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11:24 AM on 03.11.2014

The Best Video Game Recreations of Real-World Places

In my mind, one of the most overlooked strengths of the videogame medium is its’ ability to recreate real-world places, periods, and historical locations on a level that allows you to truly immerse yourself in living, breathing recreations of said places. Quickly outdistancing even books or movies in recent years, the particular nature of the medium allows you to not only see and move within those places, but connect with them in ways no other storytelling medium can. In addition, the technological advancements of the recent generation allowed those places to become more realized and detailed than ever before in gaming, giving us incredibly faithful and informative looks into other lands and other times.

I, for one, am incredibly excited to see what recreations the newest generation holds for us, and with Infamous: Second Son just around the corner showcasing a brilliantly faithful recreation of Seattle (my favorite major U.S. city), I thought it appropriate to pay homage to my personal favorites of the now-fading generation. It’s not that uncommon that I boot up one of these games just to lose myself in the world that they offer, taking in the life-like nature of their settings. If you ever feel the need to explore some awesome places of historical note, or even just see other cities and lands that you yourself may never get to see in life, grab one of these games and fire them up for some great lessons on history and culture!

Hong Kong – Sleeping Dogs, United Front Games/Square Enix London

As someone who loves exploring other cultures and traditions around the world, it’s odd that I didn’t actually know much about Hong Kong (other than roughly where it is) going into this game. Thankfully, it didn’t take more than a couple of hours of running around in Sleeping Dogs to give me a good sense of that world and pique my interest enough to start looking further into the place for myself, and it’s hard to imagine a better way to experience the city outside of actually being there.

The last holdout of British Imperialism (it wasn’t officially turned over to China until 1999), Hong Kong is a strange mash-up of both old and new cultural traditions, and of both Eastern and Western influences. United Front Games does a stellar job of expressing this in their faithful recreation of everything from booth-laden street markets to massive, towering skyscrapers, each portion of the island indicatively colored by cars, clothing and architecture pulled straight from the real-world location. Characters’ conversations flow between both English and Cantonese, and the unique culture blending is showcased in nearly every facet of how they look and act, from aforementioned clothing to their ideals and motivations. The only thing missing from the game is the crushing crowds and traffic that overwhelm the city, obviously removed to make traversal and exploration more enjoyable. That point aside, though, this living and breathing city with all its beauty and flaws in tow has few equals in the gaming world.  It’s no surprise that this beautiful portrait of a world so foreign to our own in the West was honestly more enjoyable to me than GTA V, which was characterized by its sheer vapidity and size.

Colonial America – Assassin’s Creed 3, Ubisoft

Say what you will about gameplay, story, and whatnot, there’s nobody in the gaming world producing historical adaptations of such detail and accuracy as those teams at Ubisoft, something which they deserve considerable praise for alone. While initially uncertain about their choice of such a particular time period, it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with their painstakingly recreated world of the American Revolution, something which I think the game’s other flaws seem to greatly overshadow in the gaming community.

Ubisoft goes to unparalleled detail in ensuring that every one of their historical periods is as factual in its reproduction as possible, something that is heavily embodied in the world of AC 3. With every architectural landmark in place, construction areas in the place of those yet to exist, and even the rocky, hilled landscape of early Boston, New York, the wild frontier and the Eastern seaboard all intact, it’s hard to imagine the manpower necessary to put that world together. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent running through the frontier exploring to my heart’s content and doing every sidequest I could find, or even running through the two cities, enraptured by the mere fact that I might as well have been transported back in time to the birth of our nation. The game and the setting are certainly an acquired taste, but to any lover of history like myself, the true impact of such a lovingly-built recreation bears an elegance that is unfathomable.

Renaissance Italy – Assassin’s Creed 2/Brotherhood, Ubisoft

I know, I know, it might seem unfair to give the Assassin’s Creed series two slots on this list, especially when the GTA series only gets one. My reasoning, however, is the simple fact that these two worlds are so vastly different from each other in every way, and yet still each so exact in their reproduction, that both deserve their own credit. As one of the most fascinating and significant places and periods of all Western history, with emulations of Venice, Florence, Tuscany, and even greater Rome, there’s plenty to be learned about life in this era just by jumping into the game - aside from the alternate-history storyline, of course.

Exalted as the ultimate period in history of the flowering of human scientific progress and artistic expression, The Renaissance is an era we know much about but don’t ever really get a chance to see outside contemporary movies, paintings from the era, and our own imagination. Such a period of vibrancy, charm, and political turmoil is difficult to fully appreciate without being able to see it for ourselves. Knowing that, I consider it an immeasurable achievement that the team at Ubisoft Montreal was able to pull together every recorded detail possible to produce the most realistic portrayal of that time that we may ever see. Combine this with the fact that vertical traversal allows you to see the beauty of those places from every possible angle, and the fact that numerous sidequests and history unfolding before you serve to place you directly in the heart of things, and you have a recipe for greatness that will go down in gaming history.

The American West – Red Dead Redemption, Rockstar Games

For all the dramatic over-romanticization of the American “Wild West” era, it seems unusual that it appears to be the hardest for games to capture well, with few contenders and just as many successes (GUN) as abysmal failures (Damnation). Imagine the surprise of many gamers when Rockstar Games - storied a developer as they are – managed to knock their attempt out of the park, creating not just possibly the greatest game this generation, but one of the greatest games of all time. It’s hard to imagine any other developer really competing with their vision, and yet we wouldn’t want it any other way.

Rockstar has become particularly adept in the previous generation at creating worlds unmatched in their massive proportions and scope, which is no more appropriate than for recreating a land of such untamed beauty, varying biomes, and endless possibility that was the American West. Taking it all in from horseback, there are wild animals to hunt (or be hunted by), outlaws to bring home for bounties, dangerous bands on the dirt roads, and the occasional tiny town where something of note is always happening. Rockstar’s penchant for the sardonic pushed them to set this story just around the time the ‘Wild West’ was dying, allowing for some great portrayals of Amerindian conflict, turn-of-the-century small town America (briefly), and the dark side of American progressivism. All of this culminates in a powerful story with few rivals, matched only by the ambition of the living, breathing world it is set in. When it comes to Red Dead Redemption, the game world mirrors our own in that there is something for everybody to find enjoyment in.

