April 21 - April 27
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 April 2014, 2:21 pm

It's pretty much a given at this point that Dark Souls is an exceptionally good game. It's just that it's not an exceptionally good game for me. I've tried to psyche myself up to play Dark Souls or its sequel which arrives on PC this week. I've watched gameplay videos. I've managed to occasionally not tune out Shawn or Cory when they start talking about it. I've read articles about it. And, I always end up in the same place: it sounds like you guys are having a lot of fun, and I don't want to play it.

Still, on a week where there's not much else to talk about, I'd be remiss not to give it the nod it is so sorely due for its PC arrival.

I used to be more bitter about games not launching at the same time on the PC as they do console systems, but what I'm finding in practice is that I make a lot better buying decisions by being able to see what kind of legs the games have after a few weeks on the market. If Titanfall for the PC had come out a couple of weeks after it hit the consoles, I might not have been so quick to pull the trigger. It's not that it's a bad game at all, it's just that it's one of those games that seemed to have a half-life of about 5 minutes.

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Narrative Character Development – 5 Year-Old Edition
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 April 2014, 10:20 pm

I present the following selection of statements as narrated by my youngest son during his genesis of a terrifying new creature. Why he suddenly began inventing this horrifying monstrosity, this harbinger of Ragnarok, this singer of the songs that will rend the very sun is one that scholars could debate for years to come and fail to arrive at a full and satisfying answer. There were but two imperatives of us as his scribes. Imperative the first: that we were to listen carefully to this description. Imperative the second: that we document, presumably for posterity, said description.

I hasten to point out that this account is as close to precisely dictated as we could manage. He was talking fast, and, honestly, there was a lot of us trying to stifle our laughter.

So, after the bump below – with a few editorial notes of my own – I'd like to introduce you to the Chopper Shark. May you live in fear of its uncertain benevolence for your years to come.

-- Credit to ElysiaGWJ for dictation and images --

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April 14 - April 20
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 14 April 2014, 9:56 am

PAX East is over, and I walk away, as usual, remembering all the good things that I liked when I was much more actively involved in games and games journalism. Largely, it's about the people. The passion of the developers. The enthusiasm of the gamer community. The patient and almost always friendly enforcers. My good friends from all corners, and new friends met on both of the panels I was on. And, of course, the Gamers With Jobs community who I simply could not say enough nice things about. If I met you this weekend (for the first, second or possibly third time) thank you honestly so very much for coming to say hello to me and being a part of making this place what it's become.

My favorite moment of the convention didn't happen in the show floor, on a panel or in some conference room meeting with developers. It happened in the AFK room, sponsored by TakeThis.org, and was a wonderful coincidence of random happenstance that would have been likely in only a few other places in the world. Two people, who otherwise would probably never be in the same room, happened to meet and the result was wonderful to watch. I may write about it at some point, but seeing a person with talent connect with exactly the right person who needed exactly that talent made me happy for days.

In this post-PAX week, there are several games worth giving a nod. The PC sees the release of Paradox's War of the Vikings, building off the success of the bloody multiplayer action of War of the Roses, and the stand alone expansion of the highly under-rated but poorly named Wargame AirLand Battle (no, I didn't forget a space between Air and Land) from Focus Interactive comes as a must buy for me. The expansion, titled much more simply Wargame: Red Dragon, really the first game in a long time that harkens back for me to one of my old favorites, Close Combat.

Additionally, Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, hits the PS4, and I'm willing to bet that Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars for the Vita is one of those things that some of you people will insist is the best thing on the list and I should be shamed for never having heard of it. You know who you are!

I, however, am giving the nod for game of the week to Trials Fusion. One of the few game series that revel in difficult, "trial" and error gameplay that I still adore. It hits this week on the PS4, Xbox One and 360.

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PAX East 2014 On The Go
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 April 2014, 9:40 am

Friday, 9:30am
------------------------------
Not much to say yet. The pre-PAX Game of Lines started off with its usual batch of hearty souls who brave the weather to stand outside for hours. We're still half an hour away from opening the doors, but I do have a couple general notes:

  • BPD will be inspecting every bag that comes into the Center. They're doing their best to keep things going smoothly, but please keep the time for that in mind when planning your day.
  • There is a new theater naming scheme. When you first look it makes no sense, but there is a method to the madness. They're all still named after animals. But now the rooms are arranged alphabetically on each floor, going clockwise. To know which floor it's on, just think about how that animal gets around. If it swims, it's on floor 0. If it walks, it's on the 1st floor. If it flies, it's on the second floor. The main theater is still where it was before.

