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So, who wants my extra copy of Portal (PC)?

Originally posted this on my IGN blog, but their new blog/friend system sucks and hence, nobody will ever see it. So, GiantBomb community, here you go:
I just pre-ordered Portal 2 on Steam, which comes with a free copy of Portal 1. That's nice and all, but come on... is there actually anyone out there who still hasn't played Portal? Well, if so, then this is your lucky day. The first person to respond to this post that has a Steam account (and doesn't already own Portal) gets my extra copy for free. Just reply here with a link to your Steam profile so I can make sure you don't already own the game. And of course, also make sure that your PC can handle it (system requirements available here).
Edit: Giveaway closed. Congrats to Lucifer.


Valve set to announce new game today... !?

I haven't seen anything about this anywhere else yet, so I don't think it's old... but I just saw a news item over at GameInformer stating they are set to announce Valve's next game. Today!?!?! Wow, this certainly came out of nowhere... I wonder what it could be? I doubt anything Half-Life related, but one never knows... 
Thoughts? Speculation?


Thoughts on the latest update to Team Fortress 2

Yesterday, Valve finally dropped their latest update bomb on the Team Fortress 2 community, and boy, was it a doozy. Basically, the update has added tons of new items and weapons (including many made by the community), and most notably, a new in-game store to purchase items with real money. After all of the whining and complaining from people over the past few months about them never receiving randomly dropped hats, one might think this update would be a godsend, right? Well, apparently not. One look at the Steam Community TF2 Forum and you'll notice a constant stream of people complaining that Valve has ruined their precious game... you'd think Gabe Newell or Robin Walker had killed their family or something.
So what gives? Valve is one of - if not the - greatest developers in the history of video games. They have done more to elevate the quality of gaming than any other developer I can think of. Seriously, can you think of ONE bad game they have ever made? I am hard pressed to do so. As track records go, it's impressive (to say the least). I'm sure many people would point to the Half-Life series or Portal as their greatest achievement, but not me. Those games are certainly brilliant on every level. But to me, their crowning achievement is TF2, by leaps and bounds. I've been gaming since the Atari 2600 came out, and no game I can think of has given me as many hours of entertainment and fun than TF2. TF2 is Valve's grand experiment in the realm of ever-evolving game design, and it has succeeded at every turn. Since its release in 2007, the TF2 team has pushed out over 120 FREE updates. Yes, free. And on top of this, the game costs less than $20, and on several occasions, has been on sale for a mere handful of dollars. 
No other game developer would ever - EVER - consider taking this approach with one of their games. Perhaps there is one out there, but if there is, I certainly can't think of it.  No other developer has ever extended their hand out to their community as much as the TF2 team, either. The team reads the forums and takes community feedback to heart. Additionally, they even solicited that very community to develop and submit new items and weapons to be included in the game. Not to mention, these very item creators will also receive a cut of any profit on their items that are sold in the TF2 store. How cool is that?
Which brings me back to my original point -  the people complaining that allowing items to be purchased has ruined the game. To these people, I say: huh??? Each and every item that is available in the TF2 store is ALSO available FOR FREE within the very game they already own. Hats and weapons can be found randomly, traded with other players (also a new feature of the latest update), and created by using the in-game crafting system. The only requirement for these methods is luck (for random drops), play time (for crafting), or simply finding another player to trade an item with (via various available resources). No one who doesn't pay for an item will miss out on anything. And for those who don't mind spending money, or just don't have the time or will to put the investment into crafting, are able to take a shortcut to obtaining items for a modest fee. To me, that's a win-win.
One of the main arguments is that people can simply "pay to win". But that is total BS. Anybody who has ever played TF2 should know by now that none of the weapons that have been added to the game make you any better or worse than any other player. New weapons always have a trade-off. There is no weapon that can't be countered by some other weapon or class (and there's also a reason the word "team" is in the title of the game). There is no magic "WIN" button in the game. There just isn't. Any benefit gained by using the new items can be countered. The argument isn't valid. And people know this. At least, I think they do. So all I can figure is that the complainers are just jealous that anyone can get anything they want now, without any blood, sweat, or tears - and therefore, nothing is going to be rare or unique. But again, that's simply not true. As part of the new update, Valve also upgraded all existing items to be labeled "Vintage". In effect, all the stuff people earned the good ol' fashioned way up until yesterday is eventually going to be rare itself. I think that's pretty neat. And of course, Valve will continue to tweak the way items are handled as we go along, so I assume many of the complaints we're hearing now will eventually be ironed out.
In conclusion, I am extremely happy with the update and I think it will be a great thing in the long run. Personally, I am more than happy to support Valve, because they have never let me down with one of their products. I have even felt guilty for getting so much enjoyment out of TF2, when they haven't been making any real money on it in years. And because of that, I have no complaints about them trying to finally add some sort of revenue stream to the game. I gladly forked over some cash yesterday to get some new items - not because I needed them for any "advantage", not because I wouldn't have earned them anyways through normal gameplay (because I would have) - but rather, because it finally gave me a chance to really support the company that has given me so much enjoyment from a game I bought 3 years ago for less than $20. It's my way of saying "thank you", and I was happy to do it. And I hope the people who are complaining now eventually come around to see it this way, too.


