Archive for November, 2011

November 27, 2011

The Black Eyed Peas Experience: A Cautionary Tale


Remember that scene from The Shawshank Redemption where Brooks, the old librarian, is finally freed?  He’d been in prison for so long that he’d become institutionalized, so when he saw the world again, he no longer recognized it.  It moved too fast and he couldn’t understand it anymore.  He was like a time traveler.  The stress of being in a foreign land was too much for him; a case of Paris syndrome tenfold.  So he did what anyone might be tempted to do in his situation; as an old, useless ex-con in a world where all he was good for was bagging groceries, he slipped on an ole fashioned necktie and tested Newton’s theory.

Still works.

Since I’ve seen that movie, I constantly think about two things.  One, that being called a fish is not a compliment.  And secondly, and in my opinion more importantly, I always wonder what someone just getting out of prison or a coma would think about the world today.  It is an interesting concept, and I think technology would be one of the biggest surprises they face.  In fact, Randall Lee Church,  a man who had been locked up since 1983, described the world around him upon release as alien and terrifying.  He was so confused by it all that he burned down an abandoned house just to escape it and go back to prison.  See, Mr. Church has been in my thoughts a lot lately; I feel bad for the guy.  And while pining over the plight of this recidivist, I saw a commercial the other day.  It was for a new video game, one called The Black Eyed Peas Experience.  And I believed I understood what went wrong with this gentle orange-clad time traveler.  First, take a look at the presumably harmless commercial:

See, I’m afraid this commercial might be misleading.  Let’s take our hero Randall Church.  The news articles fail to mention exactly how he spent his time on the outside, but I’m willing to make a wager that it wasn’t the iPad, Prius, or black Presidents out there that got him so confused and frightened.  I think it’s fair to assume that things were going fairly well for the guy for a few days.  He got to taste beer again, he got to taste vodka again, he even got to taste dehydrated and cigarette-fouled morning breath again.    But one day, for just a brief minute or so, he caught a glimpse of this commercial for a video game.  In his day, video games were Tetris and Pac Man.  But now, now he saw this and was like

What. The. Fuck.

These kids, one from every creed and color, ride their bikes downtown, stereos in tow.  They are rebels and they just don’t care.  They hook up their car batteries and streetlights to some weird looking Nintendo and a computer tower and gather in the public square.  Is it going to be a riot, a violent demonstration against the system that had taken so many years of his life away?  No, these kids were full of courage and self confidence, and more were gathering before this enormous television that stood before them.  I imagine he was on the edge of his seat in anticipation as a few guys in the commercial step to the forefront and the music begins.  The crowd begins dancing.  Red, yellow, black and white, they were all dancing in his sight.  The game had turned this crowd of misguided and angst-ridden youths into a positive crowd of self expression.  They almost looked like they were having the time of their lives, and they had never felt this way before.  It was incredible.  Technology had given man a way to rejoice, to find happiness and self fulfilment.  He no longer needed a needle in his arm or the heroin in his veins.  Instead, he set off for the local Wal*Mart.  He had a game to buy.  This would be something to turn his life around.  He would join them in the square, he would dance, and he would no logner be judged.

Life finally made sense to him, if only for a moment.

So our hero drove down to Wal*Mart and stepped through the doors.  Women shielded their children as this menacing wall of tattoos strolled through the doors, his thousand-yard stare still affixed to his face.  Employees kept a keen eye on him, for they knew his type.  They watched as he moved past the aisles, growing more surprised as he moved with determination towards electronics, not stopping to shoplift once.  When he reached the back the elderly woman behind the counter pretended not to notice him, but he was persistent.  He said he needed a video game.  “A grand theft autos, I’m sure” she mutters sarcastically, but he corrects her.  He has hope in his eyes.  “No.  I need the Black Eyed Peas Experience please.  For the Wii.”  She rang him up and wondered if the game was used to make meth.  It wasn’t.

"I know his type. Trust me, I do modeling on the side."

When he got home he opened the game to discover they had sold him the wrong thing.  The cartridge was missing, and in its place was a disc.  A compact disc.  He was livid.  He called the only guy he knew on the outside, and old friend he had met in prison years ago.  “Yeah, no, they come on CDs now.  Look, trust me, I’ve  got a Wii and everything.  Got some weed too.  Come on over,” said the friend, and so he hopped in the car and drove to his friend’s house.  His anger had subsided and he took a deep breath.  Remember Randall, he thought to himself, things are going to be different now.  We’re going to start an epic party.  No, not a party.  A celebration.  People from all over will see what we’re getting into, they’ll join us in dancing.  I’ll get a chance to be seen by everyone and they’ll all be cheering.  He smiled and lit a cigarette as he pulled into his friend’s driveway.  This was it.  He walked in the door.

"Dude, glad you're here. I'm just now getting it set up."

And so our hero Randall stared in stunned silence for what felt like hours.  The game slipped out of his hand and clattered to the floor, but he was too numb to realize it.  It had all been a lie.  Life was no different now.  Like a man waking up from a dream, reality began rushing over him.  The game would only have a handful of songs, all by the same fucking band.  A band he had never heard of.  The friends he was promised?  A lie.  The celebration?  And insult.  His eyes watered, but not with sadness or even rage.  His body was overcome with regret.  His mind was overcome with madness.  He couldn’t breathe.  He thought back to those foolish dreams he had once held; that he would dance in the streets.  He knew now he would only be dancing in a living room with smoldering cigarettes clouding the house, the stench of cat urine permeating his clothing.  He had been a damn fool.  He looked up at his friend and sighed softly.  He pulled out his lighter.

He asked his friend to leave, and the rest was history.  “96 days after his release, he poured gasoline through a window of the empty house on the Southeast Side, then threw in flaming rags and paper towels, setting the place on fire.  Days later, he told police he did it because he wanted to go back to his job at the former prison unit.”  His job?  Not playing the Black Eyed Peas Experience.  He did it every day for 28 years and knew nothing else.

