I Was a Teenage Guitar Hero

I don’t remember where I first heard about Guitar Hero. But, I had a subscription to GamePro when I was an elementary-age kid, so that was probably it. I had amassed a sum of christmas money (2005) and decided I was going to shell out the $70 odd dollars to get the bundle. Neither GameStop in town had it (they were EB Games then) and I ended up calling this independent shop in a neighboring town called Game Freaks. They had it.

I could probably name tons of songs from GH, GHII, and Rock Band. Those three games were my main rhythm-game squeezes, but it was something really special chugging through the Guitar Hero I setlist on Easy mode for the first time. It felt incredible. I didn’t touch the other games on my shelf over Christmas break. Even when I went downstate to visit my grandparents and spend a few nights there, I brought everything along and remember first playing on hard in the upstairs living room there. I was 10 or 11. I was playing Cochise by Audioslave, with the guitar behind my head. I don’t know who lives in that house anymore.

My dad got into it with me a lot more when Guitar Hero II came out. We bought the bundle again, and I remember playing Strutter by Kiss. Of course, it was the WaveGroup Sound cover. In a way, that seems bizarre now that Guitar Hero I and II were nearly all the WaveGroup “As Made Famous By” covers. If I was older, that might have bugged the shit out of me, but I was a little kid, and I only half-knew the scant songs I recognized.

It’s been a long time, but I will occasionally hear a song and have false memories of it, basically because I was familiar with the Guitar Hero version only. I loved playing “Spanish Castle Magic” by Jimi Hendrix, and the first time I heard the original recording, the vocals arrested me. I had no idea that song was supposed to have words.

Embarrassing times were had by all. I remember much later in Middle School flipping through my friend Connor’s iPod on the bus home. He had about 70 artists and 71 songs. They were all recognizably from Guitar Hero. I was incredulous.

“Did you know about music before Guitar Hero? How is this possible?”

Any song on YouTube that was part of a tracklist in a rhythm game was immediately subject to a war in the comments, mostly instigated by people convinced that somebody who heard Frankenstein by the Edgar Winter Group on Guitar Hero and not through classic rock radio was somehow an asshole.

I think for people who were younger around the release of those games, they played a big part in shaping their musical landscape. Especially for kids like me, who didn’t listen to mainstream pop at the time. It was nice to find stuff that was new, or at least recent. Even as a pre-teen, listening to endless Led Zeppelin and the Doors felt like listening to music in a vacuum. I actually got deeply into several different bands featured in the Bonus Songs, most notably That Handsome Devil (who just put a new record out) and Honest Bob and the Factory-to-dealer Incentives. I was so into That Handsome Devil for some time I co-started a lyrics Wikia for them, and helped organize their show in Detroit when they played in Hamtramck. Some of the members knew me by name, and at some point during the night it was a shocking realization that oh, wow: I’m here because I played their song “Elephant Bones” in Guitar Hero II.

Rhythm games were it. Aside from Call of Duty, games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band were what I feel to be one of the last huge (recent) gaming phenomenons to come out of consoles. It’s worth mentioning the Just Dance games and the Wii, not as a console in this context, but as a Wii Sports machine. I played Just Dance with my cousin and sister-in-law at some holiday shindig this year, but that isn’t the same as going to someones house for the sole purpose of playing GH/RB and then playing it up until the sun starts poking around again.

Everybody had plastic instruments. I had two guitars from Guitar Hero, incompatible with my guitar, mic, and drum kit from my Rock Band set. I was not in any minority. I would even wager to say that tons of people probably had three or four guitars. God forbid you wanted to play the drums–it guaranteed you buying a newer kit.

With the speed that these games came and went, it sounds as if music games existed in a bubble, even though it wasn’t. It wasn’t like Rock Band 3 shipped and they had to bury a bunch of stuff in a landfill. The games sold. Guitar Hero World Tour sold. The Beatles Rock Band sold. The track packs and DLC sold. It gracefully went away. It was probably because consumers were so vocal about not wanting to buy any more instruments. It had to be obvious to developers/publishers that the market was slowing up.

To the greater public, rhythm gaming died down. There’s still an active community, or so says Nick Chester from Harmonix PR. Additionally, that article states some anecdotal interest in a new Rock Band title from consumers, but it can hardly be inferred from that article that RB4 (or anything similar) is on the way.

The fair-weather, casual gamers who played rhythm games moved on. A lot of the younger kids have moved onto the mobile frontier that has grown so large in years recent. The adults who weren’t gamers but played rhythm games have largely gone back to being not gamers. The gamers who played those games are still gamers. But they aren’t playing games with a plastic axe.

It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a music game like those of yore. Frankly, I’d be way into a new one. As a member of the now-current generation of gaming hardware, I would love to have a music game. If Harmonix announced a fat Rock Band 4 bundle tomorrow, I’d double down on that. Sure, I’d have to figure out where the hell I’m going to get the money/where the hell I’ll keep those fake instruments, but I would still love that. It’s surely not as pronounced, but I feel the urge to get a music game the same way I need a good fighting game on a new console, or a good game to wreck a car in.

I’ll never be that kid waking up to grab plastic instruments, and going to bed because I need to put them down. I’ll never spend hours and hours working my way up to Hard and Expert mode, partly because I can still whip through songs on Expert despite the rust around the joints of my fingers. I can never really be that dedicated again, because music games will never dominate my life again. They already did that once when I was a kid. Money can still be made. Improvements can still be made. Music games will never rule the world again, but they could still suck the money out of my wallet once in a while.

I could use some new rhythm games.

(As a side note, while I will continue to post here, I'm going to heed some advice I received from an editor at Kotaku and slowly move to posting solely on a blog of my own. I hope some of you will visit. Thanks for the read!)

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The Crew Comes Out Tomorrow. It Probably Won't Be Very Good.

I had the good fortune of being accepted into both betas for Ubisoft's The Crew, one of the last big games of the season, and (what I believe to be) Ubisofts last big game of the calendar year. I started this write up after the conclusion of the second beta but decided against it, but decided to put my thoughts up after Ubisoft publicly told consumers to disregard early reviews of The Crew.

Additionally, the games lead designer Serkan Hasan stated "For The Crew, we've reaped the benefits of a long term beta program, designed specifically to push our infrastructure as far as possible in real world situations, with thousands of players from all over the world playing the game at the same time,".

