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5:04 AM on 12.31.2013

The Devil’s in the Details: My Devil May Cry Revisit

In 2001 I was stuck in gaming rut. I only had two games at the time, and I had played both of them into the ground. They were, Mobile Suit Gundam: Journey to Jaburo, and Final Fantasy X. Of course there was nothing wrong with these games. They were really good when they were new, but no game at the time could keep my interest for more than a week or more and these two had seen that time come and go. In all honesty I can only blame myself for this lack of games because we had just moved and I thought it would be a good idea to sell all of my games and start fresh. I even sold my Nintendo 64 and NES along with all 60 of the games I had for it. (This is the worst thing I have ever done.) You never know how much you will miss a game like Monsters in My Pocket until you sell it. I still sit up at night thinking about that game and how much I miss it! Little did I know my next gaming obsession was right around the corner at my local Game X Change.

After a week of begging my dad to take me to the store I was able to be graced by the low light and faint smell of nerds. It felt like I was walking into a new home. I thought I could cuddle up next to the counter and stay there all warm and cozy until the end of days. I slowly floated up to the counter taking my time to look at all the games lining the racks giving little oohs and awws. I had to stop and drool over another one of my favorite games that I had played but not owned at this point. “Final Fantasy Tactics?” My dad said over my shoulder. I respond by telling him he wouldn’t like it then set it back on the rack. I walked up to the counter to see if there was anything worthwhile, but nothing appears to be jumping out at me. The man behind the counter asks me if I need anything and before I respond I see something. Just over his shoulder I see the word “Devil.” Without taking the time to read the case I have my dad pay for the game and we head out.

“Devil May Cry” was written across my TV screen and I was excited to get started on a new game. (Especially after that nifty violence disclaimer.) I press start and jump right in. As a kid I didn’t have time for cut scenes so I skipped those. I later discovered that I had missed out on a rather interesting opening scene, but that is future stuff, right now I’m an angsty fat 12 year old who wants satisfaction now! Once I was able to move I began swinging my sword at everything and trying to jump on top of stuff. Upon discovering I was not achieving anything I continued down the path to an opening in a wall. After passing through it closed behind me, so I ran up to a door with faces on it and it promptly punched me in the face and told me to go get red orbs. Collecting things was not quite my strong suite but everything worked out. I gathered the desired amount and the door opened. Not at all impressed with the game I continued. It wasn’t until I found the Red Marionette, and he kicked my ass then things got interesting. After the initial ass beating I came back and took that key and his ass, and the asses of his friends. I of course finished the game and filed it as one the greatest games ever.
On a whim I decided to revisit the old franchise with the purchase of the “HD” edition of the game. With great joy I ran home, threw it in the old Ps3, and rocked back and forth with a on the couch filled with the giddy joy that of a Japanese school girl. “Oh the nostalgia!” I said out loud to myself as I stared at the opening scene of Sparda swinging his sword about at what appears half the speed a sword should be swung. Then the greatness of the title screen, where as you push the start button two bullets blast through the screen, and it declares “Devil May Cryyyy!” in a voice that makes me want to take my pants off. That action packed first cut scene that has terrible voice acting…. Wait, terrible voice acting? “Was the voice acting always this bad?” I ask in a kind of confused horror. I attempted to shrug it off and kept up the cheery upbeat attitude. This is of course one of the best games ever… I hope.

Now it is time to get to the action! I gather up all the red orbs, including the hidden ones you get from balancing on top of the spear the statue is holding and ran upstairs to get the “Rusty Key” from the douchers at the top of the tower.  I made quick work of them, but something was wrong here as well. I still try not to let it bother me and I go to run down the stairs. As I enter the stairwell the camera angle changes and I ran back out. “Huh” I said, and went through the doorway again. Once more I walked in, then right back out. By this time I am starting to get a little bothered by all the things that are going wrong. I slowly approach the opening and this time, and I make it to the stairs. Determined not to let it bother me I continue. I made it to the next area of baddies, and the thing that I noticed earlier came back. Why am I so damn slow? It feels like I swing my sword at sloth speed. This mixed with the fact that couldn’t see because of the camera got me killed twice during this part. I carry on, limping my way through, and get to the boss fight, Phantom, the lava spider. Who, in a most impressive display takes my ass and rips it open for about 30 minutes. I decided to take a little break, so I sat the controller down and went to the bathroom, and then ventured to the kitchen for a snack.

