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1:42 PM on 05.27.2009

Worlds Other Than These: Transylvania is a Place on Earth

Nobody really remembers who sang those immortal words ď(ooh) heaven is a place on Earth.Ē If heaven is a place on Earth than surely hell is a place on Earth.

Every man has a tale of his own personal hell on Earth be it in a highway rest stop bathroom in Lebanon, Indiana or perhaps on a north bound elevated train on which someone has just secretly shit themselves. Some hells on Earth donít even involve bathrooms or moving bathrooms. No, readers, no. It is not for you to consecrate any ground as hell on Earth because it has long since been consecrated within the little country of Romania. Its name is Transylvania and it is the setting of childrenís and touristsí nightmares alike.

And how do you squelch a nightmare if youíre a minor or value your liver function? You play fucking video games. Letís get down to business.

The first video game worth mentioning that was set in Transylvania was called Transylvania. In this game you were tasked with the rescue of a woman named Sabrina who, in your mind, is attractive. This rescue takes place, for some fucking reason, in the middle of the night in a forest filled with werewolves and Draculas and wizards and aliens. Fuck. Aliens, really? All of this bullshit plus a disgruntled black cat stands between you and a sturdily built Soviet-era Romanian woman named Sabrina.



I never finished the game to find out if she was the hot kind of Spies like Us commie or the solid plow-dragging stock of the Carpathian mountain people. At any rate that game marched me through hell on a regular basis during my Commodore 64 days. I endured because, hey, that little disc loaded WAY faster than Bruce Lee. Chicken McNuggets were new back then, so too was the electronic hard-on sustained by the ability to explore Transylvania outside of a shitty nightmare. Still, I needed more control than text commands could provide.

Nobody, up to this point, had ever attempted to compartmentalize Transylvania by packing all of the Draculas and skeletons and random meat-shaped food items and boomerangs into one castle. Nobody, that is, until Konami invented the concept known as Castlevania.

This, I thought, was more like it. Iím back in Transylfuckingvania but now I have a crazy alchemy whip and some boomerangs and cool looking leather shit. I imagined I was taking revenge for all those rigidly narrow puzzles that stumped me in the forests of Transylvania in years past. No thinking manís hell was this. The undead would certainly pay for that bullshit.

At least thatís what my mind told me until I (my mom) bought the game and discovered that it is a fucking grind. In the end Dracula was defeated and the sense of triumph was not unlike that of a champion eater. So much Transylvania had been stuffed into my eye holes that I started to think maybe I needed more Ninjas in my life.



Alas, it turns out that the Dracula-slaying Olympics take place every 100 years in TransylvaniaÖ.in a Castle(vania) and that only the Belmont family is invited. Like the real Olympics in which comparatively few vampires are slain this ordeal gets flashier and flashier with each subsequent installment. Eventually a major street in Chicago would be named after the Belmonts and the world would remain Dracula-free as far as I was concerned. The compartmentalization of Transylvania lost its allure after the Playstation days because, deep down, at that point in my life, all I wanted was to deal with the undead problem with a goddamned shot gun. Enter Resident Evil.

These days Transylvania feels like just another part of Romania. Vampires have taken a back seat to zombies. Communism fell and Dracula's Castle was sold to god-knows-who. TV Chef Anthony Bourdain visited there and didn't even bother looking for random meat bones hidden in the walls. Someday I'll revisit the Transylvania of my youth and someday maybe the game will let me pee on the werewolf.

It was Belinda fucking Carlisle, btw.   read


11:19 AM on 04.22.2009

I Want to Open a Video Game Themed Burger Pub

So here in Chicago we have this bar called "Kuma's Korner." Basically it's a heavy metal bar that serves gourmet hamburgers. They serve a Black Sabbath burger with blackening spice and chili on it. They serve a 1/4 pound hot dog called the Goblin Cock. They serve a burger called "Lair of the Minotaur with carmelized onions, panchetta, and bourbon-soaked pears. You get the idea.

The place is insanely popular. Most nights tend toward an hour wait for a table and an hour wait for your food. Forget about it on weekends.

