on an Xbox 360, I am surprised they can squeeze such power out of the noisy box. I think in the next few years games are only gonna get better as developers can concentrate on this generation's hardware rather than split their time trying to figure out new systems. Historically, some of the best games come out late in a console's life cycle and if these trends continue we're in for a great couple years.




Again, I am absolutely overwhelmed but all the good games that have come out this year. So many anticipated titles delivering on their promise, it's tough to keep up. And I haven't even gotten into downloadable titles. I just hope developers keep it up. My biggest complaint right now is that I don't have enough time to play all the great games that are out, and that's a pretty sweet situation to be in!

Thanks for reading this. I've read Destructoid for a couple years but just recently got an account and this is my first blog. If you have any thoughts, please let me know!   read


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