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Danl Haas's blog

12:58 PM on 09.06.2010

2sexy4PAXcast: Episode 1

So while just about damn everyone was out getting their faces melted by what was evidently the best PAX ever, there were some people who couldn't be there. Some people who were left behind. But cry not for us, gentle readers, for our absence was, in fact, for the good of all mankind.

For you see, we were too sexy for PAX.

So what did we do? Pretty much what you'd expect. We recorded a podcast. Over two hours with a great cast and a variety of topics ranging from grandmothers' funerals to black amputee toilet hardware handjob porn, we've got it all.

Sexy guest list:
Jon Bloodspray
Matthew Jay

Musical selections:

Hot Chocolate- You Sexy Thing
Harold Faltermeyer- Axel F
They Might Be Giants- S-E-X-X-Y
Anamanaguchi- Rock Club
Armcannon- I'm a Real American Sexy Boy   read

1:50 AM on 04.17.2010

In which a dead horse is further brutalized: My take on Games as Art

Listen. I know you're tired of this. I am too. I'm going to try to make this as easy for you as I can. In fact, I'm going to do you a favor and tell you why you're free to not think about it anymore. I'm not actually here to make any original arguments on the matter or even contribute much of anything meaningful to the debate. A few people have been throwing logs on that fire very recently, and you can expect fresh debate to be had in the near future. The arguments will be had by very intelligent people, and at this juncture, I've nothing to add to them. Instead, I'm going to do two things: first, I will tell you precisely why I am much, much more qualified to come to a conclusion on this debate than you are. Then, with the absolute bare minimum of explanation or qualification, I will inform you of my conclusion

My reasoning is thus:

I am a gamer.

I'm guessing I don't have to try very hard to convince you guys of this. I love videogames. There was an NES in my house when I was born. I was watching the original Super Mario Bros. before I learned to talk. I learned everything I know about football from watching my older brother play Tecmo Super Bowl. I spend much more of my spare time than I care to admit playing, discussing, or just thinking about videogames. Considering I am a member of this community, this should really come as no surprise. I don't bring all this up so that I can claim I know more about videogames than you do, dear reader. Rather, I do so simply to indicate to you that I'm speaking as a connoisseur of the medium, and as someone who is acutely aware of what it is capable of showing and expressing. I am not some jackoff film critic who tries to make claims about what games can and cannot do based solely on personal prejudice and conjecture.

I am an artist.

I understand that the term 'artist' is fairly broad these days, so let me clarify: I don't just mean that I can draw, or that I know Photoshop really well, or that I got A's in all my art classes in high school. It's not just that I put more thought into every font choice in my poster design than a prom queen puts into her choice of dress, or that I have piles of sketchbooks filled to the brim with my drawings and designs. Though all those things may be true, I take the definition of 'artist' much more seriously. When I paint, or when I draw, or when I design, or create any kind of art object, I do so thoughtfully. When I want to create a piece of art, it's something with real expressive power, a vehicle for my thoughts or ideas or emotions and must be treated with the utmost care. I understand the creation of art in the broader context of the art world.

In addition to the creation of art, I also study art academically.

I've spent days and weeks of my life studying the history of art. I've examined the birth of Modernism; Impressionism through Abstract Expressionism through Pop and Minimalism and onward; those movements that forced the entire art establishment to re-examine its own assumptions about the nature of artistic expression. I've done lengthy research projects into those really bizarre movements that most average folks probably still have trouble identifying as art, like Dada and Fluxus. I think people like On Kawara and Chuck Close and George Maciunas are total badasses. And though they may be my specialty, I don't mean to imply I only study modern art. Oh no. I spent a month studying Renaissance and Baroque art in Rome last year. I saw the masterworks of Raphael, Michaelangelo, Caravaggio, and Bernini up close. I've put nearly seven hundred years of art history through a fine-toothed fucking comb. No major movement, medium, artist, or idea has escaped my ravenous appetite for the study of art.

I am a gamer. I am an artist. And I am telling you: Videogames are art.   read

7:08 PM on 04.09.2010

Music review: MC Frontalot's Zero Day

Nerd rap extraordinaire MC Frontalot's new album, Zero Day dropped this week, and naturally, I picked up a copy at my earliest convenience. I've listened through the thing quite a few times now, and feel comfortable reporting my thoughts to you here, should you be considering making a purchase. I'm fairly new to the music review thing, so let's just jump into it, shall we?

