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Sean Carey's blog

4:31 PM on 09.12.2010

PAX '10 and (miss)Alice(dixon)'s Adventures in Wonderland

Last year at PAX I remember standing around timidly until I finally recognized a few people whose pictures I saw online. Within 10 minutes of walking up and awkwardly introducing myself, I was surrounded by people who welcomed me into their community with open arms. This year, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting some lurkers who were just like I was last year, and pull them into the ever-widening Dtoid family. The circle has been completed.

I can't even begin to shout out all the amazing people I got to interact with at PAX. From community, to staff, to industry, to my lovely wifey (she always gets a shout-out, deal with it), I was awash in a constant sea of energy, hugs, video games, and of course - Irish Coffee! I am grateful to everyone involved with Destructoid; through this family I have found both friends and opportunities that I never would have fathomed before. I truly feel like I'm leading a charmed life.

That being said, the focus of this little cblog is to pull the focus in on some of the community members who joined us in Seattle in spirit. As you all may know, our very own mrandydixon has recently become a father, and so was unable to make the trip.

I thought it would be a great idea to give him a little breather from the sleepless, dirty-diaper changing, drool wiping grind of new fatherhood. As such, I invited his avatar and his daughter's (missalicedixon), to fly with us on our PAX pilgrimage to enjoy the show in the town. I learned two things from this experience.

1. mrandydixon's avatar took it quite literally when I told him that we'd give him a break from fatherhood.
2. It takes a village to raise a Dtoider.

missalicedixon was an instant hit with the community. Pendleton was so taken, he immediately offered her two free tickets to the gun show.

America's Sweetheart, Ashley Blavis, demonstrates her winning smile and maternal Prinny instincts.

Waiting in line for the Destructoid LIVE panel (which was insanely awesome... and also just insane), wifey determines that missalicedixon has a copy of Hellgate: London in her diaper.

Since diaper-changing is usually a daddy type function, I went to my folder to get mrandydixon's avatar out only to discover that he had somehow not made the trip. I was frantic until I checked my apartment's living room webcam from the hotel, and realized that wifey and I were had.

Well, we DID promise him a break, and I wasn't about to break poor missalicedixon's heart, so we pushed on and had a great time in Seattle together. We decide to act as good godparents, and give her the essential cultural enrichment required to be a worldly and knowledgeable nerd when she grows up. That meant hitting the science fiction museum.

As responsible wards, we let her know that her helmet was beautiful and unique, but also that there were many types of sci-fi helmets in the world and that they should all aspire to understand and respect one another.

Because nothing's cuter than dressing up a baby, we d'awwwwwed and geeked out simultaneously when she put on Sean Young's dress from Blade Runner

Finally, we impressed upon her the importance of eating right and studying hard if she wanted to grow up to be a real astronaut. She loved trying on the suit.

Meanwhile, back in our apartment in Austin...

The Chapel was a super-cool place and wifey, missalicedixon, and I had the best time hanging out with staff and community. She's really quite a sociable and photogenic little girl.

Meanwhile, back in our apartment in Austin...

Well, that sealed it -- it was time to head home. But the trip meant so much to me, and I had really bonded with missalicedixon in the short time we acted as her wards. So, while wifey poured coffee down mrandydixon's throat and made him take a shower, I made sure to feed her one last time. The experience taught me one final thing -- everything you give to a child, they give back ten-fold.


2:33 PM on 04.02.2010

PAX East, and a Deadly Game of Cat and Anonymouse

Irish Coffee. It was the perfect Boston drink for PAX East. It's hot, it's sweet, it keeps you alert and awake, and yet it sneakily ushers copious amounts of Jameson into your bloodstream.

The Destructoid community functions much the same. They keep you on your toes, their enthusiasm and joy are intoxicating, and I can't think of a better panacea for the biting cold of the northeast than the warm embrace of the second family I've come to treasure.

PAX East was a wonderful experience on many levels for me. I got to reconnect with those Dtoiders I was fortunate enough to meet at PAX Prime last year. I got to meet a whole new group of Dtoiders and really get to spend time with some of them. I even got to catch up with my sister and her fella who live in Boston!

Dtoiders represented HARD in Boston. DanlHass brought home the bronze medal from the Pitch Your Game panel (he's writing a blog with the details, can't wait!). Power Glove not only worked hard to keep the robot army coordinated for meetups and updates, but he and his team also took 1st place in the Monday Night Combat tournament. Kauza even accidentally (allegedly) team-killed Jeff Gerstmann when we were playing the demo of Breach.

The cry of JASON! was in the air. I must have shouted it hundreds of times. It was a clarion call summoning the faithful, an inside joke that formed the basis of a shared culture and experience, and a reminder that games can be simultaneously life-defining and joyously frivolous.

For me, the defining moment of PAX East was on Sunday evening. After running on 3-4 hrs. sleep a night for 3 days straight, and pounding Irish Coffees in the evenings, I simply had to recharge by myself in the hotel room for a few hours before making the final trip out to Pizzaria UNO on Boyleston St. one last time to say fare thee well to my robotic brethren.

I was dragging myself up from the bed for the final round, when I get a call from Kauza. As soon as I picked up and said hello, I was answered with a chorus of Dtoiders screaming SHAUN! SHAUN! SHAUN!

Although I was not in fact slowly drowning under a storm grate, I couldn't help but get choked up by the laughter and camaraderie I experienced in Boston. An uncanny valley filled to the brink with gamer love.

To those I was blessed enough to meet and spend time with: thanks for making this trip so memorable and fun; we'll always have UNOs.


Before I share how my adopted avatar experience went this PAX, I have to give a quick shout-out to robotbebop for taking the avatar adoption that I did on a lark, and kicking it up to a whole new level. It was wonderful to see so many other Dtoiders join us there in spirit, and I only hope that even more people participate in it next time!

As for my traveling paper companion, I have to say that Anonymouse was the perfect model of a well-behaved avatar. After dealing with Kauza's belligerent, lecherous avatar last year, it was truly a breath of fresh air.

The most trouble Anonymouse got into at PAX was "borrowing" my Dtoid login in the press room to go back and fap every single one of his recaps with my account.

Mouser is much snugglier than a robot seahorse with a jetpack.

My cblog-sensei instructs me in the mouse style of kung-fu. Am I doing this right?

What happens when a shark meets a mouse? Surprisingly, LOVE. <3

Avatar play date!

Truly, Anonymouse was a joy to have as my adopted avatar for PAX East, which is why I feel so terribly remorseful about what happened next.

Upon hearing that this PAX adoptee was so much nicer than the last, I got permission from my wife for Anonymouse to come and stay with us for a while. The one warning I gave to him was to wait to get out of the backpack until I got the cats shut into another room.

It was the perfect storm, really. My wife was in the kitchen, making cheese enchiladas, and Anony-avatar couldn't resist the smell. You know what? I'll just let the pictures tell the story. And Anonymouse -- I'm truly sorry.


5:37 AM on 02.16.2010

Building A Better Game Blog -- Originality

People write in the cblogs for all kinds of reasons. They may aspire to games writing careers. They may have a love for gaming that they need to share with the world. They may be just shy of losing their last tenuous grip on reality, and ranting about Sonic is the soothing sublimation that keeps their sanity from plummeting into the abyss, thus preventing them from lethally assaulting Luby's patrons with a homemade zip gun and a pair of nunchaku. When it comes to the creative impulse, who knows for sure?

While we write cblogs for many reasons, we all read the cblogs for the same reason. We read them because we find things there that we can't find anywhere else. That might be a joke, some artwork, an insight into a fellow gamer's life or personality, a well-reasoned argument, love for a game, or even a classic nerd-raging aneurysm of a rant. What ever the specific content, we look for it here because the only place it exists is here.

In our last installment, we discussed the need for substance in cblog posts. Using the analogy of a meal, we looked at how giving readers something meaty to digest will keep them returning for more. While this remains true, it's not enough in and of itself to make a blog excellent.

