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About
I have been gaming since I was about 4 back in 1986. I followed Nintendo's every console generation up until the Wii. I became a Playstation enthusiast about the same time I became obsessed with the computer. Now I'm solely a PS3, PC, DS, and vintage gamer. As I get older, I notice that I have less and less time to enjoy video games. The effort is still put forth to play as much as I can, but it feels overwhelming at times with work, school, and writing. To ease this concern, I felt it might help to keep a blog strictly for my gaming habits. I plan to document the games I play, don't play, want to play, have played, and any news I feel pertinent to throw in. All in all, I am hoping this will help me feel more connected to the gaming community and industry as I once felt when I was a bit more...*ahem*...youthful. My name, Skoolz, is my common gamer tag.
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Hi r/gamingpc. I wrote this specifically for the subreddit, spent an hour formatting it in the reddit text editor, tried to submit, and was ultimately slapped in the face by reddit, telling me the post was too long. So here's the same review in blog form after having to, again, reformat the text. This ended up taking me WAY too long.

Sure, you could google and find several handfuls of professional reviews strewn about the interwebs, but it's going to be hard to find some impressions and benchmarks from someone like you. Someone who may not have the absolute greatest system in the world, nor eyefinity screens painting the walls. I am just your average, enthusiastic PC consumer trying to help some people out who may be considering AMD's new flagship video card for their gaming machine. Without further ado, I present the relatively brief (but hopefully informative)...

Radeon HD 7970 Review
Featuring reference clocks and overclocks.

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System:

CPU: AMD Phenom II x6 1090T (6 core); OC'd @ 4.0GHz
GPU: Radeon HD 7970 (Duh)
Memory: 12GB DDR3-1333
PSU: OCZ 700W
HDD: Standard 7200rpm. No SSD here.
Resolution: 1920x1080
^ That's all that really matters right now.

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I bought the Diamond Multimedia brand reference card, so I received only what AMD designed and produced with no additional third-party amenities (e.g. out of the box OC, third party cooler, etc.). What I learned, though, is that you do not really need any.

Aesthetically speaking, there is no denying that AMD makes some pretty cards; however, it is not much different from their previous designs, and about the same length. It comes out to about 11 inches long and fits rather snugly into my mid-tower machine.







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Benchmarks - Reference clock speed (GPU: 925 MHz; Mem: 1375MHz)

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First, I did the traditional benchmark using 3DMark 11 basic (i.e. free) on the standard "Performance" setting. The overall 3DMark score was a little disappointing, but my downfall is probably my borderline aging CPU. However, what we need to really focus on is the Graphics score:



The 7970 achieved a Graphics score of 7342. Out of multiple runs of the benchmark, it hovered consistently around this score. After researching around on the internet, I have come to the conclusion that this is on par with other benchmarks running with the reference clock speed. What does this mean, exactly? Simply, that I am happy with the score.

Next, I tried out Unigine's Heaven Benchmark. I used the Extreme Tessellation setting with 4xAA and 16xAF:




Again, the scores achieved were on par with what I found elsewhere with an average fps of 43.4 and a score of 1093.

Lastly, I used the faithful Furmark to benchmark and test the temperature. I ran the default Burn-In Benchmark at 1920x1080 resolution for 15 minutes.




Unfortunately, I'm due for a case upgrade and my airflow is not the greatest, so the max temperature was higher than what others have been reporting. At 85 degrees Celsius, it's really not too bad for having agitated airflow in the case. Typically, the temperatures have been recorded below 80 at full load. The score was 3903, but I have not compared that to other benchmarks using Furmark, so I have no real comparison to make here.

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Benchmarks - Overclocked (GPU: 1125 MHz; Mem: 1575 MHz)

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So I overclocked my 7970. I just have to say that it was the easiest, most problem free overclock I have ever encountered in the history of anything. AMD has really made it astonishingly intuitive to overclock this card, so much so that I used their Vision Engine Control Center to do all the overclocking. And I will continue to use it until I feel the need to OC beyond what I currently have (VECC limits the overclock to the above specs). The ease in which this card overclocks to 1125/1575 makes me seriously ponder as to why AMD didn't release the card at these values to begin with. The voltage did not have to be adjusted at all to achieve a stable OC.




As you can see, the Graphics score increased from 7342 to 8730. That's a very respectable increase for such a simple to achieve boost.




The increase using Heaven is also impressive. Going from 43.4 to 50.8 fps is an 18% increase!




There was no difference using the Furmark benchmark. Either Furmark does not recognize overclocks, or it has not been optimized to portray accurate results for the newest VGAs. Therefore, I cannot comment whether the temperature reading is correct after the overclock. However, using HWMonitor, I have noticed the temperature to peak around 78 degrees Celsius while playing Battlefield 3.

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Games - My Impressions

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Battlefield 3

The following frames per second measurements were obtained from playing the "Caspian Border" map:

While researching the HD 7970s performance before I made the purchase, I did discover that BF3 is one of its weak points. Now that only means that the performance gained in other games is higher than that in BF3, but it is still an improvement over any other single-GPU card out there. Speculation is that optimizations provided in future drivers will inevitably remove this gap.