Album: Zero Day
Artist: MC Frontalot
Label: Level Up Records & Tapes
Released: April 6, 2010
Genre: Nerdcore Hip Hop

As a longtime MC Frontalot fan, it didn't take long for me to see that the new album doesn't stray from from its predecessors. All the signature elements are here: insanely geeky raps executed with unmatched precision, great guests from the nerd rap world (as well as the broader nerd world), a few hilarious skits, a few reworked old favorites, songs on some very obscure, nerdy subjects as well as some slightly more 'current events' sorts of topics, a few theme songs for some of Front's favorite nerd world figures and institutions, and plenty of discussion on the Front himself. It's all stuff we've seen before from Frontalot, and he's got it down to a science. In short, it's the Frontalot formula I know and love.

If I have one complaint, it's that it sometimes becomes too formulaic. Two tracks in particular on Zero Day, Disaster and Spoiler Alert, appear to follow a nearly identical pattern. They're both ostensibly about film, and they both have a female guest vocalist in tow to sing the sort-of-funny-the-first-time-but-not-the-tenth chorus, on which Front joins towards the end. The only real difference is that guest rappers are present on Disaster. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy both tracks, I just think they they may be a little too similar for their own good. Front also seems very fond of the 'record scratch of old recordings of people talking' trick, which is used to essentially identical effect on both 80085 and Front The Most.

Other than that, though, the formula shines bright. The three skits are his best to date, and are still hilarious after numerous listenings. Zero Day also sports the most impressive list of guest contributions yet, including guest rappers Int80, ytcracker, Beefy, and Shaffer the Darklord, beloved humorist John Hodgman, former Soul Coughing front man Mike Doughty, and some cameos by Jonathan Coulton and the XKCD guy, Randall Munroe. Oh, and the album art was created by Jhonen Vasquez of Invader Zim fame.

From a production standpoint, this is definitely the best MC Frontalot has ever sounded. At this point, Front has a considerable suite of excellent musicians at his disposal. The endlessly talented beatsmith Baddd Spellah is back, providing ludicrously thick beats that are guaranteed to be stuck in your head for days. His touring band, Gminor7, Blak Lotus, and The Sturgenius are all present to provide their expertise on keyboard, bass, and live drums (respectively). Frontalot also takes a few more chances with the instrumentation this time around, which pays off in a huge way, keeping the aforementioned formula sounding fresh. For instance, the track Better At Rapping features ukulele, trumpet, and kazoo(!!), and Jacquelyn Hyde uses a djembe as its principle percussive instrument.

fuck yeah kazoo

Zero Day also features some of Frontalot's very best lyricism. His rhymes and flow have simply never been better. Tracks Your Friend Wil and The Council of Loathing are essentially theme songs for two of Front's favorite geek establishments: our Secretary of Geek Affairs Wil Wheaton, and classic stick figure-based multi-user online game Kingdom of Loathing. Charisma Potion is probably the best song I've ever heard about Dungeons and Dragons (and if you think it's the only one I've listened to, man, you haven't seen my iTunes library). Personally, though, I love Front's more introspective tracks: A Little Bit Broad and Better At Rapping. To me, these prove his nerd cred even more than most overtly nerdy songs. His ability to mix hip-hop swagger and braggadocio with the kind of genuine doubt and self-loathing that are unique to our particular subculture has always been one of my favorite qualities about him, and that recipe has been perfected with these two songs. The very last line of A Little Bit Broad sums it up perfectly: "Titanic ego, low self esteem."

If you've ever enjoyed listening to MC Frontalot, Zero Day provides much, much more of what you love. On the other hand, if nerdcore rap has never been your thing, this album probably won't change your mind. If you're brand new to the scene, I'd encourage you to give this one a listen; this isn't just great Nerdcore Hip-Hop, it's great music.


Oh, and if anyone manages to figure out how to decode the secret track, let me know. It's torturing me.   read

11:16 PM on 04.03.2010

PAX East recap: A Dtoid victory at Pitch Your Game Idea!

Allow me to set the stage for you: It was Sunday morning, the last day of PAX East. I arrived at the convention center alone, ready to wander about until I run into the inevitable Dtoider or find something fun to do. After picking up a bacon sandwich and glancing over my schedule, I noticed that the second Penny Arcade panel was set to start in an hour and a half. Being as popular a panel as it is, I figured I might as well head to the main theater and camp out, eat, and pictochat until Gabe and Tycho appeared. What I didn't realize is that, moments after I arrived in the main theater, the PAX East "Pitch Your Game Idea" panel was set to start. I've got no idea how I missed that on the schedule, but I was extremely pleased. There I was. Nothing else to do. The line wasn't too long. The mic was just down the aisle from me. What did I have to lose?

