Humble Bundle sat on a wall

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Prices of games had a great fall ^^

http://www.humblebundle.com/

Indie Royale is not far indeed, it makes you happy but your wallet doesn't bleed :O

http://www.indieroyale.com/

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Here, have a pie

In other news:

Final Fantasy XII - Almost finished! (w/ the main story; I'm not a big fan of hunting)

Okami and Persona 4 - pending since spring.

HoMM 6 - The first mission was super fun, then at the start of the second one they sum up the next 20 years of my character in 3 sentences, leaving me with a new set of his problems I don't really care about anymore. I don't like the story-telling here, nuh-uh. I mean, I'm a guy who immensely enjoyed HoMM 4.

American Mcgees Alice - I finished it on hardest difficulty (sort of). During the last half of the game I did something I never do; I started using godmode cheat (nearly every level except boss fights), because levels get really tedious & enemies get boring and repetitive (like, really). Ah, the charm of early 3D platformers. Boss fights were always a blast though! And I really liked the variety of scenery. I'm really interested in the new Alice - did they learn from past mistakes?

Amnesia: The Dark Descent - Holy shiatsu, this game is making me hyperventilate in terror! I'm not usually into horror games, but this one... it's designed so skillfully, the storytelling is so sublime and the fear is so genuine - truly a gem!

COD 2011 - the shortest one yet, with disappointingly unsatisfying chaotic gameplay - you are watching a movie while cuddling your left mouse button. Still, seeing Makarov hang felt good (oh yeah, spoilerz). Anyway, another chapter of my turbulent gaming life closed.

Skyrim - My super nimble khajiit is an archmage and an alpha dark brother. He doesn't care about the Companions or thieves too much though. He thinks they are too self involved. He took several arrows to the knee, but kept brewing and cooking. Because he's that cool. Alduin was a pompous sucker, so he's hanging out in limbo together with Parthnaux now (who trusts a french dragon anyway).

Merry upcoming Christmas, hope you all stay healthy and content :)

Gaming ADHD: Discovering the magic again

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(Inspired by Subymans post, this is my view on the subject.)

So, you think the games were better 10 or 20 years ago, and simply can't find magic in today's gaming industry? You always start playing a dozen games at once but with each the thrill wanes in just a few minutes, leaving you in search of something else? Don't despair! Guess what: you can experience that magical moment again. Lots of them. (TV_commercial_mode: off)

I found the trick is to keep things fresh. I try not to play sequels, or games that through previews or trailers give off a feeling of a too familiar formula. It involves a lot of self control obviously, but to be able to look back at the games you played and remember only thrill and magic is much more rewarding then succumbing to a hedonistic urge to instantly revive those feelings with always new (but oh so worn out) stuff. It gives some satisfaction in the short run, but can't compete with a feeling of bliss caused by a fresh and liberating gaming experience. I was mindblown by Witcher [2008], but I will not taint that beautiful memory with Witcher 2 [2011]. I accidentally stumbled across Portal [2007] and it turned out to be the best game I played that year, but I really don't need to go down the same road with Portal 2 [2011]. It's just like with life in general, you can never turn back time, and you can never be everywhere and do everything. So why not enjoy every moment of it and make the best of it, by letting the past stay in the past, and cherish its memory and its lessons. The fundamental thing (I think) is to try and not leave too many chapters of your life (or games) opened - instead try achieving a state of mind where nothing from the past stirs your tranquility and satisfaction with everything already achieved. Since we play to experience some form of ideal version of ourselves, it's very inspiring and comforting to remember there are no achievements and objective experiences: they don't exist. They are all in our head. AVOID boarding the money-hungry hype train, as often as you can. It leads back to that closed circle of chasing the carrot.

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The magical feeling does not reside in a particular genre or game and it isn't an individual, never changing fact - the magical feeling you experienced when playing Mario on NES (or whatever) is somewhere in between the palpable entities of the gamer and the game. It shifts, it changes, it jumps between layers of understanding. The feeling of magic EQUALS change. Embrace that change and go with the flow - we live in order to change, and we change in order to live fully.

I realize it might sound like I promote boycotting sequels. Not really, and I'll clarify. All the stuff I said is kind of an arbitrary rule which guides me in my gaming habits, and just as every rule, it has exceptions. But the point is: the feeling of magic we seek when gaming, the feeling of invigorating passion that a certain game evokes in us - this feeling will be different for each of us and furthermore, evoked by different things. That is why WE ALONE (each of us for him/herself) can deduce and know which game will evoke that feeling, and which one will leave us with a big 'Meh' cloud floating above our heads.The notion that games can be objectively and absolutely evaluated is an illusion.The same game will be magical to one gamer and just a dull sequel to another - that's how it is. It is also the reason why Witcher 2 and Portal 2 don't do (almost) anything for me, but are in eyes and mind of someone else a pinnacle of gaming and a milestone in their contact with interactive fiction as a whole. So it means each of us has a unique set of standards, tastes and inner triggers which (if triggered by the right elements in a game) evoke a sense of magic. Most importantly, these standards, tastes and inner triggers CHANGE. (This is why I could very well enjoy Witcher 2 / Portal 2 in, say, 5 years.)

On the other hand, individual gaming habits and individual histories of played/enjoyed games are more and more shared in almost identical forms by a huge number of people. Logically, their reactions to certain games (and their expectations of what those game should be) will more than often be very similar since all those people share similar past experiences! This is (in my opinion) a proof of homogenization among gamers, and definitely NOT of objectivity in their tastes (which would stand for allegedly absolute quality of the game or the possible lack of it). In favor of this little conclusion of mine are the interesting situations, in which various very different people agree on the 'Meh' feeling when reviewing a certain game, but flame completely different aspects of the said game. Why does it happen? I think we all try to find the magic in something specific, in some specific element (genre sometimes) close to our past experiences (slightly altered in just the right way) - but fail to see the forest for the trees.

