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Work the Problem

A mediation on my life, video games, rock climbing, and the ways in which we waste our lives. I hope it makes you think.


It is 1:49 AM on a pointless Thursday morning. I'm 20 years old, flying down an utterly empty Interstate 25 at 117 miles per hour, watching the corners of my vision blur, feeling my poor '97 Honda rattle from side to side, and thinking: "God damn, these are some video game level thrills."

It's a weird thought, but the only one I have for the sensation that with a slight jerk of the wheel, I could send myself flying top over bottom into the next life. Of course, in a videogame, "the next life" is usually literal. Black screen, load last checkpoint, carry on. Keep calm and respawn.

How many times have I done such an act, I wonder. I spent my childhood chasing the dopamine drip of the Xbox-- the "Nintendo," as parents are apt to call anything that puts a controller in your hands. I've beaten hundreds of videogames; played tens of thousands matches of online deathmatch; posted even more than that on online gaming forums; spent my formative years alone in a darkened basement. How many deaths have I died? How many lifetimes have I lived? stats for Xbox Live gamertag "beat82":

Halo 2: 5,303 games played. 36,440 kills. 34,664 deaths

Halo 3: 3,876 games played. 52,400 kills. 39,456 deaths

Halo Reach: 1,241 games played. 16,841 kills. 12,758 deaths

As it turns out, in my twenty years, I've lived a fair few lives. And yet, I realize, I've lived none at all. So much of my life has been "video game level thrills," that I have no other lens to interpret death. As the speedometer scrapes 120, the urge to jerk the wheel and flip the car is pressing. I just want to see what would happen. See how accurate Grand Theft Auto is. See how spectacularly I can waste my life.


In October 1995, Swedish mountaineer Göran Kropp set out to do something that had never been done before.

So he climbed on his bicycle and pedaled all the way from his home in Sweden to the Mount Everest Base Camp in Tibet. The journey took five months. When he finally arrived at base camp, Kropp dismounted, and conferred with the community of guides and climbers at the base camp. Against the advice of the native Tibetan sherpas, Kropp climbed and summited the tallest mountain on Earth, alone, carrying all of his own gear, without the bottled oxygen that is generally viewed as a life-saving necessity in the thin Himalayan air. Kropp then climbed down the mountain, got on his bicycle, and cycled back to Sweden, the way you or I might return home during the evening commute.

In 2002, Kropp fell 20 meters from a routine, roped rock climb in the Cascade mountains near Seattle. The climb, nicknamed Air Guitar, was graded 5.10a, not a particularly tough rating for a world-class climber. I can climb a 5.10a. Nonetheless. One quick slip, and Göran Kropp plummeted towards the ground, the cams and carabiners and quick-draws that held his rope- the equipment that was designed to keep him safe- flew up off the rock in a chain, like a zipper closing a jacket. The belayer on the ground could only watch gravity do its work as the pieces of safety equipment failed in their duties. A shattered styrofoam helmet, blood on the sand, and Göran Kropp, age 35, dead on impact.

A life well wasted.


A Life Well Wasted was a podcast I used to listen to: a well-produced, This American Life style riff on the culture and community that had sprung up online around the video game industry. In high school, I'd spend endless hours with an Xbox Live headset in one ear, an earbud in the other, listening to this, or some other videogame podcast. Podcasts were big, back then, to me.

No matter how many times my mother told me to go outside, or offered to take me to the movies, to pay for me and a girl to go to the movies, I refused to move. If she cut the power, I'd play my Game Boy. I was happy where I was. In video games, I never had to live a life I didn't like. The corrections were always easy.

Reload my save.

Change my loadout.

Use a cheat code.

Fix the problem.

Change my life? Why?

My life changed with the disc.


Ken Baldwin was twenty-eight years old when he vaulted over the guardrail on the Golden Gate Bridge, trying to kill himself. The fall was epiphanic for Baldwin, who later recalled, “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”

This is a quote I stumbled across in The New Yorker, at a time in my life where it seemed that I couldn't escape the spectre of suicide. I've never forgotten it.


Rock climbers have this saying, "Work the problem."

