My First Rig

Long time, no see my friends.  It's been a while and I'm so close to my M.D., I can actually taste it.  In addition to school, I've been doing quite a bit of gaming on my newly acquired Wii with my girlfriend, which has been great. We are on the final level of Zack & Wiki and she is loving Warioland: Shake It!  Personally, I sank a lot of time into (and really enjoyed) Halo: Reach, Super Meat Boy, Monday Night Combat, and ' Splosion Man. I also just finished building my first PC. I waited it out for quite a while and got some great deals for a pretty powerful machine.  Here we go:

Total Before Rebates:   $628.89

Total After Rebates: $475.99

I absolutely love the Diablotek case as it has four fans which provide great ventilation with room for two more fans on the side of the chassis. I'm overclocking to 3.9GHz on the stock cooler with absolutely no issues.  I realize I made a gaff with the memory as my board/CPU only support dual-channel, but I will rectify that with another stick of 2GB RAM. Other than that I'm pretty happy with my build. Just need to track down a pesky monitor and I can move the thing over to my desk and away from the TV.
 
Overall I had a lot of fun building this thing and learned way more about PCs than I ever imagined I would.  Can't wait for the next one and can't wait to play me some Starcraft 2 (the first one remains one of my all time favorites) and Cryostasis (this one's for you, Dave!). Peace, duders.
 
`Nick
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Gaming with Your Significant Other

You wouldn't be reading this and I wouldn't be writing this if gaming wasn't an important (or at least enjoyable) part of our lives.  However, I've found that being in a relationship significantly reduces the amount of time I spend playing games; that's not a complaint, just a fact.  I like spending time doing social things and gladly decrease my video game time to do them.  However, there are times when I'd like to game and I often struggle when it comes to sharing this hobby with my girlfriend.

 Sword Play
 Sword Play

My experiences have been limited, but for the most part, I've found that cooperative multiplayer is vastly superior to competitive play.  This is because my girlfriend does not play many video games and gets understandably frustrated when facing someone with much more experience than her.  I've also found that simpler is better, as complicated controller layouts are often a recipe for disaster.  The LEGO series and social games, such as Rock Band, have been a great starting point, but I'd like to find even more enjoyable couples experiences.  
 
Music as an olive branch
Music as an olive branch
So I pose a question to you, my friends:  What games do you like to play with your significant other?
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Fireworks etc

So I'm heading off to Chicago today for a fun-filled 4th of July weekend.  It's also a kind of celebration for finishing my 3rd year of medical school.  I really can't wait.  I'm taking the MegaBus, so I don't have to drive which means lots of studying will get done, and hopefully a little DS playing.  Have a great weekend everyone! 
 
Now Playing: Fable (XBOX), Sands of Destruction (DS)
 
`Nick

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The Good & The Bad: Killzone (PS2)

Killzone (PS2)

 

Pros:

  • Story:  The idea of a civil war emerging on a far-off colony is not new, but the way that it is presented managed to keep my attention for much of the game.  It's interesting to think that humanity could split into two different species and this puts a spin on the in-fighting of normal intraspecies warfare  I was left wondering how the battle would proceed in the sequel and what Helghans had in store for their counterattack.
  • Voice Work:  I think the voice acting is possibly the best I've heard in any PS2 game.  The voices fit the characters and do a great job of making the cutscenes interesting.  There were certainly times where I felt like I was watching a space opera and that is when the game really shines.
  • Reload Animations:  Killzone was way ahead of its time when it comes to reload animations.   The guns are pretty pedestrian, but the animations are fantastic.  I felt some real tension as I watched my character fluidly change magazines in the face of a relentless Helghast onslaught.
 