I was previously playing BF3 with an HD 5870 (OC'd @ 950/1225) and had to keep my video settings on a hybrid between medium and high with no MSAA. I was achieving 60+ fps indoors, and as low as 40 fps while outside in a large conquest map (64 players) looking from one end of the map to the other. Now, 40 fps should be a playable rate, but there was a slight choppy/stutter feel every time it dipped down that low.

Needless to say, I was very excited to test this game out on MAXIMUM settings with the 7970. So I did. This includes max MSAA, Post-processing, the works. At first, I used the reference clock speed. I was able to maintain a very playable framerate (average around 45-50 fps) that maxed out at 80 fps (not including staring at the ground or wall, which jumped up the fps to over 100), but it did drop as low as 34 fps during the aforementioned scenario (across the map, 64 player conquest). The difference was, though, that I did not get the same slight stutter as I did with the 5870. In fact, it was still relatively smooth and playable, but I could still, ever so slightly, tell that it was no longer running at 50+ fps.

After applying the OC, the minimum fps I ever achieved, still with 64 players and the same maxed out settings, was 42. On top of that, the frequency of getting an fps that low was a lot less than without the OC. The average fps now hovered around 55-65 fps. In other words, my gaming experience ended up making me as giddy as a grown man can become. There has not been a single hiccup. When overclocked, this card plays BF3 like a beast, but be forewarned that the performance will likely decrease to an unpleasant amount should the resolution reach 2560x1600 or eyefinity resolutions.

The Witcher 2

If you've ever played Witcher 2, you understand what I mean when I say "best looking single player game on PC". So I had to put the 7970 to the test. I only played this game with the overclock.

There was a bit of disappointment after I loaded up the game using maxed out settings, including ubersampling. I do not know why I was expecting better, but the game's fps maxed out at 38, but most of the time hovered around the 25 fps mark. Apparently, even the top tier dual GPUs and Xfire/SLi setups cannot handle this game's ubersampling technique very well, so the outcome was on par with the technology. The ubersampling in the game is kind of an irresponsible technique to begin with; it renders each frame multiple times and stacks them on top of each other providing a softer, more lifelike experience, but it is too GPU intensive to deem feasible right now. Turning off ubersambling and keeping everything else at its highest setting was a different story: suddenly, my average fps tripled and I was, again, blown away. Reaching a max fps of 90, and never seeing it drop below 55 was, to say the least, impressive. Also, if you have not had the opportunity to see this game with max settings (ubersampling or not), you are missing out on one of the most beautiful spectacles the PC has to offer.

Modern Warfare 3

There's not a whole lot to go on about when it comes to a game using an aging engine. This card, expectedly, ran the game at blazing speeds completely maxed out, 4xAA included. The fps was so out of control, I needed to turn on vertical sync to alleviate the constant screen tearing. Keep in mind that this game is perfectly playable while almost maxed out on the HD 4870...

L.A. Noire

I only wanted to check this game out because when I had played it previously on PC, there were tremendous lag issues, no matter the prowess of the gaming rig. A recent patch supposedly fixed this issue, but I do not know for sure. So I re-installed the game without updating it to see just how it fared against this new card in its original, raw glory.



Well, the lag issues are gone. You get the typical Rockstar-esque loading hiccups occasionally while driving, but that's going to continue happening until Rockstar makes a game on the PC first, instead of another poorly ported version. All in all, the game plays just like you would expect it to without the horrendous lag issues, at the highest settings. One fact is that Rockstar has limited the fps to 30, even on the PC version. I stayed at a steady 30 fps the entire time, of course. There may now be a tweak that removes that limit, but I did not feel like seeking it out. Fortunately, the slow pace of the game does not necessarily require blazing fps.

Skyrim

I played this with all settings on Ultra, 8xAA, 16xAF using the overclock. Exploring the world in Skyrim can be pretty taxing on any system, especially when you get those 'vantage points' where you get to look across the map or something similar. I made sure to encounter this situation multiple times to see just how this chip handled. Skyrim caps the fps at 60, but I understand there is a fix for this by manipulating a configuration file of some sort; however, I do not see any reason to try such a thing, so I left it alone.

While exploring areas with graphics within close proximity to one another (town, cave, etc.), I never dropped below 60 fps. It was steady, it was smooth, it was beautiful. When I left these areas and climbed a mountain, or went across a river and looked back at the town for instance, the framerate dropped to 35ish. I can safely say, though, that I did not witness any fps under 35, and that's fantastic news. If you must absolutely play this game on 100% max settings, it's very doable with this card. If you're one of those anally-retentive gamers, you'll have to turn down a setting or two to get your desired, constant 60 fps.

I may be alone here, but I find Skyrim's graphics to be very underwhelming compared to the graphical power it needs to run it. If you've played Fallout New Vegas, you know what I mean. The engine itself is subpar, but it does provide the graphical style we've all come to love. I just wanted to put that out there.

