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The metal kid stays in the picture: I've got dibs on Megaman!
1:16 PM on 09.27.2014
My Favorite Game: Yo, screw your desert island
8:01 AM on 09.24.2014
Steam Sale Reviews: Payday 2 – The Shakedown
2:45 PM on 09.09.2014
NVGR: Watching YouTube through the Rear Window
9:10 PM on 08.13.2014
God help me, I read some MechWarrior books
8:39 AM on 07.16.2014
Burn everything, play in the ashes: What games should learn from Risk: Legacy
9:58 AM on 06.27.2014

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My name's Nic, here are some facts -

I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.

I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.

When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.

I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.

Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!

Alternate Reality: Alan Wake, Synchronicity, And The Dark Presence

2010 Sucked: Why didn't anybody buy Alan Wake?

Technical Difficulties: Some Mother#*!&ers Always Trying to Ice Skate Uphill

Who Wants to be the Bad Guy?

Games I would rather see remade than Halo

Disappointment: A Postmortem of L.A Noire

Try Something Different: Slippery When Wet

It's all about the powers you don't play

A Captain's Primer to FTL

A Grandson's Struggle With Alzheimer's and Dark Souls

Sony's Share Button: The Reason I'm Excited For the PS4

Rogue Legacy: Family Survival Guide

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Selecting a character in a fighting game is a very personal thing. There are so many factors to consider – from the aesthetic and personality of a character, the way your playstyle meshes with a character's moves, to how a character interacts with the rest of the roster, what kind of match-ups you can expect, and so on. This is only compounded in a game like Smash Bros where so much nostalgia and character loyalty is baked into the experience. Jumping the gun is a bad bet. It's far better to sit back, play with a bunch of the characters you're interested in, and eventually settle into one or two favorite picks after a period of due diligence. This is good advice. Wise advice.

Advice I am not going to follow.

I knew from the second Megaman was announced that there would be no other possible choice for me. His place on the tier-list a distant afterthought to my very real need to play as the Blue Bomber. My lingering loyalties to Link and Kirby severed in an instant. My copy of Smash might as well not even come with a character select screen.

So yeah, I call dibs.

As is customary, I'll list a few reasons I think Megaman is the best (even though I think his OBVIOUS dominance speaks for itself).

Battery back-up

The kid's got endurance. In the course of his average adventure, Megaman will slog through eight stages rigged to the rafters with deathtraps, kill countless mini-bosses, dispatch each robot master in turn, then scale Willy's castle – a murderous maze that makes everything else he's been through seem like a Chuck E Cheese obstacle course.

And you know what he does after that? He kills ALL EIGHT ROBOT MASTERS AGAIN. Bam, bam, bam, one after the other, no time for coffee breaks. Then he'll dunk on Willy's bushy fucking head and destroy whatever crazy machine he's cooked up for himself. Then, and only then, will he take a load off and bask in the knowledge that he has yet again single handily saved the world from an entire robot army (but not for too long, Megaman is always ready for a good sequel).

You think a machine like that is going to have ANY problems taking on a mere three other fighters? Megaman is walking war-zone (albeit a super cute walking war-zone), taking on an overgrown gorilla, a kid angel, and a floating pink marshmallow is nothing to him, he won't even need an E-tank.

Experience Counts

This isn't Megaman's first time at the fighting game rodeo. Did you all forget? I guarantee the cast of Marvel Vs Capcom haven't; the horrifying memory of being pelted with projectiles and carried to the top of the screen with never ending juggle combos permanently etched into their damaged psyches.

Guest characters haven't enjoyed the most sterling reputation in Smash. While it was undeniably cool to play as Solid Snake in Brawl, he was a technical finesse character in a game characterized by frenzied chaos. Great players could make him work, but for most he was surprisingly unsuited for the battlefield. Sonic was a lame duck, demonstrating why Sega lost the console war in real-time, ineffectually zipping back and forth and accomplishing dick all.

Megaman is a proven force to be reckon with. He terrorized MvC1 , made a decent showing in MvC2 (another robot happened to steal the show that time), and can even appear by proxy in MvC3 as an alternate costume for Zero, who is without a doubt one of the most broken characters in that entirely broke-ass game. Hell, Megaman even proved his salt in the obscure Power Fighters arcade game that managed to turn the Megaman boss fights into a series of fighting game-esq match-ups.

He's dominated before and he'll do it again.

(No, I am not going to dignify his silly appearance in SFxT.)

What Sibling rivalry?

Mario and Luigi have been squabbling for years. Mario is the star of the show, but Luigi is always nipping at his heels, trying to usurp his older brother and become a take a little of that shine for himself. It's a vicious cycle that's had them competing for years in every possible venue you could name, everything from soccer, to kart racing, to tennis, with no clear winner in sight.

You know what happens when Megaman's older brother comes around to mess with him? Megaman slaps that basic bitch out of the limelight and back into the shadows where he belongs. Cool whistle, impenetrable shield, bodacious shades? None of Protoman's Poochie-esq trappings fooled anyone for a second. Megaman doesn't share the spotlight in his series, and he doesn't settle for second best. No spin-off games or pity years for obsolete units/clingy brothers with inferiority complexes.

You have to wonder if Protoman's death at the end of Megaman 3 was a heroic sacrifice, or a desperate escape from the never ending humiliation of being shown up at every turn. Mario might learn a thing or two about how to squash a beef (literally) from Megaman.

A tool for every job

Megaman doesn't have the strongest moves in Smash. He doesn't get freebie 20% jab combos like Little Mac, or ridiculous item spawning tricks like Diddy. What he has though, are options.

Megaman is a resourceful little robot, and he's brought a collection of his best weapons (weapons that I'll remind you he claimed from the smoking husks of defeated Robot Masters) to the arena. The classic Metal Blade is a buzzsaw of death that can attack in almost any direction, or be stowed away for a quick surprise attack. He's got an endless supply of Crash Bombs with delayed timers that can be used to open up opponents for unblockable smashes. His Leaf Shield might seem a little weak, but it's versatile, he can use it protect him from projectiles, cover his approach, or just as a nasty way to add damage to a throw.

When the fancy toys aren't getting the job done, he still has tried and true basics to rely on. His forward smash is a devastating charged arm-cannon shot that comes out lightning quick and sends people flying off screen, mega-busted. His Slide helps him close gaps unexpectedly and keep his opponents from getting too comfortable. He even managed to smuggle in an extra Capcom bonus with him, borrowing Ryu's Shoryuken to launch fools who think he can't scrap toe-to-toe into the stratosphere.

The Blue Bomber has an answer for everything. While he might not be the most directly powerful fighter on the roster, time and time again we've seen that victory belongs to those who can adapt and react the best, not just who has the strongest punch. Nowhere is this more true than the constantly shifting battlegrounds of Smash.

The soundtrack of victory

A lot of fighters on the roster can boast about their game's soundtracks, and I'm not even gonna throw shade on that. Mario's theme is without a doubt iconic. Like a Pavlovian response, you only need to hear the first few notes of Zelda's Hyrule theme to feel primed for adventure. Planet Zebes wouldn't feel nearly as deadly and seedy without the creepy crawling strings and ominous synth hum of Metroid's superb soundtrack. They're incredible.

But you want to talk about library? About a sheer backlog of amazing music? You want to talk about raw rock and roll energy, driving drums and electrifying guitars? You want to talk about tracks so good they've spawned TWO separate fan-bands dedicated to the sound and feel of a franchise?

Then you want to talk about Megaman.

While many of the characters have iconic title themes, or maybe a particular level or two that stands out, every single Megaman game is filled top to bottom with memorable tracks. From the outstanding title screen music of Megaman 2, to the individual level themes that perfectly express each Robot Master's stage and feel, to the epic and dangerous tracks of Willy's fortress, you'd be hard pressed to find examples of BAD themes in a Megaman game.

Megaman has already won the most important fight before even stepping in the ring. He rocks the hardest.

Robots are best

I hold this truth to be self-evident, robots are just damn cool. If you've been around Dtoid for any length of time, you probably know about my mechanical obsession, so me claiming dibs on Megaman probably isn't too shocking. Give me the opportunity to play a robot in a game, especially an awesome little guy like Megaman, and I'll take it.

