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5:17 PM on 01.31.2015

A Terrible Fate, A Wonderful Experience: A Blog About Majora's Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask is my favorite game in the series.  If I were asked why, I don’t know if I could give a truly cohesive answer to the question, but I’m going to try and explain here and now.  With all my blogs based on a specific game or series, I’ll start with my personal history of the title in question, just so you understand my mindset as I explain the aspects of the game that won me over.  So come with me dear reader, take hold of a mask, embrace our Terrible Fate, and join me in a journey to Termina, a land doomed to end without intervention.

Personal History:

I have never owned a physical copy of Majora’s Mask.  Before we talk about that however, we need to go back to 1999, I had gotten an N64 used from GameStop, along with a copy of Ocarina of Time (a cart I treasure, because it’s a grey, not for resale version 1.0 cart with a stamp that according to the various sources out there say it should be 1.1, yet the 1.0 exclusive glitches work on it.), of which I played extensively.  I even accomplished a 3 heart, mandatory power-up only run with no deaths on the save file.  It was my first N64 game, and even now, as other carts get traded in to my indie game store or sold to friends, I keep this one with me, because of the rarity and its importance in my gaming life.  So anyway one day I was surfing the net at school during some free time and I came across a trailer for something called “Zelda Gaiden” at the time by sites like IGN.  I have included the trailer below.

I watched the ever loving hell out of this trailer, picking apart each detail, getting more and more excited for the eventual game to come, which would be dubbed “Majora’s Mask.”  Yet I never owned a cart of this game, how is this possible?  Well I was still a full time student, I didn’t get allowance growing up, and had no job, so income for me was birthday and Christmas (which are two weeks apart) to get stuff, and I’d forget about the game after it came out, strangely enough.  My first actual playtime with the game was through rental (in fact, it was this rental cart that I beat the game for the first time on).  The first week’s rental kind of went to waste, and it was because of an admittedly stupid reason, see I was used to the trading system in Ocarina of Time, so when I got to the “take the potion to the injured witch in the woods” part of the game, my brain never made the connection that I’m supposed to give the potion while the prompt telling me to do so was still on screen.  I thought the text box was like all the ones in Ocarina and the ones from before in this game too, where you could only hit A to continue the text.  So I ended up returning the game, still stuck in the swamp.

(This scene, this freaking scene prevented me from progressing for a whole week because of the change in the giving system.)

Upon my second rental, I don’t quite remember how (maybe I looked online for help) but I eventually figured it out and continued playing.  Then I hit the Stone Tower Temple, and again was stuck, not because of some change in how the game played, but in the puzzles, couldn’t figure it out.  When I brought the game to my friend’s house, we figured out the devious temple together, and watched the end of the game together.  It would be years before I’d get to play the game again, when I rented it again and beat it a second time (I believe, I recall beating the game twice).  Then nothing until the Virtual Console release.  I bought that sucker day one, and it’s been on my Wii (and now Wii U) ever since, even though I’ve not played through to the end again, and probably won’t for another two weeks as of the time of this writing.  Now, with the release of both the New Nintendo 3DS (Still a stupid name, I’m still going to call it 3DS+ or Super 3DS, and I have the New Red one on pre-order) and Majora’s Mask 3D just 13 days away, I have a reason to once again relive the bleak, atmospheric adventure in Termina.

(Soon...Soon I will have you.)

What I love about the game

So now the hard part about this blog, explaining why this game is my favorite.  As you can see, I’ve had an interesting past with it, I’ve only seen the ending on a rental cart, and the 3DS remake is the only physical version of this beloved classic I’ve owned, so how is it my favorite over the likes of Ocarina of Time, and even A Link to the Past?  Pardon me while I ramble about various things in the game.

To start with, it didn’t start out as my favorite, I loved the game when I played it, but I wasn’t sure it was my favorite back in the day.  One day, about a year or so before the release of the Virtual Console version, I came across a blog on a Zelda fan site.  After reading through the blog, I realized just how much care and love and backstory and lore were placed in Termina, a world doomed, a world you spend only three days in (even if it’s over and over).  It was then I realized that Majora’s Mask was my favorite.  It took what was familiar with the Zelda series and went into an all new structure (that even today has not been replicated, it truly is unique) with the darkest and most mature story in not only the series but quite possibly in most of gaming. 

The article that made me realize this game was my favorite. "The Message of Majora's Mask"

Sure, we have had ‘dark’ games before.  A game where you and your partner, the last two of a rare, elite group of fighters dedicated to fighting and ending an uprising of dark creatures led by a demon?  Been there.  A game where the game area is destroyed by nuclear war or radiation and mankind is trying to survive in this new and overly hostile world?  Yup.  How about a game where the end is imminent at all times, where the people of the world are all divided and even fighting with each other out of doubt and self-regret over their past mistakes?  With Majora’s Mask, you got that.

Majora’s Mask is dark, but it also knows that along with dark, other things can happen.  A game can be dark, but also have humor in it (Tingle, despite his creepiness as a 38 year-old “forest fairy” is quite a humorous character in a world like Termina).  It knows to have touching moments, to give your quest meaning, to give it reason to keep going (a certain mask is the best example of this).  You have personal investment in saving the world, because of the way you are introduced, you are given a personal stake in the events because the hero is attacked, robbed, transformed, and shown just how evil the force poisoning the world is.  The player decides to stop them not only to return to normal, but also because now that the evil of this world went after you, you have the want to bring the force to justice, which means saving Termina while doing so, and the best way to do that is to help others, learn from their lives, and grow stronger with the experiences gained from helping them.

The world itself also feels more believable in terms of detail.  Hyrule Field, while amazing for when Ocarina of Time released, was also kind of…empty.  Termina by comparison might be smaller, but it’s more detailed, each area shows off the history of the world and gives you a feeling of “this world has been here, and has been lived in,” especially with the ancient, dead kingdom that occupies the Ikana Canyon.  This also goes into the gameplay.  Majora’s Mask only has the four dungeons, and the items you get for the miniboss fights are the bow and elemental arrows.  All of the other items you acquire over the course of the quest all come from elsewhere, so their use is incorporated into the actual world design.  You can’t access Snowhead without the bow, or Ikana without the hookshot for instance.

There is also of course the very core of the game too, the masks.  Termina is a land that celebrates and treasures masks.  Some of the most important events have some form of mask to go with them.  We only see 27 masks over the course of the game (you get 24 if you do the side quests, the sun and moon masks, and then the villain, Majora’s Mask itself) and each serves some form of purpose, or has some meaning to the person who gives it to you.  Every mask you get, except for the Giants mask and Fierce Deity Mask is either a quest reward for helping someone, a tool to use to help accomplish something (that usually ends with another mask or item of importance) or both.

Then there’s the themes of the game as well.  Many point to the idea of death and the five stages of grief, and it’s a neat theory, however I prefer the one listed in the article linked above.  So much of the game is about helping people, healing the problems, healing the land itself.  While you eventually have to go back in time and reset it all, the tools you acquire, the masks you gain, these are all permanent markers of your progress, and of the changes you’ve made to the world, somehow, some way, you get to keep these when you go through time, so somehow a piece of that change comes with you.  Sure if you reset after helping Romani defend the ranch against aliens and don’t help she’ll get abducted and lobotomized, but yet, when you do finally save the world, you see she’s ok, all the help you do across the game, all the faith you instill, it carries over in the end, allowing all you’ve done to help Termina actually have meaning.    For me, Majora’s Mask is more about healing and having faith in those around you, being brave enough to help when help is needed, and not the idea of death (although it is in there for sure, I just don’t think it’s the main focus).

Overall, Majora’s Mask is a special game to me.  Following Ocarina of Time, a patent office for the gaming medium in a cartridge, there really wasn’t any way for Nintendo to top it, so allowing Aonuma to go off the rails and go crazy brought out a game that may have used a bunch of the same assets and similar controls, but it was a unique experience that is far more memorable than the story of Ocarina of Time (and that is no slam on OoT, that game was fantastic).  Bizarre, touching, haunting, creepy, genuinely scary, bleak, unusual, deep, and gratifying are all words I’d use to describe it.  Majora’s Mask is a masterpiece, and I’m overjoyed that the game is getting a second chance to get the love and acclaim it was too early for in 2000.