While writing with substance will keep you from the gaping maw of the Failtoid Sarlaac, originality is one of the things that distinguishes the truly great cblogs from the crowd. In a room full of identical hamburgers, the turkey bacon club (with avocado and chipotle mayo) gains a certain allure. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

It's not easy staying ahead of the crowd.

Rule #1: Know What's Out There

One of the reasons that the Dtoid cblog readers can be a tough crowd is that the community members are generally avid and voracious consumers of video game writing. When you write on a topic that has been duplicated by other sites, the front page, or other community members already, it will often result in a "been there, done that" response from your readers.

It takes some work to stay current with what's being discussed at large at any given time, but it is well worth the effort. You'll save yourself a lot of time, heartache, and possibly abuse by avoiding topics that are played out. Many people won't even click on your article if the title looks too familiar.

When a new game comes out, look to see that there haven't already been multiple reviews or impressions posts by the community before you post your own. Avoid generic topics that have been talked to death, such as the "games as art" discussion.

If you absolutely must retread old ground, at least make sure that you have something unique or revelatory to add to the mix. Retreading the same old discussion points and exposition will only have the mob sharpening their pitchforks. As the old saying goes -- "You mess with the bull, you get the horns, and then you get butthurt."

This image is too cute to need a proper caption.

Rule #2: Zoom In

Here's the fun part where I get to contradict almost everything I just said in Rule #1. The truth of the matter is, it's almost impossible to find a gaming topic that has never been explored. While it is possible to avoid discussing an issue when the internet is saturated by it (a matter of timing), it's not possible to avoid revisiting altogether things that have already been discussed. It has ALL been done before.

Now, before we get too fatalistic here, this doesn't mean that there's nothing worth writing about. It just means you've got to find an angle on the general topic that hasn't been talked about before. It's time to zoom in.

There are aspects of every issue that go unmentioned in the interests of avoiding the dreaded "TL;DR" comment. These are your opportunities. Find an unmined nugget or a sub-topic of interest and relevance and run with that. Here's a few topic examples that should help point you in the right direction --

Bad: Games As Art.
Better: Cel-Shading -- Artistic Expression or Visual Gimmick?

Bad: Is Digital Distribution Good?
Better: Why All Digital Distribution Should Follow The Steam Pricing Model.

Bad: Mother 3 Is A Great Game.
Better: 3 Reasons Why Mother 3 Is Better Than Your Biological Mother.

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Rule #3: Know Thyself, Then Be Thyself

Elsa put it best in the comments of the last installment when she said that more than anything else, she looks for character in blog posts. By character, I believe Elsa means that there is something about the writing that gives you a glimpse into the writer as a person.

The internet is full of individuals hoping to join the ranks of the professional gaming media. While there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with this aspiration, it will often lead writers to speak in a voice which is not their own. The desire to make one's writing "professional", when taken too far, can lead a person to make their writing rigid, bland, and homogenized.

Without sacrificing clarity, you should strive to add a dash of flair (not 37 pieces) to your work. Talking a little bit about your personal experiences, discussing how you feel on an emotional level about a topic, or taking a pot-shot at yourself to lighten the mood are all examples of accents you can bring to a blog to make it reflect your personality without abandoning structure or coherence.

The opposite scenario is also a pitfall. Character is like salt; too much of it overwhelms a meal. This is when a writer moves from revealing something of themselves to putting a manufactured self out there for the purposes of attracting readers. These pre-fabricated personas may seem like the way to go, judging by how many of them are out there, but they really don't do anything but make it look like a writer is trying WAY too hard.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a games writer who feels the need to tell their audience how edgy they are. The Jaded Games Cynic Who Doesn't Afraid Of Anything is a tired archetype. So is The Professional Games Reviewer. So is The Wacky Random Humor Guy.

If you're naturally a negative, meticulously well-versed, or funny person, a measured sprinkling of character will make that apparent to your readers without you having to push that persona over the top. Show us, don't tell us.

There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Jim Sterling is a fabulous example of someone who makes a persona really work for them.

But before you go off half-cocked, justifying your own self-indulgences by pointing to a successful case study, understand something -- it only works if you've established your credibility first, never the other way around. Jim established his character (opinionated, but well-reasoned and eloquent writer) before he established a character (over the top bait-and-switch artist).

Wrap Up

Achieving originality is a bit like panning for gold at times; it takes effort to look through the countless pebbles to find the gold that has value. However, in terms of making a blog that really goes above and beyond, that effort is the dividing line between saturated and celebrated.

Sometimes an old dish just needs a new twist to wake peoples' taste buds up again. Zoom in to find the fresh ingredients in your mental garden. Let us see who you are through your writing, and don't force a larger than life version of yourself on us. We want to taste the love in your cooking... erm, figuratively, not literally.   read

12:36 PM on 02.04.2010

Building a Better Game Blog -- Substance

If there's one thing that sets the community blogs of Destructoid apart from any other gaming site to me, it's a demand for excellence in writing. It's part of what drew me to stay, knowing that just participating in the cblogs was going to help me become a better writer.

Getting better at any craft is at least a moderately painful process; it involves receiving large amounts of criticism and incorporating what you can use, which can be difficult. We all want our posts to be loved and appreciated and carried down the streets on the shoulders of an adoring crowd. Facing up to where we are weak and growing from it takes courage and dilligence.

Dtoiders can be quite blunt in communicating dissatisfaction with the quality of cblogs -- it's common to hear about in the forums, on podcasts, and even from those who regularly participate in the cblogs by writing or commenting.

This is a good thing. It should challenge and inspire all of us to raise our game, whether we are writing on a serious topic, just for the lulz, or any point in-between.

The one thing that I feel is currently missing from the equation, however, is the ability to make our criticism constructive rather than a mere expression of frustration. We can't just point out that something doesn't meet our standards. For newer writers and lifers alike, we need to spell out what those standards are and then provide feedback which helps writers meet them.

This is our space to read and write about our passion for games; no-one is going to make it better except for us. We must all be stewards of anti-suckage.

With that in mind, this blog series is about providing tips and tricks for making our cblog writing more engaging, more effective, and hopefully more fun as well. Let me be clear -- I don't claim to know everything about games writing. I am constantly looking for ways to improve my skills, and I hope that you all add to what I plan to share so that I can take some new ideas back to strengthen my creative process.

I can get away with a long intro in this installment since we aren't covering economy of language, but I think I've labored the point enough. Future installments will get directly to the specifics. For now, let's jump in and discuss the topic of substance!

Your blog! It's-a-so skinny!

Rule #1 : Where's the Beef?

The most common pitfall that a cblog can stumble into is lack of content. If you keep up with the Cblog Recaps (shame on you if you don't), then you'll notice a trend. Nothing pushes a blog into Failtoid faster than a blog that looks like you were tweeting on the crapper.

There's no hard and fast rule or word count minimum that I can point you towards, but if it's something you could or would post on Twitter, it's a safe bet that it has no frakking business taking up cblog space.

If someone is taking the time to check out what's in your store, the best way to ensure they'll never come back is to have no product on display. Better to err on the side of generating too much content at first; you can always trim a piece easier than you can add to it.

Sometimes a short post is found in the cblogs that is of genuine merit, and is designed to provoke discussion. Might I suggest taking such conversation-oriented pieces to our excellent forums where they can get the response they deserve?

Keep the quality high, as the forum crowd is even more harsh on sub-standard posts, and I don't want to be accused of throwing cblog trash into our neighbors' lawn. They blast their music at all hours, but they're generally good people.

Eureka! I have disproved the Virtual Boy!

Rule # 2 : Show Your Math

Opinions in blogs are slippery eels. While our reasons for taking a particular stance may be obvious to us, they aren't necessarily to those reading. Part of what makes overly short blogs fail so often is that it makes the writer's feelings about a topic appear horribly uninformed or ill-founded.