Vice City (Miami) – Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Rockstar Games

I couldn’t very well end this list without a shout-out to the GTA series. The children of the incredible men over at Rockstar Games, they are unrivaled masters of world-building and Americana parody. My main problem was trying to decide which of their many offerings truly characterized the best example of their work within the series. In the end, I decided the only clear option was the one that best showcased their own talents by matching up equal parts of real-world location with a heavy dose of their own imagination, serving to heavily romanticize and exaggerate that time and place: the Miami-inspired ‘Vice City’ in the year 1985.

A neon-drenched metropolis of bright colors, towering buildings, beautiful beaches and moral ambiguity, Vice City represents the glitz and glamour everybody thought that the 1980’s was. Much like the real Miami, it’s a boiling soup pot of Haitians, Latinos, drug kingpins, shady politicians and beautiful women that’s just ripe for the taking by anti-hero Tommy Vercetti. It’s not the biggest or the most grandiose of the GTA worlds, but just as with the other two GTAs of the PS2 generation, every nook and cranny of the world had something to find and every square inch was full of an incontrovertible character. A lot of people who lived their most formative years in the 1980’s are still utterly in love with that time period, and this massive virtual playground, filled with almost endless diversion and entertainment, exemplifies the best qualities of that entire era in a way that made many of us younger kids fall in love with it, too.

Even eleven years and now two generations removed, we still can’t get the beautiful memories of our time in Vice City out of our heads, which is a special mark of greatness in the gaming world.

What game worlds based on real-world locations are your favorite, or do you feel deserve more credit? Sound off in the comments below!

[Mr. Popadopoulis writes for the fledgling gaming news site under the name Kaleb Medel. You can check his and his friends' other articles and stuff here.]   read

12:35 PM on 03.04.2014

Everything I Learned about Life From Dark Souls

[WARNING: This article contains strong/vulgar language that may be offensive to some people. Reader discretion is advised.]

Now that the long-awaited sequel to Dark Souls is finally around the corner and the hype train is choo-choo-choosing to plow other nearby game releases out of the way, many members of the gaming community are starting to play through the original again, in some cases for the first time. People are starting to once again ask “What’s so great about Dark Souls?,” before jumping headlong into the game, dying repeatedly, and then in some cases simply rage-quitting altogether while veterans like me just laugh and remember our own sandpaper-on-eyes level of harsh beginnings.

For the few uninitiated, Dark Souls (DS) is a dark fantasy action-RPG designed to be as painful and unforgiving in its difficulty as possible. The weakest enemies can easily rip you a new asshole if your blocking, dodging, and parries aren’t perfectly timed, each area in the world is saturated with highly imaginary insta-kill traps and scenarios, and every major ‘boss’ has their name prominently displayed so you know exactly who’s about to take a nice, steaming shit on your lifeless corpse. Every aspect of the game and mechanics are bent on making you play as cautiously as possible, including potentially disastrous consequences for dying.

The beginnings of a great journey (proud sniffle).

To save you unnecessary hardship, I’ll tell you upfront that the main reason DS is so great is that beyond the ball-crushing difficulty, the game is top notch in nearly every aspect of its design and mechanics. The world and its lore are all deeply thoughtful and beautiful, the atmosphere is engaging and immersive, and the challenge makes the successes, few and far between as they are, sweeter than almost any other game out there. For people who consider the violently disturbing Irish Epic Cú Chulainn (think Hercules, but much darker) a style of art, DS is the greatest piece of that form to come out in years. So, like any great work of art, the game has a lot to teach the discerning about the harsh realities of life itself, which serve to not only strengthen one as a person, but will hopefully prevent me from dying literally forty times in the first hour when I pick up the second one.

…Oh, who the fuck am I kidding. The sequel is going to take 80 hours of my life just like the first one did.

1. You Are Not A Special Snowflake

Most people come into DS with the exact same mentality: they’ve heard the horror stories of the game’s brutal difficulty, and so they come in extremely cautious, thinking they know what to expect (or at least to expect the unexpected). They walk in cautiously, taking a few baby steps, and once they don’t die immediately they gain a bit of courage, thinking that THEY will be different, that THEY can handle this game. They’ve played REAL games in their time, and as long as they’re careful they can handle whatever this game throws at them with no real problem, right? As long as they know what they’re doing?

I have a friend named ‘The Capra Demon’ who’d like to stab that thought right out of you. Or as I call him, “Mr. Perky”, the excitable sweetheart that will literally eat your heart out.

The thing about DS is that it doesn’t really play like any other game. Sure, you may have played other action-RPGs and action games in general, but guaranteed you don’t know th http:// e exact minutia of weapon swing distances and slippery platforming the game employs – which in DS separate stunning success from heartbreaking failure. You have to learn its rules of physics, its logic, its overall ins and outs, before any of the mechanics will really start to make sense. You have to realize that anything and everything is out to kill you, and that what you might call a ‘cheap death’ is par for the course in this world. And then maybe, just MAYBE, the Gaping Dragon will stop killing you by crushing you with a body straight out of the movie Teeth.

Any ‘Rule 34’ takers? Anybody? Anybody?

DS is shocking in its unforgiving nature because games these days far too often baby their players, who are used to having their hand held through much of a game with the expectation that just trying will mean success – some of whom even live their lives in the exact same way. Why go out and start getting in shape, when your body works just fine? Why write that book when I can just enjoy Netflix? Why eat healthier when the Cheetos are already here in bed next to me?

DS throws this logic out the window by making it so that the bar is so high, radical success is the ONLY form of success. The game plays no favorites and makes no concessions, meaning everybody must start at the same difficult spot no matter who they are, must make the same mistakes and learn the same way. You can’t slack off when even a scrub enemy can effortlessly kill you in two hits, and the game certainly doesn’t care how many other games you’ve beaten.  Likewise, whoever you are, there’s no finding great success in life (for most of us) unless you give it your all, learn its workings, and apply them, through much hardship and difficulty.

