Device Connected - Episode 7 (11/04/2012)

Hey guys, actual update this time!

I’m really sorry for the lack of anything worthwhile from this blog in... what is it, three weeks now? School finally caught up with its mountainous load of homework, forcing me to stay entrenched in the darkened nest that is my room. Between that, midterms, and dealing with personal matters, I haven’t exactly had the time to spend writing and doing things I’d otherwise like to be doing.

But, reading week is finally upon me, and with it comes the pleasant joy of writing another entry in what continues to be a wonderful place for me to vent my nonsense. Fortunately, I actually have a bunch of crap to talk about this week.

I’ll start off with what I have the least to talk about, which is Modern Warfare 3. The first two maps came out on PS3 not too long ago, and the limited time I’ve had with them has... well, I haven’t played on them since. Right now, the only people interested in playing those maps are the super-elite, who spend all of their multiplayer experience min-maxing every possible loadout and playing like assholes. As someone who wants to enjoy my time with the game, I’ve decided to chill on that. I’ll wait ‘till the other two maps release as a single pack for the common folk, and go back to them once the masses have padded out matchmaking. As it stands right now, the Elite matchmaking is full of people I have absolutely no interest in playing against.

You'll, unfortunately, be sharing a whole lot of care packages. But whatever, let them have that shitty Remote Sentry.
Blast Shield is REQUIRED. Grenades fly everywhere, and you'll be quick to realize it's impossible to survive without the perk.

As a replacement to that, my friend and I have started playing a whole bunch of Drop Zone, one of the custom playlist options added around Christmas. We had tried out the mode when we started playing to see what it was like, only to find out that it was a grenade-spam fest. It was complete chaos, every team we joined would be behind the enemy team by 4000+ points, and it gave us no interest in playing it ever again. As of late, however, the mode seems to have changed. I’m up to level 57 on 4th prestige, and every single level has been spent playing Drop Zone. I can’t explain why but it’s suddenly become playable, and it’s been an incredibly fun experience. The constant fight to hold a territory that randomly moves across the map is tons of fun, and losing gives you the great benefit of giving you an INSANE amount of helicopters, UAVs, and CUAVs to take down. Couple that with Blind Eye Pro, and you have an entire match of my friend and I just shooting stuff out of the sky. Otherwise, it’s an entire match of my friend and I fighting to see who an capture that AC-130, Reaper, or Osprey first.

If you’re getting bored of the standard TDM/Domination fare, give the mode a shot. Equip Blast Shield (you won’t survive without it) and you’ll see-- it’s a great break from the traditional experience. The only downside is that it seems to bring out the worst in players. I tend to go with my usual loadouts-- silenced MP5 with Sleight of Hand/silenced ACR with Blind Eye-- and when I get a little ahead in points, everyone pulls out the Strikers with Range, or RSASS/AS50s to quick-scope with. It’s... I don’t know. It’s not like they’re any harder to kill, but it bothers me that it continues to be a problem like it was in Modern Warfare 2. You’d think Infinity Ward would of, you know, realised how busted both those weapons are... Whatever the case, it’s hardly enough to detract from how fun Drop Zone is. Try it!

This is what I really want to talk about, though. Which, really, is hilarious, because I have no idea where to start. SSX gets so many things right, I can’t even begin to list all the things that it’s gotten me to fall in love with. It’s the perfect sequel to a franchise I have loved since the very first iteration, and is also a mechanically brilliant re-invention of a genre of a time gone by. The core elements that made SSX an insane amount of fun are still here. The unrealistic physics, the characters, the ludicrous tricks, and the great track design. It’s all still here; made with modern controls and modern features to make it impossible to put down.

As you’d hope with a true SSX game, the physics follow the wonderful series tradition of insanity. Your average speed will always hover around 120 kilometers per hour, (74 miles per hour, for you Imperial sillies) and jumps will generally be around four or five times as high as whatever building you work at. The course design brilliantly caters to this, emphasizing the various hazards and environmental features of the mountain ranges featured in the game. There is something to be said for having a course work equally well (with some exceptions) in Race It and Trick It events. The courses still have an insane amount of shortcuts, hidden paths, alternate paths, and trick-centric paths, only instead of having three mountains-worth, you have... 29? Yeah, I think 29 is the right number. If not, it’s around there, which is still totally insane.

Oh, and the tricks are still insane, the characters still spout wonderful nonsense and the game is very pretty.

FFFFFF--Africa

Cool, now let’s talk about online, because this is what makes SSX. Taking a cue from its racing bretheren, SSX has an Autolog-esque feature called RiderNet; a feature that assumes the role of an expanded leaderboard. Players on your friend list will become rivals, who can then set scores and times as challenges for you to beat. Beating them will earn you in-game credits, as will surpassing the scores of other friends on your leaderboard. If a rival tries to take down your score, and can’t, you earn credits for every retry he’s put in. Much like it was in NFS: Hot Pursuit, (and that other abortion of a Need for Speed game, I suppose) this grows to become incredibly addictive whilst also being incredibly infuriating. Mind you, it is in probably the best way possible, as it drives you to be a better player if you’re the competitive type, but with it comes those few times where you just can’t shave those few seconds off no matter how hard you try and... well, then controllers fly, I suppose.

Don't expect to ever place in the Diamond brackets. Unless you are a bad person. Then have fun!

The Global Events are an equal stroke of genius. Taking the place of standard head-to-head multiplayer, global events take place on every drop in the game, where each drop will be a single event held for a pre-determined amount of time. Certain events will have an entry fee, and that fee totals into a larger prize pool. (Certain events are also free, where the pool is also predetermined) Competing in the event will place you in one of five brackets dependant on your score, and the higher bracket you place in, the larger the percentage of the prize pool you obtain. Certain events will also have pre-determined conditions, such as a Survival event in New Zealand banning you from using Pulse Goggles. (i.e.: FOG EVERYWHERRRRRRE) As you’re competing, the game will race some ghosts against you from various tiers, as well as insert any real-time players on the track. It gives you the great sense of playing against others, while still having the ghost to race down the track. It’s the combination of everything great about the game into an online event, and it gets you money. There’s nothing to not like about it. I seriously love it. Just like I seriously love the game.

Oh, god, and I haven’t even talked about how it remixes your music on the fly. Like, holy shit. I don’t want to delve into stuff about my music, but you should try it out with some breakbeat and drum and bass. Those two genres were made for SSX and its remix feature.

Lastly, there’s been art. As I am typing this, I realized that I stupidly planned this section without thinking that I am actually at my dad’s right now, away from all of my schoolwork and stuff. I’ll talk about what I can, but this will be a lot shorter than I had planned...

So while I don’t have any school work to share, I do have this personal piece that I am working on. It takes up two pages in my sketchbook, which add up to a combined size of 17x22 inches. It’s... pretty big. I started doodling out some stuff, made the character, and thought it would be kind of neat if I crammed the whole thing full of stuff with as much detail as possible. So I started dicking around with circular shapes and, 15 or-so-hours later, I am at this point. It’s about nearly done, with probably an hour or two more of work to put in.