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That specific element we are focusing on? It is (and always was) just a symbol without an inherent meaning, a symbol which is powered and strengthened by our inner triggers. Filled with meaning in this way, it becomes a representation of an idea, representation of our feelings and thoughts combined in most peculiar and individual ways, which we then take for granted as something palpable.

Humble Bundle! (and more)

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Now this is definitely something worth checking out.

Not only do you get the Indie Bundle 3 (VVVVVV, And yet it moves, Cogs, Crayon Physics, Hammerfight, Steel Storm) for whatever price you decide to pay, you get the whole Indie Bundle 2 (Braid, Machinarium + OST, Osmos, Revenge of the Titans, Cortex Command) too if you pay more than the average payment so far (~5$)!

The best thing about this is, you decide how much money goes to developers, how much to the site itself and how much to charity (you can divide money among all of them or give it to just one or two groups). Pretty awesome model if you ask me, and one I completely agree with (even admire). I hope this is the future of gaming industry. It's games by gamers for gamers, with love. A simple, elegant and a win-win solution.

What have I been playing recently? I'm having so much fun with Proun, a very addicting and unforgiving racing art game. Fotonica is a mesmerizing combination of Canabalt, Rez and Mirror's Edge. They both feature only a few tracks (they are 'pay what you want') so one could argue they are too short. Couldn't be further from the truth; you can easily spend hours replaying the levels and never get bored (highscore is a powerful drug). Jamestown is as awesome as a shooter can be - I'm having a blast. Bonus unlockable challenge levels are as good as the main campaign - it just won't get boring no matter how much I try.

Also, I played some singleplayer Unreal Tournament (again) & finally completed Torchlight, Puzzle Dimension and Limbo :)

Take care, over and out

Alice in Burtonland and what she represents

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Oh, you found a glitch? Soon you'll need a stitch

What do we have here?

Combined visions of Disney and McGee, one could say. What if we dig deeper? A mixture of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. What if we peel off another layer or two from this rotten banana? Oh, here we are, on a magical trip through the same premise found in 'King's speech'. Well then, mister Burton. Is he a brand? (Was he ever anything else, exclaimed yours truly facepalming his way through an eye-opening inner monologue.) It seems to me he is used as makeup for otherwise very common and traditional values. Open market, militarism, domination and oppression. Preposterous?? Are you eating the banana or admiring its avant-garde and nearly timeless rottenness? Enough with the questions, let's get some answers.

Semiotics of the new Alice

The first layer is easy to decipher. Burton gets his inspiration from several sources, none of which is the original book (because it's hard to believe it is). Surely, one of them is Disney's 'Alice in Wonderland' which Tim probably despises for the overall happiness and subliminal messages funny how the goal justifies the means as the same sword in different hands signifies a tool of justice, not crime. Another potential source could be the Czech stop-motion movie 'Alice' (1988.) by the renowned director Jan vankmajer and while we cannot know for certain Burton even saw it, it servers as an example of just how different (albeit darkly toned as well) can another vision of the same book be.

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Alice (1988.) - probably the best movie adaptation of Carroll's work

A major source is undeniably the videogame 'American McGee's Alice', a version of Wonderland which is nearly unrecognizable compared to Carroll's writings. I'd like to stop here for a while and elaborate. If McGee's Alice is in fact as I described, the term unrecognizable tells us something about the nature of execution, materialization of an idea born from consuming the original Wonderland. It says nothing about the quality of it. It can be true to the spirit of its inspiration, or it can go its separate way that however has nothing to do with how well it is executed. What am I getting at? Let's agree that quality measures the capability of a work to stay true to its own self invented confines. In other words, a work needs to respect its inner logic and the final consumer (that would be us). I'd say 'American McGee's Alice' does exactly that: the story is well refined, details are subtle and dialogues rather witty (I won't use the semantically raped term funny, tyvm sitcoms). It is indeed a pretty imaginative, visually impressive (back in the day) and (when all is said and done) slightly above average horror platformer. It boils down to this: the game in which we play as a batsh*t crazy Alice swinging her machete through hordes of bloodthirsty cards and chess pieces this game never tries to be something it isn't. It knows what it wants to say and it knows how to say it. No hypocrisy. The same goes for the original book, vankmajer's cult movie etc. Burton's movie? It lies and it cheats, and it leaves a nasty aftertaste.

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Intelligent horror iterations of known fairy tales are indeed possible

Why don't we throw that first slimy layer together with [insert TV provider here] subscription away, and continue the search for the mysterious banana. Under mentioned and obvious powers which molded the movie into a quirky Disney and horror mixture, one can recognize the second layer: influences, motifs and whole scenes copied from 'Harry Potter', 'Narnia' and 'Lord of the Rings' movies. Be it a huge evil but (turns out) good natured beast, Joan of Arc for modern spungebob generations or white and black armies in an epic battle, it all stinks to high heavens while reminding of the same old cr*p in different clothing.