So I figure there's plenty of room to do the exact same thing except with video games. Since it's lunch time here in the midwest I've pulled together a short menu of video game themed hamburgers (and I've done it without infringing any copyrights, I hope.)

The Blue Bomber: A 1/4 pound patty topped with blue cheese and fried onion rings

The Colossus: A half pound patty topped with swiss cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato served in a "bun" made up of two grilled cheese sandwiches.

The Aperature: A 1/2 pound patty on a ciabatta roll served with a thick slice of cheddar on top and a thick slice of blue cheese on bottom. Includes a slice of cake after your meal (or does it?)

The Boco: A turkey burger topped with fire roasted peppers, monterrey jack cheese, and garlic mayo.

The Tomb Raider: A 1/4 pound burger served on an egg roll topped with aged British cheddar and two fried eggs.

The Halo: A 1/2 pound burger with goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon and tomato. Served on top of a bed of onion rings.

The Super Mutant: A 1/2 pound burger on a potato roll topped with bacon, ham, a fried egg, smoked gouda and mayo.

The Space Marine: A 1/2 pounder topped with chorizo, chipotle peppers, pico de gallo, and lots of Chihuahua cheese

OK I'm gonna stop now because I'm starving. Feel free to add your own in the comments but try to do it without infringement (yeah, I know the Tomb Raider is probably infringement.)   read


12:30 PM on 04.09.2009

For Those About to Die: The Woefully Outclassed

Daytime. The Capital Wasteland. 2277. A man and a dog walk toward a derelict hotel near old D.C. The man looks nothing like other men. He is clad completely in steel; none of his human skin is visible but his steel skin crackles with energy as he walks. He is carrying a strange weapon in pristine condition, also pulsing with weird green energies. He walks unafraid as he ignores his surroundings to study the computer on his wrist.

Two men approach wearing simple leather armor. One carries a pistol and the other carries a sledge hammer. For some reason they decide the following:

"Let's attack that guy and kill him and steal all his shit. That plasma rifle he's carrying is probably fake and that armor is probably made out of old drywall. This is just some asshole who found a spraypaint factory."



And this happens over and over and over.

It's inevitable in any stat-building game that at some point you become godlike with no reason to fear even the end boss. Regardless, the instinct of self-preservation is not something that developers routinely program into enemy A.I. Sure, they'll sometimes have an A.I. trigger that makes them run away if you start really kicking their ass but the trigger has nothing to do with "you should have just run away when you saw me approach."

I know games would be pointless without enemies and they would be equally pointless if the enemies just ran away when they saw you coming. After all, half the point of putting work into your character is so you can achieve the title "Uber" and be fearless. For me though it's a mixed bag. Not fearing any of the game's enemies really bumps the immersion level down a few pegs. In Final Fantasy Tactics, for example, I've sat through the last boss' stock standard "you are all doomed" speech half a dozen times while thinking "as soon as he's done talking I'm going to make him my bitch without breaking a sweat." That notion makes the speech meaningless.

Adaptive difficulty makes up for this to an extent but it inevitably tails off into a slaughter as the player's stats and resources become inflated.

So what's the point? You become a bad-ass and a destroyer of fucking worlds. So what; that's just the way it works. Like I said, there's a certain amount of fun involved in reaching that point. I don't think there's a RE4 player out there that didn't enjoy the hell out of playing the game with the Chicago Typewriter. The challenge, I think, is to maintain the illusion that the player is threatened.

The Pitt expansion for Fallout 3 managed this relatively well but fails in a BIG way when it allows you to reclaim your items. What they should have done was left you without the items until the very end; forcing you to use workbenches to cobble together makeshift weapons to supplement the ones you find in the steelyard. Instead I reverted to uber-badass status and proceeded to wipe out every slaver on the map (I only left the baby and her mother alive.) Before that point I actually felt threatened even though I'm maxed out at level 20 with all bobbleheads and the covert ops perk. Close but no cigar but fun nonetheless.   read


3:28 PM on 12.22.2008

Time to fix my joke of an XBL Friends List

My friends list on Xbox Live is seriously pathetic. I log on to usually find my friends either offline or engaged in the playing of some putrid piece of shit game that they rented or dug out of a bargain bin. It's seriously time to cull some of those never-logging-in motherfuckers and get some real gamers on my list.

