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12:51 PM on 03.21.2013

The Best Scarves in Gaming



Letís face it: scarves make anything cool. Case in point, Fred from Scooby Doo. Do you think he became the leader of the gang because of his brains? Hell no. Itís because of that devilishly stylish scarf he wears. This doesnít just apply to TV and movies. Proper scarf use can make or break a videogame characterís ability to resonate with an increasingly demanding audience. Come with me on a magical journey as we explore the best scarves in gaming!

Note: These are in no particular order.

Pikachuís Red Scarf



Pikachuís pretty cute, right? Right. You know whatís even cuter? Pikachu in a little red bandana neck thing! I mean look at himóhe looks like a little explorer! If it wasnít for the adorable line of scarves and bow ties the Pokťmon wear in the Mystery Dungeon games they wouldnít nearly get the same amount of critical acclaim.

Journeyís Magical Flying Scarf



Iíve written about Journey before, but not about the best partóthe scarves! Part neckwear, part tail, part magical source of flight power, Journeyís scarf deserves to be part of this list. Not only does it keep my characterís neck (does it even have one?) protected in the desert sun, but it also keeps them warm as they climbed up that icy mountain at the end of the game. And damned if they didnít look mighty fine doiní it too! Plus you could find fabric scraps that made your scarf longer, and everyone whoís keyed into the scarf world knows, longer = better.

Nathan Drakeís Scarf



Technically itís a keffiyeh, but he wears it around his neck, so it qualifies. Whatís more important anyway? Wrapping it around your head when youíre in the desert to keep the sun and dust off your entire face or keeping it around your neck as a stylish accessory? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Strider Hiryuís Scarf



Ninjas and scarves go together like tequila and regret. Not only does Strider avoid that monochromatic thing most ninjas gravitate toward, his scarf also doubles as a mask. Plus that deep crimson color probably works really well to hide any bloodstains. Fashionable and practicalóitís the ninja way.

Proto Manís Scarf



Robots are cool. As has been established by the previous entries and LOGIC, scarves are cool. Put them together you getÖI dunno. 2x cool or something. Anyway, Proto Manís a badass, and his flowing yellow scarf only complements his red and grey color scheme and adds to his badassittude. Would he still be cool without it? Yeah. But as cool? Thatís a definite hell no.

Hope Estheimís Scarf



A rare miss for a piece of neckwear that normally has the power to make any character cooler. Even with his dapper blue scarf, Hopeís still an insufferable character. The less said about him and his stupid quest for vengeance the better. Actually, the less said about Final Fantasy XIII in general the better.

There you have it--a sampling of gaming's best neckwear! Next time you're playing a lackluster game, just imagine how much better it would be if your character was wearing a scarf.   read


11:10 AM on 03.07.2013

Help me prepare for GDC 2013



Iím going to GDC this month, and to be honest, Iím really nervous. Itís my first GDC. Hell, itís my first big convention. I mean, Iíve wandered around Comic Con down in San Diego a couple of times, but that was always just for fun, and I either had a friend or my fiancťe with me. This time, Iím heading up to San Francisco by myself for the full week.

So hereís where you come in, Dtoidóawesome people that you are. Give me your advice! Give me tips! Help me figure out how I should prepare, what I should bring, who I could meet up with, and what parties sound the coolest. Help me plan for my first GDC.



So hereís my dilemma. Ostensibly, Iím a ďmember of the press.Ē Whatever that means. Iím not a journalist, thatís for damn sure. Iím a writer. Iíll admit that. But Iím not really going to GDC for the ďjournalism angleĒ Ė the whole writing news posts, crafting previews based on the games at the expo, that sort of thing.

Iím going mainly for the panels, the talks, the bootcamps, and the networking. For me, writing about games isnít as exciting as writing for games. As a novelist and storyteller by trade, Iíd love the chance to get my foot in the door and work with games. The thought of penning a story and helping shape an interactive experience is enough to make me feel a bit giddy. So thatís why Iím going to GDCóto learn more about game design, narrative design, and meet some awesome people.

So what do I do there? Am I obligated to write articles even though thatís not my real focus? But what about if that can help me get a jobówriting timely articles, demonstrating my writing abilities, etc.?

Okay so thereís that, but letís take a step back. How do you even prepare for a big convention like PAX or GDC? I mean what are you expected to take with you into the convention center? My laptop? Pad of paper and some writing sticks? Business cards are a given. How am I supposed to dress? I imagine fairly casual and with comfortable shoes because Iíll be doing a literal shit-ton of walking. (Yes. Thatís an official unit of measurement. Bigger than a crap-ton).

And what about the times in between the panels Iím attending? What do I do then? Because Iím going to this thing by myself, I have this (possibly irrational) fear that Iíll end up just sitting by myself whenever Iím not at one of the scheduled panels.



This fear extends to the after parties. Thereís a bunch of them, but Iíve never been one for big parties and going to barsóespecially if Iím by myself. I realize I just have to take the plunge and go for itóthatís where all the serious (slightly tipsy) networking friend-making happens. The question is: which party do I go to? Iím staying outside the city at my grandmaís place to save money, so my options are limited. BART only runs so late after all. If Iím limited to one party, which one should it be? That Destructoid GDC Hangover Party sounds like a good bet. Itís got Dtoidís approval after all.