So put on your good shoes and have fun. If there is any particular information you'd like me or my intrepid cub reporters to find out, feel free to drop the request in the comments here and I'll see what I can do.

Yes, Fire, I do remember that you want me to find out what the big announcement from Sid Meier is. I'm on the case.

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Mountain Music
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 April 2014, 5:26 pm

I picked up the guitar for the first time when I was in my very early twenties. It was the days before YouTube and easily accessible internet, so I went to Musicland — you see kids, they used to have these places where you’d walk in and literally buy music off a shelf — bought a book with some chord shapes in it and a book of tabbed out sheet music for Pearl Jam’s Ten album.

I’m not sure what series of naïve neurons fired in assuming that Mike McReady’s iconic, tearing guitar from grunge music’s coming-out party was a good place to start learning this new instrument, but they were quickly proven wrong. The A chords coming out of my both tiny and tinny speakers sounded not at all like the crunched, angry tones coming from my brand new Discman, such that I assumed something was broken in the process. Perhaps, I imagined, the guitar I was using was somehow faulty, or the strings were substandard, or the author of my chord book didn’t know what an A chord was. But it was none of those things, I realized. It was me.

This easily could’ve been the moment I realized guitar was not for me and I should go ahead and move on to the next thing — because frankly that’s what I normally would’ve done at that age — but once I literally closed the book on Ten, shaped my hand into an awkwardly claw-like E (which looks a bit like you’re about to throw the worst Leopard Punch in the history of Kung Fu) and worked through creating a sound that seemed to have at least a passing acquaintance to music, I couldn’t put it down for long.

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April 7 - April 13
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 7 April 2014, 10:38 am

Let's call it an eclectic week. While there are no earth shattering, AAA releases to speak of, there does seem to be a broad smattering of niche-y games on almost every platform. Frankly, I'm having a hard time pinning down one for Game of the Week, but I think I'm going to give the nod to LEGO The Hobbit.

I've played and enjoyed at least a half dozen of these LEGO franchise games at this point, and they should have long since worn out their welcome. They just haven't, though. Somehow these LEGO games always seem to walk the delicate balance of capturing the franchise it is supporting, while still having an innocent and easy style that invites genuine play, and The Hobbit seems like a perfect fit for that model. There is something whimsical about LEGO games, and the journey of Bilbo Baggins seems custom made for this kind of treatment. Maybe this will be the LEGO game that finally makes the formula feel stale, but I wouldn't bet on it.

I could've just as easily selected Warlock 2: The Exiled for PC, a game of Civ V meets Master of Magic published by the fine folks over as Paradox. A marked improvement on the first effort in the series, this is a solid 4x turn-based strategy effort. I could've also picked TellTale's The Wolf Among Us: Episode 3, or the port of Persona 4 onto the PlayStation 4, or Titanfall's orbital drop onto the Xbox 360.

It's a good week for games, is what I'm saying.

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April Fool
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 1 April 2014, 11:16 pm

What I don't like about the story of the Oculus Rift is that we initially believed that it was a neat project made by people who cared deeply about technology and its creative uses. Now it looks like those same people care about money. Some might tell you that human beings can have multiple motivations, pursue multiple, sometimes-conflicting values. These same "some" might go on to say that human minds will adjust their values in response to changing circumstances and new information.

Humbug and nonsense.

This notion of humans holding multiple values reminds me of what I really hate about the Oculus Rift. I hate that it displays two images of the same object at the same time, and those two images aren't precisely the same. They differ slightly, which is to say that they portray lies. This is exactly what I hate about Picasso's Cubism, too. Which image is the true image? Can the Oculus Rift ever be trusted, built as it is around this visual double-speak? It should therefore come as no surprise that the entire enterprise of developing the Oculus Rift, from Kickstartr launch onward, was premised on falsehood.

Know what I like about the Oculus Rift? I like the name. "Rift" especially denotes a break, a fissure, a chasm. I know what you're thinking, though: "Erik, rifts are also connections between alternate realities!"

Poppycock. Any rational person understands that alternate or secondary definitions in dictionaries are only placed there to make wrong people stop complaining. The first definition is the right one, and any change or deviation is necessarily an error.

