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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.   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


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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