There ya go, Dtoid! Themís all my anxieties about this upcoming trip laid bare. Help me out. Shower me with adviceóserious or not. Iíll take whatever I can get! Help me not make a complete ass of myself (for the wrong reasons) at GDC 2013! And let me who else is going to be there. I want to meet as many of you fine, fine specimens of humanity as possible.   read


11:53 AM on 02.14.2013

Love the One You Canít Be With



or Three Valentine's Day Videogame Crushes

With Valentineís Dayóthe contrived greeting card holiday day of love and romanceóupon us, I figured now would be the perfect time for us gamers to reflect on those characters we desperately wanted our avatars to be with but things just didnít work out.

This post is for those times where we loved the ones we couldnít be with.

Why does it always seem to work out that you want what you canít have? Maybe itís something with the way our brains are wired. I donít know. Iím not a love doctor (Mario). However, I can name (at least) three times this console generation where I wanted one thing and the games themselves wouldnít allow it.

Tali



Iíve written about my thing for Tali before, but itís worth it again. During my time with Mass Effect, Zoe Shepard might have shacked with up Liara (mostly because Kaiden was about as interesting as soggy bread), but she only had eyes for the Quarian down in Engineering.

She went out of her way to make sure Tali got to come on all the best missionsóVirmire, what up!óand had only the best equipment and armor. Shepard asked nothing in return, mostly because in the first game, Taliís not a romance option for either male or female Shepards.

At the time, I had no idea what she looked like, so it was all up to the stellar script and voice work to make the magic happen. There was just something about the way Tali evolved as a character that caught my eye. She starts out naÔve and out of her depth, but by the end of the game she showcases a dry wit that had me cracking up.

And she only got better as the series went on. By the time Mass Effect 3 came out, my Shepard had broken up with Liara on the off chance that somehow Taliís (literal) programming had changed to allow her to be a potential partner for female Commander Shepards. Nope! Instead, I was treated to a funny and sad scene of Tali and Garrus making out before the final mission on Earth.

Chloe



Letís move away from games where you get a little more agency when it comes to creating and defining your character. Hereís an example from Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3, two games in a series known for telling a focused, linear story with pre-defined characters.

I never played the first game, but right off the bat in Uncharted 2 I liked Chloe. She was sarcastic, in control, and looked out for herself first. All qualities I admire. Whenever sheíd suggest the sensible thing like running away, not dying, or not risking her neck, I always nodded along. Thereís a reason that Tom Cross praised Chloe so much in this Gamasutra article.

According to the developers, Chloe was supposed to ďbe a foil for showing not only what Drake could have been if was a little bit darker but also to play off Elena, because Elena's the good girl that does the right thing all the time.Ē

Good! I for one was bored when Elena was introduced in Uncharted 2, probably because she was a new character to me. She always wanted to do the noble thing even if it was dumb and dangerous. Thatís not me. But the game didnít let me shape Nathan Drake as much as I did with Commander Shepard. So by the end of the game, I was shouting at Nate to go with Chloe. Obviously she was the better choice and a much better fortune hunter. They could be rich and have awesome adventures! What was he going to do with Elena? Journalism and stuff? How ethical and boring.

Things only got worse in Uncharted 3. By the start of that game, you learn that Nate and Elena have broken up, are on a break, or something like that. Great! So he ditches the superior lady in the last game, and now heís single again? It was like pouring salt on the wound when Chloe showed up again and Nate still went after Elena.

Morrigan



Itís not surprising that another character from a BioWare game is on this list. In my opinion, they do good work. I also couldn't find a screenshot where she didn't look strange so I decided to use this wallpaper (where she also looks strange).

Like Tali, sheís not a potential partner for a female character. So like my version of Shepard, my Warden had an unrequited thing for Morrigan even though she ended up with Allistair. (A marriage of convenience to become Queen).

However, like Chloe, she has a lot of qualities that I admire. She asks the obvious, but sometimes uncomfortable questions: ďWhy are we helping these people again? They canít do anything for us in return.Ē Sheís powerful and independent, but unavailable during certain playthroughs. Of course that only made me include her in my party more often. Hearing her bicker and make fun of Allistair was one of my favorite parts with Dragon Age: Origins.

I wanted my character to go with her at the end of Witch Hunt, but it wasnít meant to be. Morrigan declined my characterís offer (fondly I might add!) and stepped through that portal. The Warden was left behind with nothing more than memories of their time spent slaying Darkspawn together.



So there you have it. Three loves. They were the obvious best choices, but due to design choices, none of them were ever realized. Oh well. Thereís always Dragon Age III and Not Mass Effect 4 to look forward to. I hope your characters (and yourself) are luckier in love than mine were.   read


1:03 PM on 01.03.2013

Still Playing: Dragon Age II



I recently finished my fourth playthrough of Dragon Age II (I previously wrote about my time collecting the gameís trophies), but only on my second of Dragon Age: Origins. Why is that? According to public opinion among gamers (and the gamesí Metacritic scores), Dragon Age II is an inferior product. So why do I feel more compelled to play out Hawkeís story again and again despite having the ďbetterĒ game sitting on my shelf?

Maybe I just like bad games. I donít know. All I know is that Dragon Age II is not the disaster people claim it is. There are things wrong with itóbig, big things. But what some people claim are its biggest weaknesses are what draw me to it time and time again.



