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My Top 10 Game Franchises

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In creating this list I realized I'm having to leave out a couple of individual games that would be on my Top 10 list because one game does not equal a franchise. I tried to think about it in terms of the amount of playtime I've given each as well as the truly memorable moments that come to mind.

1. Unreal
Unreal and Unreal Tournament are the two tops for me. The amount of time I've sunk into custom content alone is staggering. Both games were watershed experiences in their respective sub genres.

2. No One Lives Forever
Excellence in writing, set pieces, and gameplay. Though there are officially three in the series I recognize only the first two with those being so superior that it more than makes up for the third.

3. The Elder Scrolls
Still the king of open world action-RPGs. Immense, beautiful, and entertaining.

4. Half-Life
These games really raised the bar for singleplayer first person shooters. While I've grown to despise The Canal part of HL2, I can still power through it to soak up the immersive experience and rich world it offers.

5. Doom
Wolfenstein aside... this is why we have first person shooters. The levels are packed with secrets and I love the intense action. It's one of the first games I recall really drawing me inwith its sound. There's nothing like hearing a snort or growl coming from places unseen to get your pulse pounding.

6. Mario
This is a series in which each game just seems to get better and better. The critics always say "oh more of the same" but they're wrong. I'm always amazed at how a series spanning two and a half decades with each game filled with dozens upon dozens of levels can manage to deliver new things to do and see on such a regular basis. Sure themes are revisited but there's always something that makes you say - wow that's crazy. It's just pure fun and the gameplay is always spot-on, and the difficulty ramp is just about right for nearly everyone.

7. Total Annihilation/Supreme Commander
This was the RTS series that reeled me in to the genre. It's one of those games that gives you really cool toys to play with and then just gets out of your way. There's so much custom content for the series that it boggles the mind. I can always fire up these games and play for twenty minutes... or an hour... or two.

8. Star Wars
I love the franchise, but this one gets in more on volume than overall quality. There are some real clunkers if you listed them all out. But there's a bit of brilliance sprinkled throughout as well. Standouts for me include X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, Dark Forces, Jedi Knight, Rogue Squadron, Knights of the Old Republic, Republic Commando, and even LEGO Star Wars. Add them up and that's quite a lot of great SW moments.

9. Street Fighter
Like most, the second installment really got me hooked. I recall massive events that would take place in arcades when the game was released. You could just go and watch people play for hours and it was one of the first arcade games I recall having a second monitor set atop the cabinet just for spectators. I sunk thousands of hours into the series with standouts for me being SSF2:Turbo on SNES, GBA, and 3DO. Street Fighter 4 got me back into the series and it's a game I can pick up and play at any time.

10. Serious Sam
The Second Encounter is almost worth the price of admission to the series alone. The humor, the crazy secrets, zany gameplay, and wild weapons all come together to make near FPS perfection. Plus... in how many games can you find a secret area that allows you to find a miniature movie set featuring you in the finale of the previous game? And lets you zoom in on yourself with your sniper rifle and kill yourself in the current game by killing yourself in the past?Awesomeness.

Nearly made it:
The Legend of Zelda
Sonic the Hedgehog
Age of Empires
Final Fantasy

Not my personal favorites, but worth mentioning:
The Sims
Grand Theft Auto

Winning with the Infected

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Continuing the Left 4 Dead tutorial series, we discuss the merits of the special infected team.

The special infected team has a single mission - incapacitate or kill all survivors as quickly as possible. Work together as a team, coordinating spawn times and placement. At times, you might be better off waiting for a great setup spot, while others you might be using your special infected to simply slow or halt the forward progress of the survivors until your fellow undead respawn. By stopping survivor progression you also increase the chance of more naturally occuring Hordes. A team that doesn't move forward will slowly wear down.

Playing as:

Boomer: The Boomer is as noisy as a train, but has the ability to bring the progress of the survivors to a halt and to create chaos.

Your main mission is to hit as many survivors as possible (preferably all) with the Horde-summoning bile, and to do that you need to get as closely as possible without alerting them to your presence. Use spawn mode to make this happen! You can spawn in surprisingly close, usually just a few steps away - but you must be out of the line of sight. Try going around a corner, just out of sight of your opponents.

Now, it's not enough to hit all four survivors. Covering them in bile in a closed room or an easily defended hallway will only result in a slight pause in survivor progress as a smart team will simply crouch in a defensive formation and mow down the incoming onslaught. Look for open areas, or places where there are more than two possible points of undead entry. Pop out in a hallway junction or from behind the tractor in the field (Blood Harvest) for maximum hilarity. But for the love of god, get in close because your bile projectile doesn't reach too far.