Final Impressions

Without the overclock, the card shines more than any single-GPU out there. Any benchmark on the web will show you the same. There were a couple games and settings that I expected an overall better experience with, but the truth remains that games do exist that have 'bonus' settings to appeal to those that spent $2500+ on their gaming rigs.

Luckily, after a quick, painless overclock, the HD 7970 comes very close to providing a multi-GPU experience on any game. None of the most taxing PC games available (those that I included in this review) get to the point of non-playability whether the card is overclocked or not. The biggest plus about this card I found was its overclock capabilities. AMD really outshined themselves (and Nvidia) with how astonishingly simple it is to overclock the 7970 to an overwhelming performance increase. This shows great things for the future of this card, and I cannot, I repeat, CANNOT wait to Xfire this son of a bitch.

Overall, the card is a great indication of the future of PC gaming. There's a lot of potential in this new GPU architecture just waiting to be released with a few driver tweaks. In my opinion, if you are going to upgrade your graphics, why wait? There's a lot of talk about the Nvidia Kepler project coming out this year, but from unanimous speculation, it appears it will not surpass AMD's 7970. I am NOT a fanboy by any means; in fact, I was initially planning to get the GTX 580 for this upgrade. I just happen to have money to upgrade right when AMD provides a new, groundbreaking product. Every time, though, I end up being glad I did, as this newest AMD flagship product has yet to let me down.

See you on the battlefield!
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A lot of PC gamers on the interwebz like to bash the Call of Duty series due to it catering primarily to console gamers despite its humble beginnings on PC. Specifically, many people talk shit about Modern Warfare 3 calling it MW2.5. While I can see where they get that, I don't care. It is actually a fun, arcade thrill ride that still has its own spot among the PC gaming library. While Battlefield 3 may be more inventive and technologically advanced, the gameplay in MW3 is what I have always enjoyed and apparently still do. There's room enough in my library for both, and I'm glad.

I avidly play both BF3 and MW3, and within both games, there are a lot of things I miss from the other. For instance, I miss in game VOIP in BF3, while MW3 continues to show how it's done with theirs. I understand that there are a lot more people playing at a time in BF3, but whatever happened to the idea of proximity voice chat? If a third party VOIP can do it with little use of system resources, a la Mumble, then BF3 can do it. How about just simply including squad chat? That's only 4 people!

A huge missing feature that I still cannot believe the CoD series has not adopted is destruction. If Activision wasn't working to rush a CoD title every year, more time could be spent on developing an entirely new engine capable of handling such a feature, but they won't because that would mean massive lost profits. That's disgusting to me, because obviously the company is hindering the advantages of innovation! When switching from BF3 to MW3, it's hard to get use to walls not demolishing when throwing a grenade, launching a rocket, etc., and it is disheartening. We must remember, though, that MW3 is a much smaller scale shooter, and realism is not of the utmost importance. This is an arcade multiplayer game that wants shit to move at a very fast pace, so destruction on the scale of BF3's would be implausible, but it would be nice to see it done on a smaller scale.

The class customization in MW3 has always been a nice feature in its previous iterations, and it has gotten nicer. Now you can customize the kill streak rewards per class, and on top of that, there are now 3 different types of killstreak layouts: Assault, Support, and Specialist. I will not go into detail, as most of you reading this have already checked it out or are already playing it. This blog entry is simply to detail why the game is not a bust even on PC. Needless to say, you won't find another modern FPS with class customization this simple, yet deep. BF3 in comparison has a fantastic class customization that far exceeds MW3's in many aspects, but that's because you need that extra 'oomph' to cater to the much larger game that BF3 is to begin with. The biggest plus about MW3's class system is the fact that you are not limited to only one 'assault' style class, and one 'support' style class, and so on so forth. Instead, you get to start each class from scratch and make it your own. Completely.

MW3's bread and butter is its killstreak system. I do have to admit I miss the adrenaline pumping moments of a killstreak reward when playing BF3. The best comparison in heartbeat acceleration I can find is NBA Jam's original 'on fire' reward. There are a lot of new killstreaks, and most of them are awesome.

MW3 needs a vote to kick feature. There are unfortunately no ranked dedicated servers, so you must rely on the old MW2 matchmaking system to level your dude. This means you're stuck with a cheater until the match ends, or you quit. I do miss the dedi's of Black Ops, but I must say that the lobbying system is now much cleaner than it was. I have not once, after 30 hours of gameplay, had a faulty lobby, thusly slowing my entrance into a game. Infinity Ward really got their act together when correcting their previous errors in their matchmaking system. In fact, when migrating hosts (I know, I know, it sucks), it takes a fraction of the time to find a replacement host than it did in MW2. That's freaking fast. You barely notice when it happens anymore.

So should you continue hating on CoD for the PC? No. I know a lot of people have their stern beliefs and think that they'll show Activision by not buying their CoD game; unfortunately, that's not how it works. Any CoD game within the foreseeable future is going to sell well, and there's nothing even a small army can do about it. CoD is the new Madden, and that's ok. Every year, we get to witness a new single player story, new insane action, and an overhauled multiplayer. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" should be Activision's motto, because obviously a shit ton of people enjoy the game to keep showing up in droves to buy it. So your boycott isn't going to matter. Just buy the game and enjoy it.