Be careful out there friends.  Some games just suck.

November 24, 2011

Up Close and Far Away: Battlefield 3 v. Modern Warfare 3


I had to put Skyrim aside while I finish up a mountain of work for the next few weeks, and have instead focused my breaks on shooters lately.  And while playing both Modern Warfare and Battlefield, I’ve obviously noticed some substantial differences.  But today I want to focus on two main differences, both in the area of one-hit killing:  knifing and sniping.  Both games take a somewhat different approach to these integral aspects of combat, and in my personal opinion, Battlefield 3 has done a better job with both.

Yes, obviously...

Knifing

Call of Duty’s knifing system hasn’t changed much over the past few years (but honestly, what has?).  It’s simple really, you’re guaranteed a one-hit kill if you get close enough to an enemy and take a swipe at him with your knife.  It’s become such a second nature to the games that when two players come within a specific distance of one another, continuing to shoot is simply foolish and suicidal.  It has caused every gamer across the world to shout out in rage as they pump their enemy full of bullets, only to be felled with one swipe of the knife.  I personally find this a problem.

Close enough.

First of all, in what world do the game designers live on where a cut is always more deadly than a gunshot wound?  Not that MW3 doesn’t have stab animations, but all too often we’re presented with a mere swipe of the knife and the enemy is dead.  In the above picture, the guy’s backpack might get torn open, but to have us believe he’ll keel over and die because of it is a little too much for even a gullible guy like me to believe.  When your blood is quickly being replaced by bullets, giving the guy a papercut isn’t going to stop it.  I know we need knifing to be one hit kill so that we’re not left with a slapfest like in Goldeneye, but at least make it realistic.  Maybe something like below?  A little animation where you turn the guy around and actually, you know, put the knife in him?

Like this?

Yes like that!  Modern Warfare, you should have done it exactly like….well hell, like Battlefield.  See, in Battlefield you don’t just limp-wrist your knife at a guy and hope he’s a hemophiliac, you let him know you’re stabbing him.  It’s all the more satisfying to do it, all the more enraging to have it done to you, and all the more realistic.  Plus, not only does it make things way more balanced, but it actually makes knifing more ruthless.  Knifing is far more difficult to pull off, but if you do it, it is a great feeling.  You don’t feel like you got a cheap kill; you feel like you just brutally killed someone.  And when you’re playing a war game, that’s usually the effect you’re going for.  Oh, and did I mention you steal their dog tags?

Kinda a dick move though...

Sniping

I saw someone say that Modern Warfare 3 is like laser tag and Battlefield 3 is like paintball, and I have to agree.  Whereas in laser tag you run around constantly in a small room shooting each other and giggling until the nitrous wears off, in paintball you move slowly and deliberately; the opposing sides are more delineated and precision, teamwork and patience pay off in the end.  In MW3 I don’t really care if I get killed.  I immediately respawn and run back into the action, guns blazing until I die.  I’m more of a kamakazi; death is inevitable, so why not take out as many people as I can with me.  But in Battlefield, it takes forever to get to a good spot and hold it.  I don’t want to die, I have a real incentive not to.  This is true for all classes and play styles.  And though I’m mostly an SMG man in both games, I’ve recently tried my hand at sniping.  In one game I had fun, in the other I did not.  I’ll give you a hint.  Laser tag doesn’t have sniper rifles lasers for a reason.

My dad wishes I played fooooootballllll!

Here’s my main beef.  Modern Warfare 3 has tons of great weapons in it, just like Battlefield 3 does.  In fact, they have tons of the same weapons, both being modern shooters.  But while in Battlefield you can make good use of really any of the guns, in Modern Warfare you really only need the SMGs or the assault rifles.  I mean honestly, when each map is the size of a Wendy’s, why do you need a sniper rifle?  Quickscoping?  That cheap method of running and gunning with a one-hit kill weapon?  Who here honestly believes that’s how snipers work in real life?  I know video games are able to take liberties with reality, and sometimes that can be good, but what is the point of having a sniper rifle in Modern Warfare?  Some may make good use of it I’m sure, but not to the extent you could if it was on a far bigger map.  This isn’t really what you should see when you’re sniping:

Close enough to knife him, really.

That’s like someone sniping their neighbor in some twisted Hatfield-McCoy feud, except in the suburbs.  The beauty of sniping is the incredible accuracy these weapons offer, matched with the skill of the shooter.  In Battlefield, with the maps as large as they are, one has to take into serious account leading the enemies and the effect of gravity on bullets over an extended distance.  That’s why a kill like in the image above may be sort of satisfying, but it’s nothing compared to a Battlefield snipe:

See, that is sick.  And while I’m nowhere near close to that good (my Battlelog shows my longest headshot at a paltry 112m), it is quite fun in a game of Rush to hide atop a hill and watch the combat below, waiting for that one shot.  And though I miss a lot, and when I do choose to snipe I get very low overall game scores, when I do get that headshot from a distance, I feel very accomplished afterwards.  Because I feel like an actual sniper, licking my finger to test the wind, aiming above their heads so I can watch that white orb drop and pop them a split second later.  Modern Warfare gives us the guns, but they don’t give us the ability to actually engage in all types of this so called “modern warfare”.  We’re only given a part of it.  This very claustrophobic close-quarters combat type of warfare, without any of the rest of it.  So we’re left with guns that can’t be used to their full potential.  And that’s why I keep coming back to Battlefield as my game of choice over MW3.

Plus, you can tell this isn't MW3 because there aren't kids calling you a fag in this picture.

In the end, this is a very partisan approach to it all, and my inner fanboy towards BF3 is clearly showing.  I’ll either preach to the choir or generate disagreements.  So please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

November 21, 2011

Races in Skyrim


I’m very interested to see what race people have chosen to play as in Skyrim.  Though I’m sure many of us will have multiple playthroughs as different races, this poll is really just to gauge what race people initially chose for their first foray into the world of Skyrim.  So please vote, and if you are so inclined, let us know why in the comments!  (And if you don’t have the game yet but plan on getting it, let us know which race you want to play as!)