There’s also been these stupid drawings I’ve done of myself and others, mostly because I’ve found a good amount of stress relief in drawing really silly shit. I’ve never really let loose with any of my art, so it’s a really nice change of pace and heart. I like silly. I love silly. I love being silly and drawing silly.

That... just about covers it, I think. I can’t think of anything more I’d have to talk about. I look forward to a week of doing nothing other than eating, sleeping, and playing games, so you can expect a whole bunch more of that nonsense when I get back next Sunday.

Until then, thanks for reading. And... I don’t know, don’t get yourself killed or something. :’D

__________

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Device Connected - Episode 6 (04/03/2012)

Hey, an actual update this week!

... Well, not really. I'm still steep in midterms, unfortunately. BUT! It all ends this week. Friday marks the start of a well-deserved reading week. :D As such, I'll actually be able to write!

But in the mean time, you get a small update. I've been playing a crap-ton of SSX, and I can't wait to talk more about it. I'll elaborate on it waaaaaaay more next week, but what you can expect is that I like it very, very, very much. Also, some stuff on the two new Modern Warfare 3 maps and how... tepid I am, I guess, to the whole thing. I'll also talk about what's been taking up so much of time. Ugh, school. This semester's being a real bastard.

But as it is now, I need to get back to this dumb homework. Stupid paint. I feel like a jerk for constantly delaying this blog, but... well, yeah. I didn't see all this work coming. Sorry. :<

As usual, here's another wonderful Birgirpall BF3 video to pass the time.

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Device Connected - Episode God Dammit (26/02/2012)

I actually wanted to have a post today. Honest. I spent all weekend in homework (and still am in so), and every time I told myself I'd save up a little spot to write stuff.

Then, out of nowhere, it's 30 minutes past the time I normally post, and I haven't written shit.

So again, I am sorry. This week is midterms, and it's made the past few days infinitely more of a rush then they should have been. I swear to you, there will be something up next week. I promise. <3

In the meantime, here is more Battlefield 3 nonsense.

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Device Connected - Episode 5 (12/02/2012)

Hey, I actually have a gaming-related topic this week! Holy crap!

Though first, I’d like to touch-upon something else quick. The Flashbulb’s new album came out this week, and you should all give it a listen. Benn Jordan is one of the most astounding musicians I’ve ever heard, and his newest album, Opus at the End of Everything, makes him even more deserving of that praise. I don’t know how to continue talking about it without sounding like an ass, so just give it a listen here. Now, on to the real topic.

I’ve pretty much played little-to-no games over the past month and a half asides from boatloads of Modern Warfare 3, essentially because I’ve had trouble finding motivation in my depression to play anything else. I suppose there’s some kind of catharsis to be found in gunning down wave after wave of player-controlled fodder. If anything, though, it’s made me realize how little of a step forward MW3 took, especially when compared to Black Ops, and what is really missing from Call of Duty to make it exciting again.

bang bang bang bang bang

For starters, there are the improvements Infinity Ward has made which, while few, are worth noting. There’s the weapon proficiencies which are a decent way of slightly changing a gun’s playstyle, even if everyone uses Kick or Attachments anyway. The new point streak system is also a great addition, with Support being a terrific compliment to snipers and Specialist being the optimal way to play a SMG class. The new Tactical (Portable Radar) and Lethal (Bouncing Betties) equipments are also pretty great.

The only downside to these improvements is that they apparently came at a cost, that cost being the near-complete ignorance of the additions that Treyarch brought to the table in Black Ops. Heavily customizable gun loadouts? Gone. Emblem/playercard creation? Gone. Wager match game types? Gone from matchmaking. (until now?) Varied, well-thought out maps? Gone. Better in-game scoreboard? Gone. And the worst part? All of that is gone because Infinity Ward is apparently run by children. People who can’t accept that another team is iterating on their franchise. While I understand the sentiment of having another team working on something you’ve been the sole developer of for years, there should still be some humility and respect to be found when that secondary team actually makes meaningful, fun changes to your game. Black Ops really gave me the impression that the team working on that game’s multiplayer really gave a shit about it, and did so because they were huge fans of the multiplayer themselves. That IW goes and rips out all of Black Ops’ improvements gives me the exact opposite impression of them.

Despite being entirely cosmetic, I miss being able to etch my clan tag into my gun, or display my emblem on it. I miss creating my own emblem, too. The Callsign titles and emblems are fun to see and unlock, but everyone still shares all of them. It was really cool to see all the really dumb shit that people came up with on Black Ops, even if half of them were weed leaves.

GREEEEEEEEEEEEEY

I also felt like the maps in Black Ops were much better. There was more variety in the environments and the actual layouts were better, even if the spawns didn’t always hold up so well at times. The omission of a Nuketown-esque map in MW3 is a god damned shame, and that every map is varying shades of brown and grey is even more annoying. There is also a laziness to their layout that irks me in certain maps, with Downturn being the biggest offender I can think of. Downturn is a terrible map, with no real flow to combat and its open spaces being nothing more than a 20ft area cluttered with blown-up cars. There are no areas that direct players into combat, there are no shortcuts to anywhere (only hallways that take twice as long to take) and there’s a complete underground system of tunnels that are never used because they lead to the least crowded areas of the map.

So colorful!

Fortunately, players seemed to have come to the same conclusion, as I have no played a match in Downturn for... well, weeks. On the other hand, the other maps remain. While they aren’t bad, they’re just bland in a way that makes it really unexciting to play on. I’m brining up Nuketown again, because it’s such a brilliant map. It was compact, it had one area for major combat (the street/lawn) and two minor areas for run around skirmishes. (houses and back of the street) Best of all, though, is that it was colorful. It was bright and sunny, and the objects that composed the map were all as bright and colorful as the sky. The 50’s-like design to everything was a refreshing change of scenery, and was a complete guilty pleasure when the Nuketown 24/7 playlists came on. You knew the spawns would be broken and you knew playing Domination on it would lead to so many grenade deaths, but you played it anyways because it was so frantic and fast-paced. You never had time to take a breath because shit was always going on, and it was always a ton of fun to look at.

This is the biggest thing I’d change in Call of Duty. See, not too long ago my friend and I were talking about how great Doom used to be. The pure, unhinged fun of a shooter that made no god-damned sense and you didn’t want it to, because why the fuck do you need it to when all you really want to do is to shoot stuff. The game has terrific level design, great enemies and weapons that were a ton of fun to use because it didn’t restrain itself. The same applied to subsequent games like Quake and Unreal, yet all of this went away thanks to the sense of realism and storytelling that developers began to think was where the genre needed to go. While I can’t criticize this decision, (Since I do enjoy some of those experiences) it’s something that needs to be loosened up a little. This is especially so in Call of Duty’s case, where it does not hold itself to realism very well and has proven this with every iteration of the franchise since COD 2.

