End of January Round-Up: Nanomachines Edition

By the way, spoilers.

As I get older and play more and more games, I often find myself at a loss when the end of the year rolls around. Not because I feel as if I have too much on my plate, or because I feel let down by the year, but it’s just hard to remember what I’ve played. As a kid, it didn’t really matter, but now some games feel like they’ve been lost to the ether of my brain, never to be thought of again.

For people who digest games more casually, like most people do with movies, this isn’t such a big deal. Play a game, have fun, and then let it collect (possibly virtual) dust while they wait for something new. Games to me are a bit more than a time-waster or purely spectacle; they’ve played a huge role in who I am today and how I enjoy my free time. Games deserve more than just to be played and forgotten.

In honour of all videogames, I’ve decided to keep a running list of each game I’ve played, with a short list of impressions and a comment for each game. At the end of each month, I’m going to write up what I’ve played and pick one game to reflect on and offer more than a few bullet points. Not all of the games are current, it’ll literally be what I’ve played this month.

The Walking Dead: Season 1 (Released on disc Nov. 20th, 2012)

-Well-written, believable characters

-Good, hard decisions

-Frequently buggy animations (Eg. Clipping through truck in Ep. 2)

-Walkie-talkie plotline feels cheap, comes from nowhere

Comments: This was my second time through and it still wrung tears from me. Suck it, AMC’s The Walking Dead!

inFamous: Festival of Blood (Oct. 25th, 2011)

-Plays so good, responsive and fast

-Gets all fram-ish when moving quickly

-Combat is occasionally disorienting

Comments: DNF, turning on the PS3 is hard

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 1 (Dec. 17th, 2013)

-Smart UI changes (Eg. R2/RT for actions during QTEs)

-Good story hooks for later (Carver, mystery baby)

-Improved facial animations

-Animations still janky

-Choices seemed one-sided (at time of writing)

Comments: Can’t wait to make Clem a badass. DON’T MESS WITH CLEM.

The Legend of Zelda; A Link Between Worlds (Nov. 22nd, 2013)

-Ravio’s item shop makes combat and traversal immediately fun and quick

-Having so many items speeds up the pacing

-Non-linear design makes world feel empty (i.e. little reason to interact with NPCs)

-Most engaging dungeon designs in a long time

-Stamina bar and removal of item count is a blessing thank you based nintendo

Comments: Like a warm sweater! For reference, other Zelda have been like soggy, smelly ones.

METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE (PC port) (Jan. 9th, 2014)

-Pretty gnarly, surprisingly gruesome

-Poorly-explained combat, but really fun and fast

-Funny in an MGS kinda way (taking a DOOMP)

-Camera issues in smaller quarters

-Boss fights are hit-and-miss (fuck Monsoon)

-DLC is re-used assets and artificial difficulty. Probably won’t finish.

Comments: I suck at game. Ripping out spines is awesome. War swords. P.S. NANOMACHINES SON.

So Let’s Talk: METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE

I was pumped as heck for Revengeance. I didn’t even know I liked, as Brad puts it, “character actions games.” The previous DMC games never grabbed me in the way it seemed to sink its claws into most, Bayonetta didn’t click with me, and I only liked God of War because I’m a filthy caveman that loves disgusting violence and boobies. Because of this, I had pretty much written off the genre until the glowing reviews of DmC came about, and then I had to try it. It ended up being my favourite game of the year, even though I sucked (read: still suck) at it.

What worse than 14 guys in one dumpster? One guy in 14 dumpsters.

Revengeance, as you could probably tell by the name, is a gloriously stupid game. It takes the rebooted robo-Raiden that everyone loves, makes him need to rip out spines for some reason, and lets you cut things forever into a billion pieces. You cut a Metal Gear RAY in half during the prologue, and it just gets more insane from there.

Perhaps as a symptom of the troubled development cycle, this game has zero explanation of its mechanics. A support character gives you VR training for the combat, but that takes about five minutes and you don’t even need to fulfill the requirements to pass it. I had to watch this handy video for everything to click, but it does eventually click. Unfortunately, the directional nature of the parrying makes the occasionally awful camera all the more frustrating. In God of War or DmC, you could dodge-roll like a maniac with some success until the camera sorted itself out. In Revengeance, when the camera decides to swing wildly as an enemy is in the middle of an attack, your parry is no longer viable and you take a hit. There’s no doubt that it would have benefited from a better tutorial, but by the end I wasn't having any trouble.