November 20, 2011

Community’s Impending Cancellation: An Objective Analysis


It had already been a bad evening for me.  I was stressed about a mountain of work I had to do and my lingering caffeine overdose had put me on edge.  I had to wade knee-deep through countless Facebook “repost if you know someone who is in heaven” statuses in a futile attempt to find something worth reading, and so I had no other choice than to find respite in the form of last Thursday’s episode of Community.  It was an epic parody of Heart of Darkness, the documentary about the director’s descent into insanity while making the infamous Vietnam-era movie Apocalypse Now.  As always, I was left satisfied after watching this smart and engaging comedy.  So after it was over, as I’m known to do, I waded into the reviews to see if others thought it was as brilliant as I did.  And that’s when I found it.  Like a hoarder finding his dead cat Mittens beneath a stack of old newspapers, I was horrified to see a story about NBC shelving Community midseason.  I was stunned.  How could this be?  How could a show this great be moved to the Huntsville Unit like a death row inmate in Texas?  It wasn’t an outright cancellation, but it was clear the judge had handed down the sentence.  And this is my appeal.

And the jury was made up of blithering idiots.

I was enraged.  I’m not just an overzealous fan here, though I fall into that category unabashedly.  No, I saw this as systematic and endemic in our society at large.  There is an overarching problem that America faces.  While some people may fear our future is akin to that in 1984, the rat cages already on the assembly line, the truth couldn’t be more starkly different.  Instead, we’ve devolved into Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World and we didn’t even know it.     The majority of Americans are so content with the trash they’re fed on television, so comfortable with what they’re told they’ll enjoy, that they fear change and innovation and have a near toxic aversion to any hint of creativity.  It’s because of this that not only Community will be cancelled, but tons of other great shows die in their childhoods while abominations like According to Jim grow into adulthood long after they should have died under the weight of their own flaws.

Nietzsche was a religious man until he saw this...

Lets start with a quaint story from way back in 2006.  An underrated show you may have heard of, Arrested Development, was cancelled due to low ratings.  Now, I can’t blame Fox for this, and I don’t.  See, Fox and all the other stations are businesses, and their goal is to make money.  That makes sense to me.  Their shows have to draw in as many viewers as possible so they can charge advertisers more money.  So a show like Arrested Development, as close to perfection as it was, simply didn’t make sense from a business perspective.  So I don’t blame Fox.  But I do blame our society.  Because Fox knew that if they cancelled Arrested Development, they would have to replace it with something that would make them more money.  And being a big business, they have people who conduct studies and polls to find out what people want.  And just as they were told people didn’t want Arrested Development, they were told something else would do far better.  And so they replaced it with, and I kid you not, Skating with Celebrities.  

And our collective souls died a little that day

Americans don’t want something smart, something challenging, something that is funny in its subtlety.  They want, and I shudder to say it, Skating with Celebrities.  And though that show didn’t end up being successful either, it doesn’t take much to see that to this day shows like Arrested Development continue to be cancelled while shows like Dancing with the Stars continue to be made.  For every good show out there, there are tenfold shows about celebrities doing something stupid, and Americans eat that shit up.  When I go to Google news to read about developments in the world, you know, actually important stuff, I still see news about Kim Kardashian’s divorce.  This involuntarily induced bulimia aside, I realize just how comfortably stupid our society has become.  Because who cares about the overthrow of Gadaffi and what his government’s replacement could mean to the region and to the overall stability of the world as a whole when you have a fake wedding ending in a fake divorce between two fake people.  Who cares about a show like Louie, where heaven forbid you might have to think about what you’re seeing, when the abortion that is Mike and Molly so conveniently tells you when you need to be laughing with the helpful aid of a laugh track?

Oh, on second thought that IS hilarious!

I could write an entire article on laugh tracks and how they work solely on peer pressure.  The condescending use of this device tells us we should laugh because others think its funny.  But I have to stay on point, for I’ve strayed far enough as it is.  Even shows like King of the Hill, who some might like and some may not, was still a smart show in its execution and well made.  But it too suffered cancellation so that Seth McFarland could have his third show on Fox, The Cleveland Show.  I’m no master of economics, but this stunning lack of diversification can’t be a good investment on Fox’s part.  But people eat it up because “Omg Family Guy lolol!!!!1!!!1”.  But the cancellation of a scripted comedy show in exchange for another is something I can stomach far more than the cancellation of a show in exchange for a reality show.  Just this year alone these shows debuted:  The X Factor, The Voice, America’s Best Dance Crew, and Live to Dance.  I once dated a girl who cried during each episode of Biggest Loser, and she wasn’t even fat!  People will watch Nancy Grace convict innocent people on air, screaming about every white girl that goes missing until she bursts an artery in her head, and when her show goes off, they jump over to watch her pop a nipple out while she’s dancing.

Watch me dance, you pricks!

The problem is that ratings are measured by Nielsen boxes, and they only measure those shows that are watched live (though some do measure DVRs, if the show is watched within 3 days).  To an extent this makes sense considering that watching a show live is the only way to guarantee that the audience suffers through the commercials.  But relying on this method leaves out countless viewers.  Hulu viewership is shockingly not counted, nor is watching the show on the network’s own website, with its own commercials you cannot skip through.  Relying on an outdated method of viewership to calculate ratings is grossly misleading, leaving only those non-adopters of new technology to be counted as the viewers.  And because the internet is quickly overtaking physical television as the main source of scripted home entertainment, relying on this skewed understanding of who actually watches these shows leaves a specific demographic deciding what we, as a whole, watch.  And that demographic is old people, and stupid people.  The people who watch shows live exclusively, and shun television through the internet, are the ones who are deciding what is cancelled and what stays on the air.  And while that is not the sole group of people who watch television live, their absence from all other types of viewership serves to skew and unbalance all measurements of ratings to the extent that people who are out of touch are the ones who decide what is renewed and what is cancelled.

