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Kevin-V Blog

Kevin VanOrd Ornament

This blog is a part of the ornament scavenger hunt.

Share a couple of items on your Christmas wishlist this year.
An extended life battery for my HTC Evo phone
A jean jacket
A pair of hiking shoes

What games will you play during the holidays?
Red Dead Redemption
Halo: Reach (XBL gamertag: fiddlecub, or PM invite are both good)
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

What are the kinds of food or drinks you must have during the holidays?

Turkey and ham with stuffing and mashed potatoes
On New Year's, corned beef and sauerkraut
Egg nog with nutmeg sprinkled on top


Assassin's Creed Tattoo: Complete

The task, it is done. As many of you already know, this was tattoo week. After a long and thoughtful process, I finally decided to get a game-related tattoo. As I outlined in my previous blog, I wanted art that was meaningful in multiple ways, as to minimize any future regrets. I am thrilled with the result (though today, day #2, it is scabbing just the slightest bit in a few places). Want to see how this process went down? Take a look.

My artist is Marie at Fura Bodyworks in Castro Valley, CA. We had two appointments before the actual work was done to discuss the art. For the inspiration, see my previous blog post. The process wasn't terribly painful. I expected the first insertion to be the worst, when in actuality, it was just a mild pricking. Towards the end, she was working skin that had already been needled several times before, so it did start feeling a bit raw, but overall, the pain was minimal. If you;ve considered a tattoo but have balked because of pain, don't let that be a major consideration.

Things are coming together. The black marker lines you see above my wrist and below my inner elbow, by the way, are markings to line the image up when Marie first placed the stencil on my arm. It goes without saying, but the arm is not a two-dimensional surface, and my idea of a lined-up image might be different from someone else's.

The outline is done, and shading has begun. Marie went over the outer edge twice to make sure it was particularly bold. (One of my qualifications for the tattoo was bold edges.) Now, you see her using gray ink for shading. Some people find the shading to be more painful, and some less. For me, it felt much the same, only instead of drawing a line, she's essentially scrubbing the ink in, as if she's using a little colored pencil. After this, she added red to the ruby embedded in the crown, and used white to give depth and help certain edges pop. Note the mark in the center of the image; that scar tissue has been there since I was a teenager. It's not usually noticeable, but not only had Marie shaved off all my arm hair (obviously), but by that point, much of the surrounding skin was inflamed, making that poor scar really stand out--particularly because it had a little ink smudged on it!

A few hours later, I took the bandage off for the first washing and ointment application. This was taken right after. You can tell I was ready for bed; you can see the paisley markings of my boxer shorts! (And that's my humidifier in the corner.)

Two days later and I am still happy with my decision and with the result. I've got a few weeks before it will be done healing, but I've been careful to follow standard aftercare instructions, and I expect that while I might need to touch up a few lines later, everything will heal smoothly and properly. If you want to see more images from my excursion into the underworld, you can see them here. Next project: cut off my middle finger, allowing use of a hidden blade.

I'm kidding, I'm kidding. As we all know, Da Vinci used a modified design. I can don the blade without any amputation!

P.S.: In the previous blog, the title was a reference to Devo's song Whip It. No cookies for anyone!

Tattoo Detective

I'll send a cookie to anyone that knows what I am referring to in my blog title.

So anyway, it's been a while, right? I am cooking up some more substantial blog posts for the coming week, but I wanted to share something a bit more personal: I am getting a tattoo. Yes indeed, my previously unmarked, porcelain skin will be filled with ink forever soon, and of course, I have given this a lot of thought and effort. Tattoos are a big decision, and over the years I've played around with various ideas, but I hadn't settled on exactly what I wanted until a few months back. My goal was to find something attractive that was related to games, but also made a statement that had meaning beyond the game.

In the end, I settled on the Assassin's Creed symbol:

The choice is partially because I have a lot of passion for the series; partially because I adore the associated adage, "Nothing is true; everything is permitted;" and partially because the symbol is attractive in its own right. I felt that on its own, however, the symbol was too plain. After seeing photos of other tattoos using the symbol, I knew I wanted something somewhat more elaborate, and I also knew I didn't want any script.

