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The joy of

The joy of bullet hell photo
The joy of bullet hell

The joy of bullet hell

Pew pew, I'm in heaven
Mar 31
// Chris Carter
Shoot-'em-ups started innocently enough. Spacewar blasted its way onto computers back in the 1960s, and after Space Invaders was released, the rest was history. Galaga and Galaxian would go on to further popularize the genre,...
Joy photo

The joy of loot in videogames

It's never enough
Dec 26
// Chris Carter
My first "loot-based" game was Diablo. I blame my addiction entirely on my friend Joey, who I played the game with online by way of a dial-up connection. Yep, it wasn't my fault at all in the slightest. He just had to tell me...

The joy of MMOs

Apr 11 // Chris Carter
My love affair with MMOs started in the '90s when Ultima Online was released. Regarded as one of the greatest RPGs of all time, Ultima had it all -- player-ran economies, ganking, bounties for hunting down said gankers, books that could be written by actual players and sold for gold, dungeons, world events, politics, player housing -- you name it. Many of these mechanics wouldn't even be possible in current MMOs due to technical limitations, but Ultima sprouted countless stories that couldn't be experienced anywhere else. I got into a lot of trouble in Ultima, mostly due to the acts of hanging out with my player-killing, house-swindling friend, who used to con people out of their wares and cash. The entire game was basically policed and governed by the players, which was an unreal feeling amidst the typical linear world of gaming. I actually felt bad when I killed my first and only innocent player deep into the forest and took all his loot. Here, the healthy feeling of escapism was alive and well, as you were able to live out your wildest digital dreams. Heck, if you really wanted to you could play the entire game as a merchant, providing others with tools, gaining a reputation, brokering information, and writing novels -- it was insane. This was my gateway. But it wasn't until World of Warcraft that I really started branching out into the "massive" side of things. I had just started college when WoW hit, and as a result of my new relationship (with the lovely woman who eventually became my wife) and my desire to do well in my first year at school, I refrained from playing more than casually -- mostly leveling through beta and hopping on every so often on a low-level character when I had free time. Once the Burning Crusade expansion dropped, things changed a bit. Most of my friends had quit the game due to poor grades, and my best friend (who hadn't played prior to this arrangement) made me an offer I couldn't refuse -- we would casually play WoW together, level a pair of characters, and see what we had been missing all this time. Minutes of play became hours; hours, days; days, weeks. We made our way up to level 70 so quickly that I had decided to completely ditch my first character (an Orc Shaman) and level an alternate (a Draenai Priest) to help my chances of joining a guild -- a character that eventually became my new main. I had gone completely overboard -- our rule of "no raiding" turned into "once a week," then "twice a week," but "only 10-man dungeons." That eventually turned into us joining the top guild on the server and joining the first string raid squad, that raided two to three times a week. Given the rigorous application process (that probably sounds ridiculous to all of you out there), we had to completely change our attitude. Now we had to learn our full rotations (order of spells/abilities), theorycraft (research and look up viable strategies) in our free time, and teach others how to more effectively use our class (which often involved writing guides).  It was basically a job that paid nothing -- but we had a blast doing it. There's nothing quite like joining up with 24 other people for a raid, having fireside chats about what was going on in our life, and feeling a real sense of community. Wipes (full party deaths) were rare since we were so disciplined, but every so often we hit a snag -- only to overcome it within a week's time. To many, this sounds droll and unexciting. But if you find the right group of people, the feeling is indescribable when you best something for the first time with a giant collective of friends that have the same goal as you. I hit an absolute high when we were the server-first kill for Illidan -- a huge part of the Warcraft lore in general and the toughest boss in the game at the time. It was then that I started to slowly ease off of MMOs to plan for my wedding, effectively ending my career as a "full-timer" for quite some time. I would keep playing MMOs though for years to come, usually only getting max level and stopping before I got the itch to raid. Dark Age of Camelot, Conan (yuck), Warhammer Online, EVE, Rift, The Old Republic, TERA, Secret World, Aion, Lord of the Rings Online, Guild Wars 2, Elder Scrolls Online -- you name it, I've probably played it. But one particular MMO really brought me back in recently -- Final Fantasy XIV -- the second time around, that is, when it relaunched. Something clicked with me while playing A Realm Reborn. The art style is beautiful, the music is outstanding, and the battle system is a bit more action-oriented than most MMOs -- to the point where I'm heavily reminded of Phantasy Star Online. It doesn't help that it has a healthy serving of nostalgia either! Right now I'm in the process of joining up with a few of my old MMO buddies (including one that I played Ultima with way back when) to start endgame content and really kick things off. Things will never be the same now that I'm not a college student anymore, but the call of the genre is unending -- in some ways, I'm a "lifer." While I understand that MMOs don't appeal to everyone, I've had far too many fond memories with them to give them up. I've made friends that have stood up at my wedding. I've learned multiple videogame mechanics and concepts that have served me well as a writer and as a gamer. As ridiculous as it sounds, these games also taught me some form of responsibility, showing up on time for raids and owning up to my actions. It's for these reasons and more that MMOs bring me joy.
Why I love MMOs photo
From AOEs to Zul'Farrak
Read this list and let me know if it sounds like a good time. Crunching numbers in the wee hours of the night to maximize damage output. Grinding out levels and letting auto-attack handle things for a few seconds while you pl...

