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    • Video Game Review: American McGee’s Alice
      After the recent release of “Alice: Madness Returns,” I  picked up a copy. With each copy, console gamers also got a free download of  the original “American McGee’s Alice.” Before playing the new Alice, I had to  go back and beat the original again. While many things were just as I had  remembered, I’m glad […]
    • Video Game Rant: Donkey Kong Country Returns
      One of my favorite games of all time is Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2. When I heard they were making a new one, I was super excited, but also somewhat skeptical. So a few months ago, I picked up a copy of Donkey Kong Country Returns to try out the new game. My fiancee also joined […]
    • Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Movie Review
       (Warning: some spoilers) When they decided to turn this Canadian comic into a movie, I’m not sure they were aware of what a cult smash hit this would be. Topping the charts for Blu-rays on the first day it was released on home video, it’s also been on several top ten lists. It appeals to […]
    • Good Kitty: WoW Feral Cat DPS Rotation
      ***Note: this information is from before Cataclysm. There have been major changes to the class. See my sources below for more updated information.*** When I rolled Druid on the first character I legitimately got to level 80, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I leveled Feral Cat, and when I hit 80, I realized […]
    • Finding a Job
      This is a digression from my usual topics, but I wanted to share some of my strategies with other unemployed or soon to be unemployed people out there. My job search has been the focus of my free time lately, so I figured it would be the perfect topic for my next post. 1)      Assess […]
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Video Game Review: American McGee’s Alice


After the recent release of “Alice: Madness Returns,” I  picked up a copy. With each copy, console gamers also got a free download of  the original “American McGee’s Alice.” Before playing the new Alice, I had to  go back and beat the original again. While many things were just as I had  remembered, I’m glad I played through it again. The story, characters, and  graphics for the most part have aged well for a ten year old game, and as for  the rest, I’m hoping that the kinks in gameplay will be worked out in the  sequel.

“Alice” starts off with quite a dramatic cutscene explaining the basic plot to the story. It is definitely not Lewis Carroll’s canon material. Yet it does give the player a chance to explore a much darker Wonderland. This is not the Disney version of the famous realm; it’s more akin to a nightmare world. You’ll see all the familiar  characters, such as the Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and the Caterpillar, but darkly modified. The plot is pretty unique, so I won’t spoil anything here. The dialogues, between Alice and the Cat especially, are pretty entertaining, and rely on sarcasm and quick wit, plus the occasional serious plot-related theme. It’s actually quite creative, taking the same overarching theme from the books and turning it around, looking at it in a different light.

You’ll traverse areas such as the Caterpillar’s forest and the Red Queen’s castle, and you will also fight your way through a clockwork factory and school. The environments in the game are, for the most part, seriously creepy, and look as if they belong in a survival horror game. The insane asylum and school look very similar. Both have strangely-proportioned rooms, platforms that lead to nowhere, and long guarded corridors with strange statues or random flying objects. Both feature diminutive nutcases who run around with goofy smiles on their faces and huge metal contraptions on their heads, presumably from a lobotomy. Some are making funny noises, others are crying, and still others are punching themselves in the faces. In one area, you’ll face what I think are cousins to Half Life’s headcrabs with neurotoxins, or maybe Sid’s baby doll/spider thing from Toy Story. These not-quite-right creatures, in addition to the broken and bent scenery (literally), help lend these areas a twisted feel.

Combat is one of the game’s weaker elements. Alice is always strafing, so maneuvering around enemies and platforming can be tricky. Most of the enemies in the game are somewhat lackluster in their variety, and the bosses can be a bit of a bore. The main enemy is the generic playing card in its many incarnations, but more creative enemies including the Boojum, a kind of flying banshee, chess pieces, and giant robots. Some enemies are downright easy to defeat, and for others, you’ll have to use a bit more strategy. For example, ranged weapons work best on the Boojum, and the best strategy I found for fighting robots was calculated retreat. The boss battles are somewhat challenging, but once you’ve found each boss’s weakness, it’s usually just a matter of waiting until your magic regenerates so you can continue to use your good weapons. Then it’s just rinse and repeat, usually with the use of only one or two weapons.

