Life-size Final Fantasy Black Wizard Drawing

Well, I finished it finally. It wasn't that it took a long time, it was just difficult to get motivated to crawl around on the floor with ink, and glitter, and an eraser. But that's all behind me now, for now my creation LIVES! Overall, I'm happy with it. It was created with probably the wrong materials in sub-par conditions, but I think it's pretty fun. I was going to paint the eyes a bright yellow, but was then inspired by my wonderful wife and her love of glitter, as well as old-timey 3-D glasses. That's right folks, the eyes are pink and blue glitter.

Now, where the hell am I going to put it?


Mortality, Final Fantasy, and Hennessy

I call it "Is It Warm or Cold (Under the Ground)"

I've been doing a lot of drawing lately, and I did this drawing from an image of a Final Fantasy cos-player. He (or she) is dressed up as the Black Mage character that appears in several final fantasy games. I was inspired by playing Final Fantasy IX again, which I haven't played since it was released way back in the terrifyingly numbered year 2000.

In this particular Final Fantasy the Black Mage characters are artificially created, mindless, magical soldiers programmed to kill and destroy who or what ever their master wishes them to. The crazy thing is that, at one point in the game, you discover a village of Black Mages who have become self-aware and have run away from the war. One of the mages has discovered that after one year of awareness their kind dies. The other mages don't really understand death and have buried their dead companions under the ground only because they've seen humans do the same thing. In one conversation, a mage plans on cleaning up his dead friend in the pond when he "wakes up" from his sleep, while another asks whether you think that it is "warm or cold" living under the ground. The mage that knows about the lifespan stuggles with depression and finding meaning in his life knowing that he and all of his companions will soon die.

Pretty heady stuff for a PS1 RPG that looks like an anime for children. I was really impressed with this section of the game, and I can't believe that I didn't remember it from my first play-through. So, in honor of FFIX, I dub this picture "Is It Warm or Is It Cold (Under the Ground)."

P.S. I don't think I've ever drank Hennessy before.


Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Vs. Frustration Vs. Satisfaction

 Marvel Vs. Capcom 3:  Fate of Two Worlds is a game in which every single element is extreme.  I don't mean Mountain Dew, X-Games kind of "eXtreme," although it has a nerdier kind of that in it too.  It's extremity is more than just attitude or tone.  This isn't a fighting game that decided to dial up it's crazy to eleven, it's a fighting game that decided to dial everything up to nine-hundred and ninety-nine, a game in which everything should be in italics all the time.


"Your game has only one on one fighting?" MVC3 asks.  "Ours has three on three with multiple choice assists.  Your game has ten, maybe fifteen, hit combos?  Well, ours has combos that reach the triple-digits.  That's right, hundreds of hits before we stop, baby."

Playing it feels like being manic depressive, with amazing highs and suicidal lows, moments when you want to declare it the best game ever made followed by moments of utter frustration and fantasies of ripping the game disc out of the system and smashing it with a rusty axe.  It's a game for bullies.  You are either bullying or getting bullied, and like that unfortunate but seemingly unavoidable social situation, depending on which end you're on makes all the difference.  Of course, when two bullies of equal strength and meanness meet, then you get some real fireworks, and that's when the game really shines.

I've played online matches and annihilated my opponent with beautiful displays of chains, air combos, and epilepsy-inducing Hyper Combos.  In these cases, I felt like a fighting game god, like the ghosts of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Clint Eastwood were haunting my hands as I dished out combos with lightning-like speed and precision.  Satisfaction flowed from my crown to the soles of my feet.  "I love this game," I whisper to myself.

Then I get into another match.  The round starts, and before I can even move, my characters are juggled, pounded, and brutally thrown around the screen as I hammer on my fight stick in vain.  As I get hit, the combo counter goes from 5 to 10 to 25 to 45, then it starts over and reaches into the 60s, then starts over and all my characters are dead. These matches are the opposite of fun.  These are matches that I might as well put my controller on the ground because it would be as effective a defense as me actually trying to play.  These matches make me hate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3, and question my self-worth as a human being.  I punch the couch.  I yell things like "fuck" and "pussy cock bitch" at the screen.  Thoughts cross my mind about selling the game, and my arcade stick, and all of my other fighting games.

Unlike something like Super Street Fighter IV, when I get utterly destroyed in MVC3, I often don't even understand why.  I mean, I understand that I am playing someone who is much better than me, but what I don't understand is why I was beaten on a technical level.  When I get badly beaten in SSFIV, I usually can look at the fight or think back about it, and I can see where I made mistakes.  I can figure out how my opponent, because of their skill, was able to take advantage of my weaker playing.  The point is, I understand what happened and can therefore grow from the experience and hopefully become a better player.  Frustration is such an issue with MVC3 for me because I often don't feel like I'm getting better, or even understand how I can begin to improve.
 Punch...TO THE MAX!