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7:19 AM on 12.24.2014

Starbound, A Personal History

Oh boy, I can already tell this blog’s comments section could get ugly.  It seems like mentioning this game just about anywhere causes drama, flame wars, insults and who knows what other dickery from any possible side of just about every viewpoint possible.  This piece should be seen as my own personal viewpoint on this game and the company behind it, as it is for me to talk about my time having known about Starbound and Chucklefish.  I would like to note now that this is my personal opinion, and I could get some facts wrong.  Many of the events that have transpired during this game’s development have made some people see things differently than others, or me and in this situation; it literally is the case of personal thought on the matters.  As such, my feelings below and the terminology I use are mine alone on this topic.  So without further ado, let’s get started with a simple question for those not in the know…

 Also one extra note, sorry for the lack of pictures, this blog I feel, while long, doesn't lend itself well to having a bunch of screenshots I'd haveto go take.

 

Who the heck are Chucklefish?

Chucklefish are British independent game developer and publisher consisting of approximately 11 members.  Currently they have two games in development, their first, Starbound, and a second project currently in early development, being made by four of the team members called Wayward Tide.  Chucklefish is also a publisher for independent games such as Risk of Rain, Wanderlust, or (my personally most anticipated indie game CF is publishing) Stardew Valley.  With this information in mind, it is time to begin looking into my history with the main show for Chucklefish, Starbound.

 

I will admit right here and now that I never really clicked with Terraria.  Sure some of the weapons were neat to fling around and the soundtrack was cute but something about it, that I can’t put my finger on always held me back from just totally enjoying myself.  Maybe it was something with how the combat felt, or how you had to mine one tiny….tiny block at a time, or had to make a separate wall piece for the back of your structures.  I don’t know but while the game was fun, it just never clicked like Minecraft did. 

 

What is my history with the development of Starbound?

It was mid-2012 when I first heard of Starbound, though for the life of me I don’t remember where.  I want to say it was from Destructoid, but I honestly don’t remember.  What I do remember is eventually finding my way to the site, and the lighting demo, and that piqued my interest.  As the weeks came and went, and more details emerged, I began to get excited for the project.  After all it looked similar to Terraria (With the project lead, Tiy, being one of the artists on the original Terraria) in many ways, except it also felt different from it, even when looking at the videos.  The sprites were larger, it felt more carefully animated than Terraria (seriously, whenever I walk in that game I feel like I have three legs from how the sprite is animated) and it was set in space.

Space games and I go together you see, I have loved the idea of exploring space and different planets in video games for a long time, sadly Privateer was before my time and patience to play it had come, so I missed out on that classic.  My first true love of the open space game would probably be Freelancer, my word that game is awesome. Evochron Mercenary would follow.   Being an almost entirely solo effort indie game featuring a fully open galaxy for you to do whatever in (really, you can travel from one end of the game’s space area to the other on conventional drives alone with no loading times, though that would take a really, REALLY long time).  The game was also the first time I experienced being able to freely fly down to a planet and explore the surface without needing to load a new map, but I’m getting off track here.

Anyway, Starbound had the exploration/survival thing in space, which helped the idea click in my head and make me wait anxiously for pre-orders to come up.  In April 2013, they did as a crowd funding, Kickstarter like style, which also doubled as your pre-order for the finished title.  On the 17th, I placed my own order in, and then the waiting game began, would we get to play the early beta that summer?  Oh, it would be awesome.  That awesome however did not happen, at least not in summer.  Turned out Chucklefish had bitten off more than they could chew, and went basically completely quiet for a few months, which brought about concern and ire from quite a few members of the community (I was vocal about this too, though not in a hateful way.)

Come November, Chucklefish had started talking again and they decided to change their estimated release date of 2013 to only having the beta out in that year.  Considering they were so sure they would have the game out that year, many of us voiced our concern with the sudden change.  My opinion feels like CF got in over their heads with this project, a huge, procedurally generated universe exploration game is quite the vast idea, and with a new-start company and small team working on it, there was no way the game was going to be ready, and so we waited.  In late November the beta plan was released.  The idea was to have it in three stages, the first stage being quick and relentless updates to the game, the second stage would be more stable, but have regular updates, with the third stage being the final push to finish the base experience.

Chucklefish asked the community to decide how to do this.  Taking into consideration that a DRM-Free version of the game is to be made, but patching it there and on Steam would be quite the hassle, so they put up a vote in the official forums, where having Steam be the only version until at least stage two was preferable, since updating would be easier that way.  Therefore, the game went to the Steam Early Access program.  The real surprise came on December 4th, when the beta went up.  The game was rough around the edges, but for the groundwork, it was quite enjoyable.

For a while, updates did come quick, hot fixes, stability, optimization fixes, they all came with great speed, the issues were that each update was large, about 500MB due to the files having to be replaced, and the fact that many of the updates wiped saves, so players had to start over.  While this understandably upset people, the developers did make it clear that wipes would happen during this time, as is the case with a game still in heavy development.  As the updates came, people started to complain more, so the updates became slower but more content came with each.  Sadly the populace couldn’t be satisfied, so CF made the choice to stop updating on either the Stable branch and Unstable branch altogether, focusing on getting what they want in a 1.0 release done, eventually starting up a nightly branch,  so players could see and test out the new stuff as it was worked on. 

Therefore, from about April on, the game saw no updates to the two main branches, which caused even more hatred from people, especially on the Steam forums, since the devs seem to basically ignore those forums.  Personally, I think not doing any updates during this time was a large mistake on their part, since they were overhauling the combat and things, these new core features, once finished, should have been pushed out to unstable and eventually stable as soon as possible.  Not helping this gap in updates was the fact the entire time moved to their new office space, some coming from other countries.

As of this writing, the unstable branch has gotten the big update, what will become 1.0 once all the content is complete.  (The core mechanics and features are in, but some balancing, tweaking, optimizing needs to be done, along with putting the true content where there are currently placeholders.)  It took 8 months to get this update, but it is on its way, and hopefully it will be pushed to stable soon.  Now some people say “Oh but the modders already did this but better!”  To that I say, “When HASN’T a modder made something better than the default game.”  This is especially true in the Elder Scrolls games, modding is what keeps those games alive and loved by so many.  Anyway this is the my personal explanation of the history of Starbound’s development (I know I left out a couple things, like Omni’s meltdown, but that’s another thing I’d rather not look up to type more on, there’s already enough here at over 1000 words already and I haven’t even talked about the game itself yet.)

 

So, what is my opinion on the game in both the stable and unstable state?

To answer this question I must first mention the game’s price point.  The lowest tier (Pixel) on the official website (with the purchase handled by the folks of humble bundle) costs $15 USD.  For that money a person gets access to the beta (A steam key), a DRM-Free copy when they finally bring that out, and the soundtrack.  As a soundtrack junkie, the OST alone is worth the price, it is a wonderful soundtrack that the current version (I thankfully saved the previous version, with has a bunch of removed experimental tracks in it) has 60 tracks to it clocking in at an impressive 5.7 hours of music.

As for the game itself, well… the stable branch is still bare bones, what is there is a building/survival/exploration sandbox with multiple planets and a couple bosses.  The basic, rough framework is there, and it’s fun, but the last year hasn’t been easy on it.  The unstable branch however is a different story.  It’s like a new game, there’s actually goals in the beginning now, and the framework has been redone to better resemble a game, and even some of the content is now in.  It’s finally starting to take shape, and soon it will be at the point where it can be called 1.0, however that’s not the end, as Tiy has already said that new stuff will be made for a year after 1.0 hits (which is when the stretch goals of pets and fossils will be added).  It has been a rough year for Starbound, but things are finally starting to improve with this latest update.

I will be the first to admit that Chucklefish haven’t handled things perfectly during the last two years.  They have made many mistakes, from putting out a confident guess for the final game’s release, going silent for months, to many other things. They are starting to improve I believe.  The main site is updated almost every day with new information on the current developments for the game, and with this update now in unstable, it’s close to finally hitting the big 1.0, and I can’t wait.  I understand the anger people have with Chucklefish, and I fully can see where they are coming from.  I’ve gotten mad at them too over the last couple years, but in my mind, as long as I get a 1.0 Starbound, (and fossils and pets later on), I’ll be happy, as that is what I purchased with my pre-order (I did get mine before it went to early access, sadly things changed a bit with this transition).  My main hope is that Chucklefish learns from this game’s development, and learn how to do things better with future projects, and hopefully all those people who are angry with CF, but love Starbound, will be able to look at all this and see it as a new company’s growing pains.

