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johnsteed7 Blog

People. I Hate Them.

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The copy machine is right by my desk, and beside that is a drawer with supplies like paper, a stapler, etc. One day someone tried to use the stapler, found out it wasn't working, and then loudly proclaimed "I hate it when people jam the stapler and then walk away without fixing it!"

I slouched in my chair, trying to make myself as small as possible. I knew what was coming. Sure enough, a few seconds later she called my name and asked "Could you fix this for me?"

"I probably could", I responded, "but so could you. And since you're the one who actually needs to use it I think you should go ahead and handle that"

She picked up the stapler, walked over and offered it to me. I crossed my arms. She then smiled, placed the stapler on my desk, said "thanks!", and walked away.

So it's not okay to jam the stapler and then walk away, but it's perfectly acceptable to find the stapler jammed, pass it off on someone else to fix, and then walk away. Good to know.

The Power of Nostalgia

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I kind of want to buy Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I've read some reviews of the game that contain the equivalent of "don't buy it for the single player. It's mostly a multiplayer game", which is usually the sort of thing that makes me immediately lose interest in a game, but still, every time I see an ad for it I start thinking about picking it up.

I'm sure the main reason for this is my fond memories of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and its sequel. GRAW came with my Xbox 360, so it was my first high definition gaming experience. For a long time it was the only game I owned for the system, so I played the hell out of it. It was the first shooter I ever played that let me pick from a collection of different AI squad mates to take into combat with me. It was the game the introduced me to the joys of achievement hunting. And yes, it was the game that led me down the dark path of online multiplayer. Whenever I think of the time I've spent with my Xbox 360, GRAW is one of the first games to come to mind.

But Future Soldier is not GRAW. We now live in a world where every shooter on the market is designed for people other than me. I know this, and yet.... I'm still thinking of picking up Future Soldier.

Please... If you care about me at all... Talk me down in the comments below.

The Missing

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Thursday last week, May the 3rd, my father decided to let the dogs outside one last time before going to bed. The latch on the fence door must not have been secured properly, because soon after they were let out both dogs ran though the gate in the back yard and kept running into the woods. My parents called out to them, but the dogs must have been chasing a small animal because they never stopped until they were out of sight.

My parents spent hours driving around town looking for the dogs before finally giving up and heading home. That night, at about 2:30 AM, they were woken up by some barking from the front door. Riley had come home, alone.

Rachel wasn't found the next day, despite my parent's constant searching. There had been a major thunderstorm the night she disappeared so we were afraid that Rachel had lost their scent and couldn't find her way home. I showed up that weekend to help in search. My parents called animal control and the local pound. We posted "missing dog" posters in every post office and store we could. One of the neighbors we talked to mentioned cougars and bears being seen in the area recently. Rachel is a fast runner, but even so, that wasn't something we wanted to hear.

Riley spent the whole time I was there moping around the house. With no one to bite or steal food from, he seemed to have lost all purpose in life. Despite this, he wasn't too helpful with our search. Every time I asked him where he left his sister, the dumb bastard would just stare at me and wag his tail.

Sunday night I had to go back home. There was no sign of Rachel the whole time I was there. My parents did eventually start getting calls from people who had seen a black lab, but whenever they went to the area the callers mentioned and yelled for Rachel, there was no answer.

Thursday, May 10th was the 7th day that Rachel had been missing. I got a call from my father that night, minutes after I had gotten home from work. My dad was getting ready for another night of searching when he heard a whimper coming from outside. He opened the front door to find Rachel waiting to come in. She had found her way home.

Rachel was filthy, and missing her collar. She was starving, but they only gave her a little food at first to make sure she could handle it. Then my mother dragged her into the backyard to bathe her. Riley was overjoyed. He could barely be contained from pouncing on Rachel at every opportunity and scratched at the door constantly while Rachel was getting her bath. I heard him bark louder over the phone then I had ever heard him bark in person.

Rachel was covered in ticks. My mother estimated that she pulled twenty ticks off Rachel just during that bath. When Rachel was let back inside she immediately went to her couch for a long nap. When she eventually got up, six more ticks were found on the couch. They've been finding the occasional tick in the house ever since. I told my mother that I wasn't going anywhere near that house until it had been de-filthed. My parents have lost a son, but gotten their dogs back. I think they were happy with the exchange.

