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BenderUnit22 Blog

And the winner is...

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Happy Holidays to all. With everyone's Game of the Year lists slowly manifesting, I thought I'd share with you the game that touched me the most this past year. It's by no means a surprising winner, but the decisive manner in which thatgamecompany's wonderful downloadable title Journey rose to the top and never struggled to keep that position throuhout the year, was impressive.

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Journey is a game that does so much with so little. It's mechanically simple, all you do is walk and jump. Yet, never has a game made the simple act of walking around its vast landscape such a joy as Journey. Whether you're intently climbing a dune of sand or playfully sliding it down, floating up strands of fabric, dangling in the wind or swimming through a sea of light. It's amazing how often I found myself actively thinking just how fun moving was in this game.

Without any lines of dialog and nothing but a few engraved murals and visions of a civilization long gone, Journey also managed to touch me deeply with its story. Its themes leave room for interpretation, yet they aren't not vague enough to be confusing or shallow. The tale of a once great society running out of whatever godly or earthly resource they had once discovered serves as a warning to our own lavish ways, yet there is a deeper meaning to what the game and your hooded character represents. Is it a metaphor for the cycle we all pass through in our lives? A symbol of hope? A little nudge to make us appreciate the beautiful things we might take for granted in this world? It can be whatever you want it to be.

When I first played Journey, it was a good week or two before release and I played it a number of times before it was officially available. The downside was not having experienced its sublime integration of multiplayer yet, that connects you to other people more strongly than any voice chat or squad mechanic ever could. The moment you first realize that another player has joined you is a magical experience and the desperation felt when you lose sight of your companion can be soulcrushing.

When I finished the game for the first time with a companion at my side and the game tells you the name of the people you met along the road, I immediately sent that person a message, telling him how much I enjoyed his company. Today, on Christmas day, I played through the game again, and for the larger part of it, I managed to stick with another traveler. I again felt how we silently forged a bond, how there seemed to be a deep understanding of what each other wanted to do. At the very end, I had suddenly lost track of him or her, and I panicked, not knowing if I should wait for my friend to catch up or if I had been the one who had fallen behind. I couldn't find him.

At the very end, just below the final ascent, I stopped to soak in the beauty of the game one last time, when I suddenly heard a chirping behind me. I felt genuine relief and happiness and after we ascended into the blinding light and the credits had rolled, I received a PSN message, thanking me for the company and wishing me a Happy Holiday.

This is that playthrough

League of Legends: Basic Tips

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With GameSpot's month-long celebration of League of Legends and Synthia embarking on her quest to become a LoL-pro, I thought I'd offer a few pointers for anyone willing to jump into what has been my much beloved past-time for the last two years or so (with a one-year absence.)

The point here is to start things slowly and concentrate on a few core ideas of the game, before going too wild with strategies and high-level play, so if you already know what you're doing, this isn't going to be for you. If you are, however, fresh off the tutorial and not yet tainted by the toxic community LoL (and MOBAs in general) are known for, I hope you can take something useful with you.


1. Pick a Champion

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There are more than 100 champions in the League right now and ideally, you'd want to know what each and every one does to know how to play them AND play against them. This task is overwhelming for any beginner, so the best we can do is to know at least what our heroes do and get better with them. Riot will cycle through free champions each week, so you'll have the chance to find one that fits you, without spending too much influence points or, god forbid, Riot points. A personal recommendation would be Morgana, as she is a strong farmer with easy to understand mechanics, yet a very strong champion even in high level play. But again, this is about what you want to play, so pick whatever type you like best, as team constellation will not be a consideration during your early levels.

2. Last-hitting And Sustaining In Lane

As you may notice, your champion will gain experience while standing nearby dying enemies, minions and jungle monsters, however, only when you deal the killing blow will you be rewarded with a hefty sum of gold (sidenote: you also gain assist gold if you help fell an enemy champion.) The concept of last-hitting, i.e. dealing that final hit, is one of the most integral parts of any MOBA, since it is one of the main ways to gain the advantage over your adversaries. The folly most new players will fall for is spamming their abilities in order to get this gold which can be an option for certain champions at later stages of the game, but should be avoided for the first few levels.

Why? You start each match with very limited "resources", such as money, health and mana (if your champion uses mana) and expending it will soon leave you with no other option but to go back to base, which in turn will make you miss experience and potetial gold while giving your opponent the oppportunity to gain an early advantage. Expending your spells can also leave you vulnerable to harass by your enemies without any means for retaliation. If you are a mana-less champion such as Katarina, Shen or Rengar, you're of course free to harass or use skills to secure last hits, however, be mindful of your cooldowns and play more defensively (except Rengar, he's OP :D)

The more economic way to grab gold is to use your basic attacks, which is indeed hard and requires a lot of practice (for instance getting a feel for how much damage you can deal, how the attack animation of your champion works out and what your range is.) While this is more painful, it leaves your spells up for harassing the enemy champion, keeping them from getting last hits or at least costing them a lot of health in the process, forcing them to go back early and in turn fall behind in gold and experience.

2.1. Shoving and freezing the lane (advanced tactics)

While I promised to keep it light, this subject ties neatly into all that last-hitting business we were talking about. It may not be all-important at lower levels, but it's a good thing to keep in mind for later (as jungler and ganks become more important.)