The joy of traps

Apr 25 // Chris Carter
Mega Man. Prince of Persia. Tomb Raider. When you think of these games, many of you may be reminded of the numerous spike traps that led to the untimely demise of your digital avatar, and possibly the demise of your actual controller. Of course, one can only think of themselves in this situation, but what about the poor contractors that were conscripted in Dr. Wily's army -- the saps who actually designed those labyrinths? Are they not people too? What if you could outwit your opponent with a combination of crafty cudgels and catapults? Of course, tower defense prides itself on setting up giant obelisks of power ready to crush your enemies with a single blow, but most of the time, you're not fighting in the trenches in favor of an omniscient God-like overview of the battlefield. The feeling of actually being in the thick of things is another emotion entirely that a lot of people sadly miss out on. While I could fill an ocean with my appreciation for trap-setting games, I'll just share a few of my personal favorites that I feel exemplify my love for the genre. Imagine that you're the keeper of a secret mansion -- the sentinel for an undying, God-like race. Now picture a bunch of jealous humans trying to break in and mess things up for said Gods. As young slave girl Millennia, your loyalty is called into question as you balance the scales between those who wield power and those who seek it. That's basically Deception II in a nutshell, and the result is an awesome explosion of trap crafting to the most epic Rube Goldbergian proportions! Deception II, in essence, gives you a bunch of ground, wall, and ceiling traps and then sets you loose on a cavalcade of enemies from ninjas to mages to knights armored head to toe. The big tactical catch is that you are completely defenseless when it comes to hand-to-hand or ranged combat -- your survival hinges entirely on your ability to out-Goldberg your opponents. Friends, there is no better feeling than nabbing someone in a bear trap as you cue a giant Indiana Jones boulder down a nearby stairwell, then watch them panic as you quell their fears (and their body temperature) with a well-placed cold arrow. Traps sound so much more fun when you're not on the receiving end of them, don't they? Deception II is basically a sadistic 3D version of The Incredible Machine, which is pretty much the best thing ever. In what is truly a unique experience, the Deception series is unrivaled when it comes to 3D trap action. While the rush of Deception can't be echoed quite so easily, another game that brings me great joy is a title that happens to be one of the only competitive multiplayer games in the genre: Trap Gunner. While you have the ability to both shoot projectiles and perform melee attacks here, the meat of your damage is going to come from setting traps. Luckily, the game comes with one of the most amazing mechanics of all time: the ability to search, uncover, and disarm traps. Trap Gunner allowed you to be the Sherlock Holmes of action games, adding the mechanic to search suspicious areas for traps in your proximity -- if you find one, you're able to disarm it through a random QTE. Of course, your enemy could spot you and blow you to kingdom come, triggering the trap. This creates a unique cat-and-mouse situation, where you have to weigh the prudence of setting or disarming traps at any given moment. The idea that any given square could have a deadly bomb on it is pretty nerve-racking and makes for a pretty stressful experience, one that's fairly unique to the trap-setting genre! My absolute favorite thing to do is set up a minimum of five push traps that elaborately force my opponent across the entire map and into a stack of TNT so gigantic it would make Looney Toon's ACME Corporation jealous. I remember spending afternoons planning out levels on paper in a grid-like fashion, deciding the best places to place certain traps -- not many contemporary games are capable of providing that feeling, and I miss it. The above two games are classic, but what better way to reintroduce the genre than a title that lets you slaughter hordes of angry orcs? Orcs are the picture-perfect Xeno-Scapegoat for killing and maiming -- just ask anybody! Topped off by a kickass gothic rock soundtrack, Orcs Must Die! bestows upon you the honor of killing hundreds of greenskins (sometimes in a single level) and other such creatures. The setup is kind of like Sanctum but less tower-defense oriented. Your avatar is also the exact opposite of the one in Deception II -- your playable Warrior Mage can kill, maim, slice, and shoot his way to victory even without the help of traps. Fortunately, said traps are extremely useful, especially with the ability to summon NPC archers and knights to join your cause. While there aren't as many elaborate Goldberg-esque combinations, there are still a few, like springboard floor traps and vent traps that can lift your enemies into danger. Orcs Must Die! doesn't do anything spectacularly unique, but it does everything extremely well, especially for an indie, budget-priced title. If you're at all interested in the trap-setting genre and share my joy, Orcs Must Die! is a great place to get started. There are tons of other trap classes in games like Diablo II and World of Warcraft that weren't mentioned here. You could easily compare the genre of tower defense in many ways, even if you aren't necessarily always in the trenches (Sanctum!).  Traps themselves are also found all over the gaming world. Games like Metal Gear Solid feature claymores and other such proximity-based traps. Mario Kart prides itself on player-set traps. Night Trap ... need I say more? While the genre itself is dwindling in favor of more tower defense games, as it stands, I'm lying in wait, ready to trap my next joy. GoldenEye 64 proximity mines only, anyone? [Thanks for the game images, Sir Tobbii!]