I came back about twenty minutes later and beat the giant bastard. It was at a cost though. I couldn’t really enjoy the game anymore after this point. The game drudged on until mission 9 when I found my favorite weapon, but even that could not save me from the sadness caused by the rest of the game. I was unaware that I could be sadder about the game until I got to mission 12, the swimming level. What a piece of work that was. As a kid I didn’t even blink for it, but now my pampered gaming ass could not handle it. I got lost for an amount of time I do not wish to admit. I was so enraged by this I almost took the game back, but I took a little time to cool down and found my way out. (This time spent on mission 12 was the worst time of my life.) Also the designer of the harpoon gun should be forced to play a game that is a giant swimming maze, and that gun is his only weapon he has against hundreds of bad guys. There was one thing worse than swimming, and all the enemies combined, the camera.

Why did Capcom think it was such a great idea to set up the cameras in such a way? If the harpoon guy deserves what he got, then these guys need worse. (I will work out the details of their punishment on a later date.) I couldn't even count how many times I would be running away from the camera only for it to switch to being in front of me so I turned around and ran back. I do remember screaming at the TV every time it happened though. I would get stuck in camera limbo where I got stuck going back and forth confused and angry. Dante you bastard I would scream even though it did me no good. You would think that after spending the day with it I would be used to those damn cameras but I wasn’t and probably never will be. Not being able to see what was killing me also got on my nerves, though to a lesser extent. At least I could make those things die unlike the camera floating in as many various awkward angles as possible.

I was in such disbelief that I had to force the game onto a friend who had never played it himself. I crossed my fingers and waited to hear how he liked it. Two days later he called me to let me know he will be giving the game back to me, and that he could not finish it. Upon further questioning I found out he didn’t mind the fighting, the camera was terrible, and the voice acting was hilariously bad. I had become used the battle system again and came to the same conclusion about it. The others were things that I had thought, so I was confused as to why he could not finish the game. I decided to inquire farther. He said the enemies were too hard, and he died far to easily. I didn’t consider this because I am a hard to the core Dark Souls player. I accepted his Intel and took the game back. On the day he returned it I asked him how far he made it, he scowled and said “The damn swimming level!” All I could do was nod, pat him on the back, and apologize for what I had done to him.

I believe that Devil May Cry might be a casualty of the times. A game that was truly great at the time, but has not been able to keep up with the age we live in. If that is the reason then I am both happy and sad about the situation. Happy that what I thought was such a great game is not actually bad, but sad that I can no longer enjoy it the way I did when I was a kid. A younger me would be surprised to find out that I am writing this. Such a thing shows growth in my taste as a gamer. Yet at the same time it makes me wonder if growth is not always a good thing. How long before my current favorites aren’t fun? I can’t even fathom the thought of looking back in 12 years and not liking Dark Souls or Dead Space anymore. It hurts to even type the words. Devil May Cry is no longer a game that I can play and outright enjoy, but it will always be close to my heart because it is one of the games that formed me as a gamer, hell it even helped to make me the kind of person I am today. It will live on forever as one of my top games even if I never play it again…. Oh my, how has this happened!? … Umbasa…   read

5:10 PM on 08.08.2013

Dark Souls: A Love Story

My first impression of Dark Souls was not a good one. I woke up early, at the crack of noon, and walked to my living room to find a good friend of mine sitting on my couch playing said game. The sight of him sitting on the couch did not bother me. I see that every day, but I noticed the game he was playing was one I had never seen before. He said, “Hey, brother! Have you seen this yet? It’s called Dark Souls. It just came out yesterday, and it is fugging awesome sauce!” (Actual quote). Intrigued, I sat in my gaming chair on the other side of the room and began watching. For twenty minutes I watched him slowly walk and roll around while getting utterly destroyed by the low level hollows in the Undead Burg. After the thirteenth time he died I turned to him and said, “This is the worst game I have ever seen. I will never play this.”  I then started my day, I got ready for work and left while he sat there playing away.