Anyway, what most unexperienced players will do is go to their lane, stand behind their minions and blast away, occasionally getting a last-hit in. One prominent effect that will set in, especially if you are using an area of effect spell, is that the enemy minions will die faster than yours, making them push closer to their tower. This can have both positive and negative repercussions:

a) If your minions get in tower range, there is a high chance the tower will get the killing blow in due to its immense damage early on. Keep in mind that good players will know how to last-hit under towers, not losing quite as much. The second benefit to keeping your lane pushed against their tower is that the enemy can't afford to roam, or his tower will take a lot of damage from your minions (this is called "applying pressure.")

b) You have to move away from the safety of your tower, leaving you more vulnerable. This is especially true once you reach a level of play where teams will have "junglers", dedicated players who will roam the forest area between lanes to kill monsters and gank unexpecting lanes.

Some champions such as Morgana or Anivia are known as pushers, as they can erradicate an entire wave of minions in a very short time, keeping constant pressure on their enemies while giving them time to shop at the base or roam towards other lanes.

3. Try Not To Die

League of Legends is not a game of killing the enemy champions, it's a game about not dying. Death is the ultimate crowd control, knocking you out of the action for a long, long time. While dead, not only will you miss out on experience and gold from dying enemies, even worse, you will give your opponent even more gold and time to get ahead further, only to have him return with stronger items to kill you even faster next time.


Don't get me wrong, dying a couple of times is not the end of the world and in certain situations, a noble sacrifice can net an advantage elsewhere. Still, die as few times as possible, especially early into a match and if you ever fall behind, don't get over-aggressive unless you get help by an allied champion.

Random Facts

  • You can press the "S" key to stop moving, which will make your champion not attack even if enemies are in range. You can use this to properly time last-hits.
  • With most champions (depending on your basic attack damage early game), a full health melee minion can be last-hit by 2 turret shots followed by one basic attack while ranged minions are best dealt with by one basic attack, followed by a turret shot and executed with another basic attack.
  • Basic attacks on enemy champions will draw aggro from nearby minions, casting spells on them however, will not.
  • You can de-aggro from minions by running away or breaking line of sight by hiding in a brush for a moment.

Mandatory E3 Wrap-Up Blog

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Hey, what's up. Haven't done this blog thing in a while, so I thought I'd use this past week's E3 as an excuse to give anyone who cares a little gaming sitrep.

$$$Major Gaming Purchases$$$

Guess what, the guy who is absolutely against motion-controls bought himself a Wii. Well, I kinda bought it for my mom as I got a bundle with EA Sports Active because I once saw her eyeing WiiFit in a store and she's been wanting to excercise for years without any tangible results. It was also pretty cheap (given what an (imo overpriced) Wii costs here. I got the Wii, WM+, Wii Sports, Wii Sports Resort, EA Sports Active plus New Super Mario Bros Wii and Super Mario Galaxy (1) seperately, all new, for less than what the system launched for (so less than $249 if you're in the US.)

Lucky Star Wii

Consensus: I still hate motion-gaming, enjoy Mario. Granted, I didn't play Resort, but I fired up Wii Sports to play a bit with my mom and test the fidelity of the Wiimote. Of course I tried to grief the thing as much as possible, laying down on the couch and just flicking the wrist instead of properly moving the arm or anything. To the game's credit, she beat me handily in bowling, although I laughed at her for actually standing up. When it came to baseball, I dunno, after I got the timing down, I batted like 5 consecutive home runs and it seemed to barely mimic how I was holding the damn thing. Ultimately, it's not quite the scam Just Dance pulls on the millions of idiots who bought that thing, but if you strain a muscle from playing Wii Sports, you give this technology too much credit.

Playing New Super Mario Bros Wii felt familiar but satisfying and definitely a lot better than the disappointing DS game that probably ranks up there with Super Mario Land as the worst (but still alright) Mario platformer. Super Mario Galaxy seems awesome so far, although the camera can be less than ideal, but what are you gonna do with those crazy level designs. We'll talk about future purchases in a later segment of this entertainment broadcast, but I'm definitely thinking about getting Muramasa, Zelda, Metroid Prime Trilogy and a couple of GameCube titles. Let it be known though that if my mother is a representative of the casual crowd, two buttons are too much to handle for them. In Galaxy, she ran out of lives before the first save point after the tutorial while she made it to 1-2 in NSMB before getting a game over. It was painful to watch, but she won't read this anyway.

We Require More Vespene Gas!

Also, let's talk about Starcraft 2. I pre-ordered the game a few months back which of course gets you a free beta key. What do you know, this game is pretty damn good. They made a lot of intelligent changes and adjustments particularly to the early game. Each race has different means to increase their economy for example. Terran can call down "Mule" robots that harvest minerals extremely efficiently, Protoss can chronoboost the production of units and upgrades while the new Zerg queen acts as both a base defense and can spawn additional larva. What makes the game great more than anything though is that it's totally Starcraft. There's a welcoming simplicity to the basic concepts and graphics while the game strikes a perfect balance of building up the right units AND controlling and surveilling them at the same time.

Vespene Gas, dammit!

I didn't really notice how much I was enjoying the game until the beta went down in June. I didn't even play all that much, usually just a couple of games until I would inevitably lose and get annoyed. Now though (and also while the beta was still going) I find myself on YouTube multiple times a day looking for new Starcraft 2 commentary videos. Two guys who have been very prolific in popularizing the game and its already vivid tournament scene are Husky and HD, two players/commentators who constantly provide new videos, even during the downtime, as well as hosting their own, epic tournament a while back. Not only is it fun to watch pro-players, but you might learn a thing or two. If you're interested in watching a couple of pre-recorded games, there's actually going to be a live stream with analysis of a couple of show matches today, Sunday, on 1:30 pm PT.