More troublingly, this game worries me in regards to the larger Metal Gear Solid fiction that’s been established. Maybe it’s worrying that I’m even worried about that, but it seems to take everything that MGS4 established and take a super diarrhea shit all over it. Raiden is back on the battlefield, PMCs are back in control, cyborg soldiers are all the rage, apparently all wars were not part of a conspiracy, there’s a new Metal Gear, and Senator Armstrong is literally made of nanomachines. Like, whaaaat? I’m willing to forgive Raiden’s anime physics, considering what he did with that battleship in MGS4, but none of the story beats seem to line up with what was established in the previous games.

"Am I cool yet? Do you guys like me?"

Even with all of that weird plot stuff, I'm comfortable saying that Rising is my favourite Metal Gear game. Platinum did with it what Platinum do, and made an incredibly engaging game that, despite its difficulty in some spots, never fails to make you feel like a complete badass. Even when certain bosses were whooping my ass (Monsoon you motherfucker), being able to slice them up into ground beef at the end of the fight made the slog worth it. The game drew me back for a second playthrough, and it's possible there may end up being a few more after that. This game turned out pretty well.

But hey, this is called Let’s Talk, so let’s. Tell me: does that story make any sense in the larger fiction of MGS? Would you rather have seen the post-MGS2/pre-MGS4 story, or is this one okay? And was it really nanomachines, son?

P.S. Remember when everyone hated Raiden? Haha.

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Playing Old Games: Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den Pt. 2 (19/10/2013)

As always: spoiler city! Enter at your own risk.

I've decided to do these on Saturday now. Scheduling and all that. But here we go.

Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den

There are lots of things I want to say about Minerva’s Den. There are mechanics I’d like to discuss, graphical issues and strengths of an aging game, the idea of using audio recorders as a way to dole out plot and how that feels playing a game in 2013. I want to discuss combat, and ways to improve it, how Bioshock Infinite is the sleekest game in the series and what it learned from Bioshock 2, and lessons that Bioshock 2 could have taken from the first game. There are some enemy types that don’t mesh and I could discuss why and how to tweak them to fit better. There are plenty of things to talk about in regards to Minerva’s Den, but that would be a hollow talk. I’m not really thinking about those things, even though I am aware of them.

No, I’d like to talk about the story of Minerva’s Den. Maybe we’ll touch on some things in the process of discussing its plot and story, but they aren’t the focal point.

Minerva's Den manages to be striking, despite being fairly dated.

Minerva’s Den kicks right off with a tunnel exploding with you, an Alpha Series Big Daddy named Sigma, inside of it. (Alpha Series, by the way, just means you’re a Big Daddy what can use The Plasmids) The story very quickly establishes itself, and the short of it is this: you need to get to The Thinker, a supercomputer commissioned by Andrew Ryan and built by a man named Charles Milton Porter, and do something with it. A man named Reed Wahl, former partner of Charles Milton Porter, is not very keen on that idea. It isn’t clear what you need to do with the Thinker, but Porter contacts you via radio and urges you to reach it, and so your journey begins.

Minerva’s Den, as a location, breathes new life into Rapture. Bioshock 2 got picked on for re-using the setting of Rapture, even though it did some very imaginative things with it, so Minerva’s Den is smart to move away from the plain Rapture we’re all used to seeing. No, Minverva’s Den is part corporate office, part living space, part 70’s-era government computer den, complete with constant fax machine and dial-up noises and blinking lights. It’s a welcome departure from leaky walkways and run-down apartments, and manages to breathe life into the idea of Rapture for a third visit.

As is the usual, anything that isn't absolutely crucial is explained to you via audio logs, which made sense at the time this game was made. Credit where credit is due, though: most of the characters in the audio logs acknowledge that they’re recording, and are doing it for a very specific reason. One audio log consists of Man A chastising Man B for being a sneaky prick, and so Man A leaves the audio log to let Man B know that his office key has been put in to the vending machine for a rather exorbitant price. Of course, by the time you get there, everyone is dead, but it’s a reason for the audio logs to exist, and they stay rather consistent with the idea that audio logs are only left for a specific purpose, not for ramblings, door codes and sad last words.

Wahl and Porter, uh, didn't really get along.

