Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix Collector's Edition unboxed

(I want to apologize for any formatting issues ahead of time. Giant Bombs editor is not always very cooperative due to how it auto resizes for the screen. I did my best to compensate for this, but it may still have issues on some monitor sizes.)

I received my Kingdom Hearts II.5 CE box today and I know there's other fans of the KH games around Giant Bomb so I thought it would be cool to share pictures of unboxing it- biggest reason mainly being that as far as I know (at least right now) this was a limited time thing. So, you know, in case anyone wanted to see it or whatever because they otherwise couldn't or something. I kind of doubt Giant Bomb will quick look the game which is only slightly a shame (I understand, though). It'd be neat if they did, but I know it's not a game the staff really cares about.

Anyway, to the pictures:

The front of the box.
The back of the box.

Pretty standard looking box. Unfortunately it was smashed a little in shipping, but whatever. I'm gonna open it anyway so it doesn't matter that much. There is not much else to say about this really. The box does it job, but it's probably the cheapest part of the production which is interesting to me. I've bought a few CE games over the years and usually the box is either terrible or really sturdy. This one is middle of the road. It's fine.

The boxes contents all laid out.

So, as you can see there is a plush of a heartless, a pin, a book of the art (for KH HD 2.5 Remix), and the game case. I have to say, the plush seems well made to me. It's not as cheap as I would have expected. I mean, I'm not going to use it or anything, but stuff is so cheaply made these days (especially with CEs of games) that it's refreshing that this seems like it was made by the people who make the plush toys Disney officially sells of their own characters. It's a legit plush, I guess, is what I'm saying. I have to admit, though, I can only base this on when I had stuffed animals like... 30 years ago. I don't tend to buy stuffed animals, but it seems like it's hard to find good ones these days.

A nicely made pin.

The pin is surprisingly well made to me. Some kind of hard metal. It actually seems very sturdy, which again I didn't expect. I kind of thought it would be soft metal or a very lite mold of metal and a cheaper, less sturdy, material layered. But no, this seems like a decently refined pin. It has a nice weight when you hold it. As a collector of pins (well, I did when I was a young man, and still have those 20-30 year old pins somewhere) this is a pretty decent modern one in my opinion. I am very surprised by how well the items within this CE feel to me. Better made than usual.

The art of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 HD Remix book.

I know. It's a picture of a book, but we should be fair and look at everything. I don't like to take pictures of the inside of books (it's both difficult and I don't like to bend pages for various reasons), but the pictures are nice. In fact that's all that's in the book. Other than titles to declare what the pages will cover (WORLDS!) and names of characters there is no writing in the book at all. The book itself seems to be made with an ok bind (that looks to be laced and glued) and- I don't know- it doesn't look super well made. It's ok because of the laced binding it should last longer, but it's not as impressive as the plush and the pin for me. The last book I can remember getting in a CE was with Alan Wake and that seemed better to me from what I recall. The book is also fairly short- having only a few concept drawings and renders in it. It's so far the least impressive thing to come with this although it's still not bad.

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 & 2.5 remix game case.

This is the case for the games. If I remember correctly this comes with Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 HD (obviously) as well as a couple of the off shoot KH games. I forget which ones at the moment. The case itself has really nice art on it (I almost took a picture of both sides, but I'm not sure anyone else would care about it as much as me), and the tin the case is made of is just as good if not a little better than those blu ray collectors tins you can sometimes find at Walmart. I think it feels a little better. It's pretty sturdy and feels nice. I like the build of it; it doesn't seem cheap.

Contents of the game case.

Inside the game case is the games and the modern day equivalent of manuals (which are really only warnings and title art).

Overall, I am actually pretty happy with getting this. It has mostly everything I would have wanted from a CE of a re-released game I look back on fondly (and have played 1 and 2 many times).

I remember when this CE was brought up as a Gamespot article a lot of people were nay saying it, but honestly I think they did this one right. Even including the first HD remix with it was a good step overall, but not only that the make of most of the contents of the package is actually pretty decent all things considered. I feel pretty good about how SE put this together and shows at least some amount of care that I wouldn't normally expect from an HD re-release.

Overall I'd have to say they done good with this one at least as far as outside presentation. After I finish the MGS collection I will go back to this series and see how well the actual games were uprezed and what not. As long as they aren't a total mess, and play like they did on PS2, that's really all I can ask for.

As a bonus I included pictures of my original KH and KH2 for PS2 below. Since this is a nostalgia piece in a way I felt it would be a fun fit to look back at those. I also just really like them. I think they're probably the best made game cases/covers on PS2- they have a really cool sheen to them.

Thanks for reading. If anyone else has thoughts on this, or got it and wants to share thoughts about it let me know- leave a comment.

Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 original covers for PS2.
Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 original back sides for PS2.

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Halloween 2014: Alone in the Dark Part 1

(Just as an editors note: Youtube is not loading my videos thumbnails- I don't know why that is so the videos may not have a thumbnail before you click play. Sorry, I don't know why it's doing that.)

I was originally going to write about Run Like Hell. For those that don't know Run Like Hell is a (critically speaking) mediocre Sci Fi/Horror/Third Person shooter from 2002 that I, personally, really enjoyed at the time. It has an amazing cast (Including Lance Henriksen, Clancy Brown, Kevin Michael Richardson, Brad Dourif, Thomas F. Wilson and many many more famous screen and voice actors), what I thought was an interesting story with a real sense of loss for characters you make connections to (which was still rare in 2002), an interesting weapon upgrade system, and... BAWLS?

Yes, BAWLS (a soft drink) was a major advertiser within that game. There are soft drink machines with the branding prominently displayed all throughout the game. It's so prominent that some critics (such as Jeff Gerstmann, for example) could not see past it and often when they remember that game that's all they really remember. The game uses these soft drink machines to refill something or other that I forget. There are also Pip boy machines next to the BAWLS machine which are (you guessed it) a reference to Fallout (the Fallout mascot is all over these candy bars).

Yes, that's right, that game was Published by Interplay, and developed by Digital Mayhem (who had previously created MDK 2). I am on a tangent, though, sorry.

Anyway, I decided against putting any spotlight on it (as small as me spotlighting something is) as I have issues with the game now, that I had not really taken into consideration at the time. I won't go too much into it (as that isn't what my intention of this blog is), but suffice to say that it doesn't bode well- character design-wise- from the beginning. The game wasn't worth talking about anymore, despite the fantastic performances by the cast (and it really is a great story); I could not get over this one thing.