Let's ignore the clothing shall we, and focus on the turd. Whacky, burtonesque, johnnydeppesque (I know, you hate me now) makeup covers up a nationalist, chauvinist and racist structure with some very arguable messages. The third layer is shared by all popular fantasy blockbusters of today. I feel the need to once again stress - they all have elements which work splendidly on many levels. Even Burton's movie has its moments, especially during the first half. It all falls apart though when we recognize what is being served to us on a silver plate with whispers of flattery to our ear. Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice in Burtonland. What do they have in common? Blind faith in the purpose of holy wars, noble leaders we ought to die for, old orders and hierarchies in need of preserving, ancient prophecies which instill fear and belief we need to fulfill them (so the circle can be closed and eventually start over). What a load of bull. I'm not going to analyze ideologies of Lewis, Tolkien & Co. now, but they can't be ignored when so present in modern pop culture. More obvious in adaptations than original writings, they lead to humongous numbers of similar scenes across all modern fantasy; scenes of passing on some secret knowledge, of fascination with powerful destructive artifacts, false liberations (personal or nation-wide), respect for violence, using more violence to 'stop' violence etc.

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'Ha! Suckers swallowed it. Look - so many children in the audience'

Story of the new Alice

/*SPOILER ALERT*/ All of this (and more) can be found in 'Alice in Wonderland' by Tim Burton. Alice runs away from a reality where an arranged engagement is being forced on her, disappearing during the whole ceremony and coming back to Wonderland first time in 13 years. She doesn't remember she was there before and believes it to be a dream. On her merry way she meets all the well-known characters and finds out her destiny is to once again defeat the evil that weighs heavy on the once beautiful land. To give a proper reason for it, ancient prophecy is presented (sigh). Is she really the real Alice? Can she do it? It turns out she has to find the Sword stolen from the White Queen, which will enable her to defeat the big and scary Jabberwock (another roaring black dragon, really). Jabberwock is, not surprisingly, home pet of the mean and despicable Red Queen. When on screen, she is portrayed as a spoiled brat. White Queen is auto ironic as she parodies innocent and perfect Disney princesses. She is in fact disturbingly sexual when holding symbols of power in her hands: the Sword and later the Crown. In a 'thrilling' and 'breath-taking' crescendo the land is polarized, with two armies meeting head on. They meet on a huge chess board intended for mass blood loss in service of the queen and country, being (appropriately) amorphous masses of cards and chess pieces so the viewer can fully concentrate on the excitements of war. The main characters exchange some fierce and pain-promising looks (as if some kind of a prison fight is about to ensue) and then the 'spectacular' massacre begins.

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'Any of you effing cards move, and I'll execute every mother-effing last one of ya!'

In the heat of the battle, nimble Alice cuts off Jabberwock's head. The scene ends with Captain Sparrow/Sweeney Todd/Mad Hatter (with whom we had to feel sympathetic earlier due to the dragon roasting his yard grass and a few friends along with it). He turns into comic relief while doing the Justin Timberlake robot dance. Wait, what? Seriously? After cheap moralizing and bad satire that trembles under the weight of its own spuriousness, we get CGI Johnny Depp's robot dance? And what a relief it would be if the movie by some miracle threw a big sign saying FIN here - it would then soothingly be just another empty and stupid Hollywood flick. But no. What comes after is much, much worse. Alice comes back to reality and (to everyone's surprise) informs her not-so-future husband she won't be marrying his sorry a55, then tells her mother and aunt it's her life (it's now or never, she ain't gonna live forever) and the big decisions are her to be made. Then she confronts her almost-father-in-law (former business partner of her father) and asks for a professional meeting in order to discuss the future of their business. Wait, what? In a short and 'invigorating' conversation we find out she wants to get in the deal and broaden their markets by expanding to China, the unexplored land with untapped possibilities (WTH, propaganda much? You gotta start when they're young). The almost-father-in-law is overjoyed with her capitalistic mindset, and so the next scene shows little Alice (with big ambitions) standing on a boat ready to embark for the far continent. A butterfly (the former caterpillar ofWonderland) flies by her and Alice symbolically says good riddance to her childhood, accepts the harsh reality and becomes a fierce and daring industrialist/capitalist. Lesson. F*cking. Learned.

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'Oil and slaves here I come, I won't stop until I'm done;

Prophecies have all foretold, weak will kneel before the bold'

Meaning of the new Alice

That's the message of the movie then. We have found the banana at last. Just like the king George VI. in 'King's Speech', the character with which the viewer is supposed to bond and indentify learns he needs to stop being human in order to become a man. It is a false liberation: Alice from the heavy regulated society, Red Queen from her own complexes, White Queen from political ineptitude, Mad Hatter from inability to act (but what action is that?). Personal liberation of George VI. in 'King's Speech' is false in pretty much the same ways: liberation from inability to force himself upon others, to dominate his inferiors (inferior by what and whose criteria?), liberation from the last speck of human dignity and conscience that stand in the way of success. Because, what kind of a man (or woman for that matter) can't get what (s)he wants by force? I say this ideology and this trend is omnipresent in English and American film industry. I say it's intentional AND unintentional propaganda sustained (among other institutions) by the big film festivals and movie awards. It's a propaganda practice with deep roots in history, when just as today the rich and powerful had to come up with ways to make the have-nots proud of the aristocratic minority that exploits them. It is a propaganda meant to fire up the Love in the uninformed masses, Love for the invented and unnatural constructs of state, nationality and high culture. Love which will turn into fuel for Hate against anything that is different or 'weak', against anything that stands in the way of success & profit, against anything that stands in the way of Power.

What is fun? Why do we play?

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Lately I've been thinking. What is the way we perceive fun? In what ways do we indulge in it? What is its meaning, and why do we yearn for it? When does it turn into addiction or work? Video-games and gaming are ripe for this type of analyzing.

Art, or drug?