Everything could use more pentagrams, really.

So my suggestion? Let the developers go nuts. Make a map that’s set on a cruise ship, a moving train, a series of high-class apartment rooftops, an underwater facility, a not-abandonned amusement park... the moon, even? There are creative teams on these games having their actual creativity be stifled, and I really do feel like opening this door to them a little would bring great, fun things. As an artist, I can assure you that once you have carte blanche to let loose a little, the possibilities are so much greater and so much more engaging.

The same applies to the game modes. Gun Game and other Wager Match types are gone from matchmaking, with some of them being sent to private match types instead. I probably spent half of my Black Ops play time in Wager Matches. They were so unbelievably fun, which is where the series always stands best--when it’s ridiculous. Removing them from matchmaking was a horrible idea, because there needs to be a way for players to let loose a little. After all the serious gaming, it’s great for there to be a place to just relax a little and play something with less serious rule sets. I know I am not the only one who thinks this, because Infected is currently one of the most played match types on MW3. The last-man standing mode was exclusive to Private Matches since launch, but was integrated into the Community Playlists last week to great success. Lobbies are constantly full, and most players joining and general parties of 2-3+ players just talking and hanging out. The relaxed, social and fun experience is back. I haven’t heard anyone get angry or cuss at players in the match type, because it’s so insane that there’s no reason to. It’s just smiles all around. I can only hope that they’ll add Gun Game to the rotation.

Oh my god, I can see text if I look at my walls. I need to wrap this up before all I see is text.

The point I’m trying to get across is that maybe, just maybe, games like Call of Duty shouldn’t take themselves so seriously. There’s a time and a place for it, like the single player, but the multiplayer’s variety and fun shouldn’t be crippled because of it. If the whole development team just had a little wiggle room for their ideas to come out, I bet we’d see a game that would be drastically more fun to watch and play.

Also, Infinity Ward should quit being babies and bring back my god damned created emblems. The gaming industry iterates constantly, so quit being sore losers and actually add in the improvements you failed to come up with yourselves. Maybe it’ll give you some ground to work on and further improve them instead of taking them out altogether.

___

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Device Connected - Episode 4 (05/02/2012)

I’m afraid I don’t have all that much to delve in this week. Most of it has been me dealing with the shitty parts of life catching up to me, combined with some work and frustration on the side. As is with the last few episodes, I’ll get the life stuff out of the way first: I've started therapy this week. I had my first hour-long session, and while I didn't leave feeling better about my situation, I do have a lot of answers I didn’t have before and that alone is worth it. I’ve misguided a lot of hate towards myself and, while I am still not entirely comfortable with the things I have done in the past two years, feel more comfortable with myself knowing why I did them. There’s still a lot more to go through, though, with the end goal being to get myself in a spot where I don’t fall into depression every half-hour.

So, what else is there in life? Well, for starters, there’s music. I’ve been listening to Gemini almost non-stop this week, with the Graduation EP probably being my single most-favorite EP ever. I’ve squeezed so many plays out of the four-track album. I’ve also been catching up on podcasts a fair amount, with about two weeks-worth of This is Only a Test and My Brother, My Brother and Me sitting in my iTunes un-listened to. That’s since been fixed, thankfully. Gosh darn if those McElroy brothers aren’t the funniest men alive. Feed Me’s new EP is also out, and I am listening to it as I type this. Thoughts on it next week, but it seems pretty alright on my first listen.

I also started catching up on LOST this week. I started watching the series mid-summer last year and stop watching at the end of season 4. The people I borrowed the DVDs from didn’t have seasons 5 and 6. :( I decided to finish the show now, considering that if I don’t get on it, someone in class will spoil it by randomly bringing up the ending. It’s nearly happened a few times already, best not to risk it. I’m about mid-way through season 5 now, and the show is going off the rails so heavily... It’s captivating like crazy, but I’d be lying if I said I was completely satisfied with the direction it’s taking.

In other media-related news, I finally got around to seeing The Artist. I missed just about all of the major releases near the end of last year, and I especially hated myself for not seeing The Artist, considering how much I adore Michael Hazanavicus’ and Jean Dujardin’s previous movies. I did watch it, though, and my only regret is not seeing it sooner so that I could of spammed my Twitter feed earlier about how wonderful it is. The movie is so unbelievably charming and the character performances are so great. They all express so well and there’s never a moment where you feel out of the loop for missing out on any of the non-existant dialogue. The cinematography, the soundtrack, and the presentation are all so perfectly done, too. It really does feel like some love-letter to the cinema of old, and it’s something I recommend everyone give a shot. It might not be entirely your cup of tea like it is mine, but it’s worth the chance that it might.

On the flip-side of that is Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie, of which I also watched this week. It is also something I recommend you watch, only on condition that you love Tim and Eric and hate "actual" comedy. I am not entirely sure how to describe the movie to anyone who doesn't already know what brand of insanity Tim and Eric deliver. All I can really say is that if this clip doesn't do it for you, then this movie sure as hell won't. As for myself, I loved the cameos, I loved the stupid plot, I loved the stupid things that happen because of the stupid plot and I loved the stupid, stupid ending. My god, that movie was stupid awesome.

As for games, I’m afraid I've done almost none of it this week. Other than play Modern Warfare 3 with my friend, (in which we both did miserably this week, for some reason) I haven’t done any gaming whatsoever. .. wait, no, that’s a lie. I bought Dustforce, but the system requirements completely lied. It barely runs on my laptop that should be far more powerful than the minimum requirements, even at the lowest settings. A true bummer, because the laggy ten minutes I got to play of it seemed super-awesome.

Last on the docket is art, of which I made a bunch of. I finished this piece, which I started last year, and made these (1) two (2) drawings for a school project. We needed to design creatures inspired from the Greek mythology Cerberus monster. The first one is the one the teacher picked, though I personally adore the second one far more. I’ve started to make more for fun, but the stuff I had to do for school needed to take precedent. Fucking renderings...

Oh! And my phone now runs ICS. It’s awesome! Unfortunately, though, my old music player (PlayerPro) seems incompatible with ICS. I’ve re-installed PowerAMP, but I suppose the hunt is on for a proper replacement. Maybe I’ll make a guide for Android players on Tested like I did for Twitter apps...

And with that, see y’all next week. I’ll try and actually play games this time, so I have something interesting to talk about for once. ;D

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Device Connected - Episode 3 (29/01/2012)

Date's wrong... miscalculated. I made this at 2AM last night. :(

Another week, another episode of my dumb-ass blog. I continue to ramble off-topic this week, mostly because what I have to talk about regarding games and life generally isn’t interesting. But hey, why not go through with that anyway?