A boulder problem, to use the parlance of the enthusiast, is a relatively short climbing route, from a set start to a set finishing point-- usually, although not always, on top of a large boulder. Bouldering problems require a different type of climbing than you might generally associate with the sport: bouldering employs no rope system, and climbs rarely go past fifteen feet or so. The focus is on strength and technical skill, rather than the endurance required by more traditional ascents. Bouldering problems also tend to be very difficult, with climbers often having to attempt them multiple times to figure out the correct sequence of moves and grips required for the summit. And then of course, you have to actually be able to perform those moves, which are almost always harder than they look.

A boulder problem is a dialogue between the climber and the granite. A negotiation. It is not easy; it requires effort, perseverance, and work. When you start on a boulder problem, you can expect to fail. You can expect to fall. You will learn to fall gracefully, or you will fall out of the sport. You will sometimes have to leave and come back another day with fresh fingers. In a spurt of frustration, you might even punch a rock.

This is working the problem.

When I started climbing rocks as a hobby, I did it because I found it relaxing. I did it because I needed something new in my life. I did it because I needed to feel something again.

Before I ever set foot in a climbing gym, or learned how to tie in to a belay system, I climbed when I could, because in some way it made me feel better. It made me feel slightly more alive, to hang off of a rock face using little but my sneakers and fingers made strong by years of clutching the prongs of a console controller. Spending my mornings on a real rock face felt a little more worthwhile than spending my evenings driving a six-inch tall man up the side of pixelated Renaissance-era architecture in Assassin's Creed II.

Before a friend ever showed me how to work a boulder problem, or told me that I'd have to ditch the sneakers for $150 climbing shoes if I seriously wanted to climb rocks, I had found myself working on a completely different sort of problem.


Arriving at college, I had discovered that, contrary to my prior beliefs, thousands of lives lived in Halo: Reach were not acceptable substitutes for my own life. Nor, as it turned out, were drugs or alcohol. Sex was, for a time. Love, too. Friendship proved the most lasting. But still, caught in a seemingly endless loop of wasted time, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was squandering something.

"You're a writer?" this man, DJ, asked me. "We'll have to dialogue then, since I'm actually a published poet."

"Yeah, I write I guess," I said, "But I really need to stop doing stuff like this and actually sit down and get writing." I grimaced, shrugged, and took a pull from the bottle of cheap vodka I held in my hand.

"You know, you need to get out here and do stuff like this so you have something to write about," DJ encouraged. I nodded, thinking about it.

A few months later at a party where I was blackout drunk, one of my good friends threw some unprovoked punches, and beat DJ out of my orbit.

I woke up the next morning, heard the story, and wondered what I was doing with my life.


"If we didn't waste our lives, what else would we do with them?" an old roommate asked me recently. He was completely serious, asking me this question as he bought tickets for a football match between Ireland and Britain. It was finals week, his grades were terrible; he'd popped an Adderall, and was laser-focused on planning an upcoming trip to Europe. "Everything is better there," he said.

Initially, I brushed this guy off as the stoner he was, but I found the question lingering in an unnerving way. Is there really little more to hope for than a life well wasted? This ex-roommate seemed to think so, as he slowly smoked and sexed away the days with his father's money, doing the bare minimum while I worked and networked and wrote and wrangled some small form of recognition for myself in my chosen arenas.

As we sat over coffee, I found the idea would not leave me. I saw the question, "What else would we do?" grow tendrils and slowly strangle all other thought processes, until the different ways in which we wasted our lives was all I could think about. I thought of this old roommate, happily whiling away his days with a whitewalled bong. I thought of my sister spending her days across the sea, helping African children live longer so they will survive to generate more African children. I thought of a girl I once knew, cutting short her own waste of a life with a bottle of pills and a vodka chaser. I thought of myself.

My anxiety mounted.

"I'm going to go hit the climbing wall," I said.

"I knew you were going to say that," the old roommate said.


It's tough to say why I still like climbing, my relationship to the sport long ago having moved from hobby to habit. Nowadays, I rarely even make it to the sun-baked sandstone and granite rocks that attracted me to the activity in the first place. The indoor climbing wall at the rec center is much more convenient for me. Climbing is no longer an escape from daily life, but a part of it.

And yet, for some reason, climbing never feels monotonous. It feels frustrating, and tiring, and I wish there was a nicer wall in town, and there's always someone better than me climbing when I am; but for some reason I keep going back. I wake up most mornings, toss my smelly climbing shoes and my chalk bag into my backpack, and don't even begrudge them taking up most of the space.