Okay, now rewind to Saturday. Whilst palling around with some Dtoid bros, (and no matter how much I wrack my brain, I cannot remember which ones, so sorry! Comment if it was you.) we develop a most excellent idea for a game. We decided that, if given the chance to pitch a game idea, all you'd have say is 'Lady Gaga Moonwalker', and immediately, you'd be awarded first place.

In practice, it was a bit more complicated than that. I approached the mic and said that the idea I was about to pitch was created over the course of the past few days while hanging out with the the crew from Destructoid (my "represent" was met with a rather depressing silence. Where the hell were you guys?). "So basically," I said, "my idea is like Michael Jackson's classic Genesis game, Moonwalker, except instead of Michael Jackson, it's Lady Gaga." HUGE laugh from the crowd. The panelists found it extremely entertaining, asked me a few clarifying questions, and gave me a 'yes'.

The panel itself worked like this: Each participant was given an itial 45 seconds to deliver their game pitch. Some games did not require this much time, most notably Just The Tip, See How It Feels, which required only the name of the game. At the conclusion of this time, they were given a yes or no, signifying whether or not they should return for round two. Round two consisted of a few more detailed questions from the panelists (Including Scott Kurtz of PvP) to flesh out your idea a bit more, and after all of these were finished, the top three games were chosen.

I should probably admit at this point that I was probably the least qualified person to make this pitch. I know effectively nothing about Lady Gaga, and what I do do know is enough to tell me that she's the sort of thing I typically try to avoid learning more about. If you're a fan, I apologize, but she's just not my thing. So when I went back to the mic for the second part of my pitch, I really didn't know what to say. "Yeah... I mean, y'know how crazy her videos are? I... I guess it would look like that? Probably it's a downloadable title... sidescrolling beat 'em up, maybe." It was brief, and didn't really provide the judges with anything substantial or new. The sad part, they said, was that if this thing were made, it would make serious money. Of course, after I sat down, I cobbled together a few more ideas for game mechanics based on my scant Gaga knowledge, including a ridiculous costume changing mechanic, and a mechanic utilizing the PlayStation Eye to read the player's "p-p-p-poker face", but I digress. Despite my somewhat inept pitching, the game idea stood on its own well enough to earn me, and Destructoid, third place.

So there it is, Dtoid. Your medal. You earned it.

But I'm keeping it.


6:03 PM on 03.31.2010

PAX Love blog: not to be submitted and scored by Pearson Higher Education

PAX East. Home.

Last weekend was, without a doubt, one of the best weekends of my life. I can't even begin to find the words to express my gratitude towards everyone and everything that made it so great. My sentiments in this regard are not wholly unique; the c-blogs this week have already begun to swell with the love this festival creates on a now semi-annual basis. Part of me is content to just show you those blogs and tell you that, yes, this is how it is. Destructoid has the best community, they made me feel at home the way no one else could, and I'm truly thankful to be able to call myself a part of it. The rest of this blog will probably not give you much more than my beloved compatriots have already generously provided. No, I'm afraid my reasons for writing are, perhaps, a bit more selfish than that. This is a personal reflection of sorts. I want to have this blog to go back to in the future, to remind myself what PAX East was like for me. I'm sharing it with you because you are the community that made it all possible. And for that, I truly cannot thank you enough.

First off, I want to tell you something just a little bit uncomfortable. The story of how horrifyingly close I came to not attending PAX East. Were I a Texan tenth grader, I might tell you that this is a story about a time I was inspired to keep going, despite circumstances that suggested the opposite. If you've been following my cblog at all, you may have noticed that in one of my pre-PAX hype blogs, I noted that I was not planning on attending the convention alone. No, at that time, my girlfriend was to join me. Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened: we broke up. And I was devastated. I lost my friend group and about a month's worth of sanity to that breakup, and very nearly dropped out of school. We had made all of our PAX plans together, and without her, I wondered why I would even bother attending. And yet, nearly everyday, I would receive messages in my inbox reminding me that there was this group of people, none of whom I'd ever met, many of whom had never met each other, that were constantly preparing and making plans and finding places to stay together and getting ready to have the time of their lives together in Boston. Of course, I'd seen the love produced over the years, as PAX transformed Seattle into a Mecca of geeky love and joy. Every day I read the DtoidPAXMeetup email and tried to make a decision. I read the blogs, I read the forum threads... and eventually, it was this community that won out. You helped me overcome my fear of traveling completely alone to a place I'd never been to spend time with people I'd never met. Destructoid made me a promise that I'd feel welcome and safe as a member of the community, and it did not disappoint. It far surpassed even my most optimistic of expectations. Every single person I met was so amazingly warm and fun to be around, so easy to talk to. Our shared history as gamers and Dtoiders created a commonality between all of us that we never even had to discuss, it simply allowed us all to be ourselves. This is something I've not had the opportunity to do in months, and again, words can hardly express my gratitude.