I'm sorry, reader. I didn't mean to lose you in that kerfuffle. We'll move on.

Anyway, I was stuck. I didn't have a game to write about, and I haven't done one of these in 3 years. I have the time for writing right now, and what I want more than anything is to spend my time writing just about anything, so I had to think of something. I didn't have anything, though, so I gave up this years Halloween blog as another one lost. Time was running out and I wouldn't get anything up before October was over.

While perusing the site (like I always do), I came upon a thread asking about Games for Windows live and if certain games work (because it's shut down now) and I began writing a lengthy theorem (as I often do) explaining why it probably wasn't something to worry about. I pulled out all my games that use GFWL, and began installing them in order to prove that it wasn't something to worry about.

Well, the first game I pulled was the remake of Alone in the Dark (which I'll probably get to in a later blog).

For anyone in suspense, by the way, I did discover that GFWL being down now will cause problems for some games and you may have to find ways to get around this.

I had an epiphany, however, and I erased everything I was writing for that thread- leaving it to be as it may. I do this often, but this time was different. I had an idea for what I would write.

I went to my old games folders, as I still have all the Alone in the Dark games, but then I thought about it and decided to get them from Gog- just in case. I wanted to be sure they'd work and Gog would make sure of that before selling them. It wasn't a very expensive investment anyway.

I must confess, I don't have a huge amount of nostalgia for the original Alone in the Dark games. They were severely loved at the time for creating the genre we now know as "Survival Horror."

Oh yeah, did I mention Alone in the dark was the first survival horror game franchise, having had two sequels before Resident Evil even existed? It's true. It's much like how World of Warcraft made MMOs popular, Resident Evil did the same for survival horror.

Having no nostalgia for these games, though (I didn't actually ever play very far in the first game, despite owning it), I felt like this would be an interesting thing to play through to see what holds up and try to figure out what the appeal was in these games at the time. I also thought it would be an interesting topic given that The Evil Within would be releasing [today, actually].

So, what is Alone in the Dark? Beyond being a survival horror (before the term was actually used) as I played it I discovered it was more of an adventure game than anything else. It definitely has horror elements; although I don't think those hold up to well.

Just coming at this 22 years later I wanted to understand this game and what it's impact was. I wouldn't be able to ask anyone, though, so I wanted to just discover it on my own and use my own nostalgia to fill in the blanks.

So, I watched a postmortem the creator of the game gave (not too long ago, actually, it was in 2012 and you can see it here- I recommend checking it out), and a lot of the design decisions were based either on horror films he loved, or to be easier to utilize yet ominous for the player, or because they outright had to. It was '92 so a lot that they did in the game was still very new and hadn't really been touched on yet in a visual game.

So, I understand the game and where it was coming from. It was a time when things were new and new things were being tried. Playing it today, though, the game does not hold up so much as horror, but I would posit that it still holds a fascination if only because it's the first of it's kind. I suspect the designer saw in it what you would see in it going into it today. Frederick Raynal says in the post mortem that at first, when they had finished it and released it, he hated the game because he could see it's faults. More importantly, though, he believed other people would see them too. Of course, at the time, this game was something completely new. From the polygonal design (which it wasn't the first to do, but it was in the first years of being done), the sound was of a higher quality than you were used to at the time (as he explains that sound blaster had just come out), the background elements were impressive for the time, and to top it off everything in the game was trying to kill you. So, at the time, this game was like what using an Occulous Rift is like now- to help put that into perspective a little bit.

The game opens with a character select screen. Interestingly you do something similar in one of the original Resident Evil games (or maybe it was both 1 and 2- I forget now). Honestly, the comparison between the two games is stark, and I would not be surprised if I was told how much of an influence this game was on Resident Evil despite Resident Evil being the most remembered game.

Something I found amusing is the opening dialogue read by a voice "actor". I am placing a video of it below. Watch and enjoy that- it really is something special. I actually wonder if the actor is drunk. I understand limitations (see House of the Dead's voice acting), but this is gold at it's best none the less. I did try to find out who the actor was to give him his dues, but sadly I cannot find any record of it anywhere. Even the manual makes no mention of it and I suspect the voices may have been added later. Again, though, I cannot find record of this either. I suspect it because Raynal makes mention to the fact that he did not want voiced dialogue (mainly because of limitations, but also for atmosphere), but I am only speculating.

To continue on, the first thing you discover when playing now is the controls are a little strange. I read the manual first to get used to it, and it actually reminds me of Time Commando in a lot of ways. The stranger part, though, is you need to go into your inventory to switch between action modes (for example if you want to "push" you have to go into your inventory and change it to "push", or "open/search" or whichever context you want the character to see your space-bar input to be). I do understand the context here, though, as again this engine and the things they were doing with it were still fairly new concepts.

So after restarting the game (because you will probably mess up the beginning the first time as you become familiar with how the game works) I was able to hit the ground running.

Shortly after that I discovered the next thing to know was that everything, including the house itself, wants you dead. This was in an era when things like Flashback or Out of this World were uniquely defined adventures- especially so because of their death sequences. The french really seemed to like to mess with their players. It's actually a fascinating dichotomy in the difference in game design at the time. Alone in the Dark is no different to these, and will try to kill you whenever it can. You most certainly will spring a trap in no time, or get jumped by demon... things. Or be eaten by a zombie. In actuality you take a lot of unavoidable damage, and your only reprieve is if you survive long enough the game does give you decent amounts of health replenishment in measured points in the game.

An example of bad camera angles

The camera work in Resident Evil was (and still is) lauded as being what helps to create the amazing atmospheres in those original games. Similar can be said of Silent Hill which came a little later. This game is no different, but being the first to try this the camera is often a nuisance or outright puzzling. While there are some impressive shots, others are not so much useful as irritating. Some times you just have to believe if you press on forward the game won't be out to kill you at that moment. To be fair, the game never did take advantage of this problem- which was not that often anyway. Raynal does give some interesting perspective on why these shots were used in the postmortem.