Upset that I claimed dibs on the coolest character in the game? Well too damn bad. I guess the only thing you can do now is call dibs on a runner-up like these fine gentlemen have before it's too late.


(Apologies to Tony Ponce, just too slow on the draw I'm afraid!)

Photo Photo Photo

I don't think it's really possible to have a “favorite” favorite game, or at least it's not possible for me. I've never been able to answer any of those hypothetical questions where you have to choose one album or movie or game you'd want if you were stranded on a deserted island (that inexplicably has electricity). If I wanted to self diagnose, I'd say it was a symptom of my latent fear of commitment - what if I don't always love Ocarina of Time?

But I think the reason is simpler. I just love too many games for too many different reasons to ever pick an overall favorite. Reasons that only make sense to me in the context of my life. Crazy reasons that may even contradict and trip over themselves. The thing I love about one game might be unremarkable in the next, or even offensive. I want XCOM to take a crap in my lunch, but I'm only playing Fire Emblem so I can be an amateur match-maker for cute anime characters and produce the next generation of adorable super soldiers. I love a detailed and rich story-driven game, except for when I'm in the mood for a nihilistic sandbox where I can do whatever I want without any bullshit like plot and narrative getting in my way.

I can't tell you what my favorite game is, but I can tell what my favorite games have been.

1989 – Super Mario Bros.

A deeply unoriginal pick, but God's honest truth. Super Mario Bros was the first game I played on the Nintendo, and that plucky red plumber doomed me to a life sitting in front of glowing screens and deeply caring about warp zones and secret 1-ups.

The NES was a random Christmas gift, I didn't play many games before that year. When me and my brother started Mario, we couldn't get past the first goomba without having to use a continue. We had no idea what games were or how they worked, but even then, it felt special. It felt like we were given something BIG. During that winter Mario would teach us all of the important fundamentals of videogames; moving, jumping, secrets. I started having dreams about the Mushroom Kingdom, world 3-1 with its dark sky and illuminated outlines stuck in my subconscious, Bowser starred in a slasher film-esq nightmare that I still remember today.

My favorite game changed monthly in those days, maybe weekly. New games kept coming out, and we already missed so many. Me and my brother felt like we were lagging behind, missing out, and we scrambled to catch up. Rental became our way of life. Bandito Video was only two blocks away, easy walking distance, and they gave out tiny free bags of popcorn with every purchase. It wasn't long before the staff knew to tip us off about new releases or to hold something in reserve.

Nintendo Power was giving away copies of Dragon Warrior with a monthly subscription that I begged/badgered my mother into signing up to. For an intense month, that was my favorite game, I'd keep getting in trouble at school for reading the free strategy guide that came with it when I should have been counting apples or something. Bizarrely, the elderly couple two townhouses down got really into it too. I discussed problematic Metal Slimes with a pair of gray haired retirees on their postage stamp of a front lawn. I didn't know yet that games were supposed to be just for kids.

Sometime later, my grandma rescued Metroid from a used games bin and it would become the new obsession. I'd scribble my childish recreations of its labyrinthine levels in the margins of my notebooks; it was a point of contention with my teacher, but I still maintain those games had more educational value than the stale grade 1 curriculum she was teaching.

1991 – Sonic

Sometime in 1991, we got the Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog. It was amazing, a technological leap forward into vibrant colorful worlds and funky beats that made our beloved NES instantly feel archaic and embarrassingly outdated. But there was no money for any other games, and the mom and pop rental shop we frequented didn't quite keep up with the 16-bit era. Their Genesis selection was quarantined off to one tiny little shelf choked with sports games that even then I instinctively sneered at (a primal predator/prey tension I would feel my entire scholastic life). Eventually we would get a Blockbuster in town, and games like Strider and Streets of Rage would enter our lives, but not for a while. So for those first months we had the Genesis, I played Sonic. I played Sonic over and over again. Then I played it more.

I beat the game. I beat it again. I learned to beat it faster. The later levels were never as much fun though; the thrill of Sonic was in the fluid satisfying speed, the popping sound of bouncing off TVs, of hitting a checkpoint at mach 1 and never looking back - not navigating spikes and waiting for elevators. Eventually the rest of the game melted away, and I just played the Green Hill Zone over and over.

Years later I'd see speedrunning videos on YouTube and suddenly have a name to put to what I was doing with Sonic back then. I burned the Green Hill Zone into my neural patterns, pounded my nerves into committing the jumps to muscle memory. Lord knows what kind of cognitive trade-off I made back then, it's probably not healthy for a child at that age to be so intensely focused on something that obscure and specific. I frequently wonder if only I could have devoted that weird monomaniacal obsession into something useful or interesting like piano, or basic coding, how my life could have changed. In fact, as much as I love watching speedrunning videos now, I harbor some of the same nagging reservations about the players performing them.

Dubious life choices aside, it can't be ignored that at one point Sonic the Hedgehog was the most important thing in the world to me. Oddly enough, that affection wouldn't last. I got Sonic 2 when it was released and enjoyed it, maybe even told my mom I loved it a little more than I really did (it was a Christmas gift after all). By the time Sonic 3 came around, I barely played it, even the novelty of a Knuckles “lock-on” cartridge that would retroactively insert the echidna into previous games couldn't sway me.

Maybe I never really loved Sonic. Maybe I just loved the Green Hill Zone.

1992 – Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link

Whenever someone says they love the Zelda series except for the Adventures of Link, I instantly take their opinions less seriously. In fact, I lose the potential for loving that person. I can still respect them, we can even be friends, but I know deep down that we'll never feel the kind of connection that love demands.

There really are only two kinds of people in the world. The people who think Zelda 2 is a tragically underrated masterpiece, and the people who are wrong.

Zelda 2 is an adventure that requires total commitment. A dangerous world full of secrets to discover and chances for the intrepid to prove their worth. It respects the player to an absurd degree and expects you to rise to its challenges, without ever feeling punishingly unfair like other notably difficult games of the NES era.

I've written about Zelda 2 extensively, so I'll skip the sermon. Just know that even though I don't think I can have a favorite game, if you savagely pistol whipped me, pressed the barrel of the gun hard against the back of my skull and DEMANDED I tell you a favorite, Zelda 2 is probably the name I'd scream through panicked bloody teeth.

1994 – The SNES

I think there is a convincing argument to be made for 1994 as the best year in Nintendo's history. It was certainly the year where the SNES asserted itself as the dominant 16-bit system (I don't care how much anyone beats the Sega drum, they got blown out hard). An outstanding first party effort was delivered from Nintendo with Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, Uniracers, and Super Punch-Out, some of the best games released for the celebrated console. Those gifts were backed up by some of the most memorable third party games of the entire generation, like Earthworm Jim and the genre defining Final Fantasy 3 (or 6 for all you miserable technically correct people). It was a fantastic year for sealing yourself in the basement and faking sick to get out of school.

I can't tell you what my favorite game was from that time, that's some straight up Kobayashi Maru shit, there is no right answer. I could write entire articles about the masterful opening sequence of Super Metroid, or the music of DKC, or how much I adored The Secret of Mana (which actually came out in 1993, but I'd only play it after Final Fantasy 3 left me ravenous for more adventure). It's like choosing between favorite children or siblings, it feels tacky and laced with betrayal. While there may be a favorite floating around in your mind somewhere, it's the kind of comment that is best kept to oneself.

1998 – Zelda: Ocarina of Time (actually Metal Gear Solid)

Another betrayal. Some sentimental pocket of my heart forces me to say that Ocarina of Time is my favorite title from the year of our Lord 1998. It's so OBVIOUSLY brilliant, so universally loved, it provides such a clear and bright connection to my childhood adoration of the series. It seems like the only possible choice.

But, like the duplicitous Decoy Octopus, I have a hidden agenda. A secret scheme of nuclear rail guns, walking tanks, and double crossing agents. I know what really beats inside my chest, what fascinates me to this day. I'd like to be the kind of person who resonates more closely to bright eyed adventure and stories of boys earning their way into manhood through bravery and selflessness, I really would. But like a secret codec radio transmission stimulating the small bones of my inner ear, MGS whispers to me and reminds me that I'll always be more interested in the dirty work of intrigue, sabotage, and espionage than I'll ever be in actually saving the world from evil.