Maybe it's the workout, the fact that returning to the overhangs and pull up bars of the wall has given me, for the first time in my life, some form of fitness. Slowly but surely, the sickly pallor of too much time in front of LCD screens has faded. My shoulders have firmed, tensed, and welcome the massages from the girls who now seem willing to give them; my fingers find themselves strong enough to reciprocate, and to please.

Perhaps it's the natural gracefulness and the poise with which girls move across the wall, which makes me simultaneously excited and envious.

Maybe it's the friendly community of climbers that populates the gym, always happy to give pointers, puzzle out the problems, or simply chat about life.

Maybe it's simply the fact that I have nothing else to do. No better way to waste my time. Maybe climbing is simply my new video game.

Maybe it's all of the above.

I'd be lying if I pretended to have answers.

But I like to think that I still like climbing because of the way it reminds me daily that things are worth keeping at. It reminds me to always keep working, keep considering, and keep improving. Climbing keeps me humble, and reminds me that I am a normal, flawed human being.

And how that's nothing to be ashamed about.


No Caption Provided

The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

-Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus


The other day, I solved a boulder problem that I had been working on for weeks at the gym. This problem tested every skill I had developed so far as a climber, used every muscle in every limb, and after more than fifty failures and falls, it felt immensely satisfying to finally grip the triangle of yellow tape that marked the finish.

"Yeah, that's a fun one," a fellow climber commented, after watching me summit, "but you've really got to campus it."

Then this asshole went to start this problem that's given me so much trouble, grabbed the starting hold, and proceeded to climb the entire problem using only his hands.

I was frustrated. But even more, I found myself thinking damn, I want to be able to do that.

So I walked forward, put my hands on the start, hung my legs in the air, and started to work the problem.


Alpha Protocol, Mass Effect, and the failure of scale

Yup, still on the scale kick.

Today let's consider two similar but separate games.

Mass Effect

The start of something
The start of something

Bioware's loosely disguised Star Wars universe comes into being with several hundred thousands of words of backstory in the Codex, and a stats-based RPG combat system that looks deceptively like an action-based third-person shooter. The game is pitched from the start as an integral part of a trilogy, with the concept of choices that will carry over from one game to the next being undoubtedly the core of the pitch. It's an ambitious project to announce all at once, a project of a scale the videogame industry has not heard of before, and hasn't heard the equal of since. The game releases to critical acclaim on strong world-building, characters, and a memorable climax, despite gameplay that is considered unrefined by both RPG enthusiasts and shooter enthusiasts.

Alpha Protocol

PC box art (cropped)
PC box art (cropped)

Continuing their recent trend of iterating and refining on formulas pioneered by RPG powerhouses, Obsidian Entertainment comes through shortly after the release of Mass Effect with a game that sounds strikingly similar to Mass Effect. A third-person espionage RPG with a stat-based action combat system of the type that looks like a typical third-person shooter but plays disturbingly unlike what you might expect, a focus on dialogue and character, and a promise that the actions of the player character will return to them in meaningful ways. Unlike Mass Effect, Alpha Protocol's game designers are contained to a single game to execute this vision. Alpha Protocol releases to middling reviews and little commercial success, and is widely considered a missed opportunity.

Sound Seriously Similar

So we've got two very similar products, designed and developed with similar mindset and ethos. The typesetting on the logos even looks similar. And yet, as we know, Alpha Protocol languished in obscurity while Mass Effect has launched a hundred-million dollar franchise that extends far beyond the reaches of our own personal medium, into toys and comics and anime and iPhones and on and on. But as any forum will tell you now, post-Mass Effect 3, Bioware didn't deliver on the initial promise and premise of the original game. In a wide swath of the gaming population festers a sense of being duped, or lied to.