In all fairness, Ubisoft said that early press of the game would be useless because "While we fully anticipate that you might see some reviews immediately at launch — largely built around the preview sessions we facilitated during the past months or the limited content of the closed and open betas — they won’t be based on optimal conditions or reflect the finished game,".

Which is also true. So I'll just talk about way the game plays, and not focus on things like online play. But as far as stress testing the game and all that, I can say this--between both betas, I only ever encountered about fifteen players, and all in the same gameplay session. The one time I managed to complete a mission with players in my session, the game locked up after it and wouldn't let me access the map...or do anything besides drive my car.

That's what's expected in The Crew. It's a driving game, but whereas it seems like the big mainstays of the driving-game genre sometimes don't even have drivers in there cars, The Crew is different in that it has a story. You play as Alex Taylor, who is a well-regarded street racer. You're framed for a murder by a dirty cop, and you go to jail. Some time later you're approached by a female detective who wants you to infiltrate the street racing crime syndicate the 510s to nab the dirty cop, her own personal beef. Alex agrees because he's equally interested in tracking down the man who framed him and put him in the penn., So for the first act of the game all you're hearing is people talking about "getting that 510 ink), which by the way is a police code for "Speeding or Racing Vehicles". Clever. Additionally everybody in the gang is ranked as V2, V4, V6, V8, and it feels...silly. I can't tell if it feels teenage or just uninspired, but it doesn't feel good.

For what it's worth, the cutscenes do look nice, and all the character models look like they have hair on their heads, which is a big step-up from the aquatic creatures that topped the heads of everybody in Watch Dogs. At least they hid it under hats on the two lead characters. Clever.

But in the end people want to play The Crew because those people want to drive vehicles, and make no mistake, that is what The Crew is. The Crew has two unique hooks: its social aspects, which I can't say anything about, and it's setting. Rather broadly, The Crew advertises that it's set in the US of A. Obviously truncated, but also unpleasantly truncated.

It would be wrong to assume that every duder here is stateside, but even to our dudes north, south, and overseas: what the fuck am I looking at? I know I would be a fool to ask for a scale model with every pothole and dry riverbed in the contiguous United States, but this just reminds me of every time a game has ever set itself in a real world location. It feels unremarkable to anybody who doesn't live there, and even less remarkable to those who do. Myself a former resident of Flint and someone who often works in the greater Detroit area, I would like to say I know Detroit about as well as anybody who doesn't live there can.

Parts of Detroit are really beautiful. Detroit itself is actually spectacular in a lot of spots, but this is what you're picturing, right?

That big tall train station is in The Crew. So is Comerica Park, and the GM tower. But I also noticed this big sign painted on the brick wall of a building about bail bonds and loans. Then I saw that same asset again. And another time, so theres that. It would be like Chicago having Sears Tower and Navy Pier and replacing every other area with Chicago-style pizza and caramel corn shops.

About fifteen minutes into the game, you get to choose a car from a small line-up. My first time through I picked a 2012 Dodge Challenger, which handled like a giant ice cube once I approached any significant rate of speed. I found myself smashing into cars all the time, but the bummer is, there doesn't seem to be a lot of damage modeling. There is, but it looks the same every time. I don't need my car to look like something from Wreckfest, but it felt extremely undercooked.

Savvy eyes will notice that isn't a Dodge Challenger, because this picture is from my second time with The Crew. After seeing how weighty the heftier Challenger seemed to be, I chose the lighter option, a Nissan. At a glance it really did feel better, but then I got to that magic 80/90mph mark again, and my wheels were made of plastic again. Nothing about the handling feels good, and every time you hit the gas, you burn out. Didn't the PS2 have pressure-sensitive buttons? Why, in 2014, am I peeling out no matter how hard or soft I'm pressing down on R2?

In the games opening, you're escaping the police in a big 4x4 truck, and the most baffling thing is that the three vehicles I drove were wildly different from each other, and all felt about the same. That's unacceptable for a driving game.

It manages to do make that same bizarre mistake that Driveclub makes by trying to balance simulation and arcade-style play and finding a really poor middle point.

The mission design isn't interesting, but it's a driving game, so maybe that's okay. There are races. There are time trials. There are missions where you have to wreck another car. Since the map is so large, you do end up driving long distances, and the game attempts to make this interesting by placing mini-events along the way that seamlessly flow into and then out of your game, but the only parts of The Crew I really liked were the long stretches of driving. Nonetheless, you'll drive through a translucent icon and you'll be tasked to go through slaloms, jump off a ramp, crash through successive targets. It's distracting, and at no point does it not feel like padding.

Once you finish a mini-event, you get this drop-down menu, which is awful design. It doesn't look like it takes up that much real estate, but if you're zipping down a winding road, it feels like somebody is walking in front of you. You just end up mashing on the X button so you can finally see what's up the goddamn road.

A lot of The Crew is like this. The game is constantly showing you something else while it's showing you yet another thing, like it's trying to hide the whole game. In my opinion, the marquee part of this game is the big giant map. However, whenever you set a waypoint for a mission, the game presents you with the option to fast travel to the location, or just play the mission. The Crew: Look at this big old map! Or, uh, just play the mission! I mean, you can jump off this ramp! Did your friend jump further than you did? The leaderboard isn't loading?! Oh shiiiiiiit!

The Crew isn't all bad. In fact, I really like the part where you can just go. That's inevitably one of the shittiest parts of any open world game, waiting to unlock the map. But as far as I could tell, The Crew didn't do that. The most fun I had in The Crew was deciding I was going to take a straight shot from Detroit to Miami and then to Los Angeles, and that was awesome. The landscapes were awesome, even the half-baked small towns that made up the rural counties...had soul. I drove most of the time while doing this in the dash mode, which looked really good too. Honestly I would dig the hell out of this game if it was just HUD-less driving and a big wide open map, a good radio, and it was called Two-Lane Blacktop: The Video Game or some nonsense.

Unfortunately though, The Crew pulled my leg in about a thousand different directions. It distracted me from its big open franken-USA and instead told me I should give a shit about a murder plot and then invite some random assholes I beat a mission with to join my crew.