In addition to corners and lone cover objects, another popular point of entry for the Boomer is from the rooftops. Drop down in the midst of the group and let her rip!

Hang out atop ladders and spit bile at the team below, such as the ladder to the streets from the sewers and the ladder to the hospital rooftop in No Mercy (thanks Kal)

So you've got a good idea of where to spawn... but the key is when. Standing around in your sneaky spot sounding like a foghorn will only get you shot and send you back into the spawn queue. Wait until the last possible second - just before they get too close for you to spawn - and then pop into existence. If you time it right, you'll catch them completely off guard.

Other possible good Boomer spawn times are during Tanks, naturally occurring Horde swarms, or when the survivors are otherwise occupied with something else. Boomers set up opportunities for other special infected, so DON'T WASTE IT!

Smoker: This guy has really limited opportunities, but is potentially a great team splitter if you bide your time. The worst thing you can do is spawn in and try to drag away a team member on level ground while nothing especially devastating is happening to the survivors. You'll get taken out very quickly.

The most effective place to spawn in as a Smoker is above or below the survivors - whichever place is most difficult to reach. Some good examples include pulling someone off the Lift rooftop in No Mercy and yanking people out of windows in the Blood Harvest finale.

Like the Boomer, the Smoker, because of his loud hacking cough, is an aural beacon for the attention of the opponents, and coupled with his distinctive shape and accompanying cloud of smoke may as well be wearing a neon sign that says SHOOT ME! Don't spawn in vulnerable locations. Rooftops, corners, and behind objects are most effective. And make damned sure that everyone else is occupied before you try to reel someone in.

It's important to note that you can deal some really quick damage if you can drag a player into a nearby fence or other impassable obstacle, because whenever dragging progress stops, the hurtin' begins! In the end, however, nothing beats dragging a player away from the group because separating the players is the name of the game.

Tank: If you spawn as a Tank, you have a couple of jobs and the first is to incapacitate as many players as you can. Try to "steer" your chosen prey into as many doorway frames and obstacles as possible, so that you can quickly close in on them. Stick with dealing damage to one player at a time because as soon as they are down they are reduced to pistol fire only, and to get the player back up another survivor is going to have to spend several seconds in a vulnerable "reviving" sequence.

The second task as a tank is to break up the team. Do this by knocking players down to lower levels or throwing cars. In fact, if you have cars, you can probably take care of the entire team in a few moments. But those are the only things you should throw! Don't waste your time digging up rocks to throw. Get in there and use your mitts.

One of the biggest challenges with the Tank is actually getting to the team with any element of surprise intact whatsoever. Being that you're a tank-like character, you cause the ground to rumble when you run. Heck, you even get your own intro-tune. Use cover as you approach to shield yourself from the inevitable barrage of bullets that are coming your way. As a special infected, you can see an outline of the survivors through the walls, so use that to your advantage so that you don't initially approach them head-on.

Hunter: Unlike the other special infected, you don't have your own theme music or signature sound - unless you crouch. Use this to your advantage in a couple of ways. If a team is not checking "their six", you can usually run right behind the stragglers, crouch at the last possible moment, and then make your move. But if you pounce about the level screaming, you're sure to draw your share of fire.

However, sometimes using your crouching growl or leaping screech can be a good thing! If you see the outline of a nearby Boomer setting up, crouch down out of sight and let out a few yelps. Not only is it sure to cover up the bellowing belches of the Boomer, but it's likely to turn a few heads your way as well, giving your team mate a better chance.

Hunters have the distinctive capability of instantly incapacitating a survivor, so look for those separated from the team. Keep an eye on Smokers and other Hunters to know when a survivor is coming to help his fellow man - then take him down. Team up with another Hunter to quickly take half of the opposing team out of the picture. The least effective approach is to bound towards a healthy and undistracted group. If you're trying to slow them down, even just hiding out of sight and growling is likely to be more effective.

A unique attribute of the Hunter is that more damage points are awarded for longer leaps. Jump from the roof of a building or bound off a wall for a hard-hitting first shot. Looking up quickly before you leap will cause you to soar high into the air.

