Archive for October, 2011

October 11, 2011

The Anatomy of My Bioware Romances, Part Three: Dragon Age: Origins – Jsixgun


I can’t say enough about Dragon Age: Origins, but let me first start by saying to enjoy it you have to be a certain type of rascal.  You have to enjoy the old school RPG feel, the searching for loot, the sheer amount of lore, and reading through lots of dialogue to make sure you pick the right choices for yourself.  In Origins your protagonist is not voiced (hence the reading) while all other NPC’s and companion character’s are.  It was touted as being the spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate series, which if you’ve read anything I’ve written so far, you’ll know made a huge impact on my gaming tastes.  So obviously I’m the exact kind of rascal it was made for.

These are NOT the rascal’s I’m talking about.

What Dragon Age: Origins lacked in graphics it really made up for in story.  If there is one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a good cheeseburger; if there’s a second thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a good story.  The “origins” part of Dragon Age: Origins laid the foundation for that story and did it like no game had ever done before.  Many games let you pick different classes and races, but Dragon Age made those choices into wholly unique stories.  If you are an elitist at heart and chose the human noble origin then the first hour of your game was spent in your keep, fending off invaders and trying to figure out who attacked your family and why.  If you’ve watched Braveheart one too many times like I have, you may have picked the Daelish Elf origin were you’re part of sect of elves who are forced to live in the wilderness away from cities because elves are treated as second class citizens.  However, there were other options and in each origin your character experienced something tragic but wholly unique to the other choices which set you forth on your quest. And lucky for us, on that quest you meet some hotties.

Meet Morrigan and Leliana

Now usually I tend to lean towards the prettier, softer, and nicer leading ladies but in DA:O it was not to be.  I will be honest, however, every part of me wanted to pick Leliana.  For one, she had a very hot accent!  But alas, though I did lust for the red head, I went for the dark and sassy one; I chose Morrigan.  And in the end I was glad I did. You see, Morrigan will eventually win you over once you realize she’s not really evil per say, she’s just a rugged individualist.  She favors one path and that path is the one that betters her, not someone else.  And she expects you to do the same.  Not one for courtesy or favors, she demands respect and will be willing to smite you if you don’t give it to her.  Or in other words, she will make you wear black leathers with a rubber ball in your mouth unless you know how to work her.

Oh I worked her. You win her over with a bit of aggressive flair yourself; show her your every bit the go getter she is and she will eventually come your way.  The best part about her is the plot. She is apparently one of the daughter’s of the famed Witch of the Wilds, Flemeth, who plays an integral part in the Dragon Age universe.  Morrigan catches on to a plan the immortal mother has for her and decides to hatch a plan of her own.  Her plan?  Bang you the night before you kill the Archdemon, perform some ritual and bind the soul of the main bad guy with your seed, and thus spawn a god baby.  Yes you read that right.  While you can choose to not go through with it, the idea of getting to see your spawn in a future game was too much to say no to.  So I once again knocked up a chick in a Bioware game.  This is how that went down if you’re so inclined:

I must say that I hope to see Morrigan in future installments because I want to know what happens to my god spawn of a brat kid.  Anyway, my next installment will go back to the Mass Effect Universe where I find out that my Shephard is not too faithful of a bed companion. Til then…

October 10, 2011

The Geography of The Elder Scrolls


This, my friends, is Tamriel.  It is the continent upon which the events in all the Elder Scrolls games take place, including the upcoming Skyrim.  Lets take a look back through the games and their lore, and see what information we can glean, in order to be better equipped to kick some dragon ass come November.

The dark brown area in the north is Skyrim, where all the events of the upcoming game will take place.  Its going to be very mountainous and cold from what I can tell, and it is the area that the Nords call home.  But of course, Skyrim is not created in a vacuum, and there are tons of games that predate it and have worked to weave a good bit of interesting lore.  I won’t detail hardly any of that here, but what I would like to explore is which regions on Tamriel have been used before in prior games and which regions have yet to be touched in this world.  (Tamriel is merely a continent on the Planet Nirn, which has other continents as well, including Atmora, Yokuda, Akavir, and Pyandonea, none of which have any of the games so far been set in.)

This is the entire map of Nirn

The first game in the Elder Scrolls series goes by the terribly off-putting name, The Elder Scrolls:  Arena.  Originally intended to be just an arena fighting game, development eventually evolved into an early iteration of what we know today, an RPG game where you can go anywhere and do anything.  This game did not specify which province you could go to, and thus you could concievably go to any province you liked.  However, the terrain and settings were all randomly generated, so that here you are in Skyrim, in The Elder Scrolls: Arena:

It was 1994, give them a break

The next game in the series was The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall.  Daggerfall is the name of the capitol of the region High Rock, which you can see in the map of Tamriel above (its in the top left).  This land is mainly populated by the Bretons, the race I chose to play Oblivion with.  And thus this second installment takes place almost exclusively within High Rock, though you will travel to Hammerfell as well.  High Rock is mostly comprised of coastal cities near the shores, especially towards Hammerfell, and hilly plains with ruined castles and villages towards the mountainous boundary with Skyrim.

Daggerfall was notoriously buggy, and The Elder Scrolls games proceeded onto the next two titles, more focused on linear adventure gaming, and to some (including myself) they are not cannon.  These were Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire and Elder Scrolls Adventure: Redguard.  