That said, my major concern with the game is Battle.net 2.0. A lot of people have already voiced their opinion on the service and the lack of LAN support caught a lot of flack early on. The biggest issues for me though are (as of now, i.e. end of the beta in early June) the lack of chatrooms and no cross-realm play. As far as I know, the only means to communicate with people in B.net is to add them to your friends list and whisper them / invite them to a party chat. That's just bull****! There's no easy way to meet people, no sense of a community, needless to say it's a huge step back from Brood War, Diablo or Warcraft. As for the lack of cross-realm play, how am I to play against hazel? How Blizzard?

On To More Current Events

VP of Awesome

The Triple-E's came and went this week and I finally caught up with most of it after working, being sick and being sick while working. There's not too much need to recap the big three press conferences in detail since there is enough video evidence out there, but I'll give each one a quick run down. Microsoft was first out of the gate with strong openings by Black Ops, Gears, Halo and MGS: Rising which looked great (well, Halo looked like Halo, so whatever.) After that though they started to lose me with their needlessly long ESPN announcement and Kinect. Hooray for Skittles, but the rest was a pretty embarassingly stilted performance.

Nintendo had a rough start with a Zelda demo that didn't quite work. After the last few years of middling showings though, Big-N brought the big guns this year and for the first time I actually got a sense that their talk of "caring for the hardcore audience" meant something. Between Kirby, Epic Mickey and the 3DS stuff, they had a ton to share and most of it seems outstanding. Funny enough, Zelda was probably the biggest letdown for me. After they talked so much about wanting to change the formula, at least at first glance this looks pretty much like Twilight Princess with some refined controls due to WM+.

Sony yet again had a strong showing of software this year (and no talk about numbers or pie charts.) Killzone 3 looks fantastic if a little too much like Killzone 2 to a fault, as did LittleBigPlanet 2 and Dead Space 2. Gabe Newell showing up was probably the closest to last year's shoulder-tapping Yoichi Wada and from what I hear, Portal 2 will be fantastic. The two big faults of the press conference were their stubborn push of 3D as well as the Move stuff (coming from me, of course.) They also didn't have too many new titles to show, so I did find it curious that they would announce LBP 2, KZ3, MotorStorm 3 inFAMOUS 2 right before E3 rather than keeping them under wraps. Tell me what you want, Twisted Metal doesn't have the same prestige anymore. Still, Kevin Butler making an awesome appearance circumvents the downsides of Sony's show.

As for the game I've been most excited about after E3, I have to give it to Journey from thatgamecompany, the people behind flOw and Flower. Very little has actually been shown from the game and I haven't been able to find any video of it, but it sounds like a game right up my alley. Basically, you're a wanderer on a journey (hence the name) through a vast desert to a far off mountain. However, you're free to go and explore the world and with online integration, you may even join others on their way, albeit with singing being your only means of communication. I get a very Demon's Souls vibe from the online mode while the game itself reminding me of Shadow of the Colossus with a little bit of ICO.

Journey

Battle of the Inferior Controllers?

After playing the Wii and seeing more of Move and Kinect, I'm still not thrilled about the prospect of motion-gaming. Fact of the matter is they take away much precision and make a lot of aspects of regular games less intuitive. They may be good at mimicking one specific motion, but taking away analog sticks and buttons along the way makes the games I like to play a lot worse or at least, it doesn't make them better. As for the Move vs Kinect battle, I think Microsoft has the better technology hands down, but they haven't really shown a game working with it that I would want to play. Sony seemed at least dedicated to bringing the Move to "real" games with integration in SOCOM 4, Killzone 3 and LittleBigPlanet 2, even though I much rather play them with a DualShock.

As for pricing, it's kind of an interesting reverse situation from the console battle. Kinect, as far as the technology goes, more than justifies its price (I'm gonna stick with $149 US), just as the PS3 justified its $599 price tag. With the Move on the other hand, there's a lot of hidden costs since you'll only get one controller whereas Kinect works with multiple players. Then again, if you have the empty space to get multiple people frantically waving around in front of your entertainment hub of choice without hitting each other, money probably isn't an issue (or such a huge issue that you shouldn't worry about consoles.)

The Golden Raspberyl

Raspberyl

Let's end with the worst press conference of the week, which infamously so goes to Konami (at least from all the one's I've seen.) There's always an unbearable awkwardness when listening to someone struggling with the language when presenting (seriously, there's no shame in getting a translator on stage), but these are certainly some of the weirdest things to happen at E3. Also, very, very excercise.

Song of the Now

Listen - Ho-Kago Tea Time (Drum Cover by Senri Kawaguchi)

LoL What? - A Game Recommendation

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In the past few weeks and months, my life has been consumed to a significant part by an addicting little PC game. So much so that I thought I'd share a couple of thoughts on it here and maybe pique someone's interested enough to give it a look.

Leage of Legends Logo

I'm speaking of League of Legends. The game is actually available at retail at a discounted price and GameSpot reviewed the game last year, giving it an unremarkable 6.0 on account of a lack of features and overall content. I'm approaching this game from its free-to-play side though as you can freely register your accound and download the game from leagueoflegends.com or lol-europe.com (the two regions have different servers and seperate accounts, so in the interest of a better ping, you should download the version for your region.) This is not exactly a review since an optional, free product has infinite value or at least value that can't be quantified. The accompanying screengrabs are from two separate matches I played just recently, however since I didn't want to let my teammates down in the heat of battle to opt for the F12 key, the images don't show a lot of decisive action.