Left 4 Dead Survivor Commandments

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I've been playing a lot of Left 4 Dead (PC) lately and have found that a lot of people are still struggling with the basic concept of teamwork. It's so much more fun if everyone cooperates and so I've written some "commandments" for the Survivors:

1. Thou Shalt Stay in Formation - You've got four sets of eyes as a team and its to your benefit to use them to cover the group in 360 degrees. The lead player checks and covers all levels of the forward area. Players to either side should cover their area, visually and with firepower. The player in the rear should continually check behind to be sure you are not being followed and to check high areas behind the group to scan for special infected.

Keep your back to the wall or in a corner when things get tough. Closets and closed rooms (check for overhead vents!!) also work well - use them! Always close doors as you pass through them or by them, unless your team is on the run.

2. Leave Not Your Team - The lead player should move the team, choosing the pathway and the rest of the team should follow - no exceptions! Pay attention to health needs of all players; stop and cover them while they heal.

It is essential that all players stay on the same floor. Climb ladders, ride lifts, and drop to lower levels at the same time! Be on alert in these areas as special infected have a great opportunity to attack.

Be aware of the health / pickup needs of other survivors. As the lead player, if you see that you have a player low on health or in need of a health pack / ammo / pills / or projectiles, be sure to check out known supply areas or stop to heal them.

3. Remember Your Weapons and To Choose Them Wisely - While it's possible for all survivors to use the same weapon, it's better to have a mix of Shotgun and Assault Rifle. Shotguns are great at denying close areas, but aren't that great at taking down incoming Hordes from a distance. They're especially bad at breaking Smoker/Hunter incaps from a distance, but if you're following Commandment 2, then that's not a problem, is it?

4. Thou Shalt Pull the Pin and Count to Three... -


And the Lord spake, saying, 'First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then, shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, nor either count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.'

There are a number of places in Left 4 Dead that it would behoove you, the survivor, to throw your pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. Use pipe bombs when you anticipate real problems with Hordes, such as any time you enter an open area where special infected attack is imminent. Examples include the Gas Station courtyard (No Mercy) and the final mission field (Blood Harvest). Pipe bombs are also handy for taking some pressure off of a team that has just been Boomer-biled.

Molotov cocktails are great for Horde ambush points such as the Gas Station Courtyard, Garage Door Warehouse, Rooftop Crane, or basically anywhere that you are forced to make a hell of a lot of noise and attract zombies. Place the cocktail between yourself and the Horde - DO NOT strand team mates on the other side of an inferno and DO NOT light your fellow survivors on fire. This projectile also comes in handy when facing a Tank. Once set alight, a Tank will continue to burn and take damage, making your job much easier.

Pick up and use pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails! Do not pass one by if you do not have one. Keep in mind the area you are about to enter and choose accordingly.

5. Linger Not and Lead Us Not Into Ambush - Keep moving, but in a controlled fashion. You shouldn't rush headlong into a sure ambush, but you also shouldn't linger in an area too long as you're just giving the special infected time to setup. As the lead player, you should keep in mind potential ambush points and try to remember how many / which special infected are dead. There are places in Left 4 Dead in which you will continually get flooded by zombies if you remain still, so keep moving.

6. Protect Thy Neighbor - If you've followed the Commandments above, you're well on your way to fulfilling this one. Know where your team is at all times. You shouldn't be more than a couple of steps from anyone.

If you're in formation and watching in all directions, there should be little need for you to shoot across your neighbor. Get in the habit of crouching and firing during major attacks so that you don't hit your team mate or take damage from them due to errant shots.

If you go down in a fight - don't stop firing! You can still help out your team by taking out infected from the ground. If you have dual pistols (which you should pick up at every opportunity) you can even continue to be quite a force. It's possible to even aid other survivors who are incapacitated by Smokers or Hunters if you aim carefully.

When a survivor is manning the minigun, make it a priority to protect him or her! The stationary gun should have no problem taking out anything forward, but is vulnerable to rear and side attacks. Make sure the minigun doesn't have to stop needlessly.

7. Melee Your Zombies and Special Infected - one of the most powerful attacks in the game is the humble melee. Use it to push back swarms as you reload. If you're being attacked from behind by a zombie you should quickly turn and melee... and then shoot. Don't just whip around firing or you're likely to inflict some friendly fire. It is also extremely effective against leaping Hunters. Push them away until you've got a clear shot, especially if they are atop a team mate. Melee your team mates if they are being reeled in by a Smoker and are very close by. A good rule of thumb is "if you don't know what you're shooting at... melee"

8. Other Things Thou Shalt Not Do - Do not anger the Witch unless you know how to kill her quickly. Do not shoot cars with alarms, lest you be swarmed by Hordes. Do not linger around windows or ideal Smoker hangouts.