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Aggie Arcade - Papers Please

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As part of my ongoing effort to push video game content at UC Davis, I'm now doing a weekly video series for the website of the school newspaper, The California Aggie. The title of the series is the Aggie Arcade.

In my first video I play the beta for Papers Please, an upcoming indie game that puts players in the shoes of an immigration inspector. It's surprisingly fun and I can't wait to try the full game out.

By the way, something I learned while recording this first video: talking into a mic with no one on the other end is weird! Just something to get used to I guess, heh.

Hope you guys enjoy it!

Best of 2012

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I pretty much stick to one blog a year at this point, but you can always count on it being a year-end roundup of my favorite games! This year's theme: downloadable games are awesome. That's not exactly news, but the sheer number of quality downloadable releases that stood side by side with bigger retail titles this year was certainly noteworthy. This list is a pretty good indication of that. Anyway, here are my 10 favorite games of 2012:

10 - Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs Boxshot

It looked like Sleeping Dogs would never come out, let alone come out and end up on year-end lists like this one. And yet here we are with Sleeping Dogs occupying my #10 spot. Sure, games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Saints Row 3 do the open-world action game better, but that doesn't take away from the fun I had with Sleeping Dogs. The streets of Hong Kong were fun to explore and the visually striking melee combat helped differentiate it from the crowd. The takedowns in particular were just plain awesome.

9 - Spelunky

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I died countless times in Spelunky's underground tunnels, whether it be because unforgiving traps or dangerous enemies. And after each death I'd load it right back up in the hopes of getting just a little bit further and maybe making it to the next set of levels. Yes, I'd see the same environments and enemies again and again, but the randomized nature of the game's design always kept things interesting. I became particularly concerned with jetpacks; trust me, jetpacks are awesome in Spelunky. One time I got a jetpack and a shotgun... that was a good day.

8 - Dishonored

Dishonored Boxshot

I like games that give me awesome powers and then let me use them in any number of ways, so it should come as no surprise that Dishonored makes this list. Each level in the game is like its own little sandbox, and though stealth brings a certain usefulness, I had a blast purposely tearing my way through enemies like some kind of supernatural badass. It also supports the idea of player choice in its own way like the #3 and #4 games on this list, with players being given the freedom to approach each level in a myriad of ways. Want to transform into a rat and slip past some guards? Go ahead. Want to slow down time and pop off some incendiary arrow headshots? Even better! I also found myself impressed by the design of Dunwall and its inhabitants think City 17 meets steampunk.

7 - Fez

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Fez is a madman's virtual paradise masquerading as a charming puzzle platformer. Upon completion of my initial playthrough I thought it was a decent downloadable game, but then I dug deeper into the wormhole and uncovered the ridiculously complex ciphers that lie hidden beneath Fez's mysterious exterior. I had to get out a pen and paper to decode an entire language don't the developers know I'm a 21st century man who sticks to computers? Even when I was completely stumped and in the need of a guide, I found joy in looking up solutions discovered by the code-cracking community and its own furious scribblings. Fez also has the special distinction of featuring music that feels integral to experience. The often unsettling and dissonant electronic soundtrack adds to the air of mystery that permeates Fez's unique world. All of these elements culminate to form a one-of-a-kind indie gem.

6 - Far Cry 3

Far Cry 3 Boxshot

It only took a bit of traversing Far Cry 3's lush tropical island setting for me to become hooked. This is open-world gaming at its finest, with interesting environments to explore and various activities to take part in. The emphasis on survival instincts surprised me, but it gives Far Cry 3 its own singular feel. Players will have to hunt animals and craft pouches to make it out alive, but these tasks never become tedious and using a bow and arrow to kill tigers is pretty cool. In fact, there a ton of fun weapons to use in the game my personal favorite is the flamethrower. I never got tired of setting entire buildings on fire. The sheer amount of stuff to do and the variety with which it is presented makes for a game that will keep players busy for numerous hours. I'll admit that the narrative squanders a fantastic villain and dips into lunacy far too often, but I didn't play Skyrim for the story and the same holds true for Far Cry 3.