This game has so many things wrong with it, I remember why I rarely partake in beta testing. The scariest part? This is OPEN BETA, the beta for which practically everyone is invited. Typically, open beta means only minor bugs will be fixed in time for release, which, by the way, is slated for September 22 (collector's super duper edition only). The regular edition will be available on September 30. In an open beta, the foundation for the game is pretty much set in stone until after release. So, what worries me is the fact that this game will be almost identical to what I'm playing now, but cost me $50 to continue. In this first impressions review, you're going to find a lot of my bitching, but I must make one thing clear. I have never once played FFXI. The whole Final Fantasy Online experience is completely new to me. There's nothing wrong with that, because if SquareEnix wanted to only appeal to its original FFXI player base, they wouldn't make any money. I also want to point out that I have always been an avid Final Fantasy RPG fan, I just never delved into the online world. My MMO experience only includes WoW, Warhammer, and Aion. There might be one or two I forgot, but they obviously aren't important enough to remember.

Here are my PC specs so you can use them as reference when I bitch about the performance later on.

Phenom II 955 BE, OC'd @ 3.7
Radeon HD 5870, OC'd @ 900/1250
4GB Dual Channel (I let my girlfriend use my other 4GB in her comp rebuild. Girls suck)
Windows 7, 64 bit.

Also for reference, I have reached Physical Lvl 13, with Archery as my focus, and that class is at Lvl 10 (in FFXIV).

The first thing you notice upon creating your character is that SquareEnix didn't step in the right direction for MMO customization. We are in a video gaming era where customization should be so diverse, no two toons should run into each other and say, "Hey, who's your mama?" FFXIV toons all look alike, as long as they belong in the same race. They give the illusion that you can totally customize to numerous degrees by implementing different selections for every part of the body, but the truth is, they all look the same! You have to pay attention to the hair, height, face paintings in order to differentiate. So that was immediately disappointing, but only slightly, because it did still offer a bigger selection of customization than WoW did.

Next, the first in game problem evident was the tremendous lag. I booted the game after setting all settings on high. I got cocky and thought there's no way this game can best me. I'm talking AA to the max, AF beyond the max, and depth of field blur all mixed in with the highest of texture settings. The mouse crawled across the screen, and while animation was smooth as butter, moving the camera was way too sluggish. I turned AA and AF off, and there was a vast improvement; HOWEVER, the overall sluggishness was still present.


Which brings me to my next complaint. NO HARDWARE MOUSE! That's right, even in the open beta, there is no option to use your hardware mouse driver/settings. You are forced to play only with the provided software mouse, which fucking sucks! I cannot explain how sluggish this thing is. I was standing in a bare room, getting 60fps (beta is capped at 60) and my mouse pointer was sloshing across the screen like a drunk pirate who just really didn't give a shit. This was too much, so after a few minutes of Google, I found a beta tester had developed a patch that turns hardware mouse to ON. This greatly improved my experience with menu navigation, but it is sad that it took a random coder to provide a fix instead of SquareEnix themselves. Hmm. Speaking of menu navigation...

Worst, most un-user-friendly system I have ever experienced. There are so many things wrong with the UI and menu, that I thought I was going to kill myself the first 10 minutes of play! First, we take the general server lag that makes every single option you attempt to choose take an hour to accomplish! Then we mix that with the fact that nothing is convenient. I started my toon as an archer. The main quest inevitably made me take up some profession (another class that replaces archery because your class is dependent on what weapon you carry, meaning you can change at ANY time), so I chose Fishing first. I equipped my fishing pole, partook in some fishing, then wanted to return to combat. Upon equipping my weaponry in place of the fishing pole, I discovered all of my actions had been reset! That's correct my friends; your actions reset every time you switch your main weapon/tool. I was told the fix was to set macros, but I felt that having to go through the whole macro process is a cheap cop out for the company just not making armor/weapon switching more intuitive! It feels soo lazy! Crafting is the same way. Your crafting depends on what tool you have equipped, and the time it takes to simply load the crafting module is ridiculous. All this lag and wait, wait, waiting to find a way to accomplish a simple task is the biggest downer about the game. I take that back; the fact that SE doesn't bother to make the simplest task much simpler is the biggest downer. I ended up setting a macro for every class available in the beta, and realized I had them out of order and, me being so anally retentive, wanted to sort them in a more reasonable manner on my macro hotbar. NOPE! Denied. You have to retype every macro for the action bar slot you want them to be in. This isn't a big deal if you have all the time in the world to type numerous macros every day until you have it right. The macro does make it easy to switch between gathering classes and combat classes, but don't you think this should be an automatic implementation that Square should provide with the game instead of making us type out all the macro code? Of course, though, the server lag totally ruined the (supposed to be) fluid transition from combat to gathering classes during the middle of a quest. Speaking of quests, WHAT QUESTS???