Honestly though it still wouldn't be a great game, because its core driving mechanics are not enjoyable or natural feeling. And it's a shame, because there is something deep within The Crew that is excellent. It just isn't the focus. In fact, no part of this game feels like the focus. Even though it's being developed by Ivory Tower and published by Ubisoft, it still bizarrely shares those Ubisoft issues and gameplay tropes. Just like Assassins Creed or Watch Dogs, it feels like a game that nobody got to put their stamp on. The Crew remains a product of nobody in particulars vision.

In stores now.

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"At Some Point You Have To Make a Choice On Where Your Focus Is": Making Side Content Meaningful

On November 17th, Game Informer ran a piece on Just Cause 3, and how it won't be shipping with the multiplayer components that have been giving its predecessor much attention post-release. The PC-based multiplayer mod ended up being probably the biggest story to come out of the game. It wasn't that it was a transcendent experience, but it was sheer pandemonium. It was more of an experiment of "Hey, look what this can be?" and not so much "Look at what this is!"

Not a handsome mod, but certainly an ambitious mod.

As I said, multiplayer is not one of the hoops that Avalanche Studios is trying to jump through at the moment. Instead, Christofer Sundberg said this:

"We don't expect the fans to make the multiplayer for Just Cause 3, but at some point you have to make a choice on where your focus is. Our strength is the sandbox experience, and we want to deliver a great Just Cause 3 experience."

It has only been a couple years since we stopped calling open-world games "GTA Clones". Games got bigger (as games got smaller), and with that the worlds that player characters exist in expanded with equal measure. Most games have open worlds of some sort, whether its a simple mission hub or a realized universe where you can do anything but engage and progress the story.

The Assassin's Creed franchise has been riddle with the same problem iteration after iteration. The world and all of its post-story or side-story trappings are simply, boring. To add to that, the games have suffered from a general lack of identity and cohesiveness--a side effect of being a Voltron of tiny parts assembled from Ubisoft studios around the world.

It's a really fucking scary Voltron at that.

Watch Dogs, which believe it or not was one of the years most anticipated games, has the same issue. Like its Ubisoft cousin, it unfortunately has weak content padding out the games weak story content. It's not just mediocre-to-okay games that this happens to.

Did everybody already forget about this game?

The critically-acclaimed sleeper hit Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor has a large open world that I often found myself sprinting through, past a bunch of screaming, pissed-off orcs because I didn't want to meddle with the side missions. My minimap was nearly always bloated with icons for missions and events that I usually didn't care about. That game thrives often on its unpredictability! For example, while watching two Uruks duel from a cliff, I was attacked by a support archer, and eventually was fighting both dueling Captains and an angry mob on this very cliff. In contrast, ten minutes later I took a side mission and found myself collecting herbs in three different areas so I could make a poison for grog.

Protip: If you stealth kill the five Uruks as the bonus objective, it makes this missions payoff kind of crappy.

To break it down,

  • Poisoning the Grog: Good!
  • A Fetch Quest To Make The Poison For The Aforementioned Grog: Not Good!

Grand Theft Auto V is a game that was on nearly everyones game of the year lists last year, but it's still full of that same brand of open-world nonsense. It's a great game for a lot of reasons, but the Yoga and Golf mini games were never part of those reasons. Coming from the perspective of somebody who is a gamer but also a dad, a husband, a student, and a provider--quality content (and lots of it) is a big plus for me. In fact, I was recently between buying Shadow of Mordor, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Diablo III. Truth be told, I'm technically the least interested in AW, but I knew that I would get tons of mileage out of the multiplayer--so I picked up AW (I got to pick up SoM too. I found a coupon!) But "extra" content can only take me so far.

If I was fourteen, I might end up living in Los Santos a little bit more. But I'm an adult, so I need games that will last, but not games that merely kill time. I hate to be the kind of person who says this, but I sort of don't have time!

This picture is simultaneously what I play and don't play Grand Theft Auto for.

...

I don't know if Just Cause 3 will be good. I hope it's great! I would very much like it to be. Nonetheless, it's very refreshing to hear a developer come out and say that they're trying to focus on what makes the game great, and not necessarily what makes the game packed. I'm aware that I am extrapolating a little bit. The point is, games can feel complete without feeling like they've run amok with the side bits.

On some level, it is neat that Grand Theft Auto V has what it has. If nothing else, it is impressive. But when open world games fill themselves with these things, the game suffers just like the player does. Instead of games finishing strong, they finish extremely bitter. I didn't finish Grand Theft Auto hot on the heels of a bitching heist, I finished that game doing some deep sea exploration...some tennis, I guess....I bought some real estate? I did a rampage as Trevor and thought about when I first played GTA2. I meandered around Los Santos, sensing that the world that had felt so lively around me an hour or two ago was now just a sea of NPCs with the occasionally interesting side mission. The UFO stuff was clever. I don't know. It was like when you find out your really funny, interesting friend is actually extremely depressed.

This is the best picture I could find.

Just because games can be bigger doesn't mean they have to fill the disc. If a developer can deliver a concise, well made experience that doesn't overstay its welcome, that's incredible! That's just what I want! Even better if I can do it all over again.

Nothing is wrong with extra content, but when it's undercooked, it's usually a waste of time that hurt the central aspects of the game at hand. The reality is that multiplayer shooters have given a huge second wind to the console industry, and the decision to not include multiplayer is huge on its own. I want a games core content to be absolutely stunning, those are the legs it should stand on. When a game has a million things to show me, each unremarkable thing makes the remarkable wither. I want my game to stand firmly on two legs, not teeter on ten.

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My (Extra) Short Time With the Evolve Big Alpha

Little Big Alpha

Tuesday marked the official end of the Evolve Big Alpha, which I happily participated in. Unfortunately the PS4 had its 2.00 update which somehow destroyed the Alphas functionality, and while I did play Evolve on my PS4, I'm not here to groan about not being able to play more.

The Basics

I'm sad to report I didn't get to play monster. Over the course of the 20+ matches I got into, I didn't even manage to end up playing medic. I played Trapper and Assault class a lot, with the occasional match as the Support.

Once a game is joined, roles are doled out by the CPU. The player is given the chance to rank the roles he wants to play from most to least, and that is factored in somehow, but the player never gets to directly choose his/her role.