Here are some of the things Dtoid made possible for me this weekend:

The Thursday night meet-up at Unos, as Funktastic produced gifts from his magical swag bag and Analoge sang obscure JRPG theme songs. Also, JASON

Jogging through the queue line on Friday afternoon with Chewie, Volkarin, and Nikmonroe, as we desperately tried to get (x)JASON!! to appear on the shoutboard.

Waiting in the queue room for Friday's concerts with Greks, as an obviously rather inebriated man asked us what our favorite videogames were, and being absolutely sure that we had missed The Protomen's set.

At the Friday night concerts, rocking out to The Protomen with Volkarin, screaming "THERE WILL BE LIGHT" and "WHAT WAS HER NAME" together, right on cue, in the way that only die-hard nerd-rock-opera fans could.

During the very next set, going totally insane with HeyRicochet to Anamanaguchi.

Eating leftover PB Winterbottom pie on the floor, courtesy of megaStryke.

Going on an extended hunt for Starcraft II Beta keys with Jose.

Completely ignoring Adam Sessler during his panel to instead draw dicks over Pictochat.

Watching a head-to-head MegaMan 2 speedrun competition in classic freeplay with Nikmonroe, complete with live commentary and a Street Fighter-style crowd to provide oohs and ahhs.

An incredibly traumatic food court experience with Chewie, Volkarin, and Analoge.

Drawing endless dicks, Beedogs, and other Dtoid inside jokes on Pictochat, while we sat in one of the nicest bars in Fenway. It's okay, kauza, I know it was supposed to be your avatar with a huge boner. I just wanted to hear you explain it.

I know there's an absolute shitload of amazing things I've left out here; just suffice it to say that PAX was amazing, and it's because of you. Yes, YOU. I know I've already said it a lot, even though it never seems like enough, but thanks, Dtoid. Thank you.


4:44 PM on 03.12.2010

The 2010 GDC Awards, or, "Why do the VGA's still Exist?"

So, last Thursday night, the Game Developers' Choice awards were once again held in sunny San Fransisco. This was the first time I've actually sat down and watched the thing, and I really enjoyed myself. If you missed it, you can find some great coverage of the whole thing over on Joystiq. The event really got me thinking about how the industry gives out honors and how the VGA's are shit, and so I thought I'd share some of my thoughts here, in easily digestible list form.

First, we'll start out with some of the things I didn't like.

- In many instances, the production values were rather poor. The camerawork on the Gamespot stream was iffy; there were times when we were left with a rotating logo from the display screen feed while the person we were supposed to be looking at provided voice over. It was particularly problematic during Newell's and Carmack's presentations, in which stream viewers were totally unable to see the slides on the screen behind them. Oh, and the teleprompter placement was just awful. There were also a few technical gaffs, most notably right at the end when the stream decided to cut off Warren Spector mid-sentence, just before he revealed the new Deus Ex 3 trailer. Awesome job on that one, guys.

- It seemed like no one could agree on how to dress. The host, Mr. Spector, was in a full tuxedo with tails and a bright red bow tie, which looked great as an homage to Mickey Mouse, but as the night went on, it was pretty clear he was extremely overdressed. Conversely, there were quite a few award winners who seemed extremely under dressed. John Smedly from Sony looked like he was wearing a bed sheet. The guy accepting the award for Batman: Arkham Asylum and the dude from the Farmville team also stood out as pretty poorly prepared to show up on stage.

- Speaking of that Farmville douche, man, there were some bad speeches. I mean, I know that's true of any award show, but seriously, Farmville guy? Is this really the best time to be asking for applicants to your company? It made you look like an enormous toolbag. As if we didn't already think you were a tool just from having worked on goddamn Farmville. And are you seriously wearing a shirt to advertise your own shitty game? Stay classy, Zynga. Not that he was the only one, of course. The guy from 5th Cell gave some pretty bad speeches, too.