Despite the lack of variety in enemies, there are quite a few fun toys and weapons to play with in this game. My go-to weapon is the crochet mallet, with its ranged attack and close quarters melee capabilities. For many enemies in tight spaces, the Jack in the Box flame thrower is quite effective. If you like fire, there’s the Jabberwock Eye staff that acts like a laser, and there’s the Ice Wand for you ice types. Fun!

There are a few other problems with the game as well. Do not rely on the game’s auto-save function. I found myself saving at least every 30 seconds during difficult sections. Otherwise, I’d have to replay entire levels. It is a very linear game that does not encourage a lot of extra exploration, so don’t expect to be able to wander about in the madness. You’ll have to solve puzzles that are often almost too easy and perform platforming moves that aren’t so easy with Alice’s constant strafing. For example, to collect the parts of a growth potion, you need to visit various parts of the school, then maybe fight a Cardguard or two.

Gameplay issues aside, you should play this game for three reasons. The weapons are pretty cool and fun to use, whether you’re using it against the same old enemies or in a lengthy boss fight. The environments and characters are close enough to the originals that it feels familiar, yet they’re done with such a different interpretation that it feels almost like an opposite world. But it’s the story that really gets you through this game. Every twisted character, every creepy location, every plot turn tells you a lot about what’s happened to Alice, and also what she’ll have to go through to change it all back. Don’t let my little criticisms turn you off from playing
this game; it’s still an entertaining game, especially on the first playthrough. Let’s see what the sequel has in store for us too in my next review!

Scott Pilgrim Versus the World: Movie Review


 (Warning: some spoilers) When they decided to turn this Canadian comic into a movie, I’m not sure they were aware of what a cult smash hit this would be. Topping the charts for Blu-rays on the first day it was released on home video, it’s also been on several top ten lists. It appeals to a younger generation and nerds everywhere with its pop culture references and video game atmosphere. Even the basic premise sounds like it was pulled from a classic arcade game: Scott Pilgrim must defeat love interest Ramona’s Seven Evil Exes to win her heart.

Awkward Scott Pilgrim’s (Michael Cera) love life is anything but ordinary. Ramona Flowers is Scott’s dream girl (literally), and he has to choose between her and his new high school girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Ramona is a pink-haired, too-cool badass with a mysterious past, and Knives is a sweet girl who all his friends say is too young for him. After Scott and Ramona get involved, Scott’s band Sex Bob-omb enters into a Battle of the Bands, which turns out to be a real battle after Ramona’s first evil ex shows up. The rest of the movie involves Scott’s battles of all 7 evil exes using all sorts of cool methods, from a bass guitar to some sweet ninja moves. When the past comes back to bite you, the characters in this movie bite back.

The musical qualities of the movie were equally as important as the plot and visuals. The soundtrack to the movie is epic, including a song about a garbage truck. Some of the featured artists with originals and covers from the movie include Beck and Metric (bands also featured on Rock Band 3). There’s also plenty of 8-bit inspired music as well, such as the Zelda fairy fountain theme. What’s more impressive is the actors actually learned how to play their instruments and are featured on the soundtrack.

Some of the original comic style has been preserved in the movie: an introduction to Scott’s apartment includes labels on the items in it, straight from a comic panel, and some of Ramona’s flashbacks are cartoon/comic style. Video game references abound in this movie as well; enemies explode into coins and give Scott points when defeated, for example. Scott and Knives play a rhythm/martial arts arcade game called Ninja Ninja Revolution, and Scott’s pickup line for Ramona is a story about the origins of Pac-Man. The band is named for the Mario Bros. enemy. There are tons more; for a list of every video game reference in the movie click here: http://blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality/2010/08/every_video_game_reference_in.php

The movie is a quirky blend of fantasy, drama, comedy, and romance with great characters. Scott has a lot of great one-liners, and the other characters in the movie are all funny in their own way, from Scott’s gay roommate and rock star ex-girlfriend to his pushy sister and angry drummer. These characters are definitely not cookie cutter Hollywood cutouts.