As the player levels up, you unlock perks (that appear to transcend class). I unlocked the quick-switch perk, 200% jump perk, and the 25% faster jetpack recharge perk were selectable for every class I played. Also unlocked are different characters for each class, each character with varying abilities and loudest.

Each match begins in a dropship with the four-person team. Your team chatters among each other (and the chatter varies every time, also between character select) while you wait for the bay doors to open.

While this happens and you wait to drop, the monster is directly under you. The idle chatter and waiting acts like a sort of "Ready or not here I come," that gives the monster a chance to get moving.

The hunter team parachutes down to the ground and usually end up following the Maggie the Trappers companion, Daisy. She is an AI controlled character that can track the monster to some extent, and as long as she is alive/near you can see the footsteps of the monster flash blue above the ground. Supposedly she could sniff the monster out, but she mostly points the way. She has the ability to revive players and saved my team more than once from our certain doom.

A Man/Woman/Aliens best friend.

The monster has to "evolve" to stage 3 before it can attack the levels power grid and win--OR, the monster can monkey stomp the hunters to fucking death and win that way.

Class of Characters

Maggie the Trapper

Despite choosing "No Preference" for class (in an effort to find games), I tended to get roped into playing the first two classes on my pick list, so I'm not positive hitting "No Preference" actually did anything. I got to play Trapper quite a bit (a woman named Maggie accompanied by a sort of space dog named Daisy) which turned out being maybe my favorite class. That was a pleasant surprise because it's potentially the most passive role. Maggie is armed with a light machine gun, which is pretty self explanatory. Not useful at all against the monster, and only worth wielding when encountering hostile wildlife/foliage, and I did! Especially when the monster had perks that made the flora and fauna hostile to the hunters.

Maggie has a gun that shoots spike traps, and when the monster runs over them a tether will latch onto the monster and restrict its movement. It doesn't lock the monster down for more than four of five seconds, but it does its job and gives the hunters a quick second to plant a trap, descend on the monster, or regroup.

Daisy, who I covered earlier, takes up an ability slot as well.

Lastly, the trapper has a deployable dome that creates an arena of sorts around a small area. The hunters can travel in/out of the dome, but the monster is stuck inside until the time expires. As far as I understand, this dome is maybe the most imperative part to destroying the monster.

The Trapper feels good. One of the biggest challenges of a game like this is making the classes that aren't doing the killin' feel fun to play, and I think I preferred the trapper.

Hank the Support

Hank is an interesting character because at times he seems more powerful than the assault, but not as clearly balanced for forward-attack. His primary is the plasma cutter (pictured), which has a little bit of a wind-up to it, like a mini gun. I can't say definitively, but I think this was the most damage-heavy weapon in the Alpha. Additionally he sports a device that cloaks himself and the entire team for a short time, which I found useful when making daring escapes. He also has an Orbital Barrage, a missile strike that you mark with a little target for from first person view. While extremely powerful when resulting in a direct hit, this device is cacophonous in nature. It serves to scare the monster away from trying to jump players rather than being a damage-dealer.

Lastly he has an Energy Shield that you can lock onto another hunter and shield him while said hunter escapes/charges.

Markov the Assault

Markov looks like a cross between the Heavy and the poster for Twelve Monkeys. A semi-refreshing take on the heavy class, Markovs main weapon is a short-range rifle that electrifies the monster in a continuous stream. It can feel pretty vicious sucking the life out of the monster while floating over the helpless monster with your jetpack.

Markov also throws mines, and if the monster gets stuck in a confined space, mines can be a near-immediate undoing of the big bad.

Additionally, Markov has a standard assault rifle that only really comes into play when the lightning rifle is recharging and/or fighting wildlife. It's a nice secondary, but I never caught myself using it because it was useful. It's more of a panic weapon that is used best when screaming "Oh, shiiiit!" when the other options are nil.

He has a personal shield in his last slot that is a long-enough invincibility proxy.

I enjoyed my time as Markov (and I ended up spending most of my time with him), but out of the classes I played, he felt the most boilerplate. His assault rifle isn't useful nor is it different, and while I can't deny the personal shield is super useful, it also feels pretty obvious. I'm definitely more interested in Hyde, and even though he sports a rather rote minigun, I have to imagine that will see more use.

Goliath, and Val the Medic

I don't really want to dwell on these two because I didn't play them, but I would be doing a disservice by omitting them completely.

She comes equipped with:

  • Armor-Piercing Sniper Rifle
  • Tranquilizer Rifle (temp. slows monster and temp. tags monster on map)
  • Medgun, which both heals players and revives them (although all players, and Daisy, can revive)
  • Healing Burst, which gives all surrounding hunters a boost of health.

Goliath really looks great. Rampaging around the map, foliage and tree branches snap off and fall to the ground. Even more impressive is how natural the monster looks when climbing up giant rock walls or leaping across the map. With a monster that big, I expected it to lumber and clip through everything, but it looked like it was truly traversing the environment. This was maybe the thing I was impressed with the most playing the Big Alpha, and I'm excited to see how the other monsters look. Goliath has:

  • Fire breath
  • Leaping smash, a sort of ground pound that deals massive damage and knocks hunters backwards. Also can be used to away from the hunters, covering a lot of distance in no time at all.
  • Charge attack, which again has the latent function of closing the gap between predator and prey.
  • Boulder throw, in which Goliath rips a giant piece of rock/earth out of the ground and tosses it at the player.

Playing the Game

Coming into Evolve with only mild interest and after suffering a really shitty overall experience at the mercy of update 2.00, I really had a great time! Uniting the hunter classes against the same common enemy makes the necessity of playing whatever class really fun.

Another impressive feat is how often the dynamics of the game shift. The hunter is always becoming the hunted and back again, multiple times per match. I had matches where we encountered the monster right away and won in less than three minutes. I had matches where we wouldn't even see the monster until he was evolved to stage three. Speaking of, when the monster does evolve to stage three, a marker appears on the HUD that points to the generator. On several occasions my team would rush to the generator, but we never ever lost because the monster successfully destroyed it. We lost once or twice getting killed right by the generator, but that is all.