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March 31 - April 6
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 31 March 2014, 10:27 pm

The timing of one Mr. Sands could not have been more oddly placed, as there is hardly anything making a blip on my radar for the week. I suppose if I were to try and pick as my liege would, then I'd give the nod to Elder Scrolls Online. Yet like a cantankerous young adolescent donning black nail polish and a spiked collar before trying to bring down their parents' walls with the latest album to be run on repeat at Hot Topic, I dare rebel against my authoritative overlord.

So the game of the week goes to Goat Simulator, which looks to be little more than a game where you lick cars and fly around on propane jetpacks for no greater purpose than to bleat and generate chaos. For points, of course, because it is a video game, after all.

Otherwise this week is full of repackaged or redistributed titles, such as Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate Deluxe, a wonderful little Metroidvania until you're forced to actually throw some punches; a Shin Megami Tensei: Holy crap this title is too long game for many of our dungeon-crawling fans within the community; and if you're fortunate enough to have a Playstation 4, then Mercenary Kings is free for you with a subscription to Playstation Plus.

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Gamers with Workmates
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 March 2014, 8:13 am

2002

It's Thursday.

I've taken 10 minutes to get lunch, but I need to get back — back to billing my time in 6-minute increments. I'm walking faster than the city throng, avoiding collisions with the slow-walkers, scarfing a nori roll and trying not to spill soy sauce on my TM Lewin shirt.

There is a JB HiFi a block from my office. Going past it, I nearly collide with Brett, another lawyer and my office next-door neighbour, exiting the store. He is clutching a JB bag, whose bulges denote a more voluminous purchase than a mere CD or DVD. Brett falls in alongside, transferring the bag into the hand furthest from me, holding it slightly behind him.

"Mr Carver," I intone with a nod. Then I point to the bag and smirk. "New batteries?"

"No, it's ..." he hesitates, then holds the bag so I can see inside. "A headset and controller."

I take a peek. "PlayStation. Sounds like fun."

"Yeah, there's this game, SOCOM, where you lead a squad of soldiers and you give them commands with the headset. It's pretty cool. Um, my nephew likes it, anyway."

"So there is a use for our dictation skills outside the office."

"Heh, something like that. I don't play it much, actually, just when my nephew comes round."

I don't mention to Brett that after working with him for nearly 3 years, this is the first I've heard of his nephew, or that I have a PlayStation too and I've been playing GTA: Vice City every night for the past 2 weeks.

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Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 March 2014, 12:23 pm

One thing I’ll say about Blizzard is that they sure do know how to make a good expansion. That’s not to say they nail it every time, but when they do get the secret sauce mixed up just right, it goes down smooth.

Diablo III: Reaper of Souls is such an expansion. It is, in many ways, the culmination and completion of changes that have been iterating over the 22 months that the game has been live. It is the resolved answer offered by Blizzard to the many and diverse complaints levied at original release, and though not completely comprehensive, it does provide many satisfying responses that leave the game both markedly changed and completely familiar.

Reaper of Souls, available only for the PC version of Diablo III, really doesn’t exist totally on its own. It is in lockstep with the recently released Diablo III Patch 2.0 that changed the game’s Pavlovian loot system and added a bevy of social features including communities and guilds. It also exists in the world after the shuttering of the game's infamous real-money and gold auction houses, which were a lightning rod for complaint on the game’s initial release. All of these things seem to swirl together into a single, staggered, ground-up rebuild of the game, and Reaper of Souls is really in some ways the icing on the cake.

Though it is quite a thick layer of icing. And secret sauce-y.

I’m saying it’s good.

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GWJ Plays Diablo III: Reaper of Souls
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 March 2014, 9:17 am


This week Sean Sands and Shawn Andrich play a little Diablo III: Reaper of Souls and tell you all about it.

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Atmosphere
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 March 2014, 9:40 am

"The vehicles in Half-Life 2 control like crap," I sigh.

"That's only because you're playing on Xbox," my friend retorts. "Shooters are better with a mouse and keyboard."

"Bull," I curse back. "The Warthog in Halo controls like a friggin' Subaru compared to the rickety piece of crap on tires you get in Half-Life."

"That's the whole point!" he counters. "It's supposed to be like that because it was made by regular schmucks using scrap from a landfill!"