Cons

  • Technical Graphics:  This game has more graphical hiccups than you can count.  Textures are constantly popping in and you'll swear you're always in a jungle valley with the amount of fog that will obscure your vision.  The game has a terrible time keeping pace when the action gets hectic and it is immensely frustrating in some spots.  It's also painful to try and target a distant enemy who looks more like a shadow than a soldier.  Another bother is that there is not a transition to the zoomed view when looking down your sites; instead the magnification on the screen just changes.  It is an awkward solution at best and is jarring for the first few hours of play 
  • Voice Work:  Don't get me wrong, the dialog in the cutscenes is fantastic, but I was nearly driven mad by the constant screams and yells of the Helghast soldiers and annoying allies.  They are insanely repetitive and made me want to shut the voices off completely.  Unfortunately, you will then miss out on conversations regarding your objectives and some in-game banter that is worth hearing.  I am not exaggerating when I say these are the most annoying sounds I've ever heard in a video game.  You will want to slaughter every enemy and ally soldier with extreme prejudice by the end of the game.
  • Fun Factor:  There is almost no enemy variety in the entire game and the strategies you use to fight your way through the endless masses never really change.  There is actually a good amount of variation in the environments you see, but it doesn't make them feel different.  You're just hiding behind a different colored rock in a different colored haze.  Another big downer was the weapon selection.  You have all of the genre standards, but many of them feel weak , look uninspired, and lack any personality.  And worst of all, the shooting just isn't exciting; the death knell of an FPS.
  • Controls:  The controls feel way too floaty.  You have the option of changing the sensitivity, but I never felt comfortable with the aiming in this game.  I play a lot of FPSes and I can honestly say that this one has a really unique feel that I simply did not like.  I may be somewhat biased because I despise the DualShock for shooters, but I could never overcome the awkwardness of it all.
 
Final Word:  You just can't go home.  Playing a 6-year old shooter is a not the greatest idea to start with and Killzone does little to help itself interesting.  With the other quality games that were emerging at approximately the same time, Killzone never stood a chance.  Interesting only as a teaching point for Guerrilla and Sony and an outside-in look at how a successful franchise can rise from the rubble for the rest of us,  Killzone is certainly better left on the shelf today.

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Masochist?

  • I like order.  Not OCD levels of order, but an appreciable amount nonetheless.
  • I want to play Killzone 2 (PS3).
  • Killzone (PS2) comes before Killzone 2 (PS3).
  • I am now playing Killzone (PS2) and am currently on chapter 5.  It is not a good game.  It is vastly better than the first 30 minutes makes you think it is, but still not a good game.  It's hard to believe Sony was willing to stick with this franchise after being kind of embarrassed by their original "Halo-killer."  But I hear great things about KZ2, so I will push on and fight the good fight.
  • It is now beer-thirty.  Possibly wine-thirty depending on the company.
  • Goodnight.
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Update

  • Six more weeks and I'll be done with my third year of med school.  
  • Step 2 of my boards in July, general surgery rotation in August in Tacoma, WA, back here for September, another general surgery rotation in Honolulu in October, match in December, and M.D. in 12 months.
  • Completed Uncharted 2 (PS3):  Enjoyed the game, but I don't think it was the revelation to gaming that many proclaimed.  I felt like I was constantly waiting for the next story sequence and just trying to get through the gameplay sections.  I actually enjoyed the first one more than the sequel, but there were definitely some great set-piece moments.
  • Completed Halo 3: ODST (360): Really liked the atmosphere when playing as the rookie and the novel storytelling was a nice change of pace for the series.  On the downside, the gameplay felt a little too familiar, even with the changes Bungie instituted.   Not sure if I want to play another Halo game on Legendary difficulty, but I probably will give in when Reach comes out.
  • Completed Battlefield: Bad Company (360): The single player experience is surprisingly solid and I love the way the game lets you blow up nearly every structure to get at the baddies.   The story doesn’t do a whole lot, but the characters and dialogue are fantastic and kept me entertained throughout.   The repetitive scenery gets old pretty quickly, but the weapons and vehicles are a lot of fun.   The multiplayer is also fantastic.   Great game.
  • Goodbye.
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Movies, School, and a Blog-It Too

Good evening, my friends.  After a long hiatus, I have decided to return to the world of video blogging.  I apologize for the complete lack of energy in this video, but I've been waking up at 4 in the morning to go into work and sleep has been a rare commodity.  As always, questions are welcome and I'll try to answer them in my next video.
 