Raynal said he designed the game to be playable without much combat. There is only a few cases where you even have to fight at all (I think, maybe, 5 in the whole game- maybe less) and that is why ammo in the game is so scarce. Truth be told you don't really ever need ammo as there are other ways to fight and there is maybe one instance where a ranged weapon is even useful. The problem with the guns, though, is there is no way to tell where you're shooting or what it's going to hit. I made a video to show this perplexing problem.

You'll notice at first I am continuously shooting, but not hitting anything. There is no indication on the first angle that the flying creature is higher up than me so I did not think to move forward yet for a few tries at this. When it did occur to me to try from a different angle I then figured out what the problem was. It's a bit of a pain that the shotgun/rifle has a kickback to it, but I can't fault designers for being ambitious on a ground breaking game.

I really enjoyed (read as sarcasm: I did not enjoy it) that they put platforming puzzles. No, really they are quite painful to dissect, but thanks to my years of experience I know how to manage a few pit falls. They are made less aggravating, though, by the smooth save system.

Even crazier is when the game requires that you run (because something is chasing you that you can't kill). This is mostly fine, as the game is actually pretty forgiving, but it is annoying when it sneaks another problem up on you before you realize the last problem is no longer a threat.

This is another in a long line of games where you want to see the different death animations. Something that still kind of exists today (Deadspace being a recent example I can think of). I put a few together in this video below.

Also, there are a lot of books in the game- they help to create atmosphere and more importantly they were intended to be clues as to how to progress certain areas. The same as with the character selection they are fully voiced and fun to listen to in that way old games have interesting choices for actors. Beware, though, as some books can and will kill you as you see in that montage above.

I must confess I didn't read all of the books as I used a walkthrough to make the game play smoother, but I am going to try and remedy that if needed on the next game and at least read every book after a save. The ones I did see in this game were pretty good.

Finally, the ending. It's a byproduct of a fan of 70s horror films so now-a-days it looks cliche, but for a game at the time it would have actually been clever. I think it's kind of funny- it makes me think of stuff like Tales From the Crypt.

So, anyway, Alone in the Dark is an amazing game in it's own right. It's a shame it became what it did later on, but for a very long time it actually held it's own as well as legitimately creating a genre- even though the first game (at least) didn't even intend to do that. Resident Evil was clearly inspired by this game, and it has it's own impressive history. I can't say I appreciated Alone in the Dark at the time, but I can appreciate it's mark on gaming and the legacy it has spawned. Developers and players these days may not all know it, but we owe a lot to this game. Without it Silent Hill wouldn't exist as we love it now, so we can be thankful it dared to try something different.

If anyone has memories or reminiscence of playing this game back in the day I would love to hear stories about it and people's thoughts about what it was like to enjoy this game when it was new. Feel free to share your stories.

Stay tuned- next week I'll cover Alone in the Dark 2 and 3. Thanks for reading! As always I'll have my photo dump below.

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Recollection: In Memoriam of Robin Williams

I want to start with a warning. I may say some things about films that Robin Williams was in that you may consider spoilers if you haven't seen them. I recommend checking them out if you have any interest in doing that- he was in a ton of great movies and most are worth your time. Robin Williams Filmography on IMDB

Robin Williams death has impacted me a lot. I felt similarly impacted by my Father, Ryan Davis, James Gandolfini and also Ray Bradbury passing away (in recent memory I mean). For Robin Williams, as with most people who I only know of because they're famous, it's not so much because I knew him as a person, but because he was so much a part of my entire childhood (and early adult life) that I can't help but feel something for the passing of such a great person.

A lot of people tend to forget that Robin Williams didn't just play for comedy, and was passed over for an oscar he really deserved multiple times. He always seemed to take it in stride in interviews, and while his passion was always for comedy he was so much more than just a goofball comedian.

The oldest stand up routine I can recall seeing him doing he was so different than any other comedian I had seen at the time (and it was recorded before my time). In it, he constantly begs the audience not to leave. He often seemed to believe he wasn't even funny- when a joke he would say "didn't hit" he would utter "Oh no, I'm losing you" and he would start walking into the audience and coming up with jokes on the spot just to get a laugh. I have to imagine he was like that in life- often just coming up with jokes just so someone would laugh.

There was a controversy early in his career that he was stealing other peoples jokes. It did turn out to be true, and for a little while I was put off by that concept (he even ended up paying people for the jokes). I have come to believe that it wasn't really stealing so much as Robin Williams would not stick to a comedic script like most people and would often just say whatever came to his head. He was much the type of actor that liked to play around with a character or idea and just riff on it. Adlibing was both his talent and his curse.

This spread through his acting career, as well. The Terry Gilliam films he was able to take part in, I have heard he begged for any part in (I'm referring mainly to Baron Muchhausen). I don't know if that's true, but I suspect he was a big fan (who isn't really?) and would be happy just to have been in one of his movies. For me the Terry Gilliam films were the first time I had ever seen Robin Williams- or at the least the first time I noticed him.

Sure, he was in Mork and Mindy, but that was before my time so I only saw that on Nick at Night as a kid and really I didn't notice him as someone I want to see more of but rather he's a funny guy on this goofy show. I suppose that's partially because I was a kid, though.

In The Adventures of Baron Muchausen (one of my favorites) Robin played the god of the moon. A man whose body was in constant war with his own (literal) head. Just saying that sounds as weird as it is. I really can't imagine any other actor pulling off such an odd character, and even though it's over the top it's still one of my favorites.

Then there was The Fisher King. I remember this was the first time I saw Robin Williams as a more serious actor. He had done other more serious roles before this (Moscow on the Hudson comes to mind), but Robin Williams wasn't a thing in my mind at that time being that I was so youn gor not even born when he first started acting. Today The Fisher King stands out to me more so than his other films because it's one of a few films about PTSD that I have seen and can find something I actually can relate to. Robin's role as a homeless man haunted by his past is both charming and chilling all at the same time. He goes from being insane enough to get naked in a park, to real enough to be haunted by a dark knight who he believes is coming for him so he cannot bring himself to love someone again. This, of course, is explained more thoroughly throughout the film as something more real and tangible, but it's still one of the most touching characters he has ever portrayed for me and now that I am a military veteran with my own PTSD I feel it's one I appreciate even more.

Robin Williams did a lot in his career. He wasn't always in good movies. Some people have even expressed wonder how he ever made it; considering his first ever film appearance was in Popeye. It's considered one of the worst movies ever made (check it out on Netflix).

