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I intend to crack the case of the Nintendo Red Box. I have been playing Nintendo for a long time and the company has been known to make a certain amount of copies of a cartridge that is a special color. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an example of these special colored cartridges. The Wii generation bought DVD sized discs and DVD sized disc boxes. There is one Wii game and one Wii U game that have a red colored disc case. Most of the Wii game cases are white and Wii U cases are blue. But Super Mario Bros. Wii and Mario Kart 8 have red plastic cases. I intend to delve into the mystery of these Red Boxes.  


One theory I have is that Nintendo thought these games were really special or particularly fun to play. Maybe the company agreed that they put all their efforts into these titles and wanted to accentuate their unique gameplay above the rest of the Nintendo library.

Or maybe they were supposed to be console sellers. I can’t be sure, even with statements by the company on the matter.

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know if I’m just looking too much into this! 


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An Average Joe Gamer’s Look at the Destiny Beta

I have been patiently waiting for Destiny to release since I first heard of it back in the summer of 2013. So, I was thrilled to have a chance to help Bungie by playing the Beta test in the last few weeks of July. Overall, it was one of the better gaming experiences I have had over the past year—even though this was just an abbreviated test format. As an average gamer who has had experience with many different systems and game types over the past 20 years, I was curious to experiment with the different classes and races of characters the game offered.  Initially, I wanted a character based on precise aiming to motivate me to be a better Guardian, so I chose to start with the Hunter. I also played as a Warlock to experience the space magic I’d heard so much about. I felt that even though the Warlock had powerful magic, I still had to be a master marksman in order to keep a competitive edge. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to play as a Titan, but the class seems to be based on sheer attack power in order to take out multiple enemies at once. With a little time and possibly some soul searching, players can find a perfect class, race, equipment set up and even mode of play to feel like they are playing their role as a Guardian in defending the Earth.


The Start of a Story:

Upon creating a character you are thrown into a science fiction/fantasy action scene, taking place in a post-apocalyptic Earth, only to be greeted by a mysterious floating robot called a Ghost. The Ghost talks just like a human and even looks like he has some kind of an eye that seems to express emotion. Your Ghost leads you into the rusted innards of Old Russia and you are forced to fight your way to a ship and escape the enemy. You were then dropped off at what is considered the last safe city on Earth. The city is guarded by a large and mysterious floating structure called the Traveler. You learn while in the city that you are a Guardian here to help defend Earth against the evil that lurks in the darkness. There were other more experienced Guardians there to help gain power and knowledge to help defeat your enemies. From arms dealers and bounty services to players just like me and you, the world that Bungie created seemed to buzz with life, diversity, and energy.



Gameplay and Controls:

When you gained enough power as a Guardian and were able to jump in and out of orbit, a competitive player may have wanted to challenge other Guardians head on in the Crucible. The Crucible held the 6 on 6, play versus player mode, which took players to the moon and beyond to battle it out and hone some skills. The gameplay, like in the story mode, was similar to many other first person shooter games with a few minor adjustments for the shared world aspect of the game. The right thumbstick click (R3) is used to target another Guardian for social interactions like inviting a player to a fireteam. The R1 button acted as the melee button, which was quite useful in this game. When the Warlock, for example, leveled up enough he was able to drain power with the melee attack to recharge a depleted grenade. This adds a bit of tactics to the game that wasn’t possible in any other shooter I’ve played to date. The directional pad controlled the dance party and friendly waving that was experienced all over the battlefield and social settings in the city. These emoticons were fun and quirky but did not help with winning the game. I think a set of battle emoticons would help rally a team to victory, but then again a dance party did add comic relief after a tense boss battle.

As a player levels up his or her Guardian a charged attack became available which offered an edge in battle to gamers like me with developing aim. Each weapon and grenade type had a different weight and fire rate that had to be learned and mastered in order to be a successful Guardian. Aiming and pulling the trigger is not enough in this game. No, one must spend time with his or her weapon of choice and learn reload speed and what rate of fire will give the best accuracy. The challenge and wonder of discovering a weapon or earning it in the Iron Banner challenge made the rewards feel special and… cool.

Random Event!:

Amongst the Iron Banner Challenges and the race to be top Guardian in the Crucible, a random event appeared on the Moon. This was no scheduled event, at least to my knowledge. I couldn’t even tell you what day it was held, but it was only available for a few hours. I set my destination to the moon and entered the newly opened level. I was faced with many enemies with blades, pulse rifles and tough shields. I fought my way through these enemies in search of a Lost Guardian, I believe. It seems that this event was a test to see how many people would show up and play, or should I say how many people could show up and play. So far this test has been a success.