     
On a non-gaming note, I've made a resolution to get through all of the movies on my shelves that I've never seen (And yes, I know it's ridiculous that I own movies I've never seen).  As such, I've taken this weekend as a relaxation weekend and decided to stay in, study, and watch movies.  Last night I popped in The Bourne Supremacy (HD-DVD) and thoroughly enjoyed it.  In fact, I liked it quite a bit more than the first one.  Sure it was completely preposterous, but it was a blast to watch Jason Bourne handle his inept opponents.  I'm excited for the amazingly well-reviewed The Bourne Ultimatum on Sunday to finish off my lazy weekend.
 
Tonight I'm actually having some friends over to watch the season 5 finale of Lost in anticipation for next week's big premiere.  Despite being a big fan of the show, I made it this far without seeing it or having it (completely) spoiled for me, so I'm definitely stoked.  I've heard very good things and might just end up a little giddy by the time it's all said and done.  After that, maybe we'll throw in some Rock Band and beer to finish things off.  I've still got a few Leinenkugel's sitting in my fridge and that's about all I could hope for on a Saturday night.  Peace.

`Nick
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The 2009 Endies: Game of the Year

 
Today is the day that the inaugural Endies come to an end.  I thought long and hard about what my game of the year would be and came up with a limited list.  I didn't play a lot of games, but those I did were mostly fantastic, making this a very difficult decision.  In the end I knuckled up and made my surprising pick.  Read on to find out.
 

 

Game of the Year


 
No Caption Provided
 
  
 
Plants Vs Zombies (PC)
 
 
 
 
That's right, the smash hit from PopCap is the single game I enjoyed more than any other in 2009.  Coming out of nowhere, this game set off quite a rumble in the video game community.  The publishers tried to pass it off as a casual tower defense game, but gamers flocked to its hidden depth, addictive gameplay, and charming art style.  Even in a time when zombie games were dropping left and right, PvZ found a way to stand out and overshadow it's decaying brethren.
 
The single biggest reason for Plants vs Zombies shocking success is its excellent pacing.  The initial enemies are weak, early levels uncomplicated, and your choices for defense limited; this allows the player to adapt to each gameplay variable independently.  Moving through the story mode, new plants are unlocked with nearly every victory.  By the time tougher enemies come along, the player has a thorough understanding of the basics.  Even better, the rewards are doled out so perfectly, that you'll always want to play one more level.  Saving money for new seed packets and add-ons is deceptively fun and exceedingly pleasing.  Even better, the changing environments will throw a wrench in your best laid plans and force you to experiment with all of your defensive and offensive options, a rare feat in games today.   I haven't played a game that was this well-paced in years.   By the time you've finished up the story mode, you'll have plenty of challenge and puzzle levels to play through, including one that has you commanding the insatiable zombies.  With so much to do, this game is also probably the single best value of the year.
 
While I can't overemphasize how well Plants vs Zombies nails its gameplay, it would be a crime to forget the audio and visual components.  You've never seen zombies so cute and so deliberate; the variety of enemies is really quite fantastic.  Many of them move at a snail's place, but you'll probably be surprised when a pole vaulter jumps over your front lines or a miner digs his way behind you.  The plants are equally charming, making you wince every time one of your defenders takes a dirt nap.  The backgrounds aren't especially interesting, but they provide the perfect atmosphere for some undead action.  And lastly, the sound design is excellent.  Catchy tunes will have you humming along or going crazy as the hours fly by.  The sound effects are just as good, with Zombies moaning and groaning, calling out for the delicious brains that they yearn, pressing on against the effortless pop of pea plants and bouncing springs of the watermelon launchers.
 
Maybe I've gone on too long and exposed myself as a casual gamer, or maybe Plants vs Zombies really is the best game of the year.  You may not agree with me, but if you play this game, you'll have a great time trying to refute my argument.
 

Runners-Up:
Street Fighter IV (360)
Halo Wars (360)
Chrono Trigger (DS)
 

 

Closing Ceremonies

 
I hope you enjoyed reading my end of the year awards and I'd love to hear what you think.  Drop me a comment letting me know about any of your awards, and especially your GOTY.   See you in 2011.
 
