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Friday, 08 June 2012 12:42

Stuck on Repeat

Connecting the cubicle farm with gold farming

I'd like to warn you in advance: This one is going to be rife with my patented brand of pseudo-psychological gibberish. Please brace your BS meters in advance.

Today, I'd like to discuss the impulse that drives us to grind in video games. Now, I'm not talking about that nasty little dance move that creep from the local club likes to pull off when he's had one too many Jell-O shots. For the layperson, grinding is any activity in games that requires an incredible amount of repetitive action spread over a long period of time in exchange for experience, skill levels or items.

Long considered a lost art, grinding was not only expected in the early days of RPGs, it was a downright necessity to lengthen games that otherwise would be fairly short. Hundreds of hours would need to be spent running back and forth in fields, forests and dungeons, enticing random monsters to throw themselves on your character's swords in order to gain level after yet another level. As we progressed in terms of technology and gameplay mechanics, we never really abandoned grinding, we just refined it. Random encounters in 'Dragon Warrior' became strategic material gathering in 'Mass Effect 2.' Experience was added to shooters and gave new life to the genre, possibly most prolifically with 'Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.' MMOs introduced epic quest chains to obtain the most powerful weapons and armor in the game, and some, such as 'EVE Online,' actually require days and sometimes weeks to train certain skills.

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There are giant words all over the screen during every cutscene. In the first hour some rich guy makes a joke about trickle down economics; the screen gets split in half, one piece gets slid over, frozen and black-and-whited, and 'TRICKLE DOWN ECONOMICS' pops up in it while the action continues in the other half. Guy Ritchie is adapting a book all over my screen, and I don't really get it. I guess the punchline is that it's kind of refreshing to see giant words after playing so many games that are obsessed with putting giant numbers all over my TV!

I can think of one other game where giant words all over the screen was a selling point, and it's whatever Splinter Cell game that was. I played that Splinter Cell game splitscreen, sitting on my friend's futon in his cheap apartment and getting sweaty. Not because of the game; it was summer and all he had was one of those great plastic window fans. Well, whatever. My hands never sweat when I'm playing videogames, anyway. Ever. That's a real genetic advantage, right there. I guess that Splinter Cell game was pretty fun. The big words were stupid.

Anyway: I like my big-budget action-movie videogames to be mechanically straightforward and aesthetically confident. Ideally, their stories are dirty and hopeless. 'Max Payne 3' is all the things that I like, so I guess I will go ahead and like it.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 15:33

'Minecraft:' A gay old time

Is there any reason for me to write this? I don't know what the hell I'm going to say about 'Minecraft' today, four years (if not more!) after its original release, that a hundred people haven't already said.

Why did they call it a beta for so long? It was never a beta. I know, I wasn't there. But I saw screenshots, and they were white-hot. The whole thing was white-hot from day one. I was seeing them on my parents' computer, though, which wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to try to play 'Minecraft' on. Now, I am rich; now, I am typing on a computer of my very own; now, I am playing the 'Minecraft' beta on my Xbox 360.

It's great. It really is. What a great game. If you're any given person, there's a pretty good chance that I hate literally every single thing that you like, but man, 'Minecraft' is a hell of a thing. How many thousands of words are there that say this? Probably thousands of thousands of them! It makes sense; there's nothing else to say. Let's say something ridiculous, then:

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012 15:23

Good News, Everybody!

Gaming's Top (And Not) Website

It's a wide, wide interwebs of gaming-related knowledge and know-how. I'm here this week to toss you in a few directions I feel are proper bases of video game news and pertinent discussion, while also warning you away from a couple badniks. Without further ado:

Joystiq
joystiq.com

For years, Joystiq has been a proper bastion for consistent news. The writers are professional yet creative and obviously passionate about their subject matter. A few feature articles break up the news stories nicely, and their layout leaves nothing to be desired. Joystiq also has a couple of decent sister sites in Massively (for MMO affectionatos) and WoW Insider (for fans of Blizzard's online behemoth World of Warcraft).

Aaron's Verdict: Four waffles out of five.

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Thursday, 24 May 2012 12:58

Social Networking's Quiet Curse

Quietly cursing at social networking

In the dark, quiet days of the beginning of the 21st century, there were many places to express yourself on the interwebs. These ancient relics, some still in view today, were known as 'blogs.' These grammatical punching bags offered a way relieve the stress from the everyday grind. Hidden behind anonymity, we could unleash a torrent of vitriol and suppressed thoughts, relieving stress and making our opinion known to all. Problem is, you needed the exact address to get to these blogs, making it a little harder for prying eyes to find.

Enter Myspace.

While not the first social networking site to come along, it was the first one to reach mythic proportions of popularity. MySpace offered a way to connect you with all of your friends by name, so you suddenly had an audience with which to share the thoughts you generally hid throughout the day. Problem is, now people knew exactly what you thought of them after you'd been far too nice to them. Your anonymity couldn't save you from being labeled a hypocrite.

Then we all found Facebook.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012 17:56

Awesomenauts' is better than its name

I don't know what to tell you, but I only ever played as the little lizard guy. He's the ninja character. You can run around, drop a decoy of yourself as you turn invisible, and then try to get the jump on people with your double-damage reveal attack. It's pretty fun. I guess this game is probably a better multiplayer 'Castlevania' than that multiplayer 'Castlevania' game was. 