When we read books, watch movies or play games, our brain gets stimulated and the connections we make while thinking and virtually experiencing are rewarding. In gaming more than with former arts, since it is a direct consequence of our actions and is generally more frequent and condescending. Heck, games are even rewarding us when we don't deserve it. We stop being satisfied with the fulfilling revelations of our own contemplations and want more of the raw stimulation from the outside. Dumbed down games of today support this kind of mentality in gamers: inducing raw emotions while requiring no creative thinking and little or no reflexes. Games like Farmville (or World of Warcraft in some aspects) go further: people get caught in a cycle of repetitive tasks; upon completing those tasks nothing in the player changes. No involvement other than time was required. The game tells us we are better than some players and worse than others. Being treated like this, we get a false sense of superiority and accomplishment. We are greedy, and the game knows it: the inner hedonistic child gets what it wants, and there is always a new carrot behind the next corner.

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This, from my point of view, is when a game stops being an art and becomes a drug. Those of you addicted to gaming, always one step behind the sought-out dose of pleasure you so desperately need, need to recognize what you are doing wrong. It's about attitude towards life itself. Your experience in gaming or any other art is, quite simply, what you make of it. It is highly subjective. So how to make the best of it? Start by comprehending what drives you in the first place.

Art, or sport?

Games started as sports. There is no denying it. In the begining of videogames, it was all about besting the AI or another player. No artistic expression/experience involved. With time though, they became more complex and deep. Games were starting to resemble art. Soon, some of them weren't about competition at all. Today, two main branches are existent in gaming: art games and sport games. Themes and franchises overlap, but these are THE two ways of experiencing interactive fun. Why do I say this? I'll explain.

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My awesome MS Paint skills were put to use, and lo and behold, above is the masterful result. It shows the main point of what I'm getting at - games can be whatever we make of them.

Fun = thrill

If we game to PERFECT OURSELVES in more physical ways (often through competition), we game to win. This requires a combination of intelligent thinking and REFLEXES, and a great deal of automatizing various physical/mental processes through practice until they come naturally. Genres like RTS, FPS, platformer and racing come to mind.

If we game to PERFECT THE (ingame) CHARACTER, to hear stories and dream of adventures, we game to experience. This requires a combination of intelligent thinking and EMOTIONS, which is more true to the basic definition of art. Genres like RPG and adventure come to mind.

If we game for the intelligent thinking alone, we seek no improvement of our reflexes and no emotional impact; we game to think. Genres like turn-based strategy and pure logic games like chess come to mind.

Thou speaketh of unintelligible things

Obviously, games cannot be divided like this. 'I use my reflexes when I pop potions in a random role-playing game I like!', you squeak. 'I get emotionally involved when I score some headshots in a loosely realistic reenactment of world war 1.5 or when cops bust me in a prehistoric Need For Speed!', you howl. Well, of course you do. Life is not a formula where all the variables are unambiguous and easily distinguished. Gaming isn't either. It is an imitation of life, exaggerated and mendacious, giving us a glimpse of the truth.

My division of games (art/sport) wasn't an effort to define genres. It was a way of defining the primary motives for experiencing fun, for any kind of playing at all.

We seek in provoked experiences what we lack in everyday life. This is painfully obvious in one major gaming example.

WRPG versus JRPG

Yep, I'm going there. There are so many verbal internet conflicts regarding this topic, yet it mounts down to this: need for balance. Western RPG's are plot driven. This means the story needs to be complex and convoluted but at the same time meaningful and believable. Japanese RPG's are character driven. It's all about emotional connection with little regard for explaining motives or plot details. One is rational with focus on details. The other is an emotional rollercoaster. One comes from a culture with not enough rational/scientific thought. The other comes from a culture burdened by rationality, lacking real human contact and real emotions. Western culture is having fun when exercising rational thought spiced with emotions. Japanese culture is having fun when drowning in surges of various emotions. It may not have been like this 20 years ago, but it is now. Culture always tries to balance itself, as do the people it consists of. While needing an escape from reality, we find it in art.

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No conclusion

If you need a conclusion after all I've said, you better read it again.

Concerning immersion, indie and art

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Amidst all the incredible indie games I've discovered recently; or during my playthroughs of Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Trigger earlier this year; or after my summer streak of completing surprisingly awesome Tomb Raider: Anniversary, polished SW: Republic Commando, superb Riddick: Escape from Butcher's Bay, & dynamic Starcraft 2 terran campaign; at one point or another I started thinking about what makes a game truly great for me.

All games should be able to immerse the player. I love a good RPG (and as far as Baldur's Gate 2, Planescape: Torment or Witcher go, the immersion factor was off the scales) but most of the time I want to be immersed in a game world without having to read a whole book via NPC dialogues. This is where the design combined with refined and subtle mechanics has to shine.

To immerse the players, a game needs to tackle their imagination. There obviously isn't just one way of accomplishing this. The problem is most gamers do not need or expect that kind of polish in games. It's same with movies and books. When something is new, unrecognizable or hard to connect with a previous experience, depth isn't all that much of an issue - it becomes one later on. I see it like this: the person immersing and interacting with the given world is actually seeking the truth of that world. The more that world is true to itself and the more it makes sense in its own invented confines, the more thorough the immersion will be. As the person (gamer, reader, watcher) consumes more and more products/art, he begins to recognize patterns and a lot of what-if questions get answered. He becomes interested in different layers of the same subject matter, or interested in different issues completely. This is when the 'lies' and flaws of a given fictional world get more visible, making the immersion less magical and in the end - less enjoyable. Some games pass the test , and some don't.

Now, people who label games as entertainment and nothing more (as if it was a ride on a rollercoaster) are basically trying to define art. It can't be done. Writing, drawing or any kind of creative force put into motion is entirely subjective and can't be bounded by any rules or regulations. If those rules exist though, their only purpose can be to help us understand that creative force, where it comes from, and help us use it to the fullest potential.