I will close with the following statement to Chucklefish, who I am sure won’t read this:

“Chucklefish, while you’ve angered me in the past, and I have been vocal on the forums of your mistakes, mostly in the missed 2013 date (which I don’t call a lie personally but I do understand why people think that way on this), I have given you the benefit of the doubt because I love Starbound.  It is an amazing thing and I can’t wait to see it done.  However, this game’s rocky development is your one shot with me, if this kind of thing happens again with your future projects, like Wayward Tide, I will not be afraid to say that Starbound will be my only Chucklefish developed game.  Consider this your friendly warning.” (I still cannot wait for Stardew Valley though.)

 Anyway, I think that is about all I can say on the matter now.  It didn’t turn out like I formulated in my mind, but then again my original idea was going to point out every mistake I feel CF made and put my thoughts on how I would have done things differently.  Aside from not announcing an estimate on anything more than the beta, and released a couple updates to help shape the stable branch’s core to the current unstable version’s set, there’s not a lot I can really say beyond being more vocal about things.

If you are still with me all the way down here than thank you for taking your time to read this rambling thing, I just hope this doesn’t spawn a series of arguments or insults to anyone.

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11:50 PM on 04.23.2014

The Elder Scrolls Online - Personal Impressions So Far

(I wrote this in the span of around 90 minutes during my Database Design and Theory class [Why are you looking at me like that? †I STILL PAYED ATTENTION TO THE LECTURE!] of my personal impressions of the game based on my experiences. †I'm just putting them here to give my blog a new entry. †No screenshots with this one as it seems all screenshots taken from Steam or built in game screenshot taker makes the colors look fugly.)

ďYou have joined the Hollow Moon, now go acquire some exotic goods from the local merchants, and give the goods to the needy folks around here.Ē †This was the start of a quest that would give me the feels in one of the segments during one of my sessions in ďThe Elder Scrolls OnlineĒ by Zenimax Online and published by Bethesda. †My character, a Khajiit Dragon Knight named Reina, who uses a destruction staff for her secondary weapon set, had arrived in this little place in the Grahtwood zone (this is, including the starter area of Khenarthiís Roost, the third zone for the Aldmeri Dominion) and came across a group of Robin Hood style thieves by the name of the Hollow Moon. †Taking up the quest, I got the exotic goods and then went around to find those who needed the goods.

I gave a set to a guy in line who was obviously mentally not there, unlike the other two in that line, he legitimately looked and sounded like he needed the stuff. †The other two were not there due to need, one lied about being married and having a kid and the otherÖ well Iíll just use her words ďIím here because this is where they hand out the free stuff and I want my share.Ē †So yeah, I didnít give any to these two. †I gave 3 more of the five sets away, but the one that got me was the very first set I gave away. †It got me engaged in the quest, and earned my respect for a well written piece.

I walked up to a make-shift shelter kind of off to the side of the settlement, and on a mat was a Khajiit laying on it, he didnít look to good. †His wife tells me that he had been a Skooma addict for three years, but had recently quit. †Now before I continue, I should mention what Skooma is for those reading this who donít know what it is. †Skooma is a drug in the world of the Elder Scrolls that can cause some serious issues. †Anyway, this Khajiit was suffering from a severe case of the ďSkooma Shakes,Ē which is one of the more problematic side effects of the drug. †The wife told me that he probably wouldnít make it through the night, and so I gave her some of the exotic goods. †She thanked me and mentioned that she should be able to trade them to the local alchemist for a potion that will help him survive. †I felt like a good person for the first time in an MMO because I got absorbed into the quest. †Hereís the real kicker about this though. †My entire interaction with the Khajiit wife had a bug where none of the voice acting played. †I read the text the entire time, and it was still enough to make me feel proud of the actions my character had just taken.

If it isnít obvious by now, I am really enjoying The Elder Scrolls Online. †It isnít a perfect experience, the launch has been pretty rough, there have been many bugs (luckily I havenít run into that many of them), and bots are currently a problem, even so the lore, the combat, and the gameís world are enough to keep me entertained, something ďWorld of Star Wars: The Old RepublicĒ couldnít do. †Unlike that game, I have yet, in my nearly 3 weeks and 5 days of game time, to feel like Iím obligated to log in and play, despite the monthly sub. †This was a feeling I got early on with TOR, and it drove me away from the game even bore my 3 months of subscription was up. †It felt too similar to the many, many other MMORPGs I had tried out. †ESO does some things differently, and the land of Tamriel added to that is what keeps me going in that game and having fun (well that and being a member of a fantastic guild, the AJSA).

In my currently 22 levels worth of gameplay, I have travelled across three zones, not including the few times Iíve been to Coldharbour, the realm of Oblivion dedicated to the Daedric Prince of trickery, domination, and slavery, Molag Bal. †Each zone, from the bright, slightly eastern theme of Khenarthiís Roost, to the more colorful and majestic Summer Set Isle known as Auridon, and more recently, the swamplands of Grahtwood, I have been in public dungeons, taken part in the closing of many Dolmens (the dark anchors Molag Bal is using in attempt to fuse Tamriel/Mundus to Coldharbour, thanks to the work of the future Worm King, the necromancer MannimarcoÖ I love the lore in the Elder Scrolls), read many books that enrich the lore and faced off against many kinds of creatures, and nothing felt boring or forced. †Iíve enjoyed every second of it, aside from the rare occasions Iíve hit bugged quests that held me back for a bit, but Iíve only run into 3 I know for sure of.

This game has done something no other MMORPG has ever been able to do for me. †This game has made the PVP content enjoyable for me. †Iím not that great at most Player-Vs-Player content in many games, so when I hopped into PVP on ESO, I expected to do it once, and not really touch it again. †How wrong I was. †The last two Saturdays, and the one coming up as I write this, my guild has been doing PVP events where many guild members meet up and do what we can to sway the map in our favor. †Every time Iíve been in PVP itís been a blast, with the siege weapons, the mass of people, the fear of the enemy Emperor, itís an awesome component of the game, and I can see coming back for it when Iím out of PVE content to do.

The soundtrack is fantastic, as all games bearing the Elder Scrolls name are, with the title theme having been composed by the legendary Jeremy Soule, while the rest was done by other people, as well as a vocal piece done by the wonderful Malukah. †Sound effects are good, animations are, as odd as it is to say it, some of the better done animations seen in an ES game. †The beast races (Argonian, Khajiit) have obviously seen more love than the single player games, with tails that animate differently on each, and move more believable, and in the case of the Khajiit, eyes that just glow when the light hits them right. †The graphics (in my opinion) are very nice, sun shafts, decent amount of detail, gorgeous specular mapping, it all adds up to an attractive package to me.

If I had to give the game a numerical score (which Iím not, not officially anyway) Iíd give it an 8. †While I can understand the dislike, disappointment, and the lower scores for people who have encountered a lot of bugs, in my experience Iíve had a fairly smooth running game that gives me what I was expecting out of it, an MMORPG with the Elder Scrolls setting, and aside from the bug fixes, player homes and more content to keep me a subscriber, I canít really ask for more than I have. †(It also helps that I got the Physical Imperial Edition, not for the digital extras, hell I havenít used my Pledge of Mara yetÖ But for the FANTASTIC art/lore book that came with it. †Oh and I guess the statue of Molag Bal is nice too.)

ESO is a hard game to just recommend, it must be approached with the correct mindset. †If you donít like MMOs, or for some reason are turned off by subscription prices to a game that costs full price (like WoW, SW:TOR and others when they first came out), hate the Elder Scrolls series, or canít stand bugs in a game at launch, then you wonít like this game. †If you like the Elder Scrolls, and MMORPGs, and go into the game expecting ďSkyrim with more playersĒ you WILL be disappointed and not like it. †It must be gone into with the mindset of ďit is still an MMO first, and it takes place in Tamriel.Ē †Even then however, the game just might not be for you, nothing wrong with that. †I will say this though, it is NOT fact that the game sucks, that is a subjective view. †It may suck for you, but not for others, and as to you thinking if it is a waste of money or not, and you like to tell people that, Iíd like to quote the words of Ben ĎYahtzeeí Croshaw to end this little thing.