2001 – Day of Defeat

2001 marks the year my family finally got a PC and I could join the online multiplayer world of gaming. It also marks the year where my grades and personal attitude took a steep negative decline. Just two random unrelated facts.

While my friends proselytized the virtues of Counter-Strike and Quake 3 (and those are certainly fine games), I spent almost all of 2001 fighting through the western theater of WW2 in Day of Defeat. I stormed Normandy more times than the History Channel that year.

Not only was I drunk on the very concept of playing with up to 23 other people all around the world (it's easy to forget just how stunning that idea was to kids who grew up entirely on consoles and thought Bomberman with a multi-tap was the height of multiplayer excitement), the game was just so good. Day of Defeat was more dangerous and tense than Quake 3, with a single bullet spelling death for a careless infantryman. But it was faster and more frantic than Counter-Strike, respawning players in waves instead of holding them hostage for the next round. Objectives needed to be seized en masse, dominated by troops taking and holding ground; not planting a bomb and playing hide & seek while ghosts watch and heckle. And I was good at it, unusually so. Everyone secretly thinks they are an above average player, but Day of Defeat was the only game I ever felt gifted at – something just clicked.

The reality of an MLG or e-sports franchise didn't exist yet, it was just the dreamy fantasy of 14 year old FPS nerds (and maybe forward thinking slimy investment capital types, salivating at the idea of exploiting them), and that probably saved my life. If I had even an inkling during those days that I could somehow parlay my ability to stitch up the Wehrmacht with a Bren gun into an “athletic” career of dubious fame and a paycheck, I probably would have dropped out of school then and there. When I think about it like that, I can easily understand how teenagers these days are getting sucked into the black hole of professional Dota 2, and LoL competitions.

2007 – Team Fortress 2

I didn't have a favorite game for years. Things were moving too fast in my life for favorites. I joined the workforce like a big boy. Then I went to university and constantly messed up my student loan applications like a child. Gaming was still a big part of my life, but it was getting strange and disjointed. There were so many games and so many systems and I finally had the money to buy stuff, but no time to play it. I was all over the place gamewise. I played City of Heroes off and on for years, but I never took a character to the level cap; I just enjoyed playing with different power builds and costumes. Does that make it a favorite? It was weird even at the time, I'm not sure what I was getting from it, but it was something. I played through countless amazing PS2 era games, I caught up on PC classics I missed. It was a renaissance of great games, but I'm hard pressed to name favorites, everything just kind of blurs together.

That changed in 2007 when Team Fortress 2 snatched me in its Pixar-esq claws, and I suddenly very much had a favorite game again.

TF2 and Bioshock were the two games that convinced me I needed to join the current generation of gaming and pick up an Xbox 360. But while Bioshock was a great game that I enjoyed, digested, and put aside, I'd continued to play TF2 on a regular basis for the next four or five years, and occasionally here and there after that.

It helps that TF2 has been supported with updates, maps, and weapons since it's inception. It helps that the wonderful cartoon/espionage/dark comedy world Valve has created is appealing to even non-gamers. It helps that the constant cut-rate sales and eventual move to an F2P model has ensured a thriving and diverse playerbase (instead of withering on the vine like many shooters). These are all great reasons why TF2 has been a staple for me for the better part of a decade.

Mostly though, TF2 is simply one of the best games ever created, and that's probably a good enough reason right there.

2012 – Dark Souls

What can I say about Dark Souls? It's Zelda 2: The Adventures of Link for this generation (a comment that is both the highest praise I can offer, and also one of the greatest criticisms a naysayer could launch at the title).

Dark Souls takes all of the best qualities of Zelda, Castlevania, 3rd person adventure/exploration games, and even fighting games (yes I said it, play Dark Souls PvP and you'll have a wonderful primer to the nuances behind the best fighting games) and somehow manages to blend them all together in it's own strikingly unique world.

Without a trace of irony I really do believe Dark Souls should be on display in museums. I don't know if we'll ever see a “Citizen Kane of gaming”, I don't know what the criteria for judging that looks like. But I do know that Dark Souls expresses the very best elements of the medium. That it demonstrates a masterful command of both the technical components of game development, and a keen artistic vision. It's lightning in a bottle, and almost makes me sad because I'm not sure if I'll ever play another game that makes me feel the same.

If you savagely pistol whipped me, pressed the barrel of the gun hard against the back of my skull and DEMANDED I tell you my favorite game, Zelda 2 is probably the name I'd scream through panicked bloody teeth. But I'd feel shame later that I didn't call out for Dark Souls.

Photo Photo Photo


Payday 2 is the quintessential Steam Sale game. Exactly the kind of blood diamond in the rough that makes Steam's bi-annual extravaganzas so exciting.

When Payday 2 launched, I could definitely see the appeal and juuusst about bought it. I love heist movies, I enjoy co-op games, and as embarrassing as it is to admit, I sometimes go in for the kind of over the top gun-porn Payday is basically built around. But was it really something I'd pay $40 for? Wasn't the first Payday basically an over-glorified L4D mod? It was just a little too expensive for a game that I half expected to be kind of broken and janky in the best of circumstances, and there was always some other game that seemed like a better use of my time and money.

But a year later, and down to criminally low price of $5 during the Steam Summer Sale, that's a different story. That's just the right price to buy into silly crime fantasies and redneck gun fetishization on a whim. I figured I'd buy Payday 2 while it was being offered for pennies on the dollar, laugh through a few capers with my brother and a some friends, and promptly forget about it - I've spent five bucks on more questionable things after all.

Honestly, I never expected to love this this game so much. I don't know if I gave Payday 1 a bad turn (my dim memories of playing it only include buggy clipping problems, simple objectives, and a dull air of boredom) or if Overkill really stepped up their game for the sequel, but Payday 2 blows the original away in just about every capacity, and completely decimated my woefully misguided expectations. For $5, you could even say it was a steal. (I'm so very sorry, I couldn't help myself)


Nobody has to get hurt! (But they probably will be)

That's not to say it's always smooth sailing. Payday 2 can be rough at first. There are a lot of unexplained mechanics, like the importance of taking hostages or answering security guard pagers after snuffing them out, things you just won't figure out without making a few embarrassing mistakes. Those first few jobs will be clumsy as you stumble into security cameras and painstakingly pick locks by hand. These growing pains will be long forgotten by the time you're hacking grids with ECM jammers and using a carbon tipped power saw to rip through security gates, but still, there is an initial hump to get over that almost turned me off the game.

Part of the problem for me was that I wanted to be a sneaky thief. Your shady underworld contacts will advise you to play it low-key and complete your missions using stealth and guile without alerting the police, which sounded great to me. But, the sad fact is that it's basically impossible for new players to pull that off. As a new player you lack the equipment and class skills necessary to pull off a stealthy heist (not to mention the game know-how).

Are you sure you know how to stealth this job?

- This is my face every time someone in the lobby suggests we try and stealth the Train Job 

Stealthing jobs is a pro's game you have to grow into, but Payday 2 doesn't really go out of its way to tell you that. In fact the radio contact seems surprised and annoyed every time a simple jewelry heist turns into a free-for-all bloodbath. So for those first few missions, you just feel like the most incompetent Snake Jailbird of all time. You're Waingro in Heat, Sean Bean in Ronin, hell, you're the Leroy fucking Jenkins of crime - a bunch of bulls running straight out of the china shop and into police custody. Compounding that, the initial offering of weapons available to new players are limp and unsatisfying, so when things inevitably go south, fighting it out with the low-level rookie cops feels more like a slap fight than a shoot-out - embarrassing for everyone involved.

The wall is tall and foreboding, and I'm sure many a player have broken their spirit against it. But if you can endure those first few rough hours, a promised land of white knuckle shoot-outs and fantasy heist film scenarios awaits. This game gets GOOD. I mean, surprisingly GOOD. When you have a few levels under your belt, a respectable stash of gear for various types of missions, and maybe a heist buddy or two you can rely on, things get wild. The beauty of a professional robbery reveals itself in all its criminal splendor.