But by 2002 the next true installment in The Elder Scrolls series was released, titled The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.  Morrowind takes place in none other than the province of Morrowind, which can be seen at the top right of Tamriel.  Morrowind is far different than most other regions of Tamriel, featuring a blackened sky from the eruptions of the Vvardenfell volcano, centered upon the island in Morrowind.  This area is home to the Dark Elves, and the setting is full of oversized mushrooms and large insect-like creatures.  This is the game that got me heavily involved in the Elder Scrolls series of games due to its sheer scope and graphical achievements.  Its unique aura gave me a feeling that is hard to explain, and I would love to see a title return us to Morrowind some day.  A future title could even boast a fully explorable Tamriel (not like Arena did, but like this newer gen could accomplish).  But that’s speculation.  Here is what Morrowind looked like:

Morrowind would also be my last forray into PC gaming, and thereafter I would be experiencing The Elder Scrolls through console.  In 2006, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released.  Oblivion, despite the name, did not take place in Oblivion.  No, that is simply a plane of existence, something like Hell I suppose, that is threatening the plane of mortals, in which Tamriel exists.  True, you do travel to Oblivion in the game, but the majority of the game is set in the province of Cyrodiil.  Cyrodiil is the very large central province in Tamriel as you can see above.  It is home to the Imperial race and is the capital province of Tamriel.  As is easily observed, Cyrodiil is substantially larger than Skyrim, so it is yet to be known if the map size will be smaller in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim or if there will be larger cities, more detailed villiages, and less ‘waste’ space, i.e. using more in less space, thus giving us more to do per square foot.  That is yet to be seen, but what can be seen is what Cyrodiil looked like, and it is as thus:

And Skyrim will be released on 11/11/11.  It will, of course, take place in the province of Skyrim, which Bethesda has just verified today by providing the map below.  Being northern, and seeing how the Nords, who inhabit it, have a resistance to cold, it is fairly obvious this will be a very arctic climate.  Furthermore, because the mountainous boundaries of Cyrodiil, High Rock, and Morrowind they shared with Skyrim have all been high and snow capped, we can expect some simply beautiful environments.  And if that’s not got you excited enough, it appears that Skyrim is the province where dragons are native to.  And so in a few short month’s, we’ll finally be able to explore Tamriel’s most northern and unexplored province yet!  And click here for a larger, more detailed map of Skyrim!

October 10, 2011

Health in First Person Shooters


There are really only two ways in which a first person shooter game deals with health; it either replenishes or it doesn’t.  Games like Goldeneye 64, Perfect Dark, Doom, and Borderlands don’t automatically replenish your health over time, and thus you either have to find a health pack or die in order to get it back up there.  Games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Rage have an automatic replenishing system where, if you can get in cover or away from the fire, you’ll automatically be healed after a set amount of time.  Lets be honest, neither is a realistic system.  In games where your health never replenishes, you take painkillers and suddenly you’re healed?  In real life you’d still be a gunshot victim with a new penchant for prescription fraud.  And under the replenishing paradigm, your bullet wounds wouldn’t just heal up as long as you jumped behind a sandbag wall for a minute or two like it never happened.  But I doubt anyone wants 100% perfect realism, or at least I wouldn’t.  I don’t want to die of trench foot while hiding behind cover, and I don’t want one bullet from some crap gun like the Skorpion killing me instantly.  So which is the better system?  Of course its subjective, but so is everything worth debating.

For the last time Grandma, I'm not gonna keep playing Mortal Kombat with you if you keep using Smoke! He's cheap, and so are you!

This is a contentious subject among gamers, known for their asperger-like devotion to every minute detail they can argue about.  The most prominent arguments for non-regeneration of health is that it is the original method used in most FPS games of old, it takes more strategy, and only casual Wii bowling players will opt for regeneration.  At the other end of the spectrum, people argue for regeneration in that pausing to get into a menu, selecting your medkits, and then going back into the fight fully healed takes you out of the action, can make games annoyingly difficult, and is not conductive to an e-sports type of competitive gaming like Call of Duty or Battlefield.  Both sides make good points, and I have played games of both types that I have enjoyed immensely.  But is there one system that simply works better, or is there a new type of system that could placate the two sides into agreement?

Doctor, I don't know what it is, I've just been feeling about 59% lately...

It got me to thinking.  I love some Call of Duty firefights where bullets are flying at you, you’re hiding beneath an open window, explosions in the distance.  Your screen is outlined in red, you’re close to death, and you need to wait it out before you get back into the action.  But do I love it because that’s a fun game, and a fun situation with others, despite the regeneration of health?  I think indeed, I do love it despite that flawed system.  Its just so unrealistic, I believe the gameplay could be improved by altering the healing system (to take longer to fully heal) or to have some sort of health pack system thrown in.  The current trend in FPS games since about 2001 is to have health regenerate automatically, but I’m wondering if this is a situation that helps newcomers, and thus helps sales, to the detriment of the overall experience.