Everyone really does love that Raymond. He's such a nice boy.

And so here we are, a world where another great show like Community, one of the most innovative and creative shows on television, has been shelved half way through its third season.  It’s difficult not to assume it is up against the same fate Arrested Development and countless other shows have faced (Better Off Ted, Futurama, Freaks and Geeks, to name a few).  And it is because of a combination of factors, mostly that the majority of Americans prefer predictable, rehashed garbage that is comfortable and not at all challenging.  And those people are the ones that are disproportionately counted when it comes to ratings.  So when Community is cancelled while that travesty of a “show” Whitney gets renewed, you can be sad and dejected all you want, but don’t be surprised.  We have suffered a fate that Huxley predicted, and that was so well discussed in Amusing Ourselves to Death.  Though Arrested Development may be coming back now with a long overdue movie, true justice wouldn’t allow for this to happen at all.  In a perfect world, Arrested Development and Community would still be going strong, and the unwashed masses would be out there clamoring for their Mike & Molly movie, in 3D.  If this tide is to turn, we need to take another look at how we gauge the actual numbers of people watching shows out there, especially in the face of new technology.  And if that doesn’t fix it, I don’t know what to do.  America may be just too stupid to cure.  And even if I don’t have any answers, by God I love to complain.

I’ll leave you with this:


November 19, 2011

ProTac 1L Tactical Flashlight Review – JasonKage


Nowadays you can get “tactical” anything.  A quick Google search of “tactical gear” yields numerous results ranging from tactical pants, tactical boots, tactical bags, tactical gloves,  tactical knives, tactical wallets, tactical pens, tactical hats, and, even, tactical coffee mugs.

Now you can drink coffee like a man, unlike those sissies who ask for cream

Most of this equipment is only good for guys who sit in their BDUs, eating MREs, doing their CBTs, while watching a CDU, and waiting for orders from their CMC.  This last statement is in no way a slight on those who serve in the military; these guys protect our freedom and deserve copious amounts of respect.  Nor is it a jab at those who simply have a thing for tactical gear.  If that’s your thing, go for it.  However, to many of us, most of the stuff of which the “tactical” gear flood is comprised seems just plain redundant, unnecessary, and silly.

Tactical pen, the bane of all muggers and evil standardized tests everywhere

However, there are occasional pieces of gear among the tactical mess that are able to stand their ground against the influx of uselessness and impracticality – if not for the simple reason that they have a use other than being camo-colored or have “tactical” written on the side.  One of these items was given to me yesterday by a good friend of mine.  It’s called the ProTac 1L by Streamlight and it just happens to be, you guessed it, a tactical flashlight.  I know, I know, this sounds like something that crawled out from under the bottom of the tactical crap pile but hear me out.

Firstly, it’s an LED flashlight. It actually has a non-tactical functional use; I mean who hasn’t dropped their keys while trying to get into their car at night, or had a small piece of [insert annoyingly small item here] fall into a dark crevice.   Second, this thing is tiny.  It’s less than an inch in diameter, about 3.35 inches long, and weighs 2 ounces so you can carry it on your person without walking like you have a peg-leg.  Finally, this thing has two main modes of illumination, one significantly brighter than the other (plus a third that will be discussed below).  The brightest mode is freaking bright – about 110 lumens; while the lower mode is about 12 lumens.  This makes a huge difference in battery life (1.75 hrs versus 14 hrs respectively).  Thus, you can conserve battery power when you’re not busy using this thing as a spotlight for your interrogation sessions.

Hang on, I think I've got some AA batteries in my bat pocket...

Now, I have a confession to make. I am a slight, slight tactical gear person.  Yes, I traded my tactical pen in for the flashlight (no seriously, I did).  Being a tactical gear-head, as well as having trained for a while various forms of martial-theory, there are a few things that I notice about this flashlight that help to make it worthy of the label tactical.  The first thing I notice is that it’s made of machined aluminum.  This provides for a stout, lightweight frame, which is impact-resistant, which leads to my second observation.  The flashlight also doubles as an impact-weapon.  Around the rim surrounding the head of the light are 3 depressions – these depressions produce the equivalent of short prongs around the rim of the light.  The rim, by nature of the prongs, has less surface area than it would if the rim were equal in depth throughout its circumference.  Less surface area equals greater psi if one is forced to use the rim of the light to strike and/or manipulate someone with the flashlight.

Having my tac-gear hat on, the next thing I notice about this flashlight is that it has a strobe function.  Allow me to back up a minute; I’d mentioned earlier that the bright mode on this light is “freaking bright” and a big part of what makes this light “tactical” is the fact that it is so bright.  If you were to shine the 110 lumens that this flashlight puts out into someone’s eyes, especially in a dark environment and especially if they’re not expecting it, you’re going to temporarily blind them at least long enough to run or take advantage of those wonderful little prongs I described in the above paragraph.   Given the flashlight’s small size and black-color, it’s likely you could be holding the light without anyone noticing you had it, until you hit their eyes with the beam.  Now that I’ve said all that, you’re saying “so you mentioned something about a strobe function, are you now going to tell me that this is the ultimate in tactical raver gear?”

No this is the untimate in tactical raver gear

Actually, the strobe function takes all the good things that occur when you shine the bright setting in someone’s eyes, and can add disorientation, dizziness, vertigo, and a host of other fun effects.  Notice I say “can,” it is important to know that everyone reacts differently to different stimuli and the strobe-effect may just cause the temporary blindness.  With every non-lethal defense tool (pepper spray, mace, tazers, etc.) there is a chance that the person you try it on will shrug it off.  While I’m on the subject of disclaimers, I also want to say that this flashlight, while very cool, will not make you invincible – and anything that I’ve mentioned above should not be tried unless it’s truly necessary.

To close I thought I’d throw in a little trivia.  The tactical crowd wasn’t the first to pick up on the fact that flashlights could be used as a weapon.  Biker gangs used to (and still do) carry around large aluminum flashlights and utilize them as makeshift clubs.  The street name for these flashlights became “kill lights.”  Thus, if you see a guy with a large Maglite hanging from his belt be sure to give him a wide berth.