I bought Left 4 Dead today. I'd also like some friends who have Gears 2 because I want to try the co-op endurance mode. I also play CoD4, Catan, and Ticket to Ride.

Anyway, you know those people who use their mouth as a douche nozzle to spout racial epithets and a never-ending stream of cuss words? I'm not one of those.

And those people who turn their music up so loud that you can hear it through their microphone? I'm not one of those either.


So if you'd like to add a decent human to your friends list...my gamertag is right over yonder ----->   read


9:02 AM on 11.21.2008

Question for Microsoft about the new Dashboard

Was it supposed to be good?

Just curious.   read


2:14 PM on 10.31.2008

Board Gamers' Cred on Halloween





Yes, that's the electrical service panel for the building where I work. It went hot in 1948 and it's been chugging ever since.   read


4:53 PM on 09.26.2008

Braid: The "Oh Shit" Moment.

Normally the "Oh Shit" moments in gaming happen while the game is being played. In the case of Braid it happened well after I finished it.

I have a considerable amount of regret associated with this excellent title.



I have a policy of not reading ANYTHING about puzzle or story-driven games online while I'm playing them. Braid is both so I took extra care not to spoil anything by reading articles about the game. I knew it was getting lots of acclaim, I saw the Penny Arcade comic, that's all I needed to part with my $15.

So I played the game. It's probably going to squeeze into my top 10 all time list. The plot left me a little puzzled so I went ahead and read a few posts and FAQs about the plot.

BIG MISTAKE on my part. A major portion of the game's brilliance was denied to me because I failed to sit down for longer with the game to piece together clues and unravel the plot on my own.

If you're playing Braid and you finish it and you're thinking "so WTF happened?" then YOU DID NOT FINISH IT. Even if you don't care about plot in games be aware that the plot requires a "solution" so to speak. It's gameplay in the strictest sense of the word. I don't believe you get an achievement for it. It's THAT secret. Too secret for me, apparently.

The "Oh shit" moment happened when I wished I could reverse time and un-learn what I had learned after I underestimated the game.   read


1:13 PM on 08.04.2008

Games That Made My Little Sister Cry: Epyx Summer Games

As we're just about on the eve of completely ignoring the start of the 2008 Summer games in Peking*, China I thought now would be a good time to talk about one of my favorite games from the 80's



If you had a game console or computer during the 80's there's a good chance you had this game although hopefully your copy wasn't as pirated as my copy.

I don't have the specifics but I'm pretty sure Epyx ported this big ass cash cow to every platform on the sunny side of the iron curtain. Maybe they had track and field video games in Russia but since they boycotted the '84 Olympics, who gives a fuck?

Anyway, the game featured various Summer Olympic standards such as Pole Vaulting, Diving, Sprinting, Swimming, Gymnastics, and Skeet Shooting. It was one of the few games that my sister would actually sit down and play against me because it had gymnastics as an event. Back then she was in 2nd grade and I was in 4th and like 2nd grade girls everywhere she had been mesmerized by Mary Lou Retton and her gigantic oak-like thighs. Obviously nobody told America's youth that the Soviet Union would have dominated that shit had they not boycotted but I digress.



Most of the events involved waggling the joystick back and forth as fast as humanly possible and maybe pushing a button at the right time or pushing up or down on the stick. This game broke so many joysticks at my house that my parents started locking them in the desk when we started to get too crazy on that shit. I guess you could say that it sometimes replaced exercise when the weather was too cold for us to be cruelly forced outside away from the glow of the monitor.



Anyway, as I said before, my little sister loved this game. Unfortunately for her the skills gap between a 2nd grader and a 4th grader are immense and she was mercilessly defeated by my summer Olympians on every occasion. The Gymnastics event was a particular sore spot for her. Often she would anxiously await the event with its music from the nutcracker suite and sensible-haired female gymnast performing a vague side-scrolling floor exercise. Me, being the young man of the house just wanted to win at all costs. That being said, I found a bug to exploit.