Characters

Hawkeís got a voice and personality. Maybe I like things dumbed down, console style, but I had fewer ďoh thatís the tone they went withĒ moments with Dragon Age IIís dialogue wheel. I felt more connected with the character just like how I grew attached to Shepard. In DAO I feel like I made a video game character, but I never really roleplayed. There was a disconnect there.

But with DA2 I felt like it was my Hawke siding with the mages in one playthrough or my other Hawke condemning Anders in another. Hawke just has more personality than the Warden. DA2 took a risk by taking away some of the freedom when it comes to character creationóonly be a humanóno origin stories, but in my mind it creates a deeper, more fleshed out character.



The side characters are brilliant. They were good in the first game, but I think they hit their stride in the sequel. I miss Alistair as much as the next gamer, but I think that the banter between all the side characters more than makes up for his absence. I think Varric is a great character, and Merrill is a delightóshe walks that fine line between naÔve and downright ruthless when it comes to her magical abilities.

Setting

Even though the development team used the gameís single setting to cut corners and reuse assets and maps (side bar: thatís a huge glaring flaw), I think the gameís Kirkwall setting is stronger than the cross-country tour of Ferelden you get in the first game. Kirkwall has personality beyond the standard: elf camp, drawf city, and human medieval city of the first game. Sure itís pretty damn empty for being ďcrammed full of refugees,Ē but the history behind Kirkwall and the Free Marches felt much more detailed than the individual towns and locations in Ferelden.



Kirkwall is a city built on blood, fire, and chains. Itís a former slave city, itís been sacked multiple times, undergone a few revolutions, and finally it experiences the upheaval of the mages vs Templars fight in DA2. Itís a city that has battle scars and a dark past. Thatís more than I can tell you about Lothering or Denerim. Um, Denerim is the capital and has a king and some nobles in it. Thatís about it. Kirkwall feels less like a sightseeing tour through quasi-medieval fantasyland. Personally, Iíd love to go back for a little bit during the upcoming DA3 and see how my choices affected the city.

By limiting the game to Kirkwall and the surrounding area, DA2 feels tighter than DAO. The choice of a single setting mirrors the choice to narrow the focus and scope of the story. Again this is to the gameís benefit, but more on that later.

Story/Scope

Make no mistake, Dragon Age II is smaller and narrower than its predecessor, but at the same time itís the biggest game in the franchise (of two games). In Origins you played as the Warden, a pivotal figure with magical Grey Warden powers and destined to stop the Fifth Blight. Because the game is a western RPG with all its tropes of increasing player power, for the most part, you had no doubt that youíd be successful. Oh sure you could lose and maybe get a ďbad endingĒ or certain well-loved characters might die, but your ultimate victory was undoubtedly going to be canon. I mean, otherwise the franchise is over. Everybodyís been killed by the Darkspawn. This means DAO has high stakes, but ultimately the conclusion is fairly neat.

DA2 throws all of that awayóin a good way! Even though the story only affects the city of Kirkwall directly, the multiple endings have ramifications for the rest of the world of Thedas. In Dragon Age: Origins you save the world. In Dragon Age II you break the world. You just choose which side you support.



While some claim this shows a lack of player controlóand theyíre rightóit also creates a fuller experience. Yes you control the fate of the world in Origins, but it also limits the other characters, the queens, kings, members of the Chantry, etc. They donít get to make decisions that matter. The unique way the plot is structured in DA2ówith all of the choices and variables leading to a pair of conclusions that both deal with a civil war between mages and Templarsóemphasizes that this is a bigger world beyond the player character.

Despite your best efforts to stop it (or encourage it!) the war between mages and Templars is going to happen, and itís going to get worst. Whether you like it or not, your Hawke broke Thedas. That feelingówhen you realize what youíve done, the culmination of all your choices throughout the gameóis so much more satisfying than simply saving the world. Iíve been there. Iíve done that.



So BioWare, I hope youíre listening. Learn from DA2ís mistakes. No more reusing assets, okay? But donít throw it all away. Learn from DA2ís successes too. More choices with relationships. More personality for all the characters. Do these things and make me feel like Iím affecting a living, breathing, damaged world and youíll be golden. At the very least, stay the hell away from a tri-colored ending cinematic.   read


10:14 PM on 10.15.2012

Playing the Waiting (Video)game



Some games you win by having great reflexes. Other games you win by remembering sequences of intricate button presses. And others you win just by dumb luck.

But then thereís another type of gameóthe game you win by out-waiting it. But what do I mean by out-waiting a game? Obviously there has to be a degree of patience involved, but itís not the same as being patient as you grind for levels in a JRPG or MMORPG. Out-waiting a game involves patience and a willingness to play the game wrong.

Thereís tons of a ways to play a game wrong. Thereís a certain brand of wrongness created by a player thatís unfamiliar with the game or the genre. The Escapist ran a great article about that recently. Another kind of wrongness comes about when players deliberately cheat or break the game for their own personal gain. Out-waiting a game is different than all those.

I didnít even realize what I was doing until I tweeted this about Assassinís Creed Revelation yesterday: ďThis Mediterranean Defense mini-game has turned #ACR into a standing around waiting simulator so I can send my minions on more missions.Ē



ACR is supposed to be a third person action game thatís full of running, climbing, fighting, and of course the titular assassinating. And somehow in my completionist ways, Iíd turned the game into a waiting simulator. I wanted to win at the Mediterranean Defense mini-game more than I wanted to progress the main story. Now does that say something more about me or about Revelationsí narrative?

