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You Get a Buff!

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After trying most of Jeff Probst's Survivor tweeting nights this season, I finally got a little love. You can ask questions over Twitter, Facebook, cbs.com, or even via video on Tout. If it's interesting/good/observant enough he'll answer; if he really likes it, he'll send out a Survivor buff. Last night I sent in:

@JeffProbst Do survivors at least get toilet paper? I hope they don't use their buffs!

About fifteen minutes later, this popped up on his Twitter feed:

You get a buff! tout.com/m/6jrpym

I was actually a little stunned hearing himread my name since I (and I'm guessing most others) am much more used to not getting chosen. Then there was the question of getting it. I had no idea how that happened. I was expecting to maybe get a "@" message, but then about halfway through Criminal Minds he put up the Twitter handle of the CBS publicist for Survivor for winners tosend our addresses to. He says to DM, but you can't do that unless a person follows you, so I'm guessing an @ message suffices. And if not, oh well, my life won't end.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

These Dwarven Ruins Aren't Going to Explore Themselves...

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I'm still going gangbusters at The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I've now actually completed the mage's college storyline, becoming Arch-Mage. That gives me another HQ to store stuff at and makes up for there not being a house to purchase in Winterhold. Not that the mages are done with me, as there are other minor tasks I can do. Of course, this leaves four other guild storylines, two of which I've joined (Companions, Stormcloaks) but done zero for, and two I've had zero contact with (Dark Brotherhood, Thieves). And there's a bard's college out there, too; I suspect the flute I found out there but the game won't let me drop will be something for them.

Oh, and there's the main quest that I've still barely scratched. I've sworn every day for a week that I'm getting to it, but other stuff pops up. 'Wait, let me slay that dragon.' 'Oh, figuring out who killed these poor folks in the lighthouse should take just a bit.' 'Did you say Elder Scroll? Oh, you have my attention!'

And yes, someone in a remote, easy to ignore part of the map did say "Elder Scroll," so I've dropped everything to tackle that sidequest. It's the kind of one where you do 2½ hours of dungeon crawling just to get close to where you need to be. It also had remains of an exploration gone south, with journals that really had me sharing in the terror every bit as much as a good TV show or movie would. Tack on a nirnroot-related sidequest and this is a big chunk of time.

I also got my first great unique item, a mask called Krosis, that I got off some powerful undead creature that popped up right after I slew a dragon. It'sbetter armor than most helmets (base of 30) and gives a 20% buff to alchemy, archery, and lockpicking. And even better, I later discovered it's part of some collection of eight masks, but I won't say where or the mechanics of it all. I've since found one other and the key mask that allows access to the collection.

I've also come across a maze that I'm waiting to tackle. It may hold the key to a mini-quest offered by the librarian at the mage's college. But I've twice seen a book with a diagram of a maze in it, so I'm waiting to find it again and then I'll do the 'real-life' maze and hope they match. Between that and the now sixred spinninggems I'm being told to go to Riften and get appraised, there's lots more mystery to solve!

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Let Someone Else Do the Heavy Lifting

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I think the coolest thing ever to happen in a videogame I've played occured while playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim yesterday,but sadly I didn't even get to see it. I was on the east end of the map, just across the river from Windhelm and just outside a small inn's doorstep, when a random dragon appeared. I started the fight and administered some buffing potions. For whatever reason, a wandering cave bear decided that now would be the best time for him to also attack me, and since he doesn't land or circle around for attacks, he was the most pressing threat.

In the meantime, as those random dragons are wont to do, the dragon flies around attacking other things and people on a whim, (I've seen a dragon try to take on a mammoth before, and it's a funny sight) which at least gave me a breather to run away, activate my just-earned level up to refill my magicka, health, and stamina bars, and take on the bear in earnest. I backed away from the bear and shot enough arrows to close in for a final sword swipe or two, killing that and taking its pelt.