5 - Mark of the Ninja

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Mark of the Ninja might be the best stealth game I've ever played. Perhaps it's the benefit of working on a 2D plane, but developer Klei Entertainment has made a game in which every single design choice feels like an ingenious take on a familiar mechanic. On top of that there are plenty of cool gadgets to use, all of which provide noticeable benefits to the player's ninja repertoire. Most importantly, everything doesn't completely go to hell when the player gets discovered by guards. That's not to say Mark of the Ninja is a cakewalk, but the tools at the player's disposal heighten the emulation of the ninja way. I liken it to the experience I had with Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City I'm Batman, so of course I should effortlessly pound enemies into the ground. In Mark of the Ninja I'm a ninja, so of course I should slip past guards with ease.

4 - The Walking Dead

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Part of me feels weird placing The Walking Dead so high on my year-end list. It has the most noticeable flaws of this entire bunch, from wonky shooting sections to technical issues. Plus, there really isn't a whole lot to do in the game from a purely mechanical perspective. But I just can't get the story and characters out of my mind. It's the reason why so many people have fallen in love with this game, and rightly so. Never before have I felt so emotionally attached to virtual characters, and the fact that my decisions dictate how the narrative plays out further instills that personal connection. It's also a damn-well written game, with plenty of jaw-dropping moments that actually warrant the use of the term jaw-dropping. The fact that The Walking Dead is an episodic experience only makes those achievements more impressive and ultimately argues for the usefulness of episodic gaming. To say I eagerly awaited the each new installment would be an understatement.

3 - XCOM: Enemy Unknown

XCOM: Enemy Unknown Boxshot

The idea of player choice in video games often correlates with narrative, but the genius of XCOM: Enemy Unknown is how it takes that concept and applies it to the battlefield and research lab. Tough decisions have to be made in this game; soldiers will die and countries will pull out of the XCOM project. The challenge comes in the form of making decisions that lessen the impact of those inevitable blows, resulting in a tension-filled campaign in which the payoff is a sense of triumph after each victory on and off the battlefield. The cohesion between the two key gameplay systems the base operations and actual battles highlights the expertise on the part of developer Firaxis Games. Let's just say the folks at that company know what they're doing when it comes to turn-based strategy games. They also deserve an extra pat on the back for making a strategy game that works just as well on consoles... I had no problems playing this game on the 360.

2 - Journey

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With Journey, thatgamecompany strikes the perfect balance between innovation and minimalism. The core gameplay involves little in the way of meaningful challenges and instead emphasizes unspoken bonds between players. It's an unprecedented approach to multiplayer that somehow manages to create even stronger connections without text or voice chat. The first time I played the game I lost my partner about halfway through and honestly felt saddened by the loss. The journey to the top of the mountain was a lonely one, but the triumph of having a buddy alongside me during a second playthrough still resonates with me. Simply by exchanging a series of mysterious symbols, a hard-to-describe bond was formed and I felt I could find meaning in seemingly incoherent communications between myself and my fellow companion. It's the kind of idea that easily welcomes outside detractors, but those who have shared the experience will surely understand. It also helps that Journey is an absolute wonder to look at there are scenes in this game unmatched by technical powerhouses and art-house fantasies alike.

1 - Persona 4 Golden

Persona 4 Golden Boxshot

I became obsessed with Persona 4 Golden for a good two to three months. I spent 134 hours with the game, beat it three times, and got the platinum trophy over the course of those few months just let that sink in. I know there are those out there who spend hundreds of hours with certain games, but I'm usually not one of those people. It takes something truly special to hold my attention for that long, and Persona 4 Golden managed to do it. As someone who's been holding out on Persona 4 since 2008 in the hopes of some kind of updated re-release, the expectations for Persona 4 Golden on my end were high, and yet somehow it managed to exceed them. I came to love nearly every character in the game and had fun exploring dungeons without the tedium of repetitive dungeon design (I'm looking at you Persona 3). And to top it all off Golden features a baffling amount of new content, including additional (and often hilarious) scenes and smart mechanical changes that broaden the target audience without alienating the core fanbase. I never thought I'd say one game justifies my purchase of a system, but that's exactly how I feel regarding Persona 4 Golden and the Vita. If I hadn't bought Sony's handheld earlier this year, I likely wouldn't have experienced this new all-time favorite of mine.

Looking for news reporters

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Hey everyone,

The site I write for, GamerNode, is currently looking for news reporters. I figured I'd take to my blog to see if anyone out there is interested. It's strictly a volunteer position, but it provides great experience in videogame journalism - something I enjoy very much. If that does in fact interest you, take a look at the jobs page on the site and drop me a line here or send me a pm.

