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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!

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.

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.

Best of Video Game Music


Games nowadays are made more like movies. It’s pretty much mandatory to have a compelling storyline, voice actors, special effects, and, of course, music. Game soundtracks, like movie soundtracks, can either be strictly instrumental background music, or they can sometimes have powerful songs in their own right. Here are a few game soundtracks worth a listen, beyond the popular Mario, Zelda, and Final Fantasy tunes.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

If we’re lucky, they’ll keep some of the music from the games for the upcoming movie, because this game has some spectacular and unique music. It matches the theme and time period, but with kind of a modern flair, like mixing traditional Middle Eastern singing with electric guitar.

Stubbs the Zombie

Stubbs is a 1950s retro-futuristic zombie game. It’s Fallout 3 meets Fido, where you actually get to play as the zombie starting the zombie uprising. I won’t spoil one of the best parts , but I will say this: “You dance like Shirley Temple… with her legs chopped off at the knees!” The music is appropriately poppy and tongue in cheek, with covers of songs like “Strangers in the Night,” “Earth Angel,” and “If I Only Had A Brain.”

Castle Crashers

This is a great soundtrack to work out to. It’s all fan-made instrumentals, and the songs in this side-scrolling RPG include an eclectic mix of heroic, upbeat, creepy, and techno, reflecting the diversity of the levels.

Silent Hill

Slow, mellow, and somehow disconcerting when it’s not hardcore verging on emo, the music of Silent Hill matches the unbalanced and tense atmosphere and mental state of its characters. It’s not warm and fluffy music to listen to on a roadtrip; it’s better if you want a sad ballad to sing to or something different for background music.

Overclocked Remix

Finally, the next time you’re feeling nostalgic, look up retro games like Final Fantasy or Super Mario World, or some of those old games you used to play like Zombies Ate My Neighbor or Monkey Island, on OC Remixes. Chances are good you’ll find a remix of some of the songs. They vary from techno versions of Zelda songs to piano renditions of Donkey Kong Country songs, so take a peek and I’m sure you’ll find something neat.

Top 5 games to play as a couple


Plus there's always rhythm games like Rock Band.

Play video games for the health of your relationship. It’s a great activity to do together—a fun, relaxing, competitive, addictive, bonding experience. It may be a habit or a hobby, a shared passion, or something you’ve never thought about before. Either way, here are some suggestions for games to play with your significant other.

Left 4 Dead

L4D is a quick and dirty zombie FPS. High customizability is a plus: choose your difficulty, play campaign or versus, play for 30-60 minutes or more, etc. Because it’s co-op, you can practice teamwork, cooperation, and communication. Isn’t every guy’s fantasy to save his girl from a Hunter pounce, the whole knight in shining armor thing?

Dokapon Kingdom

For more on this underlooked party game, click here. A little healthy and fun competition can be a good test of your sense of humor. And you can play two player versus bots. Monopoly plus RPG equals win.

Borderlands

For more experienced players, Borderlands is another good co-op that is a bit deeper for the more narratively-inclined, and is a nice combo between the shooting fun of L4D and the overwhelming details of WoW. Check out a review of Borderlands here.

You can easily make Mario Kart a little more interesting.

Mario Party & Mario Kart

Mario games are classics; most people have played them in some form, and can easily transition into the newer versions. There is also a ton of Wii shovelware games that may serve the same purpose, such as Wii Fit or Wii Sports.

Fatal Frame

It’s like watching a scary movie, only SCARIER. In this single player survival horror, players use a camera to capture the souls of ghosts. With plenty of atmospheric tension and jump moments, you can turn the lights off and snuggle up when you get scared (then laugh when your partner screams like a girl).