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Allicrombie Blog

Guess Who's Blogging Now?

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I am!

(Well sort of.)

*insert shameless self promotion here*

Looking for something good to read? Of course you are, we all are. But if you're looking for first draft, unedited, raw fiction, hampered by wordpress' horrible formatting, then you've come to the right place!

I've been secretly (advertising on twitter), putting several chapters online, and have just put up Chapter 3 of my novel in progress, "Amaris and The Storm Seeker". If you haven't read Chapters 1 and 2 (SHAME ON YOU!) You can read those too!

Chapter 4 Coming Soon!

GameSpot: A Fractured Community

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My first memories of GameSpot were good ones. Like cherished childhood images, splashed in sepia tones of nostalgia, they form the building blocks of my relationship with a site who I’ve grown with over the past eleven years. It’s been a symbiotic journey of sorts, for both of us. Our passions for gaming and writing intertwined like some organic entity, feeding and nurturing a community hungry for the best in gaming journalism and eager to interact with other users and even staff in a budding forum environment.

My own dwindling time on the website probably apparent, I do still try to pop in and post here and there, usually in the System Wars Lounge, of all places. Other forumites have presumably left the site for greener pastures, wherever they may be. It’s been a disheartening trend, that seemed to see a spike in dissent with the recent website and forum overhaul.

In truth, it seems to have been a community on the edge for quite some time, waiting for the glass to shatter, the penny to drop, the deep breath before the plunge, the…banana to be…eaten? slipped on? (Okay, scratch that last one.) The one thing many of us forget is that no community is ever static. It is an ever changing organism. People come and people go, in every community, large or small, online or offline. We see it everyday, in our families, in our jobs, and yet in communities like GameSpot, in a more intimate setting, it seems more personal, in a way, so many of us take it on a more personal level.

One only has to remember the removal of Jeff Gerstmann from his editor role at GameSpot to bring up feelings of possible anger, outrage, or disinterest. The community as a whole, however, made their feelings quite clear, due to the fact that Jeff, for all I’ve seen on various videos and even from posts on the forums themselves, when it was still fashionable for staff to do such, seems like a pretty likable guy, more or less.

The merging of Giant Bomb back into the CBSi brand served as a return of sorts for Jeff, to his old stomping grounds, and more importantly, helped spread a salve on a wound at GameSpot that had never fully healed. For better or worse, there was finally some closure, and that helped the community move on, as it were.

It’s perhaps the recent shift in focus that is a more concerning issue. A shift in focus away from the community itself. One could argue that all these polished reviews, written by talented editors and all these video shows are nothing if not community focused, but hasn’t that always been the case? I don’t remember GameSpot ever lacking in talent when it came to prose or its video content.

One wonders at the two most terrible, yet possibly humbling words in the English language today, what if? What if a fraction of the talent on display at GameSpot went into creating something truly community based. What if every aspect of GameSpot was designed with an eye for the community, its wants and its needs. Would such a site cause even the most jaded observer to rethink their plans of moving on, or has the penny fallen too far already?

One only has to browse the latest GameSpot Game of the Year feature this year to see the lack of community involvement. An annual feature since the early 2000’s, readers were regularly invited via poll to choose their own “Best of” games in categories such as action, adventure, role playing, etc. The poll rewarded users with an inflated sense of self esteem and a shiny new profile emblem for taking part. This year was a bit strange, besides Assassin’s Creed IV winning every award, including Most Flowing Cape, the annual Reader’s Choice poll was nowhere to be seen. You can chalk it up to the new redesign and the busy teams of developers trying to get that in order and working as it should, or you can cite it as perhaps a symptom of a much larger issue, the gradual shift away from a much needed injection of community involvement.

Where are the featured blogs and user reviews that were promised time and time again, to coexist side by side with official GameSpot reviews on the front page? The once mighty soapbox, declaration of all things community based, sometimes news worthy, sometimes blustering grandstanding of the highest order, even celebrated with a shiny emblem which users proudly trumpeted on their profiles as symbols of their verbosity, relegated to a back page of the site, and then gone completely. Like slowly dying embers of a once mighty blaze, its absence too, speaks volumes about the state of the community here.