Rather than do story missions while I waited for my assassin minions (or minsassins as I call them), I decided to just chill in the Assassinís Den while I waited for the missions to finish. I put the controller down and used those 8-12 minute intervals to surf the internet on my laptop, work on a novel outline, go grab a snack, pretty much anything but playing Assassinís Creed Revelations the way it was meant to be played.

A similar thing happened whenever I decided to renovate Istanbul. Early on, the game introduces you to the Den Defense tower defense mini-game. I donít like tower defense games that much, and the one in ACR isnít very good to begin with. The game lets you play the Den Defense game when the Templars attack your Assassin Dens. They attack the dens when your Awareness Meter fills up.



So what actions fill up the Awareness Meter? Getting into fights with guards and stuff like that, but also renovating shops. Personally, I think this isnít a well-designed system. The game wants you to renovate buildings to increase your income and improve your equipment, but it also feels like the designers really, really want you to play their tower defense mini-game too.

You can get around this by lowering the Awareness meter by bribing heralds or assassinating Templar officials that show up on the map once your meter is mostly filled. Because I donít like Den Defense mini-game, I decided to out-wait the game. Iíll renovate three or four shops, and then when the meter gets too full, Iíll just run around looking for heralds to bribe. At the same time, Iíll continue to check in on my minsassins. Iíve played the game for over 10 hours so far, and Iíve only had to do the Den Defense thing once because the story mandated it.



Maybe Iím wasting my time by working so hard to avoid the tower defense stuff. Maybe Iím breaking the game by just standing around while I wait for my minions to finish their missions. I doubt the designers would want anyone to play it the way I doópurposely skipping this iterationís biggest new feature. Despite ACR wanting to funnel me into a certain play style when it comes to the more strategic mechanics, Iím much more patient than it thinks. I can out-wait it.

Playing the ďwaiting gameĒ with a video game not be the proper way to go, but it certainly works for me.   read


9:52 PM on 04.02.2012

10 Things about the Handsome TriplZer0

Alright letís jump on this bandwagon, full onÖand hard. Bbain wrote a super-awesome blog, and it inspired me (and everybody else it seems) to write one for myself. I havenít been able to meet any Dtoiders other than Cadtalfryn in real life, so this seems like a good way to get to know everyone a little better.


This is me. Behind me is my kitchen. Sorry about the big-ass picture

10. Dumb and Dumber scared me as a child

True story. To this day, Iíve never seen all of Dumb and Dumber. Thereís this one scene where in a dream sequence Jim Carrey rips a dudeís heart out and puts it in a doggie bag. Total Temple of Doom stuff right there. Scared the shit outta me. Reason why? That same scene in Temple of Doom terrified me a few years before.

9. My youngest brother has special needs

My youngest brother is four years younger than me, and he has VCFS. Heís also one of the coolest dudes I know. Plus he plays video games like crazy. Heís got mad Guitar Hero and Rock Band skills. Not living at home anymore, I donít get to see him as often as Iíd like.

8. I love heavy metal

Dunno how I got into metal, but I love it. Probably happened during high school. Funny thing is all those growly, screamy, shouty bands used to scare me the first time I heard them. Now Iím the one scaring other drivers during my commute home. I tend to ďsingĒ along with my CDs on the freeway. People probably think Iím mad at them or something. Strangely, Iím not an angry person.

7. The SNES is the best system ever invented

Hands down. End of story. The SNES was the first console my brothers and I ever got. It had so many great games. We spent hours and hours playing Mario, Donkey Kong Country 1-3, and Yoshiís Island. My mom eventually had to ban all video games before school and then during the week because my brothers and I would end up fighting too much.



6. I originally I thought I was going to study chemistry. I ended up with literature

I was good at science in high school. I hated all my English classes. When I went to college, I thought I was going to study chemistry or some other sciencey thing. I went to the orientation presentation for the chemistry and walked out after two minutes. Best decision ever. I ended up studying literature because of how much I love to read. I may have a somewhat shitty job right now because of it, but Iím glad I chose that major. Itís what led me toÖ

5. Iím a published author

Iíve had a few short stories published. My first one was actually a story I wrote in a literature class in college instead of a final paper. If I hadnít taken that path of study, that never wouldíve happened. I love writing, and my dream job would be able to write full time. I tend to write dark science fiction, horror, and speculative fiction. (Theyíre all kinda the same thing). Iíd love feedback from community members if any of you are fans of SF/F/H. You can see some of my stuff on Amazon. (/self-promotion)

4. Iíve never playedÖ(insert popular game here)

Thereís tons of games that the gaming community as a whole seems to adore that Iíve never played. Letís list a few of them: any of the Metal Gear games, Shadows of the Colossus, Ico, Half-Life 2, Portal, any of the Mother/Earthbound games, Knights of the Old Republic, etc. etc. Dunno why Iíve never played any of these. They just donít seem interesting to me. By this point, I think somebody would have to pay me to play some of the ones on this unplayed list.

3. Iíve read more Star Wars books than Iím proud of

YeahÖ I have a whole shelf on my bookshelf just dedicated to Star Wars books. I got good ones like the Thrawn trilogy, and I have some terrible ones like Children of the Jedi. The original trilogy and things set after it are more interesting to me than any Old Republic stuff. Iíve fallen behind on keeping up with the novels, but someday Iíll catch up.