"Nuh-uh," I shake my head. "No way. I don't care if it's 'supposed' to be that way to be more 'immersive' or whatever. If it controls like crap, then that is bad usability, and bad usability is bad game design. Period."

Months later, visiting home from college, I would argue with a high-school friend why Resident Evil's cameras limiting a player's perspective was the entire point.

(In case you were wondering, hypocrisy in one's mouth is thick like peanut butter, but tastes more like dusty raisins. Still sticks to your gums. I wouldn't recommend it.)

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March 24 - March 30
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 March 2014, 9:46 am

Diablo III was a critical and commercial success, and yet it lingered with a sour after taste for many gamers who bristled at some of the decisions made by Blizzard in their follow up to the almost legendary Diablo II. Among its most controversial moves was the addition of the Real Money Auction House, which allowed players to trade in-game loot for hard, cold cash.

But, Diablo III's real sin was not so much in allowing people to trade cash, and much more often in-game gold, for items. It was the jealous and stingy way the game rewarded players with loot in the game itself that really put players off. The auction houses weren't some side feature you could choose to ignore. The longer you played, the more Diablo III steered you toward them.

With the roll up to release of this week's Diablo III: Reaper of Souls, Blizzard has done an about face. Last week both the real and in-game money auction houses quietly closed their doors and the most recent patch added the long-desired "Loot 2.0" which completely changed the way itemization and player drops work in the game.

Now, with players engaged back in the game, the question becomes whether Blizzard will be able to avoid a replay of D3's disastrous launch. For all the recovered goodwill generated in the recent patch and the elimination of the Auction House, the real test will be whether or not people are able to actually play the game come Tuesday, or if we'll be reminded yet again of why forcing players to log into a multiplayer service to enjoy their single player game remains a bad idea.

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Warlock II: The Exiled – Preview
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 21 March 2014, 3:54 pm

Warlock: Master of the Arcane was one of those games that just got better the longer it was out. At release it felt somewhat uninspiring, but over time it saw a number of patches that enhanced and polished the game enough to generally realize the fundamentally good idea that was born decades before with Master of Magic. Developed by Ino-Co and published by Paradox, Warlock was a slow burn. But by the end I felt like I’d gotten my money’s worth.

If I’m honest, I was a little surprised — though not unpleasantly so — to discover there was to be a sequel.

Since the announcement in October of 2013 — an announcement which came with with delightfully cringe-worth tagline "Pure Hextacy" — I found myself increasingly interested in the development of Warlock II: The Exiled. In this iteration we find a fractured world, where you play as an exiled mage seeking to traverse between the broken shards of your world in order to get back home, and in the process defeat a powerful mage responsible for the cataclysmic destruction.

It’s an interesting take on the original game, but there was good reason to wonder if the sequel would come out of the gate having learned the lessons of the first release, or if it too would need its own time to percolate. Well, I’ve had a week with a full preview build of the game, and I think I know the answer.

You don’t, as a rule, want to lay down a lot of declarative statements in a preview, because who knows what may change between now and the April release date, but what I’ve seen so far of Warlock II is highly encouraging.

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Guilty as FAQ
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 March 2014, 9:43 am

"Ooooh!" I exclaim excitedly, tapping my stylus to the 3DS screen. The old lady had slipped up; I am certain. All I need to do is figure out where to present the proper evidence.

This namby pamby granny has been trying to make the case that her back was causing her so much trouble she could barely walk. Alright, I can buy it. A stout little Mrs. Potts of a woman having some back problems is perfectly plausible.

But, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, if she was under such incredible pain, then how could she cross the worn-out, rickety bridge?

Note that I have no reason to suspect this woman is guilty of anything, but I am certain it will all come to light once I present that crucial piece of evidence and hear Phoenix Wright, attorney at law, cry "Objection!"

That is, once I figure out what evidence, and where. Do I present the map with the diagram of the bridge? Are any of these statements weak enough where it would seem relevant? Do I just need to press her harder after engaging in a specific conversation?

Bah, enough of this! I lodge the stylus between my teeth and tug my phone from my pocket, opening the web browser within. I'm the right track — I have to be — I just need a bit of a nudge from a good ol' GameFAQ to set everything in motion. Once that piece of evidence was revealed, the ball will start rolling and cause an avalanche of excitement.