We stand on the precipice of a new era, in gaming, in technology, in time and in GameSpot itself. New consoles have emerged just in time to battle for supremacy under Christmas Trees everywhere this holiday season, each hoping to usher in a new wave of gaming experiences, unseen in the past and undreamed of. The dawn of a new year beckons as well, threatening to eclipse the twilight that was once 2013.

Then there’s GameSpot. I can cite the removal of unions, the small but loyal member based communities like the Legacy Games Discussion, and the Hardware Discussion merged into larger communities, losing all sense of their identities. I can cite the oft-used mantra, Give it time. Time may be eternal for GameSpot, but for myself and many of the long time regulars here, it is not. And it is slowly ticking away.

Pokemon X/Y Review

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From its humble beginnings on the small screen, in true monochromatic style, the journey of the Pokemon series of games could be a mirror image of the journey of a Pokemon Trainer itself. It moved to a bigger stage with cartoons and merchandising and even feature length animated films, captured the focus of amateur shutterbugs with offshoot gaming experiences like Pokemon Snap, delighted arcade enthusiasts with Pokemon Pinball and even gave us a glimpse of three dimensional battles with Pokemon Colosseum. Ever since the earliest days of Pokemon, gamers from around the world have dreamed of experiencing their Pokemon adventures in a fully realized three dimensional world. While it may not be perfect, it delivers a Pokemon experience quite unlike any that has been released before. More evolutionary than revolutionary, Pokemon X/Y takes a bold first step into a new frontier of Pokemon gaming.

For the uninitiated, you start the game in a small village and are quickly presented with your first Pokemon, of one of three basic types, fire, grass, or water. The key is that water is super effective vs fire, but weak against grass, the other two types featuring a strength and a weakness as well. This rock, paper, scissors gameplay represents the core of Pokemon at its most basic level and is still as solid as ever. Series veterans will have no trouble jumping right in and newcomers to the series will find this entry more accessible than ever before.

Your pokemon are easier to level than ever before, thanks to the repurposed Exp. Share item. In previous versions of the game, Exp. Share was a held item you could give to one of your pokes, allowing them to gain experience even when not in battle, a process way more efficient than constantly switching pokemon in and out when battling. The new Exp. Share takes this to another level as you acquire it very early on in the game, it sits in your bag, and allows your full team of pokemon to collect experience, no matter which one is taking part in the battle. It makes leveling up an entire team incredibly quick and efficient, yet also creates a unique disparity in levels during the single player game.

Consummate poke levelers, or even casual ones, will find their most used pokemon leveling far and beyond anything that would present a challenge in the single player game. You can turn the Exp. Share item off at will, but then leveling becomes more of a chore than anything else. It would just be nice if there was a happy medium in there somewhere.

While you’re busy journeying through the Kalos region, capturing and battling pokemon on the top screen, the bottom screen of your 3DS will be just as busy. Connecting to the internet brings up your friend list, acquaintances (people who you’ve traded or battled with, that aren’t friends), and passersby, people who are playing at the same time as you, around the same area in the game.

There’s also a strength training app that you can use to increase the stats of your pokemon, as well as an app that lets you play mini games with and give and receive gifts to various pokemon and friends’ pokemon. Trading and battling couldn’t be easier, thanks to the user friendly UI that lets you connect to friends with just a couple taps of the screen. The new Wonder Trade feature is nearly as addictive as the game itself, letting you choose a random pokemon to trade and receiving one in return.

There are quite a few new features in Pokemon X/Y, one of them being the new O Powers. As you progress through the game, you’ll “earn” different powers, such as the ability to boost a pokemon’s stats, increase your capture rate, increase experience, etc. You have a finite meter that refills over time, each power costing a different amount. What’s interesting is that these powers level up the more you use them, increasing their effectiveness. You can also “gift” these powers by using them on friends that are currently playing the game, which uses up far less of your meter than using them on yourself.

It’s been thirteen years since they have introduced a new type to Pokemon, and this game marks the debut of the Fairy type. Fairy types are super effective versus the Dragon type, which is interesting, as previously, Dragon types only had a couple weaknesses, one of them being other Dragon types (as well as Ice). Fairy types are also completely immune to Dragon type attacks. Being super effective against Fighting and Dark types doesn’t hurt either. Fairy types also take massive damage from Poison and Steel types. If you consider Fairy types as “light” and “magical”, then it makes sense that they would be more vulnerable to Steel types, as historically, in many cultures, it was thought that magical creatures had a weakness to iron.