2. I hated Destructoid and Podtoid when I first heard of it

Wait! Put down the pitchforks and other pointy instruments of pain! I was living in a dorm room with Cadtalfryn at the time. He kept turning on this podcast thing called Podtoid and would listen to it as he did homework. Iíd only half pay attention, but for some reason it just irritated me. He tried to explain to me what Destructoid was, but my response was always, ďYeahÖ so what the fuckís a Destructoid?Ē I just didnít get it. Oh what a foolish squid Iíd been! (If I could find the right Futurama clip, Iíd put it there).


I didn't know what I was missing at first! Honest!

1. I love Destructoid

Iíve been a part of this community for a while now. I used to only lurk, then I made an account, then I posted my first (see also: terrible) Cblog. Since then this community has been nothing but a joy. You guys are all amazing, awesome, wonderful, stupendous, and a whole bunch of other nice adjectives. So yeah. You keep it real, Dtoid.



0. Bonus quick hits!
I have one tattoo, but I want more. The one I have is the album cover of one of my favorite CDs, plus there's some sentimental reasons, ya know that kinda stuff.
Beer is delicious.
I'm left handed. It makes me notice when other people are left handed too.   read


3:06 PM on 03.25.2012

How GameStop Can Beat Online Passes

I had an idea the other day about how GameStop could beat publishers at their own game. This isnít fully fleshed out or anything, and who knows, it might be feasible at all. Well, here goes. Hereís how GameStop can beat online passes: they create a ReNewed games program.



Alright, letís break down what this ďReNewedĒ pun actually means. We all know that GameStop is massively profitable enterprise. From their Q3 2011 earnings call, their pre-owned program grew by 3%. This was slower than the previous two quarters, but given the strength of the games that came out in October through December 2011, it makes sense that a lot of customers bought new.

From their 2010 earnings report, GameStopís business goals included ďexpanding our sales of used video game products and capitalizing on the growth in demand [of used games]Ē and ď[increasing] GameStop brand awareness and loyalty membershipĒ which includes their PowerUp Rewards program. My proposed ReNew program would go hand in hand with those stated goals.

To counteract GameStopís influence and the allure of used games, publishers have been utilizing online passes. Recent games like Batman: Arkham City, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and others from publishers EA, THQ, Ubisoft have all had either singleplayer content or multiplayer modes locked behind online passes. Online passes force you to either buy the game new or purchase the pass separately on PSN or Xbox Live to access these locked away content nuggets.



On the surface these passes block GameStop from relying so heavily on used game sales because nobody wants to buy an incomplete game (and if you do, I donít want to even know you). Well with ReNewed games, scrappy underdog (/sarcasm) GameStop can fight the power. Basically all they have to do is buy a bunch of the standalone online passes and bundle them with their used games.

How does this help GameStop with sales? Even though they buy the online passes for full price, they bundle them with the used copy of the game at a discount price. Say Awesome Game 2 has its multiplayer locked behind an online pass. The game is still retailing at $59.99. GameStop buys back used copies of the game from their customers for $14 and sells them for $30. Thatís just the Pre-Owned copy of the game. If you want the ReNewed copy, itíll cost you $38. Even though GameStop bought the pass for $10 and is selling it at a loss, the markup they put on used copies more than makes up for that.

By implementing some sort of program like this they can make it so people will still go to them for used copies even when a traditional used copy of that game needs an online pass.



Again, GameStop might already do something like this. I saw on their website they had a DLC section (but it was down so I couldnít investigate it). Also another potential problem would be, how many codes do they download for each game that has an online pass? Obviously some games are going to sell more than others, and they wouldnít want to get stuck with a bunch of online passes for games that consumers arenít trading in or buying used.

Iím not saying this system is a good solution to the ďused game problemĒ that publishers are always complaining about. Online passes and the fight against used game sales are both bullshit in my opinion. This is just a semi-sleazy tactic I could see GameStop implementing in the future. And if they do, customers are going to be the ones getting the shaft. Publishers will then try to come up with other ways to stop used games. Right now the situation is something of an arms race where the losers are average gamers who are just trying to save some money.   read


2:13 PM on 03.12.2012

Dread Space: Survival Horror Games aren't Horror

Games like Resident Evil and Dead Space arenít horror. Now that Iíve got your attention, let me clarify that statement. Sure those games are classified as ďsurvival horrorĒ games, but they donít represent horror to me, and it has nothing to do with the more action-oriented flavor these games have adopted recently. So what do I consider horror? The answer might surprise you.


Surprise hugs! But not truly horrifying

Even though I say games like RE and Dead Space arenít horror, theyíre still scary. How does that make sense? Simple. These kinds of games scare me when I play them because I know that something is going to jump out of an air vent or through a window at me. (Sorry for the stupid voice over in that video). Iím afraid of the surprise, that ďAh ha! Gotcha!Ē moment but nothing else. Sure those moments cause my heart rate to spike and maybe a small trickle of urine to escape down my leg, but they donít inspire that lay-awake-at-night-type dread real horror does.

Iíve found that true kind of horror in the most unlikely of places: in space combat simulators.