Because the core thing that makes any art great and beautiful is truth. That truth (beauty, greatness) comes from 'connecting the dots' in a way we didn't think possible, it comes from reading between the lines and seeing behind the picture, it comes from connecting with the artist on a level resonating with mutual understanding and love. In that sense, every little rock on every beach in the world, every ray of light falling shyly through a window, every contour of anything... can be beautiful. Can be art.

That being said, how can anybody claim games are not art when they evoke all of these emotions and inner reactions in so many people? When they often have such depth - forcing a person to rethink himself?

When they make you experience something extraordinary?

 

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Here are some of the best indie games I've played - they accomplish all of the above very successfuly:

Cave Story (Pixel) - I discovered it a few months ago and it blew me away. It single-handedly made me fall in love with platformers again.

Machinarium + Samorost 1,2 (Amanita Design) ? The most beautiful adventure games since the Syberia series.

Braid (Number None) - Brought retro platforming back to mainstream, I love it.

Glum Buster (CosMind) - It does so much with so little. Very intriguing and magical.

Talesworth Adventure (MrJinx) - This flash game is being released in episodes and everything about it rocks.

Give Up, Robot (Matt Thorson) - Best grappling-hook game since 1988. And the music kicks major 455.

They need to be fed (Jesse Venbrux) - This inovative platformer does everything right.

VVVVVV (Terry Cavanagh) - If nostalgia hits you whenever you hear '8-bit platforming', you have to try this. Also try 'Don't look back' by the same guy.

World of Goo (2D Boy) - Clever, quirky, hipnotizing.

Defense Grid: The Awakening (Hidden Path Entertainment) - Perfect tower defense game.

Plants vs Zombies (Popcap) - Best casual game ever.

Trine 1,2 (Frozenbyte) - Somebody liked Lost Vikings too!

(Super) Meat Boy (Team Meat) - I finished the flash version and can't wait for the sequel.

Knytt Stories (Nifflas) & Untitled Story (YMM) - Perfect for rainy afternoons.

Noitu Love 2 (Konjak) - I'm hooked!

Puzzle Dimension (Doctor Entertainment) - Unevenly difficult + a lot of trial and error in the later stages but it's still one of the best puzzle games since the Incredible Machine and Bumpy.

Aquaria (Bit Blot) - Underwater exploration, intriguing magic system, the soundtrack, the visuals; Loom meets Commander Keen. Awesome!


My non-indie all-time favorites (overall quality multiplied by nostalgia factor):

Heart of Darkness, Planescape: Torment, Monkey Island, Rune, NFS Porsche, Project IGI, Airfix Dogfighter, Super Mario 64, Startopia, Psychonauts, Chrono Trigger, Syberia, Commander Keen IV, Heroes Of Might and Magic III, Witcher, Portal, Guild Wars, Final Fantasy IX, Tomb Raider: Anniversary, Bionic Commando Rearmed, Okami.

Ultramegasuperlong dissertation dealing with famous fictional adventurers

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There are way too many semi-superhero archeologists roaming about. Seriously, how many powerful artifacts and hidden treasures are there? After a thorough research and a lot of deep contemplating, I shall rank these using the BS ranking system ("1337" ranking).

In a very particular order:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bronze medal (of shame)

Ben Gates / Nicolas Cage (National Treasure) - I want my two hours back.

Flynn Carsen / Noah Wyle (The Librarian) - Yawn.

Rick O'Connell / Brendan Fraser (The Mummy) - The third one was so bad I hate them all now.

Robert Langdon / Tom Hanks and his wig (The DaVinci Code) - Oh noes, my brainz are bleeding due to large amounts of fail.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Silver medal

Nathan Drake (Uncharted) - That's the way to do it.

George Stobbart (Broken Sword) - First two games are awesome. Third and fourth - not so much.

Gabriel Knight (Gabriel..um, Knight) - Kind of like Stobbart's older twin brother. With an attitude.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gold medal (of fame)

Henry Walton Jones / Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones) - A role model for all the whimps previously mentioned.

Lara Croft / Angelina Jolie (Tomb Raider) - Hellya. Check out the old trailers for TR:Underworld, pretty cool!

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Conclusion

After a relatively succesfull reboot of the Tomb Raider series recently (yay), we can expect the same from our beloved movie industry in the near future. Indy will probably have to wait a decade or so (see Crystal Skull for clarification). Drake can do whatever he wants, I can't afford a PS3 anyway (if they make a motion picture it's destined to suck). Others should fade into oblivion, forced to save Kvatch over and over again for all eternity.

Inception - not bad but...

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Why are people going mental over this Matrix/Paprika wannabe? It's undeservingly credited for way to many things. Maybe I'm being too harsh since it's the best blockbuster in the last two years, but lets be honest. The first half of the movie is drowning in clichés and the rule 'show, don't tell' is not being utilized at all. Am I the only one who finds those tedious dialogues when they explain the whole plot (as if we were ten year olds) - really annoying? The real people in those situations would talk and react completely differently. That makes the character interactions and conversations barely believable and just empty.

Also, actors who play Saito and Mal are really destroying any credibility of the drama and tension movie has. Saito (besides being a Morpheus wannabe) always talks as if he was simply happy he remembered the lines. And why, oh why do they have such unnatural, bad and forced accents? Ellen Page was a bad choice too (another cliché - younger student learns everything sensei has to say in 2 min and then teaches HIM a lesson). DiCaprio wasted his talent here, his powerful acting was ruined by the forced tension of the movie and a lousy soundtrack (which apparently never stops).

The second half of the movie was better and combined with the end gave a certain satisfaction in terms of mental food. Nolan really is a master of plot and king of moments - unfortunately this is obviously becoming his biggest weakness. The overall impression is: it could have been a LOT better. It's not awful, but giving it a 10 and calling it a benchmark is just ridiculous.