So what is League of Legends? In short terms, it's a DotA clone. Defense of the Ancients is the most prolific, most prominent "mod" to come out of Warcraft 3's powerful level editor and pits two teams of 5 heros against each other. From each of the teams' bases, NPC-controlled minions will periodically stream out on multiple lanes, marching towards the oppositions base, clashing with the enemy along the way. The players themselves assume the role of one of many different heroes with individual abilities and statistical advantages in order to carve a path into the enemy fortress and destroy its heart. Kills on either minions or enemy players reward experience to level up and gain new abilities as well as gold which can be spent on equipment in order to more easily take down defense turrets and enemies. If all this doesn't tell you anything, you may at least have heard the abysmal song about this very game.

League of Legends is exactly this (with a portion of the development team directly involved with the original DotA), but since the entire game is built around it instead of being carved out of a RTS game engine, everything is more streamlined with an excellent, clean interface. Rather than listing the differences – which are meaningless if you're unfamiliar with DotA anyway – I just want to say that the gameplay is extremely engaging with a high level of tactical and strategical thinking with an emphesis on team play. I am by no means an expert, but aside from basic movement skills and fast reaction time, a lot of the game revolves around trying to outsmart the opposition, setting up traps for them to run into by hiding in tall grass or creating a diversion in order to break through on a different part of the map. The game also looks fairly gorgeous thanks to its stylized, timeless art direction that captures the cartoony look of Blizzard's products.

Outside the game though is where a lot of the long-term incentive lies. Each game played, win or lose, nets experience as well as influence points. Rising in ranks will open up new passive master abilities to apply to your summoners (heroes) as well as rune slots. Runes are bought using influence points in the in-game store and what runes are equipped can have a big impact on how you want to be playing your games. Other items in the store include access to champions as well as alternate costumes or boosts to increase your post-game rewards. These "non-vital" items however can only be bought using actual money via a credit card and I haven't messed with this.

Of course, one of the downsides of these benefits is that it makes the players who already have more experience with the game even stronger compared to someone starting fresh without any runes or master abilities. Although the game's match-making system certainly tries to pair players up into balanced teams, you will often feel like you're fighting an uphill battle impossible to win, even if the advantages aren't actually all that insurmountable. Yet the biggest issue of the game is simply the player base, i.e. you'll often play with complete ****s. I know, this is the internet of course, but be prepared to get called out if only the slightest mistake occurs and either ignore it and keep playing or abandon this game for good. I did the former for a while, but got back after a break and was completely hooked all over again.

What's more is that the game is constantly evolving, just recently getting a smaller 3 vs. 3 map to cut down on game time, since a heated 5 on 5 can in some cases take upwards of an hour. New heroes are also added to the roster periodically, currently spanning just under 50 and the devs constantly rotate the selection of heroes that can be accessed (without buying them either with money or in-game currency.) While the lineup is far from balanced and some heroes are definitely played a lot more often than others for obvious resons, the fact that it's still a highly team-based game keeps it interesting, even if you stick to one of the weaker, under-played summoners like me (I play Morgana exclusively.)

EDIT: Apparently according to tier lists, Morgana isn't half-bad and considered 2nd best tier by high-level players.

Morgana

Lastly, if you're now inclined to give the game a try, I want to offer one piece of advice: Try. Not. To. Die. It may sound simple, but it's definitely better to pull out of a fight too soon than to get slaughtered, giving your opponent not only experience but also money which he can then use to slaughter you more easily next time. Especially early on, play cautiously, stay close to your towers and maybe even tell your team mates that you're not very experienced yet. You might get yelled at for letting your comrads die every now and then, but you'll definitely get yelled at by jerks if you yourself die repeatedly (as it turns out, no matter what happens, it's always your fault in LoL.) If you decide to play on the European servers, my name is "Nameless One", as for some reason, you had to enter to IDs and I didn't know the one where it said Enter Your Name would be your handle.

'Tis the Season

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Yes, you're seeing correctly. I've come back from a long hiatus with a brand new blog. The reason I blog (and tweet) so rarely is that every time I think of something to write about, by the time I get to a keyboard, I made up my mind that it wasn't very interesting to begin with. So instead you get these huge summary blogs that I write mostly out of guilt for abandoning you guys for so long. Keen eyes could still find me on GameSpot of course, offering snarky remarks on the PS3 board or giving my two cents to some of your blogs, but as 2009 comes to a close, I figured it was as good an opportunity as ever.

So what have I been up to? Had I secretly been mastering BlazBlue's Rachel Alucard after my last blog? Pursued my plans for world domination? Taken a shower? Sadly no. Not yet. And yes. I guess the downside of these once-every-couple-of-months blogs is that I can't really remember what was going on – hell I can barely remember what happened last week. Aside from the usual dread of work, it had once again been time for the annual four weeks of Swiss army. This year was somewhat special because it was gonna be the last one with our platoon, as the entire batalion is going to be disbanded. As such, it was more fun than in years past as eager anticipation mixed with a certain melancholy. Other than that it wasn't all that different from before, but let me tell you: sitting on a windy hill during November nights is not all that pleasant. Of course eating a nice cheese fondue out on the field makes for a fun if slightly bizarre memory. Also, one night I got so hammered that I can only partially remember how I got back to base.