Everyone has their bad roles, though, and he would much later be cast as the genie in Aladdin- one of his more memorable roles at the time. Interestingly, Aladdin is my favorite Disney film, and in no small part is that because of Robin Williams. Even in that film he adlibed a lot and they used what they could of it (or so I have heard). It's truly unfortunate that he had a falling out with Disney as I think he would have been amazing in other voice over roles.

I would argue this is probably what freed him up to start doing a lot more serious stuff. Around the mid, maybe late 90s (i'm not referencing this stuff, I'm just kind of recollecting here) he started doing stranger things. More serious things, for certain, but I found it odd that he went from being a likable actor to choosing darker roles.

I think it was in the early 2000s he started with Death to Smoochy. In it he plays one of his most despicable roles. Danny Devito is certainly no stranger to dark comedy- it's his bread and butter- but the casting choice of Robin as a has been kids show host who hates the new famous guy so much he wants him dead is a real twist on the characters he generally played up until that time.

That same year he went on to start playing serial killers. Insomnia was the first time he played such a tortured soul. It's a deep film, that's hard to watch because Christopher Nolan's style with it captures the feeling of being awake but needing to sleep so well it's almost like a dream. Robin isn't in a lot of the film that I recall, but it was the second time he chose to play a role the audience was intended to dislike.

Again that year he played another serial killer role, but much darker than the last one. One hour photo is one of the most haunting films about a serial killer I have ever seen, and the character he portrays in it is probably the most disturbing Robin Williams had ever gone. Unfortunately, I could only find a trailer, but the climax of the movie is really intense. This trailer is decent for setting the films tone.

Shortly after that Robin wasn't in much else. He still acted, but he was starting to swerve off my radar. RV was one of the comedies he did around this time, and it was Robin doing his thing but not much else about it made any sense. Robin had done stupid comedies before, but maybe it's just the times, or maybe people don't know how to write anymore, but I'm not into what that kind of comedy is selling (I do still own the film and have watched it one time).

The final movie I can recall seeing Robin Williams in I randomly caught on Netflix. It was directed by Bobcat Goldthwait (of all people) and was genuinely a surprise to watch. Worlds Greatest Dad is one of those dark comedies that sticks with you. The acting is phenomenal, but it's also very well written. You'd be forgiven for not even recalling you saw Bobcat's name in the credits. It's a surprisingly well done film that I didn't know Bobcat had in him.

I guess the years are coming up on us, and it's only a matter of time that our favorite actors from child hood start passing away. It's just an unfortunate thing it had to start what feels like so soon.

The circumstances of his death are only rumors at this point, so I don't want to speculate on his personal life. I really just wanted to look back and remember Robin Williams' impact on me throughout my life. For a good 30 years (that's most of my life) he was doing something that I had some kind of interest in. Either impactful or funny (there's so many I haven't even mentioned), he almost always managed to be one of those actors I would see a movie for (even if not until the DVD came out) just because he was in it.

As I close, I wonder about the stories I heard about Robin in the early 2000s. There were stories that he would randomly go to open mic bars in LA (I think it was) and do stand up just out of the blue. I have always wondered if that's true. I like to believe it is, because he was so full of energy and liked to make people laugh that even when he's a multi nominated academy award winner from countless films he still just wanted to know that he made people happy.

Rest in peace Robin Williams 1951-2014

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Is this the real Mouse? (Pictorial Spoilers)

So, as always, I just finished playing a game and now I want to talk about it.

Today I played Disney Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse (God, that's kind of a mouthful). I should note now I bought it on steam for $14.99. I wouldn't blame you if you wanted to wait for a sale to purchase it.

What a delight this game is. Visually, it's very appealing and every inch of it tickles my nostalgia senses.

Simple, yet evil, mushrooms.

Disney is no stranger to nostalgia, and often we think more of what we remember of Disney than what they are now (really are they even relevant anymore? I mean, Pixar is fantastic but its not really Disney). In that sense Disney is what it is still because of what we remember Disney being for us at one time or another in our lives. I'm sure at some point there will be others who think back on Disney as something else entirely different from what I think about Disney(although I do wonder if the next generation will even care about Disney).

Anyway, despite my meandering I actually wanted to talk about Mickey in all of this. I realized today I haven't seen Mickey Mouse in any real relevant use in a very long time. There may be a show or something he's in now (I don't know, I stopped watching cartoons around the time the average cartoon became garbage), but Mickey hasnt really been culturally relevant in a long time.

I think the thing I loved most with Mickey were the old black and white cartoons. They were always my favorite things with Mickey. I actually always think back to the haunted house cartoon. It's a masterpiece and if you haven't seen it then you probably should (how weirdly relevant, being that all these horror games are coming out around this week and next month is October).

I grew up in the 80's, and while the black and whites were no longer "new" they still played them on the (at the time) new Disney channel (late 80s, early 90s something like that). My favorite time of the year for these cartoons, at the time, was halloween. Disney holiday specials around that time were some of the best ever created even today, but my favorites were always the halloween ones. Maybe because making something scary and also ok for kids is a real difficult task and so it comes incredible when its done perfectly. You have to make it scary but also funny. Disney always seemed to be able to pull that kind of thing off, at least for me, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I remember, now, how much I hate jumping from leaf to leaf.

I'm rambling, though. Castle of Illusion 2013 (I shortened the name, sue me) is an amalgamation of several 3d and 2d games. It is a lot what it aims to be- a reboot or remake of a classic game a lot of people loved- and it is a little bit something else. It delivers the original game in a lot of ways and even finds ways to surprise you a few times.

I really enjoyed the different layouts of the worlds and the simple, but fun, puzzles sprinkled in here and there through out the game. Traversing it also is fine (although I have heard somewhere that the controls on XBLA are awful) and for the most part I did not feel hampered. I think my only gripe was my own want to keep moving forward, really. I found myself frustrating myself more than anything. With patience and observation all the platforming, boss fighting, and (short) puzzle solving is really fairly simple.

Speaking of bosses; this game has a few. I read somewhere (maybe it was Polygon) that the boss fights in this game were the weakest part of the game. I disagree with that. They were fairly well done and while it's a simple act of discovering their patterns I think they do what games used to do which was force you to figure them out and challenge your ability to progress.