Playing Evolve, I felt like I was on a team. Playing PvP stuff online, you belong to a team probably a lot more than you don't, but instead of running off on my own and not-shooting at the guys whose screen names I can see, I stick with these people. Not only that, but I care about them. The Trapper deals almost no damage, but I'm obligated to protect that person, because if that mobile arena is lost, the match mine as well be. If I lose Assault, then it's up to Support to deal damage. Etc, etc. Nobody feels superfluous in Evolve, and the different classes all feel fun and different than the others.

I don't know what the full game will be or much about other game modes, but I really enjoyed Evolve. The features that make it a full-price game are still sort of shrouded in mystery, but playing Hunt mode gave me a lot of hope.

I'm excited to see what Evolve is.

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We Need To Talk About Kiefer

In preschool and in daycare I would never answer to my name. I would only answer to Indiana Jones, Doctor Jones, Henry Jones Jr...etc, etc. I would pretend nearly everywhere I went that I was Indiana Jones. Sometimes I still do things like I think Indiana Jones would do them. One of the first gifts I received at my sons baby shower was an officially-licensed Indiana Jones fedora (for children) and a short leather whip, both for my son.

I might have spent a lot of time pretending I was Indiana Jones, but I never did a voice for him. Indiana Jones just sounded like Harrison Ford. When I wasn't Indiana Jones though, I was Solid Snake, and Solid Snake does indeed have a voice.

For a large part of my life, David Hayter was probably the only voice actor I knew by name. I've carried an extreme fandom for Metal Gear Solid since I was three years old, and I first played the game by way of Pizza Hut demo disc.

Let me tell you this again: I love David Hayter's voice for Snake, whether it's Solid Snake, Old Snake, Venomous Snake, Naked Snake, Big Boss, Garden Snake, Snake a Larange.

But now Kiefer Sutherland is voicing the famous stealth hero now--and I'm really okay with that.

I'm writing this post because I bought Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes on my PS3 when it first came out, but didn't really spend much time with it for a myriad of reasons. I did recently purchase on my PS4 (and for like fourteen fucking dollars, like whats up) and have been playing it to death. Kiefer isn't a chatterbox like Solid Snake was, okay--but let's review some of the facts.

  1. Ground Zeroes is the only story mission

The inaugural mission, Ground Zeroes, is the mission that matters. It both introduces the game and shows you all of the story content their really is to see. Kiefer does a sufficient amount of talking in this, and you get to hear him more than a couple times on different cassettes. He even re-recorded the voice snippets for the Deja Vu mission! They have Kaz doing quite a bit of voice work for the filler missions, but to have Kiefer do a bunch of work for throw-away stuff like that would be a waste of resources.

2. Codec, as we knew it, is gone.

With the removal of the Codec system, we just get direct radio in real-time, putting an end to a gameplay mechanic and interface that ran pretty much the same from 1987 until Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. No longer are we freezing time in the middle of gunfights to ask somebody about equipment, or talk about Godzilla. I'm okay with this and I'm not okay. On one hand, I really enjoyed being able to just float around and talk to people the same way I liked taking cab rides and listening to the radio in Grand Theft Auto, but I have been playing GZ with headphones and it's pretty damn cool hearing it in your headset.

3. This was a prologue.

This was a lead-in, guys. Nobody got to have an arc. Like any Kojima production, 1,000 questions are hanging in the air and this was just the tip of the iceberg. To people saying that Kiefer didn't say anything...he did, but what did you want him to say? This was a big teaser

4. At this trajectory, we might see Snake take on Big Boss soon.

And at that point, what happens? Would we have David Hayter talking to a less-gruff David Hayter? Kojima has expressed interest in remaking certain games in the franchise, and Metal Gear Solid has already seen it's re-release even if it was years and years ago now. Big Boss wasn't voiced by Hayter at the end of MGS4 and nobody batted an eye. My guess is that if nothing else, this is a step hinting at us seeing the legendary soldier fight his clone in the near-future.

*

Hideo Kojima is a visionary. He's absolutely crazy, and we all love him for it. He's behind one of the most well-loved and bizarre franchises in all of video games, and he has done far wilder things than change out a voice actor with great success. He went as far as to hide the MAIN CHARACTER from Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty from everyone until release! Even going so far as to swap the character model of Raiden into Solid Snake while demoing the Fortune boss fight, as seen in the Metal Gear Scanlon bonus video.

Hayter is not a bad voice actor. In fact, he's really good! But Kiefer is an actor of a caliber that David simply isn't, and he might bring something new to this character. I don't buy that he was too expensive and that's why he has been so silent thus far--Kojima is way too indebted into what Metal Gear is to chop the script into tiny bits because he could have the Hollywood actor for ten minutes instead. Kojima is a big name, Konami is a big studio, and Metal Gear is their mealticket. I would be utterly shocked if they didn't give Kojima whatever the hell it was he needed.

To date, Hideo Kojima has given me four fantastic experiences in a row. I absolutely trust him, because he has confounded my expectations every time only to leave me in pure adoration. He is one of the last great visionaries in AAA games. I'll follow him wherever he goes.

Now, give me The Phantom Pain already!

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GamerGate, or, Why I Contemplate Giving Up On Games Every Day

I want to write about Kiefer Sutherland right now. I want to write about the come-up of indie and what that means to me, but I can't do that shit. I can't fucking write about why I trust Hideo Kojima to make a meaningful Metal Gear Solid with a Hollywood actor attached when people are being driven from house and home.

Those other posts will come. Maybe even later tonight, but I would feel sick to my stomach if I neglected this issue in this forum for another second.

I've had a couple false starts with Twitter but I began again in June or May of this year and have been going strong, when I finally made sense of that platform, and practically since I've been there, GamerGate has been right alongside me. Every time I see somebody posting death threats, rape threats, and people being doxxed, I just feel sick.

I want to fight and bitch and do what I can to help, but it's hard just not to say "You know what? I quit gaming. I quit games. I quit writing about games. I don't want to be associated with this anymore." I want to throw up my hands and surrender.

It's fair to say that games are mainstream, because they are. It's expected that most adult ages 10-35 have some sort of Call of Duty connection at least, but nobody on this site is that kind of person. None of us pop in Call of Duty a couple nights a week and that's it. We have accounts on a video game website. Lots of us pay for special content on a video game website. I listen to at least four hours a week of Bombcasts, and am consuming content here everyday. I got on Twitter for the precise reason of following industry people because this is the kind of work I want to do, but I'm willing to throw it all away if the loudest voices in my community are the people screaming "CUNT!" out of a car window.