I quickly surveyed the sky to refocus on the dragon. I couldn't see it, or even a blip on my compass. Then I barely saw it had landed and started racing over. But it wasn't moving at all. The only thing moving was a giant strolling away. And then I realized the dragon hadn't landed; it was dead. The dragon must've gotten too close to the giant, pissed it off, and the giant took a few swings and brought it down. And I missed it. :(

The best part was I still got to absorb the dragon soul to unlock another shout power, which is good as I have lots of shouts waiting to be unlocked. But I have a bad feeling such a cool scenario won't happen again while I'm playing.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Six for One

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That's the real secret to the exhaustive play time of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. In a way, it's six games for the price of one. You've got the overarching storyline of being a Dragonborn who can slay dragons and absorb their powers. But moreso than in Oblivion, the organizations you can join are virtually full-fledged games in their own right. I've probably sunk close to 20 hours just on stuff for the mage's college, and I've still just opened the questthat will give methe 10 GS achievement upon completion, nevermind the 30 GS achievement that I'm guessing closes out that group of people to work for. They could have put out a game called Mage's Quest—evenjust a standalone withno ties to the Elder Scrolls—that was just this story and I'll bet many would be raving about it. And I'm going to guess the thieving, assassination, and fighting are about the same, plus you can pick to work with rebels or imperials and do one of those plot lines. That's like five games plus the main one.

As it is I've still only visited two of the eight or nine big cities. I'm almost afraid to go to more because I'm already overwhelmed with things to do as it is. And they really prod you to explore, as you'll get a quest and find it's clear on the other side of the map. If you walk, you pass by at least 25 little areas that can sidetrack you. So far I try to stick to quests close to areas I've discoverd so I can fast-travel and minimize distraction.

The best thing so far is that the game stays challenging. If you were like me in Oblivion, you spent the first ten to thirteen character levels really having a tough time, then you had a few levels where you felt on equal footing with enemies, then spent the last 40% of the game being near invulnerable, even from most bosses. Now I'm at level 25 (the top acheivement is for level 50, but I don't know if that's a level cap or not) and still facing challenge. Yeah, wolves still come at me, much to their woe, but god help me if a snow bear makes run at me because it's about a two paw-swipe death. The balancing is just so much better.

I'm also loving the skill system. You really have to think about how to advance your character. It's easy to concentrate on things that help in the field, like combat skills, magic, or sneaking ability. But it's other things like smithing, enchanting, and speech that add a quandary. You can ignore the latter and be stronger in dungeons, but without knowing how to make items and add magic to them, you're at the mercy of what there is to buy or you find in treasure chests. Do you geta combat/exploringperklike one toup fire spell damage by 25% ormake armor not encumber you, or do you get one that helps in town like being able to make elven armor or getting better deals when buying and selling? It's a more difficult decision than you think it will be.

Also, pro tip: if you ever level-up in mid-combat when things are looking grim, choose the health upgrade. It will fill out your health gauge.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Eye in the Skyrim

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Between blogs, I managed to get, play, and finish Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The single player campaign was intense, fun, bloody, and awesome. Picking pretty much right where MW2 left off, you fight to try to end Makarov's ambitions. I just dove right in on Veteran mode, and it's doable, but as usual there are a few hair-pulling spots, especially the final level where they seem to leave you without great cover, but once you know where the enemies come from you can be a bit proactive with grenades and some machine gun fire.

Of course, the multiplayer looks great, but there've been some well publicized snafus, especially with the Elite service. I'm also bummed that the changes I hated in BlackOps they decided to implement in the Modern Warfare side of things: Scavenger perk nerfed so badly as to be useless andshotguns as primary weapons to name the two biggest. Also, the great things BlackOps did have not been included: I get Wager Matches not being here since there's no currency used, but Gun Battle was a fun mode. Also, why did they leave in the near-universally reviled heartbeat sensor? On the other hand, the new Kill Confirmed mode is super fun, where you or a teammate has to collect a dropped dog tag from downed enemies to make the kill count on the scoreboard, and you can collect your own team's tags to deny kills.

Also, not in love with the maps. Some like Underground (at a London tube station) and Resistance (in streets of Paris) are beautiful, but overall they lackthe sniping alleys and neat nooks and crannies that both MW2 and BlackOps had. They seem much more tailored to people who just want to use machine gun-type weaponry. They also fail in the same way some MW2 maps did by visually offering lots of vertical promise, but then it's "oh, that ladder is conveniently blocked off" or "the Dumpster you could climb in that other map we're not letting get atop on this one."