There's some solid writing throughout the Mass Effect trilogy, no doubt, and even in the (recently) rather reviled third game, climactic moments such as Rannoch and Tuchanka stand out. But it's all rather pointless, as we know the story arc in its entirety now, and it's easy to see where the idealism behind Mass Effect was abandoned and the realities of modern game development encroached. Mass Effect succeeds in many areas, including "visceral" combat and interesting companions, but the soul of the project at its genesis- the core creative idea of the project- never really survived, because the scale of the project was such that it would simply be uneconomical to implement it. It's interesting that Rannoch and Tuchanka are the spots people tend to be brightest about that game, because those are the two spots where your decisions from previous games can actually affect the available outcomes. The soul of the original game peeks through at these points. The idea of choices with consequences comes through only twice in Mass Effect 3. In other areas people slot in and out if they are dead or alive, but that is not a consequence. The plot continues almost the same regardless. That is window dressing, and it's not what you were sold when you bought Mass Effect. Those are soulless changes.

Alpha Protocol has a soul. Alpha Protocol has a soul precisely because its developers were held accountable and forced to prove themselves first. Obsidian gave its developers one game. One nice tight package, any ideas or concepts they wanted in the game had to get in the game or go forever. Obsidian didn't have half a decade of releases to fill out. They had a game, and they delivered on the promise in a way Bioware never could. By limiting scale they were able to execute successfully on the core idea of their game.

No Caption Provided

Alpha Protocol packs so many systems into such a short, solid game; it's actually kind of shocking how much variance there is in it. The heart of Alpha Protocol is the dialogue system: giving the dialogue system the teeth to actually affect things. The dialogue system in Mass Effect never gives you much of a chance to change anything beyond your paragon and renegade meters, with the exception of a few pre-set story beats. Alpha Protocol has no meters. Your actions result in consequences, sometimes immediate and sometimes considerably later. Think something is wrong with someone? Shoot them, blow your cover in the city, and miss that mission. Make a choice your handler doesn't like? Lose bonuses and find them less helpful in the future. Don't want to rescue the bitch who sold you out? Leave her alone and ride off into the sunset with your psychopathic buddy. Unable to make a decision quickly? It gets made for you, and you have to live with the results. Actually read the codex? Be able to use information from the dossiers in conversations. Accept the company line or toe it by asking questions? Alpha Protocol fractures out in some fantastic ways, and delivers on the initial premise of Mass Effect in a way that the trilogy never did.

Scale and business crippled Bioware almost from the start, but because of the very nature of Bioware's original idea, it was impossible to see how things would play out until we had the third game in our hands, by which point it would be too late. A clever model that was sold well, but not the best for delivering a quality piece of art or entertainment. Alpha Protocol failed commercially because it got messy, and it looked too much shooter and played too much RPG. Mass Effect always looked shooter, but as the scale widened the RPG elements narrowed, and they found massive commercial success, and critical too. But their million dollar juggernaut was sold on a false premise.

And Alpha Protocol delivers on that premise. So maybe next time you're looking forward to a huge ambitious project, consider if there isn't a smaller game that has already done it best.


An Economy Of Scale

Long time no see, Giantbomb.

I'm here to talk to you about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and why it is not the best game of the year, and why it fooled so many critics and consumers. I want to make it clear, because I know how, ahem, rational this debate can get, that I do not think you are a bad person or your opinion is wrong in any way if you enjoy Skyrim and think it was the game of the year. I think I understand why that's the prevailing opinion, perhaps I even understand it in a way you yourself have not considered. Perhaps you understand it in a way that entirely eluded me. Regardless, I believe we can peacefully coexist, and I simply ask you hear me out. I promise it'll be worth your time.

Videogames (?)
Videogames (?)

Videogames, as they mature and grow as an entertainment medium, and some would say an artform, are expanding exponentially in scope, to the point where seeing a statistic along the lines of say, "72% percent of households in America play videogames", actually does not inform you in any significant way, because of the myriad subcategories inherent. Cell phone games, smartphone games, educational games, console games, camera games, etc can all fall under the umbrella of videogames. And then there are the porous borders of the term: does Windows solitaire count? What about online poker? Scene-It? They're certainly games, displayed on video screens, and they react to player input. By all the denotative limits of the term, yes, they do count. But many a person would argue against their inclusion. The term "videogame" holds no inherent meaning nowadays to the general culture, other than as a broad umbrella. And so we see fracturing and categorization- the list I gave before. All videogames, all different enough to deserve a named category, without descending into enthusiast jargon. All these videogames, with their common heritage and characteristics, and herded apart and divided, mostly according to one thing: scale.