I used to feel a twinge of annoyance when I would tell people that I was really into video games and they would immediately draw a line to CoD if they didn't just cringe instead, but the rampant hatred, entitlement, and sexism in the industry from the people who play games just like I fucking do makes me want to cut my ties to video games altogether.

I'm not here to do a comprehensive writeup about whatever I think GamerGate is, because that's available in a million other formats from writers far more informed and competent than I am. I can say though, that even if you do think that GamerGate is about corruption, pay-offs, and agendas, the right answer is not to send somebody a rape threat or a death threat, make their private information public, and harass their friends and families. That shit isn't a game, those are human beings.

I want to play games. I want to talk about games with other people, and talk about the industry. I love it. I love most of the people in this industry--that's a huge part of why I'm here in the first place. I don't want to be a part of this machine though when parts of the community are so toxic and loud. And I'm not saying that gaming is the only thing with this sort of community problem, but to the outside world, it's hard to see what's really going on, and really easy to see the terrible comings-and-goings of an event like this.

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The Drought Is Real

Gaming was my defining hobby from the time I was introduced to them until I was about sixteen. I ended up meeting my fiancee, and then I fell off. I moved in with my then-girlfriend, my now wife-to-be (and mother of my son) and even though I was the technical owner of the PlayStation 3, I felt obligated to split it with my brother. As a result, I stopped really buying games. I dabbled in Steam indies and emulators, but it was so infrequent it was sort of inconsequential.

Pictured: Christmas 2011, and love. Not Pictured: Games.

I started working as a vendor this past year and as a result am in the car a lot. An auto-wash ripped my car antenna off and I was sick of burning CD's, so I bought one of those cassettes with the headphone output and started listening to the Bombcast again. In fact, I'm working my way through ALL OF THEM, whilst still listening to new episodes. I ended up catching the E3 presser after spending quite a bit of time saying "If some games don't come out, these consoles are DOOMED!" but ended up getting really excited over E3 even though it was only an okay year by most accounts. My enthusiasm was re-ignited though, and I ended up getting a PS4 when I had some extra cash.

Reacquainting myself with a hobby I loved so fiercely but denied so readily (and for so long) was pretty exciting, and on the short road to getting my PS4, I looked at the paltry selection of games with extreme zeal.

"Fuck, I'll buy Need for Speed and Knack! Great!"

But, when I brought the big box home, I brought it home with Watch Dogs. It was a little while after release, and I was still interested in it enough to believe. I figured that all of the smack talked about it was more about all the hype that surrounded it rather than the game actually being a piece of shit. I really enjoyed the first sequence, but I think I actually ended up hating it more than most people.

I bought every outfit, and Aiden always looked like a fucking dipshit.

Then I bought Sniper Elite III. I have no real excuse for that, I'm just a fucking idiot. I think I got a little too excited over Jeff and Dan's funny quick look and was remembering how much fun I had with the Sniper Elite V2 demo. Turns out, that game is fun for that exact length of time. I played Wolfenstein: The New Order and I thought it was fun, but I felt like I would've enjoyed it more had I had lower expectations (like press did), but I rode in on that wave of "Hey, this is pretty good!" and walked away lukewarm.

Unlike my friends, who were incinerated.

Despite a lull at work, my hours are coming back, so games. But it's still kind of a bummer because 3/4 games I'm considering picking up are updates for newer consoles. The Last of Us Remastered, Diablo III: Ultimate Evil Edition, and to a lesser extent, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition.

Only five games are on the "Popular Forums" tab right now, and only ONE of them came out this year--and its the game with the mega hype machine behind it that has only been out for less than a month.

People tell me about inFamous: Second Son but I just hated the first game so much, I can't bring myself to do it. I really want to snatch Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor but I tend to buy used, so I assume I'll have to wait at least a week or two.

Obviously now that I have a PS4, my blind excitement has settled and I'm no longer that punch-drunk sort of enthusiastic when I was convinced I wanted to buy everything.

However, games are starting to come out. Driveclub is on the way, Alien: Isolation, Far Cry 4, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Forza Horizon 2, The Evil Within, Sunset Overdrive, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!, and a handful of other games, too. I can't speak to the quality of anything in the upcoming Fall season, but I'm going to guess that at least a couple will really be worth playing! Then 2015 is the much-talked-about year these consoles are supposed to really come into their own.

"Gaaaames!"

For me, Playstation Plus was the thing that saved my life. If it wasn't for the free titles being offered up (as well as the slew of other indies), it would've been a Netflix machine. Honestly it's been so good to me that this month is the only one thats felt really rough because I think Sportsfriends is a piece of shit and I didn't in any way latch onto Velocity 2X. It's alright. Russ Frushtick really liked it.

The drought isn't over, but it's starting to rain. Soon it will be steady, and then it will be steadily pouring down. How did you make it through the drought?

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Hotel Game Rooms

I was born, as I understand it, sometime after the arcade died. Obviously arcades exist now, and they existed in a much greater capacity in 1995, but in many senses, the home console had eaten the arcade cabinet before I left the womb. Still, the art and architecture of those machines, my juvenile-borne preference of cocktail cabinets, and the salad days of my early childhood had a lot to do with machines.

My brother, whom is five years my junior, is apprenticing as a pinball technician. Really, it's less serious than that sounds. It's more of a hobby that bleeds into an infrequent job, but it's still a very serious thing for him. We were talking about FarSight Studios The Pinball Arcade (sort of the way my dad and brother decided to start seeking out physical machines) and I asked my fiancee's ten-year-old sister if she particularly liked pinball, or had any favorite machines.

"I don't think I've ever played pinball," she said.

I squinted my eyes, furloughed my brows and shook my head in disbelief--a lot less dramatic in practice than when written out.

"What? How have you not played pinball? That's crazy! I'm sure you have."

She hadn't. She hadn't, and I was kind of an idiot. This girl was born in 2003, what were the chances she had even seen a pinball machine in person? Most modern arcades are full of larger versions of iOS games like Cut the Rope and Doodle Jump. The other half is redemption games in the vein of crane games, and the ever-present entities like Smokin' Token.

