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Jess Tompkins's blog

6:53 PM on 09.14.2011

Relaxation: Lego, My Harry Potter

Relaxation. When I seek relaxation from gaming, I'm seeking easy, fun, and lighthearted entertainment. I am not seeking Mass Effect 2 "Insanity", Call of Duty Black Ops "Veteran", or Dead Space 2 "Hardcore." No, no, and definitely not. In other words, I'm looking for the exact opposite of a challenge, and that my friends, is exactly what Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 offers.

The Lego spin-off series of has been applied to numerous franchises from Star Wars to Batman and from Indiana Jones to Pirates of the Caribbean. Aside from Harry Potter, I've played both of the Star Wars versions on PlayStation 2. But for some reason it wasn't until Lego Harry Potter that I decided to give a Lego game a go on PlayStation 3. I suppose I have to chalk it up to feeling very nostalgic about my favorite childhood series: I only purchased my copy about a week after viewing Deathly Hallows part 2, nearly a year after the game's release.

When I began to play Lego Harry Potter, the little kid in me was instantly activated. I grinned like a moron at the silly cut scenes set to the nostalgia-inducing John Williams score. I practically writhed with delight at the opportunity to explore Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, simultaneously blasting apart objects with spells as I searched every class room and corridor for hidden easter eggs and collectibles. This is where perhaps the game sucked me in the most. Aside from following the major plot points of the first four films/books, the game essentially amounts to one massive collecting quest. Indeed, collecting studs, House Crests, Gold Bricks, Red Bricks, characters... the sheer volume of collectibles and secret unlockables almost felt overwhelming in the beginning. However, once I started making serious progress, I realized that all of this collecting became rather addicting. Many gamers tire of repetitive game play, but as a fan of the notoriously repetitive Dynasty Warriors series, repetition has never been an issue for me. In fact, it is probably part of what makes a game like Lego Harry Potter so relaxing for a gamer with obsessive-compulsive tendencies: the simplistic, yet strangely rewarding monotony.

This monotony of tasks makes the game simple, simple enough that I'm never mad or frustrated or throwing a controller at the wall. I just enjoying switching it on, exploring my destructible Lego Hogwarts, and blasting the hell out of the environment with every spell I can throw at it. Taking apart elements of Harry's wizarding world to uncover the hidden collectibles is satisfying; even though the core element of the game play is lacking in complexity, searching for said items can involve a bit of brain power. For a "kids" game, it is surprisingly clever and fully expects the player to explore every nook and cranny of Hogwarts and the various other environments. In addition, there's also small puzzle elements, such as brewing potions or using certain spells on pieces of the environment, that require solving in order to make progress through the stage. The inclusion of such prevents the game from becoming stale and boring.

There's also a good sense of humor and charm to the game that adds to the whole "relaxation" factor. Cut scenes aren't taken seriously, and since it's set in the Lego Universe, many liberties are taken. I don't think I can ever tire of playing as Professor Snape wielding a carrot wand (an unlockable bonus option), hurling spells towards other characters that result in the enlarge of heads, spontaneous laughter, or "jelly" legs.

I don't know about you, but I'm not always looking for a game that's going to test my skill and patience. When it comes to Lego HP, I can essentially shut off my brain when I turn on the console, not caring if my character dies (automatic respawns!) and use minimum concentration to collect a bunch of in-game unlockables. Instead, I can focus on the pretty graphics, charming atmosphere, and the numerous explosions that result from my spamming of spells at every object in sight. In short, Lego Harry Potter, or any Lego title for that matter, is a good choice for anyone who seeks relaxation, fun and simple.   read

3:21 PM on 07.11.2011

RE: Why do the kids love Call of Duty- A Plea to Parental Involvement

After reading Jonathan Holmes' blog post in which he thoroughly analyzed why the Call of Duty franchise appeals so strongly to the younger demographic (children under the age of 12), I had to acknowledge that I agreed with many of Mr. Holmes' points. The series is effectively "cool" among 6 to 12 year olds due to the addictive simplicity and competitive nature of the game play, which is only strengthen by it's incredible flash, flare, and good ol' fashioned American military whoop ass mentality (which in particular caters to young boys who may idolize family members in the army/military, GI Joe, or the military lifestyle in general).