November 17, 2011

Animals, Video Games, and PETA


This week Nintendo released Mario 3D Land for the struggling 3DS.  And while many have given the game great reviews, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has come out swinging against them game, claiming that Mario’s Tanooki suit glorifies the wearing of fur and, more specifically, supports the fur industry in Asia, which they claim skins the animals alive.  See, a tanuki is actually a real animal, also known as the Japanese raccoon dog, and its fur is harvested in Japan to make fur coats and other types of clothing.  So PETA, an organization known for its rather outlandish stunts, such as hosting a porn site to promote vegetarianism, has created a Flash game to protest Mario by allowing players to play as a skinned tanuki, chasing Mario to get its bloodied fur back from him.  And while I’m certainly against animal cruelty, I have to wonder about the protesting of “animal cruelty” in games like Mario, where any relation to actual cruelty is tenuous at best and disingenuous at worst.  A tanooki suit may be available in the game, but it takes a special kind of detachment from reality to then assume the game promotes the killing of animals to gain powers they don’t even possess in the first place.   Mario may wear a tanooki suit, but I think it’s a stretch to claim that this:

Promotes the skinning, alive, of these:

Regardless, most sources I’ve read have come out against PETA for its somewhat misplaced focus of attention, and I have to agree.  But it did raise an interesting question in my mind.  What does PETA think of some of the more graphic depictions of violence against animals in video games?

The Battlefield Rat

In Battlefield 3, you find yourself trapped in Iran’s capitol city after a devastating earthquake. While trying to crawl through a ditch to avoid detection, a squeaking rat comes up and starts biting at your fingers.  Rats are nasty, and in this case, can even get you noticed and killed from the noise it’s making.  So you have the option to do what a soldier would be inclined to do, kill the rat lest you be killed.  Now, it’s important to remember that before and after this scene, you are tasked with killing waves and waves of people from all over the world.  You can cut their throats, pepper their faces with a shotgun, or, like any other shooter, simply blast them away as you make your way forward.  And in one level you even kill innocent policemen in the streets of Paris.  But, and don’t be surprised, PETA has ignored the gratuitous people killing and moved on to condemning the game because “Killing virtual animals can have a brutalizing effect on the young male target audience. There have been repeated cases of animal cruelty in Germany, where young people kill animals. Inspiration behind these acts often came from movies and computer games.”

Snitches get stitches?

As I’ve emphatically argued before, violence in video games has never been shown to correlate with violence in real life.  Furthermore, the dubious claim PETA makes, that the inspiration behind acts of animal abuse came from movies and computer games, is shockingly misleading.  Any animal cruelty cases in Germany I was able to find make no mention of any sort of motive at all.  Its doubtful that video games inspired any of these acts, but rather they stem from the fact that they’re fucking Germans.

Red Dead Redemption

I have to preface this by saying that I really am totally against all forms of animal cruelty.  I eat meat, but I don’t think we should treat food animals poorly, and we especially shouldn’t treat pets or even wild animals badly.  Hearing about some kid burning cats or some lady hoarding dogs makes me sick to my stomach.  But unlike some people, I realize that video games are not real life, and I think PETA loses tons of credibility for what could otherwise be a good message by attacking video games like those mentioned above.  And so when I sought out PETA’s inevitable complaint about Red Dead Redemption, I was left scratching my head.  As far as I can tell (and I absolutely combed their website), they didn’t utter a peep about Rockstar’s blockbuster hit Red Dead Redemption.  You know, the game where you can shoot and kill countless wild animals, get a trophy for killing one of every type, hunt buffalo to extinction, and then graphically skin the animals for their fur?  Yeah, nothing but silence from them.

The game is pretty historically accurate, especially in the sense that people back then lived off the land and gutted the animals they hunted.  I see nothing controversial about this depiction in Red Dead, but I am stunned, absolutely stunned, that PETA had nothing to say about this.  As an aside, some might claim Red Dead influenced this guy, but my bet is on moonshine:  Man field dresses deer in parking lot, arrested.

Riverwood Chicken

Lastly, it appears the realm of Skyrim may have its own brand of environmentalists in the form of the citizens of Riverwood.  As many people have recently discovered, at the beginning of the game if you kill their chicken, the townspeople flip out.  And they don’t just scold you sternly and post porn on the internet to protest you, oh no.  They arm themselves to the teeth and try to slaughter you.  While its probably just a weird bug, it is nonetheless fun to do if you’re bored.  (Bored in Skyrim?  Yeah, yeah, I know).  So far PETA hasn’t had anything to say about this newest installment of the Elder Scrolls, but there is still plenty of time.  With an open world like this, and tons of animals to kill, I’m sure we’ll hear some grumbling sometime soon.  In the meantime, why don’t you enjoy watching a man try to kill a mammoth with his bare hands, naked.  (Spoiler alert, he loses).

November 16, 2011

Why I Love Skyrim – by Jsixgun


The main reason I love Skyrim is simple; I love a good RPG. I love to define and create my character until they are wholly mine and mine alone. Skyrim lets you do this very well and this article is going to show you exactly what I mean by that. I’m going to tell you a regaling tale of the beginning of my adventure in Skyrim and it starts with a name.

The first thing you have to do in any good RPG is pick a name. To some this is a menial task they wash away on some attempt to be funny or clever, which is fine and well for those people. I assume our own elusive DorisfromNoris would name his character with some sexual provocateur to be certain, and we won’t even get into what he named his Pokemon because I don’t want your cheeks to get red. However, I on the other hand always take my naming very seriously and use it to define my character through story progression. So what did I name my Nord Warrior? Holger Danske. You’re probably wondering what the heck kind of name Holger Danske is; the answer lies within the tales of Charlemagne in an old French poem, Chanson de Geste. While I will save you the history lesson, in short, Holger Danske (also Ogier the Dane depending on who’s writing about him) was a Danish prince who grew up in Charlemagne’s court, won many battles, killed a giant, had a special sword, and did all sorts of fanciful things. His legend claims that he fell asleep in old Kronborg Castle, and sleeps there still until the time that he will wake again to defend the Danish people against a great enemy (pretty cool).