Get on your hands and knees!


Payday 2 is fun. Whether you're expertly stealthing a heist, controlling a room full of hostages while your friends crack the time-lock on a bank vault, or when everything has gone tits-up and you're laying down a wall of cover-fire while weighed down with a duffel bag full of coke, you'll probably be having a good time. The game has a variety of missions that cater to both sneaky types who want to plan the perfect score, and dust-ups that have you and your friends plowing through urban warzones like a wrecking crew. There are banks to rob and jewelry stores to knock over of course, but I was impressed with some of the more imaginative capers. Aside from robbing stuff, you'll commit more elaborate crimes like rigging an election by tampering with voting machines, or stealing a perpetual energy machine on behalf of big oil (which actually feels more scummy than just ripping off stacks of money).

- Aww yea, making those cameo dollars.

Then there is the “Big Bank” heist hosted by Gustavo Fring (sorry, “the dentist”) which just goes off the fucking chain, letting you plan out every detail of the score of the century. Pay off guards, work out how you want to breach the vault, choose your extraction method, and study the floor plans. It's very Ocean's Eleven and makes me wish the game had even more heists that let you get that deep into the planning.

While the progression system is slow to start and overly dependent on randomization, cool new toys and customizable masks are dolled out on a regular enough basis to keep most players entertained. The skill tree system offers a lot of flexibility in how you build your career criminal. While some skills are definitely handier than others, a forgiving respec system encourages experimentation and playing with the various classes, all of which focus on different aspects of the heist.

There are plenty of ways to go about your dirty business. Players heavily invested in the Mastermind skill-set focus on flashy room dominating theatrics like converting cops to their side and taking hostages, but they also double as the medic of the group. Enforcers are the bully-boys of the crew and have a lot of straight up tanking and combat perks, but also get access to a powerful circular saw to speed up going through doors and deposit boxes, and a bunch of cargo mobility perks which let them bag and haul loot faster (more handy than it sounds). The Technician and Ghost classes are designed for players who want more options taking down scores, opening up access to safe-cracking C4, improved drills, ECM tech, and cat burglar gymnastics. You're not locked into any one class, and while pre-req skills do steer you to specialize somewhat, most players will probably dip a bit into each class while picking a favorite.


Empty your pockets!

Before deciding if Payday 2 seems worthwhile to you, you need to factor the cost of the Gage Courier DLC into the purchase. Straight up, do not pass go, do not collect $200, get that DLC before you even start your first heist. It's necessary like wine is when visiting the in-laws - and that kind of sucks.

Under normal conditions, weapon mods are dropped on a random basis as one of several possible rewards for successfully completing heists. At the end of a mission, you are just as likely to end up with new paint for your masks or a wad of cash as you are a gun part. When a gun mod finally does drop, you can end up with just about ANY attachment. So while you might be DYING for a laser sight for your out of control machine gun, or a scope for your long range rifle, it can be a total crap-shoot when and if you'll get that gear. It is the single most frustrating element of the game's design.

Not so with the Gage Courier pack. Each type of collectable package unlocked by the DLC has a set selection of unlocked gear. Collect enough Red Spider packages, and your guaranteed a laser aimer among other goodies. Scoop up Yellow Bull packs, and you'll have that silencer you desperately need for stealth missions in your hot little hands. Believe you me, it is a whole lot better than waiting and wishing on a star for the gear you want.

- Yes, this is a silenced shotgun with a 4x scope, tactical laser, and comfort grip. We haven't even gotten to the stupid stuff yet.

To make the pot even sweeter (and the DLC money making tactic even grimier), some of the mods in the Courier DLC are flat out the BEST in their class, and they're freely swappable! Unlike normal mods, you don't have to pay every time you take an attachment on or off (which generally forces you to permanently alter your weapons and consume mods). So you have the sweetest candy of the gunshop, and it's all free to mix and match as you like, so long as you pay a $5 fun-tax. Hrummmm.

If I paid full price for the game, this would almost be a deal breaker. It really feels like a pay-for-power set-up where if you want to enjoy the game to its fullest extent, you need to buy stuff shamelessly hidden behind a paywall.

But, this is where getting it on a Steam Sale for such a good price really saves the day. Considering I only paid $5 for the game and ended up enjoying it so much, I was able to perform the necessary mental gymnastics to convince myself it wasn't a rip-off and swallowed the cost. If I bought Payday 2 on day one only to find this out, I'd be livid, but now I just can't muster up the indignation. Just another in a long line of good reasons of why it's smart to be patient with your game purchases.

Other DLC is more take-it-or-leave-it based on personal preference. There are plenty of weapon packs available that usually include some masks and achievements along with the flashy firearms, but none of them are as necessary as the Courier pack. Although if you are a big fan of shotguns, you'll probably be miffed to find that most of the cool boomstick options are only available through a DLC pack. Personally, I did end up buying Weapon Pack #2 which includes the winning combination of fuck-huge machine guns, sharp looking knives, and a mask that makes you look like Cobra Commander (what can I say, I always wanted to rob a bank while hissing “I was oncesss a mannn...”, we all have dreams).


Time for a crime spree

I'm not going to mince words, I straight up love Payday 2. It's crazy and ridiculous and fascinating in all the dumb ways that make my smile. It took me completely by surprise and I'm still hooked, figuring out the various ways to take down scores, twiddling around with the never ending weapon combinations, and planning out skill builds and burning up respecs.

If you asked me back in June what game I'd end up playing the most over the summer, I would never have guessed Payday 2. But here we are heading into fall, and I have a trail of cracked safes and bullet casings at my heel to say otherwise. An absolute gem you should remember for the next time it goes on sale.

Photo Photo Photo

I watch a lot of YouTube on a regular basis, but since I've busted up my foot and find myself sitting around home all day, my dosage level has skyrocketed to Keith Richards-esq proportions. Sometimes I'll wake up, cue up some videos, and just sink into a deep Y-hole until noon (which actually sounds kind of offensive now that I've said it out loud). 

But since I'm watching so much and have nothing else to do, I thought I might share a few of my favorite videos with you all in the style of Occams recent post


Grinderman – Heathen Child 

I've always been a sucker for crazy music videos. I used to stay up late on Sunday nights watching The Wedge and Going Coastal on MuchMusic (the surprisingly hip Canadian equivalent of MTV), wading through hours of tripe just to find a few gems. Now, in the age of YouTube, you can find just about anything with a few taps of your fingers. It's beautiful and amazing, but being the hipster contrarian I can sometimes be, I occasionally miss the treasure hunter vibe of staying up past 2:00 AM on a school night just hoping to chance upon something cool enough to make it all worth while. 

This video from Nick Cave's side project, Grinderman, is just the kind of aggressively bizarre tongue-in-cheek crap I would have had a fit snickering at while trying not to wake up the house. It's got old men in thongs, a spooky girl in a bathtub, and it steals a split second clip of animation from Pearl Jam's Do the Evolution video. What's not to love?

Red Fang – Prehistoric Dog 

Speaking of old men being assholes, I love this video. I'm not nearly the metalhead I used to be, but Red Fang still manages to charm me. This video takes a real turn at the end that makes it worth watching even if you can't stand bearded men getting thrashed and wallowing in their own filth (and why not?)

La Roux – In For The Kill

I listen to more upbeat pop music these days than a 16 year old girl. I suppose a big part of that is all the 80's revision-ism going on these days. Artists that take the trappings of the 80's and doll them up with a sizzling gloss of style that blows anything that really happened during that decade out of the water. This video oozes 80's “charm”, pop-up headlights, bloomed out video, neon colours, and more leather than a Danier's surplus outlet. Also, I can't help but think that Elly Jackson looks like a cross between an anime character and Conan O'Brien. 

SebastiAn – Embody

If I had moves like that, I'd never stop.


OnlyAfro – The Wall

There's no shortage of Dark Souls “troll” videos out there. Most of them are done by tone deaf tryhards using well worn cheese builds or strategies on obviously inexperienced players, with a retch inducing slathering of “YOU MAD BRAH!?” spread on top. But every once and awhile you come across something so creative or diabolical that you can't help but smile. OnlyAfro is the kind of clever/evil asshole who really demonstrates the depth and beauty of Dark Souls many overlapping systems and the ways they let you inflict cruelty upon your fellow man.