Last week was my first official week of school, and it is pretty much what I expected it to be. I dropped Phys. Ed, because I sure-as-shit am not getting up that early in the morning (see: 5h45AM) to do “Active Living”, especially when I finish that day at 7PM. Every other class seems pretty fun, though. I have a creature design class that I am excited about, and my English and French classes both seems pretty mellow. We actually watched part of an episode of Lost last English class, which really put a smile on my face.

As for the other stuff... well, I have therapy scheduled this week. Professional help is kind of what I need at this point. I am continuing to have nightmares and my depression isn’t really getting any better. I have been fortunate enough to have my friend come over pretty often, where we play Modern Warfare 3 a whole bunch and troll 15-year olds online. Hearing them cry and call us hackers makes me smile like nothing else. I just still am having the hardest time finding any motivation to do anything. I try to keep busy, and end up stopping moments later because I just have no drive to do whatever I am doing. It’s crippling, and I need it to stop.

What it looks like... on the inside!

But whatever, that’s going to be dealt with in due time. What really is important here is music. I’ve recently “obtained” access to What.cd, and with it came an opportunity to expand my music collection a little. There are a bunch of artists I had been meaning to check out, and that’s what I did for the entire week. I got a bunch of new music for the trip to and from school, and while I had my problems with some of them, I also found what is probably my favorite album of... well, my favorite album in a long time, really.

The first thing I downloaded was 80kidz, a group I found through Last.fm due to their “similarity” to Capsule and Shinichi Osawa. Their debut album, This Is My Shit, is pretty great. Their style is pretty much Capsule with more guitars and drums, something I can 100% get behind. “Go Mynci” and “Flying Buttress” have got to be two of the most energetic songs I’ve listened to in a while. The only issue I have with the album is that it starts off on an incredibly high note and doesn’t entirely follow through with it. The rest of the album is alright, but is no where near as good as the start. Their second album, Weekend Warrior, is much better paced, although there are no breakout tracks like there are on the first album.

Similar to 80kidz is Shinichi Osawa, only... older. Older sounding, I mean. I’ve fallen in love with the sound of Japanese Electro, and Shinchi Osawa is completely responsible for it. The One, his debut album, is an absolute blast to listen to. “Star Guitar”, “Electro 411” and “Push” are my personal favorites, but going through every track one at a time is a real treat. He’s got a really different sound, and I had a ton of fun listening to it every time I did.

I also decided to check out The Flashbulb, something I probably should of done ages ago. Friends of mine have been keeping up with his music for years, and I’m almost angry with myself that I didn’t check out his stuff any earlier. Reunion was the first album I listened to. I started playing it on the bus/metro ride to school. When I got onto the metro, I closed my eyes and just listened... and almost missed my stop. I zoned out just listening, something I don’t think has ever happened. I also listened to Arboreum the other night while drawing, and I just got into it again. Flashbulb’s mix of breakcore, nu jazz and electronic is, and I swear I hate to say this, enchanting. It inspires creativity when I am being creative, and I love it.

I also want to touch on Flashworx real quick. I haven’t listened to them as much as I have other artists this week, but if you like instrumental 80’s music, you owe it to yourself to check out their album, Two Guys in Japan. “One More Night in Tokyo” and “Odaiba Chase” are great tracks with a really awesome 80’s feel.

But now I want to talk about Grum, which is honestly all I want to talk about. I’ll set the bar as high as I can now by saying this: Heartbeats is one of my all-time favorite albums. There isn’t a single track I dislike, and I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed an album through-and-through like I have with Heartbeats. From the relaxed start of “Through the Night” to the future-80s sound of “Cybernetic”, Heartbeats is fucking incredible to listen to. I seriously haven’t heard Dance music this good in ages. If you’re looking for a point of reference, Grum is very similar to Bag Raiders, only I’ve found Grum’s music to be much more energetic and synthy. Tracks like “Turn It Up” and “Fashion” have so much groove to them that it’s like an internal struggle not to dance every time I listen to them. And, of course, there’s the titular song “Heartbeats”, which I am sure you are all acquainted to it by virtue of it being the best track on the Saints Row: The Third soundtrack. “Heartbeats” embodies everything I love about Grum. It’s not just an amazing track, but it’s perfectly placed in the album. Despite being the peak, it somehow doesn’t make the rest of the album feel any worse. If anything, I found myself enjoying the final tracks a lot more only because I was so excited from “Heartbeats”. It’s seriously a tremendous album, and you owe it to yourself to check it out of if you like electronic dance music.

That’s... about it. I could go on more, but I fear going on and on about shit I probably shouldn’t be speaking of. I’m no music-blog writer. I just listen to music and enjoy it, and thought I’d share. You probably just want the YouTube links, anyway. :P

Whatever the case, that’s that for this week. Oh! And I drew this. You should check it out. ;D See y’all next week!

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Device Connected - Episode 2 (22/01/2012)

I told you I’d keep this going!

Sorry, I’ve changed the weekly schedule of this blog series to Sunday nights. I’m usually busy on Friday nights and Saturdays, sometimes. This will work better if I have a weekend to write about whatever crossed my mind over the past week.

Along with new glasses, I gained telekinetic abilities.

This week was the start of my winter semester, which has done wonders towards my sleeping schedule. Waking up at 6h30 AM tomorrow will be a wonderful event, I’m sure. Fortunately, my sister lives quite close to school, so I can just crash there if need be. On the bright side, it’s nice to see my classmates again. Winter break felt excruciatingly long and... lonely. It’s good to be around people again. I also have a new pair of glasses to start said semester! My program classes seem to be standard fare, and I’m rather excited for English. The teacher seems really nice, and the entire semester will be about reading and analyzing short stories from around the world. Globetrottin’ that shit.

Just having something to get up and do is the biggest help, though. I’m still coming off hard from my break-up earlier this month... It’s been three weeks and it... it still hurts. A lot. I’m having a hard time accepting that something better will come along, because I am pretty sure my happiness was at a peak in that relationship. Something might come along that will mean more to me, but there’s the chance that it won’t. And that scares the living shit out of me. Whatever the case, that is something I am seeking professional help for and will refrain from spewing on and on about it here. I have more interesting things to talk about, like my Friday that was totally awesome.

Oh, Mitsubishi...

My dad, my sister and I went to the Montreal Auto Show on Friday afternoon, as we do every year. It’s a family tradition-kind of thing. It seems to get smaller and smaller every year, probably because the auto industry is doing kind of poorly. Doesn’t seem like spending a metric of money of floor space is in their best interest when most companies are struggling to make a profit at the end of the year. Even still, there was a lot to see and a lot to laugh at. For one, Mitsubishi’s lineup was frighteningly shit. I still want to punch all their board of directors for getting rid of every great car model they had/have. I hate the eco-friendly future, and to sacrifice cars like the Eclipse, Lancer and Galant to make way for said future makes me want to drive less fuel-efficient cars, or anything. Taking the fun out of driving is the wrong way to get on my good side.