Games like Tachyon: The Fringe and Freelancer are horror games. They might be dressed up like space sims with some trading elements and such, but they terrified me more than any zombie or Necromorph could ever dream of.

Why did these two games scare me that much? Thereís no extreme graphic violence in either game. All of the combat takes place in space ships where killing enemies results in impersonal explosions. So if itís not the violence that did it, what did?

Space did it. Thereís that phrase that ďin space no one can hear you screamĒ, but it should really be, ďin space no one can hear you scream, and space is so goddamn big that no one will see you either, and nothing around you cares youíre screaming.Ē Space terrified my kid brain when I first played Tachyon, and then Freelancer a few years later made it worse.


So pretty, and yet so terrifying

In Tachyon you play down on his luck and wrongly exiled pilot Jake Logan (voiced by the one and only Bruce Campbell), and you end up choosing to side with a group of ragtag colonists and miners or the massively rich GalSpan corporation as they fight over a region of semi-colonized space known as the Fringe.

Thereís one mission--Hell, I donít even remember what itís called or whose side itís for--where you have to go escort some convoy from one star system to another. Anyway Iíd been playing the game for a while at that point and jumped through the Tachyon Gate with no second thoughts. As soon as my ship arrived, a wave of panic came over me. In front of me, taking up almost my entire screen was a ringed gas giant, kind of like Saturn. It was drawn to scale, so it dwarfed my ship and the other ships in the convoy. It was the biggest planet Iíd seen in the entire game so far. It didnít do anything but just chill there in space. It wasnít part of the mission. No enemies came out from its rings to ambush me. It did nothing, but still the thing scared me so badly I had to quit the game.


Scariest planet ever

The planet was just so big compared to all the other ships around it. All it did was remind me of how small I was, both my ship avatar and me as a person. That planet made me realize how small I was, just a simple kid playing a video game. Eventually, I got over that dread, went back, and finished the mission, but I had to force myself not to look at that planet or dwell on it during the mission.

A few years later, a similar thing happened with Freelancer. I loved playing the game so much that I cheated so I could just explore without consequences. I didnít want to have to deal with pirate raids, enemy fleets, or just any damage at all. But while I might have avoided game overs, I encountered something far worse--that same paralyzing fear of being small and alone.

Other survival horror games try to make you feel that same trapped loneliness, but youíre never truly alone. There are usually always enemies around. While Dead Space had stretches where it was just me, some hallways, and brilliant sound design, I knew that at any moment I could be thrust into a fight with some slicey-dicey Necromorphs. In Freelancer youíre truly alone. Youíre just a ship flying around in the darkness.



Flying into a gas cloud in Freelancer is fucking terrifying, especially in the outlying star systems on the edges of the gameís map. Thereís just radiation, some space rocks, and a whole lot of nothing. Because unlike Tachyon, Freelancer is a more open game that allows you to explore. So that means certain areas have only a few enemy encounters and a whole lot of nothing. The backdrops may look pretty, but they just hide the existential horribleness that lurks underneath.

In TV shows, movies, and other games that deal with space, you or the characters always have companions. Han Solo has Chewie to keep him company when theyíre out doing smuggler things. The Serenity has an entire crew. The Galactica even has a whole fleet around it that provides human contact. But in these kinds of space sims, itís just you out there in your ship.

Sometimes in Freelancer there would be no banter or anything resembling human contact, just the sounds of the engines and the radiation alarms as you plunged into the depths of that radioactive gas cloud. Itís so terrifying on a deep personal level that I hate it. I love the games for their mechanics and space combat action, but I hate them for the soul-crushing dread they made me feel.

Thatís true horror. A zombie dog jumping through a window is just an unpleasant surprise.

What about you guys? Does anyone else have stories like this where an ostensibly non-horror game scared you more than a ďdedicatedĒ horror game?   read


2:14 PM on 12.06.2011

Xenophilia: More Dragons than Skyrim

So thereís this little game that came out a few a weeks ago. You mightíve heard of it. Itís called Skyrim and Dtoidís own Jim Sterling thought it was pretty good. I mean you can fight dragons in it. Awesome, right? Well what if I told you about a game where you can fight dragons with other dragons! Welcome to the wonderful, pixilated world of Bahamut Lagoon.



Bahamut Lagoon is a Japanese tactical roleplaying game by Square that came out in that mythical golden age of SNES RPGs. Sadly, it never made its way to American shores. I only heard about it by chance when I was surfing the Internet in college. I acquired the unofficial English translation and began an adventure that would make the Dragonborn envious.

Being a Square game, it looks gorgeous. The sprites look just as good as those in Final Fantasy III and all of the different types of dragons look different from each other. But gorgeous sprite-based artwork isnít enough. Luckily, I found the gameplay just as awesome.


The little dragon sprites are so cute! Also deadly. But then they come back around to cute.

Unlike Squareís other games, in Bahamut Lagoon battles are fought on grid-based environments, like a dragon-flavored Fire Emblem or the more modern Advance Wars. While the cast of characters all have different classes and abilities, the dragons are what steal the show. Each party has their own dragon attached to it that can level up, use abilities, and learn new ones. While you canít control them directly, you can give them commands like ďCome!Ē to set how aggressive they are. It was such a joy to soften an enemy up with my troops and know that as soon as my turn ended my dragons were going to swoop in and finish things off.