ďIíd rather be stupid and having fun than be bored out of my genius mind.Ē   read


2:43 AM on 11.11.2013

The Scrolls Had Foretold the Return of Dragons

Today marks 2 years to the day that Skyrim released. †I wanted to do something for it, and so I typed down some ramblings on my feelings of the game and series, and here it is. †Happy 2nd Birthday Skyrim.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Has it really been two full years since players were first allowed to set foot in post-Septim Skyrim?† Obviously, the answer is yes, but it sure doesnít seem it like it should be, at least in my opinion.† To celebrate the second anniversary of what is possibly my favorite game of this current generation, I thought I would write this piece about both the game as well as my love for this wonderful series.† I intend to share my feelings on both over the course of this probably mediocre blog.

Series History:

My first exposure to the series of The Elder Scrolls came from a PC Gamer demo disc way back in 1994.† We had had our first pc for less than a year (An old Canon computer bought from the then still around Future Shop) and had been getting the magazine regularly since.† The disc contained a demo of Daggerfall, the second game in the series.† I was still too young for my mind to grasp what a computer RPG really was, and wouldnít for another few years.

I wouldnít see anything beyond that demo, or even of the series until the Game of the Year edition of Morrowind first released.† My cousin got it for Christmas and gave me his original copy.† I admit, however, that I never could get into it due to the combat issues everyone has when trying the game the first time (the idea of missing so badly with a sword at low levels, patience wasnít something I had a lot of back then).† It wasnít until Oblivion that I really got into the series, although I borrowed a copy near release for a day to try it out (and being too stupid to realize that I had to exit where the assassin came in to get out of the passage), I didnít play it for long.†† Oblivion I knew was a special game, and I bought the Game of the Year edition when it became available and have easily pumped out 200+ hours in the game.† I even hunted down a collectorís edition for the extras disc, coin and even the original T rating.

I would return to Vvardenfell in 2010 when I purchased Morrowind GotY edition during the winter sale of the time.† While I havenít beaten the main quest lines of Tribunal or Bloodmoon due to save corruption and having to start over, I realized after just a few hours of play just what I had missed those years ago when I shelved the base version given to me.† I enjoy Morrowind enough that I consider it tied with one other title in terms of quality for the series, however it would not be my favorite of the series, after all, I didnít write an entire blog for Morrowind or Oblivionís anniversaries.

It was 10PM on November 10, 2011.† My sister, best friend and I drove down to our local GameStop to pick up our collectorís editions of Skyrim (my sister and myself, my friend has yet to get this game, finally having purchased and played Oblivion earlier this year).† There were many people there, all relaxing and talking, some brought soda to share with the group, those of us who had been at PAX just about a month prior had our plush helmets on.† All that was missing was song and a fire and it would have been exactly like a gathering you would have expected in the game.† Once midnight rolled around, they started handing out the game.† Very few picked up the CE of the game, but those who did held it over their heads with pride after walking out of the store, it was truly something special to behold.† I actually didnít play the game a whole lot launch day, the release event had drained me, and it wasnít really until November 12 that I really started playing.

The generation defining game for me:

For me, Skyrim is the best experience Iíve had this generation.† No it isnít perfect, and it doesnít hit every right note, but for me the game shows how Bethesda can build a world like no otherÖ that and the wonderful modding community on the PC, that helps too.† I understand not everyone will agree with me, and I know some people will call my opinions bullshit because they donít like the game.† Thatís fine; theyíre welcome to their opinions just as much as I am to mine.

The Elder Scrolls series, and Skyrim more than others for me, has been more along the lines of ďhereís a world, make your own story within it.Ē† Sure, there are main quests and side quests, but no two play-throughs will ever be the exact same, even if you do the same quests at the same time with the same builds.† The feeling of playing the character I want to be, imposing my own rules on what my character does and does not do, is part of this fun of carving out my characterís story in the vast expanse of Skyrim.† For instance my character (generally I prefer playing a Spellsword Khajiit) is limited to light armor, never steals, never knowingly conducts an evil act, and only wears armors she herself crafts.† I mean, how is it that banded iron armor the huge Nord was wearing fits my smaller, thinner Khajiit without adjustment?



To me the province of Skyrim is amazing to look at. †While not as fantastical as Vvardenfell or the Shivering Isles, Skyrim provides the sense of wonder and exploration that Oblivion lacked to some degree. †I blame this mostly on the fact that Cyrodiil, while beautiful in its own right, feels too close to Ďhomeí to really provide that true sense of fantasy.† Skyrim has this, although through the eyes of a Viking wonderland, and for some reason it works.† The honor over everything attitude the Nords have is admirable for the player, itís not what is said or how much coin is made, it is about the actions, proving the character can come through that matters to those in the frozen north.

If it is one thing Morrowind had well over Skyrim, it is the options for character equipment.† Back in the days of Morrowind a player could wear the following all at once: Shirt, pants, Cuirass, Greaves, Boots/shoes (beast races couldnít, more on that later), left glove, right glove, left pauldron, right pauldron, and helm (beast races couldnít wear closed-face helms).† Newer games have it where itís clothes, or armor, not both.† When wearing armor itís body, feet, head and hands, more restrictive, but at the same time, modders have enabled many more slots, the bandolier mod allows the player to wear a staggering 7 pouches that have their own slots, and a backpack, so maybe this feature will return to future titles, it not by Bethesda themselves, then by modding.† As stated though, beast races (Khajiit and Argonian) couldnít wear any footwear in vanilla Morrowind or wear closed-faced helmets.† This is because the races had digitigrade legs, and therefore were farther away from human than the current versions.† Modders are working on this, and I canít wait to see the completed version.



The soundtrack is another reason why Skyrim is such an important part of my gaming library.† Iíve been a fan of Jeremy Souleís work since Morrowind, even before I got into Oblivion.† Skyrim has some of the most beautiful tracks of the series.† While I will always prefer ďNerevar RisingĒ as the theme for the series, I hold the song ďStreets of WhiterunĒ to be one of the best musical pieces on all 4 discs of the soundtrack, though the entire thing is worth a listen to outside of the game.

The Streets of Whiterun to this day is in all my playlists.

Graphically, Skyrim is pretty.† Itís not mind blowing by default, low resolution textures do hurt the game but the art style is very appealing.† The armor designs are great (especially with the AMidianBorn Book of Silence mod) and the world, even with some technical flaws, is highly detailed.† Shadows however are the gameís weakest point, I donít know what Bethesda Game Studios was thinking, but even at the highest resolution, the shadows arenít pretty without modding.† To make matters worse, the shadows made by the sunís light move in increments.† Ini tweaking can fix this and make the movement better, but I hope the next game gets a jump in shadow quality and movement.

Like I said though, even though Skyrim does have some faults, in some cases fairly big ones, the overall experience, the stories my characters have made, the NPCs interacted with, the harrowing battles and dangerous traps, ruins explored, it all adds up to an experience that I have yet to see equaled by any game that isnít named Morrowind.† While I enjoy games from every genre, and deeply love many series out there like the Legend of Zelda, Mario, Final Fantasy (9 and down mostly), and the Ďshockí series, the Elder Scrolls always seems to give me the most investment and joy while playing.† At the moment of writing this, I have 422 hours according to Steam logged on Skyrim, and while it may not be much compared to other players, it is still the most time Iíve spent on a single game, and in fact more than any games belonging to a single series combined.

I wanted to close this with some magical quote to end this blog on a note that truly reflects my love for the game, however I canít simply write it down, as the one that truly inspired me to write this cannot be captured in just text, so Iíll link it below.† Itís talking about a mod that adds a cabin outside of Riverwood, but it captures my feelings so well in the tone that I had to use it.

The Quote. Thank you Gopher for your Skyrim Mod Sanctuary series. This one minute is what inspired this whole thing.