After a terrible day at work, I came home to him still playing, but now he had made his decent to the Blight Town. By this time, he was complaining about a boss, and pretty much everything else, in this section of the game, and he was ready to quit. I asked him if he would go back to the boss so that I could watch him get ruled because I needed a pick me up. He agreed to the request and went off to meet his doom. Almost immediately upon entering the spider’s den, he encountered a swift death. After his fiery demise, he decided it was time for him to go home, but he left the game, just in case I decided I wanted to play. I assured him there was no chance, but he insisted on leaving it. I set it next to the television and played Portal 2 with my wife, Nicole, until we passed out. 

The next day was my day off, and I knew that the game was there. However, from what I had seen I had no desire to try it, so I played Halo Reach until I was bored (which happened rather quickly by the time Dark Souls came out). The game was calling my name; it said “Andy, I’m new and fresh. Play me. Plaaaaay meeeeee. Plaaaaaaaaaaaay meeeeeeeee!” I finally broke down and put it into the Xbox tray. I sat down in my gaming chair, and pressed start. I did not find the character creation screen to be all that impressive; I ended up making a purple haired girl, of Astora Royalty, with a ponytail and the name Randy (this has since become my template for any game that has a character creation option). Her gift was the Master Key, and I decided to go naked with the deprived class. I then proceeded to watch the opening cinematic. It was impressive, but, of course, you should never judge a game by such a thing.

As anyone who has played this game would know, I started my adventure locked in a cell in the Undead Asylum, where a knight was kind enough to drop me a companion, a dead fella who was conveniently holding the key to my cell. I made my way out and headed down the hallway, past the sulking hollows who were too busy making out with the wall and bathing to pay me any mind. As I made my way up a ladder on the other side of the little flooded room, I saw something strange. “LIGHT BONFIRE,” it said. Intrigued I lit it and sat down to discover that my only option was to leave, so I gathered my broken sword hilt and carried on through the large doors at the end of the yard. Once inside, all hell broke loose, as a giant demon landed directly in front of me and began having its way with me. Moments later, I lay dead on the ground, the words “YOU DIED” come across the screen, almost as if to taunt me. After I awoke at the bonfire, I swore that I would not die by that thing’s hand again! I ran in ready to fight only to notice a door open in the corner of the room just as I was defeated again. Respawning at the bonfire again, I swore that THIS was the time I would not die, and ran in again. This time I sprinted directly to the open door. “SUCCESS!!!” I screamed, as if I had just discovered the cure to disease (that’s right not just a disease, ALL of them!). I plopped down at the next bonfire and sat for a while to see if another option would pop up that wasn’t “Leave.” Realizing this was a fool’s errand; I hopped up and continued my quest. As I neared a turn, I noticed an orange scribble on the ground. I approached it with due caution, assuming it was meant to be a trap. To my delight, it was a message to read; “Pick up your shield,” it said. So, I looked around the corner to see an item on a body and one of those hollows standing at the end of the hall, except this one wasn’t just hanging out. Instead, he thought it appropriate to fire arrows at me, as I ran to pick up my crap plank shield and my equally crap club. He ran around a corner but was not fast enough to escape my badassery. I slew him before he could make it up the stairs. As I ascended the steps, I saw a cloud of some kind blocking the way. I, once again, put on the cautious hat and approached slowly. “Traverse the white light” seemed safe enough to me, so I did it. Surprisingly, I was not attacked. Instead, I was given a view of the knight, who so graciously helped me from my cell, but he appeared to be injured and out of reach. After a few tries to break through the door, I decided to go up the stairs. Suddenly, a ball came crashing down on me and busted a hole into the wall. I ran up the stairs and killed the douche who pushed the ball, and rushed back to speak with the dying knight. He told me a prophecy about the “chosen undead.” Then, he gave me estus flasks and the key to the door at the top of the stairs. As a final request, he asked me to leave so he could die in peace. 