When it comes down to it, the strength of the characters and the story is what really kept me going with Minerva’s Den. Reed Wahl, despite being a spliced-up insane murderer, has a very human arc. He started out as an engineer, the one in charge of actually putting The Thinker together while Porter worked out the numbers side of things. Once the raw power of The Thinker was made clear to Wahl, he began to go a little power-mad, even before the splicing. He put money of ballgames and other sports and used The Thinker to guide him, becoming rich in the process, and framed Porter using The Thinker’s personality duplication program. Once splicing drove everyone insane, his mania progressed to the point where he thought The Thinker could literally predict the future. To him, the Thinker was almost a god, a being he worshipped and tried to figure out. Over the course of the campaign, Wahl is belittling you with The Thinker’s ‘predictions’ of failure and death, and becoming more and more unhinged from sanity as you defy The Thinker’s predictions. In the end, when it’s all over, Wahl is just a simple man who was given too much power.

Porter, on the other hand, created The Thinker to keep Rapture running. Everything from doors and cameras, trains and pressure gauges to recycling oxygen, was tasked to Porter. His work on The Thinker was to keep everything under control and make sure Rapture didn’t collapse. He talks about his time in the war, and how he began to drift away from his wife, Pearl, because of his work contributing to the war effort. His final moments with his wife, before she was killed in the blitz, weren’t moments of peace and clarity and love, but instead of detachment and resentment. Porter neglected her, and she died before he had a chance to set it right. The audio logs that Porter left behind, consisting of either Porter and his wife talking into the recorders so they could listen to them later, or feeding those same recordings into The Thinker, go a very long way in showing both Porter’s love for his wife and his failing as a husband and as a friend. He wasn’t there when she needed him most, and he lost her.

Sigma has finally gone home. Eh, eh?!

The revelation that Subject Sigma is Porter isn’t a huge surprise, thanks to some clever foreshadowing and hints throughout the campaign. It avoids feeling like a ‘would-you-kindly’ moment that the Levine-helmed Bioshocks have had by not holding it over your head as the sole reason you’re playing through the DLC. It’s an interesting wrinkle that lends some weight to the final moments which, as far as endings go, might be one of my favourite of all time. Ever. Period. STOP.

The last forty five minutes-to-1 hour are clearly leading up to a fight, with Big Daddy after Big Daddy being hurled at you non-stop on your journey to The Thinker’s central area, where you will eventually kill Reed Wahl himself. When you enter that arena, you have to fight 4 Alpha Series big Daddies at once. After that, you fight Reed Wahl himself, who has more health than Gravity does tension, and then you’re invited to the surface by Brigid Tenenbaum. “Well okay,” I thought to myself, “it’s a videogame, so it has to end in a big fight.” After this, though, it allows you to walk from The Thinker’s central core to the bathysphere dock, which takes you right through Porter’s former offices. What you’re treated to are a number of beautiful, striking sights made all the more powerful by the previous reveal of Sigma-is-Porter. Being invited on this walk was a huge sigh of relief: too often a game ends minutes after the climactic fight, and offers no closure or insight at all. It’s on this walk that the Gone Home lineage becomes quite clear.

Non-interactive piano. Disappointing.

There’s something very powerful about the office, an almost-cozy den complete with all of the fixin’s of a home: a desk, a living area, a music room- but leading directly to cold, unfurnished cave walls and flanked by the unending emptiness of the sea. You’re given free rein in these parts, to explore and wander and take in the loneliness of Porter’s old offices. In a way, it’s a reflection of what he was and what he’s become: caring and loving, but surrounded and consumed by his work, endless ambition that drove a wedge between him and the one he loved. More literally, he’s a human on the inside, but his outside is a cold steel monster wielding weapons of death.

Minerva’s Den, I’m really glad I spent the money on you. There’s a lot I didn’t enjoy, mostly the dated combat and tired Bioshock tropes, but what you managed to do with those restrictions and the characters you managed to build far outshine any gripes that I had with your mechanics. Just like Bioshock 2 itself, Minverva’s Den is an incredibly human story, unlike the heavy-handed thematic showpieces that Levine and the original Bioshock team seem fond of creating. Minerva’s Den is full of melancholy and disappointment, a bitter exploration of well-meaning ideas turned sour. Porter’s tale does end happily, with him letting go of the regret he kept bottled up inside, but he’ll never be able to erase the mistakes he made. And with that, I’m going to take a cue from Porter and move on as well. Thanks for the adventure, Minerva’s Den.

"Goodbye, Pearl."