Holger presumably sleeping until the aliens attack Norway.

My Holger? Well he’s no sleeping Arthurian-esque hero; at least not yet. Born into the great Empire of Tamriel, Holger didn’t quite enjoy the persnickety Imperials, not even a little bit. You see Holger’s great-great grandfather was a true Nordic kinsmen of the famed Companions. However, for purely economic reasons his family of blacksmiths moved south into the empire two generations ago, and has been blacksmithing in the south-eastern regions for decades. The Empire, nevertheless, was no place for Holger’s restless heart.  You see, Holger grew up resenting the Imperial taxes and longed for the cold northern skies and his bearded kinsmen. After his father’s untimely death he packed what few belongings he had and decided he would go north, search out the Companions, and find his fate.

Along the way he was mistakenly arrested as a storm cloak rebel and the rest is history currently in process of being written. I will, however, leave you with a bit of prose that defines my Holger well. It comes from the English poet Ted Hughes (credit gatesofvienna.com):

The Warriors of the North

Bringing their frozen swords, their salt-bleached eyes,

             their salt-bleached hair,

The snow’s stupefied anvils in rows,

Bringing their envy,

The slow ships feelered Southward, snails

             over the steep sheen of the water-globe.

 

Thawed at the red and black disgorging of abbeys,

The bountiful, cleft casks,

The fluttering bowels of the women of dead burghers,

And the elaborate, patient gold of the Gaels.

 

To no end

But this timely expenditure of themselves,

A cash-down, beforehand revenge, with extra,

For the gruelling relapse and prolongueur of their blood

 

Into the iron arteries of Calvin.

November 16, 2011

On The Subject Of Skyrim, And Other Related Thoughts…


We have all, at some point in our childhoods, been subjected to that joke of a thing they call D.A.R.E.  You know, the drug prevention program that encourages kids to become informants against their parents, the very same program that has been discredited by the government, condemned by the Surgeon General, and been shown to increase drug use in kids that “graduate” from their program.  But if there’s one thing we can take away from our elementary school’s D.A.R.E. officer, its that we shouldn’t do drugs because even one taste will get us addicted.  That first high will be so amazing that the rest of our descent into the gutter will be driven by an attempt to reclaim that now lost initial euphoria.  And while I can’t speak to meth or heroin, I can certainly see some relation in terms of Bethesda’s newest release, an experimental drug that goes by the street name “Skyrim”.

Before and after: The faces of Skyrim

Rambling, attenuated introduction aside, I’ve found myself obsessed with this game ever since its release.  See, I’ve lived under this crippling jones for years now; a futile attempt to reclaim that feeling that Morrowind gave me.  The game was so strange, so amazing in its novelty, and so engrossing that Oblivion couldn’t help but falter under the weight of my expectations.  And considering my expectations for Skyrim were considerably higher, I was under the cautious belief that this game might not be as great as I wanted it to be.  But for the first time in my life, I was happy to be wrong.  Skyrim has reclaimed in me that early sense of awe and immersion that Morrowind offered, while still retaining the improvements and innovation that Oblivion had brought.  That’s why when last night I found myself sitting in a field, eating antlers, watching the Northern Lights flow by, I realized this game will take me forever to “beat”.  And that’s entirely OK to me, because I don’t want it to be over.  I want to find out what weird things lie ahead, and I don’t want any guide or google search to tell me about them.  I have on one disc an entirely untapped world before me, and I intend to discover it myself, all of it, no matter how long it takes.

While I'm at it, I wan't to know why the sky is such a damn show off.

I just can’t put the game down.  It’s like reading the best book ever written, and I co-authored it.  Even the actual books in the game are great to read, and I highly recommend The Theif as a starting point for some of the local lore and fiction.  In terms of worth, it seems like I should be criminally liable to Bethesda for getting so much game for relatively so little.  And as Jsixgun and I have discussed, the game invites you to create your own backstory for your character, in order to develop the motivations for the choices you make in the game.  With that said, let me introduce you to my character, a man by the name of John Sylvester.  Had he been born in a different time, he would have made a wonderful Civil War general.  He may be a coward and as selfish as a baby, but his sideburns alone would more than qualify him.

Equip bushy sideburns?

*Don’t worry, I won’t post any spoilers.*  He’s an Imperial, but has chosen to fight against the Empire.  Unlike most people, who I’ve seen trying to believe they were headed for execution for some silly crime or political purpose, I like to believe ole John here was about to get what he deserved.  But he escaped, and like any fleeing death row inmate, he’s chosen to fight against the country that nearly, and rightly, put him to death in the first place.  Rejected by the Nords because he’s an Imperial, rejected by the Imperials because he’s a savage criminal, he’s started a new life in Skyrim, lying and manipulating people into believing he might just be a good guy.  I started him out trying to be a fighter with heavy armor, but as of now he’s 100% mage.  He also, from time to time, impersonates members of other guilds, makes mad Madoff-style money, and as of yet never breaks the law.  It looks like Mr. Sylvester may have found an OK life, rising through the ranks of a country that hates him because of his race.  It’s a tearjerker story of perseverance and overcoming hardships, except for the fact that he’s really just an awful person underneath it all.

Who, me?

And so last night, after a day of fighting skeletons in some dungeon somewhere, stealing tons of stuff to later fence, I retired in the middle of nowhere to figure out my next move.  The sun set over the river in the distance, John’s eyes bloodshot and wide as the skooma flowed through his veins, and he sat to rest.  I had tons of quests to do, but felt like moving off the beaten path for a while to see what might be out there on that border between Morrowind and Skyrim.  So I stumbled upon someone’s farm, robbed them blind, got chased for about a mile, and ran into a dragon.  I let the dragon kill that dirtbag and then I killed the dragon.  All was right in the world, and karma was good.  Well, except that I was trying oh so hard not to break the law.  Oh well, tomorrow will be a new day.