My original idea was to have the symbol on my inner forearm, with the point facing my wrist, just as if it were a hidden blade. But elaborating proved tricky, and most of the ideas the artist and I came up with didn't feel right. We looked at a lot of designs and other artistic takes on this symbol, and finally found an idea that hit us like a ton of bricks. Once I was willing to be more flexible about where the tattoo would go, we found a springboard that worked:

The tattoo will recreate the symbol, as well as the crown, jewel, and wings above it, and will go on my outer forearm. I am anxious to see the final art, which should be finished tomorrow. If all goes well, I will get the tattoo this Friday evening. I am nervous and excited all at once, but I think things will go smoothly. I like the artist and her work, and the studio is clean, well-organized, and well regarded.

Have you had a tattoo? What was it like, and what did you have done? How painful was it for you? I'd love to hear your thoughts on my upcoming tattoo, as well as your own experiences.

Edit: Two hours before my appointment the studio called and rescheduled to Thursday. I have to wait six more days, which peeves me, since I had a lot of emotional energy wrapped up in tonight's appointment.

The Three Es: Electronic, Entertainment, and EEK!

It has been far too long since I have posted an update. I hope you can forgive me: my time has been divided between games for work and games for fun. If you hadn't noticed, there have been a ****load of good games coming out, and too little time to play them. And of course, next week is E3--the yearly nerd get together that happens to feature a lot of games.

As I head into E3 2010, let's start with Shaun McInnis's last-minute home video in which myself and other GameSpotters give you a quick taste of what we're most looking forward to.

Of course, the greatest pleasures usually come from the games that surprise us. I am excited to hear about Crysis 2, Mafia II, Infamous 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Last Guardian, and loads more. But who knows what Valve has in store for us? Half-Life 2: Episode 3 perhaps? Or--heart palpitating--Half-Life 3? A new and exciting IP? (If it's Left 4 Dead 3, I might cry. I sincerely hope Valve doesn't continue to rely on that particular brand.) Will we see more about the recently-announced Wheel of Time game? And beyond that, what will be this year's Witcher, Guitar Hero, or Demon's Souls? You know--that game buried in the nether regions of the convention center, or the one garnering too little attention, that ends up being an instant classic, or at very least, a cut above the rest? My first E3, it was a little-hyped game called Okami that blew me away, though the convention center was plastered by posters for Gun, and people were lined up for just a glimpse of Quake IV. Gun and Quake IV were fine, but I know which of those games I'd rather play given the choice.

And so I will be peering under rugs, peeking into corners, and sniffing out empty crannies, because that's where we'll find those future game of the year candidates that will make us think about games differently. Don't worry--I'll be getting chills over the biggies like the ones I mentioned above. But it will be the undiscovered gems that will cause me to lose sleep due to the sheer thrills.

In any case, I want to make you as much a part of my experience as I can. As you can see, GameSpot has all sorts of ways you can keep tabs. We've got live coverage of all the press conferences, virtual booth tours, a guy roaming the floor that you can help direct, stage shows, and loads of written content besides. Just click that banner at the top to see all this awesome stuff. But I'd love for you to come along for the ride with me, or at least, come along for the fun bits. (I don't think you'd enjoy watching me sitting in the GS booth and typing on my laptop.)

So follow me on Twitter: my username is fiddlecub. While our calendar is filled, appointments are subject to change, so I am not sure yet exactly what games I will be covering. But I will be tweeting frequently to tell you where I am going, and asking you to send any questions you might have my way. Not every appointment will give me an opportunity to ask questions, but I will do my best to ask developers the questions you find most important and speak to them in the article or interview. And if you are at the show, you are welcome to stop me on the show floor and say hi. Just be patient: sometimes I might be rushing to an appointment, or furiously typing up a preview. But what I am doing wouldn't be any fun if I didn't get to share it with you, and I hope I can bring you to my E3 in my own small way.

For now, tell me what you're most looking forward to. Get me excited about a game I may not have been excited about! I can handle it, I swear!

Charms to Soothe a Savage Breast

In my last blog, I implored you to link me to a video for which I could write a small musical score. Choosing which video to use was harder than I expected. When I know the game's music already, it's hard to remove it completely from my bag of tricks. In other words, how can I write music for a Final Fantasy clip without using using ascending and descending arpeggios?