I ran up the stairs, through the door, and around the corner to an ass beating. When I rose from the bonfire, I was bummed to learn all my souls were gone. However, on the way back, I discovered a door to a shortcut that would make thing easier later. On this go around, I was prepared as I ran around the corner. Without taking any damage to myself, I took down the archer and two hollows with swords. Proud of myself, I picked up my souls, went through the next doorway, and fought a more difficult enemy. Once more, I came away with my life. Realizing the door was locked in that room, I turned around knowing my only option was to go through the white light I had passed, where the archer and the swordsmen were. I walked through to a balcony; confused, I stood there and died, when a giant club from below bashed into me. On the next try, I mopped up the baddies then read the message about falling power attacks. This time, I went in ready, and, after ten minutes of running away from the demon, I discovered it was vulnerable from behind. So, I rolled behind and beat it in the butt to death. Once that demon was dead, I was hooked. 

With the Big Pilgrim´s Key, I unlocked the door and ran outside. I followed the path to the edge of the cliff where a giant raven picks you up and carries you to Lordran. This is the moment I fell in love. I was stuck; there was no escape from the inevitable. I played from then on through the night and the rest of my next day off. I did not sleep, and eating was hardly an option considering the only time I got up was to go to the bathroom. By the time I passed out that night, I went from the Firelink Shrine all the way to the Tomb of the Giants. That includes me killing the gargoyle boss, Quelaag, Smough and Ornstein, taking a break to stare at Gwynevere’s boobies for a bit, continuing the killing spree with Seath the Scaleless, Sif the Great Grey Wolf (the saddest part of the entire game), the Four Kings, and playing pitfall (also known as the Bed of Chaos). I was too tired to contend with the tomb, so I peeled myself off of my leather gaming chair, took a shower, and went to sleep. 

The next day, I went to work set on playing when I got home. I wasn’t sure if I could because, when I left the house, Nicole was playing The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. I knew it might be difficult to peel her away from it as a result of the fact that, when she started playing a game, she would stick to it the same way I had. Just as I thought, she was still playing when I got home. So, I took a shower and let her play on. It was only fair, since I had taken it up for two days straight. Even though I was okay with her playing, Dark Souls was the only thing on my mind, and I was counting down the seconds until I could get back on and keep playing. Things didn’t quite work in my favor though because I had to work several overtime days that week, and I could not find the time to play until the next day I had off. Still, it worked out in the long run as it added to the excitement of the experience, when I had that controller in my hands again. 

When I started, I was a little sluggish because I had to remember some of the buttons again, but that didn’t last too long. Tomb of the Giants here I come! If there is one place more irritating than Blight Town, it’s the Tomb of the Giants. Not for the same reason though. The frame rate is fine through the tomb, unlike the muddy realm of Blight Town. It’s the damn enemies in the tomb. What is up with those damn wheel skeletons??? Or the giant dog things? Also, the lantern can only be used when you hold it in you shield hand, WTF! So, after basically sprinting through the tomb, I came upon Nito. With what it took to get to him, I figured he would be one tough sucker, but he was fairly easy. I threw fireballs at him until he died. That was it, but hey! I have another lord soul! To the Firelink Shrine!

Once inside the Kiln, I made swift work of the knights and walked in to fight Gwyn himself. He almost had me a few times, but I managed to keep him at bay by standing on the other side of a rock and throwing fireballs at him. Imagine my surprise when I found out fire hurts the fire god! After I was out of fire, all he needed were a few good hits and he was dead! Gwyn, your soul is mine! I, of course, linked the fire and gave the world a new era of light! 