Why do you have the opinion you have? Have you noticed a trend, or do you have examples from previous games? Have you read about an interesting statistic or bit of information that supports your point? What logic are you drawing on that leads you to make the statement that such-and-such rules (or sucks balls)?

A great way to add substance to your posts is to fully explain the reasoning that supports your opinion. It also prevent readers from filling in those blanks for you and labelling you as a fanboy or an idiot.

Google searches -- like dissertation research, except the exact opposite.

Rule # 3 : Do Your Homework

If you're going to follow the internet trend of pontificating and making absolute statements, for the love of god, please do some fact checking!

You're already on the internet if you're writing a blog; how hard is it to bring up a second browser and do a little research to make sure that your position has some basis in reality? I've scrapped or redirected entire articles after finding information that invalidated my point.

Get the names of developers, designers, publishers, games, and companies correct. Look at more than one source to ensure that you're not just regurgitating someone else's false statement or speculation. If you're feeling uber-nerdy, you can link or site your sources.

It's inconvenient and it takes some time, I know, but it also keeps you from looking like a knuckle-dragging nimrod with nothing to say worth listening to. If you want others to trust your opinion, you'd better ensure that it is rooted firmly in fact and not in your fevered imagination. Substance means not only having an opinion, but a reliable basis for that opinion.

The plus is that you'll learn tons about the industry, developers, game design, and the history of games along the way!


None of this is to say that a blog's quality or value is directly proportional to its length. That argument doesn't fly for video games, and it doesn't apply to writing either. However, length can be one indicator of substance; while there are exceptions to every rule, it's safe to say that the majority of super short blogs really shouldn't be getting put out there.

Even if you're breaking news, which doesn't require an essay to discuss, you can still add substance to your post by discussing your thoughts on the news. Do you think it will have an impact on the industry? Is it a gimmick that will fade away? Are you super squeeeeeee excited for it? Why or why not?

Give us something to chew on, and we'll come back for another meal. If not, enjoy the view from Failtoid.   read

8:09 AM on 01.04.2010

Unrequited : How Games (and People) Learned to Love

Finding and expressing love is the ultimate multiplayer activity in life. It requires skill, patience, understanding, intuition, courage, passion, regular showers, a metric ass-ton of luck, and usually a nice pair of shoes.

Games, like dreams, are often created in part as wish fulfillment. The violence in games is fun for us because it sublimates a very primal urge. Given that love (or at least sex) is also one of our deepest and most powerful drives, it's only logical that we would also use games to explore it.

While not every title needs it as an element, there's no denying that the meaningful and skillful inclusion of love in games is something that most players want to see. When it comes to violence, gaming is extremely refined. We can simulate carnage and combat with a frighteningly impressive degree of accuracy.

On the other hand, love, while no less important to our psyches, is woefully enacted in gaming. Even a relationship/story heavy game such as the excellent Dragon Age : Origins still leaves the player feeling like they've been acting out a puppet show where sex is as deep as rubbing naked Ken and Barbie dolls together while making kissy noises.

That's not to say that games haven't made huge strides in this area. We talk about how gaming as a medium is maturing, and at times I feel that statement is more true than we know. In fact, to me the evolution of love in games thus far seems to mirror the evolution of a human's maturing understanding of love over their lifetime. I'm keenly aware of how pretentiously meta this may sound, but bear with me -- I will illustrate my meaning.

"And then the hero pressed X!"

Level 1 -- Puppy Love and Fairytales

When we're young children, love is a simple affair. We are innundated with information that tells us that love conquers all, there's someone for everyone, and that love is a magical force that compels us to honor and protect the objects of our affection. There may be an evil king, a wicked witch, or even a few trolls along the way, but ultimately the hero and heroine live happily ever after.

This is the love we see in early gaming. The stories of Mario and Peach or Link and Zelda mirror this rudimentary understanding of love. Whether barrels or octoroks, another castle or another piece of triforce, the barriers to love are all external. The relationships are static and defined, and the outcome is assured. . . after a few continues, of course.

"I have a great deal of respect for women with giant. . . sunglasses."

Level 2 -- Selfish Love and One-Night Stands

At some point, the fairytale comes to an end. We learn that love is actually complicated and occasionally painful. For many, it may be the first time they have their heart broken, recognizing that the good guy/gal doesn't always win the princess/prince. No matter how it happens, disillusionment with the magical "happily ever-after" paradigm is assured.

With this shift of perception, the pendulum often swings to the other side of the spectrum. Love becomes a competition, a form of conquest where all participants protect their hearts as fiercely as possible from the pain they've previously experienced. Relationships are defined solely by what the individual gets out of it.

In gaming, this was reflected in many ways by the overt objectification of women and the expectation of sex as a commodity to be acquired. The concept of sex as a mini-game, where Kratos comes in and "presses a few buttons" before traipsing away with no strings attached is characteristic of this. The ability to pick up prostitutes in the GTA series is another example. Rescuing and wooing is NOT on the menu.

You have chosen. . . wisely.

Level 3 -- Transactional Love and the Open Sesame Approach

After some length of time treating love in a selfish way, we yearn for something with more meaning and substance. Or maybe we just learn that we can't always get what we want without giving something back in return. When this happens, we stop asking "Why aren't they doing what they should be doing?" and start wondering "What should I be doing?".

Whether the motivation is a genuine connection with another person or simply a shortcut to the pleasure we seek, we begin to assess our actions differently. We spend our time trying to figure out what we should be saying or doing to make our beloveds happy. We know this is a desirable quality in society when we hear a person referred to as someone who "says all the right things".

The gameplay equivalent of this level of relating to love is quite easy to see in the modern RPG. In Bioware games, this belief structure is almost the foundation of all character interaction and relationship building. Getting someone to like you is a matter of choosing the right dialogue options, performing the right actions, or giving the right gifts at the right times. The Social Links in the Persona series are another solid example of this principle at play, along with many games in the eroge genre.

For some, this plays out as a semi-organic courtship where you try to learn about the character and respond in a way you think they'll enjoy while being true to your own character. For most, it becomes a simple exercise of trying to figure out the magic word that will get you into their digital skivvies.

6 more weeks of courtship?

Level 4 -- Unconditional Love and Tossing the Rubik's Cube

Eventually, even this equitable form of approaching love is proven to be wanting. A human heart isn't a puzzle which has a "solution". We can't simply try different combinations of phrases or actions and expect it to create genuine affection in another person. If you want to see this lesson in action, it is masterfully illustrated by Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day. He is given, in gameplay terms, an infinite number of continues in order to achieve his objective.

After trying every possible way to make Rita love him and failing, his focus shifts to simply expressing his love and bettering himself, expecting little to nothing in return. Eventually he learns, as we all do, that if we want to have true love we cannot will it to happen. Instead, we must make ourselves worthy of it. Rather than looking for love, we should invite it to find us. And eventually, he does. He learns that love is both work and pleasure, and that if done in the spirit of love that work can become pleasure.

Unsurprisingly, you rarely find these sublime moments in games. Developers are just as much at a loss to create the simulation of love in games as we all are at forcing love to appear in our lives. But as we focus on the gameplay, it occasionally happens.

Many gamers found themselves sacrificing the lives of thousands out of the genuine affection they had for their dogs in Fable II. Others shed real life tears at the death of Aerith in FFVII (not me, of course, but this friend I know). Even an imperfect but very real love like what developed between Max Payne and Mona Sax can jump out and grab you emotionally when you least expect it.

It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Conclusion :

The interactivity of videogames makes them more able to draw us into the splendorous ups and downs of love than any other medium, since we must participate in them directly rather than witnessing a depiction. Pardoxically, this is also one of the problems.

With violence, the rules and variables are all known. The only challenge lies in creating new algorithms and sub-routines to calculate where particles fly to in an explosion, which direction gravity will pull a building down when a support is knocked out, or how blood will realistically spray from a wound. We players are the beneficiaries of an ever-improving implementation of physics in games.