But enough of that, this is a video game website after all and despite this recession, there were some gaming related things happening. Most importantly, I finally decided to replace my ancient PC from 2004 (I think back then, technology was still based on steam engines), with a more modern machine. I bought all the parts separately online because it's way cheaper this way, although there was some concern that I wasn't gonna be able to assemble it all on my own or accidentally buy incompatible hardware (before, I always had some help). Alas, it wasn't all that diffiult after all, even setting the jumpers was plausible enough, but there was a short period where only half the RAM was recognized by the BIOS and it didn't run at the right clock speed. After some testing, it turned out I was just an idiot and didn't push the DIMMs in far enough.

So now I have an Intel Core i7 860 running at 2.80 GHz, 4 GB of RAM at 1333 MHz with a Radeon HD 4890 providing all them pretty shaders and polygons and 1 TerraByte to store plenty of K-ON! episodes in HD. I didn't want to go for the ultra high-tech, because prices rise exponentially as soon as you go for that "future-proof rig" that will be outdated six months later anyway. The question is what to do with all that processing power. I bought it mostly because I was sick of system crashes due to my old, unreliable hardware and while there are tons of great PC games to play (The Witcher, Mass Effect are on my list and I started playing the free League of Legends as well as the Warhammer Online demo), I'm already overwhelmed with the load of PS3 titles I want to get back to. Not to forget the first quarter of 2010 is jam-packed with gaming goodness. Speaking of gaming goodness (or maybe not), I found and bought a copy of Agarest: Generations of War on ebay last weekend, so maybe I'll eventually post an update for some of you who are eagerly awaiting the digital US release.

On to what may actually justify this blog, though. With the Spike VGAs just wrapping up last weekend and gaming websites like GameSpot, IGN and GiantBomb preparing their awards features behind the scenes, I decided to offer my opinion on the gaming year 2009 in form of a personal top 10. Keep in mind though that I will only talk about games that I actually played, so don't expect Forza 3, New Super Mario Bros. Wii or Assassin's Creed 2 anywhere on that list. Also, this represents a moment in time, don't come back to me in a couple of months and tell me how I said I liked this game better than that, but now I just said the opposite. It's a list, it's numbers, it's ultimately games that should not be compared and are all fantastic on their own merits. I would have embedded every game into a spoiler tag for more convenient viewing pleasure, but GameSpot's text editor has been giving me garbage html-tag errors for hours now. So if you wanna keep the suspense going, make sure you stop scrolling before the three dots.

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#10 Brütal Legend

Far and away the toughest spot to fill with a lot of games on the hot seat. Resident Evil 5 was close due to the fun co-op sessions with hazelnutman and another friend of mine, but blew it with a moronically stupid story that desperately tries to take itself seriously, a plot twist that practically telegraphed itself through a trailer and controls that feel clunky and ancient at this point. Even a few PSP gems like LittleBigPlanet, Monster Hunter or Dissidia had a shot at it. But in the end it was the brilliant writing, excellent voice acting and imaginative world of Brütal Legend that secured the game its place on this list. It certainly has issues with repetitive mission design and its open world is a lot smaller than you'd think with the plot rushing you through the game in the back half. I for one though thought that its unique take on real-time strategy on consoles was well-executed and I'm baffled when people say that it got too complex over time because I thought it was way too simple and limited at the beginning.

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#9 Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins is a fantastic RPG. BioWare lovingly crafted an amazing world with a rich mythology and populated it with interesting characters that really grow on you. It floods you with stuff to do and places to explore and while it did feel a bit like an upgraded version of Neverwinter Nights mixed with Baldur's Gate, that's by no means a bad combination. The sole reason it isn't higher on the list is because it's very much a PC game first and while the controls were intelligently adapted for consoles, there's certainly something lost in the transition. It's also disappointing that it simply doesn't run all that great, especially on the PS3 all the while not exactly wowing you with its visuals.

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#8 BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger

I know hazel will hate me from now on, especially when he sees the next game on the list... One of the finest examples of 2D fighting, BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger is a dream game for anime fans and fighting enthusiasts alike. Despite only having 12 combatants, the game offers incredible depth, lots of interesting systems to keep track of and a great selection of modes both off- and online. It helps that it also sports some of the sharpest sprite graphics to date, imaginative character designs and one hell of a soundtrack. With Continuum Shift in the works and its promise of a more lagfree environment for Europeans, the final rebel has not yet been fought.

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#7 Street Fighter IV

I don't remember why, but when Capcom first announced Street Fighter IV, I instantly dismissed it. It was surprising to me in retrospect, because I feel like I'm good at judging a game's quality very early on (which was also why I was astounded by people's reactions after Haze's release while my expectations were appropriately measured. Also, don't take that to mean I build my opinion before I actually play a game, maybe I would find Haze to be awesome if I actually played it). Anyway, the more I saw from the game, the more impressed I was with its visual design, animations and gameplay. I had never played much Street Fighter in my days and only dabbled in the genre in general, but it was probably the first fighter that I could really sit down for hours and have fun with it, win or lose. Better yet and this is kind of what puts it ahead of BlazBlue, is that it offers a better way of learning a character with its (extremely hard) trials. I have not played the game in a while, but I can't wait for Super Street Fighter IV next year. I should use this opportunity to get a fightstick though.