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Playing Old Games: Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den Pt. 1 (13/10/2013)

There are a lot of games. Can we all agree on that? Some are amazing, some are totally awful, but holy moly are there a lot of them. It's a shame, because I'd like to get my hands on every single one and play them, like some kind of game-playing monster. It's hard to like playing games so much, but not be able to play every game, so I'm taking steps to correct that. Inspired partially by my huge, embarrassing Steam backlog (it's so big, sometimes people run away when I show them), I'm going to play old games to completion.

This is an idea I've had for a long time now, and I've tried to refine it and come up with criteria for what an 'old game' is, and I'vbe come up with a few dumb ideas that I won't stick to.

  1. Any full-fledged retail product that is more than three years old.
  2. Any game which has received a direct sequel and is more than one year old
  3. Any DLC which is either more than one year old, or has been proceeded by another piece of significant DLC and is more than 6 months old.

After writing that list out earlier, I decided that it was stupid, and I'd let this be a more organic experience. More fun, less studying. This is an adventure, and the more rules that are laid down, the less fun I'll have with this, and the less enjoyable it'll be for everyone to read along.

One important thing I do want to point out, though, is that there will be spoilers!

I can't really talk at length about old games and dance around spoilers at the same time, as much as I'd like to preserve these experiences for other people. It'd be boring for me to gloss over any interesting plot details or hidden subtleties in an attempt to save people from old-ass spoilers, so know going in that I'm going to spoil things willy-nilly and with reckless abandon.

So, now with all of that out of the way, let's get down to the important stuff.

Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den

This is a game (or rather, a piece of content) that I've been meaning to play since it was released. There have been nothing but good things said about it, and Brad's unmatched fervor in defending its title as Best DLC certainly got me interested. If for no other reason, it has to be experienced to understand why Brad loves it so goddamn much, so that's what we'll do.

Now, I'm very excited to dig in to this piece of DLC. Even though a lot of people found Bioshock 1 to be a very special experience, I found it to be extremely repetitive and boring, and then it proceeded to fall apart in the final third of the game. But we're not here to talk about Bioshock 1; Bioshock 2 holds a really special place in my heart. There are so many moments where I had to stop and just take in the horrifying beauty of what was happening around me, something that the sparsely-used underwater portions helped drive home. The further exploration of the relationship between Little Sisters and Big Daddies left me haunted, both disgusted with myself for how I'd treated them throughout the game and moved that they continued to love me so much. And the climax, in which you see your actions towards both the Little Sisters and other human NPCs play out, is one of the most powerful ending sequences in gaming.

On top of an improved story and moral system, Bioshock 2's gameplay is also head-and-shoulders above Bioshock 1, and it encourages experimentation and diversity far better. Minerva's Den's accelerated upgrade path should make the combat far more interesting than it was in either of those games, hopefully doling out new powers in such a way the prevents falling into a comfortable routine and ignoring new Plasmids. I'm looking at you, machine gun and Electro Shock.

All of the Bioshock titles seem to suffer from a sort of lack of situational awareness. In Bioshock Infinite, I remember running around like a fool, looking for the very last enemy to kill, because I just had no idea where he was. Even in Bioshock 1 and 2, there were times when I would walk in to a room populated by enemies who were just out of sight, and I'd find myself at half-health before even getting my bearings on where everything was. Now, it's not as if health kits and EVE hypos were in short supply in either of those games, but it was just a small annoyance that hasn't been corrected in these games. I don't expect Minerva'a Den to take great strides to fix this, seeing as it's just an add-on to Bioshock 2, but it'll be something that I'll have to learn to get used to.

Those are my hopes and expectations regarding Minerva's Den, folks! I'll be back next Sunday with my progress and a solid write-up of what's going on, as well as some purdy screenshots and better grammar. I'll try to keep each game 3 entries long or less, to avoid repetition and fatigue. If you have any suggestions for the layout and general look of this, feel free to let me know. If you want to to suggest an old game for me to play, PM me and I'll add it to a list.

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Batman, Morals, and Rocksteady's Masterpiece (Spoilers)

Something that most RPG gamers are aware of, the morality meter, provides a quick and easy way to track your moral progress. Am I evil, good, or somewhere in between? A choice is good or bad, moral or immoral, paragon or renegade; it all depends on the game. By saying one thing, doing an action, you're awarded a certain kind of point. Your appearance may change depending on your alignment, and you'll get one of three endings to correspond to your choices.