As I said, it's a game of extremes.  It's hard for me to recommend it, but it's also hard not to recommend.  The only way I can really enjoy this game, not being a highly skilled fighting game savant, is to sit around with some friends, either online or off, and just play each other.  This is the kind of game that makes me wish I had some magical roommates I could manifest any time to play some Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 for hours.  It seems built to play with a large group of friends often, and over the course of years to allow for rivalries and the development of skills against particular players.  In this scenario the game is a blast, and even though I don't necessarily have this situation at my finger tips, I think I'll still be keeping the game around for a long time.  Even in moments of the utmost frustration, I still want to keep playing, and I think that says a lot about the depth and feel of the experience.  For all my whining about not feeling like I'm getting any better,  I do feel like I learn something new every time I turn it on, and that's exciting in the context of a fighting game.

Mega Log 3: Fire and Ice

 Like love and hate, there's a thin line between Fire Man and Ice Man.
Wait, shit, no there isn't. 

 Cool as a cucumber.

Ice Man

A couple of things stood out to me while playing through Ice Man's stage.  The first was that it contains the earliest form of the "head shot" in any games that I've personally played.   When one of the enemies is shot in the legs, it separates and continues attacking with its head, but when shot in the face, it's destroyed completely.  I'm sure its not the first example of the one-head-shot-kill, but it was fun to conceptually connect zapping a silly green cartoon robot in the dome to sniping a dude's brains out from two hundred yards in a modern military shooter like Call of Duty or Battlefield.

The other thing I noticed and was impressed by, and that a lot of the other stages have as well, is multiple ways to get through sections of a stage.  This isn't to say that the stages branch off.  They are extremely linear, but there is often multiple ways of getting through an area.  For example, there are two sections with disappearing and re-appearing blocks that you must memorize to get to the next area.  After I was having trouble with a later section, I looked up a playthrough video on YouTube, and noticed that the maker of the video solved both blocks puzzles in a different way than I had.  This, coupled with the use of all of the robot masters' weapon abilities, show a little of the depth of the Mega Man games, and why they are still talked about and loved.

Hot shit.

Fire Man

Fire Man's stage has, like most of the levels so far, some pillow-punchingly frustrating moments, but it was definitely easier than Ice Man's disappearing blocks and floating platforms that, by the way, shoot you to your death the moment you think it's safe to jump.

Using Mega Man's gun that creates temporary platforms can help a lot in this and Ice Man's stage, and it got me thinking that giving the player the choice whether or not, and when, to use the robot master abilities was an incredibly ingenious chunk of game design.  This is because it does a couple very interesting things at once.

First, it creates an experience in which the player has to figure out which weapons and abilities work the best for which enemies and situations.  Not only that, but the player must also experiment with the order they choose to play the levels in.  While this may seem a bit frustrating and time-consuming today, (and is the main reason why I'm using the internet to do the brunt of the work for me) when you're a young kid who only gets to buy or rent a few games in a year, it makes the game feel much bigger than it really is.  It adds a layer of depth that creates multiple playing possibilities.  You could spend weeks trying all the different weapons and abilities on different enemies, areas, and bosses.

The second thing that the combination of weapons and choice of sequence in receiving those weapons does in Mega Man is allow the player to set his or her own difficulty when playing the game.  This doesn't mean that you can make Mega Man super easy, but if you know which weapons to use and when, the game becomes manageable to someone like myself who plays a lot of games but isn't exactly Billy Mitchell, and if you are an evil game-playing savant like the dark lord of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, the game is designed in such a way that it's possible, barely, to get through it without using the extra abilities, just your trusty Mega Buster.  So, there is a difficulty range, though not exceedingly wide, that the player self-imposes.  As I said before, pretty ingenious stuff.

Next time, we delve into Dr. Wily's castle, but the Mega Log may go on hold for a bit.  The epileptic explosion of a fighting game Marvel Vs. Capcom 3:  Fate of Two Worlds has taken hold of me and refuses to let go.  If I can tear myself away, I may write something about it.  Also, I've somehow gotten into playing Battlefield:  Bad Company 2 online and am surprised at just how much I'm enjoying it.  Toodles.

 After this, I turned into a space-fetus and returned to Earth.


Mega Log 2

Elec Man has shuffled off this mortal coil with the help of my barrage of flying robotic scissors, which were torn from the flaming corpse of Cut Man.  Now I have the power of the entire Electoral College in my mega-buster.