Why hasn't love benefitted in the same way? Well, despite all the variables involved in dynamic physics, the number of variables present in human interaction and emotion are exponentially greater. When you take into account the wants, needs, drives, psychological baggage, mood, biochemistry, physical attraction, social pressures, and cultural differences of two different people you have a table of
variables which is far too daunting to model mathematically.

Even if you have the NPC as a constant for half of those variables, there's still far too much to ever compute in accounting for how the player will respond. Just as in life, when it comes to figuring out love, it's tough to know where even to begin.

Also, love, despite being a topic of study since we had a word for it, still has variables which are unknown. A computer system will never be able to accurately depict something which we as humans cannot fully define. This is why our model for love in games hasn't progressed much beyond the Choose Your Own Adventure book structure of gameplay.

Now, that's not to say we shouldn't continue to explore love in games. Humans have an uncanny knack for stumbling into beauty and joy when it is least expected. Games are chock full of potential for exploring both our understanding of and relationship to love. It is one of the great challenges of being human, so it is only fitting that it should also be one of the great challenges of game development. Truly, it is far more difficult to create than it is to destroy.   read

10:24 AM on 11.11.2009

Reviewers, What You Don't Know About LOTR Could Fill 3 Books

The Clone Wars

It is important for a games writer to take care when selecting a simile or metaphor as the basis of a concept or critique, because if this literary keystone is somehow structurally unsound then the whole article is bound to come tumbling down around their ears. I have yet to find a more glaring misuse of this writer's tool in gaming media than in many of the recent reviews of Dragon Age : Origins decrying it as a "LOTR clone".

Good example of simile : Bioshock is like an onion. Every time you think you've explored its depth, you find another layer of meaning underneath.

Good example of metaphor : E.T. the Game absolutely stinks. It is a skunk shagging a pig in the middle of an overflowing litter box.

Calling Dragon Age : Origins a LOTR clone is utterly incorrect. Using that metaphor is as lazy and unimaginiative as what these same reviewers are accusing the game of. Delicious irony. The majority of these reviewers don't even know what they mean when they reference Lord of the Rings.

Do they mean that Dragon Age is like the LOTR movies, or has a similar visual style? Do they mean it was like the books, finding a close parallel with the stories? Do they mean it was like the games? If so, which games? The hack and slash action games tied to the movies? The RTS Battle For Middle Earth games? The Star Wars : Battlefront cross-over, LOTR : Conquest? Or perhaps the turn-based, JRPG styled The Third Age?

There are plenty of defendable things to dislike about Dragon Age, but the "OMGLOTRWTF" reviewers abandon legitimate critique in favor of making a vogue statement. The sad truth is, regardless of which of these meanings you infer, the comparison is wrong. If you're going to make a comparison to one of the most influential works of fantasy fiction in the history of ever, it would behoove you to, well . . . be familiar with it. Let me break it down for you like a drunken halfling on a table in a tavern in Bree.

Is that Tavern Rock??? Then turn it up! Tolkien is my jam!

Nah, I'll Just Watch The Cliff Notes

One of the first LOTR clone complaints I stumbled across made the claim that Dragon Age : Origins "suffered" from a Hollywood-like treatment, due to wanting to emulate Peter Jackson's movies.

"If this all sounds remarkably like The Lord Of The Rings, then you’d be right. It’s exactly like it. The game even goes as far as to thematically steal key scenes from Peter Jackson’s trilogy of blockbusters, albeit to admittedly spectacular dramatic effect."

How could I not have seen it before? LOTR was the first and only film experience in the annals of the silver screen ever to feature large-scale medieval warfare. The eternal clash between the forces of good and evil? Copyrighted by Peter Jackson. What a clone Dragon Age is.

The second comparison I saw made with the films critiqued the visual design of the darkspawn as being too close to the orcs from the Jackson movies. Evil has a long-standing tradition of being characterized visually as a grotesque of good. This is why the handicapped were reviled as in league with Lucifer in the dark and middle ages.

Both orcs and darkspawn are creatures who were formerly good who were warped and tainted, both internally and externally, by the darkness. It stands to reason they would have a similar design. This iconography and symbolism is present in even in the depictions of the Devil. So confirmed -- Dragon Age is a Bible clone.

Who you calling a clone? Come say that to my face!

Dragons and Dwarves and Elves, OH MY!

Another huge misconception that drives me crazy in these reviews is the belief that the staple fantasy races such as dwarves, elves, and dragons somehow originated with J.R.R. Tolkien's work. As such, the incorrect assertion is made that any work utilizing these creatures is somehow plagarizing LOTR.

As important as Tolkien's work was in popularizing many of the fantasy tropes we've come to know, he cannot take credit for the invention of those races. Nearly all of the creatures found in the Middle Earth universe were borrowed, by his own admission, either whole or in part from the world's mythologies and folklores, mainly European. So, confirmed -- Dragon Age is a clone of the collective unconscious.

"But walkyourpath, Dragon Age has ENTS!"

Ents? Tolkien himself shrugs off credit for their invention. He mentions the eald enta geweorc, or the "old work of giants" referred to in Beowulf as the idea which sparked their creation. By his own admission, they were written as a way to more literally capture the feeling of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill' prophecy referred to in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

So, in order to prove that Dragon Age's use of LOTR-like races is cloneish, we have to look at not what creatures are present, but rather how they are implemented in the world of the game.

Elves in LOTR? Separate from humans in both language and geography, with established domains.
Elves in DA:O? Integrated into human society in the cities, and splintered and nomadic outside of them.

Dwarves in LOTR? Working to reclaim their lost glory and kingdom, with no unified leader.
Dwarves in DA:O? An established culture in full bloom, with a recognized monarchy.

Hobbits in LOTR? A diminutive pastoral race with a lust for living and great internal fortitude.
Hobbits in DA:O? Not present, even though they are the central focus of the LOTR story.

. . . my goodness, this horse has died! Onward to beat a live one!

Look at the ears. Obviously Vulcan. Dragon Age is a Star Trek clone, confirmed.

Press Circle To Answer Gollum's Riddle

After all the superficial claims, we get down finally to the meat of the matter. Does DA:O rip off the essence of the LOTR story, and is that reflected in the gameplay? I have to say emphatically, NO. There is a parallel in terms of the over-arcing story of good vs. evil clashing and that is reflected in the gameplay, but the similarities end there.

A huge chunk of the LOTR text is devoted to lore, language, history, and song. Since Dragon Age is such a clone, where's the Tom Bombadil singing and dancing mini-game? Leliana should be able to raise her cunning skill by perfectly recreating the elvish funeral dirge for Mithrandir, right?

Once the fellowship breaks up in LOTR, literally half the story is about Frodo and Sam's journey to Mount Doom. The conflict in this gigantic percentage of the story is not portrayed via combat or war, but rather through Frodo's internal struggle to overcome the influence of the One Ring.

Now, I may have missed it since I'm not 100% finished with Dragon Age, but I have not yet encountered the gameplay mechanic that requires me to continually hit "X" to avoid giving up and falling victim to the power of the darkspawn blood inside me for half the game. This same gameplay mechanic was present in the microwave hallway scene of Metal Gear Solid 4, which is also a LOTR clone.

Frodo? FRODO??!?! FRODOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

All the World's an Age, and all the men and women merely Dragons.

Finally, we'll take a quick moment to debunk the ridiculous assertion that the political intrigue elements of Dragon Age are what make it a LOTR clone. If you have not yet played Dragon Age, there are some minor early plot spoilers ahead. Also, why have you read this far?

The main story arc regarding political intrigue in DA:O involves the advisor of the king withdrawing his military support from a battle with the darkspawn. The king is slain in the ensuing massacre. The advisor usurps his throne, blames the Grey Wardens, and goes about consolidating his power base with the nobles. People loyal to the old king or distrustful of the new regent threaten to revolt, and so the plot is overshadowed by not only the threat of the darkspawn, but also civil war.

