Papercrafting hobby: Zelda Spirit Tracks.

So, I've taken up to paper-crafting.  It started with making those box-shaped ones of characters I love a year or two ago, and then it progressed a bit to the point where I picked up the optimal cutting tool (your basic x-acto knife) and some craft glue and really sat down to make some more ambitious ones.  So, instead of retreading through some of my trial-and-errors, I figured I'd post my newest (and video-game related) one here.  I present Zelda from Spirit Tracks:

 The front.  Notice the shamble of a room in the background.  No, don't notice that.  Look at that pan-flute! That took forever!

 The back.  I made the shield and sword first because they simply felt awesome to hold the final product. By the way, I even took these photos with my DSi, so while I thought that was appropriate and my only source of picture taking, they're not exactly hi-quality. Soz.
So, maybe you think that's pretty cool (and thanks! say so below!) and you'd like to try your hand at it!  GO FOR IT!  Now, it's reccomended to use thicker card-stock-esque paper to make it hold up better, but, even though it's tougher, I just use plain ole' printer paper (but upgrading is next on my list). I use Elmer's Craft Bond All-Purpose Glue dabbed on some paper and apply it with a very small flat-headed screwdriver (as in one small enough to use on a pair of glasses). I also cut on various pieces of cardboard with the previously mention X-Acto knife. That seems to work for me.  Now, this one is a bit tough to assemble and there is barely any kind of instructions rather than numbers, so it's a bit of a 3-d puzzle, as well. But that made it all the more fun for me.  ANYWAY. Right. The link. The reason you even began to read this boring (maybe insightful) paragraph:\ 
Big ups to Lyrin for making this awesome model. It was a blast and a pain to assemble.

Musings on Borderlands and Dragon Age.

So I picked up Borderlands and Dragon Age during the first week of January.  They weren't included on my best-of-09 list because of this, but I think they might have had I played them.  Borderlands was played co-optly with my brother, via split-screen.  Dragon Age was just completed last night. 

First, Borderlands.  The last FPS/RPG game I had played was Fallout 3 which culminated when Mothership Zeta came out (unfortunately not the best episode to send it out on...but alas).  I completely had fallen in love with Fallout and must have put in a total of 150 hours or so between a few characters. So, Borderlands was a nice way to hop back into that genre.  Now, I really did enjoy Borderlands. It's definitely a great game. My brother, however, loved it as I loved FO3. Me, not so much.  There were a few decisions made with game design that I didn't take to as much, although I'm sure my experience would have been better served with 4 friends over XBL and not 2 via split-screen.  Split-screen in Borderlands is seriously affected and cut down on the fun factor quite a bit. Too much info for a half-screen.  I heard vertical split-screen is an improvement, but I didn't want to bother getting used to that.  So, while Borderlands is a great game, I think it gravitates to the lower 10 of the year.  Fighting, which the game certainly throws at you, isn't really that fun in my opinion. I've still yet to go back and hit the level 50 mark for fear of bearing that monotony again.  Even most of the boss fights lacked that certain boss-ness that would have served the game well, I think. (Except for the flying boss. Loved that).  
The biggest crime in Borderlands is its biggest touted feature: MASS AMOUNT OF WEAPONS!  The randomness of them severely ruined the game, I think. To pick up a weapon and not have any kind of upgrade for it for the next twenty or so levels disinterests a player. There has to be some kind of incentive.  Very rarely did I pick up definite upgrades for my weapon, grenades, or shield slots and after killing every boss only to be greeted with more money-fodder weapons is disheartening.
 My love.
Dragon Age, on the other hand, would take the number one spot on my list.  For some reason, the game didn't register in my brain for the longest time. And yet, when the end of 09 approached I felt some need to pick it up. It didn't come from any source.  I didn't read a single review. Not one friend mentioned it. I just thought it sounded interesting and I didn't really know what game to next delve in to.  The game might lead you to believe it's a war of swords, but it surprised me when it became evident it was a war of words.  I enjoyed that kind of game much more.  Even Fallout 3 was less action oriented than it makes out to be. Maybe I took advantage of VATS too much, but that tailored me to liking the game so much more than I thought I would.  No surprise, but I'm not really an action-y kind of guy.   I like my plat-formers, my puzzle games, my RPGs, etc.  I like to make critical decisions. And that is entirely what Dragon Age is.  It dances the gray line of morals with splendor and is unforgiving in making you question what is right.  Everything in that game entranced me from the surprising cast of amazing characters and interesting plot points. 
Anyway, this post has dragged on enough. Suffi ce to say Dragon Age is a superior game and you should let it surprise you.  Borderlands: it was fun.

Remember that Spore game?

This past week my graphics card in my computer finally succumbed to time and died.  It wasn't anything special, so I wasn't too surprised to see it go after 3 or so years.  Right now I'm using the onboard card that came with this prebuilt and it's capabilities stretch as far as FreeCell.  So, I decided to go through my very small stack of PC games to see the potential for what fun I could be missing. It basically consists of World of Warcraft, Diablo II (which I snagged for 3 bucks at a garage sale many, many years ago), and Spore.  