I’ve seen this movie three times and everyone I’ve recommended it to has really enjoyed it. So if you feel nostalgic for the arcade days or you’re in the mood for a unique comedy, pick up a copy today and prepare for a fun action-adventure game on your TV screen. Game Start!

Good Kitty: WoW Feral Cat DPS Rotation


***Note: this information is from before Cataclysm. There have been major changes to the class. See my sources below for more updated information.***

When I rolled Druid on the first character I legitimately got to level 80, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I leveled Feral Cat, and when I hit 80, I realized Druids have lots of options. They’re the only class that can go ranged DPS, melee DPS, raid healer, tank healer, or tank. I enjoyed leveling with my kitty, so I decided to raid and continue all the end-game content as Feral DPS. Little did I know that the Feral Cat has arguably the hardest rotation for effective DPS.

Most people don’t know how to play their characters when they first hit 80, especially not for end game content. The best place for help is from the internet, and I’ve included some of the best links below. Once you’ve read up on your rotation, practice it in 5-mans or Heroic dummies. (Heroic training dummies are near the Rogue trainer in Stormwind and near the bank in Ironforge). Talk to Guildies and friends who have respectable Feral DPS too.

Even with all this information, it was still hard for me to develop the perfect rotation, so I’m just going to post my rotation and strategy. The number one thing is to hit the Armor Penetration cap. The soft cap is fairly easy to hit, but the hard cap is insanely hard to hit without counting procs. Trinkets, gems, and gear with Arp are going to be your new best friends (Needle-Encrusted Scorpion and Deathbringer’s Will are quite good, and Jewelcrafters can make Dragon’s Eye gems with extra Arp for their own gear). Definitely get your 4-tier bonus on your Tier 10 gear.

The entire purpose of kitty DPS is to keep everything up at once. You have to juggle all your buffs and debuffs for maximum DPS. My rotation: Pounce up to the target, Feral Faerie Fire, Mangle and Rake. Savage Roar when you have 2-3 combos, then use Shred (and Rake when it’s down) to get 5 combos, then Rip. Use Tiger’s Fury when you have less than 50 Energy, and use Berserk when you’ll have the whole time for pure DPS. You can use it right away, or once you’ve gotten into your rotation a bit. I like to use it right after SR is up.

Now is the time to consider your timers; do you have time for a Ferocious Bite? Savage Roar may be down soon, so get some combo points up for that. You may have to switch targets or do something related to the boss, so keep that in mind (Is Sindragosa about to go into Air Phase? Then make sure Mangle, Rip, and Rake are all up, and let SR drop). Two very important things: don’t clip your timers too much, and Shred, Shred, Shred. Shred will refresh Rip (if you have the Glyph) up to 3 times, which is insanely necessary, and it’s your bread and butter for getting combo points. With clipping, if there’s 3 seconds left til Rip is down and you have 5 combos, hit it the second it goes down, and not before (unless there’s an upcoming boss mechanic). It’s very tempting to hit Rake before it’s up, with only a 6 second debuff, but resist!

One thing you might be thinking is, why spec feral kitty? Why not just faceroll Boomkin and only worry about 4 spells and your procs? This is partially related to the whole ranged vs. melee debate. Take ICC as an example. On the trash pulls, the Feral Swipe can pull some serious DPS from a well-geared Cat, and a Boomkin also excels at big AoE pulls. On Marrowgar, a less geared Boomkin will probably beat a Cat, because they can DPS during Bonestorm and easily switch to Bonespikes without moving around so much. The Gunship Battle can be a pain as melee, whether you’re stuck on the cannons watching your overall DPS tank or having to jump over every time the caster comes out. But on single target uninterrupted fights like Saurfang, the chart-toppers are usually going to be melee, even if they have to switch to the Blood Beasts sometimes. A rogue and a cat are always among the top three in my Guild runs on that pull.