There is a good article detailing someone’s first hand experience involving Half Life, explaining why the regeneration system may take away from the gameplay experience, which you can read here.  A lot of the time I find myself in regen games simply waiting for my health to come back, and not actively looking for ways to boost my health.  Actively looking for health means I must progress and not just wait around.  I must explore, I must search for ways to help myself, and this adds in a more desperate, frantic feel to a first person shooter, a feeling that should be present instead of sitting around until my screen gets less red.  Of course, I’m speaking mostly towards singleplayer gameplay at this point, but I believe it could translate well to multiplayer also, even if concessions were made, where health could regenerate but at a much slower pace.  None of this is to say that games that let you regenerate health aren’t fun; hell, that would be saying that most games over the past 10 years haven’t been fun.  But there might be a system, discarded in the early days of FPSs, that could use revisiting and could possibly add to the experience.  Goldeneye 64 did not have a regeneration system for health, and that multiplayer is among the most epic out there.  I don’t think FPS multiplayer was thus improved in the years since, when that system was discarded in favor of a red screen and the impulse to hide for a while.  I believe a better system would be a set health system, where you have to actively gain more health, and not passively as so many games tend to do.  But for God’s sake, don’t make the health packs be painkillers.  We have to do something more realistic than that.

Just regenerating my health, be out in a second

October 7, 2011

Dark Souls: My First Impressions – JSixgun


About two weeks ago I had asked the owner of this site, Mr. Mortarnpistol himself, if he had looked into Dark Souls and if he had any thoughts. His response was what could be expected from an avid game lover who suffers from tourettes, he cussed a lot about the bean content in his chilli and never really answered the question. So I was left to fend for myself and went to the first logical place I could come up with to gather information, Encarta Encyclopedia. Considering the fact that I still run Window’s ME and continue to tout it as the single greatest operating system ever, my Encarta hadn’t been updated since 1999. So as you can guess, it was strangely absent of details on Dark Souls. I was finally forced to wade into the world of the internets. After stopping for five minutes and furiously debating with myself on whether or not I was ready and/or able for the likes of Google or the more basic AOL search engines, I made my decision. Yahoo it was.

Okay, okay none of the above is true. I’m sure most of you fell for it because you believe things the internet tells you, because you live by the belief that it benefits no one to anonymously lie to others for little or no personal gain at all. However, you’re wrong, and Facebook is about to start charging, so take all necessary precautions. Anyways, the true story is a little simpler. I wasn’t at all intending to buy this game originally, but I kept watching videos for it. Sooner rather than later I began to inch close and closer to giving in and buying it. Finally, I did. This is how it went down.

I usually buy all my games from Amazon. However, because I was coming to this game a day late I decided I would forgo my usual patronistic habits (Note: Patronage is one of those words with more than two syllables dumb people actually know the meaning of{kind of}so use vigorously in retail debates in an attempt to intellectually challenge the one they are debating about how the return policy clearly stated on the receipt isn’t applicable to themselves) and waded into Walmart. After picking it up and being mistaken for a Walmart employee, twice (I guess it’s a real novelty to wear a collared shirt in the place), I carried the game to the front registers because I could find no one working in the electronic department at 9:30 PM. As soon as I handed it to the nice, old, and semi-tootheless lady she wielded it with both hands and began to shake it while she said in growling voice, “Dark Sooooouls!” To which I immediately broke eye contact and acted like I was counting my cash. And no, none of the stuff in this paragraph is a lie- it really all happened just like that.

I think they were in on it.

I finally got home, and put the disk in only to hear a grinding noise while my Xbox blinked red at me. I quickly jumped up and got the optical drive tray open and found I had forgotten to take Gears of War 3 out of the tray before I put Dark Souls in. Please tell me I’m not the only one this has happened too? Anyways, once I got that all straightened out I began to create my character. I had heard that the warrior class is the best for beginners but because I like to be dominated I chose something else entirely. I chose the Wanderer. I mostly chose him because I thought he looked cool, and was banking on the fact that I would rather roll around a lot instead of wearing tons of armor, because what could be more fun than rolling around in the dirt all day?

This is a picture of the wanderer. He is the one I chose to lead me into valley of the shadow of death.

So I set off. I had never played Demon Souls, so Dark Souls was my first experience in the world. I must admit that I was immediately impressed by the beauty of the environment and the great detail put into the armors, shields, and weapons. The way the light gleams off of shields and armor is really cool and serves the theme of a serious and gritty fantasy game well. As I ventured into the prologue area I died a couple times before I realized I didn’t have to face this huge boss that swooped down on me out of no where without a weapon; I could actually just run away. So I ran. Furthermore, I ended up finding my sword and shield and began to learn the basics of combat.

At one point I found this knight that was dying, but still kind enough to fill me in before he croaked. Well, except I kind of actually killed him before he ended his speech. I didn’t do it on purpose, mind you, but I killed him nonetheless. Obviously, I looted his body and went on with my life. As I wound my way higher and higher into this cathedral I eventually found myself looking down on the Boss who had killed me numerous times before, except now I had a sword. At this point the game hinted quite bluntly I should jump down and stab with my sword at the same time, so me being the obedient chap I am did just that. To my surprise I leaped atop the beast and stabbed my sword into its spine alleviating it of almost 75% of its health. After that he was easy to beat and I learned my first lesson of Dark Souls, look for alternatives in the environment.

While I’ve barely just begun I can tell you I am looking forward to testing my might and sanity with this game and hope to bring you more stories about it in the future. At best its awesome, and I swear by it for a long time. At worst, it keeps me busy till Skyrim.