Now enemy forces also get their own dragons, so itís imperative that you keep yours in top fighting shape. And thatís where the gameís coolest mechanic comes in. Dragons are big, yes? Big things need lots of food. And apparently, according to Bahamut Lagoon dragons will eat goddamn anything. Got some extra swords and armor? Feed Ďem to Smoky, your firebreather. Oh you have some poisonous mushrooms, give Ďem to Jeff, the dark dragon. No need to worry about counting calories in this game!

By feeding your dragons equipment, books, items, literally anything, their stats go up. And then once you hit certain benchmarks they will evolve into other forms. Pokemon, who? Bahamut Lagoonís got you beat (by like two and a half weeks). It was a lot of fun to experiment with feeding my dragons and seeing what they would evolve into. Granted itís possible to just play random skirmish battles over and over, by certain items, and then make your dragons completely overpowered, but who cares?



To be honest, I donít remember a lot about the story. There was something about a group of rebels led by a spunky youth with a destiny trying to save the world from an evil empire. Typical JRPG fare, but it definitely didnít detract from my enjoyment. I mean itís not like other dragon-based games are known for their earth-shattering main quests.

If youíre a fan of dragons, Square, or strategy RPGs from the SNESís Golden Years, you gotta play Bahamut Lagoon. Youíre all Internet-savvy people, Iím sure you know how to find a copy. It just goes to show that pretty much any videogame genre would benefit from a healthy infusion of dragons.   read


9:12 PM on 11.10.2011

First Times: Rayman Origins Demo Impressions

Confession time: Iíve never played a Rayman game. In fact I only vaguely associate Rayman with his own series. The first things that come to mind are those Rabbit-thing mini-game collections on the Wii. But Iíve heard a lot of good things about Rayman Origins so I decided to check out the demo. Read on for the impressions of a first time Rayman-erÖRaymanist? Iíll figure it out later.


Who are these people...things?

First things first. Holy 2D graphics, Batman! The game looks amazing. I love the art direction and the colors. Despite lacking that (essential to some people) third dimension, everything looks crisp and colorful .And this is just the opening stages. The names of the stages and the locations mean nothing to me, but they sure look pretty!

Still on the topic of graphics and art, I really like the creature design. Everything looks like they belong to the same universe. It doesnít matter that Rayman has floating hands and feet with no limbs (kind of like an Anti-Homestar Runner). His strange deformities (if they are truly that) come across as commonplace in this universe. I have no idea what kind of creatures Iím fighting, what the hell those things Iím collecting are--bugs of some kind, maybe--but theyíre all unique looking.

However I did find some graphical and stylistic issues. In the beginning of the first level I couldnít tell if there were different branching paths with one being ďcloserĒ to the screen. But then I realized what I was seeing was just part of the foreground. The problem showed up again in the third level when I was being chased by some giant eel monster thing. It was one of those classic Big Monster Chases You From The Left While The Level Collapses Around You sequences, but again at times I couldnít tell what was on my plane and what was just set dressing. I died a few times just because I wasnít sure what I could jump on and another time when I got squished by falling debris I thought was in the background. I donít know if this will continue to be a problem in later levels after I get accustomed to Rayman Originsí style, but it is a little worrying.


This frickin' guy, right?

So yeah the demo looks great, but how does it play? Hereís where my initial enthusiasm started to wear off. The game takes a very old school approach. Very minimal tutorials to start with. I didnít know I could double jump and hover using my hair/head-parts (a little like Dixie Kong) until halfway through the first level. Also the decision to put the sprint button on the trigger and shoulder buttons seems a little strange. Iím sure Iíd get used to it eventually, but it felt awkward holding down R2 or R1 to sprint. Iíd take the classic Y to sprint, B to jump combination any day.



Like I said before, I never played a Rayman game before, so I donít know his precise physics. Still something felt a little ďoffĒ during my time with the demo. Sometimes my jumps--especially when jumping off a vine--would go much farther than I expected and other times Iíd fall short. This could just be part of the learning curve associated with playing a new platformer.

My time with Rayman Origins was short, but I walked away having seen some brilliant graphical touches and adorable sound effects. Each level looks like itíll have some replayability as players can try to collect enough ďyellow thingsĒ or free some trapped ďpinkĒ things to 100% the level. No idea what beating these challenges gets you. I also saw hints that the game isnít going to pull any punches later on. I have a feeling this is going to be a difficult game. Whether or not thatís your thing, wellÖI couldnít tell you that.



The question is: do I want to spend $60 on what, to me, is essentially a brand new IP? I donít want to come across as one of those people moaning, ďUgh this game needs to be priced at $40 Ďcause itís 2DĒ but at the same time I know Iíd be more willing to take a chance on it if it was cheaperónot because of the graphics, just because Iím not the biggest platformer fan. Still every ďnewĒ IP deserves a chance, right?   read


1:51 PM on 09.07.2011

The Best Moustaches In Gaming

Last time I wrote an article like this it was full of well-deserved vitriol and hate toward some of gamingís worst feathered fiends. Well to prove Iím not just a Negative Nancy, this article will celebrate one of humanityís greatest achievements: the moustache.

The moustache is the pinnacle of evolution, science, and art. It is a majestic, almost-sentient creature that covers the upper lips of worthy men (and some women--hey, thatís cool too). So without further ado, join me in celebrating the greatest moustaches in gaming!