Only it turned out that ball I was trying to get rolling was more of a square peg, and in my efforts to shove it down the hill I found myself tumbling over my firmly planted notion and downward. My train of thought was completely inaccurate, and the real flaw in her testimony had nothing to do with her back.

I obeyed the FAQ, presenting the real evidence, but any exhilarating thrill of victory was gone. I had essentially cheated, and somehow felt robbed of the "pleasure" of pounding my head against a problem that didn't exist.

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March 17 - March 23
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 March 2014, 11:11 am

So, as I understand it Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes is a prequel to the yet-to-come full official release of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Additionally the MGS V arc as a whole appears to take place more in the '70s and '80s prior to many of the events portrayed in previous incarnations of the series.

Admittedly, trying to make sense at all of the series is itself an exercise in futility. It is a snake's nest of intertwined and twisting plots, any of which on their own borders on insane. I spent a long time bemoaning the nonsensical and careening narrative that has become Metal Gear Solid, but I've begun to take a new stance largely in opposition to the one I had before.

I like that Metal Gear Solid exists in its crazy ranting incarnation. I like that there's that option out there and center stage on the gaming landscape. It's fun to remember sometimes that gaming, at its heart, is an incredible opportunity for reckless escapism. It's still probably not a game that appeals wildly to me, but I do like that it's out there.

Also this week, Men of War: Assault Squad 2 takes to the PC, which is the sequel to the 2011 game, which was notable for being both strategically deep and significantly challenging. The game developed a small but dedicated following, so I'm confident in saying it'll definitely be on some of your must-buy lists.

Finally, inFamous: Second Son takes its turn on the PS4.

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Romancing the Hearthstone
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 March 2014, 10:46 am

If I were going to select a Facebook relationship status about my relationship with the Blizzard card-game Hearthstone, that status would have to be the achingly cliched "it’s complicated."

I hate Hearthstone. Sort of. I also love it. Sort of.

At first I thought the reason I was resistant to Hearthstone had to do with its business model, but rationally I have to admit, that can’t be the issue. Its business model is entirely reasonable and allows for vast swaths of play without ever feeling absolutely compelled to spend a single dollar on new cards, booster packs or arena passes. Arguably the business model for the long-running Magic The Gathering Online is far more onerous.

No, even though it is entirely free-to-play in nature, it doesn’t really cross that line of being pay-to-win. This is in part due to the steady-but-consistent way it doles out rewards and manages to make its slow trickle of content feel like a reward instead of an extortion attempt. But equally important, the balance of the cards and difference in interplay between a well-constructed deck of even common cards versus a slapped-together deck, regardless of rarity, reinforces an idea that success is most commonly found within mastery of the game systems.

So what’s not to love, then? Now that the game is out of beta, and many of the frustrating bugs and imbalances have had their already polished polish polished further, it’s objectively difficult for me to point at any one thing and say, “There, that’s BS!”

And yet — And YET! — I can’t play more than a few rounds at a time before I find myself frustrated and vaguely exhausted. The thing is, Hearthstone just makes me mad more often than it makes me happy. I really wish I could put my finger on why.

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March 10 - March 16
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 10 March 2014, 10:30 am

Looking for something fun to play? You've come to the right week.

The ethos of Dark Souls and its equally brutal predecessor Demon's Souls was one I just never could get behind. A brutal, unforgiving and difficult game that seemed to revel in the struggles and failures of its players, this kind of sado-masochism didn't appeal to me. But to hear players of Dark Souls describe it, the experience was almost spiritual, and Dark Souls II is by extension something the faithful have been anticipating jealously for months. This week we lose many of our closest and most disturbed friends to the sequel.

That would have certainly be the game of the week, were it not also time for the rest of us to play Titanfall. Following an exceptionally strong showing during its "beta," the game that had left a lot of gamers curious but skeptical suddenly became a sure-thing. There was something about it to me while I played that reminded me of the old days before Battlefield 1942 was released where we all played the demo on Wake Island. There was just this sense that we were playing something that was going to turn out to be special. I have to admit, I felt that way a bit about Titanfall, which is why it's my Game of the Week.

Also notable this week, fan favorite on the OUYA, Towerfall Ascension, makes its way onto the PC and PS4.

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Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 17 November 2003, 6:05 am

It could make your WaveBird fly!