Mini-Review Roundup: Games Completed, Jan-May 2010

(repost from IGN blog, 6/2/2010)

It's been a while since my last mini-review roundup, so I figured it would be a good time to take a moment and write up the next installment. The reviews below are sorted by system and graded using the standard letter system (A: Excellent; B: Good/Great; C: Average; D: Below Average; F: Utter Shite). I feel this is the best review system, as everyone who ever went to school knows instantly what a particular letter grade conveys. It's much less counter-intuitive than the 100 point scale (where scores in the 70 range are considered "average" and the entire half of the scale under 50 is completely pointless). So there ya go. And without any further ado, here are the reviews:



Super Mario Galaxy 2 | Without question, this was my most anticipated game of the first half of 2010. Everything I said in my review for the first game pretty much applies here as well. And on top of that, the game included just enough new ideas to quell my fear of it being a phoned-in sequel. It's just so well done and fun, I can't imagine anything that really could have been improved (aside from tiny nit-picky details). And really, that's all anyone can ever ask for in a game. I didn't really intend to blow through this game at all, but once I got started, it was just so hard to put down (yet another testament to brilliant game design!). I managed to 100% complete the game (at least the first 120 stars) playing off and on over this past weekend, only to immediately find out that there are 120 more secret stars to collect after that... it's truly the game that keeps on giving. My only real complaints are that the designers are evil, evil people. There were a handful of complete bullshit levels that nearly caused me to throw my controllers through a wall, but somehow I managed to make it through with most of my sanity intact, and despite dropping more f-bombs than may actually be humanly possible, I still wanted to continue playing... now that's something special indeed. A+

Cave Story | I'd heard all the hype leading up to this game's release, so I pretty much just bought it one day-one without even reading any reviews. After finishing it, my feelings are mixed. It didn't quite live up to the mind-blowing levels of hype that preceded its release, but at the same time, it is definitely a damn good game. While it is a sort of throwback 16-bit era style games, it still felt fresh (even timeless) to me. So that's a pretty big plus in its favor. I loved the gameplay, weapons, characters, and writing. What I didn't like was the uneven difficulty curve and the obtuse machinations that you need to follow in order to get the best ending. Regarding the latter, I can't stand games that require you perform certain actions (that may not be obvious at the time) in order to see all that it has to offer. The 2D Castlevanias are all guilty of this. I think it's stupid and annoying. After beating the game the first time, I looked up online to see if there were any secrets and such, only to find out that one seemingly inconsequential choice I made about halfway through prevented me from seeing the true last part of the game. Consequently, I had to start a new game file and follow all the steps necessary to get the "real" ending. If there were any real clues within the game that could have made this choice (and its ramifications) obvious, I would have no problem with it. But as it is, I have to dock major points from my final rating because of this stupid antiquated pointless design choice. My only other complaint is that the difficulty at certain parts of the game (the final bosses, I'm looking at you) ramps up far beyond anything that was previously tasked to the player. It's very uneven - nearly unforgiving - and I hate that. It's just really annoying to be cruising along and then suddenly hit a wall. This kind of design is not fun, and as I get older, I have far less patience to keep playing certain sections over and over again. For these reasons, and these reasons alone, my rating for this game is lower than it really should have been. Everything else about the game is superb. B