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#6 Demon's Souls

Ah, Demon's Souls. I love you, but it's tough love when you repeatedly kick me when I'm down. This game lives from its incredible atmosphere, its sense of danger that waits behind every dark corner and its somewhat clunky but ultimately gratifying combat. People say it's hard and it certainly is with enemies slashing huge chunks of health out of you. But more than anything else the game is punishing. If you take your chance at a quick slash while your enemy prepares an attack and misjudge the situation, the game will have no mercy. Arrogantly take on multiple grunts and you will still struggle to survive. And then it's back to the beginning with all progress lost. Still, the game has issues. Mainly, everything about it works best the first time you experience it. The thrill of not knowing where the enemy awaits, walking through a poisonous swamp without any antidots and figuring out how to defeat a boss while barely managing to survive. After your first play-through however, you'll be familiar with how the game works and curse it every time you pick up the same crappy armor or soul gems again and again. Still, with well over 100 hours spent, I can only congratulate From Software for its fine effort.

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#5 Batman: Arkham Asylum

The first time I saw a screenshot of Batman: Arkham Asylum, I was cynically surprised to see that it didn't look terrible for a licensed game. From that point onward, the game was set to be a quality action adventure in my book. What was not evident from images and trailers of the game though was a layer of ambition from developer rocksteady. Not content with simply making a solid game, they strived for more and for the most part, managed to pull it off magnificently. The story is excellently paced (albeit with an unremarkable final boss), the game finds a great balance between its friendly stealth mechanics and satisfying combat, it makes great use of its comic mythology and everything is enhanced by moments of gameplay brilliance. The sequel will struggle to even come close to the expectations the team set with the first game, but even just hearing Mark Hamill's Joker laugh during the first teaser lets me hunger for more.

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#4 Killzone 2

People say graphics are not everything and they are absolutely right. However, graphics can impact a lot more than just what you see and Killzone 2 does just that. Even nine months after the game's release there are still moments of awe when observing the graphical prowess of Guerilla's technical marvel. More important though is the atmosphere that is created by its bleak but beautiful art design thick clouds of dust and smoke, powerful explosions and the general sense of chaos on the field of battle, that the game skillfully manages to capture. Add to that an impressive multiplayer mode that is equal parts Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Team Fortress 2 and you have one of the finest games of the year.

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#3 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

You know, I was not the biggest fan of CoD4, at least compared to all the hype around it. The story offered a couple of great moments, but a lot of it fell flat on me because I didn't really feel like I could care – I couldn't even distinguish between the guys on my squad except for Price due to his fine, mighty beard. Likewise, I was never the biggest multiplayer fan (except co-op), so by the time I had reached level 30 or so, I had seen enough. With the months leading up to its release I felt the same. It didn't look bad of course, it just looked like more Call of Duty and after a while I got a real sense of smugness from IW who felt more inclined to support the hype with dumb marketing than actually letting the game speak for itself. Because it actually does. Let's be clear: The story line lacks much in the way of common sense, character motivation and actions are hardly comprehensible and the team took the grim quasi-realism of the first Modern Warfare and turned it into an over the top action flick. However, it's just a whole lot of fun. Of course I can't talk about which moments contribute to this, but in one level it's raining friggin' helicopters. From the sky. Helicopters. It also features probably the most disturbing scenes of the year and I'm not talking about the airport bit but a little rope action towards the end. The multiplayer has been enhanced as well with some intelligent additions and spec ops offers great co-op value, but just like the first game, it was the campaign that impressed me the most.

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#2 Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

Confused about seeing a PS2 game from 2008 on this list? Persona 4 graced European stores early 2009 and for the longest time it would stand as my favorite game of the year. Persona 3 was already a great game a year earlier, but 4 takes everything that made its predecessor awesome, polishes it up a notch and streamlines the whole game. The Japanese highschool setting provides a great pace for events to unfold as you enjoy summer vacation, go on school trips or study for exams. Beneath it all though lies a gripping murder mystery that manages to captivate with its supernatural elements and heart-breaking plot twists. At the center of everything is a fantastic cast of loveable friends with interesting and unique personalities. I spent a good 140 hours playing through the game twice, collecting every possible persona and defeating every optional boss. That alone could tell you how impressed I was with it and only the fact that other games had required my attention stopped me from playing it a third time. Even crazier however is the realization that I had spent over a hundred hours WATCHING Jeff and Vinny from GiantBomb.com play the game. Simply watching two people play a game!!! What is wrong with me...?

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#1 Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

What else did you expect? Uncharted 2: Among Thieves really is a complete package. The first game already won me over mostly due to its great cast of characters and fantastic visuals that still rank among the best. Uncharted 2 makes all those efforts look like a joke. The story may draw a few cues from Indiana Jones or National Treasure and I still stand by my opinion that Drake could have destroyed that dagger and ended it all. Once you play the game, see the fantastic performances by the actors, marvel at the brilliant pacing and flip-flop on whose side Cloe is actually on, you can't help but be sucked into a blockbuster that easily outdoes everything else. Then there are the visuals. It's a tough call between Killzone 2's glorious effects and Uncharted 2's level of detail, but the fact that I honestly shocked to hear that those cutscenes were all in-engine is telling how much work went into every aspect of the game. And then there is multiplayer. People were highly sceptical of this singleplayer experienced being tarnished by tacked-on multiplayer, but those worries were unfounded (at least in this case, BioShock 2 we'll see). Sure, it can't quite compete with something like Modern Warfare 2 in terms of sheer complexity and pacing, but it offers outstanding online action, interesting vertical level design, amazing replay tools and still looks better than most singleplayer games. Bravo, Naughty Dog for making one of the most impressive games of the generation.