Oh, and you can totally eat antlers, too

It is this sense of exploration that makes Skyrim so great.  The idea, and underlying truth behind it, that you really don’t know what you’ll find if you just head off in a random direction makes this game enormous in terms of possibility.  Those random explorations, more often than not, lead to storylines, which lead you to new places, which progress the game in such unusual ways that you’re sucked in, addicted, and denying you have a problem before you even know it.  It almost ruins other games for me in terms of just how little content they offer in comparison.  I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to write about Skyrim in the future if for no other reason than its consumed my mind, and every day I want to get home for just one more hit.  And if I can’t be playing it, I might as well be writing about it.  Let me know about your characters in the comments below!

November 14, 2011

Skyrim: First Impressions.


The Elder Scrolls hold a strange place in my imagination.  I avoid the fantasy genre like the plague regardless of what medium it comes in, so it’s strange that a game like Skyrim stirs up such excitement in me.  I bought Morrowind on a whim back in undergrad and was sucked in like never before, and when Oblivion came out I was blown away by just how amazing this franchise was.  The games are designed so well that even a guy like me, who likes to keep things based in realism as much as possible, will get a little giddy when they come out.  While an outsider may think fans of the series are full blown Ouija board-weilding Wiccan dungeonmasters, comfortably occupying their parent’s basements and playing Magic: The Gathering, the reality is far different.  Though when I try to explain what the game is about to those unfamiliar, it certainly makes everyone go quiet and look down into their beers uncomfortably, as if I’d told them my dog and I are no longer getting physical.

What a typical Skyrim fan may look like in the wild

And maybe I am a little prejudiced.  I mean, when Jsixgun and I went to the midnight release, we saw the entire Knoxville chapter of the trenchcoat mafia pretend sword fighting in the parking lot while others were dressed as wizards and other stuff guaranteed to repel women like an actor typecasted for his role in Herpes commercials.  We talked fantasy football while in line in a fruitless attempt to retain any semblance of normalcy.  But regardless of how weird some of those people were, Skyrim still had me terribly excited.  So when I got in from the cold that night, sat down with my dog and installed the game, I knew I was in for something big.  I just didn’t know how big the game would end up being.

The game is art. There's no punchline, that's just the truth...

See, my first draft of my “first impressions” article was written more as a gushy middle-school love letter than any sort of objective impression.  Reviewing a game of this magnitude is an incredibly daunting task, and writing anything over and above “The game is amazing.  Thanks.” is a challenge.  But to put it simply, this game has exceeded every single bit of hype surrounding it.  I was honestly worried; I had built this game up in my mind so much after Oblivion that I wondered if my expectations were based in reality.  Hype of that magnitude often leads to disappointment, and though I can handle disappointment with games like Call of Duty, I really wanted this game to be great.  And great it is.  The game is set in a fully explorable 16 square mile world.  You are no longer constrained to the class of your choosing, so whatever skills you want to use will all equally work to level you up.  The in-game menus and controls are intuitive and easy to learn, and the graphics are stunning.  Not a wildly extreme improvement over Oblivion, mind you, but daunting in their beauty nonetheless.

And it is the sheer freedom the game offers that allows it to be such a masterpiece.  While some games will make you feel like you are really “there”, this game lets you define where “there” is, and why and when you’re “there” as well.  My game is inevitably going to vary wildly from other peoples’ experiences with the game, and that is what makes it so great.  For instance, I got in a river to catch some fish just for the hell of it.  I didn’t realize it at the time but the current was taking me really far away from where I started from.  Next thing I know, I’m falling over a waterfall with no easy way to get back to where I was (I have a strict no fast travel policy).  I ended up running into some random people which began a storyline that is still ongoing.  It was a chance encounter, one I might not have had had I not been just dicking around, but this adventure has helped shape who I think my character is and what his motivations are.

The game is saturated with easter eggs, hidden items and places, and nods and references to older titles in the series.  For a big fan of Morrowind like me, stumbling across some steampunk Dwemer artifacts near the Skyrim/Morrowind border brought a rush of nostalgia over me.  I’m avoiding spoilers or hints like grim death so as to continue being pleasantly surprised by little discoveries like this.  I’ll be honest, I haven’t gotten to play for long, and in terms of the scope of the game, I’m certain I’ve barely scratched the surface.  But this game is certainly Game of the Year material, and will probably end up being on of my favorite games I’ve ever played.  As in ever played.  And though I was a little negative about some of the people I’ve seen who like this game, the overarching point I want to make is that this game is accessible; it’s for anyone, even people like me who don’t like fantasy.  Because of the breadth of this game and the overwhelming amount of choices offered to the player, this game can honestly be anything to anyone who plays it.  And there are tons of people out there who, like me, will find countless hours of some of the best gameplay available in gaming with Skyrim.  Truly it walks a thin line between game and art.  And it allows me to play as John Sylvester, an Imperial who is fighting against his homeland like an escaped inmate on death row would be inclined to do.  Plus he has great Civil War-era mutton chops which is a plus.

November 10, 2011

First Impressions of Modern Warfare 3


Note:  This is nowhere near a complete review, nor is it my final thoughts about the game.  It’s just a good ole fashioned, knee jerk rambling, born from playing the game for just a couple of days.

Context is everything.  This game, like it or not, doesn’t exist within a vacuum.  And because of that, comparisons are inevitable.  With that said, I’m judging Modern Warfare 3 from the perspective of someone who up until Tuesday had been playing tons of Battlefield 3 online.  As a reference, let me tell you a story.  DorisfromNoris and I logged on the other night and formed our own little squad.  We were playing conquest, and as I jumped into a jeep, a stranger jumped onto the 50cal behind me.  We drove from checkpoint to checkpoint, blasting people away and rising up as the best squad on our team.  When our vehicle was destroyed, Doris met up with us and we three proceeded on foot to continue dominating the game.  We were the Navy SEALs of the game so to speak.  And we didn’t know this other guy at all.  But over the course of a number of matches, the teamwork put in by all three of us not only allowed us to win some major games, but to also become a friend to this new guy.  It was not only a memorable evening, but probably the most fun I’ve had since COD4 came out, in terms of online FPS.