That was surely not the end of the story though. I bought the game myself and continued to play 120 hours’ worth of new game + on the Xbox. I decided I was finally done with it and took it in for trade. That was a huge mistake because I regretted it instantly. Luckily, I was able to get it again (this time on my preferred console, the PS3). I immediately recreated Randy. Since that time, I have played at least once a week. I have logged another 200+ hours with Randy, as well as 30 hours on a new character, using a different class and gift (a knight named Tony with the pendant). If it wasn’t for the nostalgia involved with Battletoads, Dark Souls would hands down be my favorite game. If someone asks me for a recommendation, I automatically fire out Dark Souls. This usually results in people getting mad at me because it’s too hard for them. I don’t judge them for it because not everyone enjoys the difficulty. When they complain, I just shrug and congratulate them for at least trying. Not everyone is like me, I love this game, and, if the disc hole was bigger, I would make love to this game! I will be playing this as an old man on my television, while my grandkids sit around me and call me old school because I don’t have a game port built into my brain. My last words on my death bed will be “Praise the Sun”. I will be buried with this game. My tombstone will read, “Here lays Andy. He really loved Dark Souls. He also had a wife; she was cool too.” Why? Because, Dark Souls that’s why! DARK SOULS FOREVER!!!

1:02 AM on 07.30.2013

Why Dead Space is the Greatest Survival Horror Game Ever

Our story takes place 500 years in the future. We have just exited Shock Space and are swiftly approaching a planet-cracker class starship, the USG Ishimura, in orbit around the planet Aegis VII. The Concordance Extraction Corporation has sent us here to fix what is thought to be a busted communications array. The ship appears to be holding a massive chunk of the planet in its gravity tethers; however, the ship seems to be stagnant. It does not answer to any calls, the engines do not seem to be running, and the ship is swiftly falling to the planet below. As we come in for a landing, a guidance system malfunction causes us to crash into the landing bay. This is where our story begins. A flight team consisting of Commander Zach Hammond, Computer Specialist Kendra Daniels, Ship Systems Engineer Isaac Clarke, and a few flight interns set off to figure out what has happened on what looks to be an abandoned planet-cracker. As things swiftly begin to fall apart, we are left fending for ourselves, fighting to survive, dealing with loneliness, and, above all else, an overwhelming loss of hope.

Dead Space is, and will forever be, the greatest survival horror game on the market. However, understand that I am speaking only of the first game in the series. While I did enjoy the other three Dead Space games (i.e.: Dead Space 2, Dead Space 3, and the track shooter, Dead Space Extraction), they are far cries from the original in that they have evolved into action games and have mostly left the survival aspect behind. I do not judge the series for this, changing is a sign of growth, even if it is growth in the direction some of us did not want. This is off topic!!!

Dead Space, from the beginning, has a different feel to it than most other games, in the fact that the uneasy feeling captures you right from the start. As soon as your ship exits Shock Space you are given a wide view of the most ominous looking planet in the universe. This is followed by the sight of the most ominous starship in the universe. Once inside, the large feeling of the city sized Ishimura instantly disappears with your first helpless run from the creatures that now inhabit the ship. Of course, after this first dash of fear, you are given the delight of walking through tight and winding halls which are filled with the ship’s dead crew. Adding to this dreadful atmosphere is the sound of these unknown creatures crawling through the vents which surround you, creatures which only reveal themselves when you least expect it. Enter necromorphs!

You learn that these creatures have been created using the bodies of the dead crew via a process called bio-recombination. As a result, necromorphs come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. The smallest of these are swarmers which are bits of reanimated flesh that attack in large groups. Lurkers are made from the reanimated bodies of babies.  Slashers, the most common enemy in the game, are named for the large blade like appendages coming from their arms. Even larger enemies exist, for instance, brutes and the pregnant slashers, which explode with swarmers upon impact. Necromorphs are the most frightening of any monster you can get in a game series. They are far more frightening than a mere zombie, or ghosts, or malformed person you get from games like Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, Alan Wake, or Silent Hill. While these games could surely scare most normal people, none of them left me afraid to walk to the bathroom at night like Dead Space did. I still have nightmares caused by this game. I believe most of the fear comes from the fact that these creatures can only be taken down by dismembering several limbs, involving ammo management skills most of us do not have. Not only that, most combat sequences involve you being locked in a room while it fills with these grotesque, incredibly fast, aurally frightening beasts that only become faster and stronger as the game continues.