Not that it's anything like that, really. In fact it fits into an even more recognizable mold: The one that Team Fortress stuck into our lives. Or to be even more exact (and get even more 'Battlefield'-related hatemail): the one that 'Monday Night Combat' fits into.

You pick one of five (or seven?) characters and get dumped with your two teammates on either the blue side of the map or the red side. You have to tear through a series of turret-walls to get to the other team's core while they try to tear through yours. Only, hey, fist-pump: It's in 2D. Most of the twoish maps are sort of double-tiered; they look like 'Mario Bros.' arcade levels that have been stretched out on both sides. You know the ones, with the pipes in the corners and the POW block in the middle.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012 17:45

The Dark Door

A record of discovering Minecraft hell

Jan. 12, 2012: It's impressive, and that's about all we know at this point. About 10 feet tall, five feet wide, and completely immobile. It's like a brand-new Stonehenge, except in this desolate location, it doesn't seem like this was used as a worship location. Maybe a guru-esque retreat? Don't know at this point, but this is definitely going to be our home until we do figure it out.

Feb. 15, 2012: Ate our last steak today. Looks like apples are on the menu for the long-foreseeable future. I'd strangle an Enderman for a decent porkchop. Still no noticeable progress on the 'portal,' as we've taken to calling it. It's just a hollow doorway to nowhere. Part of me is wishing I was still punching trees at my dad's business back home, but no, sir, I had to be adventurous. Some adventure. I'll go down in history as the man that led an expedition to stare at a door.Feb. 18, 2012: Sometimes luck is a funny mistress. After all of my other expenses, I only had enough to hire a couple of second-rate assistants. First one I found was Cary, a bright young fella, but has tendency to run off on his own, claiming to have an incredible ideas to support his wanderlust. Just the other day, we had to save him after he wandered into a desert. Found him clutching a cactus like a baby, saying it was 'the beginning of a beautiful deathtrap.'And then there's Weeks.I found Weeks in the streets of Spawncity, holding a sign saying 'lost pie, will work for cake.' Being incredibly low on cash, I asked him how he felt about going on an adventure. He jumped up, threw his arms around me, and whispered very sweetly in my ear that I was his favorite 'broomhilda.' Strong as a bloody ox, though. I think it's the Creator's way of evening things out.

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When I stare the universe in the eye, fighting games are probably the only competitive videogames worth playing. The fighting game takes the mechanics and ideas of all of competitive videogame design, and it winds them up so tightly that it becomes some kind of proto-genre. We can talk about 'Counter-Strike,' 'Mario Kart,' 'Madden,' 'Starcraft,' 'Gears of War,' or 'Call of Duty;' if any of these games are any good it's because they manage to feel exactly like 'Street Fighter II,' just for the split-seconds between feeling like everything else.

Obviously you have those exercises in point-missing, fighting games that get caught up in unlockable characters, arcane button combinations and licensing soups ('The Coca-Cola Problem;' we meet again!). But, hey, they're all missing the point, anyway. Never mind them! They're the bad ones.

'Skullgirls,' though, is pretty good. As usual I can't take the hundred hours it would take me to get really good at it, but at least this time I'd kind of like to. Those split-seconds between deciding whether to attack high, attack low, jump or grab are as juicy as ever, and 'Skullgirls' seems to hang right at some perfect degree of complexity; the characters all feel different, they all match up interestingly and for that matter there are only eight of them. Yes: Restricting your fighting game to eight characters is the respectable move today.

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Wednesday, 09 May 2012 14:00

The Trouble with Remakes

Labor of love, or quick cash-in? 

I'm sorry, but there's no way I can start this article while this 'Doctor Who' theme is playing. You're just going to have to wait.

Ah, such amazing orchestral work. Thank you for your patience. We now return to your regularly-scheduled article, sans sonic screwdriver-based interruptions:

One of the beautiful things about technology progressing is that we can see exactly where we came from - how ugly, misshapen and unpolished we were. A problem arises when we still like the stuff we've left behind, mostly because we're familiar with its trappings and pitfalls, and we adore it despite its silly shag carpeting. Some will simply refuse to use anything else, if just out of fear of using something frighteningly new. We cling to each concept that we create as long as possible before making the awkward last-minute leap into the arms of the next technological advance, hoping and praying we have the wherewithal to adjust to this terrifying turn of events.

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Thursday, 03 May 2012 09:08

Won't Get Fooled Again

How I sucked the fun out of rhythm games

I remember the day I met my future boss.

Well, not met. I didn't actually meet him that day. But I did watch him dance.

I was at the Bangor Mall, tagging along with my sister on one of our myriad trips to Obnoxious Game Place to search the shelves for rare PS1 RPGs. After rummaging about the cases and making a purchase or two, we wandered in the general direction of the then-bustling arcade. Just after we turned the corner, I squinted in curiosity at the crowd that gathered around the sound of metallic stomps. I wondered what could have brought all of these people to the nerdiest corner of the mall, heads bobbing to a 90s Euro-club beat.

On this day, I discovered rhythm gaming through a little title known as 'Dance Dance Revolution.'

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