When you think of the word "trap," what's the first thing that comes to mind? If your psyche isn't in the darkest depths of the catacombs, you're probably thinking of a mechanical device with the purpose of inflicting harm up...

The joy of pinball

Jan 26 // Chad Concelmo
Sadly, the above scenario is becoming less and less common. And not just because there are fewer and fewer arcades left in the world. In the small number of arcades still remaining, pinball machines themselves are becoming a rarity, being rapidly replaced by massive Dance Dance Revolutions and driving games so expensive they drain your wallet after only a few plays. And that is a real shame. Because playing pinball is one of the greatest joys in the world. I will never forget my first experience playing pinball. I was six years old and accompanying my parents to their weekly bowling league. I remember those trips to the Bowl America like they were yesterday. While my parents were bowling, a friend of the family would always bring me to the bowling alley's arcade: a small, modest room hidden behind the snack bar. I would look forward to this arcade trip every week. As my parents would try their best to pick up splits, I would melt into the world of Crystal Castles, Star Wars, and Centipede. I was in heaven. Outside of the minimal number of cabinets, the arcade had only one pinball machine: Haunted House. It was a ridiculously rad pinball machine -- one of the rare "triple level" machines with sets of flippers on platforms above and below the main table. Yup, below. It was that rad. Being so young, though, I could never reach the machine. I was too short to play it. One night, however, my parent's friend lifted me up and let me try Haunted House for the first time. I got to insert the quarter into the glowing red slot. I got to pull back the plunger. I got to activate the flippers. And I got to do this all by myself -- well, outside of the woman with the glorious perm struggling to hold me up. The first time I saw the metallic ball bounce off a bumper and slide through a gate, I was mesmerized. I had fallen in love. All these years later, my love of pinball has not changed. I am just as obsessed as I was as a child. Every time I walk into an arcade or bar, I immediately check if the establishment has a pinball machine. Or, even better, multiple machines. If they do, that is where I spend my night. Just me, a pinball machine, and a draft beer resting on the sloped glass top. This joy I get from playing pinball comes from many different things. There are the technical reasons: the unpredictability of each game; the engineering that goes into creating each machine; the way pinball machines have evolved over the years; the physical interaction between you and the game. But, for me, there is so much more to it than the flawless, mathematical design that goes into building a successful table. For me, pinball is an experience like no other. It is some kind of unique hybrid between the interactivity of videogames and the passivity of, well, watching a shiny metal ball roll around. It's a strange, exciting, communal experience that no other form of entertainment can duplicate. Every since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the beauty of pinball machines and the way their design can result in such a surprisingly exhilarating experience. I used to build my own makeshift tables using bulletin