Second Screen Option:

It’s the little things in life that make me happy. Those little things can also make your life easier so you can have more time for fun. I was inspired to cover the Destiny Beta when I equipped my Trax Mallus III to my character from my phone. Some of you might be thinking, ‘big deal, I could just do it in the game’s menu screen.’ You might be right, but while the screen was loading, it was easy for me to pick up my phone and open up an application to toggle equipment and even track my in game statistics. Like I mentioned before, Bungie has jumped on the second screen bandwagon. There will be mixed feelings and on the fencers about the second screen option for this game and others. Keep in mind that a second screen is meant to help the player and up the level of interactivity even when you are away from your console.

The equipment list was endless in the Beta. I always looked at other people’s loot at the end of a battle and there were weapons listed for levels we could not even achieve. It makes you want those weapons even more now that you know they have a 257 attack power as opposed to your current 51 gun. The upgrades kept coming after the level cap, which kept me playing hard through the afternoon and night. These upgrades gave me a taste of what is to come with the game’s release.

Classes:

Because every player was truly a snowflake in a blizzard of space magic and gunfire, the game provided a balanced experience of chaotic battle skirmishes and calculated combat tactics. While the Titans charged through a group of the Fallen in Old Russia, a Hunter stood on a roof of a building sniping incoming grunt soldiers. I observed Warlocks defending Titans using space magic and heavy weaponry. The various rifles and guns as well as equipment played well into different gaming strategies and classes. When Guardians worked together, the game seemed more like fun than work. Playing as a Hunter in the Crucible matches for example, I tended to find the Titans to follow. While the Titan would head to each zone to capture it I would skulk around corners taking out defenders of the target zone. I had to trust the other players around me to follow suit. This cookie cutter style domination match would have seemed dull without the Guardians’ unique abilities and advanced weaponry.



Conclusion:

When I felt I had completed enough of the story to relax a bit, I headed to the tower located in that warm and welcoming city. I enjoyed the bustling and busy town atmosphere. I explored the tower and found many rare items for sale in the nooks and crannies. I even found that purple ball I saw a few other players experimenting with. The tower’s music had a relaxing atmosphere that reeked Bungie. I could imagine this town growing with time and offering many useful items to aid in fierce combat. I usually traveled to the last safe city on Earth to soak up the scenery before logging off.

Aside from a few disconnected games and an occasional lag, the game was very playable. If you ask me, I think Bungie has passed this Beta test. I could feel the game being tweaked and fine- tuned so I am sure the company will find the perfect balance of awesome in this last month or so leading up to release. Now, at least 48 hours after having the curtain shut in my face and the Beta closed, I want more. I am hungry to see how far I can level up my character. I thirst for the rewards and bounties of a well -traveled sojourn across Old Russia and beyond. I will still be tuning in every Friday to experience the mail sack on Bungie.net. Hey, I might even write in a question. The Beta has me convinced that Destiny will stand out amongst the ever growing Playstation and Xbox libraries.
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Intro:

Gundam anime series have been infrequently programmed on Toonami and Adult Swim for years. Watching the action is fun and the stories are complex and engaging. I enjoyed building the 1/44 scale models when I was a kid and there are times that I will spend an evening putting a new one together now as an adult. When gaming and Gundam come together you really can’t go wrong. All the joys of mech battles, upgrading and triumphant stories can be experienced in Dynasty Warriors: Gundam Reborn for the Playstation 3. No matter how familiar you are with the Gundam series it is very easy to jump into any mobile suite and get down to business.

I had an incredible interest in playing a Gundam game where the point is basically to hack and slash and blast through hordes of enemies. The fact that this Gundam game was a Dynasty Warriors crossover intrigued me because I have never played a Dynasty game despite the franchise’s incredible popularity. I was not sure what to expect after reading mixed reviews about previous Dynasty games. Some reviewers seemed to want more out of the game, and some reviewers regarded the Dynasty Warrior series to be a near flawless experience. I felt that the premise of Gundam was enough to get me interested enough to try Gundam Reborn. Within the first 30 minutes I understood what I had been missing out on.

Concept:
The idea is to destroy the enemy and save the earth. You can achieve this goal by learning the controls of the Gundam, upgrading your Gundam and going through ‘trainning’ sessions. There are two modes that lead the player through a linear story, all while mowing down those lesser quality mobile suit models. The missions are as simple as defeating a boss or saving a comrade in need. Missions get tricky when they need to be completed while fending off waves of enemy mobile suits. Each story in Official mode follows a Gundam anime series so you can pick your favorite Gundam right off the bat. There are a few more selections in the Challenge Mode section that follow a rewritten story. I chose to play as Heero Yuy from Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. Watching the makeshift story in Challenge Mode was fun, but it is possible to skip right to the action.  