But write it I shall. Congratulations to Mastastig for providing the clip I chose to write for: His Final Fantasy montage. Good sir, send me a private message with your name and address, and let me know which game you wanted me to send you. In the meanwhile, I'll get to work on my little musical project.

Thanks, by the way, to those of you that uploaded and linked me to your clips. If I can, I may actually write soundtracks to a few of those as well, time permitting. It's good to have a composition project on my plate at last.

Soothing the Savage Beast -- Blog Contest Inside!

Did you know...

...that I double majored in violin performance and music composition?

Not many people do, but my musical background makes me very particular about game music. I have really strong feelings about how music can impact a game. This year, Heavy Rain has been one of the best examples of what a soundtrack can do for an experience, but there are other good soundtracks in 2010 already, and I'm looking forward to hearing more of them.

But I am in the mood to make my own music the last few weeks, so I need your help. I want you to upload and/or link me to a video clip from a game made in the last couple of years. Here's the trick: It shouldn't have any music in it. You can either remove the music if there was any, or choose a selection without any (feel free to leave in dialogue). Or of course, you can just find some random game clip without any music too. Point is, the clip should have no soundtrack!

That's where I come in: I am going to write one for it! Now obviously, I am in no position to write oodles of music for a long clip, so let's try to keep it under three minutes or so. Link me to this video, and if I choose yours, I will write music for it--but I will go one step further: I am going to send you a prize if I choose the clip you provide. What prize, you ask? Why, a game of course! In this case, either a copy of Final Fantasy XIII for the PlayStation 3, a copy of Mass Effect 2 for the PC, or a copy of Supreme Commander 2 for the Xbox 360. Your choice!

So here are the basic rules:

1 -- You reply to this blog with a link to a video for which you would like me to write a soundtrack.

2 -- This video may pre-exist, or you may upload it yourself to the video hosting site of your choice.

3 -- The video must contain no music, and must be under three minutes long. Other sound, such as dialogue, is fine.

4 -- You should provide this link by Wednesday, March 24, 9PM PST.

5 -- From the videos linked, I will choose the one I think is best suited for the task.

6 -- If I choose the video you link, I will mail you a copy of Final Fantasy XIII (PS3), Mass Effect 2 (PC) or Supreme Commander 2 (X360).

7 -- I must be able to use a mainstream shipping company (UPS, Fedex, Airborne Express) to send you your prize, and you must be willing to provide me your shipping address and email address. Overseas entrants are welcome, provided I am able to ship you the game using a standard carrier.

8 -- I will post the winner here and contact the winner via GameSpot private message.

9 -- I will post the clip with the soundtrack I composed for it at a later date in this blog.

So what do you think? Would you like a free game and test my musical abilities all at the same time? So get cracking!

The Winds of Change, They Blow

And for some PC gamers this last month, the don't just blow--they blow hard.

First came Supreme Commander 2, a truly great game that represents a streamlining of an extremely broad and complex formula. Unfortunately, this changes don't sit well with a strong-willed Supreme Commander community, who see SC2 as a "dumbing down" or a "console-ization" of the original. And it's easy to understand; They don't just see a game--they see a representative of something to be feared and loathed: the end of PC gaming as we know it. Supreme Commander 2's quality is secondary; it has taken on a much more sinister meaning. The vestiges of PC gaming, the complex mechanics of a beloved game, the shift to a more casual audience--if Chris Taylor isn't immune, they worry, then no one is. Who's left to take the reigns?

This is actually a great game, but was it what you wanted?

I don't think things are all as drastic as that, and I don't think the mostly excellent Supreme Commander 2 deserves all that baggage, but the baggage is heavy and we're looking for scapegoats. Who's to blame? Where do we turn? How do we unite against the evils of the game industry, which we perceive as abandoning our PCs and focusing on the larger console audience? We've watched our respected PC-focused developers leave our platform of choice behind. Epic; id; Ensemble; Digital Illusions. We cling to what's left, to the developers and publishers we still feel understand our plight, even just a little--the Valves, the Stardocks, the Relics, the Biowares.