There is currently a really retarded questing system in place that makes sense when a Japanese developer explains it in broken English, but upon experiencing for myself, just boggles the mind. From the beginning to my current level (see above), I only experienced 1 chain quest. This is the first of apparently a few main quests that have story to make things slightly more interesting. Everything else involves you needing to speak to a levequest giver who sanctions out certain employment (so to speak) quests. This is all fine and dandy, but after several hours of wondering what the hell was wrong (I truly thought the server was fucking up), I realized that you can only do 8 levequests in a 48 hour period before you can no longer accept anymore. While there are innumerable quests (with no limit) for the profession classes, they only involve you to stay in the city and create shit. So if you want nonstop lore quests that give you xp and gear, you're shit out of luck. This might very well be the dumbest idea I have witnessed since Bush invaded Iraq to find "weapons of mass destruction". Of course, this will take further investigation on my part to see what else the game has to offer that fills this void (aside from the crafting quests).

I'll be honest with you, I could go on and on and on about all the defects present in this game. I'm writing this review with a half-hearted humor because the game may change and has great potential. And with that statement, I bring yet another transition for the next paragraph; except this time, I'm throwing you a curve ball.

I'm going to purchase this game, and will probably subscribe for a very long time. Why? Because despite the paragraphs of despair above (I could've written 30 more), I am really loving this game. Did I mention FFXIV doesn't let you jump!!! Wait, I'm letting that dark side slip through again. Let's take a look at the beautiful aspects of this game.



Upon first logging in to the starting city, one of the first things I noticed was how absolutely gorgeous this game is for an MMO. After a couple more minutes, I realized how gorgeous this game is compared to any game of any genre! We are talking next generation graphics for sure. It is definitely one of the best looking games ever created. Current gen consoles could not handle this monster. In fact, SquareEnix is currently have trouble trying to dumb down the graphics for its PS3 release in March 2011! That's right; even the most powerful of the current gen consoles can't handle this beast. Even with AA and AF turned off, the game is a marvel. Every time I log on, I cannot get over the handsome visuals of the environment, and especially the true-to-physics movement of the characters. The clunky mechanics of combat actions is almost overshadowed by the beauty.
Speaking of which, while the clunky combat actions are a nuisance, they do not affect, overall, the fun of the combat. I also believe the 'clunkiness' will be resolved upon final release. The biggest turn on about the combat is the animation. While certain moves seem to take FOREVER to trigger, there is stuff happening in between. The animation shows your every move. As an archer, every long distance shot required me to remove an arrow from my pack on my back and load it onto the bow before I shoot. It feels ultra realistic, and thusly, very satisfying. Luckily the enemies do not rape you fast enough to make this a huge hindrance.

I do not have a clue about the level caps. I haven't even bothered researching it. What I'm having fun with is the mystery of a new MMO, and the very adventurous limits put on your character's exploration. There is a lot to see, and you literally have to LOOK for stuff to do. When you find it, it's very gratifying. It's kind of like a riddle. You get a headache from trying to figure it out, but once you do, it's extremely worth it. That's how the game is so far with me. After many hours of gameplay, I can say that I truly haven't accomplished much compared to the vast amount of shit to do in this game, but I have come out having fun, despite the numerous problems present.

Overall, if SquareEnix gets their act together and fixes the innumerable amount of errors, problems, and bugs that are currently present in their beta, and does so in under half a month, this game is going to be a hit. Otherwise, it's going to turn into another Warhammer: so many things perfect, but just the right amount of wrong to make it unbearable.
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by Aaron Schooler

Cinema, when done creatively, masterfully, and properly, can have a larger impact on oneís life than many other forms of inspiration. I have time and time again watched movies that consummately portray an important life lesson. From Disney flicks to documentaries, they are innumerable. There comes a time though where the sugar coated lessons taught from G-rated fairy tales just arenít enough to reach the mindset of a maturing mind. So, without further ado, here are my top 5 picks for movies every parent should show their puberty-ridden teenage children in order to help keep them steered in the right direction of life. This isnít going to be pretty.



1. Requiem for a Dream
This film should be shown to every young teenager just entering high school. Set aside the fact that it is riddled with strong language and disturbing images. One day you will have to admit to yourself that your kids watch films with cursing and violence, and that they use the same language themselves. Didnít you?
Requiem for a Dream truly represents one of the major vices this country holds strong: addiction. Whether it is an Americanís refusal to stop drinking caffeine saturated drinks or the idea that the use of hard drugs makes you cool, every one of us succumbs to an addiction throughout our lives. This movie shows the viewer in as ugly a way possible what detriment radiates from addiction. It touches on peopleís obsession with their weight. It teaches that hard drugs are in fact addictive and can truly hurt you. It even touches on Americansí obsession with Hollywood and the American Dream of becoming famous or Ďgetting on televisioní. It will never happen, but from childhood we are taught that it probably maybe hopefully will happen to every one of us. These delusions are torn to shreds by the grotesque imagery used in this film. I would also like to see a teenager inject heroin into their vein after watching this movie. Itís not gonna happen.