Glorious. Just glorious.

Fortunately, one of the first cars on display was the ever-incredible Bugatti Veyron. It’s a whole different thing when you’re standing next to one, I tell you. That car’s tires are unbelievably massive. Everything about it is massive. Standing next to it made me feel like a kid again. That time where you have posters on your walls of supercars and they all look crazy and over-engineered. That goes away when you grow older, favoring economical cars or something with elegant design. But it all comes back to you when you see it in person. It’s awe-inspiring. I could of stood there and just looked at that car the whole show.

Japan's greatest automotive achievement since the VTEC engine.

But I didn’t. Instead, we kept going and came across a few other noteworthy cars, like the Jaguar XFR (Which is probably my favorite car, in all honesty. Sitting in it was like being in my ultimate happy place) and the Ferrari 458. Also present was my vote for “most beautiful supercar ever designed”, the Lexus LFA. If there is any engineering feat that could rival the Veyron, it’s this car. A body made entirely of a carbon fibre composite, an exhaust system tuned by Yamaha for optimal sound quality and an engine that revs so fast that an analog tachometer couldn’t keep up with it. It’s beautiful.

I literally cannot wait to race this car in every racing game.

Stealing the show, however, is the joint project between Subaru and Toyota. I had heard of the Toyota FT-86 beforehand, but I had no idea that Subaru also had it’s own STi-tuned version that they would actually put into production and market. The Subaru BRZ might have a stupid name, but the car itself is unbelievable. I swear to you, there isn’t a single angle from which this car does not look amazing. It has very slight differences from Toyota’s model of the car (which will be marketed here under the Scion brand--a fatal mistake, if you ask me) and looks gorgeous in the trademark Subaru Blue Mica paint. There’s no price announced so far, but I honestly can’t see it being anything other than the new standard for the tuner scene. I mean, fuckin’ look at it. Look at iiiiit.

Hands down the worst thing about the car show. This shit has gone too far.

Subaru was kind enough to essentially be the last worthwhile manufacturer booth on the show floor, ending the show itself on a very high note. A short while after that, I headed to a local bar/venue with my friend to go see Anamanaguchi live. They’re on their 4-stop Canada tour and the tickets were super-cheap, so it was a no-brainer to go. As expected, two fairly terrible bands opened for them. The first was some hipster rock/grunge/dunno band that sounded terrible not only because of their music, but because of the sound guy who thought it more important to text on his iPhone as opposed to fix the audio levels on his EQs that were constantly overloading. The best part of their set was when they said “Alright, this next song is called ‘Sleeping in My Car’.”, to which my friend promptly said “Yeah, I bet you do that a lot”. We burst out laughing, only to realize that he said it when the venue went dead quiet. It was awkward, and unbelievably funny at the same time.

The second band was... I can’t even put it into words. Just watch this video, and imagine that this is playing on a screen behind two dudes with incredibly long hair, one who is screaming into a mic and the other playing a BC Ritchie guitar really poorly. You’ll get the idea.

A wild Anamanaguchi appears!

Finally, Anamanaguchi came on and fucking delivered. Their set was awesome, full of energy and wicked upbeat. Peter would chime-in every so often to thank the crowd and say useless things, like how Ary smuggled in a pink switchblade and that the Canadian Border Patrol told them that to stay in the country, half their set would need to be Nickelback covers. That became the running gag for the night, as when they returned to the stage for the encore and greeted the crowd with “Wow, you guys really like Nickelback.” Luke was the one selling merch before the show started and was fucking thrilled whenever anyone bought something and would promptly close out every transaction with an excited, up-top high-five. I got a ridiculously awesome pink/yellow tie-dye shirt alongside a poster! :D The show was seriously awesome. They played great songs, they never stopped to slow their music down and threw out glowsticks to everyone in the crowd every-so-often. If you have a chance to see them live, do so. They make for a great show.

After sleeping for a billion hours from getting home late, my friend and I had a MW3 night that went on for... a lot longer than we were expecting. We ended the night with a 30 win streak, which I think was a record for the both of us. We won thirty consecutive matches, thanks to the calling-in of what seemed like countless Reapers, AC-130s and Attack Choppers. We dominated, gained an unbelievable amount of XP, and it was awesome.

So that was last week. Eventful. While I’d like to say that I will be seeing Above & Beyond this week, I fear I may not be able to, which saddens me greatly. We’ll see. Hopefully, I can. Either way, I wish you a great week, guys. :D See you next Sunday!

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Last week's post.

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Device Connected - Episode 1 (12/01/2012)

I suppose it’s time I use this space here... You know, this “blog” thing.

I should start by saying that I’m really poor at updating anything. I would love for this to be a recurring blog, but I have a busy schedule coming up on me for the next few months and I don’t know if I will be able to. I would like to, I guess. Have a place to talk about anything on my mind. I could use that. Maybe just talk about life in general. Games sometimes, but not all the time. Also, what’s with the name? Well, I am bad with names. That’s why my blog is named after what my computer said when I plugged in my phone to charge. And why the episodic format? Because I’m creative, unlike you.

I probably won’t even be able to play many games for the next few months, honestly.

A wild GOTY nominee appears! A shame. I liked the designs I came up with this year.

I guess (Hey, every paragraph starts an “I”! I’m a selfish fuck.) I should clarify--my GOTY stuff will not continue. Sorry. I can post the pretty images in a gallery so you can see what the other categories were, and what would of won. Maybe I’ll post everything I had written that wasn’t posted in an outtakes blog or something. Or maybe in a gallery. Point is, I didn’t finish writing them, some bad shit happened, and it made me lose all will to continue writing that stuff. If you need to know, Skyrim was my Game of the Year, with Deus Ex at #2 and Catherine at #3.

I should probably start with what is bugging my mind at the moment. It is also the reason I have no finished writing that GOTY stuff. You know, I don’t want to go into the details. They suck, and they make me very, very sad. Like, I am going into therapy because it is fucking with my mind-sad. My girlfriend and I are no longer together. … for good. It’s a two year relationship that I fucked up with juvenile, selfish mistakes and it cost me a happiness I will never have again. It brings my morale down pretty severely, as I am sure y’all could imagine.

My wonderfully packed schedule. At least I have Friday's off, so I can have time to collect my brain splattered all over my bedroom walls from stress.

I start school mid-next week, and it is going to be my busiest semester yet. In typical Dawson fashion, they have completely botched my schedule and forced me to not only jam-pack my fourth semester full of classes, but also force me to take summer school to take the courses they couldn’t fit into my current schedule. Wonderful! Fucking bureaucrats, right? Or, you know, whoever is in charge of that bullshit. In addition to this, I am going to have to take up therapy. I don’t know how often per week, but I would like for it to be a regular thing that I can have a good amount of time for. What happened... fucked me up in a lot of way, on top of the many things about me that are already plenty fucked up. I have a lot of shit to deal with, and what happened did not help one bit. It’s stressing knowing you have to fix your life, and especially more so when the only moral support you could count on leaves you. I need help with it and while I need to get my shit together, I need to make sure I don’t go insane doing it.