Other times he'll just sit on a bridge with a giant shield like a jackass. 

DrGamerz - Street Fighter is Hard #13 – Abel


DrGamerz Street Fighter Is Hard series is a favorite of mine. His quest to attain the elusive “C to shining C” achievement (getting to C rank online with every character in the roster) is documented with fantastic editing, great musical picks, hilarious asides, and more than a little pain. I don't think this series would have worked as well for any other fighting game, the SFIV characters are just so large on the screen and comically expressive, it's like they were made for YouTube shenanigans. 

I will say it's also fun to watch some Street Fighter that more closely resembles my own humble level of play on YouTube, rather than the crispy-link ultra-pro tournament players I usually watch that make me feel hopelessly outclassed. 

SubtleArt – Super-Pichu Party Adventure (through Badwater)

Love this guys style. He was pushing the Spy game to its most hilarious extremes back in the early days of TF2. Sadly, it sounds like SubtleArt has passed on in real life, another charming rogue taken too soon.

Jon Bois – NBA Y2K: The death of the NBA 

Jon Bois Breaking Madden and NBA Y2K is some of the best games writing I fear not enough people are reading because it has to do with Sports Balls. I always think it's the mark of a great writer when they can get you to read, and be thoroughly invested in, a topic you'd normally not even glance at. The video trailers for his NBA Y2K articles (and trust me, these articles deserve trailers) phenomenally demonstrate the pathos, grandiosity, and utter incompetence of final years of the NBA.

LordofUltima – Silky Smooth Hado

Well made tutorial videos are like catnip to me. Seriously, I'll watch tutorials for characters, classes, and even entire games I don't play if they're slick enough! LordofUltima's guide to turning Evil Ryu into a jazz devil certainly is. This video is actually a small addendum to his much more in-depth and instructional Evil Ryu guide, just demonstrating a few tricks and high-concept ideas for the character, but that's one of the things I like about it. The video dispenses with any kind of written instruction, but if you understand what he's showing with the multiple picture-in-picture shots and quick menu changing, you can totally follow along and many of the tricks are quite devious. 

Veselekov – When I'm Gravelord'n

I like deep cut references, I like Dark Souls, and sometimes, I like real dumb things.


Ashens – Knock off He-Man figures 

Knock off shit is fantastic. The aisles of your average 99 Cent shop or the dusty shelves of a mom & pop convenience store are a comedy gold mine waiting to be plundered. But you'd think Ashens had scraped the bottom of the bargain bin barrel so hard he'd of snapped the ladle by now. 

I have a lot of nostalgia for old toys, and knick-knack junk, so his ever growing collection of oddball tat never ceases to amuse me. There are He-Men figures with melted faces, knock-off Lego people that look like the Children of the Corn, and an endless parade of disturbingly S&M-esq luchadors out there if you know where to look, just waiting to ruin a few childhoods.

LackingSaint – A Realm Man's Drink (Giantbomb animated) 

The Giant Bombcast, as seen through the nightmarish lens of a Tex Avery cartoon animated while under the influence. While the topic of this podcast was already a little unseemly, the disturbing caricatures of the GB staff really take it over the top. Reminds me of some of the fanart old Podtoid used to get when Jim was still with it. 

My Brother, My Brother, And Me – Ghost Boss

The brothers McElroy are a constant source of amusement for my entire family. This sample culled and loosely animated (pictured?) never fails to crack me up. Cake Boss!

Wonderful, Terrible Things

Hot Cartoon Box – Mechcommander

Probably my favorite video on the internet. These guys peel back the layers of a franchise to expose how sublimely dumb MechWarrior can truly be. 

ZeFrank – Teddy Has An Operation

If there was ever a wonderful, terrible thing, this would be it. Cute and creepy at the same time.

Jim Henson – Limbo

This extraordinary piece of experimental puppetry appeared on the Johnny Carson show back in 1974, pretty mind blowing. I can't imagine something like this crash landing on a modern late night talk show. “Nobody” was one of Jim's freakier creations, which makes it all the more interesting to wonder how many kids he helped to learn how to count to ten when he showed up on Sesame Street

Unknown – Max Headroom WTTW Pirating Incident 

I have a strange fascination with signal hijacking and pirate broadcasts. YouTube is a phenomenal source for any number of real and faked hijacking, number stations, and other weird nonsense. The Max Headroom incident is fairly well known, but I still love it for it's audacity and super villain swagger. It seems campy to watch it years later on a computer, but imagine how freaky this would have been in real life. 

Dimdike Stare – Hashshashin Chant

This video combines both creepy 1960's medical experimentation, weird repetitive tones, and horror movie shticks. A lot of things to love about this creepy music video. 

Don't Touch Me I'm Scared – Bad Things That Could Happen

This is basically my mind at all times.

I have a slap-slap-kiss-kiss relationship with the Battletech/MechWarrior franchise. MechWarrior Online is a game I keep returning to even though I find it ridiculously underdeveloped and often completely frustrating to play. The Battletech universe is something I've warily watched from afar, skimming the wikis, reading the occasional game scenario or novel synopsis, trying to make sense of it's often nonsensical and bizarre trappings. I just dip my toes in from time to time, I've never gone full "Batchall" into any of the lore, it's all too silly to take seriously.

But there is something there. The games are bad, and the universe is crazy, but it keeps tugging on my mind, making me glance in its direction every now and then in spite of myself. It's why I can never seem to quit MWO for good, despite threatening to do so on a regular basis. Beneath the occasionally embarrassing robot designs, the consistently embarrassing characters, and the shamefully embarrassing racial stereotypes embedded into the franchise, I've always felt there was a small hard kernel of unrealized greatness buried in there. Something about these futuristic knights in enormous mechanical suits of armour, fighting for political dominance in a feudal solar-system; it speaks to a nerdy and lonely part of my heart that grew up on tales of Camelot and Transformer cartoons.

So when my brother picked me up a couple of Battletech novels from a book fair as a joke (he choose them based on how terrible the covers looked), how could I resist the chance to finally indulge my mildly worrisome interest in the series? I thought it would be a fun goof, a little light-reading during a hot summer evening.

When I was finished, I wasn't exactly laughing. Instead of a fun lark, I ended up with a deeper understanding of the MechWarrior game I've played so much of and the fanbase that supports them; and it wasn't pretty.

- Only 25 cents each, can you believe it?

I started with Malicious Intent, a story set slightly after the time-period MWO is set in, with the eternally embattled Great Houses of the Inner Sphere begrudgingly forced to work together to defend against the threat of a renewed war with the Clans. The Clans are an equally contentious group, a society of deep-space warlords with superior technology, curious syntax structures, and a high school sophomore's understanding of eugenics (infused with some fairly unsettling undertones of incest).

Michael A. Stackpole is supposedly THE name in Battletech literature. Asking MechWarrior fans about the books generally elicits a slightly apologetic response. They'll shift about and tell you how they really enjoyed them when they were they were young, or how some of them are kind of corny but enjoyable reads, always with a cautious bit of distancing. But every single one of them willl vouch for Stackpole's contributions to the series. His Blood of Kerensky trilogy is considered holy canon for the fandom. So when I saw his name on the cover of Malicious Intent, I was almost disappointed. I wanted low-brow sci-fi trash I could snicker at, not something written with quality and craftsmanship.

It turns out I didn't have much to worry about.

To be clear, Malicious Intent was not the worst novel I’ve ever read. It was a breezy sci-fi read filled with giant robots and one-dimensional characters (which is probably what you should expect from something called Battletech). But considering how Stackpole is considered the one best of the Battletech writers, I was surprised by how amateurish large portions of the novel struck me. When I read something silly like this I don't go out of my way to pick it apart, but the number of times characters would repeat certain phrases or perform the same actions stood out even without looking for them. There are more "devious smiles" in this book than at Satan's own poker table, and if I don't think I'll ever hear a variation of the term "bleed them/us white" without thinking of the uncountable strategy meetings scenes where worried men hovered over causality statistics, fretting about the forces lost on both sides. Also, I guess a bottle of sipping brandy is a required component of every Star Captain's chamber? Inner Sphere, Clanner, good guy, bad guy, everyone in Malicious Intent enjoys brooding over a snifter of brandy.