Thank you Bethesda for a game that has lasted me an amazing two years and probably will last another two or more.   read


6:59 PM on 07.12.2013

The Thrill of the Hunt

I know it has been a long time since March, but even after all this time I can still safely say that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is one of the most satisfying and rewarding games that I have ever played, completely loaded with fist pumping awesome moments.† As a newcomer to Capcomís series of hunting great beasts, I thought I would give my reasons as to why this game is so engaging to me.† There is no order to this and this isnít a review, Projared on Youtube pretty much sums up my feelings pretty well in his full review (even if his One Minute Review on it is priceless.).† Please note however, aside from the demo, my entire experience with MH3U is from the 3DS version, as after extensive run-throughs on the demo I found out I did better there with the inputs there.† That and the 3D is amazing on this title.† In addition, I have not played multiplayer yet, I shall make it a point to at PAX Prime 2013, but all of this is based on my solo experience.

The Mighty Prey

Weíll start with the real stars of the game themselves, the creatures the player hunts.† Ranging from little to colossal, every creature looks unique, and each fight is just as unique as the looks, even the sub-species are unique in this regard, since they are more than just a pallet swap.† Each creature is animated with very convincing animations, putting the player right in the midst of the fight.† Attacks feel appropriately heavy, flinging your poor armored hunter around like he or she is an insect.† While some would disagree, I also am of firm belief that the complete lack of any kind of HUD item for your target is an excellent move on the developerís part.†† It adds to the tension of the fight having to look at your target, and assess how badly hurt it is.† Details can be as little as the battle damage if the player repeatedly hits certain points, or the creature attacking slower.† Is it drooling?† That means itís exhausted and a perfect opportunity to go offensive.† Like a real hunter, itís up to the player to figure out how well they are doing against each beast.

The Hunterís Choice

Another aspect that makes this game so rewarding is the hunter is what you want to put into them.† Choose one (or switch between a couple favorites) of the 12 available weapons, set up your armor, and go do things, how the player builds up their hunter, from what weapon upgrades to get, which armor to forge, itís totally free for the player to decide.† Even to a lesser extent, the preparations for the hunts, as my last point will explain, preparation is one of the three keys to success.


Bringing Down the Beast

†This is where the satisfaction really comes from.†† Taking down the larger monsters, especially ones the player has not hunted before takes great preparation, and fast adaption to the situation as the battle goes on, using the visual changes in the monsterís appearance and behavior to decide how to act next.† Itís a game about knowledge about your tools, and your skill with them.†† One mistake can mean all the difference between a true victory or being sent back to base camp and having that reward reduced, or even failing the mission outright.† To some, an even bigger thrill is in successfully capturing the monster instead of ending its life.† Capturing requires even more thought and reliance on observing the targetís behavior in the fight to pull off, but the material rewards are well worth it.† For me there is an immense feeling of pure awesome when I see the fall of a dead monster or successfully pull off a capture, and then using the materials to craft new gear for the next great hunt.


Monster Hunter is a world full of wonder, danger, and adventure.† If one can get past the slow beginning and the learning curve, this is definitely a series worth checking out.† Hunt on my friends! †The next great beast awaits!   read


9:17 AM on 06.26.2013

Mayoral Impressions - An Animal Crossing: New Leaf Impressions

NOTE: I DO plan to update this blog as we get farther into the year. †This blog, as it is written now, only accounts for 2 weeks worth of gameplay. †Thank you for the understanding.

June 9th, 2013 is an important date.† No, there wasn't anything that involved the fate of the world, or some great discovery that would benefit mankind.† No, June 9th†is the day that I became mayor of the little forest village of Moonlit.† Not by choice mind you, I was kind of screwed into it by the real successor, but I took to the position in stride.† June 10th†was just as important, as that was the day my job as mayor began, when I would claim the chair in Town Hall as my own and make Isabelle my personal secretary.† It has been two weeks and 3 days since I became mayor, and I thought I would share my first impressions on my new life and the discoveries I have made.



The Mayor has good eyes and ears

Iíll start with the first thing anyone will really notice upon turning on the game, the presentation.† The first five minutes were weird to me, I wasnít used to seeing my old friend Rover the cat havingÖwell fur.† I also wasnít used to having thighs either, but now I canít see myself without them.† After getting used to things, the game looks great for an Animal Crossing game, much better than City Folk in fact.† There are new textures that add things like fur, fabric, and even a nice shine on the grass in the distance.† Water has also seen a nice bump in graphical appearance, looking more realistic in this game than the almost cell shaded look in the past.†† Other nice environmental looks are the clouds; they roll in, blot out the sky and hang there until the weather changes.†



In 3D, the rain effects look great as well. (Please note two things here, this is my opinion in terms of the 3D effect, your mileage will vary on this.† Also, I have not seen any other weather effects, obviously.)† The rolling world effect used since Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS also really looks appealing when the slider is bumped up.† Animations are what one would expect from the series (seriously, this is the one game where the simple animations add to the charm).

On the sound front, the new theme is very nice and inviting (although I will hold WW/City Folkís theme forever in my heart.) and many of the new hourly songs are nice.† Some old favorites return, like the catchy Able Sisters theme, and the Museumís relaxing loop that changes depending on which exhibit you are visiting also makes a return.† Along with the classic K.K. Slider song performances (and the versions played in a music player) all new remix versions exist, and the songs I have personally heard sound like great new additions to the New Leaf soundtrack.

Sound effects are wellÖ to be honest thereís nothing really new here, Animal Crossing has always had a distinct sound, and nothing really changes here, but thatís not a bad thing, like the simple animations, the sound adds charm,.† The villager voices may get annoying to you though, and I have yet to find a way to disable it, so just be warned there.



New Leaf, new stuff

Iíll avoid going into too much detail on the new items (as there are WAY too many to count) so weíll stick with the new features.† Being mayor means the town is built the way YOU want it to be. †The opening moments have you choose from one of four town layouts (though resetting the game and starting over gives you four new choices).† After some initial stuff (involving the new tutorial that Isabelle helps you through, and then getting to 100% approval rating, which will take a couple days), the player can then start building public works wherever they want, even their house is built where they want it.† Along with the building aspect, ordinances can be put in place, things like keeping the town beautiful, raising the prices on everything (and thus giving you more bells for sales as well), to changing the hours of the businesses for those who play at odd hours.



Another new feature is Re-tail.† Re-Tail is a combination of the auction house from City Folk and a flea market.† The player can put items up for sale for other villagers, or visitors to purchase at a price set by the itemís owner.† You can also sell items directly to the pink alpaca that runs the place.† After some requirements are met, the blue alpaca, Cyrus, allows you to change some furnitureís colors, as well as make furniture from gems you find from special rocks.

On Main Street, you will find all the essential businesses.† Nookling Junction is the main shop in your town, and sells a special item that uses play coins to buy, fortune cookies.† These magical little cookies give you a fortune that when given back to either Tommy or Timmy, nets you either a Nintendo item (like the Master Sword or Triforce) or a random item.† Naturally, this shop is upgraded as you buy items from them.† The Able Sisters shop is also here. Mabel, Sable and Label work here and this is where you can make and get clothes and accessories.




Nookís Homes is where you will upgrade and customize your house.† The Museum needs no explanation, and then thereís the post office.† Later on, new businesses become available, like a flower shop, Shampoodle, Kicks (shoe store) and the wonderful Club LoL, where K.K. Slider performs as normal on Saturday nights, and DJs with remixes on weekdays.
Being on the 3DS, New Leaf also has features that use the systemís features, like the above-mentioned Play Coins. †There is a megaphone that allows the player to speak into the system's microphone the name of a villager, and will (usually, the game keeps thinking that Iím calling for a snowman when I say ďPenelopeĒ so I have to shorten the name) have that villager respond to you so you can find them, if they are outside.

Online and StreetPass features are used well on this game.† StreetPass gives you access to the Happy Home Showcase, where you can see (and even order items from) houses of players whom you swapped data with.† On the online side of things, multiplayer returns and is, at least in my tests, lag-free. †A new feature for online is called the Dream Suite, a building which you must pay for that allows you to visit a dream version of someoneís town, and wreak as much havoc as you want without damaging the real town.† (I havenít built this yet in my town, so I canít actually test it.† Iíve got a couple projects I want to do before the Dream Suite.)† In addition, fruit stacks (of 9) are now possible, freeing up tons of room in the inventory, which holds 16 items.†

The island also returns, and you can play minigames here for medals that will get you exclusive stuff, like the wetsuit so you can go swimming.

It's the little things that matter
A lot of little details have been added here and there as well. †Things like your character nodding or shaking his head when you answer a question. †The events that happen around the year (so far I've only experienced the Bug-off) also saw a nice little bump, with more characters appearing for the awards ceremony to applaud the winners.