Wario



First of all, I know many of you are saying, ďMario! Mario has the best moustache!Ē Well, youíre wrong. Sure Marioís furry lip-warmer is a classic, but Wario has him beat when it comes to sheer moustacheitude. Look at those harsh angles. Do you know how much effort it would take to create a moustache that wonderful? Lots.

Solid Snake



When Snake showed up in Metal Gear Sold 4: Guns of the Patriots he was sporting two apparent changes. One, he was old. Two, he had a moustache. Like his still muscled body, Snakeís moustache is sculpted with care and precision. Only a true, top tier commando could pull it off with such panache.

Dudley



Class, grace, and elegance. These three words describe both Dudley and his fabulous moustache. Dudley could beat you to a pulp and still make you want to say, ďWhy thank you, my good sir!Ē as heís doing it. Iíve never played Street Fighter III, but I think I might have to just to marvel at Dudleyís facial hair.

A special shout out goes to Mike Haggar from Final Fight. Heís a mustachioed mayor who fights crime. I think he and Dudley should star in a co-op beat Ďem up together.

Dr. Robotnik



He will never be Eggman to me. Sorry, Iím just not having it. What I will have is some of his ridiculous moustache. Thereís at least enough hair there for two moustaches. I mean it perfectly completes his ensemble and just screams, ďEvil scientistÖwith style!Ē

Blaine



How do you think Blaine controls his Pokemon? His Volcano Badge? Please. Itís clearly his awe-inspiring moustache. When you start to go bald what do you do? Itís one of those old lemons to lemonade things. Grow a moustache. Blaineís glorluxuriant (thatís glorious and luxuriant combined) moustache clearly makes him a leader among men, wellÖPokemon.

Jinpachi



I donít know what a ďTekkenĒ is. Iíve never played one. But I want to now! I donít care that Jinpachiís moustache also has a beard component because daaaaaaamn. That is a moustache among moustaches. I imagine it being really sharp, and I hope one of his special moves is stabbing somebody in the chest, stomach, and/or groin with it.

So there you have: my list of the most prodigious pushbrooms, stupendous soup strainers, and spectacular Ďstaches. Not everyone made the cut, there were many honorable mentions, and Iím sure there are ones I missed. Let me know your favorites in the comments.   read


1:59 PM on 07.28.2011

Motion Controls: Nostalgia Killers



Dtoid, have I told you how much I love the Donkey Kong series? Well letís just say Iím bananas over the franchise. Okay, that was awful. I promise there will be no more monkey-based puns in this blog. Back to the matter at hand, I love Donkey Kong. This is a tale of a young manís nostalgia being crushed by imposition of motion controls.

My brothers and I got an SNES for Christmas in 1994 with two games: Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. Mario holds a special place in my heart, but itís a tight fit because good olí DK is right there next to him.

I spent countless hours playing the original DKC with my brothers. I learned all the tricks and secrets, including cheat codes. Then a couple of years later Donkey Kong Country 2. emerged onto the scene.[I could go on for pages about how much I love that game. Then came the not-as-good-but-still-damn-good Donkey Kong Country 3 during the SNESí waning years.



Over my roughly twenty years of gaming Iíve owned and played: the 3 DKC games mentioned above, the Donkey Kong Land Gameboy games, the collect-a-thon [i]Donkey Kong 64, Diddy Kong Racing, and the GBA remakes of the DKC trilogy. At one point I also owned the Donkey Kong books for kids that were based off the Gameboy games.



Yes this is a thing that exists. But not even Amazon had a pic of the cover.

So imagine my delight when Donkey Kong Country Returns was announced for the Wii. The setting looked gorgeous. There was retro-remixed-throwback music. There was Rambi! Yeah there werenít any Kremlings, but I was okay with that. Then of course, the catch. The proverbial turd in my nostalgia punch bowl: motion controls.



On the surface, the motion controls in DKCR donít seem like such a big deal. You can play the game with a Wiimote or with the Nunchuck. However, the problem is that you have to shake the Wiimote in order to get Donkey to roll or pound the ground. Veteran DK players know that a well-timed roll/cartwheel jump can make or break many levels and tricky sections. The fact that this integral part of the game got mapped to a motion rather than a simple button press worried me. But, still I was enthusiastic. I wagered I could look past the motion controls and enjoy the game just like the DK games of old.

Nope. I was so wrong. People have made comments how DKCR is a challenging game. Yeah itís challenging--in a completely bullshit way. I swear Iíve died more times from having DK not roll when I want him to than from actual enemies. I made it to the end of World 5 before I had to give up.

This is an instance where motion controls do far more harm than good. Imagine how amazing the game would be if you could play it with a Gamecube controller or a Classic controller. I wouldíve done that in a heartbeat. Instead Nintendo and Retro Studios shoehorned motion controls into a game, and technically a genre, that didnít need them. They turned simple mechanics tied to precise button presses into a garbled mess of me waving my Wiimote around in the air like Iím trying to shake a baby to death.*

*It disturbs me that that was the best analogy I could come up with



Iím not a motion controls hater--at least not completely. If implemented properly and in genres that work well with them, then motion controls can be great. I just dislike being forced to deal with suboptimal control schemes. For me Donkey Kong Country Returns is a failure. Iím probably not going to go back to it. Instead of waggling my Wiimote, I think Iíll fire up DKC2 on the VC and bask in my untarnished nostalgia.   read


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