Even the executive producer of the game, Mark Darrah, referenced George R.R. Martin's work (most notably Game of Thrones) as an influence in the creation of the story for Dragon Age. Martin's fiction relies heavily on political intrigue to drive the action forward.

Traversing through all the story of LOTR, there isn't a single instance of this plot element to be found. You know where it can be found? Shakespeare's Hamlet, where the king's brother kills him and takes over his throne.

In fact, Shakespearean themes pervade the entire story. You are often betrayed by individuals you selflessly help, mirroring the folly of good King Lear who "loved not too wisely, but too well". Not to mention the overuse of spattered blood in cutscenes after battles, which never seems to go away, and will eventually cause the player to plead like Lady Macbeth -- "Out, out, damned spot!"

Whether you stop with Martin or trace it all the way back to the original political dramatist from Stratford on Avon, DA:O's story has little to nothing to do with LOTR's.

You shall not pass. . . with that weak-ass argument!

There and Back Again

There really is the flimsiest of evidence to support the claim that Dragon Age is a LOTR clone. Those making the claim have either never read the books, didn't understand the story in book or movie form, or just blindly borrowed another reviewer's failed metaphor because it sounded catchy. No matter how you slice it, it smacks of either ignorance or laziness. If you just have to mention Tolkien in a serious fashion, you better come correct.

The sad part is, there are a lot of valid things to critique about Dragon Age. The dated quality of the graphics, the shortcomings of the console control scheme, or the variance in the difficulty curve would all have been valid points to spark meaningful dissent with. But for these reviewers, they simply couldn't see the forest for the ents.   read

8:07 AM on 10.22.2009

Why Love and Fightans Don't Mix -- A Musical Lament

Here's a little tune we whipped up for grins over the past few weeks -- we were happy with the results, so we thought we'd share it with you, Dtoid!

It's a silly "sad" song about leaving a woman who cheats in love and in Street Fighter. . . it's called Rage Quit.

This was a interstate Dtoid effort -- I recorded my parts here in Austin, and through the magic of technology, Kauza pulled it all together with his recording in New Mexico.

Kauza -- Lead Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Backing Vocals, Editing
walkyourpath -- Lyrics and Vocals



I always thought your moves were cheap, but I was blinded by the "perfect" in your eyes.
Well, you crushed my dreams and self-esteem, just like you crushed my Ken with Chun-Li's thighs.
When our love experienced latency, I tried to start our story mode again.
I jumped to cross the gap, but baby, you just kept on spamming -- hadouken, hadouken, hadouken.

I guess it's time to ragequit.
I'll toss my joystick, smash it all apart.
Because it's time to ragequit.
You broke my combos like you broke my heart.
And now it's time to ragequit.
I'll toss my joystick, smash it all apart.
So now it's time to ragequit.
You broke my combos like you broke my heart.

Well, when I found you were untrue, it hit me like a hundred-hand-slap to the face.
You said you loved my yoga style, and that my "sonic boom" could never be replaced.
So now I'm turtled in the corner, playing defense, crouched and cowering in fear.
You were my favorite Player 2, but baby, now all that is through -- I need a lover from a higher tier.

I guess it's time to ragequit.
I'll toss my joystick, smash it all apart.
Because it's time to ragequit.
You broke my combos like you broke my heart.
And now it's time to ragequit.
I'll toss my joystick, smash it all apart.
So now it's time to ragequit.
You broke my combos like you broke my heart.


My heart's win loss ratio -- has never been this low,
how to counter, I don't know -- feels just like I'm fighting Daigo
<uncontrolled sobbing>

If you liked it, you can download the MP3 here!

Our imaginary label . . .


10:27 AM on 09.28.2009

Somebody's Got a Case of the Mondays

Dear Mindless Repeater,

It has recently been brought to the attention of the executive management team by our insurance providers that video game related violence is on the rise. In an effort to curb growing benefits and health-care related costs for the company, Human Resources has been asked to develop a series of addendums to the Employee Handbook to assist those unfortunate souls who are attempting to balance their professional career with self-destructive gaming habits.

Playing video games is a habit that reduces productivity, limits your career growth, contributes to aggressive behavior, and is generally indicative of a rebellious and independent nature -- something that we here at Mindless Repetitions, Inc. frown upon in anyone below an unspecified pay grade.

It is our hope to reduce the number of video game related fatalities and injuries to ensure that our profit margin remains intact by limiting overhead expenditures, and also to demonstrate our genuine care and concern for those of you toiling on the front lines that we will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever deign to meet in person.

So, turn off the consoles and turn on the confidence -- with our undeserved positional advantage and your hard work, we can make this our highest earning year yet!

-- Your Beloved Board of Directors


Separating video games from reality is the responsibility of every employee at Mindless Repetitions, Inc. Although we can't legally prevent you from playing games in your personal time, we can look down on gaming as an unprofessional hobby to participate in. Failure to separate video games from reality can result in corrective action, up to and including termination (of employment, not your in-game avatar).

Here are this week's helpful hints to ensure that your co-workers will remain unaffected by your socially maladaptive influence and irrationally violent behavior! This week's topic is : Meeting Etiquette. We hope that these help you to become less of a social pariah in your work environment and that you do not exactly bloody vengeance on us for any perceived slights you may have received while on the premises.

Wishing you a happy and productive work-week!
--Human Resources

Meeting With Co-Workers

Gamers should strive to control their murderous/selfish impulses throughout the meeting. Here are some common triggers and pitfalls to be avoided.

-- Coffee and donuts need to be evenly distributed amongst all meeting participants. Hoarding these items as you would in a competitve online match will be frowned upon. Think of the meeting like a campaign in Left 4 Dead; if you use all the med-kits yourself and your companions die, you will rarely survive to the next safe house. Donuts are medkits. Coffee is the same as pills.

-- The use of "?", "!", and "..." are not responses well suited for the meeting room. This does not apply, however, when meeting with the salarymen from our Tokyo branch.

-- Referring to the laser pointer as a "n00b-tub3" during a presentation will not generate a favorable reaction from your fellow participants.

-- Being late to scheduled meetings will not be excused on the basis of being "sucked into a random encounter" on the way to the conference room. Being "laggy as hell" is also not considered as a valid reason for tardiness.

-- There is no fast-forwarding through dialogue during meetings. Consider your meeting an unskippable cutscene for which you are required to take notes. The information you gather may be relevant to later gameplay.

-- When the door slams shut in a video game, it usually will not open again until the player has slaughtered every living inhabitant in the room. This does not apply in business meetings. The start and stop time listed on the official agenda remains constant regardless of how many co-workers you murder, so not killing them remains our policy.

Meetings With Potential Customers

-- Don't jump straight into business discussion. Develop a rapport with the prospect before attempting a sale. Many gamers scare off a possible client by immediately opening their trenchcoat and yelling "WHAT ARE YOU BUYING?" or "BUY SOMETHING, WILL YA?" before determining the prospect's needs through the use of discovery questions.

-- Do not refer to their objections or information gathering inquiries as "combo breakers".

-- While most gamers are used to the unrestricted killing of prostitutes in their day-to-day virtual lives, this behavior is strictly discouraged at Mindless Repetitions, Inc. Only the prospects should be allowed to kill prostitutes. This places you, as the salesperson, in a position to maximize each sale in exchange for covering it up and keeping quiet about the whole sordid affair.

-- When encountering sales reluctance, do not offer to throw in a charizard to "sweeten the deal". Your prospect is likely not aware that he is supposed to catch them all.

-- Avoid using terms usually heard in XBL chat* during intense contract negotiations. Examples include : "I feel like I made an extremely reasonable offer, Steve. Frankly, your counterproposal is totally gay." or (in a restaurant setting) "Steve, quit spawn-camping the breadsticks, you fucking fucktard."