Speaking of bosses; this one was particularly simplistic.

The boss fights, one and all, can be frustrating, certainly. Really, though, the majority of the frustration will come as you are trying to discover the patterns before you die. You should just give up on that first life in a first encounter with a boss, though. You will probably die the first time on most of them. Well, maybe. I mean if you have quick reflexes and adapt quickly then you can handle them fairly easily. Once you get the hang of the bosses they become simple at which point it can be a test of endurance.

The music and sound design in this game is probably my favorite part. I am so happy for that too. The game I always think of when it comes to Mickey Mouse is The World of Illusion (which was the Genesis sequel to Castle of Illusion). That game was so good I played and completed it so many times as a child I dont even remember. To top it off YOU COULD PLAY AS DONALD DUCK COOPERATIVELY WITH MICKEY! That was the greatest thing ever! It added so much more charm to the game on top of all the charm that game already had. I really actually hope this game does well so they remake or HD-ify World of Illusion because that game was SO GOOD!

Ok. Last thing I want to touch on is the how the developers tried to do something different. The game is not JUST a 2D platformer. I mean it is a platformer all the way through, but they add in moments where it suddenly shifts to a 3d plane so you can move anywhere, or makes you run up and down, or rotates the world. There's a lot of clever stuff like that that keep every world fresh and interesting all the way through the game. It never once got boring.

The game is most certainly short, which may throw some people off. I think it's the same length as the original though (clocking in for average Josh me at 2 and half hours to complete the whole game). I enjoyed every minute of it, though, and would still most certainly recommend it. The best part is, it's even great for kids. How often can you even say that about a video game anymore?

I am going to leave a photo dump at the bottom. Enjoy!

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Thinking back on Gone Home (spoilers)

I just finished playing Gone Home yesterday and I feel compelled to write about it. It's incredibly impressive when I come across games that try something different. That try to say that playing a game can mean something that you're not used to.

Finally home. I wonder what everyone is up to.

Developers certainly have a long way to go, but when something like Dear Esther comes along and its hard to define what it is, I feel anyway, that you know the medium is growing.

In the same vein we have Gone Home. Going in really you know nothing about what's going on, and that is truly the beauty of it. Do not spoil yourself on this one. Honestly, if you like a good story and the act of discovering the pieces as you go, go ahead and check this game out now. Don't read about it any further, and certainly don't watch someone else play it (well you can, but I feel that may diminish the impact a bit). When you're done all the blogs and articles about the game will still be there- as will the videos.

I know this probably seems pompous, or incredibly hyperbolic, but I feel this game is really important- at least as a way to tell a story in a game. I have never played a game that left me feeling any connection to its story on such a relatable level- much like a good film. I have liked a lot of games stories for certain reasons, some have even made me cry, but how often can I truly relate on some level to what the story is saying?

He can't be that bad if he let you borrow his Nintendo.

Sure, it's been incredible seeing what people can do with the apocalypse and zombies, and there have been amazing choices to make in games around that, but while you can ask yourself "what would I do in this situation" can you truly ever understand it? Can you ever really know what it feels like to shoot a child? While some may say yes this is a very small amount of people. It doesn't diminish the impact by any means but its thankfully a question we would not normally have to answer and most people never will have to think about it beyond whatever amount of gaming they do. I just bring this up because I found the story of Gone Home one that many can relate to- even me in a lot of ways.

Really, all you're doing is trying to find out why there is no one home when you get home from a year long trip and your rummaging through the house to find clues or answers to the questions that keep piling up. At it's core, though, it's a love story. A fairly simple one, too, but very effective.

It's fascinating to me the things I learned about myself when playing this. For one, there is never really any danger yet at the beginning you have this sense of foreboding. I don't know why. Maybe it's the sound of the rain, or the old creaky house, but I felt more and more as the game progressed that something bad happened and I am marching towards a terrible scene. So much so nearing the end I had become deeply worried that things would take a terrible turn and I was hoping so much that it wasn't what my mind was thinking it was.

This house is spooky.

It also brought me back to high school quite a bit. I was surprised by that.

Maybe it's because it's set in the 90's around when I was in high school, or maybe the attention to detail on the thought process of people, but while Sam's character certainly goes through something I have not I can relate to how out of place in the world she feels. I did as well in high school and often still do sometimes. We learn as we get older that is fairly normal, but in high school we believe it's just us. Really, everything feels so oppressive when you're in high school and I can remember this sense that if I just got to do what I wanted everything would be better. Of course, that is much more difficult than we understand at that age.

Oh well.

It's a really touching story that I would recommend. Much like Dear Esther it's not your standard game play but I have less problem calling this one a game as you do interact with the world beyond moving forward and you discover things about the story by interaction so there is a sense of engagement at the player level.

I found it really fascinating what they did with the story here and anyone looking for something different should definitely check it out.

See how many lights you leave on (or don't if you're like me and have to turn them off when you're out of a room). It's actually quite insane how many lights this house has.

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Who are the people in your Neverhood?

I remember getting The Neverhood at a local Software Etc. in the mall. I think Topanga mall in California, actually- probably 1997 or so.

The most intriguing thing about the game was that they made it completely in claymation, which is still still pretty unheard of (even the spiritual successor, Armikrog, is going to have some CG from the sound of it). I mentioned this before in another thread, but I have a love for claymation. There's always been something intriguing about it to me. It has a look, that is defined by it's meticulous shot by shot style of animation, and everything about it tends to be exaggerated- often (I would imagine) to save frames and therefore time.

Take an apple from the tree, and see how much it makes you burp.

The Neverhood is no exception to this, really. In fact it maybe does it more so than most claymation, and I would guess that was due to time constraints. It is not uncommon in The Neverhood for a frame of animation to hold longer than normal, or a movement to transition to another in a way that is uniquely claymation but also a tad off. It's not done in a bad way, mind you. It's just weird, and I like weird, so that's ok with me. It reminds me a lot of older Anime. Often, in older anime, they would hold a still frame for longer than necessary, and even just animate some form of color and line movement in the background to express something but for an exaggerated amount of time (it's possible this is still done). This is sort of what The Neverhood animation trades in, and does so mostly successfully.

I still enjoy the jokes, the tree that makes you burp and Willie (who you really don't know much about at the particular point in the game) dropping a flower in a pot on your head for some reason when you look up as he calls to you. It's very clever, and sometimes cute (the robot that loves his teddie bear comes to mind).