To our particular subculture-- which for shorthand's sake I'll call hardcore gamers (although I am certainly not ignorant of the connotation and conflict that surrounds the terminology, in this case simply consider it an easy way to separate the community that concerns itself primarily with console games and things like Game Of The Year awards from the unwashed smartphone and Wii Sports masses)-- the highest-level attribute of a videogame is its scale. Before platform, before developer, before influences, before even genre, the defining characteristic is scale. Scale, scope and ambition hold sway over the imaginations of our community. The much lauded "depth" of a game is a natural subset of this scale. A man more secure in his audience's attention might meander about whether that obsession is culturally-induced and what it reflects about our community, but for today, we'll simply content ourselves with the fact that it does, indeed, exist.

Minecraft Legos. Now your virtual building blocks can be more constrained physical building blocks!
Minecraft Legos. Now your virtual building blocks can be more constrained physical building blocks!

What's a "real game"? Skyrim's a real game; that's a statement you wouldn't find much challenge on. Kinectimals? Maybe there's a bit more discussion there. There's less to do, it's more of a virtual pet. It's a simulator. Is such a thing worth our time? There's no scale to the endeavor. Rayman Origins? By all accounts one of the most excellent, tight, creative and polished games to come out of a major studio in a while? Dropped to $19.99 already. Not near enough scale and perceived value in that project to survive in a retail market against a juggernaut like Skyrim. Forget about even trying to bring a portable game or a smartphone game into that discussion. Listening to the Giantbomb GOTY podcasts, watch for how quickly Patrick is shrugged off trying to insert Sword and Sworcery into the deliberations. Even to professionals, scale and scope are kings. It couldn't possibly match up. Minecraft? That's an interesting one: the potential for amazing scale is there, but the onus is on the player, not the developer. Thus it attracts a different audience, creators instead of consumers, and to consumers it has perhaps the least scope out of all of these. Minecraft is a blank page, not a completed manuscript. Minecraft is a LEGO set, not a cathedral (I think it's absolutely hilarious that they're making physical Minecraft LEGO, when Minecraft was pretty much a virtual LEGO set).

Look to our own wiki on Giantbomb: no flash games. No scope, no scale. No two-hundred person development team. Not notable.

So scale matters. It matters most, on a meta-level, to the categorization of games, and what we see is that the largest games, those with the most scope and scale and ambition become the games. They become the games that matter, they become the top ten games to look forward to in 2012, they become the future of gaming. They become, ultimately, the game of the year.

And I'm here to say: we are blind.

We Come To Skyrim

We come to Skyrim to drown ourselves in fantasy. We come to Skyrim to get lost. We come to Skyrim for the scale.

And it doesn't disappoint
And it doesn't disappoint

And here's what's so clever about Skyrim: it uses that scale to distract you from the fact that it actually spends a good 80% of it's time being a pretty mediocre first-person combat game. The role-playing elements are simply trappings: they hang around, colouring and contextualizing the combat in a clever display of sleight-of-hand. And the combat's simply not that good. Better than we've seen in Elder Scrolls previously, no doubt, but the combat in Skyrim is not by any stretch of the imagination, the strong suit of the game. Yet that is where the meat of the game lies, elements of story and world stringing you along from combat to combat. Combat is your only method of SIGNIFICANT interaction with the world of Skyrim. And herein is the issue.

The categorization of Skyrim as a role-playing game is almost disingenuous. I can't say it's a lie, but there's an element of tilt to the statement: it's an action game with extremely complicated and interactive interludes between levels. Which, ultimately, appears to be the direction the modern RPG is moving in, so perhaps I'm spilling words into an issue everyone already knows about. But for a game to get this level of acclaim solely for scale is ridiculous. What you spend your time doing in Skyrim is fighting. Fighting clunky controls and heavily scaling enemies. Sure, you have the option of fighting with magic or swords or archery, but none of those systems are as good as they would be if the scale of the game was less. Ultimately, I don't understand why we should praise Bethesda for managing to cram a bunch of mediocre gameplay systems into one game. Sure, it's an undertaking of impressive scale, but the scale doesn't excuse the mediocrity of the actual gameplay. If what you're doing for a good 80% of the game is simply average (if anyone here will argue that Skyrim's combat is great, I will fight you), does scale really excuse it?

According to Metacritic it does. And I don't know; it seems ridiculous to me. Am I crazy? Or are Bethesda just some of the greatest sleight-of-hand artists our industry has ever seen?