October 6, 2011

First Impressions of Rage


id Software basically invented the first person shooter genre, so when I heard they were coming out with a new game, I was certainly intrigued.  I had wasted countless hours as a kid, and later as a college student, playing Doom, and I had loved every second of it.  It wasn’t just a linear FPS, but involved complex levels and tons of gore, monsters and guns.  What else could you want?  Soon I heard that Rage was a little more than a FPS, it was to include some racing elements, some RPG elements, and all sorts of innovative aspects that were sure to piss off purists and sure to intrigue those not so blinded by cynicism.  I was sold, and preordered it as soon as I could.

The game features a pretty standard post-apocalyptic setting and is bound to give rise to comparisons to Borderlands and Fallout.  But when you first walk out of the room you start in, and step into the world, blinded by the sunlight, you will notice something far different.  This world is expansive, this world is beautiful, this world looks real.  Rage is the first game I’ve seen that deviates from the standard and says that a barren wasteland doesn’t have to look like shit.  No, this world is different.  It is amazing looking.  The graphics are astounding and take what I thought this generation’s hardware could to do another level.  The game has worked hard to cultivate a certain vibe, and this vibe keeps you wanting more.

In fairness, this isn't a screen from the game, but an Arizona Department of Tourism advertisement

I’ve been seeing a lot of criticism for this game in forums and comments sections following reviews.  People are complaining that this game lacks a blockbuster story.  This makes sense, considering the edge of your seat story telling they’ve come to expect from a developer who’s previous games featured a space marine fighting demons on Mars’ moon.  I mean, lets get real, people only played Doom for the story, and we as consumers can expect no less from Rage.  In all seriousness, I understand people may want a hugely story driven game, and that’s fine.  But this game never boasted that it would have an amazing story, and the developer’s pedigree has never involved such accomplishments.  You may have fought demons in Doom, but you certainly weren’t accompanied by Dante into hell.  You were accompanied by a chainsaw and a few disenfranchised kids from Colorado.  It doesn’t make it a bad game if it doesn’t meet your expectations when your expectations aren’t well founded.  I complain all the time that my bologna doesn’t taste like foie gras but that doesn’t mean Carl at the Kroger has to take me seriously (and let me tell you, he doesn’t).

But back to the main point, the game is a wildly violent first person shooter (with some auxiliary elements) and it does that very well.  My main complaint with many games is the guns are too weak.  Not weak as in how they perform against enemies, but weak sounding, weak looking, and simply underwhelming in almost all aspects.  Not so here.  In Rage, the guns kick hard, they are loud, and they certainly show their stopping power when they hit those little bastards that will run at you from every direction.  Shooting a running mutant in the leg will cause him to slide with his momentum to the ground, and then continue hobbling towards you.  The action is fast paced and certainly frantic, creating a unnerving feeling during battles.  The opponents have fantastic AI, make great use of the environment around them, and are difficult as can be to hit.  But when you do hit them, you know it counts.  That’s something so rare in games, that a gun actually acts like a gun, its sadly baffling when you do find it.

Sadly, most levels involve riots after European soccer games

The voice acting is great as well, and the first voice you are greeted by is none other than John Goodman, infamous Fred Flintstone impersonator.  And even as to the story, I don’t find it bad or even lacking.  You are in a desolate world after an asteroid strikes the earth and deal with tons of weirdos and interesting people.  The voice acting for almost everyone is well done, as are the character animations, and the sheer variety and beauty of the different environments only serve to make this game something so unique, even when featuring a somewhat overused premise, that I find it extremely difficult to put down.

And no wonder, because it also includes some simply fantastic driving mechanics and fighting systems that make Twisted Metal all but forgettable.  Borderlands had buggies to drive as well, but bumping a guardrail would slam you to a complete hault, and it was clearly an afterthought thrown in to make traveling less of a bore.  Not so here.  The driving system was clearly a focus of the developers, and adds a great amount of variety to an already compelling game.  Racing and vehicular combat work very well, and the physics of the new id Tech 5 engine make for a very fluid experience that simply works.

The game features a few RPG elements, such as collecting items from the landscape and bodies to either sell or use to craft new items.  All weapons are upgradable, as are the vehicles, which gives a great feel of customization to the game.  But don’t expect an RPG with Rage, because it certainly isn’t one.  It is not an open world sandbox game, it is not a Fallout or Borderlands clone, and I think a lot of the criticisms come from people expecting this to be the case, and then feeling that it falls short.  But it doesn’t fall short when you view Rage for what it is, an FPS.  id Software invented the genre, and have gone and added other elements from other genres that work, elements that serve to expand on the FPS system they have while staying true to what works.  And Rage certainly works well.  My only criticisms are a few texture problems that arise occasionally, such as surfaces taking a moment to load.  But when you look at the scope of what they have done graphically with this game, the achievement that is the world they’ve created, and the fact that it is an 8Gb install on the PS3, some of that fault has to lie with the six year old hardware it is using.  I would say the PC version might fare better, but I’ve heard it is a port that will give users significant problems, so I’d recommend the console if at all possible.  Overall, Rage has exceeded my own personal expectations for the game, and has set the bar a little higher when it comes to other shooters, and far higher when it comes to graphics of all genres.  I certainly wouldn’t pass this game up.