Another much talked about feature of the game is the new Mega Evolutions. At a certain point in the game, these become unlocked, and as long as you find the requisite item needed for the pokemon you want to evolve. It doesn’t work on every pokemon and only works in battle, Mega Evolution evolves your pokemon to a whole new level. It changes a pokemon’s appearance, stats, abilities and even its type. Some pokemon even have more than one Mega Evolution. It’s an interesting addition to battling and while it may not be game changing, at the very least, its another option to choose from instead of the standard four move set.

Another feature new to the game, while minor, is the ability to visit boutiques and customize your characters’ appearance, through the use of different kinds of outfits. More cosmetic than anything else, it nonetheless provides a refreshing change and adds some individuality to the battling scene.

Visually, everything is lush and colorful. From the forests and caves to the icy trails, everything looks quite nice. During battles, Pokemon and their moves are appropriately flashy. The 3D effect comes on during battles and certain areas of the game, most notably interior areas like caves or other dungeon type areas and the 3D effect is nowhere near as glaring or harsh as some other 3DS titles.

The soundtrack features appropriately catchy music for many of the areas in the game, especially the towns. The dramatic battle music fits the often tense atmosphere perfectly and the sound effects are quite nice, from shocking moves like Electro Bolt to the piercing Ice Beam, everything sounds as you’d expect.

With around 450 pokemon to collect, a lengthy single player adventure to experience, and post game activities featuring the Battle Chateau, pokemon breeding via the day care center and competitive battling online, Pokemon X/Y successfully marks a return to form for the much loved series. Series purists may balk at the removal of in game seasons, lack of legendaries, and constantly evolving soundtrack, but these features weren’t added overnight. Just as every long journey begins with a first step, this entry in the series feels more like a first step into a new frontier of pokemon games, rather than a culmination of all the entries up to this point. It’s a journey worth undertaking for series fans, and fans of adventure in general.

First Impressions: Beyond Two Souls

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Quantic Dreams (Heavy Rain) newest interactive movie/game begins as innocuously as its last game, in the simplest of places, a young girls bedroom.  From the outset, you know things are amiss right off, as you can see security cameras in every corner of the room, as well as in the immediately connecting room.

You immediately take control of young Jodie (Ellen Page) by standing up.  You can walk around, examine a few things and interact with several items in the larger room.  Theres some drawings you can glance at which hints at moments to come in the game, a TV you can watch and a toy guitar you can play with.  Interestingly, one of the highlights early on comes when you leave the game alone for a few moments, and you get a through the security camera view of Jodie in the room.

Soon after you are met by a guy who works there, or I assume he works there.  He has a lab coat on and unless hes the in house butcher, here to trim the fat, hes most likely some kind of technician.  The whole environment is sterile and cold and surveillance heavy.  It definitely has an NPI vibe right off (Neuro-Psych Institute).


He ushers you into another room, where you are given a new piece of headgear (Its a crown, sweetie, whos a princess?) Talk about trust issues.  Your crown looks like a cross between Cerebro and some kind of antique dental headgear, optional neural interface included.

Now comes the fun stuff, you can switch between Jodie and the soul shes been bonded to since birth, Aiden.  As Aiden, you enter this free roaming, go anywhere, do anything mode.  You are unseen and can affect objects and people in adjacent rooms.  One nice detail is the fact that the temperature lowers when Aiden is near and you hear this being vocalized by several characters throughout the demo.

Your immediate tasks are to correctly guess which card a woman in the next room is holding up, by floating over and peeking at them.  You can also spy on the techs a different room as well.  Eventually you get to move objects around and generally freak people out as Aiden.

From here, the demo moves at a rapid pace through Jodies life, from her training, (Think Silence of the Lambs) through a harrowing rooftop train chase, dark forest escape and finally to a small town arena where she squares off with a SWAT team.  Not to spoil anything, but Aiden can apparently influence the actions of other people, from throwing grenades at friends to sending helicopters into tailspins.  

The whole thing comes off as very XMen-esque, in that way that mutants in that world are studied, hated and even killed, out of fear.  Its an interesting experience, though feels a bit one sided, as Aiden, your primary goal is keeping Jodie alive, and while theres no dying in the demo, death is apparently a factor in the full retail version of the game.

