Stop Trying To Bring My Childhood Back

I was a kid once. Old people will tell me I’m still a kid, and they’re probably right. Here’s the rub: I’m a 90s kid.


What does that really mean? Basically nothing. It means that I’ve seen a lot of Dexter’s Laboratory, and that puts me in one of the worst internet clubs of the modern era. It is my peers and I that those lists of “27 AMAZING YUM-YUM FOODSTUFFS FROM THE 90s THAT ARE GONE FOREVER” are created for. Seek out any of those lists and marvel at the wonder Pepsi Blue, 3-D Doritos, and Oreo O’s. Crispy M&M’s, Surge, or French Toast Crunch are on all of those lists. Those last three are all “back”, because “you asked for it!”. I did ask for those things. In recent light, I was wrong.

I don’t want my childhood back. The 90s were a nightmare time when Bart Simpson would convince me every half hour that I liked Butterfingers BBs, and I didn't. I would find that out about every week.

The “petitions” and Facebook groups continue to roll in even now. Crispy M&Ms were my white whale. I had championed them for years, because they were unquestionably the best M&M! Here’s yet-another rub: Naw! They heartbreakingly are not the best. French Toast Crunch kind of sucks. Surge is indistinguishable from Vault (also discontinued).

Generally, adults remember childhood fondly. It’s a magic time in which little responsibility applies. Amenity, gifts, food--all simply there (if one is so fortunate). Every adult dreams of halcyon days as careless children. Here’s another rub in case you were starting to perk up: it’s over.

I’m an adult. I'm a chubby dad, so in that way I feel like I'm a major league adult. I’ll never be a kid ever again and that’s a melancholy sentiment at a glance. Those soft-focus childhood dreams will always be as distant as they seem and no amount of “back by popular demand” garbage will ever bring me back there. I actually think I miss Pepsi Blue, but it can’t take me back home again. If I wasn’t clear before, this is the secret heart of all of these discontinued snacks reappearing: Some people think that watching old episodes of Rugrats will transport them to a simpler time like a Pepperidge Farm ad. That's crazy.

Eight-year-olds have shitty taste by and large. They don’t know what’s good or what’s good for them. When I was eight I substituted orange juice in for milk in a bowl of Count Chocula and thought I was onto something because I didn’t know shit.

Almost nothing goes out of style undeservingly. That applies to a lot more than discontinued candy and pop, but that’s for another time. To date, every thing that has “came back” has just led me into the same conclusion where I say “Oh, that’s right! This is actually not good!”

It doesn’t diminish the memory. No matter how disappointed I am with what Crispy M&Ms actually are, I’ll still associate them with renting Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo games with my grandpa at Bob's Market. Chasing that memory is futile, however. The world is sweet to kids because they don’t know any better. The world had all of it’s dark corners and bullshit when I was born, I just didn’t know that. Not to be that dramatic--no discontinued M&M was shielding me from the harsh injustice of the world, but now, given the things I thought had defined my childhood, I’m just a little less fond of said memory. I just want to bask in the thought, instead of trying to resurrect them with some old-ass chocolate. That's so branded. My memories are deeper than brands (I hope), and I'm sure that Mars and General Mills are psyched that people are banging on their e-doors yelling about Ecto-Cooler. I guess I want that stuff to stay in the past, because I’m definitely done wasting my personal time wishing that some old supermarket bullshit would be purchasable once more. I would like to think I have more going on than that.

Just like they said about my Gen-Xer parents, I am a man child. I’m working on it. I’m self-aware enough to note that yes, I am in fact writing about candy on a video game website, but…god damn it. I’m trying to be an adult. I spent the first seventeen years of my life (as most kids do) wishing I was an adult, and now, a 20-year-old “grown up”, I have made it. I’m a dad. If I ever was cool, I’m definitely not now. Woodworking greatly interests me.

I dip into the well of childhood way too much as it is with movies and TV, and I think about what childhood is all the time. It’s why several of my written pieces are about how video games have affected me growing up. I want to figure out why I am myself.

That stuff is worth exploring. It's worth diving into childhood at any level for any reason. It's worth making sense of ones self. I'm always trying to better understand who I am, but who I am has nothing to do with a bunch of old bullshit. I'm done interacting with brands because that seems slimy. I'm not interested in pretending that Funcoland defined my childhood. I want to move forward into the future, and I don't need Crispy M&Ms to keep me locked in a quest to find my childhood sitting in the checkout lane.

Bring back the P’Zone.


The Rebirth of Local Multiplayer

My brother, Marshall, is five years my junior. I’ve shot my brother more times than anybody else in my life. I’ve shot him in the feet, in the hands, in the head. Probably a lot of times in the head. All in the digital realm, of course–except for the time I had a translucent plastic airsoft gun and shot him in the back of the thigh once by accident. We were both little kids still, but my brother was the much littler kid and my mom got really pissed. She broke a wooden yardstick over my ass because of it. It was really funny.