The C64 version of the game had a bug which let you get a perfect 6.0 score at gymnastics if you purposely made your character fall down over and over and over until the routine ended. My sister would put actual thought into her routine, muddling through the awful C64 controls, lucky if she got her gymnast to perform 3 or 4 moves without falling. Meanwhile I would just fall down 20 times and a perfect score, laughing the whole time. I suppose I was kind of a dick in that respect as many of our Summer Games ended in hysterical, tear-filled pouts of
"you're supposed to do gymnastics moves"

Oh well, sometimes I let her win but I would turn off the power before the gold medal ceremony (resulting in more tears.) Video gaming can be so cruel.


*YEAH. I KNOW.   read


1:47 PM on 07.21.2008

A Cast of Thousands: Leisure Suit Larry

Clad in the polyester raiment of an extinct era, Leisure Suit Larry commenced his adventure with little more than a canister of breath spray and a mission: to get laid by midnight. While the other video game titans of the era were busy saving the princess Larry was busy looking for women half his age to shamefully defile in a shabby hotel room. While the pixels of stronger characters walked along the edge of a razor to save the world from Metal Gear or Mother Brain Larry endured filthy dive bar bathrooms, incontinent dogs, and the nagging torment of 40-ish years of virginity.



Larry was the balding, 40-something protagonist of Sierra On-Line's series of Leisure Suit Larry games. The first title released in 1987 and subsequent titles followed until 1996. In 2004 Sierra resurrected the series without the involvement of Al Lowe, the character's original creator. The main character in the next-gen games is not the same Larry as in the original series; instead he's introduced as the original Larry's nephew. The newer game is smuttier, I've heard, but I've never played it so I wouldn't know.

Anyone who grew up in the 80's and 90's and had a PC in the house probably had a secret copy of Leisure Suit Larry stowed away on discs labeled as something else. Mine were labeled "Battletech 3" which was never a game that really existed but my parents sure as hell didn't know that. When I was 10 we didn't have a PC so I only got to play on rare occasions at my aunt's house. Around 1991 we got an IBM PS/1 and I quickly procured copies of the Leisure Suit Larry games which I usually played for a little while with my friends before my parents got home from work (yes, being latchkey let us get away with so much shit.)

So who's the real video game hero? Back then I would have said "Solid Snake" or "Mega Man." Back then I was 10 years old. I didn't know. Larry seemed like just a joke.

By the time I hit the post-college "singles scene" (I vomited a little bit after typing that) I was overcome by recollections of Leisure Suit Larry. When your dating pool expands from 18-21 (fish, barrel, shooting) year old college students in a Midwestern college town to 18-35 year old women in a major Midwestern city the spectre of rejection tends to hover a little more closely around every turn. You begin to see those guys out in shitty dive bars, drunkenly slobbering out pick up lines and you realize that most of those guys are Leisure Suit Larry.




There may have not been a Dragon in his final dungeon and he may have carried his armor in a foil wrapper in his wallet but Leisure Suit Larry is every bit as much of a hero as Master Chief or Link.

But he hasn't laid as much pipe as Mario.   read


1:21 PM on 07.14.2008

A Cast of Thousands: Birdo

The Tissot watch on the Psychiatrist's wrist indicated that 45 minutes had passed.

"We're running out of time for today. Aren't you going to tell me about the bird-creature?"

Mario removed his hat and twisted it in his hands before placing it beside him on the couch. After a long pause he began to speak in Italian.

(translated)

"The dream was always the same except for the people in it. Sometimes it would be Luigi. Sometimes Toad or the Princess. Sometimes it would be me. Whoever it was would ascend a vine up the side of a vast tower. At the top it was tranquil. A welcome rest after fighting through scores of masked, unfamiliar monsters. At the far end of the roof was a door shaped like an eagle's head. Standing in front of it was a....thing. Not quite a bird but not quite a lizard...I don't know what to call it. It was a sickly shade of pink with a bow on its head. It was female in appearance but it spoke in a series of honks, snorts, and sentence fragments. It threatened me, verbally, in a man's voice and issued forth to fight."

Mario paused for a moment and reached to the side to retrieve his hat. He nervously put it back on his head, adjusted it for a moment and continued.

"The odd part about this thing was its mouth. I know most birds lay eggs out of their cloaca. Reptiles too. This thing had a massive cock of a cloacal maw where its mouth should have been. Indeed it seemed to double as a mouth when it tried to make words."