Possibly the one thing that still gets me to smile though is the reactions of the villagers when you pay them a visit. †You enter their house, talk to them like all other games, however when you leave the house, the villager may either wave goodbye (and smile) or bow respectfully to you. †It's little details like this that give this new Animal Crossing more life.

Mayor Evaluation:
At $35 USD, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is an adorable little debt simulator that wriggles its way into your heart.† There is so much to see and do that it doesnít get old as long as you pace yourself, remember, Animal Crossing plays via the 3DS system clock, meaning when someone says ďCome back tomorrowĒ they MEAN come back the next REAL day, unless you cheat and change the clock on your system.† If you have a 3DS and want a game that you can just hang out, relax, fish and see your pals (points for anyone who gets that reference), then I can recommend this title based on what I have experienced.†



If you donít yet have a 3DS, well if youíre interested and have games coming out later for the system that have you thinking of getting one, this will keep you occupied for quite a while.† If you have played any game in the series before, the gameplay is just as solid, with the new features listed above, and features I havenít even experienced yet.


Being mayor never felt so good.

  read


6:13 AM on 12.27.2011

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Review

Review

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Platform: 360, PS3, PC (Reviewed)

Edition Reviewed: Collectors

Release Date: 11/11/11

NOTE: Since I purchased the Collectorís Edition, Iím going to take a moment and review the package and its extra content before getting to the game itself. The review of the Collectorís Edition extras does NOT factor into the final score of the game.

The Collectorís Edition (from now on just being referenced as CE) is a beast of a package, with many components, so let us begin with the box itself. Not a whole lot of stuff to say about it, 3 sides have a picture of Bethesdaís ďDovahkiinĒ character staring out over the mountains. The back of the back of the box has a few screens, info, the contents of the box, and of course the requirements. Opening the large box, the first thing visible is the art book; from here Iíll be making a list with the items and what I think of them.

Art book: This is possibly the best art book I have ever seen. A presumably leather bound, 200 pages, full color book containing very high quality prints of conceptual arts for the world, characters, monsters, items, etc. The book is large, comparative to a tablet computer in length and width. This is easily one of the best items of this package. Following the art book is the case (which doesnít need to be covered) and the Making of DVD.

Making of DVD: This is the weakest part of this collection. Other Bethesda bonus DVDs have a making of video, trailers for the game, usually from what I call the ďoriginal source (take the first oblivion trailer for instance, all the online versions ran at 24-30 FPS, while the version on the DVD was 60FPS)Ē maybe some posters/concept art, making it a nice piece to have. This one has JUST a making of feature, and it really doesnít say a lot about the process that was involved in making the game. Not a lot of seeing people working on the game and talking about it. Itís disappointing to see such a lackluster, bare-boned bonus DVD in such an expensive package, but still, itís nice to have.

Alduin Statue: The centerpiece of the collection is the statue of the gameís main villain, Alduin the World Eater. It comes in 2 pieces, the dragon and the base. The base is lower quality plastic, but being just a dragon wall, it doesnít have a lot of detail to worry about. The dragon piece on the other hand is made from high-quality PVC (it feels sturdy in your hands) and has a ton of fine details. Itís an impressive statue, really high quality and a fine piece, rivaling the art book as the best part of the extras.

The Game Review:

Skyrim is a large game. It is a game that will take you a long time to complete. It is a game where you can choose to play in many different styles, and be your character. But how good IS it, and is it worthy to carry on the Elder Scrolls series? If you want a short version, there here you go, yes, yes it is.

Presentation: Skyrim is a decent looking game. Overall the presentation is great, but the finer details, without graphics mods, are fairly blurry up close. This is a good and bad thing, as it means more people can play the game on computers with less resource, but it also means those with beefy rigs need to download texture mods to really get the most out of this game. Little details, such as berries and plants vanishing when you pick them are nice touches, and the animations are vastly better than any of Bethesdaís other games. Combat, especially with weapons, looks heavy and kinetic; with another nice touch being your swing is interrupted when blocked by a shield.

NPC interaction is still a bit stiff, mainly how the characters move while talking to you, but the camera stays away, and time no longer stops, making conversations more natural. The biggest flaw in the graphics is the shadows, even at the highest settings, outside they are blocky, and ugly, and for some reason, the choice in time advancement has them move along their respective movement in increments every few seconds. Itís not jarring until youíre standing still in an area with a lot of them. Inside, shadows look fine, but itís still something that makes the game less pretty.
The audio presentation is better, melee weapons and bows sound great, impacts sound painful and weighty. Footsteps are appropriate and change depending on the type of ground you are on, and what kind of footwear you currently have equipped. Voice acting is a mixed bag in a way. All the voice acting is great, but a lot of it is done in a rather silly accent. Nothing wrong with it, just takes some getting used to. The musical score on the other hand, is Jeremy Souleís best work, easily. Every song is fantastic, with the title theme bringing a whole new meaning to the word ďepic.Ē

Gameplay: Skyrim has some areas of gameplay that are hard to accurately rate. On the one hand, keyboard and mouse controls work well, but the user interface isnít quite as smooth on this control preference. The game was built to be played with a controller, and the 360 controller for windows works fantastically on the pc version. Itís really up to personal choice as to which to use since both work well. As for the rest of the game, itís a really fun game to play, easy to control, and a large variable of ways to form to character.

Your get better at skills by using them, so you get better with one handed weapons or pickpocketing by killing things with one-handed weapons and by picking pockets, level your skills enough times and youíll gain a level up. When leveling up you choose to raise either health, magicka or stamina by 10 points, then you can choose a perk, if you meet the requirements. You can also hold on to the perk point for later use if nothing appeals to you.

Combat feels better than it ever has, melee isnít quite perfect, but it feels like youíre swinging a piece of metal around instead of a feather duster like Oblivion did. Magic has seen a vast improvement from constant spell to rune traps; you can do them all once you are strong enough. Then you also have shouts. Shouts are the dragon words of power, and are basically spells of immense power. You can equip anything to either hand (except shields and two-handed weapons) and use them separate from each other (in the case of the 360 pad, by using RT and LT for right and left hands respectively) or in the case of dual wielding or spells (once the perk is learned) together for greater effect.

There are plenty of quests to undertake, and all of them appear naturally. Things like reading a book and learning of a lost treasure, or hearing about a robbery in a local shop, it all adds to the experience. Youíll be sent on a variety of tasks from retrieving an item, fighting for either the Imperial Legion or the Stormcloaks, and the main quest, which involves stopping Alduin from destroying the world. Overall the game handles itself well, and keeps at a challenge, while still keeping the weaker foes around so you can feel your progress.

With all that Iíve said on the game, there are flaws in there. Some graphical glitches are there, like some places where the rocks arenít connected and thereís an invisible gap (itís not often and there arenít any gaps in the actual ground) there. Thereís at least one area that has invisible water, and itís still possible to get stuck in the geometry, though this is rare. Dual wielding also feels a bit tacked on, the weapon in your left hand just pops in and vanishes when drawn/sheathed, and you cannot form combos with the weapon in your left hand. The main quest has a lackluster ending to it, it just kind of ends, and no one really talks about it that much afterwards. There are also currently some physics glitches, mostly seen so far by saber cats, in which when they die their bodies fly around, itís a really funny sight, and a great glitch, but itís still worth bringing up.

Final Words: Skyrim isnít perfect; there are quite a few bugs and flaws. However a lot of these can be fairly easily ignored, as the atmosphere and sense of wonder that the world of Skyrim has is unmatched by almost nothing else on the market. Thereís room for improvement, and the modding community has already gone to great strides to improve the game, and things will only get better when the development tools are released in January. Overall, Skyrim is an impressive feat. Deep, rich, and entertaining in almost every way a game should be. Needless to say this game has my Game of the Year award already.

Content Score: 9 (Thereís some things that need to be patched, but even so thereís a LOT to do here.)
Verdict: BUY.

NOTE: Many of you will notice that I didn't put in a section for the story of the game. I didn't because while there are many quests, and a main quest, I feel these aren't actually the "Story" of Skyrim. In my opinion, the actual story of the game is the one you make by playing it. Your actions, where you go, who you help, what you kill, this is what I feel the story is.   read


4:10 AM on 05.27.2011

Another blog about the Space Mercenary Genre

A long time ago, I made a blog detailing how my dream space game would be. Well I figure now would be a good time as any to do another list, but this time, it's not about what I WANT in a space game, it's why this certain game is so much better than the ones I've tried previously (freelancer aside).