We all know that Batman is the ultimate good guy (aside from that jerk-ass Superman); a man willing to sacrifice his love and life for the good of the many. Gotham is crawling with murderers, rapists and supercriminals of all sorts, and Batman is the man who is set to take them all down. He is Atlas, posed to shoulder the wight of the world on his shoulders. Training from childhood to become the perfect crimefighting machine, Batman is unstoppable and infallible, unshakable and unbeatable.

It's this expectation that sets Batman up to be such a wonderful character. Arkham City stands by the side of The Killing Joke as a glimpse into what may very well be the worn-out, shattered psyche of the Bat. As Arkham City starts out, Batman is stone-cold and set on tearing Arkham City apart from the inside, to put an end to Strange's plans and protect his beloved people. Quickly, Batman is infected by Joker's blood, beginning the countdown to Batman's death.

The crumbling will of Batman first arises when you meet Victor Fries (aka Mr. Freeze), clinging on to life while being cooked alive in a tropical museum exhibit. The only thing keeping Freeze alive is a canister of liquid attached to his chest, keeping his internal temperature sub-zero. As Freeze defied Batman and denies him access to the necessary tools to progress, Batman tears out the canister and begins to dump it on the floor, demanding that Freeze cooperate. Batman is not shy of threatening those who oppose him, but to throw Freeze's life in the balance by taking him off of life support is a rash, emotional move. Knowing that he could very well die, Batman is rubbing up against his only rule- thou shalt not kill.

The next eruption of Batman's anger and fear is, again, with Freeze. Freeze demands that Batman rescue his wife if Batman is to have the cure. Locked away in a vault, so incredibly close, Batman opts to fight Freeze for the cure, rather than attempt to save his wife. The battle is ended with Batman on top of Freeze, smashing the glass of Freeze's suit and repeatedly striking Freeze in the face. Once the safe is opened, it's revealed that Harley Quinn had broken into the safe and stolen the cure. In Batman's confusion and fear, he opted to fight Freeze, which cost him the cure and potentially thousands of innocent deaths of the people of Gotham.

Finally, when faces with the decision of finding and saving Talia al Ghul, his love, or deactivating Protocol 10-which is currently launching helicopter strikes and missiles all over Arkham City-he attempts to follow Talia. Alfred and Oracle have no choice but to cut off his satellite access, so he has no choice but to disable Protocol 10. As Alfred suggests, the lives of thousands are far more important than the lives of one single person. Even faced with this, Batman tried to rescue Talia, eschewing Alfred's ultimatum. Batman, the man who set out to stop all crime, had to be forced into preventing mass murder.

It's not often that we see Batman in a light other than the World's Greatest Detective; he is calm and logical in all situations, going about his objectives in a methodical, paced fashion. Arkham City, however, puts his life-and the lives of those he loves-in danger, forcing him to choose between his legacy or his feelings. Batman isn't a perfect figure, and it's more apparent than ever in Arkham City. With no morality meter to guide him, no definite feedback to what he should and should not do, the World's Greatest Detective is forced to do some soul searching.

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Somber and brilliant.

Majora's Mask is many things to many people; in one single forum post, you'll get people calling it a trainwreck, a masterpiece, a cash-grab, lazy, innovative and a shitty rip-off of Groundhog Day. All of these accusations and opinions are firmly grounded and all can be backed up. It re-uses near every asset of Ocarina of Time, it does feature a time loop and it was pumped out in about a year. It does have numerous glitches and flaws, and the time-based system can mean standing around doing nothing for a sidequest until it launches itself, or having to restart the time loop to get a certain item for later on in the sidequest. 
 
Another raging debate with many is whether it is superior to Ocarina of Time. Fond memories are had when remembering Ocarina of Time. It was the launching point of 3D adventure games, doing well what games to this day continue to mess up. It had a superb world with a massive adventure, smooth platforming sections and brilliant puzzles. Ocarina of Time taught an entire generation of gamers what being an adventure game meant, and the release of OCarina of Time 3D proves that it's still cherished and even a working game.
 
Majora's Mask is none of those things. It wasn't out to change the world or usher in a new generation. It didn't intend to turn the Zelda formula on its head, and it certainly wasn't attempting to tell the epic story of a kingdom. It was a quiet game, an unassuming one. The start wasn't a grand order from the deity of nature, it was a gentle ease into one boy's personal journey. Link was going to find a friend, and things didn't quite go as planned. As he adventures through Termina, he runs into a great many things that he himself does not understand, nor did the younger players of this game. 
 