"I figured it would be a quick fight if I could find something to throw. The stones that made up the castle were firmly mortared in place. I started back toward the vine to descend the tower but something was different about this part of the world. I couldn't approach the vine. Just then I heard a sound like a large cork popping out of the bung on a wine cask. I turned around just in time to get smacked in the chest by an egg the size of a bocce ball. I was thinking 'that couldn't have come from its head' just as it inhaled deeply and with a ploomping sound it propelled another egg in my direction. Angrily I caught the mucus-covered egg, ran up to the thing and smashed it's fucking head in. I would have to do that two more times before it finally died and yielded the key to the eagle door."

--Excerpt from Psychiatrist's report to the State of New York Board of Corrections dated 4 February 1994.

So. Birdo. Not quite a bird but not quite a reptile. Forced by the mushroom-induced dreams of an immigrant plumber to vomit forth his/her own young in the defense of an obese toad-creature and his menagerie of sex-slave pixies in a jar. Not quite a man and not quite a woman (I'll just assume "she" is correct from this point on.) Not quite a true Mario character but featured alongside the whole cast anyway. Birdo started as an insignificant character in an insignificant game that never even got released here in the United States. Luck was on his/her side, however as the Japanese decided that Super Mario 2 (Japanese Version) was just too hard for us lazy, stupid Americans. So what we ended up getting was a different game with Mario and company pasted in to make a quick buck for Nintendo. It ended up being a pretty good game even though there was not one fire flower in the whole fucking thing. Birdo appeared in virtually every level as a persistent bastard who just would not yield to Mario's gigantic ego. Somehow Birdo proved to be more than a figment of Mario's imagination...



Birdo is the embodiment of something that just doesn't "belong." In short, she was dealt a horse shit hand of cards and managed to turn them into a full house. She wakes up every day, she plays tennis and races the go-karts, she just does the best she can. Gone are the days of trying to kill Mario by forcing massive eggs up though her digestive system and spewing them out in a cloud of mucus and spit. If only other minor video game bosses had it so easy.

She had a prominent role a boss in SMB2. That was followed by smaller roles in Wario's Woods, Super Mario RPG, and Mario and Luigi Superstar Saga. After that she retired to a life of Tennis, Karts, and Mini-games (Mario Party.) In the meantime other bosses like Bowser and Ganon still get their asses handed to them on a semi-regular basis. There's no rest for the bosses that make sense in this business, I suppose.

So, in the interest of keeping this short I'll get to the point. Birdo teaches us that it's best to make your mark in the most ridiculous way possible and achieve enough notoriety to be challenged by your former enemies to games of Tennis and Go-Kart races. That's one to grow on.

I guess.

Also, Cocks.   read


9:35 AM on 07.01.2008

Mr. Destructoid goes to Arkham (Horror, that is)

Impossible Plant suggested (sort of) that Mr. Destructoid should be an investigator in Arkham Horror.

I agree.



Obvious Disclaimer: This was made up by me and not Fantasy Flight Games, Obviously. I used the Strange Eons Character generator ( http://www.sfu.ca/~cjenning/eons/index.html )   read


9:11 AM on 06.24.2008

The Turning Point of GTAIV (for me)

Niko Bellic is basically a nice guy, right? That's how I was playing it. He's just a nice guy who got dealt a bad hand and has to kill some people. I stayed in character. I avoided hitting pedestrians. I didn't kill people when they were crawling away. Sometimes I'd even call an ambulance when I hit someone on accident.

But something was wrong. Something felt wrong.

I decided that Niko Bellic isn't like that at all. He's a psychopath. He's a monster. I borrowed the persona of one of my favorite literary characters of all time and decided to play GTAIV as if he were the main character.



Anton Chigurh, Of course.

Now, if someone gets in Niko's way they get shot. If someone sees Niko shoot someone, they get shot. If someone insults Niko....shot. Whenever Niko meets someone in-game it's pretty much a possibility that character's life is forfeit.

I pared my weapon selection down to Shotgun, MP5, Pistol, and Molotov.

The game is a lot more fun now.   read


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