Thanks guys!

Favorite Games of 2011

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10 - Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Ghost Trick came out on the DS all the way back in January, so don't be surprised if it doesn't pop up on too many end of the year lists. But this adventure/puzzle game from the creator of the Ace Attorney series was a refreshingly original take on the genre, full of interesting plot twists and great characters. It also gets the amlabella award for best talking dog in a video game.

9 - L.A. Noire

By now you've all heard the scandal surrounding Team Bondi, the (former) developer behind L.A. Noire. In the past few months it seems like that news has overshadowed what was a really great game. It managed to perfect the film noir ****with its Black Dahlia-centered plot and seedy representation of Los Angeles. Most noteworthy was the incredible facial animation technology, but the game also provided a unique experience with its heavy focus on crime scene investigations and interrogations. This one would be a bit higher up on the list if the last hour or so wasn't so terrible.

8 - Terraria

I remember hearing Jeff Gerstmann talk about this game a lot on the Giant Bombcast, having no clue what it actually looked like. But one day I decided to purchase it on Steam for like $10 or $15, and boy was I in for a surprise. I could not stop playing this game for about two weeks as I strived to create meteor armor and obtain a Phaseblade (aka a lightsaber). If I had to make a list of the most addicting games of 2011, Terraria would probably top it. There have been many comparisons to Minecraft, and though I've only played a bit of that game at a friend's house, Terraria feels much more like a video game rather than a creation tool. Also, I find the simple 2D art design more appealing.

7 - LittleBigPlanet 2

User content on consoles doesn't get any better than this. The comprehensive tool base at gamers' disposals in LittleBigPlanet 2 is mind-boggling, resulting in some inventive, surprising, and downright crazy creations. Heck, you can make entire games in LittleBigPlanet 2. The result is a gift that keeps on giving. I'd also like to note how much fun I found the story mode to be. In the first LittleBigPlanet it was decent, but the sequel marks a significant improvement in that department.

6 - Bastion

For the past four years there has been at least one downloadable game that I consider among the year's best. For 2011, that game is Bastion. The action-RPG design isn't revolutionary, and I didn't find the story to be as great as others claim (it really boils down to the narration, which I admit was pretty cool). But when a game is executed this well, it doesn't really matter. The combat is fun, the weapon variety provides gameplay flexibility, and I absolutely loved the soundtrack. I can't wait to see what developer Supergiant Games does next.

5 - Deus Ex: Human Revolution

For me, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is probably the most pleasant surprise this year. I honestly wasn't expecting much prior to the game's release, but when I heard some good feedback I decided to purchase it. What awaited me was a wonderful RPG only rivaled by Skyrim this year in the "open-ended" department. At the time of this game's release I was really craving a game with numerous upgrades, weapons, and sidequests, and Human Revolution delivered. I also enjoyed the cyberpunk aesthetic, which perfectly complimented the complex story.

4 - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

First thing's first: Uncharted 3 is not as good as Uncharted 2. In fact, it's not even close in my opinion. But that doesn't mean it isn't one of the best games of the year. There isn't a significant jump in quality this time around; instead you get another fantastic Nathan Drake adventure full of amazing set pieces. There might be detractors out there who wish the game tried something different, but in the two year span between Uncharted 2 and 3, no other developer has been able to match or surpass Naughty Dog in scale and execution when it comes to action/adventure games. So more of the same is just fine with me.

3 - Batman: Arkham City

Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum were my top two games in 2009. As I just pointed out, I believe Uncharted 3 doesn't quite reach the level of its predecessor. But in the case of Batman, Arkham City takes everything from the previous game and makes it better: improved combat, more gadgets, more Riddler challenges, a stronger story, etc. Add to that an open world with side missions and you have the best superhero game...again.