Elec Man, killed in a tragic  Great Clips accident.
Guts Man's platforms were scary, but those asshole, un-killable things that knock you off of platforms in Elec Man's stage were just plain frustrating.  I spent about five to ten minutes on the first screen.  He's got disappearing blocks too.  I remember disappearing blocks when I think of playing Mega Man in grade school.  Good times.

Next up, Ice Man. 

Mega Log 1

A few days ago, I was suffering from Dead Space 2 fatigue.  I was playing through the game, which is fantastic fun, a second time, but I was starting to get burnt out.  I'd dismembered my thousandth necromorph and punched the head off of my thousandth undead space grade schooler.  I needed a break.  I looked through my stack of games and spotted the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the original Xbox.  The game was a quick buy for me over a year ago.  It was less than ten bucks and I knew that it was backward compatible on my 360, so I picked it up.  I'd never really dove into it, and looking at it, I realized that I'd never beaten, or spent a significant amount of time with, any of the Mega Man games.  So, I'm going to attempt to play through all of them on the collection in order.  The disc includes Mega Man 1 to Mega Man 8 and a couple "never-before-released" Mega Man games.  Now, I'm not making any promises here.  I could get stuck on Mega Man 1 and give up in an infantile rage.  It's been known to happen.

In full disclosure, I'm going to use some online guides to look up the order that I should fight the bosses in.  If you're not up on your Mega Man, the games have a basic structure that was pretty unique for the time.  You can play any level in any order you want, but each boss robot at the end of the level gives you a special weapon that you can use after defeating them.  Most robot bosses have a weakness to one of the other robot's weapons, so there is usually one or two paths through the game that are the most efficient.  I understand that part of the fun of the Mega Man games, at least when they first came out, was trying to figure out the best order to play the game in.  I'm cheating by getting that information from the internet.  Why?  Because I'm not nine-years-old and have only one game to play for six months with no job, or girlfriend, or drinking problems.  I'm a grown man who wants to play a game about being a blue robot man-child.  That's why.

First up, Mega Man 1, which had some amazing cover art.  My first session, I played through Bomb Man's stage, Guts Man's stage, and Cut Man's stage.  Here were some of my thoughts.

Bomb Man:  Piece of cake.  I thought these games were supposed to be hard.  Fighting Bomb Man was like fighting a tired three-year-old.  Now I got bombs, fools.

Guts Man:  Holy shit, who would build these fucking platforms that fucking drop you like this.  This is fucking impossible.  There's no way a human could get past this part.  Jesus, is this as far as I'm going to get in the Mega Man Collection, the second stage.

After about fifteen straight minutes of trying to get past the moving platforms, I finally got through, and bombed the shit out of Guts Man.  Now I have...guts, I guess.

Cut Man:  Kind of a tough stage, but nothing as frustrating as Guts Man's falling platforms on rails.  Threw a couple of bricks at Cut Man using Guts Man's throwing ability and he died easy enough.  Now I have some scissors, or something.

That's it for Mega Log 1.  Tune in next time for the shock of Elec Man and possibly the cold heart of Ice Man.

A Year's Worth Pt. 2: Suprises


Here are two games that I avoided or reluctantly played last year that I eventually came to love.
Castlevania Harmony of Despair

Castlevania HD is a strange beast. The game got a lot of negative reviews when it came out, so when I downloaded the demo, I didn't have high hopes. After playing the one level in the demo, I felt the game was slow-paced, difficult, and the loot and gold drops from enemies and treasure chests fell to the player like molasses. I decidedly deleted the demo and forgot about the game. Then, a month or two later, a couple of friends downloaded it and asked me to get it too. They claimed they were having a blast with it. I figured they both couldn't be crazy, so I said damn the critics and downloaded the full game. Playing Castlevania HD by yourself is like playing football alone in your backyard, you can throw and catch the ball, sure, but it's not going to be very satisfying. The game supports up to six players at once, but even playing with one other person makes it exponentially more fun, and with six, the levels go from taking fifteen or twenty minutes to taking five to ten minutes. Put simply, with one player, the game is a boring slog, but with some friends or random strangers, it becomes an addictive speed-run-style, loot fest with the classic Japan meets Bela Lugosi, Castlevania charm.


Darksiders is a game that, at least initially, turned me off. The art style looked too teen angst, testosterone-filled, "badass, bro," and when I heard that it was basically a Zelda rip-off, I was turned off even more. A "fucking badass" Zelda did not get me excited. Eventually, when I finally and grudgingly played the game, it's overall high quality in almost every aspect turned me into a fan.