Need motivation in life? Good. Play Dark Souls.

2. Failure isn’t Necessarily A Setback (Unless You Let it Be)

The largest factor that holds back potential DS completers is how often and regularly they die, which, as sure as I unashamedly (and manfully) love small fluffy creatures, they will do. As stated earlier, every new locale in the game comes complete with its own new pitfalls, traps, enemies, and surprises, all designed to repeatedly kill you as many times as possible. Add on top of this the caveat that every time you die you leave behind your ‘souls’ (a regular drop that works as both currency and experience points in the game), which will disappear forever if you die again before returning to your corpse to pick them up, and things start to look a bit rough, like trying to sit through any recent Adam Sandler movie..

So how do you handle this overwhelming barrage of death? Simple: you redefine your own perspective of success.

Check it.  The game is by no means easy, but you must understand that it is very rarely unfair. Every time you die in DS, you leave behind all your ‘souls’, right? Meaning that if you can make it back to that same spot and retrieve them, you’ll get another shot at that same challenge that killed you, but now with twice as many souls as you gained getting there the first time. Jackpot! If instead, you happen to die and lose all those souls, you have nobody to blame but yourself, because the fact you got as far as you did the first time proves that you should honestly be able to handle those same challenges on a second run to reach your corpse. Unless your layers upon layers of incompetence make you forget that midget skeleton placed specifically to surprise you by pushing you off of the nearby cliff. (You can’t even imagine how much this job means to him and his family.)

My point is that every given failure or mistake is an experience you must learn from if you ever hope to not be made a plaything of your foes over and over again. Just like life, the key to getting anywhere is in knowing how to learn from the mistakes made by yourself and others, because nothing is nearly as challenging if you train rigorously to do that exact thing. DS is punishing in that any real deviation from the plan will likely lead to a terrible, terrible death, but doing so in life will still make things more difficult for yourself in various ways, from losing a few bucks all the way up to ACTUALLY killing you.

So the real question is, are you going to memorize and recall the exact jumping point to get over that gap, or are you going to keep playing ‘Salvador Dali’, painting the rocks below with your insides? Or, to put it another way, are you going to stop eating at Taco Bell, or will you keep insisting your rectum can handle another firebombing worse than Dresden?

3. The Best Stories Are Never Just Fed To You

Like any child born of the 80’s, my parents taught me how to read with books like “The Bernstein Bears” and “Clifford the Big Red Menstrual Metaphor” (I think that was the name, it’s honestly been a few years). I would leaf through their pages, lovingly enjoying the colorful artwork, clearly depicting the stories that my Zach Snyder-level mind wasn’t always able to parse from the incredibly simplistic language employed. And I loved every moment I got to spend with those stories.

Then I went straight into college – literally straight into college from there, it was weird – and was introduced to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! And you know what I realized? Those kid books were garbage.

Except for that one where Clifford gets cancer and they have to put him down using the most adorably giant syringe ever, all told from the perspective of his own deteriorating mind. Shit was intense.

That same Faulkner book, for those familiar with it, is honestly the best literary approximation I can parallel to DS’s storytelling. The game’s world of Lordran is one dripping with history, culture, and enough mythology to… well, base an entire world on, really. Yet the massive backstory is only told piecemeal through blurbs in loading screens, snippets of dialogue with what few other characters there are, and visual portrayals in the haunting domains you’ll travel through. Rush through without taking a moment to really take everything in and you could literally miss the entire story. Not that the average teenager playing really cares, but y’know, they pay even less attention to their ‘required reading’ anyway.

The crazy thing is, DS (again, like a Faulkner book) really opens one’s mind to the stories that we brush against every day. Did you ever really wonder what terrifying psychological disaster got that weird guy who frequents the Quick Stop nearby to wear nothing but leopard print? Maybe he was bit by another one years ago, and they work like werewolves. Or who that other college student was who scratched “DickButt” into the desk you’re sitting in? Maybe he was the world’s next super-genius, driven by crazy success pressures to act out the only way he knew how.

The world around us is rife with bizarre, unique, and untellable stories that we experience tangentially every day. You just need to stop playing with yourself long enough to see them.

4. You Can Always Find Help When You Need It

Quite possibly the most fascinating thing about DS is how the online community aspect works (which is saying something in a stellar game like this). While playing there are three ways in which you will come to interact with other people playing the game: one, they will be using a certain item to invade your game as a ‘dark spirit’ bent on brutally killing you and stealing your souls, because the game never seems to know how to stop insisting that God can’t help you where you are; two, you’ll be reading messages scrawled on the floor by other players with the intention of warning you about nearby traps, giving advice, or just tricking you into jumping off that cliff like a gullible idiot; or three, you will be using the runes left behind by other, more experienced players to summon them into your own world for help in battling the overwhelming hordes, Bat-Signal-style.

In this aspect, the game is once again a huge mirror of our own culture and society. Sure, there are plenty of dicks and assholes who seem to exist solely to fuck you over or shit all over your game to set you back a ways, but if you know where to look there are also plenty of friendly allies willing to embrace you and give you a bit of a psychological leg-up in this harsh world of death. People who’ve beaten the game tend to stick around in the world to help others and engage them in jolly cooperation, empathetically understanding the detritus one has to wade through to really survive in Lordran. They’re always there when you really need it, unless you’re stubborn like me and insist on dying hundreds of times on your own against Sir Artorias, because DAMMIT I CAN DO THIS MYSELF I JUST NEED ONE MORE SHOT.

He’s actually a great guy, he’s just super misunderstood, y’know? (Disregard that thing on his sword.)

I happen to know that people as a general rule are pretty selfish and solipsistic, but even I can’t deny that we’d still be back in the Paleolithic era if mankind hadn’t ever figured out how to cooperate for the greater good. People are social creatures by their nature, and a truly joyful, purposeful life comes from embracing the community around you as an organism in itself, working together to build each other up, offer a hand when someone needs it, and generally learning how to love and care for others to your fullest. Sure, you can push through and find success on your own, maybe even abusing the help of others, but the path will certainly be exponentially harder, and in the end, you will in all likelihood be a far worse person than when you begin that harsh journey. And who could ever stand being a narcissistic monster like that?