This game is actually an indie title, made from Star Wraith 3d Games, and it is my "Reasons Evochron Mercenary is the best space mercenary game in the last 5+ years" list. Don't get me wrong, all of the space games I own I adore, but this one, has reasons why it's different. I'm pulling these facts out of my head, so if I think of any later I'll add them.

1: It's more in depth than Freelancer, and not as deep as X3. This is a great starting point. X3, a good game in it's own right, literally has a learning WALL, not a curve. You have to have an eye on everything that game is doing at one time, as well as remembering all the blasted shortcuts the game wants on your keyboard. EM does have a lot of short cuts, but they aren't as needed here as often. All you really have to worry about is yourself for the most part. You don't need to worry about that fleet of traders you hired to get the goods for you to build a station in the middle of nowhere so you can create a resource empire.

2: Small size. Evochron Mercenary installs at about 250 megs. It's tiny on the hard drive, but does require a lot of memory if you want max detail (about 1.4 gigs free at the time of playing). Considering what's going on under the hood of this game, that 250ish install size is simply amazing.

3: Freedom. All the space games I like have this, we have games like Elite and Privateer to thank for this, but in recent years, most missions are about the same, kill this, take this there, build this, buy this, stuff like that. Evochron does more, one of the first missions you can do is a time attack race through rings, it's more varied in that way.

4: Planets. Planets in most space games are more for eye-candy (X3 especially from my experiences) than anything else, Freelancer had them as a place to dock and buy stuff or get missions. Evochron does this too, however unlike freelancer, there aren't any docking rings. You manually fly down into the planet's atmosphere, and land in the city yourself (you can even fly around the planet along it's surface if you want to).

5: Seamless experience. This ties into 4 a lot too. You can fly from one end of the universe (game universe) to the other, with 0 loading times. You can jump to other locations with 0 loading times, you can land on a planet with 0 loading times. Once you're in the game, there's no load times to bring you out of the experience, even Freelancer can't say that.

There's a lot more in terms of good stuff on display on this indie game. The graphics (especially the planets when you're flying above the surface) are pretty darned good (although being a lower budget indie title, some things aren't as spiffy as high budget games), The sounds are decent, and the game-play is fun on the main level. It's not perfect, but neither were the other great space games. If you have time (for the 80 minute totally open demo), or the 30 dollars to buy it, it's worth a look.   read


4:55 AM on 01.30.2011

Minecraft First Impressions



Iíll be blunt, I held off on getting this game. In a small way it was a mistake because I missed buying it in the alpha stage, but at the same time, I wasnít sure if I would play it enough to constitute the price of purchase. However after a trailer, some funny vids and of course, Yahtzeeís review, in which he is actually positive of it, I decided to just bunker down and buy the game. Iíve only spend a few hours playing, so that is why this is a first impressions. So letís take a look at Minecraft.

Presentation:
Despite having seen this game with high resolution texture packs, even the default look has an old-ish charm to it. The blocky, pixelated world Minecraft creates for you is a (somewhat) peaceful and relaxing, giving you fields, mountains, caves, lakes, snowfields, deserts, and beaches to explore and build upon. Sound effects are passable, but considering the origin of this indie title, itís easy to let it go. The music, while infrequent, is good stuff that helps draw the player into the world. With the graphics the game has, the lighting engine is actually very impressive, you canít see anything in an enclosed space without a torch, and even then itís still very dim. Only sunlight is bright. The game also has a nice day/night cycle, although you canít enjoy night until a tower or something is built so you wonít get attacked.

Gameplay:
Simple gameplay with real depth is hard to achieve and make it fun. Minecraft accomplishes this, by basically being a world of Lego bricks, this allows the imagination of the player, no matter how twisted, to create amazing structures. On the multiplayer server I play on (currently run by a temp group), the storage bank is a complete remake of the Scrooge McDuckís money bin, with a giant 8-bit art of Scrooge McDuck himself floating over it. This is just one example of the awesomeness that can be done with the gameís engine. However there is more than just mining and building. When it gets dark, either due to night or entering a dark cavern, you could be attacked by either zombies, skeletons, or the most feared creatures, creepers, thing walking, exploding plants. The crafting system itself is well done and intuitive, to make something, simply place the ingredients in the basic shape of the object and click the new icon. It works well and means thereís room for many combinations.

Final Thoughts:
Minecraft is hard to really explain. It just has to be played to get. Itís more fun than it looks, and despite some things that are bugs (nothing game breaking, which is actually amazing for this beta) itís an impressive beta. The fact that you can change your skin by loading the template into a paint program and change it there means almost anyone can make a skin. I donít give scores for first impressions, however I will say this:

If you are on the fence on this one, or think building whatever you want while fending off monsters at night is even slightly interesting to you, I really think you should get it, besides, once it comes out it will be more money, so if you didnít get it in alpha, should do it now. And really, the thing MUST be good, in less than 6 months the game has amassed over 1 MILLION purchases and the game is still in beta.   read


2:46 AM on 11.11.2010

Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley Review

I know I know this is waaay late, but I have my reasons, being I have yet to get an ending (had to restart, will explain in review) I wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the game-play before I started, but here he go... *clears throat*



Harvest Moon: Hero of Leaf Valley (from now on just called HoLV) is the first original game in the Harvest Moon series that is not a spin off or direct port. Considering the series has a long history, with many greats in there, how does this newest PSP version stand to the series?

Story
The game begins with your character, for the sake of the review, we'll name him Jack, receiving a letter from his dad. This letter asks Jack to go take care of things on his grandfather's farm since he passed away. However upon arrival, Jack discovers the harvest sprites, Nic, Nac, and Flak. They inform him that the Funland Corporation is going to tear down the valley and build an amusement park over it soon, and beg Jack to put a stop to it. So it is up to Jack to stop Funland from starting their construction in two years by any means necessary.

For a Harvest Moon title, this game actually has a deeper story than most, considering the game has 16 different endings to obtain (although to "Win" the game, there are 4 possible outcomes, each with their own set of needs to accomplish). For the most part the story structure is fine, you make friends, meet requirements and if you did it in time you trigger the next cut-scene at a certain range of dates. There is one issue however, I have yet to see clarification on it, but two of the story lines, one being the main story/best ending meet at one event on the same day, at the same time, and same place, I'm leaving the info out of the review, but I'll explain in better detail below the review and hide it, so those who want to know can. Even with the issue the story is actually decent given the game it is in.

Game-play
HoLV is a simple game to play. Over the course of two years, spanning four seasons with 30 days each the player will grow crops, make friends, go fishing, mining, wood cutting, and a variety of other activities, even going to festivals or special events. Although there aren't as many scripted ones, like the moon festival or the cow festival, there's plenty of diversions to keep the game from getting dull. Each of the endings requires a different set of objectives to be completed, like befriending woodcutter and fisherman Joe, and spending some time fishing, which is presented here in one of the best systems ever used for a HM title, as it isn't just a quick button press or hold timing.

Mining also is better, as each area is actually a puzzle that, if done correctly, only requires one swing of the hammer to clear the rocks in the room. Cooking is back, as well as the playable ocarina, and even bug catching. There's also more to the horse racing this time around as there are three types of races, the short race, the long race and the steeplechase. The amount of animals goes back to a more basic model, as only a dog, chickens, cows and a horse can be owned. One would think, after a game like Tree of Tranquility where there was like 20 different creatures to own, that this would be a drawback. In reality it isn't as much, as the management of the animals is much more simple, and being a small valley farm, you don't have a lot of room.

Crops are tweaked also, you still till the soil, plant the seeds and water them, however now there's a little more to it, each bag of seeds does one square, and you can use mineral crystals (that are found in the mine) to change the crops into a new variation of crop that is worth more. There's also a seed machine that can be won in the races that will grow 2 different plants on one square. There is no shipping bin either, you must sell your goods to the shops around the valley. Another neat little feature is when your house is upgraded so you have the bath, every time you use it your character will wear a different colored outfit. There are 3 in total everyone gets, but one ending unlocks a fourth. Also, just a heads up, you can only save when you go to bed at night. At first it seems odd, but when you take in the PSP's sleep mode, it becomes almost a non-issue.