The next attribute to be discussed is something quite important to any survival horror game, a feature which needs to be used more often in gaming. This feature is the real time menu system, something that should be separate from the pause button. A battle for your life should not be something you can stop and heal yourself during. You should be forced to think on your toes, at all times. This is especially interesting when you are standing at a store or bench doing your work, and then you start getting pummeled unexpectedly. This greatly adds to the feeling of helplessness, but it also makes the reward of killing a horde of Necromorphs all the better once you have mastered it. The HUD also adds to this experience because it is a part of Isaac’s body. The health bar specifically. If the health bar was just on the top of the screen it would take away from the psychological aspects of the game. Watching him die in this way makes you want to fight more to keep him alive. Not just for game progression, but because it makes him feel more like a real person you need to save.

A silent protagonist is always a better choice in survival horror because it is easier to project yourself into that character. The moment that character begins to speak, they have their own personality, and it becomes impossible to put yourself in their shoes. The entire reason to play survival horror is to feel the fear that the character on the screen feels. I find it difficult to feel that way when Isaac begins to speak in Dead Space 2. A lot of the feelings I had disappeared, when he opened his mouth to speak. Though this is not always the case, Alan Wake would have been a terrible game if no words were spoken by Alan himself because that game was centered on internal monologue.

The storyline for Dead Space is superb. It is difficult to make a compelling story without deep character development. This is something Dead Space delivers through non-conventional means, in the form of logs strung throughout the ship. These logs, be they, audio, video, or text, paint a very vivid and compelling story about what had happened onboard the Ishimura from days to mere hours before your arrival onboard. Though not at any point meeting most of the people who have left the logs behind, you begin to care about them and even worry if you will find any more of their logs in hopes of discovering if they have escaped their fate on the ship. Nicole, Isaac’s lost girlfriend, included. You also learn how deep the rabbit hole is in respect to the Red Marker and Unitologists (the religious fanatics that worship the marker and consider becoming a necromorph to be a holy rite) that caused the downfall of the ship and crew.

Dead Space is a game with a rich and addictive story line, along with some great scares, and a fantastic battle system. The graphics and animations are smooth and the over the shoulder third person camera gives you a good view of surroundings without being fixed in place, which is a big problem with the survival horror genre. The voice acting is pretty good as well, which is something that can be hard to find in this genre. If you have never played a survival horror game and want a good place to start, or if you are a fan of the genre and just haven’t played Dead Space yet, get out there and try it already! If you have played, put down what you are doing now and start playing again! I’m sure what you were doing can wait a little bit.

10:14 PM on 07.24.2013

My Gaming Story: Born This Way

Honestly, I don't know when I started loving video games because I can't remember when I started playing them. My dad says I came out of the womb with an NES controller in my hands. Though that sadly isn't true, I know I started quite early. Now, at the ripe old age of 24 I have flash memories of being a little tike playing Mario, Star Fox, and Zelda, and I know I had played Metroid to completion by the time I was three.

However, I can tell you about the first game I fell in love with, and that game was Battletoads. I can still remember the first time my dad rented it for me, when we went to our local ice cream/video rental shop, one summer day in 1994. I remember the first time I plopped down on the floor in front of the television. I can even remember blowing into the cartridge before I pushed it into the console, just to make sure it would work on the first try. As soon as Rash set his feet onto that red desert floor, I fell in love. It was only an overnight rental, so I spent the entire evening playing it. I even went as far as sneaking back out after my parents went to sleep to keep playing (only going to bed just before they got up the next morning). After that first night, I had to have more, so I bugged my dad into renting it again, and again, and again.  We rented it so many times the store owner gave it to us because we had spent well over what it was worth.

I played that game every day for a year and brought it everywhere with me. Though I had beaten the game several times over, I was never done with it. Sadly, the top of the cartridge had broken it half exposing the chip inside. Soon after, the game would only load into a mash up of colors with a high pitch squeal noise that would drive my parents up the wall, but that didn’t stop me from trying several times a day. I would tell myself, “Maybe this time!” and do it over and over, to no avail. One morning I woke up and could not find the game anywhere. After that, I cried the entire day and only quit once I was told I would get a new copy, though that never happened. It took me months to get over the loss and start playing, as well as enjoying, other games again. Of course, they were fun, but no game would ever hold such a close spot to my heart. To this day, Battletoads is still my favorite game that has ever been made.   read

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