[Mr. Popadopoulis writes for the fledgling gaming news site under the name Kaleb Medel. You can check his and his friends' other articles and stuff here.]   read

8:58 PM on 02.23.2014

Possible Evidence of an upcoming Titanfall Xbox One Bundle?

Earlier today, a friend of mine was in the game store doing some shopping when he stumbled upon evidence (in particular, an unnamed SKU). The exact details of this SKU lead him to believe that this may in fact be the heavily-rumored Titanfall Xbox One bundle that many have been waiting for Microsoft to announce.

It would make total sense for Microsoft to come out with a bundle for Titanfall, considering it's supposed to 'redefine the shooter genre' and hype for the game has been at a near fever pitch since the announcement of it (and especially after people finally got some time with the beta last weekend). If anything, it would be stupid not to release a bundle for it, which makes it all the more surprising that they haven't announced anything yet, and why it makes perfect sense that this is what that SKU is.

What do you guys think? Is this legitimate evidence of the thing, or is the SKU something totally unrelated to Titanfall? Sound off in the comments below!   read

11:38 AM on 02.21.2014

Does Not Compute – Digital Hoarding and Our Odd Reactions to Media Digitization

[Mr. Popadopoulis is a regular editor for, where he goes by the name Kaleb Medel. You can check out the original article here.]

Have you ever stopped to think about how overwhelmingly quickly everything is moving towards digitization? Music, books, movies, video games, every form of consumable media and entertainment is quickly shifting away from physical representations and into a form which we can’t really ‘see’, let alone truly comprehend. Without really stopping to consider the results, we instantly began to transform it all into a more cost-effective, easily manageable and ‘more efficient’ format without really weighing potential consequences.

I had never really thought about it myself until just recently, when I booted up my Steam  account the other day. I was shocked to find that in just a year of owning my nice and powerful laptop, I’ve purchased over 85 games that are now digitally linked to my account, less than 30% of which I’ve ever even touched. That largely untouched 80% even includes some major AAA titles, all bought almost instinctively during crazy sales: both Portal games, both Witcher games, all the FEAR and Saint’s Row games, the Arkham games, even Dishonored and LEGO: Lord of the Rings. And as crazy as that may be, many of my friends have even more purchases than that, upwards into the range of 200-300 titles and beyond.

I’m sure none of this comes as any surprise to all of the gamers reading this. In the past few years, a new term has been coined specifically to refer to all of those games you’ve purchased but don’t have time to play: ‘backlog.’ We’ve reached the point where we purchase games at such an absurd rate - which go for pennies on the dollar, sometimes in bundles, through insanely cheap sales on digital storefronts - that most gamers now have exponentially more games than any reasonable person could ever expect to play or enjoy, simply because we can. We either play through them very slowly one at a time as other aspects of life distract or busy us, or (more likely) we play the best ones for only a few hours at most before just moving onto the next we’ve purchased. Whichever way it goes, most of those games inevitably become lost in the shuffle, never to be played.

This isn’t a phenomenon restricted solely to the gaming world. E-reader owners purchase books at the same unprecedented rates (often for even cheaper than games), and Netflix allows film and television aficionados to avoid the process altogether by just paying a monthly fee for unrestricted access to millions of hours of content, as does Spotify for music. Nearly every form of video, audio, or written entertainment and media is now instantly available at your fingertips thanks to the revolution of the internet age. The main issue I have with all of this is that we, as physical creatures, aren’t really built to understand something non-physical like this, and yet it currently is growing in our lives at an unprecedented rate.

In a joint psychological case study conducted in 1998 by Drazen Prelec of MIT and George Loewenstein of Carnegie Mellon University [1], it was discovered that having to spend physical money when purchasing an item caused the buyer a certain amount of psychological pain at their loss, but this pain was absent whenever someone purchased the same item with a credit or debit card. This is because cold, hard cash is a physical object that you own, whereas money spent with a debit or credit card is never really seen or held first – the transaction is entirely digital. For billions of years we’ve grown and evolved in a purely physical space, leading lives that involved purely physical objects of consumption and use, so it should come as no surprise that, to a certain extent, our minds aren’t built to handle something as complicated as a digital, non-physical currency. This is similar to how we can’t fully comprehend non-existence or infinity, because until now, the concept of ‘digital’ was never a necessary part of our natural world. The result of all this is that digital money holds no intrinsic value the same way our physical cash does, causing us to overspend and waste it regularly because it holds very little, if any, actual significance in our own minds. We only acknowledge an expense when we then have to pay physical money to pay that credit card bill or refill our bank account.

The same is true on the digital media front as it is for currency. I can buy endless games for a few dollars at a time whenever I see a big name for cheap, because I’m not in a store checking game cases and actually looking at the object. This isn’t the old days when my games would be lovingly displayed on my shelf for me to look at or choose from when the mood strikes me, to look at their alluring box art and actually hold the discs or cartridges they come on. Today I shell out dollar after dollar for great games on my Steam or PSN accounts with as little care as if it was digital currency, even though instead of numbers dropping, it’s a huge list of names that I slowly add to. All that my mind knows is that each name is tied to a certain type of gaming entertainment or visual display, and I should collect as many different types as I can. So the unmatched avarice of humankind takes hold as we begin to hoard things digitally to a horrendous amount, whether it’s books on our Kindles or games on our consoles and PCs, with no real incentive to thoroughly enjoy or ‘finish’ any of them. And we become gluttons for entertainment.

The real troubling issue becomes even more evident when you consider what the actual games, movies, or books themselves represent. It most likely took a team of over 100 people more than two years to create some of these major blockbuster game titles just so I could buy them for nearly 10% of their asking price and shove it into a list. Someone spent hundreds of hours writing that novel so you can buy it for a few dollars (or less) to proudly, vapidly display on a digital bookshelf. Regardless of whether or not the people that create these things are actually making any money off of them, they are totally meaningless to us as the consumers. We are so inundated with entertainment media, at such rock-bottom prices, that we unashamedly hoard it all on an alarming level without really caring for how much effort and time it takes to create some of these works and masterpieces. It’s no wonder a horrible abortion of game design like Flappy Bird can make far more money than a masterpiece like The Last of Us – high or low art, it no longer matters, it’s all meaningless entertainment to us.