So, as a certain deceased pop legend would say: This is it. If you want, let me know why all my choices were terrible, that I should blog more often or stop completely or that you want to bear my child (Disclaimer: Elegibile for the last option are female readers with smoking-hot looks, endearing cuteness and/or pleasant personality). Either way, I wanna thank you all for another great year on GameSpot, wish everyone Happy Holidays and I'll see you again, maybe in blog-form, in 2010.

Calamity Triggered - Loli Vampires are Go!

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My import of BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger arrived in the mail today. Rarely have I anticipated a game as much as this one in recent memory, much less a fighting game, a genre in which I only dabble in casually. Maybe it was the diverse cast, the fast and flashy action or the beautiful anime sprite work, but this game had the certain something to make me spend waaaay too much money on it.

I even got the Limited Edition, which worked out great because the bonus Blu-Ray turned out to be region-free as well. Gotta say though, I feel some weird business ethics conflict with IGN reviewing a product they helped producing / make money off. Either way, it was worth it for (legally owning) the game's kick ass soundtrack.

As the title suggests, I will try to get Rachel down (with Taokaka as a possible sub), which turns out, is quite a challenge as she appears to be a more advanced character and her Silpheed drive is quite unorthodox. I never shied away from a challenge though, no matter how much I'll suck. I simply couldn't resist her loli charms and her complete indifference and cruelty towards her servants is simply dashing.

The biggest problem with the game so far (as I stuck to the training mode for now) is that the game doesn't seem to do a good job of teaching you useful combos, or I haven't found them yet. Street Fighter IV's challenge modes were pretty boring and useless, but I thought the character trials making you perform certain moves in combo chains was a really useful tool for actual competition and so far, I'm missing this in BlazBlue. Of course the bonus BD has a bunch of strategies and combos, but unless I write them down or go on YouTube (which defeats the purpose of the BD), there's no good way to learn them.

Also trying to figure out whether to use the SFIV fightpad or go for the regular controller (it does have that handy right stick option, but I didn't run into too much trouble performing specials yet.) Either way, I'll first try to get up to speed on singleplayer before I throw myself into the online (hoping it works lagfree), but once I feel more confident, I'll take on all comers and probably lose horribly in the process.

That's of course a lot of unexciting words for just one game I barely played so far, but I felt obligated to write a new blog after three months of silence. Sorry, nothing completely crazy in this blog, but no one except hazel is going to read this anyway.

BADEN-BADEN LILY

Song of the Now: Queen of Rose - Daisuke Ishiwatari

What Does This 'Blog' Button Do? Tagged Edition

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Yes, that's right, yours truly is not only back in the blogosphere but also forcibly so, because I got tagged. And I know some might say "Hey, but I tagged that dude a year ago", at least you might be saying that if you're hazelnutman, but thanks to GameSpot's RSS feed only updating my tracked blogs whenever it feels like it, I discovered your blog months after the fact and decided that the ship had sailed.

So, in the spirit of the day (mind the timezone, America), let me tell you 10 (yes, for some reason it's not 5 anymore) amazing, hard-hitting facts not even I knew about myself that will surely make it easy for all the hackers who do it for the lolz to track me down. Nope, sorry, instead I will talk about video games and other dumb stuff that isn't interesting or even better, a complete lie. You brought this upon yourself, fools!

1. I once played through Super Mario Bros. 7 times in a row because some jerk friend told me you get the "real" ending this way. I also read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy three times, albeit not for the same reason.

2. My French was pretty decent at one point but most of that knowledge was lost in time.

3. While I own 52 PS3 retail games, I bought exactly 4 of them: Guitar Hero 3, Burnout Paradise, Uncharted (ebay) and Killzone 2

4. I own a sizable collection of Magic: The Gathering cards. The most expensive single card I own is a Mox Pearl.

5. This one isn't a fact about myself, it's a simple fact: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is the best series ever. Period.

6. At night, I like to dress up in a school girl outfit and rid the streets of its criminal elements.

7. I listened to every episode of GameSpot presents the HotSpot at least once.

8. My favourite video game journalist is Greg Kasavin.

9. I can't dance, I can't talk. Only thing about me is the way I walk. I'm also confident that I'm the only person on the planet who can walk and chew gum at the same time. It's an amazing gift.

10. I can't think of 10 facts about myself.

That's it, I know, you're all in disbelieve about the incredible things you learned, but here's the 5 people I tag:

[spoiler] [/spoiler]

To not let this perfectly good blog go to waste, here's a few funny quotes from Disgaea 3:

"Always be on time, if not early. But don't you dare run in the hallways"

"Oh no! Breaking our curfew will make our parents very happy!" - "Yes, it's our self-imposed curfew that our parents strongly objected to."

"Fool! I don't even know the meaning of the word "level grinding"!"

"One of my goals is to make hot sauce the official condiment for eggs."

"Without a rival, won't you be disqualified from being the main character!?"

"I shall teach you all something that you'll always find useful! 8 is still 8 when flipped upside down! However, when pushed on its side, it can hide an infinite number of possibilities!"

"A good and evil heart is a complicated yet exquisite meal, much like pasta with rosa sauce! Boom!"

"If you're gonna be the villain, you should at least get better lines. You need to review the basics of evil."