Mario Kart DD

More than two years after the launch of the Gamecube and after having received some delays like most hotly anticipated Nintendo titles the latest installment in the Mario Kart series has finally arrived. With Mario Kart: Double Dash!! the idea is to provide new excitement for kart racing fans everywhere but is it a good game? Yes. Is it flawless? Hmmmm...

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March 3 – March 9
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 March 2014, 10:54 am

I never really got South Park. I mean, I get that it's satire, and I get the layers of biting commentary on social issues, but its delivery just never resonated with me. The few times I tried to watch the show I always walked away wishing I'd done something else with my time. It's one of those things where I get the appeal in a very analytical way, but I don't feel it like other people do.

South Park fans always sympathize with me in a very ... almost pitying way, when I talk about this. It's not because they are smug, superior jerks, but because they want me to feel and share the joy the show brings to their lives. It's the way I feel when people tell me they don't get Arrested Development. I look at them and ache for their simpleton ways, thinking, "You poor, dumb, son of a ... ."

Ok, mine's the more smug, superior kind of pity, but you get the idea.

So despite the release of the long awaited South Park: The Stick of Truth this week, I'm giving the nod to the second episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two.

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From the Fires
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 March 2014, 10:39 am

The local video store wasn’t just a staple of my childhood, it was the most important building I could visit, given my surprisingly limited sphere of travel. Now grown, I remember the everyday things about the space: blue carpeting; a row of horror VHS tapes that seemed endless and terrifying, but beckoned with cover art that burned itself into my memories as something exotic and frightening; a wall of NES games at the rightmost corner; the checkout area that, like a vault, had rows of cartridges and tapes and test units; and the ever-changing collection of two arcade stand-ups alongside a never-the-same-twice pinball machine. Much like in a bookstore now, I would wander the rows aimlessly, peering at actor stand-ups, searching for new releases, watching impossibly-tall teens play for ages on a single quarter. Most of all, I remember the place expanding, adding a service window that processed photos for passports, sold bus tokens, and performed services that I didn’t have a use for, becoming a place that – in my mind – rivaled the larger chain-stores that were too far to be of any real use. It was a vibrant bubble of concentrated escapism that I loved to visit.

I like to think that the store, Video Hot, would have continued to expand and take up more of the strip-mall that it sat in. I like to think that it would have kept a great collection of NES games as the new gen creeped in, that it would have created a small section for Laserdiscs, or that it would have dedicated a section of the store for more arcade games. Or maybe it could have included vending-machines along the foreign and classics nook to build up traffic there.

I like to think that these things might have happened, because the store never got a chance to live up to the potential it was building. It never expanded its collection of games. Never again featured arcade cabinets. Never grew out. It never did this, because in the middle of the day on April 30th , 1992, it ceased to be the space I remember — because, by the morning of May 1st, there was a giant, charred wound where the checkout counter once stood.

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A Personal Voyage
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 March 2014, 1:14 pm

There are echoes from my childhood, and usually they are nothing more than that. Snippets of emotional impressions that resonate as both old and distant. A lot of people I know talk about childhood memories in specific and detailed ways that are alien to me. Before age 13 or so, my life is a scattered patchwork of vague sense memories and snapshots of recollection. Very few things can make me feel connected to a strong sense of my own childhood.

But if you play the opening theme song to the series Cosmos around me, "Heaven and Hell" by Vangelis, I am transported as clearly and as keenly to my childhood as if I had stepped into a time machine and the out onto the shag carpet of my 1980 home. For its thirteen episodes, I could be found stretched across the floor with my gaze transfixed on the television screen where Carl Sagan, with a kindness and patience in his eyes that made you believe in the authenticity of his every word, doled out an explanation of a universe far more vast, more majestic and more interesting than I had ever guessed.

I would forever after be fascinated by the night sky, curious about the intertwining sciences that make up the machinery of reality, aware of the world I inhabited in a way that was more sophisticated but also more awestruck. I would never have the patience to learn a scientific discipline professionally, never have the right alignment of synapses to navigate the mathematics it would take to be truly knowledgeable on these topics, but as concepts and thought experiments, I was endlessly fascinated. The idea that all of mankind was encapsulated within the last few moments, of the last day, of the last month on the cosmic calendar, was the kind of idea Carl conveyed to me, and millions of others, and which would be with me for decades to come.

As a new Cosmos series launches this weekend with Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a worthy successor, at the helm, I find myself reminded of and celebrating the fact that the original Cosmos had such an impact on me over such a short time. Looking back, Carl Sagan was one of the best teachers I ever had.