As in many cases, this is an issue where I don’t necessarily have an answer, merely troubled thoughts regarding something I see going wrong with our culture. I’m not even sure if this path will continue on its’ expected trajectory or maybe-somehow right itself when we, as a species, evolve to understand and comprehend the digital space more fully. Yet I feel it is a point that few others have really raised in the public consciousness.

My point is that the current road is looking bleak for the time being, and is enough to make me question how we appreciate art and craftsmanship moving into the digital age. We are in serious danger of losing all care and appreciation for human ingenuity and creativity when so much of it just gets lost in the stream of consumable media. All I can do is try to cherish and enjoy my access to incredible games, literature, and film as much as possible and hope that others will do the same, even as the flow ramps up over time. I urge you to not lose a sharp, discerning mind for finding, supporting, and preserving those pieces of cultural media that enrich, teach, and build us into better and wiser people.

1. Drazen Prelec, George Loewenstein. "The Red and the Black: Mental Accounting of Savings and Debit." Marketing Science, Vol. 17, No. 1, 1998. Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web. 20 February, 2012.

[You can check out other great articles by Mr. Popadopoulis and his friends by going to their main site, Gaming Death. There you can read about Chris's adventures in the Titanfall beta and Max's opinion of Sonic Boom. Check us out!]   read

4:57 PM on 02.05.2014


[This article was originally appeared on, written by staff writer Max Keogh. It has been reprinted here with his permission. The original can be found here.]

Segaga-... What?

Throughout the eventful tapestry that is video game history, we’ve seen many game companies come and go. From the split of the original Atari Inc. in 1984 due to its role in the video game crash of 1983, to the closure of Hudson Software in 2012, only a select handful of video game companies from the Golden Age of gaming have stuck around and remained relevant. Arguably, Sega could be claimed as one of the developers that have ‘died’, even though Sega’s offbeat, eclectic legacy is still loved by many. With an air of fond nostalgia surrounding the Sega Corporation, the once-titan developer is now a fondly-remembered pastime. In that sense, there’s almost poetic irony in the fact that the Dreamcast’s biting, dark, emotional and bittersweet JRPG Segagaga felt like it was predicting that fall.

Segagaga is many things. It’s bewilderingly complex, as the player’s main goal is to gain 100% market share in three years. No, really. It’s squarely aimed with a Japanese audience in mind, as the Japanese eccentricity is on full display here, and the game is a Japan-only release. It’s also specifically designed to make Sega maniacs scream with glee, as the references and cameos are intended for people who are old enough to know who Sega’s original mascots were. Above all else though, Segagaga is sincere: as well as being an earnest love letter to Sega arcana, it also feels like a thank you – both us thanking Sega for the memories, and a thank you to loyalists who stuck by them during their dark times from 1994 to 2001.

If anything else, Segagaga is a brutally affectionate parody of the undeserved failure of the Dreamcast. And you should totally play it. Allow me to explain why.

This is seriously a boss fight.

If you can get past, or understand, the burdening Japanese text, you’ll find a game that shows an uncompromising side to Sega that they have since kept hidden. Surprisingly, and refreshingly, Segagaga has tremendous fun lampooning Sega, and indeed video game production, with a knowingly self-aware spirit.

Set in the year of 2025, the story depicts Sega with only a 3% share of the market. In Ota, Tokyo, the city in which Sega was first majorly established in 1951, the company forms ‘Project SEGAGAGA’: a plan to save Sega from its main competitor, DOGMA. As part of the project, Sega takes two teenagers named Taro Sega (get it, Phantasy Star fans?) and Yayoi Haneda, and employs them to guide Sega to the top of the market.

What almost sounds like a needlessly elaborate joke about Sega – the game was even misconstrued as a joke when it was first pitched by the game’s director, Tez Okamo – actually becomes an unexpectedly clever allegory about the trials and tribulations of video game development. For instance, DOGMA is an intentionally exaggerated, but also frighteningly accurate, depiction of domineering video game conglomerates, complete with an iron-fisted Japanese CEO hell-bent on market domination as the main villain. On the other hand is the dark, dingy and mysterious Sega Tower studio, showing the rough and rigorous nature of game development.

The word ‘satire’ gets thrown around a lot, but Segagaga is one of the few games that actually effectively satirises. This satire is particularly evident not only in the way Segagaga  portrays the videogame industry, but in how it references various Sega characters. One such moment is the monologue from Alex Kidd, the original Sega mascot who was replaced by Sonic in 1991. Sitting with Taro, the protagonist, on a grassy field staring at the city riverbank, Alex recalls memories of being a mascot. After discussing about going head-to-head with Nintendo and Super Mario, Alex shares an unfortunate truth: “You see, I’m a video game character, so as long as there’s no one to control me, I can’t do anything about it but just stand here, stopped. I’ve remained stopped, waiting for the next stage to come. Just waiting this whole time, until I was called back into the development studio.”

This small moment, emotional and melancholic, is effective, as Alex Kidd reminds us all that the videogame industry is still very much a series of trends. One popular idea can be soon rejected, and another will quickly come along to replace it. Often, when a franchise is abandoned, it is left to decline, unless by some small miracle it is given another shot. Yet, this sad monologue still ends on an optimistic note – whilst game characters and ideas can reach a standstill, game designers and programmers can keep moving forward. Alex tells Taro that he can keep creating the games he loves making, as long as you remember the happiness and passion a great game can evoke in players.

Sega nerds, get ready to cry. A LOT.

At its core, this is the primary message of Segagaga. Throughout his experience, Taro adjusts to the cutthroat nature of the video game industry, but learns that, no matter how much financial trouble Sega is in, or how much the company’s ethics and values change, it should not diminish a game designer’s love for the medium. Despite the hardships, Taro keeps programming. For all of its bizarreness, surrealism and darkness, Segagaga feels like a cautionary fable about the video game industry: that business should not take precedence over making games that can be loved by millions. In today’s bloated big-budget mess of triple-A game development, the perceptive message of Segagaga rings more loudly and clearly than ever.