`Nick
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The 2009 Endies: Day 3

 

As we approach the halfway point of January and the video game barrage of 2010 begins, the inaugural Endies are winding down.  We've had some great times, a couple people got punched in the face, and you've seen that I play almost exclusively old games.  But fear not, my GOTY will come to light in the next and final entry.  Until then, enjoy one final ancillary award that no one really cares about.
 

The Phantom Menace Award


This award goes to the game that made me giddy with anticipation, only to dash my hopes like so many Jar-Jar Binks.  To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Have had a substantial amount of prerelease hype;  2. Utterly fail in reaching my expectations; and 3. Have some sort of positive quality.


And the Endy goes to...  
 

Scribblenauts
Scribblenauts


 
 
Scribblenauts (DS)
 
 
 
 
 
Ah, Scribblenauts.  You had such potential.  In fact, you still have so much potential.  But you squander it.  Over the past couple of years, it seemed that this game got better with every showing and the press went along for the ride.  I waited patiently and as the game neared release, I imagined all of the ways I'd outsmart the level designers.  But then something strange happened: the reviews started coming out.  Some were bad, some were very good, but there were too many mediocre scores to simply ignore. them all  I thought to myself, "Surely they are being too harsh.  They've forgotten the joy of creativity, berating the originality they so often call for."  But they were right. 
 
It's hard to say what Scribblenauts' biggest problem is simply because the controls and physics are so equally terrible.  The inability to move Maxwell with the D-pad is both frustrating and mind boggling.  Why not allow the player the option?  Why force such an unwieldy control scheme?  Why does he run with such gusto into assorted pits, sharp objects, and menacing creatures?  Did any of the developers even play the game?   
 
And who decided a single rope should be able to pull a boulder off of a ledge with just its own weight?  Why are the air vents so strong that they are able to lift steel girders and entire buildings?  Again, did anyone actually play this game?  I don't completely blame the developers for the fact that I mostly used a select few objects to make my way through 200+ levels.  Some of that falls on me and my lack of imagination, but when so many items behave wildly different from what is expected, it makes sense to stick with athe dozen that are (relatively) predictable.  It really seems that the developers spent too much of their time building a rich dictionary.  If they had worked more on the gameplay, one can't help but think of what could've been accomplished.  Here's hoping Scribblenauts 2 learns frome its forebear's mistakes.
 

Runner-Up: Scribblenauts (DS)

So disappointing that it also takes the runner-up spot. Seriously, this game is disappointing.
  

 
Closing Ceremony - Day 3

And so we come to the end of a very short day 3. All that remains is the ultimate prize, the grandaddy of them all, the big kahuna, the lobster stuffed with steak sandwich, my GOTY.  See you then.

`Nick


 
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The 2009 Endies: Day 2

Good evening boys and girls and welcome back to my personal End o' the Year Awards, or as I call 'em, The Endies!  I apologize for going AWOL yesterday, but I was stuck at the hospital for 13+ hours and didn't have the time or energy to write after getting home.  So without further ado, here are the winners for day 2.

 

Music to My Ears Award

This award goes to the game that kept me on the edge of my seat, hands clenched in excitement to hear the next aural masterpiece.  Whether it soothed my soul or lit a fire under my ass, this game had some fantastic tunes.  To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Have left me humming or whistling its music long after storing the controller safely in the overhead compartment, and 2. Make me seriously consider getting a hold of the soundtrack

 
And the Endy goes to...

 

No Caption Provided


 

Halo 3: ODST (360)


 
 
 

When you strip it down to the core, ODST is just more of the same.  For some people that's a good thing, while to others it's simply maddening.  However, even those who've had enough Halo to last a lifetime cannot deny the beauty of the ODST score, written by Martin O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori.  It sets the mood so beautifully and reinforces the loneliness, and even despair, that you experience as the wandering Rookie.  The Halo series has always had music that resonates with the player, but this is taken to a new level in ODST.  The music comes and goes naturally, dragging you into darkness and forcing you into the light as the rain pours down on you.  The humanity of being trapped in a world both human and alien, machine and organic, is made beautiful.  To be truly immersed in a game, there must be a palpable atmosphere of tension, some chord that connects the real and the unreal, and this is where ODST and its impressive soundtrack succeed.
 