I realized that the classic arcade was something that had lived and died prior to me, and I thought about my arcade game roots. I have heavy ties to Galaga, being probably my favorite arcade game. I remember going to the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn all the time when I was a little kid, with my grandparents. I would define it (as it was) as about as modern as classic arcades got. It had Galaga and Ms Pac Man, and it also had newer titles like Arctic Thunder and The House of the Dead. I remember my dad and I played Arctic Thunder so much, the overhead fan (that's supposed to simulate the arctic air) gave my dad windburn. My grandparents would come up to the area to see us all the time, and take us to the Bavarian Inn, which I affectionately knew as "the lodge". This was my arcade heyday. I spent countless hours and infinite tokens playing The Simpsons Arcade Game with my dad and grandpa.

Alternately, I had the luxury of being the only grandson until I was nearly six years old. I had six years of being the favorite, and I would also accompany my grandparents on all kinds of trips to Orlando, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. Obviously I was worried about swim trunks, but my second question would be "Does this hotel have a game room?" and sure enough, they would. Just a cramped room at the end of a downstairs hallway probably no bigger than any suite, dark and full of machines in various states of function. The arcade machines of my youth were fairly reliable, but pinball was like a tempting poison. Robocop 3 was one of my favorite movies as a kid (I had all the toys--bizarre, right?) basically because it was the only PG-13 Robocop movie. One game room situated in a room next to the pool had a Robocop pinball machine and the flippers were so weak, the ball wouldn't even make it to center play field, let alone any ramp. For some reason I took to liking South Park pinball, because

  1. That shit was super edgy and hip for five-year-old Mitchell
  2. It was a pretty new machine, and was usually in total working order. Also a pretty good machine!
You could shoot the ball into the toilet! Kenny dies! 1998!

I was five and under, and just like my Metal Gear education, I took it for granted. I had no idea of the novelty or special circumstance of my arcade privileges. I didn't realize how rare arcades were becoming, it was just a part of my growing up. A huge part of my growing up, in fact. I think of hotel game rooms and specifically that arcade at the Bavarian Inn (as it was) as home. As my childhood went on, both my parents and grandparents would split up. I would never fully recover from that trauma and the nightmare I was forced to endure as a child. It's not worth exploring here, this post is about hotel game rooms. I used to scrounge for change in the street as a twelve year old with my brother so we could buy .89 cent Faygo and Slim Jims. My mom wasn't home. Our across-the-hall neighbors sold methamphetamine. We watched a lot of Scrubs. That stuff isn't important, this post is called Hotel Game Rooms.

What is important though is the sense of home I discovered in that arcade in Frankenmuth. The houses I had lived in no longer felt like homes, and the last time I had been in this place I probably had velcro shoes out of necessity. I ended up visiting Frankenmuth with my brand-new-girlfriend a couple years ago, not at all thinking we would end up there. We did, though.

The smell of chlorine from the pool washed over me in a wave of heat, and I literally felt my heart begin to rise out of my chest. Every corner of the hotel was familiar. My childhood had remained untouched in this Bavaria-themed time capsule. The arcade games were different, but that somehow didn't matter. I was walking around with my girlfriend through a hallway overlooking one of the pools, and I just fell against the window and cried. I hadn't cried in a couple years, I thought I was just thick-skinned. One of my best friends died in the middle of seventh grade. I remember looking at my friends sobbing to pieces, and I just had nothing. I couldn't do it. I wasn't tough though, I was just shut down. The chlorine waves had eroded the cement that was suppressing my emotions.

In a whirlwind, I shared more of my life with this girl that day than I ever have with anybody before. I just started going on, and I found out things about myself I never knew. I discovered the human being I had buried among the smell of pool chemicals, and the raucous whirring of arcade machines.

That person would go on to be my fiancee, the mother of my son (Ernest), and this coming May, my wife. We're getting married in Frankenmuth, probably about 300 feet from that arcade, and right next to that pool.

I feel grateful for this. The arcade is one of the most parodied and referenced touchstones of a generation passed, and I'm happy that I got to have the arcade mean something to me, too, even though it was something long-gone during my childhood. I'm happy I got to be the first grandchild. I'm even glad that most of my coming-of-age was so bracingly acidic and violent I got to really appreciate those shitty hotel game rooms. Those machines are my old polaroids.

Me, in 1997.

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My Second Language is Metal Gear

The Japanese use of the circle button. The overhead view. The fourth-wall breaking. The endless codec conversations, full of unique dialogue. The bizarre touches like sleeping guards, exclamation marks above rats heads, impenetrable easter eggs.

If the Genesis, SNES, and NES were my gaming preschool, the Playstation and Playstation 2 were my gaming education. I was only two or three when my dad brought home the PS1. He brought it home with some racing game, Contender 2, and a Pizza Hut demo disc. The very same disc featured in the first demo derby.

I remember stumbling through the Tomb Raider III demo but never figuring it out, watching my dad play the Metal Gear Solid demo, and shortly graduating to playing it myself--endlessly! I bet I've played Metal Gear Solid (and it's demo) more than I've played any other game, ever. The inimitable language of Metal Gear is one that has been burned into my brain before I had most of my phonetics down. I even brought the game case to Thanksgiving once, so I could look at the case and manual. I remember talking to my great grandma. "This game has mature themes (I pronounced it them-s), but I can handle it." I remember zooming in on the knocked out guards pixelated butt. You can see it if you zoom in far enough.

Watching Metal Gear Scanlon has been extremely eye-opening for me because I've never truly got to realize the games greatness, or strangeness! I'm mostly taken aback by how different Metal Gear has managed to be throughout the years, even as its moved towards traditional western conventions, yet nothing is really like it. Metal Gear is influential, yet it has no imitators.

I wrote a post about Wolfenstein and difficulty in games earlier this week, and realized that whenever the guards in that game went into alert status, I would take it as undesirable, if not totally recognizing it as some sort of interactive failure. This is a side effect of my stealth-heavy Metal Gear education. For better or for worse, my extensive time with Metal Gear Solid has informed every game I've ever touched in my life in some way. The series here on GB has made me re-appreciate it in a lot of ways.