2 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

It seems like this is the game that will be taking home the most GOTY awards, and it's understandable. I really enjoyed Oblivion but wasn't enamored with it. Skyrim, on the other hand, is a game I absolutely love. Everything just seems more polished this time around, and the new skill tree is an excellent addition. But what makes this game so magical is how Bethesda is able to create a fully realized world that you can lose yourself in. That includes a limitless amount of quests that would keep any gamer busy for a long, long time. It's a shame Bethesda still isn't able to properly execute in the technical department though. I didn't experience a bunch of technical issues during my playthrough, but there were some noticeable bugs, including one that would have forced me to start the game over 35 hours in (luckily I had one old save file left that I loaded up). At first I was debating with this and my #1 choice for GOTY, but I don't want to endorse shoddy game development. So for that reason, Skyrim will have to occupy the #2 spot.

1 - Portal 2

If you had told me before the year started that Portal 2 would by my GOTY, I would have called you crazy. I was certainly looking forward to it, but at the same time, I felt Portal was one of the more overrated games in recent memory. Sure, the idea was cool and the writing clever, but other than that it didn't feel too special. But by introducing new gameplay elements such as tractor beams and expanding the scope of the story this time around, Valve has made an instant clas.sic with Portal 2. Even more impressive is the cooperative multiplayer, which is one of the few instances out there where the experience truly feels cooperative. It's also worth mentioning that Cave Johnson and Wheatley are probably my two favorite video game characters from this year. All in all I really can't say anything negative about Portal 2, so it's my GOTY.

Vacation, videogame journalism, etc.

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Hey everyone. I noticed I have yet to write a blog in 2011, so I thought I might as well post an update of sorts. Here's what's been going on with me over the past month or so:

Vacation

I'm currently on vacation from school and enjoying it a whole lot. It's been about 5-6 weeks so far, and I haven't really done anything special. But simply not going to lectures is good enough for me! :P The only bad thing was that I had jury duty on my first week of vacation...luckily I didn't get picked for a trial. I start my second year at UC Davis in late September, so I still have plenty of time to relax.

GamerNode

I'm still writing for GamerNode.com, and it's been a really enjoyable experience. When I used to write for AceGamez, I'd do a review every now and then. But with GamerNode I have a more hands-on role, posting news every day and writing a monthly feature in addition to reviews. The free games are certainly welcome and I also get paid (not much, but I still think that's pretty awesome). I've even been invited to a few industry events in San Francisco (which I couldn't attend unfortunately because of school). The more and more I write for the site, the more I think journalism is the career path I should take. Whether or not that ends up being videogame journalism is up in the air, but if I do decide to try that out in the future I'll definitely have some experience under my belt.

Games

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood


I finally beat Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, about eight months later.:P I took a really long break from the game because I had re-played ACII right before Brotherhood, and I guess it was a little too much Assassin's Creed at once. But I've had a blast playing Brotherhood over the past few weeks. I really like the improvements they made to the game with the enhanced combat and the assassin's guild. Standing back and watching my assassins take down enemies was incredibly awesome. And of course there was another crazy ending that has me eagerly awaiting AC: Revelations' release later this year.

Bastion


I was really looking forward to downloading Bastion this morning since I've been following Giant Bomb's coverage of the game for a while now (in their "Building the Bastion" videos). I played a good chunk of it today, and it's been great so far. The combat is both challenging and fun, there are plenty of customization and upgrade options, and the way the story is presented is intriguing. I even like the guy who narrates the entire game (though that may not appeal to everyone). It seems like every year there are one or two awesome downloadable games that end up on my short list for favorites of the year. I have a feeling Bastion might make that list by the end of 2011.

Catherine


Catherine doesn't come out until next week, but it's the next game I plan on purchasing (I'm also going to review it for GN). I've had my eye on this one for a good while now (also thanks to Giant Bomb). I'm still not completely sold on the puzzle gameplay since I could see it getting repetitive at some point, but the unique premise is just too good to pass up. A love triangle with two women named Catherine and weird sheep men...that sounds both bizarre and awesome.

10 Favorite Games of 2010

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Hey everyone. The year has almost come to a close so that means it's time for me to list my 10 favorite games of 2010. I played and revisited most of these games in the past couple months in anticipation of this list, and what I realized is how great the year was from top to bottom. I honestly could see any one of these games being my personal #1, and ranking them was extremely difficult. I'd have to say the top three were the real standouts but overall there wasn't a whole lot separating one game from the next. Quite a few games that missed the cut were pretty great too. But I'll stop rambling on now; here are my top 10 of 2010.