"What did you say!? I can't allow you to leave without health insurance! I don't care whether you have a proper license!"

"Hold up. When you make an assumption, you make an ass out of u and mption, weddo."

"I'm Ms. Scarlet. I've come from a different game beyond time and space."

"You see, we teachers are too tired and lazy to be holding ****s!"

"Main character, fine, but if a no-namer defeats the Overlord, it's just a disgrace!"

"Overlord's son, you will jump 10000 feet into the air, wait a turn, and do a dive attack! I'll take a critical hit!"

"Why are you always cheating? Every game requires a diligent and gradual level up process." - "But they also have cheat codes. Like max out our levels instantly... What was it? Up, up, down, down..."

"Oh? Your subconscious seems to have dropped something."

"...Um, not that I care, but you're a little on fire."

"Damn these people just popping out of nowhere! When will we get to fight?" - "Don't you wanna see the introductions first?" - "Do you want to be fixed up? I'll make you fire missiles from your boobs!"

"You know... even though it's the last episode and all, it's not like you can just come out whenever you feel like it."

"Isn't it standard for the last boss in a game like this to transform into his final form?" - "Tsk! Damn you for using such a convenient game mechanic! Can't you fight fair!?"

"... But before that, I'll let you Save. We will settle this in the next area."

LittleBigSurprise

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I haven't written a new blog entry in a while now, so I thought in case someone was wondering, I'd give you a quick run-down of why I was so absent lately.

For the past 3 weeks now, I had again been in the army, kickin' it old-school. As always, it was hella boring, so we had to make the best out of it and have a lot of fun (and beer). Now, let me tell you that I normally don't drink at all (as a Haruhiist), but it's pretty hard to resist a little sip or two with your buddies after a long day of doing nothing. I don't really wanna bore you with all of that but I do wanna say we spend 2 days BBQ-ing on a hill and 3 days were spent with the 3 of our group sitting in our car, playing PSP games, all while maintaining our radio network (which comes down to checking every few ours if the switch was still set to 'on'.)

Going in, the best thing about those 3 weeks was knowing that at the end of it, there would be a demo of BioShock waiting for me on the PlayStation Store. Needless to say I already played through it a number of times and I'm still anticipating its release as if it was brand new, as I managed to avoid all crucial spoilers. The game still looks pretty damn great too, which goes to show how timeless great art design can be. Another game profiting from this fact is Eternal Sonata as it's still as charming as ever and the demo was quite a nice surprise. The most unexpected thing though was finding an automated email by the Japanese PlayStation Store in my mail account, with a promotional code attached. Not knowing what it was about (although I could've read the kana, but it didn't occur to me at the time) or why I got it, I typed in the code and sure enough it was a beta key for LittleBigPlanet.

That said, I didn't have too much time to spend on it yet, at least not as much as I'd like, because I've *had* to play Yakuza 2 (which I finished just a couple of hours ago.) Good game, but just like the original, it's at its best when you're not actually playing but watching the story unfold. Also, the final boss fight reminded me of MGS4's, which is funny because Yakuza 2 was released in Japan way before MGS4.

Oh yeah, another thing I forgot to mention was that I downloaded AngelLoveOnline from the Japanese PS Store the other day, a free-to-play MMO on the PS3. It's been fun trying to figure out how to play the game with everything in Japanese, but the lag makes it almost unplayable at times. I might go back to it when I find the time, but I guess I'll have to wait for Free Realms for my proper MMO fix.

Other than that, I've been pretty much out of the loop due to the lack of internet access and am just catching up right now.

Giant Bomb has blown up

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Today, GiantBomb.com, the website from former GameSpot staffers Jeff Gerstmann, Ryan Davis, Brad Shoemaker and Vinny Caravella has officially blown up.

I've been following their project through podcasts and E3 coverage and of course I signed up immediately to see what they had planned. If you want to add me, go to my profile and click 'add to network'. I won't be as lenient with friend requests however as I learned here it just becomes unmanageable. Besides, MasterChief49 and SoLiD_SnAkE1989 don't ever say a word.

Fear not though if you don't want to join Giant Bomb. I plan on remaining about as active on GameSpot as I am now. I'll keep commenting on blogs if I have something to say, I'll check the forums on a regular basis and I'll keep stealing videos from youtube and upload them here.

That's it, peace out. Lolcat comes later.

A Feeling of Accomplishment

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(Yay, a new blog from me!)

As you can imagine, I too was keeping busy with Metal Gear Solid 4. Great game, by the way. Played it start to finish 4 times now. The 4th run was for the Big Boss emblem you get for completing the game within 5 hours with 0 alerts/kills/continues. I gotta say, this was one of the hardest, most frustrating experiences in a long time. At the final boss fight, I was close to tears of frustration and my controller barely survived the ordeal thanks to me coming to my senses just before throwing it at the tv.

Once done though, it feels great. Sure, it's just a game and I could've done something more meaningful in that time like finding a cure for cancer or something, but nonetheless, I feel like I've accomplished something. Thanks go to Gamefaqs user Hellcar (who should have posted his guide earlier so I would have gotten the solar gun before torturing myself during the chase sequence in act 3) as well as Youtube user Tyndis, especially for the smoke grenade tactics during said chase. Now, Sony, I think I've earned me my platinum trophy, so gimme!


(Sorry about the quality)

Update:

Now I got all 40 emblems. All that's left are the 30 ghosts I need to get on camera. I found a couple, but I'll wait until someone posts a complete list.

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