I also need a job, because I currently have no source of income and I am in desperate need of moving out. Adding a part-time job to the schedule I have up there, on top of the therapy and homework... yeah. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to do that. I need to, though. I’ll have to figure that out in the coming weeks. I’ll have to settle with commissions for now (which some of you have contacted me about--and I will get to them! I swear. I need things to slow down a little, though. Please.), but the only problem with those is that it’s not really a source of income. I do commissions cheap, because I don’t believe in artists charging $80 an hour. No one’s time is worth that much, especially when any artist I know typically spend half of their time on the web just surfing shit.

BANG. BANG BANG.

In gaming related news, I’ve been playing a buttload more of Battlefield 3. The Back to Karkand maps are great and have really re-kindled my love for that game. Moreso than the Vanilla maps, the B2K maps really emphasize playing as a team and I love being able to just pick any role and never be punished for it. Tank or gun, medic or recon, I can always be a credit to the team if I play right. It’s awesome. I’ve also played a bunch of Skyrim, Saints Row: The Third and Forza 4, but those are things I do not want to talk about. I played all of them at my girlfriend’s and... yeah. Tough memories. I can barely even look at the boxes without wanting to cry.

My totally fucked up glasses. The support hinges are broken, and have been for years, too.
Some speed painting.

I also need to update my art stuff. Keep a portfolio going, perhaps. I don’t really like what deviantART has turned into, and I don’t much care for how tumblr works. I’d like to operate my own site, but I lack the knowledge to do that properly, unfortunately. Maybe some day, when I stumble upon a web design course or something. I suppose that’s all I have to add, at the moment. I am getting a new pair of glasses, so that’ll be cool. My current pair is being held together by painter’s tape and they have become really uncomfortable to wear.

I guess that is it, for now. I don’t really have much to add. These past days have felt like the longest time of my life now that I’m alone and I have to dredge through the rest somehow, until I start school at least. It’ll be good to be around people again, even if everything reminds me of what I lost. On the bright side, … well, there is no bright side. Everything is pretty much shit, right now. Life feels like it’s kicking me when I am down constantly, which is terrible for my morale. Opportunities are falling out, and everything feels like it’s favoring every one else who doesn’t need to be favored. Maybe my time will come.

I hope it does. I could use it.

This blog brought to you by the letter ‘I’, by the way.

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Aura's Annual Award Bonanza - 2011 Edition, Part 1

Ladies and Gentlemen!

That concludes our tour of the public bathrooms.

*canned laughter*

But seriously, folks, welcome to another year of user-created award ceremonies, of which I handily make my own as an excuse to design pretty banners and express pretty opinions about things I love and hate. It’s been a wonderful year in sequels, and I’m excited to share what I picked as my favorite games of this year, but we first take a stop at the second-annual random shit awards.

I started these awards last year because of a sound effect in NFS: Hot Pursuit. It was so great, I felt I needed to express this opinion in a formal manner, and created an entire award-thingy around it just to give it praise. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s probably been done before. But I had fun doing it, so here I am, a year later, doing it again. So without further ado, here is what I nominate as things that games accomplished this year:

Just in time for holidays, the PS3 and 360 have reached a point in their lifespan where graphical development is at somewhat of a standstill. With Battlefield 3 and Skyrim, this year’s two biggest PC titles, looking leagues better on the PC than their console counterparts, the wallet-cringing question starts to arise on message boards: “When is Sony/Microsoft going to release their new console?”

I mean, honestly. Look at this and tell me this isn't the best looking game of this year.

Well, I don’t know. I do not hold the answer to that question and I am not entirely sure I want to, either. Then I’d have powers, and that entails a world of responsibility I am not ready for. What I do know, however, is that an older console forces developers to work hard around a platform’s architecture and get the most out of their game. For my money, no developer has done this better than Naughty Dog. Uncharted 3 is an absolute masterpiece of technical accomplishments. A big or small area will have an equally massive amount of detail to them, the game runs beautifully without any hiccups, and characters look and animate in jarringly realistic manner. I have no idea what the Naughty Dog team is being fed, or how they are being bred, or if that workplace is actually just a group of wizards with astonishing programming skills. Whoever they are and whatever they are doing, they continue to set an example of what a talented team of developers can accomplish. They deserve more credit for it than I could ever give them here.

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Skulls EVERYWHERE.

I’d make some comment here about how well-written some of the games this year were, and how most of you will most certainly have picked Portal 2. But you know what? Fuck you. Portal 2 didn’t have enough dick jokes in it. So I won’t talk about any other game, I will just talk about Shadows of the Damned because man, that game is funny. Like, real funny. The interactions between Garcia and Johnson are always brilliant, the storybooks will have you in stiches and there are so many god damn dick jokes that I’m pretty sure I can never take any mention of a penis seriously anymore.

… Ehh… ew.

Shadows of the Damned is brilliant, and the goofiness of its story and the ridiculousness of its characters make it pure gold. There is so much to love about the game—a lot if it that you should, no, need to experience it for yourself. You really do. After all, how can you refuse a guided tour of the Underworld by Johnson in the company of Garcia Fucking Hotspur.

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Let’s just get this out of the way first: Duke Nukem Forever came out this year, the Vita was not announced to be $400 and the 3DS flopped. All the surprises out of the way? Sweet. Now I can get to the real one-- Driver: San Francisco. If you told me, I don’t know, a year or two ago that Driver would be relevant again, I would have thrown whatever food I was eating into your face. … Well, honestly, I like eating too much, so I probably would have laughed and/or assaulted you.

Who knew Driver would be fun again?

My point is, Driver 3 and Parallel Lines were about as broken and soulless as video games get, so that the series would have any potential of coming back seemed unlikely. With no attention paid to the game since its ridiculous E3 announcement, (Tanner in a coma?) it already became a huge surprise to hear Jeff talk so positively about it on the Bombcast. I hated the single-player demo, but maybe the full game had something that made it special. And it did. Oh my, how it did.

The Shift mechanic to jump between cars is loads of fun and continues to be for the duration of the game. But the real thing here that’s worth playing for is the story. There are some moments in Driver: SF that are absolutely bananas and it’s the Shift/coma trappings that lets them pull this off. It’s brilliant. The end-game of Driver: SF really is a must-see, only by virtue of it being so completely out-there and different from anything else you’ve even come to expect out of a game in its genre. The great dialogue, terrific controls, fun side-missions and silky-smooth framerate really just add on to how surprisingly great the game is.