*Avoiding these terms even in XBL chat would also be advisable for anyone of moderate maturity and intelligence.


10:37 AM on 09.24.2009

Instant Karma : Tales of an Omnipotent Public Servant, Part 4

This is the fourth installment of the Tales of an Omnipotent Public Servant (TOPS) series, written by a Dtoider at the behest of his fellow Dtoiders! If you missed out on previous episodes, you can always take a gander at TOPS -- Part 1, TOPS -- Part 2, and TOPS -- Part 3!

"Well, well, well! You must have a great hunger for gaming history if you have returned to me once again to be transported into the annals of Britannian lore, my welcome guest! I am happy to serve as your guide once more -- but even an ex-Game Master's services must always come at a price. Have you brought me a tribute? A token to remind us of that point in time so I can focus the required energies?

I don't believe it! A Koosh ball? You have done well, shrewd traveller. These relics once flooded the great halls of Origin Systems. It should be sufficient to summon the time portal to Ultima Online once again. Step inside the circle and brace yourself for visions from that ancient era -- the initial airing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- the deaths of Princess Di and the Notorious BIG -- Deep Blue defeating Gary Kasparov at chess for the first time. I remember this one instance when. . . "

My other car is a TARDIS.

The Fall of the Reservoir Sharks

Social structures often adhere to guidelines similar to the laws of physics. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Griefers used to make a habit of preying on the weak and naive on my servers. However, they weren't the only strong players out there. The group of griefers I referred to as the Reservoir Sharks in TOPS #3 finally discovered that you can only push a community so far before they finally begin to push back.

A group of players decided that enough was enough and that someone had to clean up the shard. They all created alternate characters and trained up their skills in secret. They never visited towns or interacted with anyone as their alternate characters. In a short period of time, a group of 8 players built up their characters into grandmaster mages, and hatched a plot to finally give the griefers a taste of their own medicine.

One evening, I get a page with a cryptic message from a character whose name I didn't recognize -- "Come and watch if you want to see true justice in action."

It being a slow evening and my curiosity aroused, I finished up the other pages in my queue and teleported invisibly over to the location of the paging character. I found myself outside the Britain bank, where a group of 8 players were milling around. They looked like utter newbies; half of them were in loincloths, while the rest were only slightly better equipped.

The players were asking passers-by for help in becoming strong fighters, basically begging for information and equipment. What I didn't know at the time was that they were the ultimate anti-griefers -- both the bait and the trap for the unwitting Reservoir Sharks.

Now witness the power of this fully functioning group of grandmaster mage vigilantes!

If you throw enough chum in the water, eventually the predators will show up. Like clockwork, Mr. Orange eventually sauntered up to the group and immediately pegged them for a bunch of marks. The motley avengers played along as Mr. Orange offered to "help them out" and proceeded to lead them out of town and through the wild to the Sharks' lair. Expecting a herd of lemmings, four Sharks lazily positioned themselves around the group and began to "welcome" their new members.

Knowing that the Sharks always struck shortly after saying "Welcome to the guild.", the motley avengers had the drop on the bad guys. Outnumbering the griefers two to one, the grandmaster mages, wearing nothing but their skivvies, unleashed a legendary barage of magical retribution and dropped the entire team of griefers in one fell swoop. They picked the bodies clean and stripped them of their most valuable possessions.

From that point on, whenever Mr. Orange plied his trade in the town squares, there was always a helpful samaritan or two in diapers willing to tag along or give the newbies a helpful word of advice. The motley avenger was right -- I got to see justice in action.

They didn't think their names through -- the Reservoir Dogs almost all die at the end.

The Iron Crisis of '97

Ultima Online wasn't just a game about adventuring and spellcasting. There were players who devoted their time to making their characters into artisans and smiths. Some of the best equipment in the game was not found, but rather crafted by grandmaster blacksmith players. In order to make these weapons, they required raw materials.

Miners would make the trip to the mountainous areas and bring back the raw metal ores required for the smiths to do their jobs. The smiths would pay handsomely for the convenience of avoiding dangerous travel and saving time to keep their smithing skills at grandmaster level so that they could charge top gold for their wares.

A properous economy developed between miners, smiths, and the adventurers who bought the final products. But human greed, as it is wont to do, eventually ruined the arrangement. The game placed a cap on how many resources could be harvested in a given time frame, and in one particular month the miners overworked all the rich deposits trying to score easy gold.

Panic struck. Miners were forced to charge more for fewer ores, which meant smiths had to charge more for their weapons and armor. Some adventurers who couldn't afford the top tier equipment took to attacking miners in the wild for their ore. Others were hired by miners as protection from these bandits. Eventually the resources reset and things returned to normal. Only this time everyone learned a lesson. You can have too much of a good thing.

You guys made Iron Giant cry, you jerkfaces.

Jester For Hire

One of the most interesting "professions" I ever encountered in UO was a character who rented himself out as a fool for hire. The only skills he had built up were in tailoring/dyeing, so he always had on an appropriately outrageous outfit. He would crack jokes, and keep adventurers company for an exorbitant fee.

I never understood why other players would pay such large sums of gold to have this guy along, so one night I tagged along to see what the big deal was. He did make funny jokes and spouted silly rhymes; well role-played and in an appropriately classic style. But that wasn't his value to his employers.

The fool's main job was to minesweep for adventurers. If a huge monster or player-killing griefer came onto the scene, the fool would spring into action. Like a medieval rodeo clown, he would run towards the danger until they targeted him and then run away, leaving a safe path for his employers to escape. Sometimes, he would run around in circles with some variety of enemy chasing him while the other player attacked the creature from behind. Very entertaining.

I had always heard it said that a fool and his money are soon parted, but Ultima Online proved to me that playing the clown can sometimes be as good as gold.

You try riding a manticore for 8 seconds!   read

1:32 PM on 09.16.2009

The Good, the Rad, and the Lovely

Me with my Red Dead swag shirt (center), the Outlaw ScottyG, and my wifey Calamity Dawn.

When it came to the PAX '09 show floor, the big names of the fall were the belles of the ball. Games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Borderlands had huge lines of nerdy stalkers waiting hours outside the windows of their objects of obsession. Rightfully so -- those games and more looked and played amazingly. It seems that this holiday season has a lot of awesome in store for the gaming masses.

I, however, was not so interested in the fall/holiday lineup as much as I was games coming up in 2010. Prior to PAX, I had already done my homework and decided where my hard-earned monies were going to be spent for the rest of '09. I just didn't see anything on the showfloor that flipped my decision from buy to not buy, or vice versa. Mostly, the games on display just served to push the slider a little farther in the 'no' or 'go' directions for me. However, I did get a glimpse at a few games coming up next year that piqued my interest.

Tucked away in a remote corner of the exhibit hall was the Rockstar booth. They were there mainly to promote the upcoming Episodes from Liberty City and their do-it-yourself DJ simulator, Beaterator. I didn't have much interest in the DJ game, but you have to give them +1 internets just for making a game called Beaterator, don't you?

At any rate, my wife and I were walking the floor when my psychic swag-sense kicked in, and I spotted a pile of Red Dead Redemption t-shirts on the side of the Rockstar booth. When I asked how I could acquire one, the lady at the booth informed me that all I needed to do was see the live gameplay demo for Red Dead Redemption. I didn't even know that this game would be at PAX (other than the shirts, there was no signage for Red Dead at the R* booth), so I immediately dragged my incredibly understanding wife into the line, and we were the last two to make it into the next showing.

Red Dead 'staging' a coup for 2010? Don't worry, I'll slap myself for that pun.

Red Dead Redemption is the sequel to 2004's Red Dead Revolver, which was one of the few shooters I truly enjoyed out of the last-generation. When I heard that a sequel was being made I was naturally interested, but I have to say that after seeing the gameplay demo at PAX this game has moved from being a "keep an eye on it" title to my second most anticipated game of 2010 behind Heavy Rain.