P.S. A great read that sums it up way better than my rant ---> here

Universes worth mentioning, part 2

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In part one I made a list of fantasy universes that preoccupied me the most. Now, it's time for complex alternate universes to get the spotlight. Sometimes situated in our present world and more often in the far/near future (or simply galaxies far far away), these alternate realities give insight - not only about what path could our civilization (or a very similar one) take, but also what might already exist hidden from our eyes. Some of the universes were created through literature; others are mostly bad TV soap operas (what the hell I like them!). None except Starcraft originated from games so I will seldom mention any.

(No superheroes, no zombies and no vampires; maybe I'll cover those on another occasion. Any glowing specimens though, will be immediately disqualified. And the title won't be 'universes worth mentioning' but rather 'universes we thought were cool before we got older and less retarded'. Or UWTWCBWGOALR, because Gamespot doesn't allow freakishly long and informative titles. I better get started before I rant you to death.)

 

HIS DARK MATERIALS

I read this trilogy at the time it came out. It's one of those universes that can give you not just a new perspective on reality, but a sense of wonder often lost in modern fantasy (it got lost in the adaptation alright, that movie was awful!). This one is a bit of a steampunk, depicting a world very much like our own, but oh so very different. Phillip Pullman weaved some pretty crazy ideas and powerful philosophical issues into this intriguing set of parallel universes. He didn't escape the cliché of a kid protagonist, but it isn't a setback. I loved experiencing a magical and disturbing England that never got out of the Victorian era. Similar to Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz book series, it's all about traveling to bewildering parallel realities while learning more about your own. Talking polar bear warriors, witches, daemons (manifestations of some part of the human soul that follow people around in animal forms); all of this caught in the middle of secret societies, megalomaniac agendas and forbidden sciences.

 

HARRY POTTER

Well, what can I say you don't already know? A kid with a scar waving a stick, doesn't have a clue about anything and somehow always wins by chance. Books are slightly overrated but some of the movies are really great, Prisoner of Azkaban being my favorite (it is also the only one to really capture the magic of Hogwarts and not falling into the trap of 'neither kids nor adults movie' that successors fell in). The franchise also has an ok game series by EA, which started as an interesting platformer but ended up as somewhat dull fetch&run questing through now less magical (but still the best) school for wizards and witches. We got to play some quidditch too!

 

STAR TREK

Whoa. Come to think of it, I'll save this universe for another blog entry. It's so cheesy, corny and awesome it deserves it. For now I'll keep it short:

Original Series -> New Generation -> Deep Space 9 -> Voyager -> Enterprise -> New Timeline.

It's a cool ride. The first series was weird; the second was funny; the third was dark; the fourth was all of that (I grew up on it and it's still my favorite). The fifth was, well...trendy. It resetted the franchise and scared us with boogiemen in the wake of 9/11. Come to think of it, the newest motion picture did the same thing. They were both great though, and worthy additions to the universe.

It's true, the whole Starfleet thing is pretty militaristic and sometimes filled with poorly disguised propaganda, but in its core Star Trek is utopian, optimistic, uplifting and often comforting vision of the future. I love it for the characters, relationships, geek stuff and humor. Even when I get tired of the typical Star Trek humor (thus finding myself in need of a more subtle, blackish kind) - Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (both heavily influenced by ST) come to rescue!

There are more than ten Star Trek movies and a number of games - Elite Force 1 + 2, DS9 The FallenBridge Commander  and Star Trek Online  are must play for any trekkie or a mildly interested fan that happens to be a gamer.

 

STAR WARS

This universe is undoubtedly the most popular of the ones I mention here. The first movie I saw was episode one, shame on me. My favorite movie is episode three, shame on me. I actually don't give a damn about all those spaceship names and specifications. Shame on me. I never read any of the Star Wars books, but I plan to (Thrawn trilogy!). I have mixed feelings about the Clone Wars animated series, seeing as half of it is garbage but half of it is pure gold. I really enjoyed the newer games; Jedi Knight series, Republic Commando, Battlefront, Starfighter. I also loved Knights of the Old Republic, it's easily one of the best fusions of western and eastern RPG mechanics ever (as a matter of fact, without it you wouldn't be playing Mass Effect). But if I could, I would raise my number of midichlorians and force (heh get it) them to stop milking the franchise forever. I'm not really looking forward to this MMO. Did you see those gameplay videos? Guy hides behind a rock in a 'Gears of War' manner and spams the laser skill button for ages. Then he runs to the next rock (rinse and repeat). Really? :D Still, I will have to try it for myself!

 

MATRIX

When I was a wee lad, this movie opened my eyes. Not instantly (my young mind couldn't comprehend the half of it), but after I saw it two more times, I knew one day even I could learn kung fu (if first some minor drilling of the head was to happen). In other news, Reloaded and Revolutions were pretty epic too. Bullet time, agent Smith quotes, awesome naked Zion party and Keanu's emotional engagement (lack of any): a breath of fresh air in the world of science fiction. I just hope they don't make Matrix Begins or some equally stinky pile of poo. Animatrix was even better then the movies, adding a few more layers to the already deep universe. Games? I didn't play Enter the Matrix, but I heard rumors. It has been said that many a hero went to explore its depths and returned a shadow of his former self, cursing the Matrix and all that is devilishly green. The Path of Neo was full of win though.

 

GHOST IN THE SHELL

Two things inspired the Watchowski siblings by my account: Serial Experiments Lain and this. Through the movies, series and manga we get to know the cyberpunk world of the future: 2030's Japan, Motoko Kusanagi and her elite squad deal with terrorism and politics in a highly cybernetic society. It is one of the best anime out there. It doesn't wait for you to dive in and slowly immerse; it throws you into the fire and demands that you stay alert and follow every detail. Story is often very convoluted and motivations of characters unclear, but everything has its reasons and consequences. Even if you hate anime, give this a try. If you don't hate anime, you've already seen it. Mana du vortes, aeria gloris!