I've been thinking. Has any other wildly successful game been so different, and remained so different and isolated? Has anybody else here ever grown up with a game so much that it changed the way they played games forever, without even realizing why?

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Difficulty, the Cinematic Experience, and Wolfenstein

You're playing a fantastic action game with an excellent story. The hero whom was down and out is now on the up and up, the soundtrack is erupting, and the stakes are higher than you thought they would ever be. You're in the heat of battl--whoops! You died.

Okay, let's try it again. You're playing a fantastic action game with an excellent story. The hero wh--Fuck! You're dead.

Okay, let's try once more.

Along with the grey/brown tinged FPS and the white male protagonist, the difficulty of games (or lack of) is nearly always on the chopping block. To explain that, we have to examine the obvious. Galaga and Pac-Man are more challenging in the first five levels than most games are by the dramatic conclusion. Why?

Well, quarters. But that isn't all.

The way we play games is fundamentally different. Instead of dropping a quarter, I drop $60 bucks and bring home a disc, (or not a disc) expecting to be immersed in...something. I can make up scenes in my head about the valiant crew of my spaceship(s) in Galaga and can pretend I'm the captain of my ship in Bosconian, but that's of my own creation, vague at best, and ultimately unimportant to the arcade experience.

Big, modern games are supposed to be fully engaging. As the player we expect fleshed-out characters, fantastic stories, well-detailed environments down to the textures on a tile floor, or the reflection of a cityscape on the rear window of a moving car. We expect gameplay mechanics that feel fresh and familiar, we expect voice actors to deliver their lines flawlessly, characters to emote with their faces and bodies. We expect the menus to be well-designed and a minimal amount of button presses necessary to navigate them.

When games don't do these things well--even one of them--they fail. They're right to fail, too. I'm not calling for the death of criticism. Without the ability to nitpick, most criticisms would be reduced to tweets written in Newspeak.

When you're engrossed in a game, flow is important. Many times I've had a game obviously want me to do a very specific thing in a very specific window and in a very specific way, and if I'm able to complete that task the payout is cinematic and thrilling. If I fail, the game is suddenly just a game. I'm not the ultimate badass, I'm just playing this fucking game. I'm suddenly in my living room again.

With mysterious pizza.

Right now I'm playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order on my PS4. I'm playing on the third to last difficulty, the one I perceived to be "Hard" but not "Extreme". I don't need that. I only mess around with crazy difficulties with games I absolutely love and am dying to squeeze life out of again. I'm on the last legs of the game and I'm looking back on my time with it and thinking I would have enjoyed it far more on an easier setting, or better yet, with no transparent setting at all.

Wolfenstein has stealth sections, but Wolfenstein also enables your character to dual-wield giant shotguns and blow Nazi soldier limbs into mist. However, I found myself taking the stealth approach nearly all the time because if I didn't, I risk alerting a commander, who will call in reinforcements until he himself is dead and the signal terminated. So I'm crouched, constantly using and retrieving throwing knives, using my silenced pistols to bag head shots before quietly exiting the area.

That doesn't feel like Billy "BJ" Blazkowicz, though. That doesn't feel like Wolfenstein, even if its still a great game. BJ Blazkowics erupted like a volcano out of a fourteen-year vegetative state to lead a charge against the Nazi regime that wouldn't end until the entire world the Nazi's had built was a pile of rust-colored rubble. Even coming into the game at a point where I knew exactly how it was supposed to surprise me, it still surprised me. It really does have great characters, even when the evil villains are just evil villains. It really is funny sometimes. It really is a serviceable story. To paraphrase Vinny, it's a lot smarter of a game than I (or anyone else) expected.

It's still thick as a fucking brick though. Yeah, it does have some pretty gut-wrenching holocaust-like scenes. It also has giant robots that shoot lasers and explode. The games tone during gameplay was off-the-wall, but since I chose a higher difficulty I was forced to play reservedly. I was constantly scavenging for ammo and going for the melee takedown when that game was designed for me to sprint into a group of men and spin around in a circle while two machine guns sounded off like buzz rolls.

Stealth elements and faux-cover elements aside, it's not a game to be played tactically in any practical sense. Popping in and out of cover is made awkward and when the going got tough, I never had an "epic" moment where I overcame because BJ is a machine. Instead, when I was having trouble with a mech, I would find an area the mech wouldn't get near and exploit it, because if I went toe-to-toe (like the game tonally wants you to) I would've been turned into hamburger meat.

Games that are punishing exist, and in droves. Super Meat Boy. Rogue Legacy. Don't Starve. Hotline Miami. They tend to be smaller games, because those can still subscribe to a more arcade-y type of punishment where you can die repeatedly over and over again and 1) Not lose any real ground and 2) Not be taken out of a greater story context, or world.

Maybe my favorite game ever. Man I love Hotline Miami.

It isn't that I have anything against difficult games because I loved the four I just mentioned. I loved the Souls games and am looking forward to Bloodborne. The problem with Wolfenstein's harder settings is that they water down some of the most spectacular moments of gameplay with clunky tactics.

All games that have difficulty settings and stories run the risk of the player experience being damaged because the player has to replay a section seven to ten times. It's like tunnel vision. I'm playing a game for four hours and the story is progressing, the action is good, I'm way into it and then STOP! I have to spend an hour replaying the same part because I keep dying, or I get stuck, and I start to lose sight of where I was and where I was going. I start hugging the walls and checking the internet, wondering if my game is busted, and at that point I am no longer immersed. I'm dying and re-loading and hearing the same music, I'm hearing the same dialogue uttered over and over again. It's showing me more and more of how the sausage is made.

No good! No good!

I don't need the games I play to be padded and I don't need them to be hard for no reason. Listen: I'm broke as hell, but I would rather spend my money on an incredibly tight and fluid six-hour game than spend fifteen hours being frustrated and bored half the time. Keep the settings in there when they're justified, but god forbid they're in a game in such a manner that fundamentally changes the gameplay and makes it a shadow of what it should be. Gaming is only getting more immersive, more real, and as this happens, game-breaking moments are only going to yank a player backwards even harder. The first time I see somebody clip through a wall while I'm wearing a VR helmet, I won't just frown, I'll be crushed.

I don't need mega-extreme-sledgehammer-my-balls mode, I need good games. I need experiences.

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