What I found somewhat lacking in the article, however, was a discussion on whether or not this is a problem. Should we (gamers, the general public, parents with young children, etc.) be concerned over the fact that young children have access to Call of Duty and become engrossed, obsessed, and enthralled by these titles?

I for one, to a degree, think so. Not only does Call of Duty glorify combat to the degree that a child may not understand, but any addiction for young children is not healthy, especially when parents notice and try to remove the source. The result is often defiance, anger, and an explosion of "I hate yous!" I would like to state that I do not find Call of Duty offensive and that I am actually something of a fan of the series myself, but I do believe overexposure to a child could be detrimental and have negative consequences as mentioned above.

My First Hand Experience
I worked at a local GameStop this past holiday season, and of course, I sold a TON of copies of Call of Duty: Black Ops (also, worked the midnight release, which was just plain INSANE). At my particular GameStop, we always carded anyone who looked under 30 for ID since my boss didn't want to receive any negative consequences for selling an M rated game to a minor (it's the law, apparently). And if anyone purchased an M rated title we always had to make certain that the consumer was aware of that just to be certain that they were okay with the rating, just in case they were actually purchasing the game for a minor.

During the month of November, I lost count of the number of mothers who came into the store to pick up Black Ops. With their young son standing quietly at their side, grinning ear to ear, I would always give them my spiel before they made their transactions final: "Just so that you're aware, this game is rated M for mature for containing blood and gore, violence, and strong language." Most of these moms would shake off the sentence before I even completed it. "Yes, yes, I'm aware-- but my son really wants it," they would interrupt with an air of submission, as if they had no other choice but to purchase the game. Handing the game over often resulted in the child smiling or exclaiming "yes!" with intense excitement and a sense of thrill. This scenario repeated itself on an almost daily basis for several weeks after the game's release. Closer to Christmas most "moms" would pick up games for presents, shopping solo, though always responding in a similar manner.

I'm not going to say that this is solely a "mom" or parent problem, but it certainly plays a substantial part as to how Call of Duty became so popular among children in the first place: providing accessibility.

I know a boy, about 7 years old, that I had babysat regularly from the age of 2 to 5. Periodically I still go to this boy's baseball games or babysit him and his older sister on occasion. At the age of 7, he's already turned into something of an avid gamer. I may have had a bit on influence on him, I gave my old PS1 to him and his sister when he was about 4, but only handed over age-appropriate titles along with it, including Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. A year or so later his mom bought him a PS2 and loads of games, exposing him to games various genres and ratings. Presently, the family owns a Wii and 360 with Kinect as well. The last time I went to babysit him about a couple months ago, his mom was expressing how she was concerned about some of his gaming habits. She told me explicitly that he wasn't allowed to play a game called, you guessed it, Call of Duty, and was concerned about how "mean" he could get when she tried to take certain games away from him. That night, I wasn't just babysitting him, but two of his friends. I walked over to find all three of them huddled around the Wii playing none other then CoD World at War. "Umm... ma'am, you do know that they're playing Call of Duty right now, right?" The mother gasped exasperatedly, "That's Call of Duty?"

Needless to say, I was somewhat dumbfounded by her ignorance. If you don't want your son playing a particular game, shouldn't you be more informed about it? In order to alleviate this issue, I would like to share some possible solutions to the lack of communication facing parents and their children who play games such as Call of Duty.

Be Informed
Parents/guardians/supervisors should take the time to become informed about WHAT their children are playing. Take the time to watch trailers and gameplay footage on youtube. Each parent raises their children differently and has different standards for what is and what is not acceptable for their children. Some find Call of Duty offensive, while others say "it's just a game!" In either case, just be aware of what your child is playing, and if you choose not to let them own a copy, explain your reasons rationally and calmly. Parents often try to dumb things down for their children, but the reality is, you can talk to them like adults.

Be A Part Of Their Hobby
If you think your child is mature enough to play a CoD title, get involved with them. Take turns swapping the controller every half-hour or so, and play along. Observe their gaming habits first hand. If you find that you're not happy with how your child responds to the game (bad language or violent reactions to killing or being killed), find a solution to curbing these responses. Explain how getting mad does not bring about any actual solution, and that they're able to get the bad guys "next time."