 

STARCRAFT

Blizzard was guided by the same premise when making Warcraft and Diablo: take everything good from similar universes, improve upon it and make it more fun. They borrowed from everyone: Warhammer 40K, Aliens & Predators (Zerg & Protoss), Space Marines, Dune, Star Trek, Fifth Element... The newest addition to the universe, Starcraft 2, even nods at Riddick (Tosh among other things) and Red Dwarf. I also think that Protoss and their technology were directly c/p from the old Lucas Arts adventure game The Dig (one of the missions in SC2 involving Protoss even bears the same name). However, all this borrowing doesn't take away from the experience - it actually enhances it and makes for an intricate cross-over answering a lot of what-if questions. I also like to think Warcraft and Starcraft are a part of the same universe, seperated by long periods of time (much like Warhammer and Warhammer 40K). As far as gaming goes, I'm pretty sure we'll get a Starcraft MMO in the next few years.

 

DUNE

Countless universes were influenced by this one and I believe Star Wars can thank its existence mainly to Dune (and  Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress, but let's not get into that). It's one of the most memorable science fictions of my childhood; I saw it through the eyes of David Lynch, namely his movie about Frank Herberts huge and cold world of space empires and constant fights for thrones and resources. Center of the story is a sand planet hiding a secret, sought by all and understood by no one. The balance will be restored by one man - Muad'Dib (sounds familiar SW fanboys? :D). Both motion picture and the TV series honor the books. Gamers might remember the world of Arrakis from an old school RTS, Dune 2000. Lets hope someone capable gets his hands on this franchise soon! And how cool are those suits? Gamers worldwide could get rid of unnecessary fluids without as much as standing up. They could even game during sandstorms!

Universes worth mentioning, part 1

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First, a serious overture about imagination and kids. Imagination doesn't have borders or rules. Yet in recent times, it is being pretty much repressed (especially in young minds) by this modern world of ours. In my early years I was mainly preoccupied and influenced by Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros. and (especially) dr. Seuss cartoons; somewhat later Nintendo (Mushroom Kingdom, Pokemon, Hyrule) came along. Kids nowadays are exposed to a different kind of information overload, as everything tries to be either a mindless parody or a corny tragedy (or both) full of pop-culture references. Kids aren't interested in a fairytale anymore if it isn't at least half horror (Tim Burton, I'm looking at you). Those few that are - don't really have a choice (they will probably end up seeing 9, Christmas Carol, Coraline). I would even say the whole (children) entertainment industry is going the wrong way. Children by they nature want (and need) adventurous stories which develop abstract thinking, healthy imagination and curiosity. Instead they get bombarded by entertainment adults find appealing - war, violence and betrayal.

For the past decade or so, I consumed much of the popular culture and immersed myself into numerous fictional worlds, and they all pretty much revolved around those three things. It is because we, as adults, are not interested in the simple morals of good and evil anymore. We'd rather like to see what happens when fairytales clash with real life and deal with real and familiar problems, which is normal and something we all share.

This will be a list of consistent fictional universes that got most of my attention: I dwelled on their philosophy, memorized the most trivial lore facts, learned their made up languages and customs... I was drawn into them to the extent that their geography, mythology, history and characters became as important and real to me as ancient or medieval facts of our Earth.

I divide them into fantasy universes and alternate universes.

So in this blog entry, fantasy! Some of these worlds are unbelievably well documented. If they ever make a real holodeck, I want these worlds realized. First three universes on the list were born and prospered in literature; the others are videogame based.

 

MIDDLE-EARTH

Seriously, do I even need to write anything here? I could start with saying Tolkien's saga of the rings was the first fantasy literature I read (not so interesting fact: the old BBC Narnia was the first fantasy movie I saw). I could then list all the books, Jackson movies (& animated movies he drew inspiration from), many videogames, comic books (if you like webcomics and DnD, check this out) and so on. I could end it with a paragraph in elvish. But I won't (not in this post anyway). I will simply use this occasion to adress all the scientists out there and say: I want. My holodeck simulation. Of Shire. Now. What say you??

Games:

* The Battle for Middle-Earth series

* LOTR Online

* LOTR Conquest

* Aragorn's quest

* War in the North

 

WESTEROS

One of the three continents in a huge and very well developed medieval fantasy world brought to life by George R.R. Martin. Don't let the name fool you, he is not trying to sound cool and tolkienish. This guy knows how to write and really makes you care about what happens on the next page. The whole 'Song of Ice and Fire' book series is like a drug... too bad the dealer is a bit slow (five years since the last book). Think Sopranos in Middle-Earth - with enough characters on the first 30 pages to shame Dostoyevsky. Just like Terry Pratchett used ridiculous satyre of Discworld to turn the fantasy tropes upside down, Martin stirred up the stale state of affairs challenging every fantasy notion and rule ever established. After all, he did draw inspiration from the English & Chinese medieval histories. Even HBO saw the potential and produced a worthy TV series! The winter my friends, is coming. Or better yet - it already did. What will it take to melt all that snow?

Games:

* Game of Thrones

* A Game of Thrones: Genesis

 

WIEDZMIN

From the pen of a polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski comes an unnamed dark fantasy world of wiedzmins (or witchers in english). Sapkowski asked himself, what would it look like if dwarves, elves and monsters really existed? The answer apparently is sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. The last part not so much, instead we feast our ears with superb traditional irish music that makes us want to drink ale and dance on tables. Great five books, absurd movie in the lines of Conan Barbarian, lame TV series and an excellent RPG series. Geralt of Rivia: "Power, sex. Sex, Power. They both come down to one thing - f***ing others".