I’ve been in the middle of a video game life-crisis, because I can’t decide the era of system that I really grew up alongside. I started playing games very early in life and the first games I remember playing are Indiana Jones Greatest Adventures, Super Return of the Jedi, Super Mario World, and Unicracers. I feel cool having cut my teeth on those consoles in an era where seasoned gamers routinely gawk at those videos where teens play Mega Man and say silly things because they’re on camera. “You have to play with your hands? That’s like a babies toy!”

Crazy to think that kids will look like this in mere months.
Crazy to think that kids will look like this in mere months.

I remember going to my uncle’s loft apartment and playing Tekken with him and my dad on PS1, and thinking that was incredible. The jury is in by the way, and Tekken totally holds up still. I remember my dad coming home from basic training, and my mom had bought Crash Bash and a four-controller adapter as a sort of homecoming gift for all of us to play.

I’ve never owned a Nintendo 64, so I sort of missed the boat on Goldeneye 007. On top of that, my brother wasn’t born until the Millennium, so most of the games we played together were PS2 titles. Most notably are probably 007 Nightfire and its slightly younger, better-playing counterpart, Agent Under Fire. It’s been a long time since I’ve played that game, but it had a mode that my brother and I called “VIP”. The map was a train station, and a brown-suited NPC with a silver suitcase would spawn and mill around for a moment waiting for his train to arrive. One player (or one team) was tasked to kill the VIP, while the other was tasked to protect.

We would give that Sam Bernstein lookalike the motherfucking business. Obviously being a half-decade older than my brother, I’m not sure VIP ever boarded the train on my brothers watch. Even when it was my turn, I would wait until the doors opened and the VIP began his walk animation, and I would shoot that fool in the back of the head.

It was only around the last console generation that connecting your home console to the internet became a necessity, but it was in the PS2 era that I first remember being hit by games that only supported online multiplayer. For example, I loved SOCOM: US Navy SEALs and I remember staring at the back of the box seeing the windows that said “1 Player”, “Online: Ethernet Broadband Required”, and “Network Adapter 2-32 Players”. I was completely baffled, just thinking “What? This doesn’t make any sense, it must have (local) multiplayer”. But it didn’t.

In recent years, couch co-op and multiplayer might have existed, but they were certainly relegated to the background. Splitscreen shooters that had sort of made up the genre have been basically rendered obsolete by the simply better experience that an online match provides. Fighting games have been up and down; they’ll probably never be “what they were” ever again even though we are still somewhat in the wake of the fighting game renaissance that was kickstarted by the release of Street Fighter IV.

A lot of local multiplayer titles found their way to us in 2014, and it was glorious! Gang Beasts, Towerfall Ascension, Nidhogg, Jackbox Party Pack, Mount Your Friends, Sportsfriends, Super Smash Bros. There are probably a bunch of other ones that I’m not cool enough to know about.

Video games have had multiplayer since the very beginning, but in the past decade games have drifted further and further away from the shoulder-to-shoulder shouting chaos that used to happen in our bedrooms and living rooms. We don’t need to invite people over to play multiplayer games anymore, but that fact has ironically breathed tons of life into the newly-minted genre of local multiplayer/couch co-op.

The games that are part of this new scene are intoxicating. I’ve spent so much time sitting in the dark with headphones on, shooting strangers, it’s an incredible feeling to play with friends and family. Experiences that feel so fresh and simple, that I can invite anyone to play with me. I regularly play Fibbage and Drawful with my fiancee, her parents, and her little sister. I managed to get my fiancee and her sister really into Towerfall as well, and it was a great feeling. Games like that provide a pick-up and play sensibility that has long since been absent from games.

I’m not sure if 2015 will produce the sheer number of couch co-op bangers that 2014 did, but even it doesn’t, I don’t think it means that those games peaked in 2014. Moreso, I think a new genre was created, and I’m really excited to be seeing games in the same vein for years to come.

It's taken me quite a while to write this year for some reason, but while I still plan to post here for a little while, I have a video game blog of my own. Check me out sometime!


The Elders of Gaming Are Getting Older

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Several weeks ago, the world lost Ralph Baer, at the age of 92. He was the father of video games as we know them. Ralph was something of an anomaly. At the age of 29, Ralph first began to tinker with the idea that would become the video game while working for Loral Electronics Corporation in 1951. Unfortunately, Loral purportedly wanted nothing to do with this at the time.