There are always benefits to being ranged or melee on any given fight, but you have to go with the play style that suits you. You can pull mad DPS as a cat; it’s a challenge, but you’ll often find this is why not many people spec Cat, so you’ll be respected as one of the few good kitties on your server. Plus, who wants to be a big furry Boomchicken, when you can Pounce and Swipe as a cute and ferocious Kitty? I started out being out-DPSed by most of the people in our Guild ICC runs, even when my gear said I shouldn’t be. But now, I have a 6k gear score and have been the top or in the top in AoE pulls and single target pulls, even against mages, boomkins, and rogues. It was a frustrating process, but overall very rewarding as I measured how far I came, from pulling 6k on Saurfang ICC10 then to doing 10-11k on ICC25 Heroic now. If you have any questions or comments, post your thoughts below!

Resources:

www.Elitistjerks.com is the best resource for specific details on Feral DPS. You can find links to other pages on gear, gems, hit cap, enchants, etc: http://www.wow.com/tag/feral-cat-dps/ The Fluid Druid’s endgame gearing guide: http://fluiddruid.net/2010/01/the-33-cat-gearing-guide-part-1/ Get the Curse Client to manage your WoW addons, and then get BadKitty, which monitors your debuffs and cooldowns. If you want to see my spec and gear, look up Nyssae on Kirin Tor at http://wow-heroes.com/ and http://www.wowarmory.com/character-sheet.xml?r=Kirin+Tor&cn=Nyssae And of course, thanks to my Guildies in Sovereign for all their help! Here’s our website (still under construction) if you want to learn more about our Guild: http://wow-sovereign.com/

Battle of Bethesda: Oblivion vs. Fallout


In 2006 Bethesda Softworks released Oblivion, the much anticipated fourth game in the massive RPG series The Elder Scrolls. Two years later, they came out with the third game in the FPS roleplaying Fallout series, which was also raved about even before its release. The two newest games in these role playing series have a lot of things in common, but which one has better stats overall?

Story: Oblivion

No spoilers here, but Oblivion’s many quest lines are much more involving and lead to much nicer perks than Fallout, especially compared to its somewhat disappointing final cutscene. Fallout’s story is not without intrigue though; quests often involve more options based on your character’s ethics, such as the quest chain involving Megaton and its unexploded atomic bomb.

Character: Fallout


The ethical system in Oblivion, based on Fame and Infamy points, has been improved with Fallout’s  spectrum of Good vs. Evil. With dialogue, rather than having to play a simple Speech mini-game, Fallout’s options are based on a character’s morality and also stats, and, and there are often many hilarious exchanges possible with the survivors, which include children and zombies.

Environment: Tie

A detailed landscape filled with creepy zombies, abandoned ruins, and strange creatures: this could describe either game, and both pull it off in different ways. Walking into a Necromancer’s lair in an Ayleid ruin can be as breathtaking as standing at the top of a mountain and watching the sunrise in Oblivion. Fallout’s post-apocalyptic ruins of the Washington, D.C. area are highly realistic, and at the same time the retro-futuristic 1950’s-inspired style gives us an interesting and highly detailed take on life after nuclear war.

Combat: Oblivion

As an FPS, Fallout’s combat options revolve around gunplay and, to a lesser extent, melee fighting. The V.A.T.S. (Vault Assisted Targeting System) is a nice way to make every shot count, with the option of turning battles into somewhat more turn based affairs, kind of like bullet-time. Oblivion’s options are based on stealth, magic, and melee combat. Though the V.A.T.S. system makes battle a bit easier, combat in Oblivion offers more options to combine specialties without forcing any choices.

Overall: Oblivion

Although Bethesda has definitely tweaked some of the engaging elements that made their games great, there are still some features of Oblivion that have yet to be topped. But whether or not you prefer fantasy and fireballs to zombies and Vault Boy, you’re still going to get sucked into a highly realized world where you have all the power.