Don't mess with this thing. It's scary! Doesn't it look scary?

The story is done in an environmental way. You find video cartridges in various rooms and insert them into a viewer to get pieces of the back story. It is required you find all of these to even finish the game. This is another thing I would guess was done due to possibly time and money constraints. It's not bad, and helps to further give a sense of mystery to the world. Since it's a fairly linear game for the most part I don't feel lost. The interesting thing, to me, that I never noticed before was the games strong lenience on Christian philosophy. It's essentially the story of creation (as done in a way to suit a world made of Klay, and the game has a sense of this element which creates it, and mentions it in passing in things you can read or see within the game). It's probably for the best the game is self aware in this way, as the scenery (as claymation back drops go) seems very rushed. Again, I do suspect it was due to time and money, but one fairly obviously thing they rushed was the back grounds. The scenery often has a very muddy consistency- as if they slathered on the clay onto the back drop in a hurry. It does fit the story, as you come to find this world was created not long before you awoke, so you could also presume this was mildly intentional.

I really like the way the game looks, nonetheless (again, I have a softspot for claymation), and more often than not I found myself again enjoying looking at the world of The Neverhood.

The Hall of busts. Bust hall. I don't actually know what this room is called I just like saying busts.

The sound design in this game is mostly fantastic. Minus a few technical irks (such as Klaymans walking- which I mention later) it's a lot of fun. Very cartoon sounding effects for the most part, which are done well and fit the comedy the game goes for.

The music is incredible. I think it's probably one of my favorite soundtracks in an adventure game, ever... still. Terry S. Taylor did a brilliant job at making a crazy, twisted, sometimes somber, often spastic soundtrack. I think there's a total of like... 40 songs or something in this game. Maybe not, but there's a ton and everyone one of them is so much fun to listen to (with the crown jewel probably being The Neverhood theme itself). As a kid I loved the sound track so much I copied it to a cassette tape so I could listen to it more. Such a great sound track.

I do remember in the demo (I still have somewhere) the music is actually different and the music in that is also really good- I don't remember if it featured any of the songs in the actual game I only remember that they are different. The music was another big reason I got the game, though, as when I played the demo (now that I recall) the music really stood out; it's just so incredibly well done. I can't gush over the music enough.

Oh no! Save Bill, quick!

I do have to mention the puzzles now, though. I think there are some really frustrating things about this game (I have always felt this way). For instance, the games INCESSANT need to back track. Now I played this game a lot when I got it, so playing it again over a decade later I did find the answers to things just by memory sometimes, and I knew how grueling certain things were (such as you have to find all the video cartridges just for example, I knew that was a requirement to finish so I made sure not to forget- although I did still manage to forget one and had to backtrack for it) but it still weighs on you when you have to do it. I know it was/is an adventure game trope, and the most unpopular one at that. I feel a lot of good classic adventure games found smart ways to back track but still instill a sense of discovery while doing so. The worst thing is always forgetting something or not knowing you needed something you didn't get so you have to find it which means walking all the way back to somewhere on the other side of the game world. It's compounded in The Neverhood because there is a constant stream of things you have to do and often you don't really realize what something does because it triggers something for later or you cant get something until you do something else. Sometimes its a small thing (like turning on the water) and others it feels obscure until you stumble on it later (like the foghorn button door). Thankfully the game is never picky about skipping cut scenes so moving around the world is mostly easy to do and quick, but it gets slowed at times by certain means of travel (such as using the transporter) and the way Klayman walks sometimes makes me want to bash my head into the desk because it's slower on the third person scenes than it is on the first person ones and it cant be skipped when its third person (due to it not being cut scenes when he walks)- there's also something I cant place about how he walks I cant stand either. I think it's mainly the volume of his foot steps.

Bil versus that... guy. I want to call him classy Mecha Raptor guy.

The puzzles themselves are smartly designed; consisting of sound puzzles, sliding puzzles, a memory puzzle, a switching puzzle (that involves dynamite which is actually a fairly simplistic puzzle), and environmental puzzles- among, probably, others . The puzzles themselves usually make sense, and the most annoying thing for me is that most of them always change so even if you remember what to do you still have to figure it out again. I like to move along when I'm replaying a game, so that slightly annoys me when they do that but I know that is kind of silly. Still... slider logic puzzles. Has anyone ever liked those? haha

This game unfortunately came out too late- having released at the end of the Adventure game domination (actually just as the genre was "dieing") so the game was a financial failure. I always thought that was unfortunate, as adventure games go it is a smartly made one. It has several moments that annoy the hell out of me still (and the amount of note taking you have to do- I still am not sure if I think it's smart or annoying the things that I have to write down for this game) but all in all I still enjoy going to The Neverhood. It's a weird place, with varying degrees of beautiful scenery, amazing claymation cutscenes that are fun to watch, and some alright puzzles that annoy the hell out of me. Although, I still feel smart when I solve a puzzle (although less so because often I can remember the answer) and I enjoy the absurdity of the worlds context.

So, in closing I'll just say that I really enjoy The Neverhood still. I do have a lot of nostalgia for it, but playing it again is a reminder of the things I both hate about some adventure games and the things that I love. I hope with Armikrog they go beyond what they did with The Neverhood. They can leave out things like the hall of records (which is 38 screens of text [I think] on a wall that you have to walk all the way down for a video cartridge) and finding ways to not backtrack, or at least backtrack in more interesting ways and I'd probably be happier with it. All in all, though, it's still a one of a kind adventure. You wont see an all claymation video game anywhere else.

As always, a photo dump at the end. Enjoy!

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New Site, New Blog, New Leisure Suit

I had to write this in my Microsoft Office Word pad because the site was down. I really hope I remember to put the pictures in where I want them. I guess it doesn't matter because what I write tends to be very niche which is why my blogs are so sporadic. I know I'm not for everyone, nor are my tastes, so I only write when I am feeling super talkative about something I don't see a lot of people talking about, and I think they should- even though I know they won't. It's part of being in a niche audience.

I think Giantbombers would know that well. It's not everyday you walk into a grocery store and see someone wearing a Giantbomb sweatshirt (I haven't yet, but I wear mine a lot right now because it's still cold enough to do so. YAY!). We're a niche audience, as is most things on the internet (popular or not), and as such we don't get the chance to talk about the things we like about the internet with a lot of people. Those of you who do are very lucky and should count your blessings.