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I honestly think L.A. Noire deserves some kind of “runner-up” prize for this category, avoiding the full award ceremony thanks to the fine folks at BioWare. I initially liked Dragon Age II a whole lot--so much so that I felt I was the only one defending that game anywhere on forums. While I can appreciate how old-ass-school-ass Dragon Age: Origins is, I really didn’t care for any of the characters or conflicts thrust upon them. The game reeked of generic fantasy tropes and I wanted none of it.

Also forgot to mention, every single female in DA2 has a rack you could do Shakespeare off of. Kind of ridiculous.

Dragon Age II seemed like the perfect fix to all of those problems. Streamlined combat, (because I, unfortunately, do not possess a powerhouse PC and played it on PS3) a main character with an interesting narrative (and voice!), a far more interesting cast of companions, and a story with actual drama and intensity. And DA2 absolutely had all of that. Its art-style revamp also was welcome, with the look of Hawke and the general art style really helping the game to gain an identity. Unfortunately, a lot was sacrificed to achieve this, with actual content being the biggest thing missing from the game.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a repetition of assets as egregiously prolific as Dragon Age II. I can count the game’s total environments on both my hands. No seriously, watch.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Done.

Get ready to see a whole lot of this fuckin' cave.

This an open-world RPG developed by a high-profile studio with a long-lasting pedigree of quality in this genre, and they made a game where I can count the number of environments on my hands and still have three fingers left over to pick my nose with. This is also mirrored with character equipment, with armor and weaponry featuring barely any variety. I played through the game as a Mage and found myself always equipping a plethora of broken-looking branches the game called “staffs”, alongside a riveting choice of ugly, anti-color coordinating robes. The engaging and streamlined combat system also gives a great first impression, until it continues to be the exact same thing 15 hours into the game. Differences in class specializations are so minute that playing a Healer Mage or Arcane Mage will have no difference in combat style. The entire game, no matter how compelling the story or characters, ends up feeling like a drag.

But this still pales in comparison to the complete lack of an open-world. Dragon Age II has no scope and the repetitive re-use of assets only worsened this. DA2 is disappointing in every possible way, sacrificing what was great about the first game to make way for improvements on what it wasn’t. Unfortunately, the sacrifices it made were crucial to its overall quality, and Dragon Age II will be remembered for years as the game Bioware wrong because of it.

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In all honesty, El Shaddai should be here. I’ve only played about an hour of it, though, so I can’t really call it as a winner here. What I did play, however, is a metric fuck-ton of Skyrim. As a gamer, the art style is not the first thing I’d think of when I am engrossed in Skyrim’s world. But as an artist? It’s the first thing I see every time I play. See, I played more Oblivion then I will ever play again (225 hours, last I checked) and during all that time, I couldn’t stand how generic-fantasy everything was. All of the character and monster design, along with the architecture and presentation, fell into almost every stereotype of fantasy. It made for a bland, repetitive game. … visually speaking, of course.

I mean, have you ever seen a better looking landscape?

Skyrim does little to change any of the core designs to its lore, such as monsters, races and objects. It keeps the base for all of that, but throws a thematic curveball with the Nordic theme. The design of the architecture, weaponry, armor, clothing… it all looks like it should, only everything has the slightest hint of “different” in design thanks to its northern influence. It makes all of this stuff that should be standard fantasy… different. New and unique. Skyrim has a look to its own and this, coupled with the incredible variety of locations in its landscape and scenery, makes for a game that continues to feel fresh, even if you are 60+ hours into the game. It’s an amazing feat that anyone can recognize, but one that I am especially floored by on a personal, artistic level.

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Man, fuckin’ shooters…

This giant worm isn't friendly, in case you were wondering.

We are in a weird spot with first-person shooters, with the most notable games offering campaigns that either hit every possible blockbuster-movie checkmark, or completely suck ass. If you could pick out a modern genre that’s had the creative and imaginative life-force of the 90’s sucked right out of it, it would hands-down be first-person shooters. It’s difficult to argue against, because consumers have proven time-after-time that it’s what they’re looking for in a game, but you really have to wonder what any of these guys would be capable of, should they be given a little room to express the insanity of a game developer’s mind. Fortunately, People Can Fly got that chance.

I had tepid expectations for Bulletstorm, with my only real excitement for it being the presence of “dicktits” somewhere in the dialogue. Pretty neutral on everything else about it. With a campaign that was constantly exciting and a cast of characters that I grew to appreciate in a really dumb way, Bonestorm Bulletstorm managed to put a smile on my face that’s been missing from first-person shooters in a long time. All of the writing in that game is insane and immature, with it totally working every time it throws a concocted curse word at you. The characters are preposterously silly, the world is surprisingly colorful for an Unreal game, and the gameplay is loads of creative fun.

For an Unreal game (or a modern game, really), Bulletstorm is surprisingly colorful.

The “kill with skill” thing is interesting, with the Skill Point system being a great motivator for trying out a variety of murderous acts in style. It lets you play around with the game’s weaponry without being punished and finding different ways to combo certain weapons or environmental hazards is always a blast. The only issue I had with it is that about halfway through the game, I started to care less and less about unlocking different skill shots because I really just wanted to get through the levels. I still played around with the weaponry and Leash, but not like I did at the start of the game. It would have been nice to see some way of getting you to play around for a bit longer with that stuff.

But really, that’s just nitpicking. The reality is that the gunplay was still a ton of fun, the dialogue to accompany it had me laughing a whole bunch, the locales were all varied and great looking, and the characters had me legitimately anxious to see the plot’s development. I had a ton of fun with Bulletstorm, and in a year where gaming is plagued with bullshit shooter campaigns, it’s an astonishingly soothing breath of fresh air.

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I am really conflicted about L.A. Noire. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I played it and I’ve come to the realization that... I don’t know where I stand on it. When I played it, I was baffled by the technology it was presenting. It has never been done in games before and I really think that it’s the next step in making games look closer to realism than extra shaders or lens flare will. The game itself was also fun. I love crime stories, and the detective part of the game was a refreshing change of pace from it’s third-person brethren. The setting, the tone, the music--all of it top notch.

But looking back on it is also where my opinion on it starts to fall apart. See, while the face-capturing technology was mighty impressive, the rest of the game was pretty ugly. It wasn’t disfigured-level ugly or anything, it just didn’t have the polish that most other Rockstar productions do. The open-world was uninteresting and the vast majority of the game’s assets, be it buildings, bodies, cars or weapons, were bland at best. I understand that building the entire city was an authenticity pull, and it works, but to fill it with little-to-nothing in the way of interest to actually explore what they built... I felt like there should of been something with a little more substance other than unwatchable movie reels. The face-capturing tech also had its drawbacks, as it really is impressive when you see it for the first time, but the game very quickly dissolves into staring at their faces to see their smiles or eyes crunch in a bizarre manner, or accusing them of lying to see their reaction, then promptly backing out.