Considering the fact that Segagaga retains a small cult following amongst gamers, and even despite the issue of untranslated Japanese text taken, it’s easy to recommend it to those well-versed in Sega history, and it’s a game that definitely belongs in the hands of industry veterans and Sega fanatics. Yet even though I love this game, and have replayed through it many times with a Japanese phrasebook on hand, it doesn’t really stand that well as a game on its own without its references, tone and satire. Its’ fairly unremarkable gameplay isn’t bad by any means, it just doesn’t do much that’s original in terms of the genres it features. Strangely enough though, the lack of compelling gameplay does little to actually diminish the overall appeal.

It's like a warm reunion.

When standing back and looking at this game from afar, it is truly a one-of-a-kind piece of art, something that can only be said of few games, period. From the game’s ironic, but genius, futuristic, fictional stagnation in Sega’s output, to how the game takes full advantage of Sega’s presence in the industry to make a point about the video game industry, it is easily the oddest, but most unique game on the Dreamcast – a console synonymous with its wonderfully varied library. Not everything in Segagaga works: the business simulation portions of the game are a real test of the player’s patience, as they drag on and feel like a challenge for the player’s attention, rather than adding anything; as well as the underwhelming shooter segments, the game’s ambition can often outstrip its’ execution. For Sega fans though, the references are well-executed enough for both aficionados and casual observers to be immersed in the Sega simulator.

Even though Segagaga has a strong appeal as an entire industry inside joke, it’s a game that works on many more levels, rather than just a sentimental farewell and piece of fan-service. It’s clear that gamers recognise that: the Segagaga English translation project has been going for more than seven years, and its great seeing gamers trying to spread their passion of such a niche title to others. It’s obvious Sega will never bring this game to Western markets, and in the end it may just be too obscure for those who are only faintly interested in Sega. However, Segagaga is a true piece of video game history, one that we may never see again, and that’s why we should cherish this farewell to Sega, as we look back on their long-standing presence in the history and culture of video games.

[Max Keogh is a regular writer for the fledgling gaming news site Gaming Death. His and other interesting articles can be found on the original site, here.]   read

6:07 PM on 01.27.2014

Season Two of The Walking Dead Uses the Story of the First to Tell a Greater One


Telltale Games have a nearly impossible task of living up to the standard they themselves set in Season One of The Walking Dead. A point-and-click adventure game based in the comic series’ apocalyptic world overrun by zombies, nobody could have predicted it would have become the powerhouse success that it was, selling millions of copies and racking up over 100 Game of the Year awards from game publications. Since then, the question on everybody’s mind has been how they are possibly going to improve upon that formula and narrative.

Well, I can certainly tell you one thing: if Episode One of Season Two is anything to go off of, they’re not just going to improve upon it. They may very well blow it out of the water.

The most defining relationships in our lives are the ones we form with adults when we are children. Parents, teachers, and community leaders mentor us in lessons built off of their own experiences, hoping to train us, guide us, and equip us to handle life’s difficult situations on our own. That guidance is forever instilled in as we eventually leave home and make our own way in life, opening up opportunities and choices that define our personality and being. We are certainly our parents’ children, even if that doesn’t mean we have to make the same decisions and mistakes they did.

These are the difficult concepts which Season Two of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead appears to be preparing itself to explicate, dropping you into the shoes of young Clementine nearly two years after the ending of the first season. Protagonist Lee Everett is dead and gone, along with most of the characters of that storyline. The motor inn, the farm, and Savannah are becoming ever more distant memories, even if the nightmarish events are too troubling to ever be forgotten. Clementine is now on the cusp of fully growing up, and is heading into the game’s dark world on her own, with little more to guide her than the lessons and decisions imprinted upon her mind by Lee.

Yet for Clementine, no matter how ‘dead and gone’ Lee Everett may be, there’s no real escaping the legacy he has left behind. Indeed, Lee himself partakes in Season Two as possibly the greatest unseen character ever established in a video game. His ghost lingers on well into Clem’s journey in Episode One, permeating every decision she makes, every line she utters, every quirky facial expression, all indisputably influenced by the way he touched her own life. She may not always directly reference him and the things he’s done in her conversations, but at this point there is no separating her character from those two.

One of the major ways that Season Two shows its’ desire to let you build off of Lee’s legacy is in how much more versatility there is in the choices you are asked to make. Lee had the option of saying and doing some pretty dickish things, but the player has to go pretty far out of their way to truly make him an asshole. The game was geared towards wanting you to be the best person you could be, especially considering that the younger Clementine was with you the whole time, watching your every move.

With Clementine, on the other hand, there’s not whole lot stopping you from just being a total manipulative monster. Even in the first two hours, you have the options of laying into an older, sheltered girl who wants nothing more than to be friends, blackmailing a pregnant women whose baby may not be her boyfriend’s, and basically just using everybody in whatever way you can. There are no real boundaries placed on Clem the same way they were on Lee, other than the lingering specter of his character weighing upon your mind.

As with the first season, there are many characters that will either like you or hate you right from the get-go through no fault of your own. However, there is no real incentive to smooth things over with these characters or try to be kind to them in the same way there was the first time around, and it's starting to look like you could go against people in some pretty brutal ways should they choose to cross you. You’re not trying to build a working community among survivors coming to grips with the new world order; you’ve been introduced into an already established one, and are now being asked to choose whether or not your politics in building a place in that community are going to be benevolent, or cruel.

Telltale Games has their hands in so many pots right now, I have to admit I was nervous to see whether or not they could handle everything they’ve taken on. The past two months have seen the release of the first episodes of both The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead: Season Two, both of which are setting some very promising bedrock for their narratives. If it’s any indication, though, The Walking Dead is looking to still be their most ambitious effort of all they have planned so far.