On the more plus side, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is more than any person could imagine. It's not game of the year, it's just flat-out the greatest achievement in gaming ever. And that they managed to squeeze it on to just one disc—after Oblivion was two—makes it all the more a marvel. I'm maybeten hours in,and the main quest is such an afterthought at this point, as there's just so much to do. The world is gorgeous, and in the northernmost parts of the map you really feel like you're in a blizzard as the snow and wind whip around you, and at night there is sometimes an aurora across the sky. What they promised about the dungeons is true; they all feel unique and have their own architecture and little quirks, unlike the cookie-cutter ones in Oblivion.

The system of each skill having perks that you can pick each level (assuming your skill level is high enough to have access) is well thought out. I'm concentrating on a thief/magehybrid character, focusing on stealth, one-handed weapons, light armor, destruction magic, lockpicking, pickpocketing, and archery. You're also a bit more competent of a fighter right out of the gate, with blessedly no mud crab deaths. Not to say I haven't had my failures; my first death was stumbling across a trio of mages. I went to approach a lone soul atop a hill, not knowing if he was friend or foe, and two others came up behind me and started blasting with a Frostbite spell. I just couldn't keep up and was too slow on the healing potions.

Also, not every dungeon should you explore right away. At a place called Shriekwind Bastion I defeated a "vampire's thrall". Now, I knew this meant an actual vampire had to be in there, but I've no idea what level I need to be to takeone on. He was actually the next creature I encountered and he royally Sanduskied me, as he was near-immune what paltry magic I could toss his way and my mace wasn't much more effective. Time to reload!

Which brings me to possibly the best part of Skyrim, their commitment to disaster recovery, both due to bugs or your stupidity. The game very smartly rotates between three auto saves, plus you can still save anytime. It's like they know files can get corrupted or people forget to save, so they protect you both against bugs and from yourself. Mind you, I've not yet had a corrupt file, but I greatly appreciate this.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Liking What I Sea

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As expected, Uncharted3: Drake's Deceptionreally does get great once the action gets to the ocean and beyond, including the cruise ship portion that was heavily hyped by the popular trailer. All in all, the game was very good, though it really does fall a bit into that sequel trap of doing all the same things, just a little bit bigger. Though the scope and some of the visuals in the cruise ship sequence are extra impressive. The multiplayer would be something I could see myself spending some time on, but for MW3 being released 16 hours from now. I did revisit some chapters for trophy clean-up, including getting to 80 treasures, but I think I've maxed out what I can accomplish. I might've tried the Crushing difficulty—and would've done it from the start if it were available from the start, like it should've been—but with enough of my time about to be taken by the week's two mammoth releases, I'll be trading it towards The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on Friday.

But in bonus news, I decided to pop the original Uncharted: Drake'sFortune into my PS3 for some extra attention. I knew there were a few trophies I could grab, like Grenade Hangman, and maybe getting another hidden treasure trophy. I was at 47 and hope to get to 50, and as luck would have it I found 2 more in short order on the first chapter I tried; one was even the Strange Relic, the first time I've found that in any of the Uncharted games. Unfortunately, I could be stuck at 49 since the original doesn't tell you your x out of y treasures stat at the chapter select screen; there's 11 left and 22 chapters to find them in, so I could play several chapters and not know there's no treasure left to find. Still, it's nice to get a few more trophies out of a game I had figured I'd never touch again.

Also, I'm positive the game has gotten easier. The original on Normal mode seems to make you die from gunfire much more quickly than the newest game does on Hard mode.

Anyway, I'm hoping to be awake at midnight to grab Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. I won't play when I get home, instead opting to get five or six hours of shut-eye and then playing all day, having cleared my schedule. It's pre-ordered and paid for, and I just just have a bit more to pay for Elite. I'm actually excited that there's a mobile app that will let you do some things like tinker with your loadouts while not on your console. Making a quick swap of perks and weapon attachments while dropping a deuce is just anotheradvantage of living in 2011!