It Is Just A Game
While a child's actions in a game like Call of Duty may not reflect behavior in the real world, make sure that your child understands the implications of taking another person's life. Explain to them that in real war, people actually die. They are no "saves" or "check points." Once you've been shot, you don't come back. It's grim to contemplate, but any child should not take the idea lightly. It may seem silly and parents might think this is a "no brainer," but there's no reason why the concept should not be reiterated. There have been too many cases in the news where a child has shot either a parent or friend either by mistake or out of anger and were labeled as active gamers. Call of Duty is a game, but killing certainly is not. In war, it's either kill or be killed, but Call of Duty "glamorizes" the military life style and almost romanticizes modern warfare. Explain to them that real war is far more grim, brutal, and just plain terrifying. If anything, a child playing Call of Duty should be imbued with a sense of respect for those who do sacrifice their lives in real life to keep the world a safer place.

Strike A Balance
If you find your child might be using Call of Duty to unleash pent up anger or frustrations, turn that energy into something your child can benefit from. Encourage them to take up a martial art, or turn their love for military shooters into a hobby that allows them to enjoy the outdoors, burn calories, and feed their need to compete: take them to play paint ball or airsoft. While not the most cheapest of hobbies, both will satisfy your child's interest but do so in a manner that encourages team work and camaraderie.

Call of Duty is not going anywhere anytime soon. It's a blockbuster behemoth of a franchise that practically over saturates the market and gains exposure to every consumer through online, TV, and in-store advertising. The current generation is essentially growing up on this franchise, and I was only just made aware of how popular the series was among minors until I worked as a GameStop employee firsthand. I will openly admit that I do not believe that games or Call of Duty in and of itself is necessarily bad, evil, or corrupting anyone, even children. I do believe, however, the over-exposure and lack of balance between gaming and other activities is where issues (bad behavior, lack of interest in school, increased tantrums e.g. "but I wanna play more!") stem from.

Hopefully, the above advice will encourage parents to be more involved with child gamers in general and enervate some of the negative behavior and feelings associated with children playing Call of Duty games.   read

11:13 PM on 01.27.2011

Dead Space 2 Collector's Edition: Collecting Dust?

I've been duped not once, not twice, but count it, three times into purchasing a "Collector's Edition" of a videogame that I was oh-so-eagerly anticipating. Okay, so the first time was a gift, but either way, someone dished out an additional $10-$20 for unnecessary merchandise and flare.

The culprit that serves as the inspiration for this piece is none other than the Collector's Edition of Dead Space 2, a game that I've been pining for nearly a year since it's first official announcement. Heck, I was there at my local GameStop on Monday at midnight for my copy-- 'cause I'm hardcore like that. Only, when I saw the size of the Collector's Edition (CE) box that evening, my heart practically sank. At around 7.5" tall and 5.5" wide and 2.5" deep, all I could think was "how the hell did my Plasma Cutter fit in that?" And that's when my buddy who works at GameStop pulled out his own copy to reveal the as-advertised plasma cutter replica, no larger then then the length of my hand from wrist to tip of the middle finger (and I have some of the smallest hands I've ever seen). Utter disappointment for this die-hard fan.

Funnily enough, I had told myself that the Resident Evil 5 CE was going to be the last one I ever purchased. I should have learned my lesson then...

So, why did I tell myself that I would never again dish out the additional money for a CE after purchasing the RE5 version? Well... pretty much the fact that all the extra stuff is just plain useless, and no matter how damn cool and appealing it sounds at the time there are usually one of two eventual realizations for the purchaser (from my personal experience).

1) The bonus content is poorly constructed, cheap, and easily broken.

2) If it happens to be "well-made," it's just going to end up on your bedroom shelf taking up space and collecting dust.

The case of RE5 exemplifies outcome number one. The RE5 CE which came with an assortment of interesting goodies, the majority of which turned out to be poorly constructed. The Chris Redfield mini-figure was horribly ugly, painted sloppy, and broke within 5 minutes of being unboxed. I accidentally dropped it (rather gently) onto carpeted floor. His knife fell off. I believe I tried some krazy glue, but it fell off my desk at some point and broke again. What about the sweet Tricell bag? The material was thin, and the inside was riddled with loose strings along all of the seams. It was an utter mess! My pens would always get tangled on the inside. There was also spare fabric hanging off the edge that I had to safety-pin in place otherwise it would flop around and get in my way constantly when opening and closing the bag (which could never be fastened in place with the buckles due to how oddly shaped the bag was). Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for representing RE, so I toted that bag with me for about two years... it made for a decent school bag on days when I only had one class, but it was never worth the $90 I paid for the CE...
A few of the other materials were a bit nicer. The BSAA badge is a nice keepsake that I've yet to use, but I've never worn that Africa-shaped "Kijuju" pendant. Dunno what Capcom was thinking there. I watched the making of documentary once, and probably could have found it somewhere on youtube.