2. Religulous
Speaking of fairy tales, we should all be aware it is not healthy to believe in them verbatim especially after one matures past childhood. This is the perfect film to make sure your kids do not surrender to their peersí insistence that the Bible is, well, good. Bringing up a child can be a daunting task, and sometimes other people try to raise them for you, i.e. a church. This movie can help prevent or correct that.
For those of you who believe in a god, the film can still help allow children to form their own opinions. There is nothing wrong with doubt.
I do not believe in lying to a child about Santa Claus, but at least one day you tell them you lied to them. I cannot imagine trying to explain why you would give the credit of so much gift giving to a fictional fat-ass, but for the most part, itís not as harmful as say telling your children that snakes can talk or that a carpenter was crucified, came back as a zombie, and somehow by doing so saves you from your sins. Itís as much of a fairy tale as Shrek, and itís just wrong for people to keep lying to their children all the way through the teenage years.
Religulous informs us about how harmful to the past, present, and future of mankind religion is. It focuses on the fact that these religious stories are actually very crazy, but the majority of people are just used to hearing it. Itís embedded into their brains, so it must be true. Donít let it happen to the teenagers. They are our future! Arguably, this movie could be the single most important film every human should see.



3. American History X
Every time I attempted to talk about this movie among acquaintances, I get the same reaction, ďYOUíRE RACIST!Ē I do not understand why so many people declare this to be such a racist film. It is true that the movie shows the ugliest sides of prejudice, but it shows it for a reason. Anybody who isnít a nut recognizes that this masterpiece preaches against racism using the harshest methods possible: by showing the viewer how heinous and extreme it can get. The moral remains that racism is bad. Innocent people get emotionally and physically abused. If the poignant moment where Danny is broken free of his white supremacist bonds by his older brother Derek doesnít reach someoneís kids, then somethingís wrong with those kids. Plus, the audience gets to witness a painful twist of fate at the end that will leave them with an open mind to form their own opinions.



4. Kids
I think it was inevitable that this movie would make this list. As poorly acted, written, and directed as this movie was, Kids remains a masterpiece because of its determination to freak you out. Dark, sadistic, comedic, and disturbing describe every frame of this movie. It is painful to watch, and even more painful to look away. In other words, itís gold. When you really analyze this film, it may convince you to never fuck again! I would not recommend it, but at least it will help the teenagers refrain from promiscuous, dangerous sex. If I were the principal of a junior high school, I would make this film mandatory viewing. I would interrupt class to gather everyone into the auditorium and project Kids onto the largest screen imaginable. That also may be the reason I am NOT in fact a junior high school principal. Either way, if a school district wants to preach about how important safe sex is, all they have to do is have the students watch and analyze this flick. The girls will clamp their legs shut and make sure they NEVER pass out drunk at a party; the boys will be painting their dicks with rubber faster than a Jew collects interest! I meanÖÖ.what?



5. The Breakfast Club
Teenagers today were not even a twinkle in their dadís eye when this movie was huge; however, itís amazing how many of the same lessons still apply to every generation thatís followed its release. Do cliques still exist in school? Very much so. Do kids still get abused? Absolutely. Is every day in school a popularity contest? Damn straight. The Breakfast Club promotes unity in a way that every single one of us can relate to. The jock may learn not to be such an arrogant asshole. The geek will learn to accept who they are. The pretty girls might learn not to be so judgmental about a personís outer appearance. The ruffian can find the soft spot in his heart. Just think of all the intelligible lessons this film exhorts towards the viewer that just might help direct him or her into a better, brighter direction for their life. Besides that, it is just an extremely entertaining movie.

So, what did you think? Did I make any sense? Well then, thatís what COMMENTS are for. Iíd love to hear your suggestions. It only makes it more interesting. Have a nice day.
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I have been looking to fill the MMO void in my life for quite a while now. I quit World of Warcraft due to the fact that I was completely bored with it, and (I know this is trivial) because I got tired of the aging graphics. I needed something new... really new.

I became very intrigued by Aion, but did not want to spend $50 on a game I have not tried. Apparently there is no public trial available for the game yet as I searched the internet far and wide for one. Instead, the only way to get a trial (a very minimal trial at that) is to have a subscriber who's played for at least 90 days send you a key in the email. Luckily, I came across a forum thread at AionSource that allowed visitors to post their email and someone would send a key. I had my doubts, but sure enough, withing 24 hours, I had a key in my inbox! So I gave Aion a try. Long story short, I ended up buying the game. Here are my first impressions:

CHARACTER CREATION

My first impression was filled with pure disappointed, rapidly followed by sheer joy. My disappointment initially spawned from the fact that there were only 2 factions, no races within each factions, only 4 fucking classes each (which would later spawn to 8 when you reach lvl 10), and only 2 starting zones. No worries though; my dismay was immediately replaced by excitement when I realized that I could customize my character from the bottom up. Picking from multiple templates, I could then enter a tab that allowed me to adjust a bunch of bars that controlled every part of the face, body, hair, nose, cheeks, eyes, brow, lips, weight, height, breast size, etc, etc,.... this was what I have felt every MMO needed! Upset because the game doesn't have a dwarf race? Simply adjust the height of your avatar to that of a dwarf and add a thick beard. It's quite a satisfying feeling when you make your very own, unique toon that won't look like anybody else's.