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Breaking Away

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So, the big problem I have with Uncharted 3 is the sameness. If you've never played an Uncharted game before, go get it; it's phenomenal from a technical and fun standpoint. The adrenaline rush you get from sudden environment shifts and perceived danger to Nathan is like crack. But for me, every wall I climb I start thinking, "well, it's been seven seconds since a handhold has broken off, I wonder how long it wi—oh, there it goes," and no amount of sudden music bursts or panicked yelling from Nathan can make it surprising. Some of the 'set pieces' still hold thrills, especially when gunfire is added to the mix and you don't have the luxury of thinking too much. It's still a great game, but it's still much the same as 2007's original. And the dark is still killing me; I floundered around for 20 minutes in a dark Syrian fortress not able to find a door because it was hidden amidst the blackwhen I dared to allowa single lumen of light in my living room, washing out half the screen.

Multiplayer is certainly improved upon from the 2009 debut of MP in the series. However, it already suffers from people who've clearly played nothing but and have 'prestiged' or whatever the game call it when you start over again. It took less than 48 hours for playing as a newcomer to be an exercise in frustration as you get mercilessly raped by people who already know the maps, have the controls down pat, and as a bonus have more powerful weapons than you do. It's a terrible paradox created by the levelling 'trend' which really isn's a trend, but how MP will be from here on out; while you can look forward to gains from moving up in levels, in the absence of a system that truly matches you against only people near you in level, you just eat **** for hours to become competitive. I got the two MP trophies (and moved my PS level to 7), and I may not be back. There's something to be said for the simplicity of GTA IV and other older titles,where everyone has access to the same weapons.

Speaking of, of course the big news is the GTA V trailer. If anything, it's a tremendous leap forward in the graphics department. It's contemporary, and we're back to the San Andreas area. The economy seem to play a role, as the trailer shifts from lots of opulence to bums and foreclosures about halfway through. It didn't reveal a ton plotwise or give a release date, but it's got my mouth watering already, and next week's Doylestown Patch gaming article will be my timelined breakdown of it. (and in the meantime, you can enjoy my NovemberVideogame Update). They also didn't give any clues about what multiplayer will be like. GTA IV's is still possibly my favorite ever; they weren't groundbreakingly amazing at anything, but there was somuch variety and everything was flat out fun. There's a reason that it's 3½ years old and is still in the top ten of Xbox Live activity.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Hate the Drake!

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That's a little strong for my initial impressionof Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, but it's not overwhelming so far. I will say that anyone expecting a great, show-stopping opening like Among Thieves' 'train off a cliff' in medias res sequence will be very disappointed. It's the exact opposite, with a near torturously slow, plodding opening that gives a brief fisticuffs tutorial. And then there's a lot of exposition—a few chapter's worth. You won't touch a gun for well over an hour. It's also unrelentingly dark, so with even the tiniest sliver of light entering my living room it was near impossible to see through glare, so I died several times just jumping into mid-air, hoping a grab point was in that direction. And it's very much the same as its predecessors. You finish a 'Nathan climbs to solve a puzzle' room, go to the next one, and it's a bigger taller room that's another'Nathan climbs to solve a puzzle' sequence.So, call it 'whelming-minus' so far; it's beautiful and technically fantastic, but it's a lot of 'been there, done that' so far. But now that the exposition is over and we're through the real inciting incident that kicks off our globe-trotting, hopefully things will pick up.

Nathan and Sully seem to be going towards the French chateau that was featured in the multiplayer beta. I'll sample multiplayer today, but I'm not likely to play much, and not at all after MW3 comes out in six days. Honestly, I'm hoping to race through this and trade it towards Skyrim while I can still get $30 back for it. If they offered some carrot to play I might stick around, but the only MP trophies are 'play one competitive game' and 'play one cooperative game', so there's reallylittle incentive to play unless it were 'best-of-the-best' multiplayer.

Otherwise, I'm greatly looking forward to today's release of the GTA V trailer. Where will it be set? When is it coming out? How awesome will multiplayer be? Any returning characters? Lots of questions people want answers to, but I'm betting the trailer will create as many questions as it answers.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

The 40-Year-Old Gamer

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So, yes, as of yesterday I'm now 40 and still love gaming. Sadly, due to the massive and incredibly rare snowstorm, a family brunch for this morning had to be postponed and the best gift I've gotten so far is that none of my trees collapsed under the snow or had large branches fall off; a few neighbors on my street weren't as lucky. Since the snow was sticky and heavy, and the trees still have most of their leaves, all that extra surface area for snow was just too much stress for many trees to take.