October 6, 2011

The AK-47 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love This Gun


The AK-47 is probably the most universally recognized weapons in the world.  Developed at the end of World War II, it was released in 1947 by its namesake, Mikhail Kalashnikov.  Known in Russian as the Avtomat Kalashnikova, which roughly translated means Automatic Kalashnikov, this weapon has gone on to be used in nearly every conflict since its introduction.  Mass production of the weapon in Russia and former Soviet satellites and allies, as well as a market flooded with counterfeits, has made this weapon dirt cheap and easily accessible.  Add in the fact that it is one of the most durable weapons in the world, one of the easiest to use, and one in which there are countless variants that use interchangeable parts, and you have the perfect recipe for use by militaries ranging from the largest in the world to loose knit guerrilla and revolutionary groups.

Mikhail Kalashnikov desired to be a poet, but was conscripted to fight in WWII by the Red Army and was assigned to be a tank driver and mechanic.  While in the hospital during an illness, he heard complaints about the weapons of the time, and knew of the problems first-hand in his own experience.  He set to work to design a new weapon, and based many of his designs, including the gas operation, off of the very first assault rifle in the world, the German made StG 44 (Sturmgewehr 44), as well as the component layout of the M1 Garand .  The design proved to be popular and was adopted as the USSR’s assault rifle of choice.  The 1947 model would go on to serve as the basis for the many variants of the AK-47 seen today.

The first main variant came in 1959, designated the AKM, which stood for Kalashnikov’s Modernized Assault Rifle.  This design mainly improved the ability to mass produce the rifle but did not change the ammunition type to be used.  Both rifles use the 7.62x39mm round.  This round is mass produced and extremely cheap as compared to other ammunition types, further aiding the worldwide popularity of the weapon.  These rounds are considered armor piercing and the Chinese production of the round features a steel core, making them illegal under Federal law to import into the United States.  The casings are tapered to aid in the ejection of the case after firing, which helps prevent stovepipe jams during automatic fire.  This tapering is what leads to the iconic curvature of the AK-47′s magazines, as the back of the bullet is larger in diameter than the end of the casing.  Furthermore, the bullet is prone to fragmentation upon impact, creating serious internal injuries outside of the scope of original penetration.  Bullets that do not fragment result in far less serious injuries.

But lets be honest, this going through your chest is always going to be a serious injury.

Then in 1974 the AKM was phased out in favor of the more modern AK-74 model.  This weapon resulted from the growing trend in modern militaries of using smaller ammunition in order to increase accuracy and allow soldiers to carry more bullets.  The weapon is still approximately 50% interchangeable with older models, in terms of parts, but the main difference are the adaptations for use of the 5.45x39mm bullets instead.  This type of ammunition is also steel core and possesses a full metal jacket, which makes this weapon armor piercing as well.

With smaller ammunition, the AK-74 is often seen with reduced or absent stocks, resulting in a lighter weapon and thus more mobility.  This is a testament to the gun’s adaptability, allowing for not only modification or removal of the stocks, but also the ability to equip all manner of AK’s with scopes, grenade launcher attachments, bayonets, drum magazines, and other such mods as the user may require.

We have of course seen this weapon in countless video games, typically used by the enemies, be they Soviets or any manner of insurgent.  The weapons are usually accurately depicted as being rather inaccurate, loud, and powerful.  The weapon has proliferated widely across the world and has been used in countless revolutions, and this fact is evidenced by the flags of countries, organizations and other groups such as Zimbabwe, Hezbollah, East Timor, and the army of Iran.  It is widely used as the weapon of choice in the drug cartels of Mexico, where it is known as the Ram’s Horn, due to its curved magazine resembling the curvature of the horn of, you guessed it, a ram.  It is the most smuggled weapon in the United States and is heavily regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.  The Chinese government has made wide use of counterfeits of this rifle, as have many other countries, due to the ease of reverse engineering the gun.

The major news of today is, however, the fact that the originator of the AK-47, Russia, is no longer happy with the weapon and is actively seeking out its replacement.  It is reported that Russia currently owns enough AK-47s and its variants that they could equip their army ten times over, and experts estimate that there are enough of these rifles to equip all of the world’s armies combined.  So though the weapon is currently 64 years old, it is doubtful we will see it disappear any time soon.

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October 4, 2011

What was your favorite Pokemon?


We asked our four contributors, who all came of age in the 90′s, who their all time favorite pokemon was and why, and here are the results:

Jimmy Paperboy

My favorite Pokemon is the product of regal imbreeding.  After trading your Slowpoke with a King’s Rock and discarding the 9 stillborns it took to get it, you would end up with a Slowking.  The reason why I have such an affinity towards this Pokemon is quite simple really.  It was middle school, and I had leveled my team to 100 and caught all the pokemon in the Blue version of the game, so I went to the internet to see what else there was to accomplish.  It was rumored that if you went through all this hoopla relating to Bill’s house you could eventually end up with a Slowking.  At the time Slowking was in the cartoon, so I thought it was plausible he could be hidden somewhere in the game.   I regret to inform you the internet was lying, and all that ended up showing up were some wilted Bellsprouts.  Soon the Gold and Silver versions of the game came to the US and low and behold Slowking was to be featured in it.  The fact that I wasn’t able to get him in the Blue version propelled him to this unattainable status in my mind, which caused me to falsely place him on the same pedestal with event pokemon like Mew and Celbi.  To this day I can’t manage to correct myself.