Guides, hell yeah

No Caption Provided
Over 1 million cumulative minutes viewed. Page views are ridiculously broken but they're somewhere over 100,000, estimating by incoming link traffic.
To all of you who really never touch the guides system, I'd recommend checking it out, it's pretty neat and intuitive (when it isn't broken beyond belief). There will be guide quests at some point in the future too, so may as well get a jump on those by creating some quality content. I'll probably be putting together a comprehensive Reach guide as well, if anyone's interested in helping with that.
Anyways, thanks to everyone that's viewed my stuff and helped build it alongside me. Really nice to tick over a huge milestone like that and know that your work is actually being used.

Community Quests need to be rethought

Look, I love the quest system, it's fantastic fun and an easy way to while away a couple hours on a slow day. And really, I think the last two sets we've got have been alright actually. However, the problem is that ideally, they are meant to be completed slowly. Unfortunately, both of these quests have been community challenges, incentivizing users to complete them in less than a week in exchange for extra XP. This creates people who really want to finish the quest fast, when neither of them were designed for speed. 1000 profile views in a week is a lot for anyone who's not a mod or staff member. Every active member of the site will reach it at some point, but trying to do it in a week is ridiculous and just promotes gaming the system.
Really, the only thing that needs to be changed is: if a quest is designed for slow burn, don't attach a community challenge to it, as it can actually sour a lot of people on what is not a bad quest. Alternatively, put the challenge numbers lower so that it's at least somewhat achieveable- we had no chance last week and there's no chance this week so the only result was annoying the shit out of any users unfortunate enough to join that week. The community challenges are nice, but they shouldn't be attached to certain sets.
ALSO WE NEED GUIDE QUESTS (and I need profile views).


Electronic Entertainment Excess

So E3 has rolled around again, and the gaming world is, naturally, in a frenzy. E3 is great, full of new games and demos of games we've eagerly been awaiting for years. Thing about E3 is, it's a bit of a clusterfuck, full of showboating and needless spectacle. Yeah, to a certain degree the spectaclle does make E3- just remember a couple years ago when they tried to cut it down, that was no fun.
However, when what we're getting out of E3 is this crazy, cultesque Kinect event that really has almost nothing to do with anything relevant (especially since most of those Kinect games were shown at the Microsoft Press Conference), something is wrong.
Now, I love E3 and hearing about it, but how can a company justify spending money on this? Or Activision's party, rumored to cost over SIX MILLION dollars, featuring Lady Gaga or Eminem, depending on who you ask? How is that reasonable or really advisable? I guess there's nothing WRONG with it per se, but it always strikes me as extremely excessive when companies do things like this. Booth babes and press events in exotic an fun places have always been part of the gaming industry I guess, but I'm always left wondering why companies can't just let their products speak for themselves.
You guys agree, or do you think these events AREN'T excessive and are an integral part of the experience?


The Secret Genius of the Pokewalker

Though I initially dismissed the Pokewalker as a gimmick, this thing was a stroke of genius by Nintendo. It encourages activity, but not so much as to be obnoxious about it. It's not the message that comes up every hour or so on the Wii and tells you to stop being a lazy fatass and go outside. It's tricky in that it actually encourages you not to play the game by giving you rewards in the game. Paradoxical. I like my pokemon, I really do, but levelling up monsters, especially higher level ones, is a huge grind. If, instead of grinding against the Elite Four for the tenth time, I can go for a run and have my Blastoise gain XP from that, that's something I might actually do. In addition to that, the fact that you can only gain one level per walk means you have to constantly sync it with your DS, meaning it's less likely you'll forget or stop playing their machine. It's an insidious little guy.
As a standalone accessory, this thing would never have done well (and that's coming from someone who owned an original Pokemon Pikachu). As a pack in though, it's great. It's a fantastic little way to expand your game and perhaps encourage some activity as well. I just hope this isn't a sign of more peripheral pack-in coming, as Nintendo has certainly been doing it a lot recently, but none of the Wii pack-ins have been as good as the Pokewalker- and you usually have to pay extra on the Wii :|