10 – Donkey Kong Country Returns

Playing the original Donkey Kong Country on the SNES is one of my fondest gaming memories, so when I heard the developers of the Metroid Prime series were making a new one I was extremely excited. The first hour or so of DKC Returns is a little underwhelming, but as I progressed I realized that this was one of the best-designed 2D platformers I'd played in recent memory. There isn't much in the way of innovation but each level brings forth new and devilish challenges that really test your 2-D platforming skills. The forced motion controls were annoying but that was my only real problem with the game. Its most impressive feat was managing to feel modern while evoking those nostalgic memories of past games in the series.

9 – Bayonetta

I bought this game about a week and a half ago for $20 and now I regret not playing it sooner. It looked similar to Devil May Cry and I'm not the biggest fan of that series, but Bayonetta takes that formula and makes it about 1000x crazier. The cutscenes and characters are as ridiculous as the combat, but the game always manages to be incredibly fun. The timing-based combat is satisfying and I'm a sucker for bosses that take up half the screen. Games that push storytelling and gameplay forward are important, but sometimes you just want to sit down with a game and pull off gravity-defying combos against a horde of bloodthirsty angels. Bayonetta satisfies that need and more.

8 – LIMBO

This might sound odd but I feel kind of bad for putting LIMBO so low on my list. The reason I say this is because it's one of the few games that I just couldn't get out of my head after finishing it. In the actual game the story is practically non-existent, but the very premise had me trying to fill in the blanks myself. Who is this kid, where is he, and why the hell is there a giant HOTEL sign? And one can't mention the game without talking about the eye-catching black and white visuals and minimalist sound design, which are perfect. But behind all that is a fantastic puzzle platformer that gave me a good challenge and managed to be a lot of fun. Sure, it's a bit on the short side, but for this kind of game I throw that whole dollar to hour ratio argument out the window. It's hard to put a price on a video game experience, and that's exactly what LIMBO is, an experience.

7 – Heavy Rain

This game is about as divisive as it gets. Some hated it, some loved it. I am absolutely in the latter category. During its most intense moments Heavy Rain had me on the edge of my seat like no other video game has before. This was interactive storytelling at its finest, and every twist and turn had me that much more interested in what would happen next. There were some lingering questions about particular plot points and overall the voice acting left a lot to be desired. But Heavy Rain is truly unique and I love games that push boundaries and try something new. In that regard Heavy Rain is a resounding success.

6 – God of War III

God of War and God of War II were fantastic action/adventure games that I enjoyed immensely so I had no doubt that Kratos' debut on the PlayStation 3 would be just as great. The guys at Santa Monica Studio demonstrated yet again that a rewarding combat system and spot-on controls go a long way. The amazing visuals certainly helped too. There were no radical changes made to the formula but I struggle to think of one moment of boredom while playing God of War III. I admit the "been there, done that" feeling came over me a couple times, but when I look back on the game there's no denying that in terms of scale, pacing, and just overall fun factor, God of War III is the best in the series.

5 – Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

I've played Pac-Man only once or twice in my entire life so I don't have any strong ties to the franchise. But there was something about Pac-Man CE DX that had me instantly hooked. Unlike the clas.sic blueprint the goal of this game is to create a train of ghosts and then eat them. Getting that power-up, turning around, and devouring ghosts by the dozens is one of the most satisfying moments of 2010 for me. On top of that this game is all about the high scores. I didn't grow up with arcades but I find it very exciting seeing my name go up on those leaderboards. Usually I'll sit down with the game planning to play for a short while and then time just flies by. I now find myself ranked in the 500s overall out of 70,000+ people (last I checked). Let's just say it can be quite addictive.

4 – Super Meat Boy

I never knew I was a masochist until playing Super Meat Boy. OK, that's not true, but Super Meat Boy is pretty damn difficult. I'd get frustrated and wonder how completing each particular level was even possible. But that feeling of accomplishment that comes with beating each level is exhilarating. Even though I'd get mad I still found myself enjoying the challenge. It's because I had no one to blame but myself. Both the level design and controls are perfect, so it's up to the player to make it through the hellish obstacles that stand in their way. I have to say I find that very refreshing. And if someone were to now ask me what my greatest video game accomplishment is, I'd say it's beating Super Meat Boy.