JSixGun

I honestly cannot tell you why I love Gengar, but I loooove Gengar. Since the beginning I always thought he was one of the coolest pokemon ever created. My infatuation may be in part because his types are ghost and poison. I mean c’mon, a poison ghost just sounds wicked. Moreover, his personality has always appealed to me. The mischievous grin just can’t say enough. Bulbapedia (which any avid Pokemon fan knows of) describes his personality like so, “Gengar are very mischievous, and at some times, malicious. They enjoy playing practical jokes, such as pretending to be one’s shadow, then behaving erratically. When the quarry notices, the Gengar takes delight in its victim’s terror.” If that doesn’t scream better than Pikachu, I don’t know what else does. Since Pokemon first began I have always had a Gengar, and since they started letting us nickname them, mine has always been aptly named Vlad. Thus, Vlad the Gengar lives in my heart eternal.
In the words of Kanye West, “Yo Charizard imma’ let you finish, but Gengar is the best pokemon of all time!”
dorisfromnoris

As the cool kid in middle and high school all of my peers considered me a trendsetter.  One such trend I tried to start didn’t exactly go so well.  It ostracized me, and sent me into great turmoil forcing me to hang out with the trench coats in the lunchroom.  Even though Pokémon started my demise in life, I embraced it as being my only friend and have made a special place for it in my heart.  Within Pokémon, there was one particular Pokémon that really gave me an erection – Machamp.  In the Gameboy game, I always built Machamp into my anchor for my starting six.  In the card game, he was the only holographic card I slept with at night.  The main reason I loved him was due to the fact that my parents didn’t approve of my brother and I wasting our money on Pokémon cards, so the chances to improve our collection were few and far between.  The fact that it only took two cards to get to the highest evolvement, and not three, helped me achieve the elite status of being a badass.  Even though Machamp isn’t necessarily an amazing card to have and pretty common, he was my best in my collection, therefore my favorite.  Part of Machamp’s appeal to me was that even if I couldn’t do much with him, since his only move was Seismic Toss, no matter who I was facing they would lose 10 damage whenever attacking me.  This always made me a winner even though I always lost.

MortarandPistol

With every pokemon game I had, I usually had four main guys and a few alternates, and eventually they would all reach level 100.  But one day I was fishing and alas, I caught a piece of coral.  This was no ordinary coral either, it was a smart mouthed talking pink coral.  I looked at it, gazing into its eyes;  it looked at me, speaking Japanese.  It was curiosity at first sight.  So I thought hey, why not make this thing a level 100?  No one uses the Corsola, right?  Well, I soon found out why, and that’s because Corsola sucked.  He just sucked hard.  So hard in fact, that I’m pretty sure he used XP Share until around level 99, and even then he could barely win fights.  But though there were much, much cooler pokemon out there, and I liked hundreds of types of pokemon better, I had to drag this little guy through the Elite Four so many times that he started to grow on me, just like he would grow atop discarded tires in the ocean.  He was not only a pain in the ass, but he was my pain in the ass.  And as bulbapedia states, “Corsola usually show a cheerful determination and are prepared to do the best that they can.”  Uggggh.  There is probably not a more lame pokemon out there, and I had a level 100 one.  Years later I would lay him out in the sun until he died and was properly bleached, and then I think he was sold in a garage sale.

October 3, 2011

My Top 5 Sega Dreamcast Games by JSixGun


Look, I get it.  Most of you didn’t own a Dreamcast.  You didn’t have the eye for innovation that we few who did own one had.  I mean honestly, the Dreamcast was doing things no other console at the time, but it just never got the respect it so badly deserved.  Competing against the now glorified Nintendo 64, it never achieved the market share it should have, even though it was the first system to try and introduce online play (and how big of a deal is that these days?).  It even, get this, was the first to try and incorporate screens into its controllers.  Take that Wii U, you think you’re sooo innovative.

Despite it’s free fall from flying too close to the sun, it gave me a few years of gaming nostalgia that I’ll never forget, and introduced me to some of the best games I played as a child. So here are my top 5:

#5 – Sword of the Berserk: Gut’s Rage

My first foray into a mature titled game; in all honesty it was a pure oddity that my mother never caught it. At the time I didn’t know what I was buying. You see in those days I didn’t research games, at the most I might pick up a videogame magazine in Target while my mom shopped, but mostly I would just look at the pictures. I looked at this game on the shelves with my birthday money in tow and saw one thing, a big sword and subsequently thought, “awesome!”  I did NOT know what I was getting myself into, however.

In Sword of the Berserk, the protagonist of the game finds himself trying to rid a town of an organic plant like mutagen that attaches to the townsfolk and turns them into zombie like creatures with cancerous growths spewing out of them. If that sounds gross to you as 10 or 11 year old, than I would say you qualify as normal; if it does not, then I think we know which cliques you were a part of in high school.

I'm cool because I am unique and different.

Needless to say, I did enjoy the story of the game, and the large sword and gore served me well through two whole play throughs. The fact that my mom never saw it, or heard the language in it, is still a mystery to this day.

#4 – Gundam: Rise From the Ashes – Side Story 0079

I can guarantee you will not find this game on almost anyone else’s list. Truth be told, it could have been a horrible game, but my sheer middle school love affair with Gundam Wing on Toonami (props if you know what Toonami is) elevated this game to epic heights for me.