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Anatomy of an All-Nighter
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 February 2014, 2:53 am

That time you stayed up all night playing a game — the all-nighter — it's a common practice among gamers of all stripes. Observed from the outside, all-nighters can look ugly, often tendered as Exhibit A by the plaintiff in Responsibilities v. Gamer. Conversely, in discussions about what makes a game great, they are often cited to illustrate how compelling, immersive, engaging and other buzzwords a game can be.

For many in the GWJ community whose circumstances lean towards the "-woodge" side of the acronym, the all-nighter is one of the few viable ways to find time for gaming that don't involve incurring some form of injury or disease — that is, until I can convince my employer that sitting at my PC with a controller and headset yelling "BAM! EAT IT!" is work-related.

Despite the all-nighter being a go-to gaming gambit, the critics have a point. All-nighters are mentally and physically gruelling. We can often push a session too far, such that we are severely debuffed upon return to the mundane, non-gaming aspects of our lives. Like democracy, the all-nighter isn't perfect, but often it is merely the least worst option for squeezing in some gaming time. At least it appears that way when we start out.

Relax, folks. I'm not here to judge you, wring my hands or pose rhetorical questions. This is a safe space. I just want to float a theory: Every all-nighter, regardless of the game or the player, is fundamentally the same. They all contain the same basic stages. (My research is based on extensive field testing, but a singularly small sample group, so consider this a form of peer review.)

Here are the 5 stages of the all-nighter. Each stage is named after a soldier ability in XCOM, because that's the kind of flair that gets you noticed.

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Sick Day
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 February 2014, 6:04 pm

As I write these words I am reposed under no fewer than 5 layers of blankets. The fire that had been my throat yesterday is replaced with the fire that is the skin of my nose, which has spent the past 36 hours under constant assault from facial tissues. For some reason I’m holding my jaw slightly open, partly because when I close it my mouth closes and I suffocate—what with my nasal passages being clogged like Los Angeles traffic and also because my joints all feel like they have tiny vice grips attached. Small water balloons that used to be eyelids cover my eyes, and my leg is in a constant state of twitchy, fevered motion.

I am never more whiny as when I’m sick, and this time it’s particularly bad because my wife is equally sick—though her stoic functionality in spite of this crippling malady is both impressive and deeply annoying—so I can’t whine to her. Because let me tell you, she’s having none of it. So, I guess that leaves you guys.

Lucky you.

It’s funny, because I remember thinking a few weeks back about how it might be nice to get a good solid cold so I could relax in bed for a couple of days, maybe get in some quiet, reclining game time. Oh how quickly we forget that, yes, having a cold/flu/whatever comes with its own downside. Still, I did spend seven hours yesterday clicking away, miserably happy at my PC, so it’s not all bad.

As I think about sick days, I find myself looking back fondly on the best kind of sick day there is: sick day when you’re a kid. Call it nostalgia, the fevered memory of an old man dreaming of simpler times, but give me a day free of homework as I sipped Campbells chicken soup and watched episodes of Reading Rainbow and 321 Contact on the 14-inch color tv propped at the foot of my bed, and I’ll give you a happy ten-year-old.

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February 24 – March 3
Posted by Articles [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 February 2014, 1:06 pm

I had hoped to get up this morning and begin reading reviews of how, despite internal strife, despite the challenge of bringing a franchise back from the dead, despite everything, Eidos and Square Enix pulled off a magic for their Thief reboot similar to what they accomplished last year with Tomb Raider. That's what I had hoped for.

The reality seems to be different. If early reviews are to be believed, Thief isn't a bad game. It's just not a particularly good game, either. It appears to suffer from losing its elements of greatness within layers of frustration and inconsistency. Maybe time will bear the game out better, but it's not the start I'd hoped for,

So I turn, almost grudgingly, to Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare. While I am eager to dole out points to PopCap for being willing to inject their creative juices into the largely stagnant corpse of online, team-based shooters, every time I think about wanting to play, I begin to imagine a smiling sunflower questioning my parentage at every opportunity over voice chat.

Still, PopCap's track record precedes them, so I give them the benefit of the doubt.

Also this week, Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2, Tales Of Symphonia Chronicles, and Professor Layton And The Azran Legacy land on store shelves both virtual and real.

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