The more I think about it, the more the game just seems really devoid of variety. L.A. Noire boils down to some very core gameplay trappings, and the novelty of the technology and setting heavily mask this. It was a fun and different experience, but one I do not think will hold the test of time very well, even a year from now. It makes me really indecisive on what I think of the game, because I did enjoy it. I just don’t know if that would hold, should I play it again.

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It seriously bums me out that I can find nowhere to put Dirt 3 on my list. If I could be “that” guy and have 11 slots on my game of the year list, Dirt 3 would take that spot, no questions asked. I just wished it did more than what it actually offered. Not that it is disappointing in any way, because it’s an improvement over Dirt 2 in every facet imaginable. It’s just… kind of the same.

Codemasters' graphics engine shines to unprecedented levels in Dirt 3.

That’s not to say that Dirt 3 hasn’t changed. The physics, for one, are vastly improved. The game’s controls feel a lot tighter, and the handling of cars has significantly improved. The slot car-feel of previous Codemasters racing games is finally gone, replaced with a physics engine that heavily relies on terrain differences and independent suspension. There’s still that good-ol’ touch of arcadey-ness in there, but you feel so much more in control without ever feeling like the game is sacrificing realism to give it to you.

The presentation also continues to be one of the game’s strongest suits. I heavily recommend you go see the game’s art director’s portfolio, because his past work is just as brilliant as his current work in Dirt 3. The game oozes with style, from its golden-modern main menu to its typeface. Its soundtrack also shines, with a well-versed mix of electro, bass, alternative and hip-hop.

Gymkhana events aren't the greatest, but they're not bad, either.

Dirt 3 also has a host of new events, some of which unfortunately relying on Ken Block’s inexplicable Gymkhana craze. It’s fun, but it’s not what I really want out of a rally game—much less a racing game. Tony Hawk in cars never sounded like the greatest idea, but at least it works. Thankfully, all of the mixed-match race hybrids and other various disciplines all take a backseat in Dirt 3. Point-to-point rally is back in full effect, and this makes me fucking ecstatic. The Colin McRae Rally series of old continues to be some of my favorite racing games of all time, and the rally events in Dirt 3 are the best throwback to those games that I could ever ask for. I know it’s not what most players are asking for with the newer entries of the series, but it makes me so god-damned happy. Because of that, it deserves a ton of merit from my part.

Thanks, Codemasters, for caring about point-to-point. <3

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If you want to talk about sequelitis, then you need look no further than the Yakuza series. What was once a brilliant mix of brawler combat, RPG elements and a well-realized world and plot is now… well, it continues to be all of this, but the problem is that it hasn’t become anything more. It’s to be expected, I suppose, that franchises originating from Japan tend to iterate very minutely from game to game, as “more of the same” goes down a lot smoother there than it does here. I understand that, but there is something to be said for just how little Yakuza 4 actually “improves” upon its predecessors.

Kiryu remains as polygonal as ever.

For one, there’s the story. The inclusion of four playable characters for the main story is a smart move, and it made the plot a lot more engaging than another tour around Kamurocho would of otherwise. The plot structure remains largely the same, however, and the new characters have about as much personality as Chex Mix, especially when compared to Kiryu. The story goes in the directions you expect to, with the government being involved and betrayals happening left-and-right. It’s standard affair for the series, and that three new characters change little-to-nothing speaks volumes to how tiring it is getting to be.

Second comes … well, the game itself. Presentation and gameplay are carbon copies of Yakuza 3. Yakuza 4 suffers horribly from the similar presentation, feeling more like an over-priced expansion pack than a sequel. The menus are identical, the HUD is largely similar, the combat is the same, the moves are the same, the unlocks are the same, the mini-games are the same—it goes on like this for a while. The new characters all have their different fighting styles, bringing a little change to the combat, but will eventually grow into the same fighting patterns that you’ve used with Kiryu for the past 3 games. There is a change, at least, with the leveling system, which now works with tokens that you spend instead of the usual experience points. It’s neat at first, but in the end, it’s just a different way of giving you experience for punching jerks in the face.

This is actually a screenshot from Yakuza 3, but you wouldn't know that if I didn't tell you.

The third, final, and biggest issue comes with the setting. I will say this: I love Kamurocho. It’s an incredibly well-realized piece of Japanese culture and environment. They’ve iterated on the setting a lot since the first Yakuza game and it feels a lot like a home now. It’s a great feeling when you set foot in it, but it’s one that wears off quickly into Yakuza 4. 3 had the benefit of moving into the next generation, allowing you to experience just about all of the city without any loading screens. That novelty is gone now, and all that’s left is an area that is incredibly familiar, has changed little since the last time you saw it, and instills a feeling of fatigue that will really get to you in the late-game. By the end of my run through Yakuza 4, I had absolutely no interest in any side-quest. I didn’t want to run around chasing dudes, or fight jerks in the streets, or play blackjack or any of that stuff. I wanted the game to end because I wanted to see the end of the story, nothing more. If the series is going to continue, it needs a new environment and central setting, because I am not entirely sure I’d be on board with another visit to the never-changing sights of Kamurocho again.

It also wouldn’t hurt to switch graphical engines because man, is that series starting to look rough around the edges…

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Guys, Saints Row is so dumb. Like, unbelievably dumb. With that in mind, let me explain to you why it’s the most fun I’ve had playing a game this year. I need to preface two things to do so, though.

What is this, I don't even--

The first is why I am so surprised I love Saints Row 3. The shortest of the two answers starts with me telling you that I fuckin’ hated Saints Row II. It was a broken, unfunny and immature attempt to capitalize on the serious direction of Rockstar’s GTA franchise, and I didn’t connect with it at all. That might be reading a bit much into it, but by the time my game had glitched out 50 times, had no laughs whatsoever and was shooting poo at people from a truck, I decided that I had seen my share of stupidity and that I’d be better off not playing this insanity. It left me unexcited to play Saints Row: The Third, and it’s probably those lowered expectations that led me to having such a great time with it. Or, at least, part of the reason why.

You'll spend a large portion of the game jumping out of these and watching crash to shit. :D

The second reason why is as simple as me growing up in a time where games were just games. Games weren’t this thing trying to tell you this story, make you experience you never have before or transporting you to some fantasy world you feel like you live in. More than anything else this year, I feel like Saints Row: The Third goes back to that “games as games” mentality. Cars handle way too responsively, you can upgrade your character (already a throwback) to have infinite ammo and become invincible, the game’s plot is nothing but an excuse to do insane things and every bit of it is as fun as a game should be.

If there’s one impression I get from Saints Row 3, it’s that at no point did the words “No, we can’t do that” come up during the game’s development. There is so much shit crammed into this game, all of it more bombastic and fun than the last.

The game goes all out and fills the whole disc with insane moments everywhere. I love it. I love Saints Row: The Third, and I love Volition for thinking this was a terribly great idea. Those guys are heroes, and we should all thank them for making videogames fucking videogames again.

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See you tomorrow for Part 2!

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