To get on with it already (because I know my tangents are long and boring) I am a kickstarter (kickstarter-teer? kickstarter-ino? Fuck, I don't know- guy that paid money) of the new Leisure suit Larry reboot, amply named Leisure suit Larry Reloaded. They recently put out an Alpha build of the game and it looks... great! So great I couldn't help but talk about it.

I am not going to post video, even though they aren't going to stop people who do (you can find video of it, which is sort of approved by Replay in so much as they have not given us an NDA and said "we wont stop it" pretty flat out- they seem pretty cool with it). I mainly just don't want to spoil it for people, but really want people to know about it. So far, in such an early state, it seems great. The writing, from the little I have seen of course, is top notch like you would expect, and the animation is great.

It is very important I share, though, that this game is in Alpha. That means it's not done at all yet. Anything you see in these pictures, good or bad, is subject to change and it must be understood that it is in no way representative of what the final game will be.

Having that out of the way (because Replay kindly requested we share that, and frankly I don't want to be the asshole who doesn't make it clear, but am totally cool knowing some assholes will still be assholes even knowing that) I wanted to share what we know and have seen of the game so far.

The majority of the game is actually in the Alpha. In a broken state, anyway. I wasn't able to finish the game myself (I broke the code on my play through and haven't had time to go back to it yet as I'm currently in the middle of a lot of real life stuff) but I have seen all the locations. All the places you remember are still there. They have been changed, some in smaller ways then others, but for the most part it's like Leisure Suit Larry being released again in higher resolution with references to more modern things.

To some this may be pretty meh, to others they probably wont even care enough to read this, but for those of us that love adventure games and like nostalgia fixes, this is pretty great (wait until you hear the opening theme, it's amazing!).

As of right now, I don't know if they have a release date (I think it's sometime in April or something, but I don't have a website to check and I don't feel like searching the kickstarter page right now) but if you were ever a fan of Leisure suit Larry this one will be worth checking out. If you didn't fund the Kickstarter look for it on steam when it comes out.

I'll put a photo dump at the bottom for any pictures I haven't already posted. Enjoy!

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My Thoughts on Heart of Darkness


 
 
I don't know why, but I felt compelled to write a blog about this game. I was thinking about it ever since the only forum thread it has re-emerged and couldn't get it out of my head. So I played through it again and now for some reason am very bored and feeling compelled to write about it. This is not a review (I don't do those) and should only be taken as my feelings on this game.      

 Andy is the greatest 12 year old acrobat in the swamp. Now what will the swamp monster eat?
I remember when I first got Heart of darkness, sometime in the late 90s (probably 99 as I didn't get it when it came out) I really hated it. At the time I felt it was incredibly difficult and unforgiving. I got all the way to the end only to give up. Another game that defeated me (honestly, a lot do- I either don't have time to finish a game and something new comes out and I forget about the game or I just give up because I suck to much at the game- not all games mind you but a lot of them).  
 
I do remember at the time being impressed with the graphics, it's method of story telling and impressive environmental puzzle design. The game really was fun for me at the time in all ways except playing it. I found playing it to be incredibly frustrating. See, I have this on PC and it feels as though it's more developed for consoles. This may have contributed to my disdain at the time.  
 
But enough of annoying me as a younger man, what about now? Well, first thing when you pop it in (if you have Win 7) you will notice is it suffers from the problem most Win 95 era games suffer from. There is this annoying graphical anomaly that happens (the original Diablo does this as well). You can't photograph it but you know it when it happens, it looks the same on all games it happens on. I scoured the internet for a solution but never found one.  
  
Then it dawned on me it was the same issue as Diablo and with research, when I was playing that not to long ago, I found the solution. The solution is the exact same for Heart of Darkness and anyone that cares to know I will tell you- everyone else can skip a couple paragraphs down. Since this does stop your explorer I must say- DO THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK.   
 
You need to create a text file in the games folder (saved as hod.bat- a batch file) with this: 
 

@echo off
taskkill /f /im explorer.exe

 Death by fireball!
hodwin32.exe
pause
start explorer.exe
exit
To break it down, for those afraid of the demon words I spew, the first line just tells it to not repeat what it says in the command line. The second line tells it to stop explorer.exe- the process which runs your desktop/taskbar/etc. . The third line tells it to run the game. The fourth line tells the batch file to wait until you hit a button in command prompt to continue. The fifth line tells it to start explorer again. The fifth line exits command prompt (so it doesn't just hang around on your desktop). Some people are terrified of messing with the explorer.exe, and thats fine. You can find other ways to get these games to run but this is what works for me. I also recommend restarting your computer after playing- just in case. For reference, ANY GAME that has the graphical anomaly in Win 7 that compatibility doesn't fix, can be fixed with this method and work just fine (that is a theory of mine, not proven, but it works on the original Diablo and Heart of Darkness so far- so I'm 2 for 2). I haven't an explanation for what about the explorer causes programs to degrade graphically when its on, just that turning it off while playing games fixes it.  
 
Edit: Oh, I forgot to add you may also need to set compatibility so it runs in 256 colors and in 640x480. A lot of people recommend turning all the switches on and setting it to at least Win XP sp2 compatibility- I don't know which ones you don't need after turning off the explorer, so feel free to play around with the compatibility if you need to. It may not be necessary at all.
 
 The beginning of one of the most frustrating levels in the game.
Anywho, I got the game working. I was surprised to find my XBOX 360 controller actually works in the game. It's surprising how robust this controller is.  
 
The first thing I found was the cut scene graphics are clearly dated (as should be obvious as this was a PS1 game). The story isn't bad though and they go through a surprising amount of effort to make it propel the game play, and do so surprisingly well in spots. It's not a story over game play type of game, as this is brought to you by the developers of Out of This World who are great at environmental puzzles, but they had more room to play with the story and did so.  
 
The actual in game graphics, to me anyway, hold up fairly well. It still looks pretty good (in that now retro indie way) and there's a surprising (well not for this developer) amount of focus on animations which are pretty fluid and look really good. Minus the falling off stuff FMV the death animations are generally interesting even if you are probably frustrated from dieing on this puzzle for the 10th time. 
 