- Dammit Bing, if you just spit it out we could have skipped this part and gone straight to the swag Christmas outfits.

I've always hated novels and movies where the plot hung on a simple misunderstanding that could be resolved with a minute or less of talking (I take an annual nap during the drawn out third act of White Christmas when Bing Crosby flounders to explain himself for an excruciating 30 minutes, it's tradition). But it turns out the opposite is nearly as frustrating. Conflict that is introduced only to fizzle out mere moments later is just as painful. I can't count the number of times two characters in Malicious Intent would seem on the verge of exchanging blows or declaring war, only to be appeased and suddenly friends within a few paragraphs. There's a whole lot of "WHAT IS THIS GRIEVOUS INSULT!?... Wait, I see the wisdom in his actions... Well played worthy adversary. Perhaps we can help each other..."

It reminds me of playing with action figures as a kid, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would always have a brief fight with He-Man before realizing they were all good guys and could beat up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man together.

The comparison says something unflattering about the maturity level of the audience the Battletech books are aimed for (and I suppose by extension, that includes me).

To the author's credit, he did a great job of replicating the feeling of the battles of the original tabletop game - maybe too good. Battletech is a strategy game, you choose your units, place them on the map, and try to outmanoeuvre your opponent. But it is also a game played with dice and diagrams, and chance. When a mech launches an attack, dice are rolled for each weapon fired and those random numbers determine if, and where, those weapons hit their target.

This results in a lot of random crazy hits and ridiculous bullshit. Considering mechwarriors are supposed to be the elite of the elite, and battlemechs themselves are priceless, finely tuned instruments of destruction, the wars of the Inner Sphere frequently devolve into farcical displays of ineptitude and comedic pratfalls. These machines blunder into battle, spaz out, and spray artillery all over the place. A battery of lasers will burn the shins of an enemy while an auto-cannon rakes the shoulder (despite both of those weapons being mounted on the same arm of the mech firing them), while a bad roll can cause a gyro-failure, sending a mech ass-over-teakettle right in middle of battle.

While reading through Malicious Intent I often wondered if the author didn't set up little mock battles with the miniatures and dice while writing those scenes, transcribing the results of random rolls and dressing them up with dramatic language. Which is actually kind of an adorable image.

- "The elite warriors of the Inner Sphere moved out to flank the the attcking Clanners... Oh god this is silly."

It lends an air of deeply nerdy credibility to the proceedings. The Morlocks who've played the tabletop game would certainly appreciate the commitment to Battletech's quirky mechanics. However, I can't help but wonder what non-fans reading it would think. Readers unfamiliar with the Battletech style, puzzling over why these futuristic war-machines can't seem to hit the broad side of a barn, or why anyone would want to pilot a giant bumblefuck robot that can helplessly tip over mid-battle and die like a turtle stuck on its back.

I suppose the reasoning was that nobody outside of the die-hard fans would be reading these novels anyway, so they might as well cater to their core fanbase at the expense of outsiders.

This was my first deeper observation about the franchise, because this exact toxic frame of mind continues to haunt the series to this day.

For a F2P game that should supposedly thrive on a huge playerbase of casual players, curious mayflies, with a small hardcore audience to anchor it, MWO does not give a fuck about new players. Not a single one. Zero, zip, don't even ask.

- This isn't even all of the possible HUD info that can be on screen at one time. Good luck new players!

I’ve never seen a game so stubbornly refuse to do even basic things to reach out to a broader audience. Hell, it took them nearly two years to even add a bare bones tutorial to the game. MWO is a mechanically broad game (I would never call it "deep" like Dota or Street Fighter, because it isn't, but there is a lot to learn and keep track of). The jumbled HUD full of indicators, paper-doll readouts, weapon groups, and endless meters is flat-out overwhelming for players new to the series. But PGI doesn't care, they expect you to either figure it out on your own or go read up on a forum or fan-made guide.

The same cavalier attitude continues on into almost every aspect of the game. It's 2014 and MWO doesn't have support for voice communication. They don't even have radio commands or quick-select responses like EVERY OTHER GAME released in the last decade. If you want to communicate in this team-based game, you either need to stop and type it out, or find a Teamspeak, Mumble, or Ventrillo server to link up with friends on like it was 1999. Similarly, the UI for building mechs is a confusing mess of numbers and statistics. If you haven't been following the games for the past two decades, or are not willing to do some serious reading on fan maintained wikis, you can expect to make some costly mistakes in the mechlab until you figure it all out. It's all incredibly unwelcoming. Keep out, nerds only, no fun allowed.

That's not even getting into the pricing structure. Most F2P games rely on constant small transactions. Impulse buys, cosmetic trinkets, time-savers bought for pocket change and the like. MWO has all that, but it's loads more expensive than almost any other game I've played. One shade of paint for your mechs can easily cost nearly $7. "Hero mechs", unique chassis that can only be purchased with real money go as high as $40, that's nearly the cost of an entire whole game for ONE character (oh, and you have to buy the garage space for it separately for another $1 or so). The recently released Clan packs were sold from anywhere from $45 for the most useless set of Clan mechs, to $210 if you wanted the whole collection (IE, the good ones). And lets not forget the $500 gold painted limited edition Clan mechs available for the "truly devoted".

These are not prices you set to attract a new audience, it's the kind of premium you put on collectables and nostalgia. The prices you set to milk old men with too many fond memories and not enough sense. PGI seems to have given up on bringing in new players, so instead they've decided to cannibalize their existing fans, sucking them dry until even the marrow has been consumed.

I always laid that blame on PGI's feet. I thought they were shortsighted and greedy (and even a little exploitative), but maybe that tendency has always been there in the franchise. Maybe that's why Battletech has disappeared off the shelves while similar games like Warhammer 40K soldier on, why MechWarrior couldn't find a publisher to fund a proper single-player campaign game and had to go the F2P route.

The franchise has eaten itself hollow from the inside out.

While reading the book, I couldn't help but smile as familiar mechs from the game made appearances. The diminutive 20 ton Locust is regarded with the same scorn in the fiction as it is in-game (nothing will elicit more moans from your teammates than dropping in the pint-size walking coffin). It was refreshing to see the Hunchback, a personal favourite of mine, regarded in high-esteem in the novel (it's performance in MWO has suffered as power-creep from newly released mechs make it more obsolete every passing month). While more bizarre mechs like the hilariously stupid looking Baboon seemed to have been chosen at random, or maybe for comedic value.

What also struck me was how familiar many of the tactics employed in the novel seemed to me. There is a pivotal battle early in the book where the fearsome Clan warlord Vlad (the antagonist or anti-hero of the book depending on how sympathetic you are to Clan bullshit) fights a one-on-one duel with another Clan chief to settle some ridiculous nuance of honour and vengeance.

Vlad, being the tactical genius the book constantly goes to great pains to remind you he is, carefully selects his mech for the battle. He chooses a ride with a greater firing range and more focused pinpoint damage over his opponent's close-in slugger of a mech. He meets him on a flat and desolate field like gun-fighters at high-noon, and promptly explodes the other mech with a distant barrage of fire before the other guy really has a chance to fight.

- This picture accurately sums up most matches in MWO. Ground based mechs like the much maligned Hunchback and Commando spend most of the game hiding from their flying, PPC wielding overloads. The artist of this pic, Alex Wolfe, created an entire series of comic images detailing the often tragic experience of playing MWO

It was a scumbag counter-pick. The mech combat equivalent of picking Guile to fight against a scrub Zangief and then acting proud of beating him with 50 consecutive Sonic Booms. This brilliant strategy is lauded as an amazing tactical insight on Vlad's part, which made my eye twitch with barely suppressed rage not just because it was some lazy writing to prop up a Mary Sue character, but because that’s exactly how the meta-game in MWO has developed. In this case, life really does imitates art.