3 – Red Dead Redemption

My favorite thing about Red Dead Redemption is how wonderfully it represents the Old West. After playing the Undead Nightmare DLC recently I realized how similar the basic combat and mission structure was to the GTA series and how it was starting to feel a bit stale. But then I went back to the main game, rode my horse through the plains, and forgot all about that. Rockstar created an amazing game world that I truly lost myself in. Sometimes it feels like the world itself is its own character, and that's a remarkable achievement. RDR also presented a clas.sic western story with excellent writing and one of the best video game protagonists I can remember in John Marston. The game certainly has its flaws but Red Dead Redemption is easily one of the most memorable games of 2010.

2 – Super Mario Galaxy 2

Just when I thought Nintendo had lost me they managed to pull me back in. Super Mario Galaxy 2 was quite literally a system seller for me since I bought a Wii earlier this year solely for that game. I always had reservations about the Wii and mine has been collecting dust up until recently, but I don't regret the purchase because of how much I enjoyed SMG 2. This game reminds me that clever and inventive gameplay design can trump pretty much anything. Whether it was eating chili peppers with Yoshi or drilling through the ground SMG 2 seemed to offer a new concept with every single level. The level of variety was truly astounding and though I still prefer Super Mario 64 for nostalgic purposes, SMG 2 is probably the best 3D platformer I've ever played.

1 – Mass Effect 2

I thought the first Mass Effect was a flawed masterpiece. It had inventory issues, a clunky combat system, and uninteresting side missions. But the Mass Effect universe was incredible and I wanted to learn more and more about it. The story and character interactions were equally compelling, making it my favorite game of 2007. Mass Effect 2 managed to maintain those fascinating story elements while addressing most of the problems found in the first game. Combat was completely overhauled making it more like a third-person shooter, and the inventory was rid of altogether. Overall the game was significantly streamlined, and the RPG fan in me was initially bothered by that. But they were sacrifices that resulted in a much better game, and the things that made me love the first game so much are still present. The main plot was lacking but the superb cast of characters more than made up for that. Oh, and the decisions you made in the first game carried over to the sequel...you know what, I could talk about Mass Effect 2 all day but I'm gonna stop now before I feel the urge to go play through it a fourth time. That will have to wait for another day.

I Have the Moon [Tagged!]

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Well it seems Christine (tinoshke) has tagged me, so what the heck, I'll join in on the fun. Here are the rules for this tagging game:

1. Put Your iTunes (or other music player, for example : Windows Media Player) on Shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must write down the name of the song no matter how silly it sounds!
4. Put any comments in brackets after the song name.
5. Tag at least 10 friends.
6. Anyone tagged has to do the same, because fun pointlessness spreads like a virus.
Do it ! Don't cheat ! It's creepy how odd some of the answers turn out...

Here we go:

1. If someone says, "Is This Okay?" You Say:

"The Rat" - The Walkmen

2. How would you describe yourself?

"In Limbo" - Radiohead

3. What do you like in a guy/girl?

"All Things Must Pass" - George Harrison

4. How do you feel today?

"Tell Her Tonight" - Franz Ferdinand

5. What Is Your Life's Purpose?

"Cold Light" - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

6. What is your motto?

"Boogie With Stu" - Led Zeppelin (interesting motto :lol: )

7. What do your friends think of you?

"I Guess You're Right" - The Posies

8. What do you think of your parents?

"Peking O" - Can

9. What do you think about very often?

"The Underdog" - Spoon

10. What is 2+2?

"Untitled" - Interpol

11. What do you think of your best friend?

"Something's Gone Wrong Again" - Buzzcocks (haha)

12. What do you think of the person you like?

"Helpless" - Neil Young

13. What is your life story?

"Cool It Down" - The Velvet Underground

14. What do you want to be when you grow up?

"Creep" - Radiohead (I swear it isn't true!)

15. What do you think of when you see the person you like?

"Bellhead" - Liquid Liquid (hmm...)

16. What will you dance to at your wedding?

"My Father's Gun" - Elton John

17. What will they play at your funeral?

"Rising Up" - The Roots (that would actually be pretty cool)

18. What is your hobby/interest?

"Folk Jam" - Pavement

19. What is your biggest fear?

"The Bride" - Dirty Projectors

20. What is your biggest secret?

"The Long and Winding Road" - Beatles

21. What do you think of your friends?

"We're Not Gonna Take It" - The Who

22. What will you put as the title?

"I Have the Moon" - The Magnetic Fields

-------------------------------------------

The people I tagged are in the first comment.