Movie Review- Prince of Persia: The Sands Of Time


Movie poster

 I was skeptical when I saw this movie poster in theaters. It couldn’t be as good as the game; the unique music, combat, environment, and storyline would never be translated well. But despite my initial negativity and reluctance to get my hopes up about yet another video game remake, I was pleasantly surprised by the end product.

To prepare for the movie release, I replayed the The Sands of Time for Gamecube. The 2003 3rd-person adventure game by Ubisoft was created to “breathe new life” into the series and the action/adventure genre. It won IGN’s PS2 game of the Year award, and in general was highly praised for its beautiful graphics, unique acrobatic platforming, intuitive combat controls, storyline and characters, and the fun time powers of the Dagger of Time. You can also see its influence in more recent games like Assassin’s Creed. (Source: Wikipedia)

Video game cover

So that’s what Disney and Director Mike Newell of the 2010 movie had to work with. And in my opinion what they did with it was a complete success. They changed the plot a bit; they gave the Prince a name (Dastan) and turned him into an orphan who is adopted into the royal family. They also added more characters and eliminated the opening of the Hourglass in favor of better dialogue and deeper development of characters and thematic elements. Lack of sand zombies was my major complaint, but I think it was a bold move that paid off in better dialogue and more engaging characters that were still familiar from the game.

Gorgeous environments.

Despite the lack of the traditional monsters, there is still plenty of combat. The Prince’s acrobatics are gravity-defying, and look like they were pulled straight from the newer Prince of Persia games, including the classic wall runs and jumps. The environments are very impressive and bring you back to the game as well. The music fit the movie but was nothing special compared to the game’s unique soundtrack.

Prince Dastan and Princess Tamina.

Overall it’s a great movie in its own right, with an interesting plot, engaging characters, and plenty of action. The secret to this movie’s success was that its creators remained true to the game and genre, taking the good elements and revamping some of the other stuff. They kept the same kind of music, were surprisingly accurate in recreating the Prince’s stunts, and actually improved the dynamic between the two main characters. Replaying the game reminded me how terrible the dialogue could be sometimes, but the movie upgraded the snarky, biting comments between the Prince and Princess.

Finally, it seems the curse of video game-based movies has been lifted! Silent Hill was the first video game-based movie that didn’t absolutely bomb (though this is a debatable point); one that many fans actually seemed to like, and now Prince of Persia has come along as the second. Only time will tell if other directors will follow this promising start to elevate this previously horrifying genre. So go check out this awesome retelling of Sands of Time and prepare to be amazed!

Movie posters featuring our main characters.

For more information:

Synopsis on IMDB

Video Games Blogger Post: Sequels?

Games in Pop Culture


As video games have become more popular and accessible to everyone, they’ve been featured in more tv shows and movies than ever. No longer do people plug away at the Nintendo GameBoy “brick;” now Grandma’s got a Wii in her living room (and has no idea how to use it). Yet the changes in the way games are depicted in popular media have largely been superficial, and often make certain implications about games and the people who play them.

When people play games in movies or on tv, it’s usually a teenaged or young boy with a handheld device that makes the same sounds as old arcade games. Yes, the same stereotype that men are the only ones who game prevails quite often, though sometimes young girls play games too (Gaz from Invader Zim kicks way more gaming ass than her brother). Perhaps the reasoning behind the beeps and pews is because the earliest games for the masses were games like Space Invaders and Mario, and that’s the only exposure many people have had to games. The GameBoy is certainly one of the most recognized symbols for games even after the switch to the PSP and DS, though now it’s more common to see a PSP-like handheld in the media.