Presentation
For a Harvest Moon game, hell for a PSP game this title looks and sounds pretty good. Most textures are sharp, and some of the shading gives an almost sketch-like look to the game, which actually looks pleasing. Little details are everywhere, like a poster that is the box art for one of the Game boy titles, just without the hat. Rain looks good, even if it moves a little slow, and the fireworks, which go off in real time on the day of the Fireworks Show are good to look at, even if you can only see them from maybe two spots. There may not be a drastic change from Spring to Summer, but Fall and Winter are huge changes in graphics that bring the game a very nice change, this is the first fully 3D title that I'm aware of (that DOESN'T use a over-head camera) that actually has snow on the ground in winter.

The sound track for the game is really good for Harvest Moon standards, one of the better sound tracks in the series, and this is coming from someone who is REALLY picky about music in the series (NOTHING has come close to Save the Homeland's Summer Theme, not even the remix that appears in later games, although the sound track in HoLV comes closest). Most of the sound effects are good, some just workable, which is what is expected in this series.

The presentation is not perfect though, in some areas, although it seems to become less frequent later in the game, you can see the seams of the landscape as light blue lines. It's not a game breaker by any means, but if can be a slightly bit annoying. Also on a PSP-1000, which I played the game on, everywhere outside the farm seemed to be slower in graphic movement, not in skipping more frames. Again it's not a game breaker, since all but one area is at this speed, where the farm is slightly faster, but is is noticeable and needs to be taken note of. The load times I've heard are bad, but I don't buy it, every area in my game seems to load in maybe 8 seconds, tops. Maybe it's because I'm patient with a slow paced game, but they don't bother me. The other flaws are more design choices, but they seem like off choices, as rain, wind (for storms), fireworks, and a couple other things possibly, don't have sound effects for them. It's an issue that makes you wish they were there, but it's something that is relatively easy to look past unless you are a nit-picker.

Final Thoughts
It's OK to go into this one with the worry that it's just an enhanced port of Save the Homeland (The first PS2 game in the series), because that is basically what it is, although there's so much more to it, like being able to continue after the end and get married, that it feels like it's own game. The game has some minor flaws and off decisions in the presentation department, but overall it's actually a refreshing feeling game in the series, because it goes back to a simpler time.

Note: Turn off your pre-load cache on PSP-2000 and 3000 with the UMD version, as it can cause strange issues, however this is NOT exclusive to just this game, hence why no points will be docked because of it.

Content Score: 8.5
Recommendation: Buy

Below is the story issue I mentioned earlier, highlight the text to read, or if it doesn't work as planned, don't read below the line.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

[color=white]The story for the Horse racing champion and the main story meet at the 2nd year spring horse race. It is unknown to me whether you can still obtain the best ending (as you must defeat ALL of the robots Funland releases during the main story) if you are going for the horse race champion ending, as the circumstances are slightly changed.[/color]   read


3:25 AM on 09.24.2010

My 7 Most Enjoyable Games This Year So Far

Ok to start off with, this list ISNíT games that came out this year, itís the 7 games I either discovered, or really sat down and played for the first time this year so far. These are the games I am glad to own, and wouldnít want to be without ever again.

NUMBER 7:

Released: Febuary 12, 2009

Flower is a hard game to explain, in fact in actuality it canít be called a game. Itís an experience, and downright amazing one at that. A game that truly finds its home on the PS3, itís a gorgeous, easily controlled masterpiece with a loving, calm soundtrack, and a completely wordless, yet emotional connection. If you own a PS3 and HAVENíT experienced the best example of gaming as an art form, there is something wrong with you. Also, do yourself a favor, pay the 3 bucks and get the soundtrack from the PSN, itís worth it for the relaxation you get from the soft tunes.

Number 6:

Released: March 10, 2010


Having played this title no less 4 times since I learned about it on the spectacular podcast ďThis Week in GamesĒ hosted by Jason ďLordkatĒ Pullara and Micheal ďSkitchĒ Schiciano (hosted at lordkat.com), shows this game has staying power. Taking place ď5 minutes into the future of 1988,ď this game plays out by having the player dial BBS systems from his terminal, with a GUI that is almost an exact copy of the Amiga Workbench from way back. A great soundtrack along with a stunning awesome story makes for one of the best indie games Iíve played this year.

Number 5:

Released: March 22, 2010

Iíve known of Cave Story for a few years now, having played and completely enjoyed the freeware PC version. So why does the Wiiware version, despite having some flaws (that a patch IS on the way for) make it on here instead of the original? To start with, the enhanced graphics are the best starting point, all the sprite-work for the characters was redone by Pixel himself, giving the game a vast new level of detail. The Wiiware version runs at a smooth 60FPS, which makes the game feel smoother than the PCís 50. Also, the game just feels RIGHT on an NES style control layout.

Number 4:

Released: March 23, 2010

The first Direct X 10 only game I have ever played or owned, Just Cause 2 gives you a kick ass physics system that throws realism out the window for ďOMG!!! That was awesome!Ē Along side that is a beautiful island to explore by way of vehicle or parachute/grappling hook, and all the exploding and shooting toys you could ever want. Blow up whatever you want, thatís what you are there for!

Number 3:

Released: August 24, 2009

This title is harder to find since itís no longer being produced. Featuring Metroid Prime, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, and Metroid Prime 3: Corruption all on a single disc, with the flawless Wii controls. Add to that enhanced textures and a steel book casing, and the art booklet that comes with as well and there is no reason not to own this if you are a Wii owner. This is a must have.

Number 2:

November 12, 2009

I bought the Gold Edition of X3, which comes with both, X3: Reunion and X3: Terran Conflict, however I have only really played the latter. A space simulation game in which you can do what you want, when you want, the game is a lovely game to set eyes on, with itís graphics pushing huge numbers of polygons at any given time, along with the great shading work, you canít believe how good this game looks until actually seeing it running live. The game is complex, which is the biggest drawback, so expect to spend a lot of time learning what things do. The game can be enhanced with a cockpit mod, and a mod that allows you to save anywhere. By default you can only save while docked, but are able to save in space with insurance, that costs 3k credits for one. Originally I thought it was awesome, but once you start getting into missions that call for long travels then combat that you can lose (pretty easy if you arenít careful), then you start to wonder why saving anywhere isnít there. Even so itís a brilliant game, with a HUGE soundtrack (over 100 songs) and quite a few of them are very well done and make you feel like youíre floating in the huge emptiness of space.

Number 1:

Released: October 30, 2003

This is a game I feel guilty about. I feel guilty about it because I had the opportunity to play it long ago, but never did. I played Oblivion for quite some time, until Steamís Winter Sale this last year, when I got Morrowind for 5 bucks. Iíve pumped 55 hours into the game so far and still feel guilty about passing on this game all those years ago. With a superb storyline, a diverse and lively world, and the whole werewolf thing, it keeps bringing me back. With texture and mesh enhancement mods, as well as the ďitís totally needed nowĒ Morrowind Graphics Extender, I have distant land draw distances that make Oblivion blush, and water that is some of the best looking in any game, oh right and sun rays, like in Crysis.


Honorable Mentions: These are games that I have played, but havenít gotten quite the enjoyment or playtime out of as the listed games:

Vindictus
X3: Reunion
Broken Sword series   read


6:10 AM on 09.21.2010

I feel cheated in a way.

So I got bored about two hours ago, and decided to make my own cover for "The GAF Collection." I'm no artist, but in 2 hours time I came up with something. I should have noticed the TOS first on the "no free email" for signing up on NeoGaf (a stupid thing I think but it's not my call.) So instead of posting it there, I'm going to post it here in my blog. Before seeing it (and yes I made it a printable size) note three things:



I used Paint.net, so there aren't any real fancy tricks here.

The images and even the font were found with a google search, so aside from the layout and that kind of thing, the pictures, the font, even the template don't belong to me.

I am NOT an artist by any means in the form of visual art. My artistic nature seems to come through stories and such (as seen by my in progress RPG MAKER XP project.)

Enjoy Destructoid community, my 2 hour creation, if you want me to upload the full printable version of the DVD case cover, ask in the comments.

  read





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