Best of 2010: Halfway There Edition

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With today being July 1st, it marks the halfway point of 2010. This year has been surprisingly great in terms of quality releases. Usually there's the massive flood of games during the holiday season (which will surely happen still), but there have already been some great games that have made the first six months of the year a lot less boring than they could have been. Rather than doing a top ten I wanted to highlight five particular games that have stood out from the crowd in my opinion. I avoided ranking these games because I can never make up my mind on a proper order, it changes by the minute. I'll save that task for the end of the year. So in alphabetical order:

God of War III

Kratos' first foray onto the Playstation 3 ends up being the best in the God of War series. It's not like that's a shocker, but the sheer scale of the game is what took me by surprise. Epic is a word that works perfectly in tandem with God of War III. God of War still reigns supreme over all action games with its fluid and satisfying combat system. The brutality and gore has been amped up to another level and this game should be in the running for the best looking visuals out there. The boss fights are the real highlight though, including one that is...ginormous. Heck, even that word doesn't do it justice. Perhaps the guys at Santa Monica Studio are fans of Shadow of the Colossus. God of War III doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it brings the God of War series to a satisfying conclusion...maybe.

Heavy Rain

Whether you choose to clas.sify Heavy Rain as a video game or not, there's no denying that it is a unique experience. Developer Quantic Dream's previous effort, Indigo Prophecy, was a solid effort but this game takes those core mechanics and improves on them in every way. Essentially the game boils down to making choices and responding to button prompts (QTEs), but you'd be surprised by how suspenseful and intense the game is. The decisions you make can affect the story in monumental ways and the depth behind the characters and their motives is rivaled by few other games. It's certainly not a game for everyone, but it is one I encourage others to try at least once.

Mass Effect 2

The first Mass Effect was one of those games where the overall experience made up for its flaws. Bioware created an amazing sci-fi universe with interesting characters and a wealth of backstory. How many codex entries were there?! But the less than stellar combat and a cumbersome inventory system were among the problems that held it back from reaching its full potential. The sequel fixes a lot of those problems from the first game, and its the combat that takes center stage. Mass Effect 2 plays very much like a third-person shooter now, and one of the best available at that. The fantastic morality system and decision making from the first game returns, and a stronger cast of characters makes up for the weaker overall plot. Some people were slightly dissatisfied with design choices like ridding of the inventory system altogether and inserting mission completion screens because it broke up that immersive RPG experience from the first game. I admit there is a part of me that wishes Bioware hadn't streamlined the game so much, but it's a very small part. It's easier to overlook those decisions when the rest of the game is so good.

Red Dead Redemption

Rockstar is king when it comes to open-world games, and they may have outdone themselves with Red Dead Redemption. It's like an amazing Western game is what I've been waiting for my entire life and I didn't even know it. Anyone who has played the Grand Theft Auto games will already feel familiar with the game as there are some glaring similarities such as the mission structures and various side-activities that you could spend time on (which include poker, horse breaking, and horseshoes among others). But the incredible setting is what sets it apart. The game perfectly captures that Old West feel; I had fun just riding from town to town and taking in the sights. Of course the writing is top notch and there is a solid cast of characters, including one of the better protagonists I've ever played as in a game. A few of the characters you meet along the way may be a bit too colorful for the time period, but what else do you expect from Rockstar?

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is the main reason why I recently purchased a Nintendo Wii. After reading the glowing reviews I had to try it out for myself, and I was not disappointed. Despite not owning a Wii, I had played and finished the first. I thought it was a bit overrated so my expectations weren't all that high for the sequel. The development team even referred to it as Super Mario Galaxy 1.5 at one point early in development...that didn't help me get on board. So the sequel ended up being a pleasant surprise of sorts for me, though I shouldn't be surprised that a Mario game has potential to be really good. What makes SMG2 stand out is the fact that practically each level throws a new idea or game mechanic at you. I don't want to spoil any of it since part of the enjoyment is discovering what each new level has in store for you, but the amount of variety in the gameplay is unmatched by anything else out there. There's also a welcome challenge to the game that's been missing from Mario games. It can occasionally be frustrating but it makes getting each star that much more rewarding.

Graduation, a Wii, and more...