Okay, let's move on to the things I really did like about this thing, and in particular, what makes it so, so much better than the Spike VGA's.

+ Everyone who got on that stage was someone who is legitimately involved in the games industry. There were no bullshit comedians or Hollywood celebrities showing up just to make the event seem more like an "award show". It proved extremely well that we don't need some jackass like Jack Black to host our award shows. Warren Spector has been a game developer for decades, has no professional acting experience, and guess what? He made a damn good host. He did an excellent job. We heard speeches from people that gamers actually give a shit about, like Gabe Newell and John Carmack. We didn't need shitty little skits every fifteen minutes (Mega64 notwithstanding). We didn't need to have Doogie Howser shoot anyone. Everything was about the games and the people that make them. Basically, the GDC awards are not ashamed to be about videogames.

+ I liked that it was very candid, very personal, and very uncensored. These people weren't talking through some kind of PR filter, they were speaking to their peers. Gabe and Tycho were allowed to swear (they also, unsurprisingly, had the best acceptance speech of the night. I highly recommend watching the video if you can find it). Everyone seemed pretty comfortable, speakers made jokes that only developers could understand, and they got laughs. There's no way they'd let something like that happen on SpikeTV.

+ All the commercial aspects that bog down the VGA's are blessedly absent here. Basically, no one was out to make money on this thing. Therefore, it didn't have all that crap that we as gamers do not need in our award show. We don't have to tease new games from tired franchises every fifteen minutes. We don't need categories that are sponsored by Doritos. We don't need overly extravagant sets featuring supermodels in body paint suspended from the ceiling in golden hoops. We want videogames and we want to honor the people responsible for them. And that's what we got.

+ Also related to my previous point is the fact that it was on the internet. Most of the reason that the VGA's are packed full of all that trash I just mentioned is because it's on a fairly major cable station. The show needs to make money. Basically, if you don't want to stuff Dorito's ads into your awards show, you can't put it on the air. GDC's solution? Don't put it on the air. The VGA's (and the people who support an award show of that sort for videogames) seem to be under the impression that in order for the ceremony to have legitimacy the way, say, the Oscars do, is to put it on television. I disagree. Going the streaming route is, I'd argue, preferable to the majority of gamers, and would solve many of the problems that exist with the VGA's as they exist today.

That's about it. Basically, after watching the GDC awards, I really have a hard time understanding why we ever thought we needed to turn to Spike to make the 'Videogame Industry's Oscars'. We already have them here. We just need to touch up the production values a bit and get better coverage of the event and it would be absolutely perfect.   read

12:46 PM on 02.01.2010

PAX EAST: Updating you on WHY YOU CARE

So it's been a while since I've seen any real PAX East love on the c-blogs. It's almost as if people don't think that this party will be every bit as awesome as PAX Prime. Well, I tried to tell you before, but that was a while ago, and there are some new things you need to know. So here they are:

1: The Return of the Greatest Concert Series Known To Man

I'll be honest with you: my single greatest source of envy toward the attendees of PAX Prime was the goddamn amazing musicians they got to see. Frontalot? Optimus Rhyme? Metroid fucking Metal playing LIVE?? Why am I not there right now. Well, fortunately, the concert series is shaping up to be every bit as awesome at PAX East. While no one has been officially announced by the PAX website, that hasn't stopped a few musicians from confirming their appearances in other ways. Jonathan Coulton, MC Frontalot, and even The Protomen have separately confirmed that they will indeed be playing the show. The Front has even announced that his brand new album, entitled Zero Day, will be available at PAX East, even before it goes on sale on his own website. I believe I purchased my badge for the show a matter of minutes after I read that little piece of news off his website. I'm what you'd call "a fan".
As far as other artists go, we're still in the dark. I'm really, really hoping for an appearance by Anamanaguchi, which seems likely, as they'll just be finishing up a Chiptune megatour around the American Southeast around that time. I understand they brought the house down at PAX Prime last year. I see no reason why they shouldn't be more than capable of a repeat performance.
But please, don't sit idly by and say "Oh, I'll wait for more bands and exhibitors to be announced before I make my decision about attending." Don't get me wrong, under normal circumstances that would be a perfectly reasonable viewpoint. But by the time that stuff is officially revealed, it may already be too late. Because you see,

2: The show is damn near sold out

A recent announcement on the PAX East site held a dire warning: The show WILL sell out. If you want to go to the show, you MUST purchase your pass RIGHT NOW. And that announcement was more than a week ago at this point. I've heard rumors that the number of three-day passes remaining could be in the triple digits. That is insanity. It's now or never, folks.