Gameplay wise, it plays out like a much more tightly focused Heavy Rain.  You get similar prompts to hit buttons or combinations of buttons at appropriate times.  Instead of multiple characters, however, you just have Jodie (and Aiden) to worry about.  Theres definitely a lot of potential with regard to Aiden and the way he can influence others actions to solve puzzles, but right now (understandably,) its a bit limited.

Graphically, everything looks quite nice, especially the faces and facial expressions. 


After the demo, youre treated to a trailer of the full game, with two people (assuming they are young Jodies parents) yelling at her, Youre a monster! which fits the whole mutant-esque vibe perfectly, if not a bit cliched/overdone at this point.

If you were a fan of Heavy Rain, you should probably check it out.

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Vitamin AC

That's right, it's time for your weekly dose of Vitamin AC.  I mean Animal Crossing, of course!  We're well on our way in the month of October, but you can still find lots of September staples to catch like red dragonflies, cherry salmon, and rainbow trout.  New fish popping up include the yellow perch, so get out there and catch one!  You can also find masks and candy for sale in the shops, as well as the spooky furniture set.  You might even run into Jack, a pumpkin headed visitor with a fondness for candy.

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Writer's Corner

You guys thought Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey were bad?  Check these out.

That's right, dinosaurs and women romance novels are finally a thing.  With titles like Mounted by the Gryphon, Taken by the T Rex, Ravaged by the Raptor, Mated by the Wargs and Taken by the Hydra, this is about 100x hotter than Jurassic Park.  =P

Author Christie Sims had this to say about herself:

"Hi! I'm just a plain old, everyday Midwestern girl that lives a normal life. However, while my outward tastes are relatively simple, my inner thoughts are filled with lusty thoughts of big, strong, powerful monsters having their way with beautiful maidens."

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Coming Soon

Alli takes a 2nd look at Final Fantasy XIII (thanks for the suggestion, Bran!)

In anticipation of Beyond Two Souls, Alli runs through Heavy Rain.

Alli gives early thoughts on GTA V as well as Ni No Kuni.

Alli shares early parts of her novel.

Alli continues to refer to herself in third person and pretends no one notices.

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Next Blog

Alli reviews Heavy Rain

More October Animal Crossing goodness!

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Quote of the Week

"Writing's the ability to surrender, to walk into the water without a lifebelt, to do the big thing.

                                                                                                                                      -Derek Mahon

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Happy Gaming!

Diablo III Reviewed

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And you nephalem, look what your kind has wrought!  These words, uttered at the penultimate act near the climax of the story may serve as an analogy to Blizzards own souped up console version of the oft-criticized PC version of Diablo III.

The game itself remains largely unchanged from the PC version.  You select a class out of the five possible classes, barbarian, monk, demon hunter, witch doctor or wizard.  Each of them has their own combat style, specific weapons they can equip, as well as a unique resource which they can manage to activate their own skills/spells.  

Most of the fun comes in wanton destruction of near endless hordes of foul minions through the games four act structure.  Youll explore deep dungeons and vast deserts as well as snow covered battlefields teeming with fallen soldiers.

Watching enemies explode into piles of gold and loot is as much of a treat as ever, and thanks to the revamped loot system, loot is more plentiful and more advantageous than before.  Smart drops ensure that new and better items that bear your primary statistic are almost always on the menu.  Struggling a bit with a weapon from several levels ago?  No problem, the game has you covered.  Need an amulet with a bit more dexterity?  The game will hook you up.  Need some cash for a late night strip club run?  ...hang on, thats a totally different game.  Its a far cry from the stingy and random loot fair that plagues the PC version and is a rare and refreshing change in a game, to give players what they need, when they need it.

Whats also nice is the fact that you can see immediately if anything you pick up will benefit any one of your three core stats, attack, defense or life (hp).  A small text pops up in the lower left corner of your screen whenever you pick up an item and gives each attribute one to three green arrows if its a lot better than what youre using, or red arrows if its worse than what youre using.  If you cant equip an item, or its not marginally better or worse, itll just show you dashes.  Its a neat system that lets you avoid rummaging through menus just to find out of all that loot youre finding is any good.