Official Spore Box Art
Now, the lead up t o Spore's release was widespread and lasted for what seemed years. Most of the game communities I browsed were up in arms about this game and all I could think to myself was how uninteresting the Sims has always been to me and I simply ignored it. The week of the games launch came and for some reason, I found mys elf becoming increasingly interested in this game that had been on the back burner for so long.
Looking back at the reaction of Spore's release through video game sites and the general gaming community is strange to me, and I almost feel like I dodged a hype bullet or was maybe playing a different game, because I loved it. It was a game that was completely breathtaking to me in every possible way when I didn't expect it.
Many people hav e their different strokes for what hits their sweet spot, and I've always been all over the map. Video games have always been the purest way of experiencing ideas, stories, characters, art, and music for me, and I assume that's true for many other constant gamers.  And some how, some way, this game was just one of those games for me.
My favorite crossover genre of all time is SciFi/Western.  Not exactly a common combo but every time I see someone tackle it, it's alw ays magical. Even before my deep love of Firefly, there was Outlaw Star, one of the only few animes I watch. There was The Gunslinger (which is less space scifi, admittedly). But these all stemmed from the fascination of space I've always had.  And those two shows, Firefly and Outlaw Star, both feature a group of virtual nobodies who are alone in space. Silently terrified at the thought of all the standard fears of space and what it means to be so nothing within something that is, well, everything.
That idea of the fear of possibility is unsettling some people.  Possibility is a great thing, but it gets scarier the broader it gets, and nothing is literally broader than space.  Spore is a slow burn. The stages of the game follow all the tropes you expect them to glance over. They're minimalistic in the way they present themselves and are only complex-ified by the player themselves when they create the various creatures or objects that soon populate their world. It's when the game gets to space and all of the things you have done previously are done. You create your spaceship, and that's the last amount of creative input the game gives you. The home planet you leave is entirely made of everything you put into it. You started literally from a microscopic being and you meticulously craft every single thing that makes that world home to you. And you leave it behind.
Maybe that idea didn't hit home with some people, but it hit home with me. That world was everything you made it to be. And
 Space: the final frontier.
the game as I now know i t hadn't even started yet.  Sp ace mode starts and you are a bit overwhelmed.  The first time you take flight to another populated planet, it hits you. You fly your spaceship low to the planet and you see creatures and towns with their own flair and you realize how that right there could have just been everything you did in the game so far.  So you zoom out from the planet.  You zoom farther and farther and when the iconic galaxy swirl of the universe is positioned on the screen you realize the scope of th e game. There are literally an uncountable amount of other planets that populate this whole entire galaxy. It's baffling . It's unnerving. And it's unsettling in the possibilities it presents.
Now, the game-play aspect of space mode does dissolve into spice trading, fending off the Grox (who are astonishingly an expansive empire), and formatting planets to fit your terra-forming needs.  I personally loved the idea of it all. Terra-forming itself has always been an awesome concept to me and it was an immensely fun mechanic to balance various planet's temperature and atmosphere into a habitable planet which then led to more spice trading, which did admittedly get a bit tedious.
But the sheer scope of the game at that point was truly mind blowing to me. What really gave me the most memorable experience  stemmed from an achievement in the game to visit the c enter of the galaxy. There was no mission given to do this, it was simply an achievement placed in the game that anyone could aspire to get if they felt like it. For me, it became the climax of the game and further established the game into one of the more memorable gaming experiences of my life.
After making a bit of money and upgrading my ship a bit, I thought I might tackle the achievement. It's a long journey to the center of the galaxy. This feat is all the more troubling when you slowly begin to realize that the further you get to the center of the galaxy, the more concentrated the amount of Grox controlled planets is. And they REALLY aren't the neighborly type. 
It's a frightening thing to delve into unknown territory.  It's the same exact feeling I get starting any game with an open world element to it.  You're afraid that at any point you might be heading into the wrong territory at that point in the game. Like running from Elwynn Forest into Duskwood on accident in World of Warcraft and realizing you have made a glaring and horrible mistake.  I've been very apprehensive anytime I begin a game that I know to have that open world element because it is physically taxing on me.  I have to slowly learn how to traverse this alien landscape while I'm still fumbling to understand the mechanics and ultimate goal of the game. It's a very daunting and terrifying experience each and every time.  And the payoff later in the game is always amazingly rewarding.
But Spore was this much grander beast that scared me more than anything. I would spend a chunk of time traveling. Maybe occasionally take a new planet and establish a trade route with some lone civilization I've befriended and restock on some essentials, all the while getting farther and farther away from that home planet I now felt apart of. Continuing towards this ultimate goal fighting off Grox. Running from them. Overcoming them. It's an insane feeling and almost like space planet parkour as you dodge around these Grox colonies seeing just which planets you might be able to reach as you inch to the center of the galaxy.  You're  fed up with bothering with these bastards and are zipping through planets with ease, getting the hang of it just as if you were playing an old Sonic Genesis game, all the while still leaving behind that ho me planet you forged so long ago.  Reaching that center never means so much to you as it does when you get there. Every planet you pass is a reminder of where you started. Of the cities you designed. Of the other creatures you conquered. Of the tiny, microscopic cell you started from.

Maybe Spore was a game I loved more for the concepts and ideas it made me mull about. Maybe it was its charming simplicity that drew me in. But looking at my dusty PC tower and then back at the case of Spore I hold in my hand I know I'll never forget the time I did spend with it.  Sure, I haven't touched the game since that week I was enthralled by it, but I don't need to. There have always been games that some people for some strange reason latch on to.  I'm sure there's someone out there who thinks Bubsy 3D was one of the milestones in gaming. And I will stare strangely at them. But maybe now, I'll have a small bit of resolve in my glare, because I've experienced that love for a game others may not have.