3: The Dtoiders will be out in FULL FORCE

We've got a Google group, we've got a few forum threads, and hell, we've practically got our own unofficial Dtoid hotel for the con. Turns out Kauza and I are on the same damn flight into Boston. Plans are being made. Drinks will be had. Friends will become intimate lovers. You DEFINITELY want to be in on these shenanigans.
The list of confirmed community members grows daily. The Google group membership stands at 73. I'm not totally sure which staffers have confirmed that they'll be going, but I do know that I'll be able to ask Brad Nicholson about his shoe size in person, AND Nick Chester can give me shit for making fun of his speech impediment. Now I just need to figure out if I can buy Topher that beer.

Sufficiently excited yet? I know I am. This thing is only about SIX GODDAMN WEEKS OUT.


JESUS.   read

9:28 PM on 10.24.2009

Shortblog: You might like the shirt I made for Teextile

You may remember a certain contest that Dtoid ran recently that I and some other fantastic community members won, yes? Well, when Hamza contacted me about where to send the shirt, he also added that he'd like to see my whale entry on a shirt. Great guy, Mr. Aziz. Anyway, when the shark speaks, you listen, so here you go:

Not really sure how the whole Teextile thing works, but I've already got a few votes without having actually spread the thing around, so I'm hopeful. Let me know what you think of the design or if there's anything I should tweak. Oh, and thanks again to Hamza and the other judges for picking my picture!   read

9:28 PM on 09.14.2009

Quickblog: No, I didn't work on FlOwer.

Have you played FlOwer? I haven't, because I don't have a PS3, but that hasn't stopped people from asking me about the game. See, as it turns out, a member of the team that developed the game, specifically, the 3D artist, has a name that's very familiar to me. Familiar because it's mine.

Third from the bottom.

This was first pointed out to me very shortly after the game came out by our own Reverend Anthony, who sent me a message on Steam inquiring if it was me that he saw in the credits for the game. Initially I was very perplexed by his question. Then I looked up thatgamecompany's website and found the above. You can imagine my amusement. What's really funny to me is that Mr. Haas and I apparently have a great deal in common, he's just much further along. I'm currently in college, studying art and computer science. After school, I could easily get into something like 3D modeling, and if I did, a job at a place like thatgamecompany would rank very highly on my list of absolute dream jobs. Maybe this guy is me from the future.
Anyway, after Anthony asked me, I laughed about it and then promptly forgot the whole thing. That is, until today, when another friend of mine, who apparently just finished playing FlOwer, asked me the same question. So just in case any of you are spurred on by kauza's article to play the game, the answer is no, I didn't work on the game. But lord do I wish I did.   read

3:28 AM on 08.22.2009

Beta Impressions: Heroes of Newerth

Quick primer for those who are not familiar with Heroes of Newerth: It's the incredibly popular Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients, but built on a brand new, custom-made engine and released as a standalone game by developer S2 Games. Yes, I know, we've heard that promise before with Demigod, but this game doesn't take quite so many liberties with the formula. In its beta build, it already has clones of almost all the original DotA heroes, as well as some new ones built by S2. Combat takes place on exactly the same map. Basically, this is DotA, rebuilt to be strong enough to stand on its own two legs. It's currently in a closed beta, and should release sometime this year (I think) for $30. I'm not sure if its going to be digital distribution only of it'll show up in retail, but something tells me the former.

So I think I'm allowed to talk about it? The NDA says I can't post any screens, so you get a logo and a big ol' wall of text, but that's better than nothing, right? Oh, and before you ask, I'm out of invites. But if you ask really, really nice, I'll pass your email along to a bro and he might invite you.

Let me get this out of the way right now: I never played Defense of the Ancients. I played through most of Warcraft III when I borrowed it from a friend, but I never bought the game, thus I could never play online and get into the custom game scene. I had friends who did, though, and they're the same people who got me on HoN. Point being, you're getting impressions from someone who has very limited experience of this game's direct predecessor. This means two things for you: first, that I will be unable to comment on some of the more subtle changes between the two games, such as character tweaks, map changes, etc.. Second, it means that I'm going into the game fresh. I think this should make for a more objective opinion on the games core strengths and weaknesses, regardless of whether or not they were present in DotA.