The golden age of television

I cannot tell you the amount man hours I poured into anything Gundam as a 12 year old.  What’s worse is that I would literally play this game in the cockpit first person view and pretend it was actually me, 12 year old jsixgun,  piloting a Gundam mobile suit and all my classmates where watching it on a direct feed in homeroom. I am not kidding.

#3 – Power Stone

I have never met anyone else who played Power Stone, or even remembers it, but it’s often touted as one of the Dreamcast’s greatest games.  I’m honestly sorry for you guys that didn’t get to experience it because it was one of the best made fighting games I have ever played.  What made Power Stone such an amazing experience was how original it was.  Players fought in large square arena’s that were littered with not only objects but pick-up-able (is that a word?) objects. See a table? Great, pick it up and smash someone with it. How about a sword?  Wield it and get stabbing stabber, the sky was the limit, which made it a lot of fun.  Furthermore, many of the stages in Power Stone were vertical (had multiple levels you could jump up too) which really opened up the game play to an original feeling combat experience.  My favorite part, however, was when you collected all the power stones in a match and your character transformed into a new super character with new moves and special abilities.  Let me also note that the characters were very cool and each one had a totally different feel and combat style.  Sit back and watch the opening to one of the greatest games you never played:

Don’t envy my childhood, envy the game.

#2 – Sonic Adventure

This was Sonic’s first real 3D adventure (Sonic 3D Blast is on purpose not being mentioned), and thus Sega was innovative enough to aptly put “adventure” in the title.  This game awed me the first time I played it.  At the time I was playing it I would have told you it was my favorite game ever.  It was basically Sonic and friends with upgrades and a somewhat open world feeling between levels.  Each character had different types of missions; for example Sonic was always faster moving and had a more platform feeling, while Knuckles had to search for gems hidden through big open world levels.  To top it off, you ended the game as Super Sonic, flying across water in the last boss fight which was enough to make any kid drop their jaw.

My favorite part however was the Chao Gardens were you hatched these little pets and raised them.  Based on what kind of animals you collected in the levels and what you chose to give them, their appearance and stats would change.  It was literally genius because it was like a 3d Tamagotchi, except 100x better.  Take a look at some of the critters below:

There were literally tons of variations you could breed into these little guys.

And thus finally we arrive at what I call the single greatest game to ever the grace the Sega Dreamcast. This game was literally groundbreaking both in story and design. It should honestly have a high place in the video game hall of fame forever.  And so, I give you:

#1 – Shenmue

What made Shenmue so great was the amount of time put into the world.  Not only was it a game, but it was a simulation of life as well.  It really made open world gaming what it is today.  Every citizen in the world lived a life from day to day, so if you decided you wanted to spend hours following someone, you might see them leave their home, go to work, take a walk, go to the park, go grocery shopping, come back home, eat , and watch tv.  It was amazing.

The innovation did not stop there, however.  The game had a real seasonal system which meant based on how long it was taking you to complete the game you could literally watch the seasons change from summer through fall into winter.  Furthermore, you were even forced to get a job at one point and part of your day had to be spent working which actually ended up being a lot of fun.  You could take the money you earned and go to stores and buy collectibles or maybe new martial arts scrolls to teach you new combat moves; the decisions were yours.  And the combat?  Well let’s just say you didn’t learn a move and then master it. You literally had to practice moves a thousand times in your dojo or in the park to master them with every step making the move faster, harder and more skilled (you could literally see and watch your form improve).  Shenmue was the most innovative game in its time and one of the most innovative ever.  Take 6 minutes of your time and watch the original trailer below and witness how ground breaking this game was:

October 3, 2011

Top 4 Simpsons Couch Gag Intros


In the 23 years The Simpsons has been on the air, there have been numerous accolades given to the show, as well as many complaints of declining quality.  But in this writer’s opinion, one thing has certainly improved over the years, and that is the famous couch gags that introduce each episode.  There are obviously plenty of great couch gags, but four stand out above the rest.  They may have been lengthened to compensate for lack of content in the actual episode, but regardless of whether season 9 is better than season 22, these intros are not only funny but smart as well.

#4 – Evolution

Introduced in the 16th episode of the 18th season, this extended intro details the evolution of Homer Simpson.  Just like Right Here, Right Now by Fatboy Slim and Do the Evolution by Pearl Jam, I love cartoon depictions of evolution, and this couch gag is no exception.

#3 – Infinity

Opening up the 14th episode of the 15th season, this couch gag parodies the 1966 short film Powers of Ten.  Zooming outwards by continuing multiples of 10, this scales back to reveal the universe is but a building block of the atoms that build the universe, ad infinitum.  This is why I love The Simpsons (and by extension Futurama), its smart comedy.

#2 – Banksy

Banksy is a British street artist who lives in pure anonymity and who has spoken out against animation studios, including The Simpsons, for outsourcing their production to Korean animation studios.  It is alleged by Banksy (among others) that these studios operate in unfavorable conditions, despite arguments to the contrary by the producers of said shows.  That’s why it was incredible when The Simpsons reached out to Banksy (contacting him in a round about way by the producers of his film) to storyboard a couch gag himself.  It is dark, the music is ominous, and in my cynical and jaded eyes, its hilarious.