Town is littered with downed limbs and trees, and our local Patch site has pictures of mine in two articles (I'm the cover photo of this one, and contributed some to this one). I still lost power for over twelve hours which sent the temperature inside down to 52º even with continually keeping a firelog burning, and almost everywhere around me was dark. As of this morning, lots of streets around me are still powerless, and our power company said this is their largest outage event ever.

To put in perspective how rare this was, it wasthe Philadelphia area'sfirst measurable October snowfall in over 30 years, only the third since the late 1880s when record-keeping began in earnest, and I'm betting those were tiny events while this wasa bona fide storm. And in my 40 years, I can't ever recall a storm anytime in November.

Anyway, it did force me to keep pushing ahead with The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. It's been a very fun game, and I'll be looking forward to the next gaming lull when I can fire up my DS for The Phantom Hourglass. I'm right about to win, as I'm at the final room with Vaati; I just have to figure out how to damage him! I must have missed a decent bit of side stuff, as I have but 15 hearts of the maximum 20, but I felt like I was very diligent in my exploration and had a pageful of notes of things to revisit. Either I wasn't, or they hid some stuff really well. And, no, I wasn't about to spend a ton of time getting all the figurines. If you still have a GBA and can find a copy of this, it's a good purchase.

I guess if you consider my new iPhone 4S an early gift to myself, the next 13 days will be filled with late gifts to myself. My copy of MW3 is fully paid and I'll likely do a midnight pick-up. That gives me a week to do Uncharted 3, which should be time enough to do the campaign. I'm still undecided on Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I'm 100% getting it, but coming out just three days after MW3, I really don't want to lose precious multiplayer time when it's still possible for the intrepid to find hidden sniper spots and other hard-to-get-to areas before they're all up on YouTube and everyone knows about them. On the other hand, the article I wrote on Skyrim got me so pumped to experience the towns, especially how hints to sidequests can beoften overheard among the natural cacaphony of townspeople instead of people just waiting for you to talk to them, like their world revolves around you. Either way, I win I suppose. Or as they say on Twitter, #gamerproblems.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!

Minishing Returns

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With Rage in the books (and traded back, along with Dead Island and Fallout: New Vegas for a CoD: MW3 pre-order), I've found myself with a bit of a lull in gaming. It's been the prefect time to get my GBA out of mothballs and get cracking on The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. It's just as enjoyable as a Zelda title should be, where it seems I'll have to fuse four elements to create the perfect sword to defeat the evil Vaati. I already have the first two: earth and fire. Of course, there's convenient obstacles to stop my progress except to where the game wants me to go. I'm also keeping diligent notes on where people with Kinstone halves are and what piece they possess, though it's frustrating that sometimes when you revisit them they won't open the dialogue right away, but they always do eventually even if you have to do something else and then return again. I have until 11/1/11 and Uncharted 3 to finish, and it's looking like I'll make that easily.

Last night saw Rules of Engagement grace our TVs again. I was a little saddened that it got bumped to Thursday after being scheduled for Saturdays; new TV that night would have been nice. But who knew How to Be a Gentleman would be such a spectacular failure. I only saw the pilot, but if you can't make a good show when Dave Foley, Mary-Lynn Rajskub, and Rhys Darby are in your cast, there's really something wrong, though it didn't help that at one of them wasn't a main character. Anyway, it's the Rules I was expecting—nothing groundbreaking, just a half-hour of pretty solid laughs, even if a lot is somewhat predictable.

I also broke down and got the iPhone 4S on Saturday. I was only at about 15% of the space left on my 16GB 3GS, so a new phone was coming soon in any case, but I treated myself for hitting the five mile mark on my weekend morning run by my 40th birthday with two weeks to spare. Anyway, the phone is awesome, and I got the 64GB soI have plenty of space for 1080p video recording. And finally having a flash for pictures is huge for me. Siri is pretty amazing, so much so that I convinced the editor I write videogame articles for to let me do an extra article this week on my experiences with her, which can be read here. It's the things you don't expect her to do that are the most amazing. You wouldn't think "what's the volume of a cylinder with a radius of 6 inches and a height of 9 inches?" would work, but she does it. The only negative is the battery life could be better, and if they fix it so Siri turns off her use of Location Services when you're not using her (as all other apps do), that will help a lot.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading, everybody!