Redemption shares a few things in common with its predecessor, but mostly it's a horse of a different color. While Revolver was a level-based TPS western, Redemption is an open-world game built with the same RAGE framework and Euphoria middleware used in GTAIV. Revolver had a cast of playable characters, whereas Redemption follows the story of one character -- John Marston. Also, while Revolver was squarely set in the untamed Wild West period, Redemption takes place at the turn of the century when both the government and technology are beginning to take over the West.

The Mission

The gameplay demo was centered around a rescue mission in an old ghost-town. Bad guys had captured one of Marston's friends and strung her up, and it was up to Marston to come in guns blazing and save her before the life was choked out of her. Combat looked very satisfying, with an appropriate level of blood and guts for a western setting. Combat animations looked more fluid and varied than in GTAIV, which was a good sign to me that this game isn't just a Wild West re-skin. Returning to Redemption is the "deadeye" mechanic present in Revolver, but in the new iteration it will be useable throughout the game in all firefights instead of only boss fights. Also present was the classic slide through the dirt into cover move from old western movies, which got a great reaction from the screening group. Eventually the outlaws were mopped up and the friend saved, and the demo moved into a more general demo of the game world.


One of the biggest draws of Fallout 3 (Oblivion as well to a lesser extent) to me was the exploration aspect of the gameplay. There was always something to discover or stumble into, and the vastness of the gameworld really gave you that lone warrior feeling that kept me coming back for more. Red Dead Redemption looks to have a similar draw, but in the western milieu. There were some impressive vistas shown off during the gameplay demo, and the game promises to be expansive -- the demoers said that the land mass in the game exceeds that of GTA San Andreas, which put me squarely in squeeeeee-mode. The idea of having that much to explore in a western setting has me very excited.

I think I'll name you. . . . Horsemeat!

The demo also showed off one medium sized town. In the larger towns, you will see "modern" technology's influence (there are telegraph lines in the bigger settlements), while other areas maintain a frontier feel. All the buildings in Redemption can be dynamically entered with no load times, which is an improvement over GTAIV which had to be selective due to the sheer volume of buildings. Also like Fallout, there appear to be many things available to stumble upon in the wild. Find another cowboy camped out? You can sit down and share the fire and talk to him or put him down in cold blood and loot him. Run in to stagecoaches or outlaws and deal with them as you see fit.


The integration of animals into the gameworld was impressive. Firefights will quickly attract vultures to the area who will start circling, and eventually land and start feasting on any outlaw carcasses there. Rabbits, mountain lions, and even bears can be encountered, killed, and skinned for their pelts which can be sold. Horses, which are the main mode of transport for the game, will be realistically spooked by gun fire and bolt for safety. Wild horses can be encountered, lassoed, and tamed.

My Concerns

There was a lot to be excited about in the demo, but with an early 2010 release date, Rockstar North still has plenty of work to do. The usual texture-popping present in large open-world titles was definitely present in this build, and I'm hoping that the open rural environment makes it easier for them to polish the visuals over the next 4-6 months. Red Dead Redemption is currently set for a Q2 2010 release.

There was no story present at any point during the demo other than what the presenter narrated going into the mission. There was no voice-over integrated, and cut-scenes were choppy and unfinished. Knowing Rockstar's track record for solid dialogue and voice-over work, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one and trust that they will do right and deliver a presentation worthy of the lone gunman western theme present in the game. I'm really hoping they move away from the more cartoonish characterizations from Revolver and towards a mature story. I'm crossing my fingers for some Deadwood style dialogue and story. God, I loved Deadwood.

None of this.


Even wifey walked out of that well obscured demo room excited for all the different activities on display in Red Dead Redemption. It's looking sharp for the stage they're at in development, and the gameplay looks improved and more varied than GTAIV. Plus, no annoying cell-phone calls to get in the way of the story or just jacking around the countryside. I'll be looking for a playable build at PAX East to see if it'll give me that genuine High Plains Drifter vibe I've been waiting for in a video game. With a larger game world than San Andreas, I personally can't wait to get my hands on this li'l filly and see how she rides.   read

5:55 PM on 09.09.2009

My Incredible PAX Adventure, and how Kauza's avatar ruined it all.

In most cases, when a community is “tightly-knit” it also means the community is less welcoming to outsiders than a Baptist congregation to a group of vampire LARPers. Yet, for every rule there is an exception and unsurprisingly, Destructoid is that exception.

My initial expectations going in were to see some games, see a bit of the city, and hopefully get to meet a few of the people I had grown so fond of over the interwebs. 4 days of debauchery, nerdery, and revelry later, and I still hadn't met all the Dtoiders who showed up. No exaggeration, every single Dtoider I plucked up the courage to meet was friendly and welcoming – I've never seen such love before in my life, let alone from a community where people interact primarily over the internet.

My wife doesn't play very many games, but as a nerd herself she wanted to see what PAX was all about. She expected to just lurk in the background, but every time I turned around she was in a conversation with another Dtoider. Many thanks to all of you who took the time to get to know her and make her feel welcome – she had an awesome time.

The staff was so approachable and friendly – I got to meet Ashley, Samit, Dyson, Grim, Aerox, Colette, and even Niero himself. The way this team interacts with the community is nothing short of astounding. Special props go out to Hamza, who in addition to being a hella-cool shark (seriously, he's a snappy dresser) also worked his ass off to make sure that everyone got together and had a good time. He was constantly coordinating or informing and making the newbies feel welcome all the while!

Disproved by Destructoid.

From meeting the bad-ass members of Dtoid Texas, to being one of only 2 Dtoiders to actually sing karaoke on karaoke night (ScottyG was the other brave soul on the scouting party), to seeing a live gameplay demo of Red Dead Redemption (now my second most anticipated game of 2010 behind Heavy Rain), and many other happy memories, PAX is an experience I will never forget.

I could go on and on about all the amazing people I met, but I'll just close this part of the blog by saying you have got to find a way to get to the next community meetup – whether it be PAX or another con or your nearest NARP, you will not find a more worthy use of your time than getting to interact with this fine community face-to-face. I not only feel like a true part of the community now, but a part of the family. Whatever is standing in your way (money, time, shyness, etc.), start planning now for how you're going to overcome that obstacle for the next event, you'll be ever so glad you did.


Guns and Roses said it all so much more eloquently than I ever could, but I do have to reiterate that every story has a dark side. PAX wasn't all rainbows and kittens for me. Before I left, I promised my good interwebz buddy Kauza that I would take his avatar with me so that he could be there in spirit since he couldn't make it. Little did I know the trouble that would follow from such a simple gesture.

I had an inkling that things might be a little off when Kauza's avatar proceeded to get absolutely hammered on the plane. I think being 2-dimensional makes you a pretty cheap date.

The convention was fun, but Kauza's avatar didn't make it easy. I promised Kauza I'd take good care of his avatar for him, so I didn't want us to get separated – so when he demanded to hang around and stare at Mr. Destructoid's ass for 20 minutes I was forced to oblige.

I thought he could help me out at the Star Wars : The Old Republic Demo. When I let him out of the messenger bag he proceeded to immediately turn to the nearest woman in the crowd and said, “C'mon baby – I don't want to go Hand Solo tonight!”

After threatening to lock him up in the Hello Kitty demo box, he calmed down and even offered to take some notes for me. So I relaxed and enjoyed the demo thinking he had me covered -- so much for turning over a new leaf.

Kauza's avatar tagged along to the Elephant and Castle one night, and it wasn't just the nerves from flying that made him drink before – he really is a lush.

My wife and Aerox were trying to have a conversation about the Discworld novels, but Kauza's avatar kept butting in. Also, I was beginning to get a little bit uncomfortable with how close he was getting to my wife.

Before long, he was passed out right in the middle of the patio.