In the end, the bulk of the package was the game and the bonus materials could have easily been done without.

Point number two is based mostly on observation. Modern Warfare 2 probably had one of the most ludicrously awesome Collector's Editions of all time. Night vision goggles. Thankfully I didn't buy them myself, but I knew several people at school who were uber excited to get their hands on them. About a month ago, I discovered that numerous people where attempting to sell their MW2 goggles on good ol' eBay.
This product fits in with expectation number two perfectly. It looks like a badass purchase at the time, and the consumers probably got a few fun moments with it during the first five minutes of unboxing. But really? Night vision goggles? I guess they might be fun to put on display, until you realize just how much damn space it's taking up and how dusty it's gotten over the past few months. Then it's placed back in the box and into the closet until a year later when it's placed into an online auction. I know it's not a personal experience of my own, just a generalized assumption. But the 10 MW2 goggles on eBay don't lie. Give in mind that these 10 are probably just a fraction that have been put up on eBay over the past year, and many people likely don't bother since they know it's hard to sell.

After my RE5 CE experience, that's when I told myself "No more Collector's Editions. The game is all that matters, dammit!" I should have remembered that let-down...

Enter Dead Space. I fall in love with the series, and EA is clever enough to cash in on it's popularity. I purchased the shitty DVD movie "Downfall" and eventually a Dead Space T-shirt. I eat up all the knowledge I can about the sequel when it was announced and immersed myself in the lore and universe of the series... sometime later, a CE is announced for Dead Space 2 and my initial response is that NONE of the content even interests me.
A replica plasma cutter? Meh, I could always make my own like others I've seen online.
DLC? Probably nothing spectacular.
Soundtrack? Torrent.
Lithograph? I'd rather have an art book.

And yet, somehow, I ended up splurging $86.19 (with tax) on all that shit I didn't even want.
I remember making my pre-order, and this impulsive reaction just told me to get it. It was like... I almost had to prove just how big of a fan of Dead Space I really was. Which is just plain silly, since I obviously know how much I've obsessed over the arrival of this game.


I suppose all I hoped for was something worthwhile. I mean, this was DS2. All signs pointed to a phenomenal game backed by a phenomenal team. I put my faith in Visceral that they wouldn't sell their biggest fans a pile of crap. I was so very, very wrong.

Here's me "proudly" displaying my Plasma Cutter replica. I have tiny dwarf hands and I can only grip two fingers around the handle. I can't image a guy so much as being able to put their pointer finger on the trigger. The paint job also sucks and the quality is no better than a MacDonald's Happy Meal toy. And it didn't even come with batteries, which happen to be AAA. Who the frak has AAA batteries lying around? Certainly not me, so it looks like for the time being I can't even use it as an obnoxious, uncomfortable flashlight.

This is NOT a lithograph, it's a glorified post card. I was expecting a nice quality print on some heavy duty paper with a small cardboard matting around it. Uh no, not even close to my expectations. And yes, my fake enthusiasm is pretty ugly!

Well... I guess the box is cool. $90 for a really pretty box.

Isaac's not the only one suffering from dementia. Oh wait, that's regret I'm feeling.

The only nice addition turned out to be the DLC... but I honestly could have lived without it. I've got a red Unitology suit, but the irony is that I like the look of the "Advanced Suit" a lot better.

Overall, the DS2 CE falls into category one... the bonus material is cheap, forgettable, and certainly not worth the additional $20. I could have purchased a freakin' one-year-old used game for that price or even a brand new Greatest Hits title with that!

So, anyone else feel ripped off with a CE purchase that they've made? I'd be interested in hearing any other thoughts on the DS2 CE in particular.

Anyway, long story short... lesson learned. No matter who badly I'm fangirling over my next anticipated game release, I sure as hell won't be caving into the promises of another inevitable Collector's Edition. In the case of DS2, the plasma cutter will probably break before it even has time to collect dust...   read

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