Graphics:
The graphics are exceptional in this game and the colors are reminiscent of the anime series. I enjoyed those familiar red white and blue Gundam colors that made my character on screen pop out amongst the sea of drab green and worn purple colored mobile suits. The explosions had punch and a unique art style to them but did not distract from gameplay. The beam saber glowed in my dimly lit room. My powered up gun fire flashed brilliant yellow and orange beams across the screen. No matter how many pawns showed up on screen there was no lag or screen skips. The cut scenes during battle were so much fun to watch and helped pump me up for battle! The storyline is told through a classic JRPG style with character animations and text boxes. The focal point is clearly not the dialogue.  



Sound:
The voices are in Japanese, just a heads up. I could not find a way to change the dialogue to English, so it’s up to you to read the text in the dialogue boxes, unless you speak Japanese. During battle the NPCs will speak Japanese and it can be hard to read the text box and fight at the same time. The voices were clearly floated on top of all the madness on the battlefield.  The sound the beam saber made while slicing through enemy units made it feel like I was really doing some damage. There were so many explosions it sounded like thunder mixed with some popcorn being popped.

Playability:
The game has a few difficulty settings so if you are like me and new to a Dynasty Warriors game, let alone a Gundam game, you can set it to easy and take time to learn the controls. My Gundam responded swiftly once I mastered the controls and I was able to memorize some combo moves for a more stylish battle. Just like in many JRPGs, there is a power up gauge and a release attack that you can even get your allies and favorite characters to help out with. Your boost meter might peter out a little early, so traversing the map can get a little tiring on foot.  There are many Gundam models to choose from, so have at it. Pick your favorite series or pick the coolest looking Gundam and get to destroying the enemy fleets and saving your home.

Entertainment:
This special Gundam edition of Dynasty Warriors for the PS3 is absolutely fun to play with rewards and trophies flying at you left and right. On easy this game may seem somewhat of a casual mech beat-em-up, almost an indie game type feel with bite sized chapters. On hard it feels like you are fighting a formidable opponent controlled by an intuitive AI that reads your movements and anticipates your next attack. Each chapter in a given series does not last more than 20 or 30 minutes so you can plan your evening of gaming accordingly.


Replay:
There are so many Gundam models to choose from and master the controls of. This wikia site http://gundam.wikia.com/wiki/Dynasty_Warriors_Gundam_Reborn has a solid list of the 120 or so playable mobile suites. This makes the replay value high for hardcore fans and moderate for casual mech-goers.

Don’t be scared of this game if you are not a Gundam fan or have not heard of the Gundam series. There are so many characters to choose from which can allow for slightly different gaming experiences. This game looks as good as it plays and can be part of any gamer’s library to break up the FPS and JRPG monotony.
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Album Title: Shin Megami Tensei IV Music Collection
Catalog Number:320891-1
Release Date: July 16, 2013



Overview:
The Shin Megami Tensei IV Music Collection directed by Kenichi Tsuchiya and composed by Ryota Koduka is a musical interpretation of what is experienced in the game. The collection was bundled in a pre-order edition of Shin Megami Tensei IV on July 16th in 2013. The music reflects the dark unforgiving and sometimes unfamiliar nature of this particular Megaten game. To an unsuspecting listener some of this album might sound like a sci-fi or action movie soundtrack. To Shin Megami Tensei fans this album will bring back a few memories as well as change their perspective of what a Megaten game is and can be. The collection will pull the listener through some pretty twisted scenes. The whole album is incredibly expressive and each track takes on a slightly different energy and style of music. There are times when the music will space out and drone for a short time. Other parts are exciting and full of action. Whether you consider this a collection of music or random sounds, this collection sets a standard for quality video game music. It is arranged in a way that grabs the listener’s attention slowly and cranks up the action as the album goes on, only to cool it down to a simmer in between tracks. 