Another surprising thing for me was I found this game much more accessible then I remember it. I'd even go so far as to say they tried to make it more accessible then the lead Developers past game. The xbox 360 controller may have had a lot to do with it, but I found it to be mostly fluid in control and he generally does what I want I want him to. I found myself dieing far less then I remembered. 
 An animated gif would be much more brutal, but I think this will do.
 
Don't get me wrong, the game is still difficult (and wow- the ways that they animate killing this kid are often brutal) but with the controller at least it's much more doable then some may say. The ending in particular, though, is a real beast. 
  
The only downside for me was while there is the option to remap the controller- it doesn't work right. I will hit buttons randomly and sometimes they just remove them or sometimes do nothing at all. It makes no sense but just do what I did and get used to the default settings. They're not ideal, but it works and I got used to it. 
 
All in all, I felt Heart of Darkness surprisingly holds up after all these years and is way better then my younger self had me believe. Play it with a controller and I'd say you'll be fine. If you're playing it on Win 7 look out for that graphical glitch. 
 
So, that's all my thoughts on Heart of Darkness, the game not at all related to the book which Apocalypse Now was based on. 
 
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My Thoughts on "Dear Esther"

So, I just finished Dear Esther. It's not a game- at all- but as an experience it's quite interesting. I kind of see it akin to touring a museum or art house. It was fun and intriguing, and if we had Virtual Reality this would make a fascinating means of using that kind of technology (just my opinion). As a form of entertainment (that shouldn't be confused for a video game- which it isn't) it's quite compelling and I am glad I paid for it. 

The graphics are amazing (especially in the cave). I couldn't resist making a lot of screen shots to use as wallpaper for my desktop. It's really beautiful. The story is a tad artsy, which is fine, and I was enjoying its mystique until the end. I don't feel it expressed enough for me to make any conclusion as to what the game is attempting to say (if anything). I don't need to be spoon fed (I mean, damn, I am one of the few people in the world to enjoy The Fountain) but I found the end too confusing. 

It's cool that they leave things for interpretation, the intent clearly is for you to experience it multiple times to try and make sense of it (I get that), but I feel it left to much up to interpretation and so the ending left me feeling confused. From what I understand, which is unfortunately little, the intent is to prove they can invoke an emotion with no actual mechanics- or something. If the emotion they were going for was confusion, then I can say this was a success.  

 
Anyway, I recommend it if you don't mind experiencing artistic storytelling and don't mind that there is no game play- no challenge here (because this isn't a game)- and want to see some beautiful visuals accompanied by a haunting score and an intriguing story (with an ending, admittedly that is trying to hard to be symbolic and mysterious) I say check it out. If you're on the fence due to the price, definitely wait until its cheap, and if you want game play steer clear because it doesn't have that.
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Halloween 2011 Game: Undying

I had considered playing this again when it was discussed Vinny and Dave may actually play it on their random PC game thing they do. They haven't played it yet (being the month of All Hallows Eve, this is a shame) but they may.

Another lonely voyage into a grand adventure.

In the meantime I myself wanted to play it again as it's a horror game I love and I have always considered to be pretty terrifying.

Installation was no fuss, shouldn't be surprising as the computer I have was built not that long after this game was released. As you can imagine I can play it at Max settings. The only oddity is the in game configuration is kind of weird- it seems they wanted it to auto configure for the most part. If you want to make tweaks you need to use the console in the game or the .ini file in one of the games folders.

That being said, it is really easy to tweak the setting, as the game is actually pretty accepting of any resolution you put in even if in the game settings it doesn't show it there, odds are it will work. It also, unlike most older games, has no problem with dual monitor setups for those interested in knowing.

The first thing most people who haven't played this ask me is "Does it hold up even today? Is it still scary? What are the graphics like?"

Yes, the graphics are noticeably dated but they aren't that bad.

The graphics are ok, but a tad muddy in comparison to design of today. The most notable thing you will immediately notice, though, is the animations are really stiff. Be gentle in your judgement, my friends, as this game was built using I believe the first UT engine in early 2001. I do believe it is somewhat excusable as this game came out not long after the first

half life

and

unreal

, so obviously it will show it's age. It's actually amazing it accepts a lot of the modern day resolutions- a lot of people will like that, but as I said above, you may have to tweak it manually. There is a few patches (an official one and some unofficial ones) that you can use to make the graphics less muddy and I recommend using them. For the sake of purity (because I'm crazy like that) I am not using the unofficial patches at the moment. I may install one I found tomorrow, not sure yet.

Anyway, I decided to boot the game up and see what I have not played in a little over 5 years now. After the interesting opening cut scene (if you don't like them by the way the game forgives you and lets you skip them, but you really shouldn't if you never played this as the game is about story and atmosphere. You really shouldn't bother to play this if you don't like games with these intentions) I almost immediately remembered what was so horrifying about this game. Besides the daunting controls (as there is a fair amount you can eventually do, being able to dual wield weapons and magic) the atmosphere and especially sound design is still magnificent and horrifying. Even if the animations and graphics show their age, the game still has an amazing atmosphere and may help you not worry as much about the game being old.

I can't lie, sometimes this game is reminiscent of Disney Haunted mansion- but much more adult and spookier.

Thunder has a sufficient crack, the pistol has a satisfying bang, and the magic is sufficiently mystifying. There are also times when you will hear voices, and not know where they are from. Sometimes it's like you are hearing voices in your head (I think he is- I cant recall if that's is explained somewhere) that basically tell you when to use your scrye spell (not that directly though, of course). This spell basically lets you see what's really there. There some terrifying things to see underneath the surface. I use it a lot of the time as a light source as it gives you a glow that helps you see a little better in the dark, but when you

should

use it... you'll know.

I've only scratched the surface, as I only played for an hour today due to setup, but I wanted to share my journey experiencing this again. Is it still scary? Yes, I think it is. The graphics are dated, and there are some weird animations that date it quite a bit, but the sound design more then makes up for it and with the atmosphere continues to frighten me even to this day.

I may write more of these if time permits, and I get the itch to share anything else about it but so far it's just as good as I remember, even if a bit old now. It's worth checking out, even today in my opinion.

This lady is kinda weird. Something about her...
The voice says to... WHAT? OH MY GOD, LADY! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU!?!
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