There are truckloads of weapons designed for exciting, close up, mech-to-mech combat in MWO. Powerful short range rockets that can blow off chunks of a mech like a sledge hammer punching through drywall, massive school bus sized shotgun cannons that launch robot shredding buckshot, there are mech's that can strap on a battery of small lasers, making up for raw damage with a never ending series of surgical cuts. But none of those weapons really matter. If you want to win, there is only one way to go in MWO – high damage sniper fire. You want to strap on as many lightning bolt-esq Particle Projection Cannons as you can (just like Vlad!), find a nice ridge to hide behind, and play peek-a-boo for the next ten minutes. Whoever gets bored and leaves their hiding spot first, loses.

Over the past year or so of the game, the playerbase has wised up to this tactic and even casual pub matches are dominated by jump-jetting snipers playing jack-in-the-box over a mountain. It makes matches incredibly slow as most players are too terrorized to leave the safety of their nook. To top it off, those same sniper weapons are equally capable of brawling as most of the specialized close-in weapons! So even if you do manage to wade through the never ending downpour of lightning bolts and electro-magnetically hurled gauss slugs, you won't even have the advantage in the knife fight!

- Robot bullet-hell.

Again, this is one of those things I've always blamed PGI for. That they suck at balance (they do), that they are blind to obvious facts about the game (true), and are way too slow to react to mass player concerns (undoubtedly). But maybe the cancer was always there. Maybe the idea of fun rock-em-sock-em robot battles in the series is just crippled by design. Things were ruined the first time a pen-and-paper designer sketched out the idea of the gauss cannon, and the disease has just metastasized over time. Growing and spreading as the game left the world of random dice rolls (where your super powerful sniper shot could uselessly ping off a mech's toe by the whim of the dice) and allowed players with eyes and brains to target those sniper weapons where they'd do the most damage. PGI has been negligent, but the patient was doomed long before their malpractice.

The other book my brother picked up for me, Test of Vengeance, had an Atlas on the cover, so I was immediately expecting great things. The Atlas is a hulking 100-ton death-machine with a skull shaped cockpit, bristling with some of the heaviest firepower in the Inner Sphere. A book all about a kick-ass Atlas pilot messing people up? Fuck yes.

The Atlas on the cover is dead within the first 20 pages and the rest of the book is about inbred Clan warriors whipping it out and measuring each others honour. Fuck no.

I've never liked the Clans, even with my limited knowledge of the franchise. They're basically the same as every other PROUD WARRIOR RACE like the Klingons, Krogan, or Spartans, except with uglier tattoos and an incredibly unappealing mode of speech. They're belligerently aggressive, blindly bound to tradition, and like all proud warrior race stock-types, spurn emotions and keep interpersonal relationships as distant and chilly as possible. How utterly boring.

- The Klingons should consider legal action.

It turns out there are even better reasons not to like the Clans than the stereotypical traits. Not only are they dull, they're also creepy. Slavery is a big part of the Clan experience, so that's fun. While warriors taken as a "bondsman" in defeat may one day earn a chance at freedom or the right to be a warrior for their "adoptive" (by way of Stockholm syndrome) clan, there is never much mention made of the ENTIRE PLANETS full of civilians they shackle. I guess it just sucks to be them.

A Clan warrior's entire reason in life is to earn a "Bloodname" and prove their genetic material is fit to be added to their Clan's eugenics based breeding programme. They're all basically test-tube babies born from the same collective genetic material, raised together in "Sibko" nursery/school/boot-camps essentially as brothers and sisters. Then when they reach adulthood, they'll totally fool around with each other all the time because sex has no emotional attachment and nobody gets pregnant by regular means.

Again, they are all basically brothers and sisters.


The more I understand about the Clans, the more suspicious and leery I become of their self-proclaimed fans. The dudes that run around in Clan role-playing groups, who have Clan emblems as their player icons, or quotes from great Khan's in their forum signatures. I don't trust those dudes anymore. It's like being stuck on a bus with a guy who won't stop telling you about how the MRA movement is misrepresented in the media, or that one weird clerk at Chapter's who always puts The Fountainhead up as her "Staff Choice" book. These are people you don't want to know, much less hang around and play robots with.

At least I don't have to hear them in game. I suddenly see the wisdom of excluding voice chat from the proceedings. Well played PGI, my worthy adversary... (fuck, it's happening to me now).

While the Clans caught me off guard, the antagonists of Test of Vengeance didn't. The Draconis Combine, a Great House of the Inner Sphere modelled after the samurai of ancient Japan (as well as some random Chinese elements because why the heck not) were every bit as painfully stereotypical and vaguely racist as I expected. The leader of the "Black Dragon" army is exactly the Fu-Man-Chu knock-off you'd be embarrassed to caught reading (long white beard, takes his command meeting in a zen garden while sitting cross-legged in a pristine white gi, simply closing his eyes and taking twenty minutes between every cryptic riddle of a command) and yes, the mechwarriors of the Combine do indeed shout "BANZAI!" as they charge the enemy.

This would have shocked me if most of the mechs of the Combine didn't already tip their hand on the racist thing already. My favourite is the Hatamoto-Chi, which is an 80-ton ROBOT that's head is shaped like a big ol' samurai helmet and will walk into battle with a gigantic katana and a replica wood and fabric banner flying from its back. We're talking Capcom levels of cultural sensitivity here.

- Yup, not embarrassing at all.

You'd have to burn it all down.

You would have to chop, and torch, and pulverize everything but the core ideas. Go back to square one, rewrite everything – pitch the stereotypes, re-write the Clans to be more ominous and alien than banal and creepy, re-work all the weapons and mechanics of the mech so you could build a fun and interesting game around them.

I always thought the Battletech/MechWarrior franchise could aspire to more. That with the right steady hand on the rudder, the series could make a comeback, both with the games and the novels. With the success of Pacific Rim and Game of Thrones, you would think the time was right for people to accept a series about giant mechanical knights duking it out on the battlefield while future space viziers stabbed each other in the back in a deadly political game. But I can see that I was wrong.

It doesn't need a steady hand, it needs an iron fist. A great merciless smashing of retcons and reboots.

But maybe the time is right for that as well. Look at Star Wars just casually dismissing huge chunks of its universe as non-canon. Look at the number of game franchises that have rebooted over the past few years, who shirked their cumbersome baggage and re-released as something a little more fit for the times.

Maybe it's time for "The MechWarrior" to make an appearance.

Or maybe it's time to just dump the franchise into a shallow ditch and be done with it. At this point, I'm not sure anyone would notice.

Photo Photo Photo

I haven't played Risk since high school and I hadn't been interested to try it again since.

But then again, regular old Risk never had mech-suits and bear-riding future Vikings did it? Enter Risk: Legacy, which upgrades the game pieces from French musket-men to a variety of kickass sci-fi warmongers straight out of Mad Max and SpaceMarine.

If shiny new pieces where all Risk: Legacy had to offer, that wouldn't be very exciting, but thankfully the changes it provides are much more than skin deep. Legacy introduces the idea of persistence to the game. At every stage, from set-up, to mid-game, to crowning a winner, the game has you get out your pens and markers and ink up the board and cards. Winners can found major cities in their favourite countries, name continents, and write needless mean-spirited smack talk on the highscore board. The game gives you stickers that you slap on the board and game pieces, permanently altering the landscape. Scar a nation with ammo shortages and other maladies to dick over your friends, build bunkers where you plan to make your stand (then weep in anguish when your girlfriend steals them out from under you and you send men to die against the very walls you built). You take cards out of the deck, rip them up and make it rain shredded cardboard. Sometimes this the result of a binary choice, a one-or-the-other deal. Other times just out of pure spite and malice against your friends, a monkey wrench tossed into their scheming tactics, you make them watch as you strangle their golden goose.

The rule book is basically half written when you take it out of the box. There are huge sections missing you have to fill in later as you reveal rules and expansions and new game pieces. The box comes with sealed envelopes and containers with conditions written on them "open the first time a player is eliminated", "open after all players have a nuclear missile" and even one that is temptingly labelled "never, EVER, open. Seriously". For real, this is a boardgame with potential spoilers. These rule changes and new pieces turn the world over on itself, I won't ruin it for anyone but from what we've seen so far there is some wild stuff.

It's incredible. Boardgames get a bad rap as the stodgy old grandpa of the entertainment world, but Risk: Legacy is pure punk rock. It's daring and crazy and the entire time I've been playing it I've been wondering why the hell we don't see more videogames like it.