Body:
The Preludes start out with what sounds like heartbeats. Beginning with heartbeats is inventive and shakes up the role playing genre’s tendencies of a heavy metal inspired introduction song. These heartbeats are accompanied by piano chords and chime hits that resonate on top of the warped city sounds in the background. I believe the idea is not to walk away singing a melody, but to walk away with a feeling, possibly of dread or remorse for ever taking on this challenge. Prelude II represents a similar eerie tone by using piano chords located dangerously below middle C. The listener is then surrounded by different sounding sleigh bells. These bells were recorded in a way so that they seem to come towards you, stop, then slowly disappear…  There are many other sounds that give the Prelude II a haunted mansion feeling or as if you are lost in some kind of dark factory. The music in the third Prelude picks up the tempo and changes into something more video game sounding with a beat I could tap my foot to. The beginning starts with computer generated drums and soon the bass drum starts hitting harder and feels more like an acoustic bass drum. While the drums jam there is a nasty distorted bass line that carries the attitude of the final Prelude. The guitar sneaks in for the first time in this album with a silky smooth solo that is both tasty and uplifting. Prelude III is both funky and heavy all while having a sense of mystery and suspense.

The Hallucination duo is short lived and more melodic sounding than the Preludes. Hallucination I offers relief from the machine like noises in Preludes with calming piano chords and a melody that sounds like it could be sung by a ghost or demon or an altered human voice. Savor this Hallucination because it doesn’t last long and it is a one of a kind track on this album. Even though Hallucination I seemed to sooth the listener by the time Hallucination II begins the listener is drawn into a dreamy sounding trance. This is another minimalist sounding track that stays quiet but bubbles with anxiety and tension. It sounds like, well, a percussion ensemble trying to sneak up on you. Hallucination II is similar to Preludes I and II in that there is more space, more rhythm and less melody than in Hallucination I. There are percussive sounding instruments being played with what sounds like brushes and small sticks in this piece. The glockenspiel, however, sounds like it is being run through some pretty cool effects. Hallucination II ends the first half of the album with a minimal and small sound that dies out slowly and fades into nothingness.

The album up to this point is not weak by any means, but does start out rather slowly. This all changes with the next section, Overture. Overture starts with the motif of the dramatic bass pedal tones played on the piano. There seems to be a piano or harp melody played underneath the droning bass pedal tone. The track then breaks into a rhythmic groove with a string section playing a few tense notes. The action comes as quick as it goes in Overture and the listener is thrown into another groovey techno inspired SMT track.  

Sdds IV portrays a feeling of motion and anxiousness I felt while trying to get to the end of the game. My imagination runs wild listening to Sdds IV. There are no lyrics whatsoever on this album, although it sounds like some effected voices are being panned back and forth throughout this track. These computer altered voices echo as if you are walking through a seemingly deserted town. There are many blips and bops and tweeks and ticks in this track to accompany the dreamy melodies, droning bass lines and punchy beats. A bright sounding synth solo towards the end of Sdds IV is floated on top of a groove that adds an attitude that is characteristic of the album. Sdds IV sounds big and epic much like the game itself. The track diminuendos after the synth solo and ends abruptly giving just a few seconds to soak it all in before the final statement.

What happens next is something to be celebrated. A 9 minute and 38 second organ solo titled Reincarnation.  There are little to no happy moments in this game and, I don’t think I smiled once playing it, nor did I smile listening to the soundtrack up until the organ solo. Upon reading the liner notes, it seems that Reincarnation was arranged and recorded live by Tomoyuki Asakawa. His interpretations of the music were excellently performed in the unique style of the SMT series. There is energy and passion fueling this monster of a solo to the point where it sounds like two people are playing the instrument. I am impressed with the dynamics and expression in this piece as it seems to be both the loudest and softest music on the album. The chords do sometimes resolve to something that sounds like today’s pop music, but those moments are quick and sparse. The energy in the performance never fades and the silence at the end is performed with just as much intent and musicianship as the entire solo.

Summary:
I have yet to listen to video game music with so many diverse sounds and haunting melodies. I can’t say that this game or soundtrack is everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who enjoy the series or for one who is experiencing this game for the first time, the soundtrack helps make the art style come to life. The music helps the gamer become immersed in the post apocalyptic streets of Tokyo. The music portrays the ‘law’ and ‘chaos’ angle of the game, but it is up to the listener to decide which tracks are based on those principles.

Overall this music collection is expertly mastered and recorded. I was impressed with the soundtrack’s ability to portray the feelings and emotions I felt while playing the game. I was on the edge of my seat through my first listening and continue to hear new sounds each time I listen again. Veterans to this series might hear some familiar music while new comers will feel the immensity of this game by the tension created by this music collection. The whole Shin Megami Tensei experience gives me the chills, and I like it.