Maybe you had to be there.  Regardless, it was a great time.  Now, fast forward to Tuesday.  I pick up MW3 on my lunch break and go home to play a couple of games.  The first game I get into, the match is already underway.  There is an enemy Huey just decimating my team, so I pop a Javelin rocket at it and bring it down.  Yay teamwork!  Everyone was stoked, and we all agreed to get beers if we were ever in the area again.  Or wait, that doesn’t seem right.  No, they said, and I quote, “Goddamn Mortar, wait until the chopper’s leaving before you shoot it?  Fucking n00bs on our team, what a bitch.”  I’m torn between three options.  Asking why he didn’t shoot it down, trolling him hard just to start an argument, or muting the dude.  I went with the third option; it had been a bad day and I didn’t feel like arguing with some meth addled hillbilly about strategy and the merits of who’s actually a bigger prick.

Though in fairness, he made an astute point.

And that’s when I realized it.  For whatever reason, these two war games gave me totally different reactions.  And Modern Warfare’s reaction wasn’t positive.  It got me mad.  It got my blood boiling.  I’d mute the guys but then immediately spawn on a live grenade.  I’d be in the middle of reloading when my sprinting would cancel the action.  Not to mention the clusterfuck that happens when the game thinks 3 people should spawn on top of each other, causing the game to sputter and rubberband like a Japanese kid watching that Porygon episode.  When Doris got on, we couldn’t party chat thanks to the ingenuity of the PS3, and thus we were stuck in lobbies of people blasting music into their mics, people going so racist it’d make a Klansman blush, and kids screaming for no discernible reason.  I hated to admit it, but from the FPS wars I’d seen in threads, it seemed the BF3 fanboys may have had a point.  And all that time, I’d been on the wrong side of history.

But maybe its not the  games themselves, maybe its the players.  I had to judge the game itself and not its audience.  I love Nirvana, and that love didn’t go away when the goth kids appropriated grunge.  Just because they thought Kurt Cobain would have made a great Slipknot frontman didn’t make Lithium any worse.  It just made them stupid.

Smells like team spirit, amirite?

So I hopped offline and decided to take a stab at single player.  And this is when my frustration subsided.  Because say what you want about Call of Duty, they can still make one hell of a campaign, and this is no exception.  Its so intense and crazy, you’d be inclined to watch First Blood only when you need to fall asleep.  I won’t spoil anything, but there is a certain Inception-like fight scene that totally blew my mind (and eerily resembled a Perfect Dark 64 level, if any of you out there are keeping track).  And here’s where I noticed something else.  Whereas Battlefield is clearly made for PCs, and the graphics dumbed down for their console brethren, MW3 is fully rendered on my PS3.  60 frames per second does wonders for the fast paced action, and the guns are beautifully rendered, complete with Remington or Colt etched into their sides to give that added touch of realism.  And the cities are just great looking.  Ah yes, I was loving this game, and I could finally breath a sigh of relief.  Nothing worse than hating the first 10 minutes of a game you just bought.  That’s certain to bring you down.

See, I loved Black Ops; loved it with a passion.  I didn’t really play games for a year or two there, and so when I got Blops I got into it with a vengeance.  And I played the multiplayer nonstop.  So I was worried.  Just what was it about Modern Warfare 3 that was getting me pissed off?  If all the complaints were that MW3 was just more of the same, that wouldn’t mean I’d be getting this mad at it, especially since I loved the same this was supposedly more of.  And I realized a couple of things.  First, I didn’t get Blops when it first came out, I got it in late December.  By that time the Ritalin munching kids had grown tired of it (to an extent) and so there were more serious players online.  Secondly, coming from BF3 with all its teamwork and mostly polite-player goodness, I was drowning in a sea of teenage angst, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since I was in high school.  And lastly, I was playing the matches that drew in the most weirdos of all, Team Deathmatch.  I decided it was time to hop on over to something a little more serious, and haven’t left Search and Destroy since.  It has made a huge difference.

So what do I think overall?  I really don’t know.  Its still far too early to make a definitive judgment, let alone try and decide which game I like better for FPS of the year.  I will say this, it does have it’s problems, and it isn’t a whole lot different from its predecessors.  The graphics have been improved, and I think it looks better than BF3, at least on the console.  The survivor mode is simply a ton of fun, though I do miss my Nazi zombies.  Last night I got into a group of about 7 of my friends and we all played together, something that just doesn’t happen on BF3 (because more of my friends have MW3, by far).  The campaign is sick, maybe the best campaign of a single player FPS I’ve ever played, and the multiplayer can be very, very addictive, especially if you mute the morans and have some friends to play with.  The maps are small and cramped, certainly in contrast to what I’ve been used to for the past few weeks, and you will die a lot quicker, especially if you have “skills” like me.  Though I wanted to get on here the first day I got the game and trash it like everyone else has done on Metacritic, I had to remind myself that this is a franchise I’ve loved for years, and have had some great times in.  Maybe all the hate had subliminally influenced me and my opinion.  I had to go back and remember what made Black Ops so special, and try to reclaim that passion in this newest installment.  And so far, I have.   The screaming kids didn’t create the game, and they certainly don’t have to define my opinion of it.  So with tons typed and nothing really said, I’ll leave it with a big “we’ll see…”  Not a satisfying answer, but I want to make sure my review, and ultimately my MW3/BF3 comparison, are well thought out and not based upon pure emotion.  So I’ll leave you with this:

Robber attempts to take MW3 at gunpoint

Man threatens to blow up Best Buy over MW3

Criminals tear gas truck, steal 6,000 copies of MW3