There are three masks in this game, and each transforms you physically, though two are from living creatures. The zora mask and the goron mask are taken from dying and dead people, respectively, both people who are remembered fondly. The Goron, Darmani, was a renowned warrior and great leader, heir to the throne. When you meet him, he is dead, having fallen to his death trying to rid the Goron home of the winter curse. When you play the Song of Healing, he envisions himself standing in front of a crowd of his people, being cheered on and exalted. With Link's help, he lives out his dying wishes, and becomes a spirit for Link to utilize. 
 
The Zora, Mikau, was a famous guitarist in a band called the Indigo-Gos, and was together with the singer. You find him floating in the water, dying, and you must push him back to shore and put him to rest. When you play for him, he is in the spotlight, alone with his band. He holds his guitar and the hand of his lover, and walks into the distance with her. 
 
Being a child, Link doesn't understand how serious what he's doing is. Not only does this game show the heaviness of death, the regrets and hopes and dreams of those who pass, it showcases the importance of being able to let go. By healing their souls, Link is allowing these characters who are trapped in Termina to move on and be free without pain or sadness. Each time Link puts on one of these masks, he's channeling the spirit of someone he saved and helped move on. Very rarely does a game capture the emotion and feeling of death, but Majora's Mask does it. You witness the pain and suffering these people go through, and then you heal them and allow them to be free. 
 
Anyone who has lost someone dear to them, the ability to relieve a suffering person of their pain, guilt and suffering is something words can't capture.

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A dark walk into a bright future.

Duke was introduced to me at a very young age, and he's been responsible for many a-things in my life. All in one afternoon, Duke was my first boobies, my first FPS, my first PC game, and my first swear words. Me and my brother, my friends, we all had a special relationship with the Duke. Sure, we didn't understand why he was named Duke Nukem. Literally every single reference went over our heads, and we never got around to beating it. Duke 3D was truly special to me as a child, and I'll never forgot the find memories I have for it. 
 
It's no surprise that I was waiting for DNF to come out, with my past. But was I waiting on pins and needles? Was I at the edge of my seat? Hell no, I was barely awake. This game was condemned to vaporware, and when Gearbox picked it up, it was condemned to be terrible. There was no way a game fourteen years in the making was going to stand up to modern expectations or gameplay mechanics. As Mr. Gerstmann has pointed out, many things in Duke have been taken out of FPS games for a reason, and it all feels dated. DNF isn't bad simply because it's old, but because it has been passed through so many hands. It controls poorly, Duke himself isn't funny, the animations are awkward and stiff, and huge swaths of music are missing at certain parts of the game.  
 
Despite all of this, I'm very excited for Duke's future. What people don't acknowledge about this game often enough is the fact that Gearbox had no hand in making the actual content of this game; they were stuck with this stinker and had to slap a new layer of graphics on it and toss it out the door. It's clear, though, that everything Gearbox touched is superior, and this is especially evident in the load screens. Such gems as "Picking a turd from the toilet won't take away your ego even though we really wanted it to" and "Remember, if you get stuck, you can always cheat by looking up a FAQ online" show that Gearbox does care for the franchise. 
 
The future of Duke is bright, there's no question. Gearbox has never let me down, giving me wonderful Half-Life expansions, fantastic WW2 experiences with Brothers in Arms, and occupying hours and hours of my time with Borderlands. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Duke of the future will be funny, modern and relevant. What we have now is a relic, a spitshined dookie. But what lies ahead? I trust in Gearbox to tell me.

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Be'witched' by the Witcher

Let's clear this up first: nope, not The Witcher 2.  
 
Steam was having a sale one day, and the Witcher was on for ten bucks. 'Okay,' I thought, 'I need a game to kill the time anyways.' Those bastards knew I would never play y\the game, they just wanted my ten dollars! Steam is evil and corrupt, they rip people off and Valve should be sued! 
 
Ha, kidding, Steam is great. 
 
Anyways, I installed it to my laptop (which was terribly underpowered, so the game looked like it was covered in mud) and I began to mess around with it. I was a little put off at first; the combat felt weird, Geralt of Rivia had a terrible voice actor and the animations were janky as hell. I pushed through, eventually clocking in five hours and still being stuck in the Outskirts of Vizima, which is the first area. By then, the game had grown on me. I had it all figured out, let me tell you. Group style for the wolves, drink potions before you go into battle and have lots of sex. Awwww yeah. 
 