If you're a PC gamer, you know that feeling. The one you get when you're playing the game and you see Xbox 360 button prompts pop up. When there are few graphics sliders, if any at all. When you can't use the mousewheel to switch weapons, when the interface takes up half the screen, when you need to use the keyboard to navigate menus. Trust me: we feel that pain together. I felt it playing Assassin's Creed 2 and I couldn't play a single-player game because Ubisoft's servers were down. I feel it when I play Dawn of War II and I have to load up Steam and Games for Windows both. And like you, I don't know what to make of it, but I'm not giving up. I'm not willing to accept that Farmville is the future of the PC.

Did this gamble pay off?

The Internet tantrums I watch unfold don't work, but I struggle to provide an alternative. They give us a sense of camaraderie (we're in it together after all), but they don't lead us to solutions. I feel bad knowing that Command & Conquer 4 has joined the list of scapegoats. It isn't an awful game by any stretch, but it too represents that feared change. "Another one bites the dust," some might say. Again, a revered series becomes fodder for ridicule. It's actual quality is secondary; like many developers so often do, EALA took a gamble. But for those anxious to see the series close with a massive explosion, the few brief fireworks they got instead was a letdown. And so the masses speak, spreading their displeasure by going to our gamespace, to IGN, and to Metacritic and spamming review scores of 2s and 1s. I wish it was the quality of the game that mattered most, but these games aren't just games anymore--they're false idols, to be cast into the fires of hell. And it stings me that it's become such a concern, it stings me that good games get saddled with bad raps, it stings me that we feel our voices are so insignificant that we have to scream so loudly.

I'm not so pessimistic. I can't be. I've lived 37 years--amongst gamers, I'm an old man, what with my balding head and my growing collection of wrinkles and nose hair. I've heard about the death of PC games before--and adventure games, and god games, and city builders and other odds and ends. Much of the hate is unreasonable, the standard mountains we make out of molehills when we face change. But even I get disheartened at times. So when I see my sisters and brothers banging their fists against the walls that are closing in, I understand. I wish I knew where to direct our energies. I wish I knew how to deliver the message in a meaningful way--a way that doesn't make matters worse rather than better.

Well, I guess things could be worse!

What do we do? How do you and I keep PC gaming alive? We speak with our money of course, but that too is a double-edged sword; do we give money to the publisher that just saddled an anticipated game with crazy DRM, or delivered a half-hearted console port that doesn't support the mouse, let alone anti-aliasing? How do we make the message--PC gaming, and PC gamers, matter!--heard, without rewarding those that make the decisions we hate?

I'm hoping one of you might have the answers, because I'm out of them, myself.

A Scary Gaming Moment You May Have Missed

Unreal II: The Awakening isn't a classic, but its a fun sci-fi shooter that I always wish had gotten the praise it deserved. It also contains one of my all-time favorite moments in a first-person shooter. It involves an elevator ride that doesn't quite go as you planned. I'll let you watch to see exactly what happens:


I took this footage a few moments ago using FRAPS. If you like what you see, I recommend taking a look at Unreal II. It's selling for $14.99 on Steam.


So Tom Mc Shea brought up palindromes not too long ago in the office, and my mind has been fixated ever since. (If you don't know, a palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backwards as it does forwards, like "radar" and "Go hang a salami--I'm a lasagna hog!" So I decided to try my hand at creating some game-related palindromes. (Ones that are a bit more difficult than "Sixaxis." I've been Tweeting these for a few weeks, but thought I'd share this nonsense with everyone!

Ma? Dad? A lot 'tis sap, Ned, damn it! In Madden, pass it to lad, Adam!

"Tardy block risk, Colby?" "Doom, sir! Tetris, sir. Tetris!" "Moody blocks irk Colby? Drat!"

Loaded, named sum as Samus demanded AOL.

Wow, is Pepsi? Halo Cola.. his Pepsi? Wow.

'Tis art? Luigi ultra art! Luigi ultra? Sit.

Hal! Lasso boss Altair, all! Lariat lasso boss, Allah!

Evil as a Wii Sports act at Castro. P.S.: I... I was alive!

Also, reader buzz_clik came up with a few of his own. Guess which one I like most!

Loo chose ore. He rose. Yes, Bad Dudes use dud dabs. Eyesore heroes? Oh, Cool.

Look, sir, at a VanOrd. A hadron avatar is kool.

OK, some some of these are nonsense. Think you can do better? Prove it! Write a game-related palindrome and show off your skill.