Originally Posted to [VGMonline.net]
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Philosophy of the Fun in Gaming

There are many different games on the market that appeal to gamers who have conflicting tastes, and there are just as many philosophies out there as to what a video game is and should be. Some players are not satisfied unless there is a winner and loser such as in a sporting event. For example, fighting games, first person shooter matches and countless indie games have a definite winner and loser. But is that all gamers game for? Are role playing games like Zelda or Persona any less a game because the rules of winning and losing are ambiguous? Is a game of Zelda won when you’ve completed the story? Or is it won when the player has found all the heart pieces and collectables as well as completed the story? Or have you beaten Zelda when you can complete the game faster than anyone else on YouTube? 
       
                                                      

                                                
I believe a playable game has to have some sort of story or a definite goal that can be easily understood by the player. For example, Atari’s Pong had one objective, get the ball past the computer or the other player’s bar to score a point. To win, score the most points by the end of the round. The idea is to have fun and win the game. The desire to win comes from a desire to have fun. It’s a vicious cycle that can only be cured by more gaming. Even I know it can’t be good to work around the clock, so why not take a few minutes to challenge your co-worker to a game of Tetris to see who can get the highest score? It doesn’t matter who wins, cliché as it may sound. All that matters is that you didn’t throw your computer and lunch at each other in a fit of work related rage. 

But what if you’re a one player gamer like me, and you want to be told a story through choosing what the main character says and what type of swords he fights with? Is the game won when a story is at its end and the player defeats the final boss, or is the level of completeness up to the gamer at that point? Both a friendly game of Street Fighter and say, a game of Zelda: Ocarina of Time both have clear objectives that can be achieved in order to win the game. The goal of the game fills our lives with some kind of importance. For a few seconds we can be a kung-fu master or an armor clad hero. It is just pretend, but at least we can calmly go back to reality after an intense gaming session. 

Its always important to keep the fun factor in mind while playing alone or with others. Facing any online community can be a challenge. Even facing off against an artificial intelligence is challenging and forces the player to create new strategies. Sometimes it’s nice to team up with someone online to play against the machine or others in the online community. Sometimes it is just easier if that person is sitting next to you while taking on a challenge. So, I recently sat down with my dear sweet Mother and played Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. I suppose you could say we had fun, after we worked out an in-game strategy and talked about our individual in-game goals. I had played Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo with my Mom many years earlier and I felt like we were both familiar enough with the game to enjoy it. But Mom needed time to adjust to the updated controller and new game play controls. 

Working together with someone toward a common goal is just as rewarding as challenging each other. Achieving a goal with someone else just makes the victory that much sweeter. You also have a witness to help tell the tale to your friends that weren’t there during the big victory. Yeah, you got the trophy for the special achievement, but the story of how you got that trophy is where your gaming partner can help you out. Adventures are just more fun when you have a friend with you to heal you or boost attack strength. Even a seemingly one player game like Final Fantasy or Metal Gear can be enjoyed by more than one person at the same time. 

Watching video games being played is nothing new. My parents and I would crowd around the Super Nintendo and take turns shouting out directions and commands to each other. Usually my Mom or I had the controller while my Dad would make suggestions like, ‘have you tried that room? What does that switch do?’ My whole family was interacting with the game on different levels, but still to achieve a common goal. There were many occasions, when the Nintendo 64 and Xbox came out, where a large group of my friends and I would hold a loser-plays-winner round of Mario Kart or Halo. Some of my most memorable gaming moments are moments shared with friends and family playing or watching video games. 
                                                        
                                          


A more recent example of spectating video games, even with the option of directly interacting, is ‘Twitch Plays Pokemon’. This was an incredible game event where the Twitch community played the classic video game Pokemon Blue. Players could input directions up down left right or the A B and START buttons in the chat window. The character on screen would then respond after a short delay. ‘Twitch Plays Pokemon’ could also be your favorite spectator e-sport. I had loads of fun watching the poor character dance around on screen, constantly opening and closing the menu as if confused as to what to do next. It is amazing the Twitch community was able to beat the game in the manner they did. Whether you stayed up all night to help get a gym badge or just simply took a few minutes to watch the game being played, there was still fun to be had. 

I have come to learn in my 20 plus years of console and PC gaming what makes a game fun and rewarding.  There are loads of gaming experiences out there to be had from simulated experiences that blend reality with science fiction to sports games to completely drawn out fantasy stories. There are also a myriad of ways to play. Some may say that the only way to have fun with a game is to play with friends, that it doesn’t matter what you play as long as you play it with the people closest to you. Regardless of your reasoning for buying Pokemon X and Grand Theft Auto 5 in the same sales transaction, just remember—try and keep it fun.
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