When we think of inventors, artists, musicians, we don't tend to think of elderly people. This idea isn't mutually exclusive. Thomas Edison managed to revolutionize (and helped create) the motion picture in his 40s. Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile and the labor force while in his 50s. Those are just two blips. There are many more. However, the world has been, is, and will continue to be shaped by young people, and these handsome, young energetic people are the stories that people like to tell. Things like Steve Jobs and the Woz founding Apple Computers in a garage (which was recently revealed to be only a half-truth but nonetheless). We think of people who belong to the 27 Club. We think of dot com millionaires, people like Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey.

It isn't really fair to call Ralph Baer a late bloomer. Rather, he was a lifelong tinkerer who held onto the rough sketch of video games until he managed to develop "The Brown Box" in 1967, the device that would go onto become the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. Ralph Baer was 45 when he was developing the Brown Box. He was 50 when it came to fruition.

Video games do not have many Ralphs. He's special that way. His father of gaming status is indeed a cold, hard fact. But even at the birth of the Odyssey, he is still visually the father of gaming. He was an old man in 1972.

Three months after the release of the Magnavox Odyssey, Nolan Bushnell and his company Atari Inc. would release Pong into the world. Nolan Bushnell was 29, just like Ralph Baer was when he was thinking big at Loral so many years before. In so few words, Nolan Bushnell is often "the other guy" when people talk about the fathers of video gaming. He is the other one.

Nolan Bushnell will be 72 next month. The average age of the American male is about 76 years of age.


I'm not the boogeyman, nor the Grim Reaper. I'm not here to scare anybody. In fact, I'm not even here necessarily to talk about or to Nolan, or anybody else. Will Nolan Bushnell die at 76? I don't know. That's terrible to think about. He could have died 75 years ago. He could just as easily live to be 110. The point is, the video game is still incredibly new. It's a new concept, a new idea, and it has been continually pushed by new people--generally young people.

Home computing, software, and video games at large are unique in that most of its earliest pioneers are still living. The historical legends and giants of this industry are out and about. Shigeru Miyamoto is probably thinking about dinner. Bushnell will probably wake up in a few hours and eat breakfast. They're all still eating, breathing, walking among us.

Most of the pioneers and progenitors of rock and roll are dead. All of films earliest pioneers are dead, nearly all of its earliest stars are dead.

Video games are still new, and when Ralph Baer died, whom at 92 was sort of an outlier in the community, it was a massive and maybe even shocking loss to this industry. It was such a story because in a lot of ways he was the first to go.

Myriads of beloved artists across all mediums have lived their entire lives out only to receive critical acclaim and recognition posthumously. I would be hard pressed to call someone like Miyamoto or Kojima unrecognized, because that isn't the truth. But it's worth thinking about the people who make the games we love, who have shaped the medium we have all devoted large parts of our lives to, and thanking them. It's worth taking time out of our brand new year to think about the artists and geniuses who have shaped this incredible hobby we all love so much. We have the rare opportunity to say thank you. We should all probably take advantage of it.

(via my new, personal video games blog. Thank you.)

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I Was a Teenage Guitar Hero

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I could use some new rhythm games.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In stores now.


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

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

Not a handsome mod, but certainly an ambitious mod.
Not a handsome mod, but certainly an ambitious mod.

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

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

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

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

It's a really fucking scary Voltron at that.
It's a really fucking scary Voltron at that.

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

Did everybody already forget about this game?
Did everybody already forget about this game?

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

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

To break it down,

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

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

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

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


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

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

This is the best picture I could find.
This is the best picture I could find.

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

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


My (Extra) Short Time With the Evolve Big Alpha

Little Big Alpha

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

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The Basics

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Man/Woman/Aliens best friend.
A Man/Woman/Aliens best friend.

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

Class of Characters

Maggie the Trapper

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

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

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

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

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

Hank the Support

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

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

Markov the Assault

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

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

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

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

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

Goliath, and Val the Medic

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

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She comes equipped with:

  • Armor-Piercing Sniper Rifle
  • Tranquilizer Rifle (temp. slows monster and temp. tags monster on map)
  • Medgun, which both heals players and revives them (although all players, and Daisy, can revive)
  • Healing Burst, which gives all surrounding hunters a boost of health.
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Goliath really looks great. Rampaging around the map, foliage and tree branches snap off and fall to the ground. Even more impressive is how natural the monster looks when climbing up giant rock walls or leaping across the map. With a monster that big, I expected it to lumber and clip through everything, but it looked like it was truly traversing the environment. This was maybe the thing I was impressed with the most playing the Big Alpha, and I'm excited to see how the other monsters look. Goliath has:

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

Playing the Game

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

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

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

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

I'm excited to see what Evolve is.


We Need To Talk About Kiefer

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Ground Zeroes is the only story mission

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

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

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

3. This was a prologue.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Now, give me The Phantom Pain already!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Drought Is Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlike my friends, who were incinerated.
Unlike my friends, who were incinerated.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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