Games:

* Witcher

* Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

* Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

 

AZEROTH

Ahhh, the world were war is a craft, and it never ends. Nevah. Eastern Kingdoms, Kalimdor, Northrend, Pandaria, faraway Outland, Argus... Its creators are some of the wealthiest game developers on Earth. Their gold mine, world of Azeroth, is a major ripoff of every fantasy universe out there (Warhammer and LOTR to say the least), but the fact is - it started a revolution in both RTS (besides core series, DOTA was crucial for popularizing MOBA games) and MMO genre (10 years later and new fantasy MMO's are still being called WoW clones); and it did so with st yle. It also caused a number of bad fantasy books. For teh horde! Leeeerooooy J-j-j-j-....

Games:

* Warcraft I-III

* World of Warcraft

 

SANCTUARY

Another creation of that developer...what was their name...something about severe storm condition with heavy snow...nevermind. Sanctuary is a world where Bhaal, Mephisto and their little red brother roam the lands and summon giant slugs with human faces (and other semi-living creatures, often with too few or too many legs). A lot of fire gets started in the process too. Consequences: nightmares of neverending Nilathak's dungeon, adrenaline rushes and left-clicking until your hand berserks and euthanizes the mouse. No rest for the warrior of light (you must cleanse the wildernesss)... The brothers of evil also spawned countless clones in the gaming world, none of which had the quality or appeal of the original Sanctuary (*cough* land of *cough* Ehb or *cough* Torchlight *cough*).

Games:

* Diablo + Hellfire

* Diablo II + Lord of Destruction

* Diablo III (huge meh)

 

TYRIA

Universe of Guild Wars was created through an instanced MMO that brings to life a truly beautiful (and dangerous) place. There are three main continents: colorful Tyria, asian-themed Cantha and african-themed Elona. This universe took me by surprise and didn't let me go for quite a while. Humans are in turmoil while they try to survive fighting each other, beastly Charrs, supernatural entities, even gods. Breathtaking lands, beautiful music, promising franchise. Thank you ArenaNet for the best online experience I had!

Games:

* Guild Wars

* Guild Wars: Factions

* Guild Wars: Nightfall

* Guild Wars: Eye of the North

* Guild Wars 2

 

FAERÛN

A part of the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons and Dragons. It is described and featured in many fantasy books and often used in pen and paper RPGs. The world is huge and eventful, providing a fertile ground for many fantasy fans. I got to know it through the games made by Bioware and Black Isle. Without them I wouldn't know the shield of Balduran is the best way to scare an ugly beholder. I would never have met the only miniature giant space hamster in the realm, either.

But as awesome as it is, Faerun is just a small part of one truly epic setting. Two words (and a colon) - Planescape: Torment. All the sceptics (dwindling in number) yelling interactive entertainment can't be art should play this game. So weird and bizzare it's ridiculous - so familiar and loveable it's enthralling. Be warned, this adventure RPG really is very close to an interactive book. BUT. If you don't mind extensive reading and want a well thought-out universe with plenty of mental food, don't deprive yourself of this experience. Planescape is a universe with infinite doors to other universes, an intersection between dimensions and time itself. Singleplayer RPG at its best. Answer (but think twice), what can change the nature of a man?

Games:

* Baldur's Gate series

* Neverwinter Night series

* Icewind Dale series

* Planescape: Torment

 

NIRN

A dark and complex world of Elder scrolls, with complicated politics and many possibilities. The landscapes of Tamriel continent are huge and inviting, full of secrets and quests to solve. High Rock (Bretons), Hamerfell (Redguards), Morrowind (Dunmers), Cyrodiil (Imperials),Skyrim (Norns),Black Marsh (Argonians), Elsweyr (Khajiit), Valenwood (Bosmers), Summerset Isle (Altmers)... Rich history is very well described in the many books scattered throughout the games, so if the player is interested in assuming the role of a digital bookworm, numerous old scripts filled with lore can be found while questing. The reality of the world is strenghtened with its simple yet logical mechanics, since you excell at skills by using them. Sometimes it can get too big though, leaving the player with a feeling of shallowness and repetitiveness. If you let it though, the world will pull you in and make you a part of it.

Games:

* The Elder Scrolls I : Arena

* The Elder Scrolls II : Daggerfall

* The Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire

* The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard

* The Elder Scrolls III : Morrowind

* The Elder Scrolls IV : Oblivion

* The Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim

* The Elder Scrolls Online

 

MIGHT & MAGIC

This universe is somewhat similar to DnD in terms of huge amount of names, places and events that have little real connection, sometimes even making it hard to believe they are a part of the same universe. Science fiction often overlaps with fantasy and the story often revolves around powerful race of space-travelers called the Ancients. Maybe not the best franchise in the world, but it occupied my mind long enough to get on this list. A similar and very close universe is the one of King's Bounty, which had me entertained for quite some time too.

Games:

* Might & Magic series

* Heroes of M&M series

* Crusaders of M&M

* Messiah of M&M

 

FINAL FANTASY

Last but not the least, universe with a little too much kawaii and generally a lot of very weird stuff (please stop with the emo protagonists?). Still, you gotta love it. The series really evolved and both the gameplay and lore vary so much now, it's almost impossible to connect all games and movies into one big universe. I tried though, and here is the result: my attempt at a Final Fantasy timeline.
Kupo?

Games:

* Final Fantasy I - XV

* loads and loads of spin-offs and FF inspired series by the same company

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