Muramasa: The Demon Blade | I adore this game, and it's a damn shame that it was not more popular or successful. For the first few hours I played it, my jaw was literally gaping in awe of how beautiful the game is. The artwork is stunning and I was captivated from start to finish. But a game has to have more than artwork going for it, right? Thankfully, Muramasa delivers on the action side as well. While pretty much everyone agrees with the greatness of the visuals, most reviews and impressions I've read point to the gameplay as the deciding factor between positive or negative. I happen to fall on the positive side of the argument. The negative folks say that the action elements are repetitive and get boring. I can see that point, but for me personally, it never really was boring. I always had fun with the simple combat system (probably because I prefer things to be more simple than complicated). So it's hard for me to give a solid recommendation on this one, since it really comes down to whether or not you will enjoy the combat system. All I can say is, take a look at videos online and see if it looks fun. Personally, I truly think the visuals alone are excuse enough to play through the game, but that's just me. I spent countless hours exploring every nook and cranny, forging all the swords, and playing through every possible alternate ending, and I feel that not one minute of that time was wasted. If you were ever curious about this game, I encourage you to seek it out and maybe give it a shot. A-

LostWinds: Winter of the Melodias | I loved the first LostWinds, so naturally this was a must-buy. All I can really say is that it is a perfect continuation of the first game. It has beautiful visuals, clever puzzles, and lasts just long enough to justify its price. The controls are only possible on the Wii, and it's one of the few games (downloadable or otherwise) that takes full advantage of that. Recommended. B+

Grill-Off with Ultra Hand | This is a game that is available as a prize for Club Nintendo members. It only costs 80 coins, so I figured "what the hell" and picked it up as a novelty. It is sort of fun, but if it weren't free, I wouldn't really recommend it. It's just a really simple arcade experience and the novelty wears off quickly. If you've got the coins to spare, I'd say maybe pick it up (especially with the lack of other quality offerings on Club Nintendo), but otherwise, just pass. C-


The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks | I just finished this the other day, after what seems like months of off and on playing in short spurts. Overall, I found it to be much improved over the previous DS game (Phantom Hourglass), due mainly to the fact that they did away with the one thing that killed that game - the horrible design of the "Temple of the Ocean King" dungeon. With that annoyance completely removed, the game is quite enjoyable. The mechanic of riding the train is fun, but it does get old after a while. I think I'd much prefer these games get away from these travel gimmicks and go back to having a standard Zelda overworld. But even with these minor complaints, it's still a fun game. Some of the dungeon designs and puzzles are truly inspired. The developers did a really great job coming up with new ideas and mixing things up. For Zelda fans, this is a no-brainer. For everyone else, there is still a lot to like here, and it's much more accessible than the previous game. I definitely recommend it. B+

Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story | I really like the Mario & Luigi series - I'm a big fan of its simple RPG elements, tongue-in-cheek humor, and clever puzzles. I wasn't sure how the developers could really come up with anything new at this point, but boy was I wrong! Amazingly, the game is pretty much a never-ending series of new experiences and mechanics, which are all really fun. I was really amazed at how many cool things they managed to cram into this game. Not once did it ever feel like a chore to keep playing. All in all, I found this to be the perfect handheld game. It can be played in short bursts, it's always throwing something new and interesting at the player, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. Highly recommended. A-

Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver | As someone who owns every pokemon game and has collected every single pokemon in every generation of the series, getting this was sort of a requirement on my part. That said, I am thinking that these games may be my last foray into the world of Pokemon. Yes, I'm pretty much ready to give it all up. It's just gotten to the point where I've pretty much had it with how stale and formulaic the series has become. I don't really feel like playing through the same game yet again. Yes, I know they "claim" the Black & White versions are going to mix things up, but forgive me if I don't believe it. Nothing I've seen so far points to there being any drastic change to the formula. I'd love to be proven wrong, but I don't have high hopes. I'm just not looking forward to having to pick from a fire, grass, or water type pokemon, wander around a map avoiding a constant barrage of shitty Geodude and Zubat, dragging around a series of pointless suck-tastic pokemon in my party for the sole reason of needing to use HM moves, and overthrowing some lame criminal organization... again. It's old. Really old. And yet, with all that said, I would still recommend HeartGold or SoulSilver, but only if you have never played a pokemon game before and were looking to get into the series. Otherwise, if you've played one game, you've played them all, and there is no need for you to be suckered into wasting more of your money like I did. Move along, nothing to see here. B-

Rhythm Heaven | I absolutely loved the original Rhythm heaven game, which was a Japan-only release. So I was really looking forward to this version. Unfortunately, I was somewhat let down. Don't get me wrong - it's a decent game - but certain aspects of it just annoyed me. A lot of the mini-games are fun, but some of them are just lame, unintuitive, and/or unforgiving in their difficulty. Which is odd, as I have been a musician all my life, can sing and play multiple instruments (including drums), and yet I still had a hard time completing this game. That's NOT a good sign for a music game. I think it really just comes down to the controls. They've very... touchy (no pun intended). Moreover, when you fail a task, the game gives you no real indicator of how close you were to passing or what exactly you need to do to correct your mistakes. Overall, I just wasn't left with a favorable impression, which is sad, as I was really expecting great things out of this game. It just could have been so much more. C+


Heavy Rain | Heavy Rain has the distinction of being the first full-fledged disc game that I bought for my PS3. Up until this point, I had really only used it as a Blu-ray player and for downloadable games. The reason I really wanted this game is because its style and gameplay really appeal to me. I am a lifelong fan of classic adventure games, and this seemed to be a modern re-imagining of that genre (a genre which hasn't seen any significant changes in many years). I have to say, this game turned out of be one of the best experiences I have ever had with interactive entertainment. Is it perfect? No, not really. But it is a fun, scary, intriguing, complex, thought-provoking, emotional ride. And that's all I was really hoping for. There's not much I can really say about the game that won't ruin its many surprises, so all I will say is that it is well worth trying. I think any person who appreciates games or film can find something to enjoy in this game. Even though you can drive an 18-wheeler through the story's plot holes, in the end, it's not really about the story. It's about how the game makes you feel, and the experience you have with it - and that experience can (and will) be completely different for every person who plays it, which is an amazing feat. Definitely recommended. A


BioShock 2 | I loved the original BioShock, so this was a no-brainer. Going in, I knew it wasn't going to be as impactful or surprising as the original, and I was OK with that. In fact, I believe that resigning myself to these lowered expectations actually ended up allowing me to enjoy the game more than I would have otherwise (if that makes any sense). That would be my recommendation. If you've played the first, definitely go ahead and play this one, but just keep in mind that it isn't going to blow your mind. BioShock 2 is definitely worth a play for fans of the series. And if you haven't played the original, I say go back now and give it a shot. Even if you're not the biggest fan of first-person shooters (which I am not particularly), there is still plenty to enjoy in this series. There is a multiplayer component in BioShock 2, but I didn't particularly care for it. If you're going to play this game, do it for the single-player experience. A-