Then my computer broke the game and I couldn't fix it so I deleted it and didn't play it for a year. 
 
So, two weeks ago, I decided to re-download it (on a much better PC) because I really was enjoying the game until it stopped working. Now I'm thirty hours in and on Chapter 3, and I've had my share of frustrations with the game. I hated the way it threw you into the thick of things without any sort of decent tutorial, leaving me to fumble around like a dumbass. One of the quests early on was to harvest five White Myrtle bushes, but the game failed to tell me I needed to put skills into Intelligence to do so. Another said to go into a crypt to slay ghouls, but the game failed to mention beforehand that I needed to brew a potion or grab a torch to see in the dark. It failed to tell me what additional ingredients did to potions, and hell, I didn't even know what the fuck the Toxicity bar was until my screen started to pulse and I was seconds away from dying. 'Oh,' said The Witcher off-hand, 'you should probably not drink 5 potions, you might die.'                                                  
   
It wasn't until about 15 hours in the I realized the game wasn't failing in any way. It had never told me that it would tell me everything. I was not promised lessons, the game wasn't falling short of its own goals. I had failed to see what The Witcher was trying to make me do. I was to sit down, think about my future situation and act accordingly. Of course I'd need a torch in a goddamn crypt. Of course I shouldn't drink a bunch of potions brewed with rye and vodka. Of course you need to be smart to identify plants. These weren't jumps in logic; they were shortcomings on my part. 
 
I relish that The Witcher doesn't baby the player. I'm still discovering new things in Chapter 3 and I love it. This isn't a walk through content that the developer made, this is a layered, intricate world with a set of rules that Geralt, being a character who's lived in it, should know. It's quite an assumption by the game, but its one that ultimately pays off. Just like in real life, a single stupid mistake could spell the end for you. 
 
There is lots of sex though. Awwww yeah.

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There are two kinds of people in the world: those who are willing to change and those who are not. People who are not willing to change do business the old-fashioned way, on old-fashioned hours and with old-fashioned rules. No going on Reddit or playing Flash games during work, keep your work and your hobbies separate, do your job the way we tell you to do it.

Those people are what I like to call stupid.

If you're alive and have once talked to another human being, you've heard the term "Facebook me" or "Google it", and that's not a coincidence. Both of those sites are massive money-machines, run by extremely smart people providing extremely smart services. Google is on top of the world (literally, it fought the Chinese government once), and Facebook is fast approaching. Two direct competitors, each forcing the other to innovate and pave the way for the future. What do they have in common though? Awesome work structure.

If you've ever been inside the Facebook offices, seen a video of what goes on in there or even if you've seen The Social Network, you'll know that the Facebook offices are not full of rules and regulations restricting you to your workspace and only allowing you outside during lunch hours. It looks like a really spacious college dorm room more than anything else, and that kind of comfortable atmosphere is proven to lead to higher productivity. After all, if you love your job, you want it to do well.

Google has the same thing going on. Here's a link with photos from both offices, and you can see that both of the offices are not what comes to mind when you think 'professional'. Google has a goddamn slide in their office. People are riding bikes around, or just sitting and talking, and someone's in what looks like a massive sound room just hanging out. Despite these places not looking like the epitome of usefulness, these are arguably the two most well-known companies of our day.

So, seeing that, why aren't all companies that deal in technology going for relaxing atmospheres like that? Obviously, most companies can't afford such massive, spacious offices, but that's not what it takes to create a relaxed atmosphere. Each day, Google has each engineer work 20% of their time developing their own ideas.  That's a fifth of their working time that they are allowed to take a break and develop something personally (which has led to the creation of several other Google-owned services, like G-mail). It seems simple, really: do things to make people like their job.

Dyn Inc., in Manchester, New Hampshire has taken this in and decided to do something about it. Being a software company that supplies Twitter, Twitpic and Wikia, their employees have to know computers. And if you know computers, guess what? You probably like games. After seeing that their attendance plummets yearly when a blockbuster game is released, they decided to add an extra day of paid time off so you can indulge in your videogaming.

Yeah, I know, right? How great is that?

Small steps like these can go a long way to showing your employees that you care about them and their hobbies. Allowing people free time to pursue what they personally want is a simple way to revitalize and refocus a person, and a lot of old-fashioned businesspeople could learn from these Google, Facebook and Dyn, Inc.    

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