VISUALS

My system specs:

AMD Phenom II X4 955 OC 3.6ghz
Radeon HD 5870
8GB RAM
Windows 7 64 bit

I have set all graphics on the highest possible settings. Vertical Sync is ON, AA x8, Bloom on full blast. First of all, character design, texture, etc. are borderline flawless. They look great running around. The world itself is beautiful. I have never seen an MMO, and even some newer single player RPGs (Dragon Age) look this damn good. While I noticed that the hillside and mountain textures were very low quality, it's hardly noticeable until you run right up into one. Lag was nonexistent throughout the 1-10 leveling process.

I hit some lag when visiting the capitol city. This was mainly due to the large amount of other players the game had to load. While I feel my system specs should not allow any graphical lag to exist in a game like this, I am aware that even the greatest of graphics cards (5870) can run into issues with AA turned on so high. I set it down to x4 and noticed a small improvement with no visible evidence that I had even lowered the AA. Overall, the lag was not constant, stayed minimal, and was sporadic, indicating that it was probably a connection issue with loading other players that will probably be remedied in a future patch.

Having Vertical Sync on, I floated at a 60 FPS max (due to the limit vertical sync imposes) and never saw it drop below 40 even during the quick lag hiccups in the city. With VS off, the game was exploding at frame rates over 120, but screen tearing occasionally occurred on a typical 60mhz LCD monitor.



SOUND

The environment ambiances are spectacular. Go questing with some 5.1 surround speakers and you'll feel completely engulfed by the game. There are so many sounds going on, it's very enjoyable. That's the positive; at the same time, voice work is atrocious. Casters shout the same word in the exact same tone repeatedly every time you cast spells. While the word is different for every spell, it's still very annoying. Also, there are short cut scenes here and there for specific quests, and if your character is involved in that cut scene, you're going to witness a very goofy interpretation of your toon's voice. They replace the voice you chose at character creation, and replace it with some goofy, over-the-top baffoon voice that sounds ripped straight out of an old Disney film. You will also be forced to turn down your volume every time you work on leveling your crafting as there is incessant clanging of hammers, bubbling vials, etc that DO NOT STOP for even a second.

COMBAT

So far the combat seems very fluid. The combo system works great, and I am finding myself enjoying button mashing much more than any previous MMO. The animations used to portray the different attacks is kind of a bitter sweet addition. While the animation is beautiful and really adds to the depth of your combat, it also sometimes causes the character to stop in its tracks and makes it difficult to chase other players while pvping. Since I'm only lvl 23, I still have a long way to go before I get to witness the full glory of PVP combat in Aion, so I can't legitimately touch on that subject yet.

OVERALL 9/10 (subject to change first impression score)

Playing Aion for the first time this last 2 weeks has been incredibly enjoyable. I find myself wishing I was home to play while at work. I'll be honest, I have not had this much fun with an MMO or RPG since the first time I played World of Warcraft 5 years ago. It is definitely a much needed, refreshing addition to the MMO genre. As far as I can tell, the population of players is still very strong. Even in these lowbie areas I've been playing, there are constantly other people playing alongside you, and I have not had a single issue or wait trying to find a group for quests. I'll leave a blog in the future regarding a more in depth analysis of my opinions of Aion after I have delved further into the game.








Blizzard has really developed a well oiled machine with their World of Warcraft franchise. They have managed to get gamers hooked and effectively keep them that way for years. While some original players like myself get bored after years of dedication, they have manipulated the game enough to make it friendly to newcomers as a replacement. The new expansion, Cataclysm, even makes a bold move to redesign the entire 1-60 leveling experience.

Many great MMOs have come and gone during WoW's reign, some of which were truly fantastic and deserved to steal the spotlight from Blizzard. It never seems to happen though, and that got me thinking. What the hell will it take to dethrone Warcraft? Here are some ideas...



1. SENSE OF HUMOR AND EASTER EGGS

Everyone loves a good fantasy. It's when the fantasy gets too serious that people are turned off. There needs to be a break from the overwhelming lore RPG's usually present. Sometimes, there even needs to be a reminder that you're just playing a game. World of Warcraft was flooded with easter eggs that usually paid homage to specific movies and even other video games. It's these little jokes that make the player feel like they can relate to the developers, even if they don't. It creates a relationship with the publisher without even trying. On top of that, Blizzard often made fun of themselves and the internet meme community by throwing in a few leets and pwns here and there. Have you ever watched the stand up comedy acts in Shattrath? Too many developers think they will attract more fantasy fans if they keep it serious and to the story. I think WoW has proven that you need a median, and catering to fantasy lovers' dreams is not as important as it use to be. MMOs are mainstream now, and need to be considered as such.