How often are games sold to us as "persistent worlds" these days? Since GTA 3 came out it seems like we've heard nothing else. How many RPGs or online shooters or war simulators are there out there that promise "faction gameplay where the battles shape the gameworld!" only for that to translate into pie chart scoreboards and intractable stalemates engineered into the game by design? Where are the punk rock videogames?

We gathered up the usual suspects. Me, my girlfriend, my brother, his girlfriend. Instead of a few "good" natured hands of Cards Against Humanity or drunken Samurai Gunn, this game night will be devoted to conquest (and so will next weekend, and then a random Thursday night afterwards as it turns out). Dice rolls, choices, and human cruelty slowly create a narrative.

Within 5 games Europe is a smoking crater, the hotly contested territory where I built my stronghold has been pockmarked and ruined by ASSHOLES who either scorched the earth or encircled every square inch of what was left. Like some other famous Germans, I abandon my once proud war empire and flee to Brazil, pledging to rise again and very seriously looking into cloning techniques to bolster my numbers. The historical associations are troubling, but I must press on. Khan Industries needs room to breathe.

Meanwhile Kassie has claimed the entirety of Australasia with one well placed fortification. She holds and ruthlessly exploits a nation of thong wearing surfers and koala bears, feeding their young men into the meat grinder of her constant expansion of Asia. Her crafty power choice during character creation lets her generate a resource card with every 4 uncontested territories she waltzes into. She wastes no time smelting those resources into guns, and men, and tanks, and conquest, and blood, and tears.

Bear-riders swarm the Americas nearly unopposed. Nobody wanted to fight for all nine territories and Nate recognized that hesitation as weakness, immediately founding cities in the Great North and turning Greenland into a suicide zone for attackers. The Bering Strait is stained red from his clashes with Kassies' forces as they each try to invade the other with Pac-Man logic.

Jacquie mostly stays out of the way and tries to win an economic victory trading resource cards for game winning tokens. She claims Africa, harasses South America, and constantly wars with Kassie over the Middle East, largely just to prevent Kass from gaining a sweet continent bonus and flooding the board with overwhelming troop numbers. She has the bomb now, and the glint in her eye when she took possession of it was unnerving. Africa is stirring, it's time for the Saharan Republic to leave the desert and claim greener pastures for themselves.

Risk: Legacy is the only board game I've ever played where you "build" a character by choosing between unique powers and abilities. This isn't some goofy house rule like "the race car in monopoly can go an extra space because IT'S FAST", these are real decisions. At the start of the very first game you choose one of two possible starting powers, peel it off, stick it to your faction card, and rip the other one in half. As someone who has been preaching the virtues of a less is more philosophy towards character building in games for years now, the act of permanently destroying an option sent a shiver down my spine.

The best games know that character choices are only interesting because of what you leave behind, the things you can't do define what is cool about the things you can do. It's why the first half of a Fallout game (when you're forced to make the best use of your skills and maybe you never get to know what's in a safe or behind a locked door because your clumsy mutant fingers never took the time to learn how to pick locks) is so much more interesting than the second half (when you're a wasteland God swimming in stat bonuses equally capable with a plasma rifle as you are at performing surgery and juggling high explosives). The commitment to that philosophy here is bracing.

Would the results of our wars have been different if we had all taken different powers? Probably, but we'll never know. Those cards are ripped up, shredded, in the garbage next to cracked egg shells, coffee grinds, and too many empty cartons of chocolate milk. Those other powers? They're fading memories. I remember the other Saharan Republic power looked very strong, it would have allowed Jacquie to move her troops around at any time during her turn, not just at the end. The two choices Khan Industries had were both kind of ho-hum. I bet Nate wishes he took whatever that other power was, his Bear-Riders have yet to use their special power in anger because it turns out rolling three-of-a-kind with dice is pretty unlikely.

But wishing for it only makes it bleed. We made our choices, and now we're stuck with them. Do-overs are for the weak and respecing is for pussies.

The board has room for 15 winner entries and the various unlocks and actions are scheduled to more or less happen within that span (the instructions do warn that some of the more obscure rule changes or unlocks might never be revealed depending on how your games play out, how cool is that?) After that, the game is essentially "finished" you can still play on the board (scarred and divided and bizarre as it has become) but there are no more changes to be made and you're pretty much playing for fun at that point. This might be a bit of a turn off to some people, but honestly, how many board games have you ever played more than 15 matches of? I've racked up some serious Scrabble time in my day, but I'm hard pressed to name another board game I've played more than 15 times on the same set. In fact, there are plenty of $60 videogames I've either left incomplete or played through once and never touched again.

So I'm unperturbed by the idea of playing a “mere” 15 games that take 45 minutes or so each, generating a unique world and totally spontaneous narrative with my group in the process, and being "done" with the board when it's over. That doesn't strike me as crazy. That strikes me as a damn good time. In fact, I like that there is an end point, a finale to the story instead of slowly petering out as players get bored or busy or move on to other games.

Here again is something I think videogames could learn, forever is not necessarily a virtue. Multiplayer games always tout their replay value as line item number 1 or 2 on the back of the box, and I get that. The combined harsh economic realities of a consumer's limited disposable income and the typically Machiavellian business models of most publishers makes replay length a pressing issue for most gamers and developers (however destructive you may or may not think emphasizing that value above all others is). This is why MMOs and other massive multiplayer games set in persistent worlds that promise "REAL CHANGE" in response to player actions never end, they just keep going and going and going. Which presents something of a problem when stacked against that promise of "REAL CHANGE." How do you meaningfully change the world when you still need to accommodate thousands of other players and keep the game going indefinitely? The only title I can think of that has managed to pull it off has been EVE: Online, and they accomplished that by largely handing the reigns of the game to the players. But that game is so bizarre and unwelcoming to new players at this point that I would almost consider it some kind of social experiment rather than a videogame.

- Many persistent world games boil down to moving around numbers on a pie chart. How thrilling.

I'm just spitballing here, but maybe there should be more games designed to be played with a group of friends over a moderate period of time. The MMO has been a declining genre for years now, the giddy thrill of playing with thousands of people at once (read: push through a crowded main hub city filled with dancing idiots to get to the lonely instanced dungeons that make up most of the real game) has long passed; but I still like the idea of playing with friends. I just don't want to do it in a gigantic world filled with chuckle-nuts that takes 100+ hours of grinding to "get to the good part".

I would love to play a game designed for a small group that can affect BIG changes over another title that features huge player counts in a mostly static world. I have no interest in playing TES: Online, but you know what, I would kill to play Skyrim with a couple of friends. Trucking through dungeons together, getting into crazy situations, and really messing up the world ("my Dark Wizard friend just charbroiled the king on his throne, guess that's the end of that quest-line"). All the better if the characters had more limited stat points and skills, where you really had to rely on each others talents-

Wait, I think I'm actually just describing D&D at this point. Oh lord. Is that who I really am?

What I'm trying to say is that I'd rather play a game with just a couple of friends that let us really mess shit up and make a mark on the world than plug more time into a meaningless pie chart squabbling over pretend resources. I'm not buying into these Planetside-esq schemes anymore. I'm not interested in MMOs with their cladding and tricks that try to pantomime player action against the world while never really changing anything. Fuck perceiving a different sky-box than the other guy because you finished a quest and he did not, I want to SCAR THE SKY. I want to tear open heaven, heave out its cloud guts, and use them to stitch my name into the stars. And every time my friends look up, I want them to see "WRENCHFARM RULES" so they know what’s up.

I think above all else, what I take away from Risk: Legacy is that it's a game that values YOU. You the player, your group, your friends, your experience. It isn't about the game you bought so much as the game you make together (if that makes any sense). We need more games that do that. That take risks, that trust the players to make choices and live with them. That value a fulfilling experience over play-length padding.

Bring on the punk rock videogames. The short daring games that aren't afraid to let the players take the wheel. That trust you enough to let you screw up and play around those blunders. That know the best stories are the ones you make together. We'll be here waiting for them with our mechs, and bears, and purple tanks, and regrettable decisions.
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