Braid | Braid is a game that I heard a lot about, but never really had a chance to play until recently, when I saw it available on Steam. In the end, it turned out to be one of the coolest gaming experiences I've ever had. I just love playing a game and actually being surprised by its level design and/or creativity. In most games, this just doesn't happen - in one way or another we've all seen the basics of every type of game design somewhere before. Not so with Braid. Every level introduces some new, creative mechanic that ends up being used in mind-bending ways. The final level, in particular, really blew me away... without giving anything away, I'll just say that the way it shows one event in two totally different (and opposite) perspectives was extremely clever and was something I was not expecting. I was very impressed, to say the least. Even more impressive is that it was all done by one person. One other aspect of this game that has garnered a lot of discussion is its story (such that it is). I won't ruin it, but apparently, it's about something much deeper than it first appears to be on the surface. To me, this aspect of the game wasn't all that enthralling, and I could have done without it. I'm not complaining that it's there, rather, I'm saying that even if there were no deeper story to speak of, the game would still be just as enjoyable based on its gameplay alone. Now that Braid is available on any platform (other than Wii), I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who has yet to experience it for themselves. This is a must-play title for all hardcore gamers. A+

Dead Space | Dead Space is a game I really wanted to play but couldn't (since I didn't have a PS3 or 360 when it first came out). Sometime later, it came out on PC, so I was finally able to pick it up. In the end, it was everything I had hoped for and more. That said, I do have a love/hate relationship with this game. I love that it sets a dark, scary mood and never relents throughout. But frankly, I also hate that it sets a dark, scary mood and never relents throughout. The atmosphere was almost too much for me to take. I like scary stuff in small doses, but too much of it can really start to get under one's skin. I played this game alone in the dark, and as I got more and more into it, all the creepy noises and visuals really started creeping me out. That's exactly what I was expecting from the game, but on the other hand, perhaps it did too good of a job! So in that regard, the game is a huge success. I guess enjoyment really depends on how well you can tolerate claustrophobic dark corridors full of creep aliens hell-bent on killing you! As far as actual gameplay goes, it all seemed perfectly serviceable to me. At times, the controls were somewhat clunky and I had to fight them to do what I needed to do, but those moments were few and far between. The only complaint I have is with the level objectives, which basically boil down to the same thing over and over and over again (something is broke, go fix it or flip this switch, etc). But aside from that, I have no real complaints, and I'm really looking forward to Dead Space 2! A-


And there you go. That's pretty much what I've been up to gaming-wise for the past few months (aside from regular sessions of TF2). Sadly, even with all these game completed, my pile of unfinished and unopened games is actually even bigger. So it's not really much of a victory... but it's a start. Hopefully I can get some more of my backlog out of the way over the summer.

As always, please feel free to leave comments, etc... Until next time!


Suggested Profile Page Features: Just a Few Small Things...

First of all, I beg of you, do NOT allow people to change the look of their profile pages. Consistency is a lovely thing, and I wouldn't want to see this well-designed site degenerate into a myspace-esque clusterf@%k of colors and broken layouts that will force me to gouge my eyes out. Allowing for the addition of a blogmast or something like that is fine, but for the love of god, don't let people at the css!!!

As for new features...

- As others have said, fields for Gamertag / Wii code / Steam ID, etc would be nice.
- A few fields to add personal web links would also be welcome.
- And finally, a redesign of the way reviews and such are displayed is necessary. You should just display the titles of the latest added reviews (with an option to expand each one), rather than include the entire text of each one all on one page. As it is now, page length is a serious issue... and it just doesn't look very good.

Oh, and I also noticed that on the the profile pages, user names seem to automatically be capitalized. But some users (like me) would prefer that their names appear in the exact case in which they were originally entered. I know it's a trivial thing, but why force all names to start with a capital if that's not the way they were entered? Most of the other pages on the site display the names correctly, so this should be a simple fix.

Thanks for listening!