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Hey everyone, hope you're doing well. Just thought I'd post a blog recapping what's been going on with me lately.

I graduated last week so no more high school for me. Can you believe it was raining during graduation? At the end of May!? Anyways, it was sad to say goodbye to a lot of people I may never see again, but I'm excited to move on to college. I'll be going to UC Davis in the fall. I'm undeclared at the moment; I plan on taking a year or two to figure out what I want to major in. Orientation is in July so that's when I'll be picking my cla$$es (damn you GS!).

As far as gaming goes my parents surprised me with a Wii and Super Mario Galaxy 2 as part of my graduation present. I'd mentioned to my mom about how I wanted to play SMG2 after reading the reviews and I guess she was paying attention. Unless there was some insane price drop and the Wii was only $100 there was no chance I was personally going to buy one, so it was cool of my parents.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one amazing game. I still prefer Super Mario 64 for nostalgic purposes but I'd say SMG2 is every bit as good as that game. Each level introduces a new idea or game mechanic; the level of creativity throughout the game is something I haven't really seen before. I'm currently at 50 stars (I believe 70 minimum is required to beat it). I've also been playing Red Dead Redemption, which I beat earlier today. Rockstar absolutely perfected that Old West feel and the setting may be the best part of the game. It's my personal GOTY at the moment. I also purchased Alan Wake not too long ago but I've only played it for a couple hours because of the aforementioned games. I plan on going back to it eventually though, I was enjoying the short amount of time I spent playing it.

Well, that about covers it. Does anyone have any recommendations for the next game I should purchase for the Wii?

20 Great Video Game Moments (Part 2)

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Sorry for taking so long to move on to part 2, but I finally got around to it. Here is part 1 in case you missed it: Part 1

SPOILER WARNING: Some of these entries may contain spoilers, so if there's a specific game you haven't finished yet then I recommend not reading the paragraph about that game.

In particular, there is a very big spoiler about Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in here, so if you haven't played and/or beaten it, do not read that.

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Final Fantasy X

Tidus and Yuna kiss

I always thought of Tidus as an idiotic and kind of annoying main character, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't interested in the romance between him and Yuna. I suppose that's the "romantic at heart" part of me, so I'm sure that not everyone will agree with this pick. But if you're like me you ignored the ridiculous way in which the two of them floated through the water and just appreciated the moment. (Speaking of ridiculous, the infamous yelling scene from FFX narrowly missed this list; it was so bad it was hilarious. If you've played the game you know what I mean. :lol: )

Eternal Darkness

WTF happened to my memory card?!!!

I'm not the biggest Eternal Darkness fan but I can't deny that it was a solid Gamecube title. In the game you had to avoid letting your sanity meter drop, but sometimes I did just to see the crazy effects that came with it. There might be whispering voices, an uneven camera, or even a fake Video 1 TV screen. But what topped them all is when the game told you your memory card had been erased or something along those lines. You should have seen my reaction.:P Of course then I realized it was just another mind trick the game was playing on me. Good one Eternal Darkness, ya got me. ;)

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Wait, I'm WHO?!

The entire story in KOTOR, from the characters to the various key plot points, was fantastic. But what helped it is that it contained one of the best twists I've ever encountered in a video game. Here you are after going after Darth Malak whose former master was Darth Revan, and then you find out that you are Revan! I certainly didn't see that coming and the initial shock factor was huge.

Resident Evil 4

That guy's carrying a chainsaw!

I've never encountered a scary movie or TV show in my entire life. I really don't understand how so many people can be frightened of a movie like…let's say, Paranormal Activity. But there have been a few games that have scared me, and Resident Evil 4 is one of them. The game just gives off that claustrophobic feeling where anything could happen at any moment. But man, when I saw that chainsaw dude for the first time I freaked out. And of course I was so flustered that I let him get too close and my head was decapitated. :lol:

God of War

Kratos, the Hydra, and a sharp wooden pole

I won't go too much into this, but in God of War you realize that Kratos is a badass and that this game is going to be awesome right from the get-go. The very first boss battle in the game against the Hydra is one of the coolest I've ever come across. I recently got the rerelease of both God of Wars on the PS3 and the impact of that fight is still so exciting today. The satisfaction from pulling that Hydra through the sharp wooden pole made me feel all warm and fuzzy. :)