Haven’t games moved beyond 8-bit graphics and music? For that matter, most people mute games when playing in public, and to always assign annoying beeps and pews to every game not only assumes games lack finesse in musical qualities, it also assumes that gamers are thoughtless, selfish, and undiscerning. This is not to denigrate Mario, with some of the most often played video game music of all time; this is simply to say that not all games look and sound like Mario. Games now run the gamut from racing and puzzle to FPS and RPG, all with a variety of music, and tv and movies have not changed to reflect this.

Popular media sometimes features people talking about or playing Xbox, or maybe Wii. But the 360 is usually a symbol for the hardcore gamer, or someone who has no life (see Grandma’s Boy). The computer is a more commonly seen console now, although many interface elements are eliminated for the sake of the uninitiated viewer (World of Warcraft is featured in Zombieland and a recent episode in South Park). It’s rare to see people playing racing or shooting games, and when people play DDR in movies they look like “retards trying to hump a doorknob” without regard for actually hitting the buttons (–Dodgeball).

The way people play games on tv is often mindless. It is the same attitude people take when playing Mario Kart; concentrating and competitive. They never seem happy or smile; their eyes are glued to the screen as, emotionless, they go about some noisy task.

Games in commercials are completely different. Players are usually only featured in Wii games, because the focus is on the player and less on the game. Nintendo wants people to see people having fun doing traditional activities in new ways, like cooking or bowling. They have people of all ages, races, and genders enjoying playing trivial games together, or fit women exercising. This is partially because many Wii games are for casual gamers, and it doesn’t really matter to these people if they’re playing Wii Lacrosse or Wii Luge, as long as they perceive that they are “having fun.” Most other game commercials simply feature the game, because they are targeting people who actually know something about games.

Gamefly ran a funny game commercial with people freaking out, screaming, crying, throwing tvs and controllers, and generally carrying on. Their tag was ‘never buy another bad game again.’ This is a pretty accurate depiction of how frustrated gamers can get if they lose their save, die and have to redo everything, or generally are playing a bad game. I think this commercial also reflects how engaged gamers get in the virtual worlds they temporarily inhabit.

Stereotypes are powerful things. The more people are aware of these stereotypes, the more they’ll use them. Sure it’s funny to watch people leaping furiously at a game of DDR, but it may offend the true gamer in its complete inaccuracy. All of these depictions reflect a different kind of genre/gamer. Playing Mario Party with casual gamers can bring the kind of laughter so common in Wii commercials, and playing Bejeweled or Peggle may turn you into a zombie, but I believe it’s more common to see people getting engaged in games for their own sake. Maybe years from now, when the current gamer generation grows up, we will see middle-aged moms on tv  playing Final Fantasy, or old men reminiscing about the Wii’s great retro games. The landscape of gaming is changing, and media has a lot of work to do to catch up.

Can Video Games Tell Stories? Excerpts from my Senior Study


As video games have grown up from arcade shooters and text based adventure games to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and motion-detecting games of all genres, so too has the field of discussion on the subject. Writers world wide are theorizing on what games do, how they do it, and what they should be doing.

Academia is beginning to develop a sizable body of opinions on video games, moving far beyond simply addressing the violence associated with playing games. The big scholarly issue many people are addressing is whether or not games can tell stories, and if they do then what kind of narrative it is, or in what way is it told, a complex discussion situated amongst conflicting sources and academics.

So why study video games? Are they even worthy of academic thought? Do they produce anything meaningful? These are questions that have been debated since the birth of video games as an innovative mode of entertainment. Yet when watching someone play a game, it is obvious that the player is not simply seeing units in a program.

Games are not simply a form of entertainment either. Games are a mode of interaction, of expressing something about ourselves, both for the player, designer, and onlooker. They shape how we see the world by looking at how others see it.

Reading a book can make you laugh, cry, and forget it’s only a story. Watching a movie and playing a game can produce the same reactions, a game arguably even more so because of the high level of audience participation. Playing a game can make you think ‘Oh, I never thought of it that way.’ Playing a game lets people literally get into a story and even help tell it. Finally, digital technologies represent a growing medium for storytelling, and they may be the future of narratives.