At the end of the night, all I wanted to do was sleep, but Kauza's avatar made that impossible. We barely got upstairs before he announced he was about to “de-frag his stomach's hard drive”, and asked if I would hold him over the toilet. Given that the alternative was him tossing his cookies in the hotel room, I had little choice.

What has been seen cannot be unseen. What took place in that bathroom defied the laws of physics.

You'd think after a night like that he would learn his lesson. The next night at the E&C he was right back to his old tricks. Having scared away all other prospects with his drunken misogynistic demeanor, he sunk to new depths when he asked my wife if she'd like to “ditch old 'kissyourass' over there and go back to the room with a real man”.

Well, my amazing wife was having none of that. She was just about fed up with Kauza's avatar anyway and the proposition was just too much. She took matters into her own hands.

Oh, the humanity!

Moral of the story : A person's avatar often does not reflect their true nature. Also, nobody, and I mean NOBODY fucks with wifey.


11:01 AM on 08.31.2009

Mazes and Monsters : Anatomy of a Scapegoating

The enemy. There is no single greater motivator in human history than having an antagonist. The US would have taken years if not decades longer to land on the moon without the threat of the Russians getting there first and setting up a giant mind control device to turns us all into Marxists.

Somewhere, at this very moment, there's a defense laywer sweating bullets. Out of options and out of time, he does what many others of his ilk have resorted to --

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the defendant is not a murderer. He is a victim of our modern technological age. His involvement with the game Grand Theft Auto has stripped him of his ability to distinguish fantasy from reality."

Elsewhere, a newspaper writer is feeling the heat from her editor. The readership is falling due to the rise of internet news outlets, and everything she writes needs to grab eyes and move units off the newsstands. With the slider slowly creeping from objectivity to sensationalism, she writes her next headline --

A Digital Tragedy : Suburban Family Victimized by Video-Game Playing Son

Old tricks are the best tricks, eh?

When it comes to confronting our own demons, be they societal or individual, it's always a softer option to project our own fears onto the outside world. If we can identify an enemy that doesn't lie in our own mind or heart, then we can comfortably forego the decidedly more difficult task of looking inward to affect change. It is a seductive form of passing the buck, and most times we aren't even aware that we're engaging in it.

A successful projection requires two things. One is a target which can be sufficiently demonized without the target having the ability to adequately defend its own image. The second necessity is a way to convince others to engage in the same rationalizations. This means propaganda.

All in the name of righteousness, many activities have been attacked over the years. In the past, everything from dancing, to jazz, to alcohol, to heavy metal have been blamed for the degradation of moral values and the collapse of modern society. The problem with this tactic is that eventually enough people get to know the scapegoat in question, and when people truly understand a thing it is no longer possible to demonize it.

Video games have not yet reached the level of Public Enemy #1 despite their growing popularity as a scapegoat, but it's gotten me thinking about what the coming years may have in store for our favorite pastime before the world at large really gets to know it like we do. Let's take a glimpse at what video games might be in store for by looking at some of the propaganda attacking the last form of games to feel the wrath of a society looking to blameshift -- Dungeons and Dragons.

As a Level 26 Nimrod, you gain access to the spell Warp Reality.

When I was in 4th grade (1984), I had been playing D&D for about a year when a "concerned individual" began passing out some literature at our school. They were small comic booklets, designed to inform us of the evils of role-playing games and how we could break free of their Satanic influence. In this case, the scapegoat was literally demonized.

I never thought I would find this comic again, but when I googled D&D propaganda, it was literally the first result to pop up. The comic was entitled Dark Dungeons, and inferred that D&D was responsible for teen suicide and prepared players for recruitment into real life occult groups where actual magic and witchcraft were practiced. I encourage you to click the link and check it out -- it's a real mind trip.

The end message of the comic was that redemption through Jesus was the only way to overcome D&D's insidious influence, and that all D&D materials should be burned. Burned. The last cell of the comic shows the preacher standing in front of a raging bonfire of D&D manuals (he must really prefer v3.5 rules, ba-dum-tish!). The Nazi regime was also well known for book-burning, and they were the most egregious blame-shifters in history.

Now, I don't want to infer that the message of this comic reflected the views of all or even most Christians out there. However, I feel it is worth noting that the fantasy elements present in D&D such as spell-casting and polytheism, among others, would not have been so open to such revulsion in a culture not saturated with a Judeo-Christian worldview. It is important to note this because a significant percentage of the video games we play have similar fantasy elements, and this may explain at least some of the knee-jerk reactions that our current hobby seems to garner.

Roll a wisdom/lore check to successfully communicate with volleyballs.

I recently watched an old movie about the perils of role playing games and, in-between fits of unrestrained laughter, I found myself with a lot to think about. Mazes and Monsters was a movie made in 1982, starring a 26 year old Tom Hanks. He plays a college student who begins to lose grip on reality and permanently takes on the persona of his Mazes and Monsters character, eventually leading him to attempt a leap off the top of the World Trade Center.

It was based off of the book of the same name, which in turn was (inaccurately) based on the story of the disappearance of a Michigan State University student named James Dallas Egbert. Egbert was reported in the press to have died while playing D&D in the steam tunnels underneath his school. It is true he was in the steam tunnels; not to play D&D, but rather to commit suicide. The fact that D&D materials were found among his possessions led people to infer that D&D was the cause of his disappearance.

This is the primary weapon of any propaganda : the blurring of the lines between correlation and causality. Logic dictates that just because two trends are found together does not mean that one caused the other. If that were true, then you could just as easily argue that the underwear they found in his room was responsible for his death.

Unfortunately, propaganda does not aim to appeal to reason. Rather, its goal is to elicit an emotional reaction, and pointing out the correlation of two things is enough to insinuate that one caused the other without having the bothersome nuisance of providing proof. Like the comic book, all that is needed is to put the image of the scapegoat next to the image of any number of negative consequences and let the inferences do all the work from there.

You've probably already thought about any number of recent news stories where correlation was used to suggest causality between violence or deviant behavior and video games. Our media is saturated with this kind of faulty logic. The Columbine shooters played Doom, ergo Doom causes you to shoot people. The 9 yr. old child was killed by a teenager and her boyfriend who were supposedly re-enacting a move from Mortal Kombat, therefore Mortal Kombat makes you kill children. (I also love how the fact that these two teenagers were shit-faced drunk was conveniently left out of 95% of the coverage, because it was obviously Mortal Kombat's fault)

The list goes on and on.

Glenn Beck failed his saving throw vs. sideboob.

It's a hard world out there sometimes, and none of us are perfect. It's comforting to think that there's something concrete outside of us that's the source of our problems. It's the government, or the heathens, or the corporate office, or those damn video games.

Why do we as a society fall into this trap over and over? Because deep down, we just don't want to admit that most of our problems are actually caused by our individual ignorance, or prejudice, or laziness, or unwillingness to really connect with our children. It's easier to burn a book than it is to find ways to take personal accountability for the world we live in.

So how do we as gamers weather the storm yet to come before our beloved gaming comes out on the other side like heavy metal and D&D? How do we keep the chanting of the blameshifters from hypnotizing the majority until the mob moves on to a new monster?

The answer is simple. Propaganda relies on demonizing its target. When people begin to understand something, they can no longer match-up the evil caricature they're being presented with to what they know to be true in their minds. Then the propaganda loses its power to persuade.

The most important thing we can do is to keep our side of the debate civil. Since we're up against propaganda, when we respond with hatred or irrationality, we play right into our opponents' hands. Those attacking video games can say, "See? Look at the anger displayed by people playing video games. Video games therefore promote violent behavior."

When someone uses such blatant falsehood to attack something you care for, you're bound to have a negative emotional response, that's just human. However, when you choose to calmly share your passion and your reasons for indulging in our amazing pastime, then people will be open to listening and begin to understand. That's when the masters of self-delusion and mass-deception will have to find themselves a new patsy.   read

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