Runner-Up: Scribblenauts (DS) 

Scribblenauts has the kind of music that will have you tapping your feet in rhythm without even knowing it.  The soundtrack is retro, it's upbeat, and it's about as cheery as you'd expect from a game that looks like a cartoon come to life.  And while it's unlikely that you'd let this music loop in the background as you do your homework or browse the internet, one can't help but smile as the bleeps and bloops make their way through those tinny little speakers.  It also gets points as the sheer positivity of joyful tunes provide a stark contrast to broken gameplay that could make Mother Theresa chuck a DS.
 
 

Game the Year of a Previous Year Award

This award goes to the best game that I just now played through, despite it being available for quite some time.  To qualify for this award, a game must: 1. Have been available for more than one year; 2. Make me say "Wow, they should make a sequel!" 3. Aged better than a fine wine.
 

And the Endy goes to...


No Caption Provided

 
 
 

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune


 
 

Ever since it was first released, I desperately wanted to delve into Nathan Drake's Tomb Raider-inspired acrobatic adventures.  But I didn't.  Time went by and I occasionally considered picking it up, but I was never truly motivated.  Then something amazing happened: Uncharted 2 was released to unbelievably positive reviews.  The OCD in me said I needed to pick up Drake's Fortune and give it a whirl so I could get to the second game.  So I took the opportunity presented to me on Christmas break and discovered the truth surrounding Francis Drake's last days.
 
The game makes a fantastic first impression and four things jumped out at me in the opening moments: beautiful graphics, cinematic style, epic score, and fluid animation.  The game is a technical masterpiece, even two years after its initial release.  Sure there are a few games on the market now that look better (Uncharted 2 and Gears of War 2 for example), but the lush jungles and intricately detailed temples are still a sight to behold.  The whole package can't quite live up to the promise of those first 15 minutes and the game drags in the industrial pits of the final few areas, but there is an overwhelmingly positive feel to it all.  The climbing action and puzzle solving are fun little diversions, even if they don't add any real depth to the game.  Hands-down, the worst parts of the game are the shooting/cover mechanics and the nearly endless stream of cannon fodder enemies that Drake must dispose of.  Whenever I was gunning down the baddies, I always felt like I was just pushing through the boring gunplay to get to the next story event.  Still, even with its problems, the Uncharted experience is top notch.  The game will surely go down as a classic of this generation and should be experienced by all gamers looking to be reminded why they fell in love with video games. 
 

Runner-Up: Braid (XBLA) 

The runner-up is the amazing, time-bending puzzle game, Braid.  Everything about Braid just works.  It's all logical, it all makes sense, it can be reasoned out... but it can't.  The controls are simple and exactly what they should be, but the ways in which the player can manipulate the environment are often mind boggling.  There are no real hints, instead each world's unique take on time is briefly presented at the outset and the player is left to his/her own device.  Add in the amazing art style and the winding music that betrays the depth hidden beneath the surface of this gem and it's nearly irresistible.  
 
While solving all the puzzles and taking on the challenge mode are immensely satisfying (maybe more so than any game I've ever played), it is uncovering the true story of Tim that is at the heart of this masterpiece.  He is searching for a love that is constantly eluding him despite being within an arm's length.  This love will destroy Tim if he cannot reach it, but it could devastate his entire world if he does.  The seemingly cliched story of human desire that is initially presented is a front.  It goes so much deeper than the simple text and run-of-the-mill paintings suggest.  Do yourself a favor and play the game, think about the story, and read up on what is really going on.  You may find yourself surprised.


Closing Ceremony - Day 2

And so we come to the end of day 2.  We laughed, we learned, and we encountered a much more serious tone than day 1, but we're stronger for it.  The Endies will be wrapping up soon with an honest-to-goodness game of the year, so be sure to check back at least 12 times an hour.  Until then.

`Nick

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