boards, rubber bands, and marbles. I would even name the darn things. Adventure Lair. Pirate's Cove. Chad's Pinball Madness! (Yeah, they weren't the best names.) The amount of money my poor mother had to spend at office supply stores because of my obsession was staggering. But it wasn't just designing these tables that gave me so much pleasure. When I would pull the rubber band back and let loose the marbles, watching the colorful balls make their way through the push pins and thumbtacks would bring a huge smile to my face. Every single time. Heck, it still does! Regardless of the size or age of the table, the experience is the same. The randomness of the ball's path. The unexpected sounds and flashes of light. The marvel of seeing a table full of impossible-looking loops and spirals (the more loops and spirals the better!). The feeling of standing at a machine, hands pressed comfortably against either flipper, knowing you have to react at a moment's notice to control the mayhem playing out in front of you. The satisfaction of mastering the "flipper hold" and launching a ball up a jackpot-activating ramp. The loud clack that echoes throughout the entire arcade when you match numbers and are granted a free game. All of these factor into the joy that is playing pinball. And don't even get me started on multiball. Okay, get me started. For me, there is no powerup in game history that will ever top the excitement of getting multiball. Yeah, getting the spread gun in Contra is great. Kuribo's Shoe is fantastic! But when you are standing at a pinball table ... and you lock a few balls ... and then those balls are released to the fanfare of flashing lights and sounds ... and you frantically start slamming the flippers, not even sure what the heck is going on ... and the chaos starts to grow and grow as your points multiply at an alarming rate? My God. There is nothing greater. Keeping multiball alive for a long period of time is the closest I will ever get to an athletic achievement. From the simple joys of Target Pool to more recent masterworks like Twilight Zone, Addams Family, or Indiana Jones, no matter how old or new the table, I will always look at pinball machines as things of classic beauty. And as much I love videogame pinball (Pinball FX2 is, hands down, my most played XBLA game), nothing can top the wonderful, nostalgic feeling of playing at a live table. With the rate they are disappearing -- and STERN Pinball, the only maker of pinball machines left, quietly shrinking -- who knows how long pinball will still be around? Even the thought of pinball machines being a thing of the past makes me sad. I would ask you to stand up and take action, but I have no idea how to start stuff like that! I guess play more pinball? Support more arcades? Write a letter to ... someone? Chain yourself to a machine and refuse to leave until ... something happens? I have no idea. #occupypinball? I guess the best thing you can do is just enjoy the hell out of pinball machines while they are still around. I know I am. In fact, I think I am going to go play one right now. Bride of Pin-bot, here I come.

You walk into an arcade. Whether you just finished playing miniature golf, swinging a bat in the batting cages, or just decided to make your way to one of the few remaining standalone arcades hidden in some random downtown no...

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