Wading through enemies is also easier than before, thanks in part to the immersion factor of the console version.  Whereas the PC version has you clicking to move and clicking to attack, the console version has you actually moving and attacking.  It may not seem like much, but it adds a level of depth and makes the console version a decidedly different and wholly unique experience.

The interface itself, at least in solo mode, is a mostly uncomplicated affair.  You can map any combination of skills/spells to any of your controllers four face buttons, as well as three of the four trigger buttons up on top.  This system works so well that you may start wondering why it hasnt been implemented this smoothly before.

Multiplayer wise, its a bit more complicated.  Online multiplayer works well, allowing you to jump in and out of games with up to four other players.  You also get your own loot online, so you dont have to worry about sharing or loot hoarders, like me.  Local co op can be a bit unwieldy with having to access the menu to swap equipment and skills but the Gauntlet-esque style co op is still a blast.

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Graphically, the game isnt going to look anywhere near as good as a high end PC, but there are still some interesting effects going on.  Knocking over candles or braziers or torches will plunge rooms into darkness, and magic, rare and legendary items still have that neat multicolored glow.  The CGI scenes still look quite lovely.

The music and sound effects are also pleasant, for the most part.  Big boss battles are accompanied by a loud dramatic fanfare, while slower moments are more subdued.  The sounds of enemies exploding is always a favorite.

Blizzard has become a master of rewarding gamers for experiencing content in their games.  Besides the usual console achievements and trophies, there are also tons of in game challenges to complete, ranging from simple tasks like dying an item to more time consuming ones like finishing the game with two of the same classes.  Most challenges unlock items for your in game banner, a virtual representation of you, in the world of Diablo III.  It can be colored and styled with a number of borders and accents and sigils and going online, youll find that no two are ever the same.

With multiple character classes, difficulty levels ranging from Easy to Master 5, a hardcore mode, as well as Paragon Levels that increase your magic item and gold finding abilities at every level up beyond the maximum level of 60, plus tons of in game challenges, theres plenty to keep you busy if you want to experience all the game has to offer.

There are a few quirks that pop up from time to time, however.  Significant loading times when starting the game take away from the experience slightly.  Sometimes youll notice a lag spike when dozens of enemies are onscreen at once.  After getting nearly two characters to maximum level, the game did freeze on me once, locking up my PS3 until I did a hard reboot.  All in all, these are minor issues, though.

With its superior loot system, deeper immersion factor and skillfully implemented control scheme, Diablo III stands as an exception rather than a rule.  It fixes many of the flaws in the lackluster PC version, while still appealing to console enthusiasts.  Slicing through the minions of hell, alone or with friends, has never been so accessible, or as much fun.

Linky

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*Next Blog*

Beyond Two Souls First Impressions

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*Are you a Social Butterfly?*

I'm not either, well not until recently.  Feel free to stalk ...err follow me on Twitter or Facebook.  Yeah I know, but I gotta put em somewhere, right??  Actually this all came about because I was playing GTA and trying to get that Rockstar Social Club thing to work, apparently you can't save in game pics unless you join that.  So I joined and I can't log in through the game since my password needs to be 8-16 characters, but on the site itself, its 7 characters.  The site won't send me a reset password email either, so I'm stuck, lol.  I can't sync my facebook in GTA without joining the social club either, so its kind of funny.  Maybe I should just email rockstar?

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*Other Stuff*

Are there any PS3 games you'd like me to review?  Let me know!  I have Ni No Kuni sitting here waiting but after that I'm pretty wide open to suggestions!  (Please don't say Metal Gear Solid 4.  =P) I also have FFXIII here, which I plan on trying again one day, I just hate the fact that there's an RPG out there that I can't finish due to the story and characters that I didnt like. 

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Happy Gaming!

D3: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fire Bomb

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Hello, my lovelies!

 

If you've seen me on PS3 lately, you'll know that I have been playing an obscene amount of Diablo 3 lately.  I have gone through Normal, Nightmare, Hell and Inferno modes, plus another run through Normal with a Hardcore character.

The secret to my success?

 

That's right.  Much like a good forum troll, firebomb can shread through waves of enemies faster than Guy Fieri through a baked ham.

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In other gaming news, I picked up GTA V, but I'm not nearly as excited about it as quite a few people I know.

 

What have you guys been playing??

 

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Diablo III (PS3)

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