Don't need Roger Ebert

Hey gaming community, did you see this article by Roger Ebert abou- oh. I guess you did.
Wow. You certainly did see it.
Now, without actually addressing the content of the blog post, the reactions of the gaming community sadden me. They make me ashamed. Not that you should really care about what annoys me, but you should care about not making fools of yourselves. The knee-jerk mentality that pervaded the response to Ebert's blog is startling- at once, most everyone in the community shot back at this perceived attack with brash, unwarranted hostility. Ebert, a man who voices his opinions by trade, posted his thoughts in a civil, expository manner. The gaming community as a whole, essentially, posted a collective
To be sure, there were points to refute in Ebert's argument, but the sheer lack of respect in the dialogue opened saddens me. A few places put together encouraging but unnecessary rebuttals, but of the blogs and forum topics I've seen, a large amount essentially boil down to "Don't NEED Roger Ebert" [cause his opinion doesn't agree with mine]. That's not at all the mentality to convince people you should be taken seriously or that what you're evangelizing is anything more than a distraction for juvenile thinkers looking for popcorn entertainment. That's really not a mentality that should be accepted anywhere, yet sadly it seems to pervade so many corners of the INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY. You either completely stay away from the topic, or you counter with something thoughtful and sensible. "NO U" is not an acceptable answer, the same way when someone responds to you in real life with "Your face" you want to slap them. It's not productive and actively increases the amount of anger in play. It's just not something you do.
Or it's not something you should do, but people do because they're anonymous on the internet.
Maybe my complaint is more to do with the internet in general- it's just sad to see what could have been interesting soured by one side's refusal to engage on any level. Again, some people certainly were more level-headed with their responses, but the overwhelming negativity is incredibly discouraging.
I can't articulate myself terribly well sadly- out of practice with this here blogging. For the same reasons I said before I'll keep this off the forums I think- too much unbridled hostility is simply the norm there, and elsewhere. It's not terribly healthy for anyone.


Around the (Ring)world

In which Lies attempts to talk about as many HALO products as possible in a single blog.

Halo Wars

 all units?
 all units?
I picked this guy back up from Blockbuster because I had spied Macandcheese playing it and saw this as my opportunity to grab the last couple achievements I had missed on my first playthrough- mostly the co-op stuff. ON THAT NOTE: Halo Wars' co-op does not facilitate cooperation. It is in fact the opposite- if I could have punched mac through the internet I probably would have, and I suspect he would have liked nothing more than to do the same to me. I settled for Cryo Bombing his army right before they went into a huge fight. He responded by blowing up our mutual base and then promptly ending the game then leaving to go watch Don't Be A Menace To South Central While Drinking Your Juice In The Hood. Eventually however, we triumphed and beat the co-op campaign with gold medals on every mission- 
Which brought my Halo Wars gamerscore to 950G.  By hitting 950G I have gotten all Halo Wars achievements that do not require me to buy DLC except for one. You may be thinking "Go claim that last 50G and be a baller", after all that is the only correct course of action. Those of you familiar with Halo Wars may be aware of my dilemma- the last 50G require me to reach General Rank on Xbox Live- the highest attainable rank in the game, requiring 960,000 XP. Now Halo Wars is a little too popular to boost- there were 7,777 people playing last time I was on ("7,777 too many" was my friend's response to that factoid). I'm honestly considering going for it, which says something of my sanity I suppose. The thought of buying the $20 of DLC has also crossed my mind, mostly for the achievements. I didn't pull the trigger, but still :( I want that S-Rank.

Halo 2

Did you know the Energy Sword has no charge meter in Halo 2 multiplayer? Shit's kinda BROKEN. But oh so fun. The lunge is totally even longer than the H3 one too! BALANCE!
Did you know the Energy Sword has no charge meter in Halo 2 multiplayer? Shit's kinda BROKEN. But oh so fun. The lunge is totally even longer than the H3 one too! BALANCE!
I convinced some friends to jump back on Halo 2 to send it off before they shut down the servers. They were not amused.
In my opinion, Halo 2 is the pinnacle of the multiplayer- fast pace, amazing maps, best balance. In the opinion of the people I dragged to the game with me- not so much. They just wanted Spartan Lasers and Gravity Hammers. Simply baffling. I think my ability at Halo has just grown to a point where I'm "one of those people", the type who will whinge about BR starts and the like. Which I certainly will do (at least to myself, I try to not be annoying to the other people in the match). But man, for that type of player, Halo 2 is RAD. Halo 2 Battle Rifle is an amazing weapon, totally embarrasses the Halo 3 variant. Of course, I probably enjoyed my time going back so much because them that's left aren't very good. I also enjoyed superbouncing to the top of the base on Zanzibar for nostalgia's sake.
Shame it'll be going offline, but realistically people should be moving on, and hopefully the shutdown will allow LIVE to move forward as a service. Speaking of moving forward:

Halo 3

Kinda hate to admit it, but these guys know what they're doing
Kinda hate to admit it, but these guys know what they're doing
Just launched a new MLG FFA playlist, and that thing is pretty sick. I've never been much of an MLG player myself, but MLG's offering just destroys what Bungie has put on offer as competitive Free For All (And this is coming from someone who reached a level 46 in Lone Wolves). If you're still playing Halo 3 I strongly recommend giving this playlist a chance- it's already suffering low population troubles, sadly, but it will definitely challenge you and improve your ability all around.
Also: ROCKET RACE THIS WEEKEND. Those of you that haven't tried it, do. Rocket Race is some of the most fun that can be had in Halo 3, ever.

Halo 3: ODST

Fuck the Vidmaster Endure achievement.

 Ran this like five times in the last two months to help some friends out- Firefight gets old. Fast. The problem, we've decided, is that there is no mounting pressure, and the forced addition of skulls is a bullshit way to increase difficulty, especially once Mythic turns on. Chieftain rounds are hella fun, but nothing else matches that intensity. Hopefully they can fine tune Firefight to be more tense and less artificial for Reach.
Also I REALLY don't understand the people who bitched about matchmaking for this- why would you ever want to play cooperative with the general Halo 3 community? Co-op gametypes are best enjoyed with friends, not strangers. Except for Halo Wars co-op, which is not enjoyed, period.

Halo Reach

Man people say it looks just like Halo 3 with jetpacks, but there are a million things in that trailer that get me excited and thinking about the way it will change the gameplay. The campaign vidoc looked hot too, excited to see Bungie's take on SPARTAN-IIIs. Not really much else to talk about on this front- we're all waiting for May 3rd. 

Halo Legends

Sums up my feelings quite nicely.
Now I'm a huge HALO story nerd, as anyone who knows me well can tell you. I love the HALO mythos well more than it deserves. I own HALO novels. I understand the Terminals from Halo 3 to an insane amount of detail. I know about Offensive Bias. Ask me anything.
Despite that however, I get nothing from Legends. The stories are mediocre and convey extremely little depth. The animation is pretty bad in most cases, and the most important story, ORIGINS Part 1 looks like it only had sllghtly more budget than a motion comic. The lore nut in me gets nothing except inconsistencies: Spartan-303 would never exist, the way Spartans behave is more like superheroes who rely on brute strength rather than the efficient and tactical commando units they're supposed to be- Dr. Halsey looking like a 19 year old girl. Mr. Jared said he enjoyed it as a lore fan, but I don't see it- Legends is probably the worst thing the franchise has ever put out. Not an auspicious start for 343 in my eyes and not a shining example of the extended Halo universe. If Legends sounded interesting to you, I much more strongly suggest HALO: Evolutions, a short story compilation put out last year. That's the proper way to do short-form Halo projects. Not Legends.

343 Industries

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Those of you that follow the gaming press may have heard that David Ellis recently left 1Up to join 343 Industries. The revolving door that is 1Up aside, I find this very promising for the future of the HALO franchise. We know Bungie is leaving Halo behind in a big way after Reach and 343 is left to carry the torch of the largest new franchise of the last decade. No easy task. However, what this latest hire really indicates to me is that 343 is really going out of it's way to collect people who love the series and will want to continue the legacy in the best way possible. David Ellis was always one of the few gaming journalists who really got Halo from a fan's perspective as well as from an industry perspective- now he's in a position to put that knowledge to use. In addition, a while back 343 hired the guys who ran Ascendant Justice, one of the most in depth analyses of Halo ever written. Probably THE most in-depth honestly- those guys are crazy. The fact that 343 has proven willing to search these guys out and seek their input tells me that whatever comes out of them next it will be as full of love as anything Bungie ever made.
If you actually read all of that you're fucking crazy but I love you.