Season One was centered upon having to make difficult decisions in a dark new world, all the while training and teaching 8-year-old Clementine to survive within it should she ever have to go out on her own. Your decisions and choices train her morality, ethics, and sense of human nature to handle the troubling situations she is going to have to control. Season Two is set to use that springboard by doing something no other game has ever been able to tackle: using that groundwork you yourself have already laid (based on your own decisions from Season One), you now control Clementine as she is forced to make her own decisions, building off of that moral foundation Lee has left her. You’ve done the best to instill a specific sense of humanity into this young girl – now you have to decide how she will utilize and react to it as she walks her own path.

(Mr.Popadopoulis is a writer and editor for the fledgling gaming blog site Gaming Death, where he goes by the name Kaleb Medel. You can find this article and others by Mr.Popadopoulis and his friends on the original site. Check us out!)   read

2:00 PM on 01.20.2014

Unearthed is the Worst Game You'll Play All Year, But You Should Totally Play It

(The following blog was originally posted as an article on You can find a link to the original here.) 

Video games, as a medium, are very much the product of an affluent, Westernized society. This is something we don’t think about nearly all that often: the concept that the technological advance of Western culture (and Japan, which bears many marks of Westernization) is solely to thank for making gaming even possible. Instead, we tend to take gaming for granted, when in reality there are few countries and cultures outside the developed world that have access to an infrastructure which even allows playing games, let alone developing them.

This is something I tried to keep very carefully in mind when I first started up Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta – Episode One, which I’d purchased on Steam. But it wasn’t enough to keep me from bursting out into laughter when my character suddenly fell through the ground, for literally no reason at all, and died. Or again when his over-exaggerated PS1-styled motions made me question what gaming generation I was in. Or even two hours later when the worst driving controls imaginable had me drunkenly bashing my character’s car into the wall repeatedly while the game told me to “Escape from the police”! I ended up enjoying it for the same reason I enjoy watching the 2004 Punisher film – it’s utterly terrible.

You see, Unearthed is the first ever game to be developed by Saudi Arabia’s first ever game development company, Semaphore. And as is to be expected from an industry just getting off the ground, the game is total garbage in nearly every way. Because if you give a Victorian-era English gentleman a modern day laptop and tell him to build a website, you shouldn’t be surprised if it comes out looking like a geocities fan page from the 90’s: too bright to read, and covered in shitty gif animations.

The basic concept for the game is sound enough: you play as renowned ‘fortune hunter’ Farris Jawad as he and his sister Dania (hijab intact, of course) travel throughout the Islamic world raiding tombs, shooting mercenaries, and solving puzzles as they work to uncover some kind of terrifying historical secret hidden by Ibn Battuta, the famous 14th-century Muslim explorer. It’s obviously a pretty blatant ‘Uncharted’ rip-off with a heavy Islamic flavor to it, but the gameplay is surprisingly varied and it should provide an interesting take on gaming in general, correct? And considering this is only the first episode of a five part series, that should inspire some confidence, yes?

Actually, no. Instead, what follows is a cogently comical mess that continues to remind you how green Semaphore really is at development. Jumping at a wall results in you dive-rolling out of the world and into death. The game has a zombie survival horde mode for no discernible reason. Invisible walls keep you from doing any actual platforming outside of what the game wants you to. The characters are modeled better than PS2 era characters would be, but act worse in cutscenes than Leon did in Resident Evil 2. Dialogue is drowning in spelling and grammar errors. The game tries so hard to make Islamic history sound interesting that it comes off sounding like a bad 80’s history special (which is especially funny, because in retrospect, it doesn’t seem that hard to do). There’s no dedicated button to control how fast you move running or walking; your speed is arbitrarily dictated by the game itself. There’s a sort of ‘free’ camera that will awkwardly move right back to its default location no matter how much you fight it. And these are just HALF of the things I could point out that are wrong with the game.

At this point you’re probably thinking, “Man, glad I’m never going to play that piece of stupid bullshit!,” right? Well, I don’t blame you, but there are a few reasons why I would argue that you should instead play this game as soon as possible. Crazy, yeah? Hear me out on this.

First off, yes the game really is THAT broken, no exaggeration. Which is actually kind of amazing in its own right and the game in fact deserves to be enjoyed solely on that principle. The gaming world has come quite a ways in just the past several years, and we often take for granted just how awesome that advancement really is, especially when we’re quick to criticize a game for having any type of inherent flaw or fault. Unearthed is fun because it’s incredibly disarming in how BAD it is, making you hard-pressed to take it seriously, let alone keep from laughing at all as the game bumbles from catastrophe to catastrophe. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had playing a game in quite a while, and it really has to be experienced to be believed.

Secondly, even with everything going to shit right from the get-go, you can tell that a ton of love went into producing the game. It boasts a whopping 21 languages of subtitles and voice-over to choose from, and you can really feel the enthusiasm the creators have for the Islamic world, culture, and history, even if they try a little too hard to make you love it too. It’s just great to see them having so much fun in creating their game world, which makes it a little sad that it obviously doesn’t translate to the game being any good. Still, I found myself greatly appreciating the game itself and the tiny development team’s effort regardless of how ‘good’ the final product may have ended up.

Lastly, and this is likely the most important point, is that this game represents the first major effort from serious gamers in the Islamic world to get a gaming industry off the ground in that culture and society. Games are great in that they can bring people together from all walks of life to share stories and experiences in ways no other medium can, and restricting that to a western-centric world will only stifle the evolution and growth of the artistic medium. Having more voices and perspectives feeding into the industry and community can only be a good thing, just as it has been for film and literature. I personally have nothing but respect for these guys in attempting to do this entirely on their own. Who cares if their first game is total crap!? They probably tried harder in developing it than most people will ever try at anything in their entire lives! Get them some money and support so they can build up their industry and - for God’s sake - actually become skilled at game development.

The game is $4 on Steam right now, and for that you get three hours of awesome gaming. Take it from me. Go download the game on Steam, grab a beer, and strap yourself in for this Kafka-esque disaster of game design, because it’s a damn bumpy ride.

(Mr.Popadopoulis is a writer and editor for the fledgling gaming blog site Gaming Death, where he goes by the name Kaleb Medel. You can find this article and others by Mr.Popadopoulis and his friends on the original site. Check us out!)   read

2:57 PM on 01.15.2014


(The following blog was originally posted as an article on back in August of 2013. You can find a link to the original here.)