Taking a cue from Jon Holmes, I'm just going to use the bullet point format. Let's start with the pros.

Things I like about it:

-General aesthetic of the menus, even if it is mostly stolen directly from Warcraft III (see: all the typefaces, menu panels coming in on chains), is extremely well put together and functional. Lots of great original art was created for this game, and it all works very well.
-The interface has been streamlined to more directly address the core gameplay. Again, this is something I can't directly comment on, being that I wasn't a DotA player, but it's worth noting that I found the HUD and controls extremely easy to learn.
- The core mechanics are solid. The minute-to-minute gameplay is very enjoyable. You simply focus on controlling your hero and coordinating with your team members, stripping away the micromanagement elements that drove me away from RTS's in general. You still have to pay extremely close attention to your minimap (which looks very much how you'd expect it to if you've ever played an RTS) and you'll quickly learn how important the location of your hero is, but overall you should have a good time playing HoN.
- One of the biggest advantages of making DotA into a standalone game is that it instantly solves many of the issues that plagued it. To hear my DotA veterans explain it, issues related to players disconnecting and finding games of the appropriate type have rendered DotA nearly unplayable at this point. You're extremely lucky, they say, if you can find a game that lasts more than 15 minutes with each player remaining in the game. That was the kind of thing that drove S2 to want to make a standalone game, so naturally great effort has been put into the games browser, as well as the way it handles connections to the games themselves.
- The graphics. Again, it doesn't stray very far from its Warcraft III roots, but the engine is much newer, allowing for great special effects. S2 has done a great job with models and voice work for all of the heroes. The end of you match is punctuated by an extravagant destruction animation as your opponents' final structure falls.
- You have the ability to call a vote for your team to concede, which means if your team has essentially already been totally outclassed by your opponents, you don't have to protect your leave percentage by standing around and letting them beat on your team until your final tree falls. This conveniently tends to lead to much shorter games.
- It supports voice chat, which is a nice bonus and should help the all-important team play aspect of the game.
- I'm not totally convinced this should be in the 'pros' category, it's more of a simple observation, but this game is amazingly postmodern. I mean, here we have a game that theoretically will be marketed as its own product, independent of any other game. And yet it's still a mod. It retains all of the ridiculous tropes that made it so painfully obvious that DotA was a fan-made project. When you kill another player, the kill confirmation reads 'Player X pwned Player Y's head!', just as it did in DotA. Hell, it even has the damn Quake sounds! I mean, they're not the Quake sounds exactly, but when a team is doing particularly well, enormous red letters flash across the top of your screen as a deep-voiced announcer proclaims BLOODBATH. And that's just one of many phrases this announcer has. I could really go on about this guy and how he effects the game, but you might be better off finding out for yourself.

Things I don't like about it:
- The userbase. This is sort of a problem that's bleeding over from DotA, as the vast majority of HoN beta testers are DotA vets. As such, they have a very low tolerance for noobs. Disconnecting when a game is going poorly is still a problem, though it is mitigated somewhat by the concede option I mentioned. Still, though, the userbase is a serious problem in the beta, and if they don't expand their audience when the game finally releases, I don't see myself being able to tolerate them for very long.
- Stat tracking. Oh my god, stat tracking. Everything you do in this game is tracked in an extremely wide variety of ways, and its all put on display for absolutely anyone to see. The result is that people become stat whores, for lack of a better term. They'll refuse to play on teams with poor stats, and they'll change their play style to better protect their stats from harm. I mean, the tracking is a fine idea in theory, but it's really all too public at this point. The fact is that engenders play and behavior that is simply not fun, and it could really hurt the game in the long run.
- It's kind of a small complaint, but I'm not really a fan of how the game currently handles clans. My friends and I made a clan so we could more easily keep track of one another within the game, but because being in a clan assigned us all with a giant, obtrusive [FTM] before our names, we found it very difficult to find opponents who were willing to stay in a lobby when the entire other team was sporting the same clan tag. We abandoned the clan very quickly.
- Even though the core mechanics are easily nailed, there is an incredibly punishing learning curve at work for players like me. The fact is, in order to be an effective player, you have to know the exact moveset, abilities, and strengths and weaknesses of every single hero. And there are more than 30 of these guys. Then there is an incredibly deep item purchasing system in place that also needs to be mastered, lest you be endlessly pestered by your teammates, calling you such colorful names as 'mega nab' and 'bad bad baddie'. Yes, seriously. If you've never played DotA, you're in for a very rough first few games. And by first few, I mean first few dozen.