The game takes elements from The Legend of Zelda and filters them through Black Sabbath and my fifteen-year-old sense of cool. Often, this kind of tone in a game becomes cringe-inducing to anyone with a normal IQ, but Darksiders is so well made, and is such a pleasure to play, that the tone comes off as charming, immature fun rather than an appeal to meat-heads of all ages. It has the adventurous exploration and feelings of discovery of a good Zelda game, but instead of feeling like a grade-school kid in a park, you feel like a junior-high kid reading comics about demons and bloody swords in your basement. I like when something surprises me, and the level of fun to be had in Darksiders surprised the hell out of me.


That's it for now.  I was just recently thinking about these two games and wanted to share some thoughts. 


A Year's Worth: Games I Played in 2010

 To get back on the blog wagon, I've decided to do a little year end contemplation and compilation. You can find Best Games of the Year lists everywhere, so I think I'll concentrate on the games that I played this year that are still sticking with me, games that I still remember and think about from time to time, games that I'm still playing. And yes, I know, some of these didn't even come out in 2010, but that's when I played them, smart ass. Here's the first batch:
Dragon Quest IX

 Every girl is crazy about a sharp-dressed man.
 I still haven't beat the game, and I kind of don't want to. It's the kind of game that you can play for years, literally, even after finishing the main story. It's sense of humor and charm mixed with the sleek, user-friendly game design give me hope that maybe the traditional Japanese role-playing game isn't dead. A perfect handheld game.
 The Japanese ruled the video game design world for so long that it feels strange to say that most of the games coming out of Japan now either feel stale, or like poorly guided attempts to appeal to a Western audience. Bayonetta is a game that feels like an older Japanese title in the sense that it's exciting, strange, and bursting with creativity. It has a crazy, punk sense of humor with loads of in-jokes and homages regarding Sega's past and digs at director Hideki Kamiya's previous employer Capcom. The heroine, an eight-feet tall witch who walks like a super-model and sometimes spanks her opponents to death, is so over-sexualized that she goes beyond becoming an object of desire and becomes more of an alien from another planet. The difference between Bayonetta and characters like Lara Croft is that Bayonetta knows that she's a sexed up video game character. She's in on the joke, and she's loving every minute of it. Besides the great characters and the ridiculous world of the game, the action moves and feels as smooth as any third-person action title I've ever touched. Kamiya knows how to make great action games, and this one feels like he poured everything into it. (Unfortunately, I've heard the PS3 version is much worse in the graphical and frame-rate department than the 360 version, which is really a shame.)
Valkyria Chronicles
 Valkyria Chronicles is one of those games that stands out because the parts of it that are cliched and derivative are still extremely well designed and the parts that are different and new work beautifully. It's a basic turn-based strategy RPG with different types of units, hit points, abilities, etc. What sets it apart is it's gorgeous hand-drawn look, exciting story set in an anime bizarro 1930s Europe, interesting characters, and loads of loving details. Like a real middle-manager, the game makes you monitor the strengths and weaknesses of each character as well as their relationships with one another. I won't soon forget getting characters killed off because I forgot that one of them was allergic to pollen and the other hates the character I paired him up with.
Super Street Fighter IV

 Take a great fighting game and make it bigger and a little better and you have Super Street Fighter IV. I'm still terrible at fighting games, but I'm also still fascinated with the depth and strategy hidden within these button-mashing beauties. I really can't wait to see how Capcom handles Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.
Mass Effect 2
 The world of Mass Effect as created by BioWare is one of the most realized science fiction worlds that I've ever experienced. After playing the first two games, I feel like the characters and places on those discs are as real as anything in sci-fi film or literature. BioWare has made a game in which having a conversation with another character is almost as much fun as shooting them in the face. Plus, you can still bone an alien, which makes Fox News angry, and then they make up awesome things like the phrase "SexBox."
 Borderlands is what happens when you mix two genres and actually figure out how to make it work. Those mad Texans at Gearbox Software kept Borderlands alive with some great DLC this year. I played the hell out of this game in 2009, I played it in 2010, and I'm still playing it in 2011. Games that aren't fun don't get played this much. That's a fact, buster.
Super Meat Boy
 Super Meat Boy is a temple built to honor the old video game gods of hand-eye coordination and muscle memory. It's a modern HD platformer constructed from blood, gray plastic cartridges, sweat, pillow punches, and frustrated swear words. The crushing difficulty is expertly balanced by incredibly tight controls, super short levels, and instant respawns. It was the hardest, most satisfying gaming experience of the year.