Four months ago, I stumbled up the staircase in our house and down the hall to my bedroom with my cellphone still clutched in my hands, before brushing open the door, traipsing across the carpet, and dropping my rear onto my bed. In my mind, it felt like my entire world was starting to fall apart, that the four walls of my humble chamber were slowly closing in on me. I sat there crumpled up, my eyes still stuck on the phone, unsure of what to do with myself, let alone of how I was supposed to move on with my life. For complicated reasons to lengthy to recount here, I had just said goodbye to my best friend for what I knew would be the last time.

My friend and roommate Harry sat working at his desk by the opposite wall, turning to see me emotionally collapsing in on myself. He asked me a few questions, trying to get a sense of what was wrong, and like the demure jerk that I was, I rebuffed most of them. No, I’m not doing very well. I’d rather not talk about it. Because everything sucks. I just don’t want to have to think. No, I’m not going in to work tonight. I don’t care.

Harry stared at the darkness outside the window quizzically, silently for a few minutes before finally replying: “…Do you want to play Persona 4?”


Ten minutes later, I had called in sick to my graveyard-shift job, we each had a cold beer in hand, and I was tromping through a dungeon that resembled a strip joint with my rag-tag party of teenage characters, cutting down monsters and collecting loot. There was something inherently comforting in strolling through that other world, like going on an adventure with close accomplices. It had nothing to do with going somewhere with less complicated problems, or where things ‘made sense’ – these four friends were fighting for their lives in a twisted dungeon, trying to save the life of another and get to the bottom of a supernatural murder-mystery, all the while holding down schoolwork, jobs, and social lives – but more to do with being in control of that other world, of the ability to handle situations and issues within this closed environment, surrounded by friends, while my own mind and soul worked through my real-life issues of sorrowful loss. Whatever the case, it got me through that first and most painful of nights as I came to pick myself up and carry on through my sorrow.


There are particular games forever etched upon my mind for their aid in getting me through some of the darkest moments of my life. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas helped me work out my frustrations in moving to a new town during high school, where I had zero friends and was bullied by the other players for being last string on the football team (apparently just trying my hardest wasn’t good enough). In my first year of college, on the night of a massive, emotionally-charged break-up with a longtime girlfriend, I pushed my homework off for a day so I could delve into Zelda: The Minish Cap on my recently dusted-off GBA. A couple of years later, upon returning from a semester studying at a sister college in Seattle and leaving all of my new friends with a heart-breaking goodbye, I spent my Christmas break losing myself in the desert wastelands of Pandora in the original Borderlands. Along with countless other stories I could tell, I know you gamers out there could likely drown me in your own stories of painful loss and stressful life situations in which some of your favorite games helped you to cope and pull through.

The level on which videogames function allow them to work in this way for a whole host of separate reasons, most unique to the medium itself. The concept of immersing yourself in another world that can ensnare sight, sound, touch, and mind is enough for some people to be able to completely forget about their problems and lose themselves to the game. For others, it’s simply about being in a world where you actually have a sense of control, and where failure is dictated by mistakes on the part of the player that are clearly relayed and explained visually. For some, it’s merely the comfort of friendly and familiar faces, of being able to spend time with those that you can connect with through their personalities and stories, even if they aren’t real in a physical sense. Other people enjoy being able to focus their peripheral mind and senses on an enjoyable story, challenge, or quest while their inner mind works out whatever real-life issue they’re dealing with. Whatever your personality type, as long as you’re not so frustrated and challenged that the game is detestable, games can at least provide a comforting distraction or encouragement from other issues, if not outright providing a platform in which we can work through them.

As games have continued to evolve in their artistic and storytelling capacity, they have even come to infringe upon books and movies in the way they can affect those in the grieving process. Certain games these days, such as the aforementioned Persona 4, are interested in exploring the lives of ordinary people, in explication and discussion of personal and social issues that affect us from day-to-day. Some of your characters in that title consist of: a young tomboy girl inwardly obsessed with her own beauty, attractiveness, and overall acceptance as a woman; another girl, shy and reserved, struggling to break free of the oppressive family she is part of, where heirs are expected to continue running the family inn (oldest in Japan) for their entire lives; and a belligerent young man who can take on whole gangs by himself, but who hides feminine qualities and struggles with a questionable sexual orientation that is purposely left ambiguous. As other games have begun to explore these and other more personal issues, they become much more relatable to the average person, and can even function in helping us deal with these issues, just as literature has been doing for centuries.

I often write of the many benefits gaming can have on our daily lives, usually tied to how games have evolved over the past few decades, but none are more meaningful to me than this particular topic. As I stated in the article about comedy in games, life is a difficult and beautiful mess, a jumble of both good and bad memories and experiences, of ups and downs that build us up into the people we are. The better equipped we are to handle those experiences and challenges, the more we grow and mature as people, and the more we can beneficially contribute to not just building our own lives, but the lives of others. I see no greater benefit to videogames than the incredible and numerous ways through which they can teach us to be human: how to love, how to laugh, how to be a friend, how to care for and support others in good times and bad, and how to handle the complicated and occasionally overwhelming world that we live in. I know for certain that as they grow to better equip us to deal with, and to see us through, our most difficult moments in life, they will continue to contribute to a better society and enrich our lives.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my security office in the wee hours of the morning, editing with the help of some melancholy jazz. I happen to be in one of those places in life again, and the past few days have been really rough. Coincidentally, a job where you have the wonderful amount of free time to write that I do also happens to be the worst for these situations, as I can easily spend countless hours just stewing in my own emotions if I’m not careful.

Luckily, I just grabbed Metro 2033 on a Humble Bundle sale last night, which I’ve been meaning to play for a long time. I think I’ll be okay.

(Mr.Popadopoulis is a writer and editor for the fledgling gaming blog site Gaming Death, where he goes by the name Kaleb Medel. You can find this article and others by Mr.Popadopoulis and his friends on the original site. Check us out!)   read

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