#1 – Ren and Stimpy

And thus we come to my all time favorite couch gag, and the inspiration for this compilation in the first place.  It was aired only yesterday, and was done by John Kricfalusi.  If you don’t recognize that name, I’m sure you’ll at least recognize his work, namely his creation by the name of Ren and Stimpy.  He has been a known vocal critic of current animation, including The Simpsons and Family Guy, but somehow was allowed to do a bizarre and surreal cough gag himself.  Well at least he’s getting work, considering he was fired from Ren and Stimpy for unprofessional behavior.  Take a look:

October 2, 2011

Gears 3 Review by Jimmy Paperboy


When Epic released the Gears of War franchise in 2006 it was a wholly unique experience.  Never before was there a game where you could experience the intensity of battle through a cover system, and came to be known as the definition of the third person shooter genre.  Gears has been a benchmark not only for any game that follows in its path, but for all shooters.  Gears offered its third installment in the series this September, and the game disc has been whirling away in my 360 since the release date.

I googled Gears of War 3 and found this, it looks like it is right

Let’s first start with my favorite part of the game:  multiplayer.  In the competitive mode the game still retains favorites like Warzone, Execution, King of the Hill, Capture the Leader, and Wingman.  The new addition of Team Deathmatch is a nice welcome to the franchise.  The structure is the same as Team Deathmatch in any other shooter because it features respawns and the objective is to simply kill the other team, but the wrinkle to Gears is that there are a limited number of respawns per team.  I was at first skeptical of this game type because I thought it would take away from the gameplay that made Gears multiplayer so intense.  Warzone and Execution are so nerve wracking because they are not about getting kills, but staying alive.  In Warzone and Execution, death resulted in you sitting out the round until it was over.  However, I find the limited number of respawns in Team Deathmatch reinforces the survival mindset present in other modes while allowing you to be constantly in the fray.  Gears also went away from Host matchmaking and now functions on their own dedicated servers.  This is a great improvement because it used to become so frustrating when you were playing with a good group of people and the game suddenly ended due to people quitting or having network problems.  Like in Gears 2, when a player quits in multiplayer a bot is put in its place.  But even better, Gears 3 allows people to join mid game which helps keep the competitive pace in multiplayer.  The maps are so-so.  There are really no stand outs, and I am left only to reminisce about the days of playing old favorites such as River, Canals, and War Machine.  It was always fun to have such variables of death in a map as well, such as the train on Tyro station or the snow in Avalanche.  I assume they will add some of the classics and better maps when DLC comes out, but until then I’ll make the best of what I’ve got.

Sadly, this man committed suicide with his lancer soon after.

Horde is back as well in Gears 3.  This version adds the ability of your COG team to build fortifications to protect your squad from the Locust Horde.  Depending on the quality and quantity of Locust grubs you kill, you will earn money that can be spent on things such as barriers, turrets, and decoys.  The more money you spend the better upgrades you can get.  Beast Mode is another mode offered, which is like a Horde from the Locust perspective.  You can play as the Locust monsters that you encounter in campaign mode to fight against the computer controlled COG squad.  The way of earning money is the same as Horde, and more money results in being able to choose bigger and better Locusts.  I found this to be one of my favorite new additions because of the sheer variety of attacks and abilities that the Locusts can use.  Also, the last game that I remember which allowed a player to play from the antagonist’s perspective was Perfect Dark on the 64 so it is a refreshing change to say the least.

The stat system is extremely comprehensive.  If anyone is familiar with Bungie.net’s stat system, the in-game stat tracking in Gears certainly rivals it depth and can be accessed completely from the console.  It delves into things such as kills with weapons, game modes stats, etc.  Gears “borrows” from Call of Duty ribbons and medals which function like challenges and earns you titles and emblems.  Gears 3 features a plethora of unlockables which will should take a player take eons to finish.  This promotes the player to experience the game with different weapons, modes, and kills to gain things such as character skins, colored guns, and executions.

Gears does not make Marcus morally, nor sexually ambiguous.

The campaign is an achievement in itself.  The story is top notch.  It can be corny at times, but it is like watching a good action movie.  Even in its moments of cheesiness, Gears is still able to pull at your heart.  There are about two or three moments that really stand out.  They even caused complete silence between the constant chatter of my co-op partner and I because it captured all of our sense.  What Gears 3 does better with its story than the previous installments is make you feel connected to the characters.  It is evident that the weight of war is starting to get to Delta Squad, and Gears does a good job of fleshing out their yearning for civilian life and families.  Unfortunately, It was obvious that Epic put little time into developing the women characters, and they seemed to be there just to widen the audience.  In spite of their obvious hotness they were one dimensional and generic.  I was very surprised to say the least that Epic was able to put such an engrossing story together which is by far the best of the three games in the franchise.  The campaign also keeps variety in mind.  It is not simply the mind-numbing task of finding cover and killing Locusts.  You are put into vehicles, fight in a mech suit, and with a nod to the movie Aliens get to use a Loader suit. The story takes place in multiple settings which will take you underwater, in the air, and through the Cole’s old Thrashball hometown.

These days it is rare that a video game exceeds expectations or meets them.  Gears 3 does a good job of keeping with the formula in the past games while taking some successful features of other modern shooters.  Gears of War 3 met my expectations and definitely worth picking up.

PROS: Same great competitive multiplayer experience that I expect, a moving story that will be remembered, buying fortifications in Horde.

CONS: Uninspiring multiplayer maps, cheesy parts in story at times, still get stuck on everything when doing the roadie run (not sure if anything can be done about this anyways).

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