So what's my verdict? If you were ever a fan of DotA, definitely look into the beta if you can. You'll have to decide for yourself if DotA is worth $30 to you. Because at the end of the day, that's what HoN is. I'm simply not convinced that they've put enough into it to set it apart from its predecessor.   read

11:24 PM on 07.07.2009

PAX EAST: Five great reasons to start caring TODAY

Okay, yeah, I get it, people are extremely excited about PAX, which is awesome. PAX is great. It has been great, and it's only getting better. With only a scant few months to go before the event, announcements like Ron Gilbert's keynote and the partial (though already amazing) band lineup, people are understandably hyped to high heaven already. But I'm here to tell you today why you shouldn't give two cares about PAX, and instead start looking forward to its Bostonian counterpart, PAX East.

Reason 1: I can't go to Seattle PAX and I'm bitter about it

As much as I would totally LOVE to share in the absolute orgy of happiness and nerd glory that is the Penny Arcade Expo this September, a very tragic series of events has once again ensured that I will not be in attendance this year. I won't bore you with the details, just suffice it to say that I'm a college student, and that poverty and geographic isolation are both unfortunate implications of that fact. This also makes me extremely unhappy every time I read a new story about what's going to be happening at PAX this year. I hate knowing the awesome stuff and people and games I'm going to be missing out on. So I'm trying to bring some more attention to the event that I will be able to experience first hand, which brings us to...

Reason 2: These two AWESOME people will be there:

Above, you see myself (left) and my lovely girlfriend Andrea (right). I have succeeded in luring her to Boston under the pretense of sightseeing in a beautiful, history-rich city, as a romantic getaway to celebrate our one year anniversary over our spring break. Little does she know that I have already preregistered BOTH of us for all three days of the Con, and that very soon I'll have a hotel booked, mere blocks from the Hynes convention center. WON'T SHE BE SURPRISED.

Why should you care? Well, not only will it be hilarious, but I'm also planning something special for her as a sort of 'welcome to PAX', and I may require the assistance of some of my fellow Dtoiders. More to come on that in the intervening months.

Reason 3: Nothing is confirmed yet, so it's like a Mystery Convention

Everyone knows that if there's one thing gamers like, it's wild speculation. Well, nothing lends itself to speculation quite like a convention with no confirmed speakers, bands, or exhibitors! Just about all we DO know is the date, March 26th, and the Location, the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. That's a promising space, though, boasting a very impressive contiguous floorspace that could be used for absolutely anything. So what's it going to be, Dtoiders? A massive three-ring circus? One enormous ball pit after another? Lazer Tag? The possibilities are endless! We simply won't know until something is announced! It's Schrödinger's Con! Let the speculation commence!

Reason 4: All the awesome East coast Dtoiders will be there.

Like that beautiful bastard right there. That's Topher Goddamned Cantler, and he's from Baltimore. Baltimore is really really close to Boston. All signs point to this being the absolute perfect opportunity for me to achieve my life goal of buying Mr. Cantler a beer.
Oh, and I guess some other East coast folks will be there too. Samit is from New York, right? Wait, are Yankees fans allowed in Boston? Point being, East coast party is a good party. It won't be quite the same as the one in Seattle, but it'll have a flavor all its own that will, without a doubt, be worth experiencing. You gonna be there, too? Put your name on the list.

Reason 5: It's only 261 days away!

That's right, in just 261 short days, PAX East opens its doors to the gaming public. That's, like... way less than a year. That's not even enough time to fully gestate a human being, let alone gestate sufficient hype for a convention of these proportions. So come on, people! Get excited!

WOO PAX   read

6:49 PM on 02.07.2009

Mega Man 9 rap remix album? Yes, please.

I am so glad I found out about this guy.

Raheem Jarbo, aka Random Beats or just Random, is an Arizona-based hip-hop artist slash school teacher who also happens to be officially licensed by Capcom. After a few legitimate rap albums, Random has decided to embrace his nerd side and release Mega Ran 9 a ten-track rap CD comprised entirely of songs inspired by, and sampling, the brilliant Mega Man 9 soundtrack.

This thing is amazing.

You can download the free version of the album here, but if you'd rather listen to some tracks individually, you can do that here. You can expect this thing to remain free up until it is released in stores (!), which should be on March 24th. Also, if you're interested in learning a bit more about the man and his music, this interview with Kwanzoo comes highly recommended.   read

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