2. ENHANCED GRAPHICS / MANAGEABLE ENGINE

Many can blame WoW's success on its accessibility. From the start, the game could be played on low end computers, but offered adjustments to still make it pretty for higher end systems. 5 years later, the visuals are really showing their age, and we need next gen graphics. All newer MMOs have done a good job at creating beautiful visuals that are capable of fully immersing the player into the world. The only problem is even the lower settings have lag issues on anything but a high end system. The graphics should continue getting more astonishing, but an engine needs to be developed that doesn't bog down a Dell even when the fog is thick enough to cut with a level 1 skinning knife. I am a true believer that every gaming PC should be kept up with modern hardware and we shouldn't accommodate for those who refuse to play every game on anything but low settings, but we are talking about dethroning the most popular MMORPG of all time. Something drastic needs to be done.



3. OPEN, HUGE, AND FREE ROAMING WORLD

Yes, any MMO that hopes to give WoW a run for its money MUST have open ended gameplay and a 100% free-roaming, massive world. That is truly one of the aspects that made the original, vanilla WoW so popular. I know what you're thinking, "Are you kidding? All everyone did was bitch about the World of 'Walk'craft!" That's only because people like to bitch. The majority found the sheer amount of exploration exhilarating and unique. It's only an issue now because the millions who have been playing Warcraft for several years are tired of having to do it all over again when creating a new toon; but it will be essential that at the beginning of a new MMOs life, that it offer the magnitude of open exploration that WoW did. After establishing a solid, massive fan base, THEN they can start giving away mounts at level 20...

MMOs that suffered due to not following this rule? Warhammer for one had it all it seemed: a great look and visual feast for the eyes, customized armor coloring with the use of dyes, an epic story and record book, and brilliant world pvp action. One of its problems was its confusing as fuck world layout. It appeared at first to be one massive free roam world, but the developers forced you to follow a very linear path through it, not even allowing you a full world map. I won't even get started on Guild Wars.



4. PLENTY OF RACES/CLASSES; PLENTY OF OPTIONS

A mistake many modern MMOs are making is thinking that dying your armor is all gamers want to differentiate from player to player. They are wrong. The phrase "the more the merrier" works well here. It's safer to overwhelm than underwhelm. WoW offered a tremendous amount of options for choosing your faction, race, then class. What we are experiencing now with most modern MMOs is a lack of choice. Every race seems to have the same 3 or 4 classes. Aion only has 2 races for example!

If you are on the development team for an upcoming MMO, please make sure you include plenty of options for each class. Like I said, the more original a player can make their character, the happier he/she will be. Talent trees are the typical method for such a matter, but the common mistake is putting a talent tree just for the sake of saying you have one. To truly shape an avatar in a unique way is to allow the talent tree to branch (hence the name TREE), thus allowing choices, thus allowing even more customization for the player. I have noticed that developers are getting lazy with their talent trees. Anybody check out Warhammer's interpretation of a tree? It was more like stacking bricks than creating a unique talent build.



5. CUSTOM AVATARS

What year is it? 2010? Is it really out of the question to ask that every MMO start including a more detailed method for designing one's avatar? What needs to be done is remove the mindset that you have to pick from several faces, several hairdos, several beards, and several jewelry layouts. If boxing fans can make their boxers look like Michael Jackson in Fight Night, we should be able to do the same! An MMO should provide a template depending on the race a player chooses. From there, it should be entirely up to us what our character looks like. No more with the cycling through faces. Give us adjustment bars that control everything from how bony a cheek is to how fat an ass is. The current method used guarantees that there will always be another avatar that at least looks like you. The new method would ensure that an MMOs population is as diverse as the real world.



6. EVOLUTION

An MMORPG should be treated like a living being. Evolution is what made humans the smartest animal on the planet, and it is what will make an MMO timeless. Innumerable updates with fresh content is a must. Catering to the majority's wishes is a must. One important detail is that the game mechanics should stay relatively the same. Too drastic of a change will scare away most players, but a gradual, literal evolution of the game's direction will keep it feeling alive and fresh to the oldest of followers. Just a simple addition of a dungeon every few months may keep most happy, but having that same dungeon evolve over time into an entirely different story would keep everyone happy. For example, a dungeon (hopefully one of many) is a fortress run by some NPC faction that is threatening the environment and needs to be stopped. This theme is kept for several months. After that, the same dungeon falls victim to an attack from another militia who has even worse plans for the world. This new militia is stronger and your character will have had to evolve to a higher level to now defeat the evolved dungeon. So on so forth. This mechanic will keep us engaged and excited about the story. When's the last time you played an MMO and read every quest? Don't lie. You just followed the waypoint, killed what you needed, then turned it in. For all you know, you could've just helped a child molester collect boar tusks to help reinforce his cages... An engaging, always evolving atmosphere would change that.

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I am fully aware that some of these ideas spawn from what Blizzard already successfully implemented into their game. In video games, and just like in any other form of art, copying is not always a bad thing. It's about improving what already works. What this article is trying to portray is that out of the excellent MMOs that have been overshadowed by WoW for the last 5 years, these ideas could have saved it. Keep the originality developers, but consider implementing some of the formulas that World of Warcraft has proven works!

I understand that there are many other ideas that need to be considered, but these were the top 5 that jumped out in MY mind at least. Please feel free to include your own ideas in the comments.
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