The Last Straw

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Here?s a little recap of my experience writing my last blog. Gamespot has a habit of "eating" my blog posts, so years ago I started writing my blogs in an email and pasting them to this site. I then preview what I've pasted and begin the long process of fixing all the glitches Gamespot has created. Since Gamespot always combines all my paragraphs into one giant block of text, I must separate all the paragraphs again. Then I have to search my blog carefully for any random words that Gamespot has decided to combine with the word next to it and separate those as well. After doing this with my last blog, I noticed that everyapostrophy in my blog had been replaced with a question mark. Just what this site needed! A new glitch! Now I had to go through my blog again to delete all the question mark and re-add the commas before I could finally post it.

But I guess making the process of posting my blog overly tedious and complicated wasn?t enough. Days later I checked to see if anyone had commented. It said I had 19 comments on my blog, but when I clicked to view them the comment section was blank. In its place was a new comment system that seems to have obliterated all previous comments. I checked over people?s blogs and saw the comments removed from them as well. I had messages in my inbox that said people had directed comments to me, but I couldn?t reply to them because these comments no longer existed. The number of comments each blog used to have was still displayed, as if to mock us, but the actual comments have been removed. I checked the site again 2 days later to see that the comments from my last blog, and only my last blog, had been moved to this new system. All other blog comments were still missing, perhaps forever.

And what do we get in exchange for losing our comment history? A better system for writing comments in the future? Of course not. This is Gamespot, where all updates to the blog section make it worse, not better. There?s no date/time stamp on comments, I can?t tell where my cursor is when I?m writing, we no longer have the ability to edit comments, and worst of all, I no longer get notified when someone directs a comment at me. I?ve had a few people reply to my comments, but the only way I knew about it was to remember to return to whatever blog I commented on to check. So I guess no one read the replies I wrote to them in the comments on my last blog. Wonderful. I did get an email when someone ?liked? one of my comments, so I guess Gamespot thinks that?s more important than notifying me when someone is actually trying to talk to me.

In place of all the features they?ve removed from the comments section is the ability to share your comments on Facebook and Twitter. Is this really something people were asking for? I don?t know about everyone else, but if I wanted to put something on Facebook or Twitter I?d be writing on Facebook or Twitter, not the Gamespot blog comments section. Why should I have to create a profile on another site just to be notified that someone is commenting at me? Gamespot was able to do this for me all by itself before this update.

I?ve been complaining about this broken site for years, but like so many other users I accepted long ago that Gamespot has no interest in fixing all the issues with its community features. Over the past couple of years I?ve begun to realize that even asking this site not to get any worse was asking too much. As much as I enjoy the great community here, this latest unnecessary update has finally pushed me over the edge. I?m going to give it a little while to see if things actually improve, but my time on the site has taught me not to expect much. In all likelyhood, my days as a Gamespot blogger are numbered.


Lost in Skyrim

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Online multiplayer has spread to God of War, like the cancer that it is. Reading terrible news like this so often over the past several years has made me appreciate games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It has no multiplayer. It doesn't come with an online pass. And yet, despite publishers telling us such a game can't succeed, it's a huge hit. Take that, Electronic Arts.

I started Skyrim knowing that the game would be huge, but I still wasn't prepared for how huge. It's the kind of game where you get a quest from someone, head toward your objective, and then pick up a dozen more quests on your way there. And all of them are worth doing. I'm used to side quests being noticeably weaker than the main story quests in RPGs, even great ones like Mass Effect 3, but in Skyrim side quests are every bit as well made and involving as the main story. And there are enough side quests to make a dozen other games. I've been playing Skyrim for close to a month now and I'm not even close to finished. There are plenty of towns that I haven't even visited yet. And I've never once been bored while I was playing. The size of this game is staggering.

I was a little disappointed at how few guards have regaled me with tales of getting hit with arrows to the knee, but I assume that Bethesda reduced the number of times you hear that line with a patch after that meme became so popular. I wish they spent more time fixing actual bugs though, as I've seen quite a few. There was even one time where it became impossible for me to complete a quest, forcing me to load an earlier save.

Skyrim does so many things that it does sometimes look bad when compared to other games that focus on doing only a few things really well. I wish the game had more of Bioware's focus on character, for example. Your followers hardly ever say anything, and everyone else acts as if they aren't there. I chose who I married based on what bonuses they would give me, no potential mate interested me as a character. Though the quests are often very well written, I was never overly concerned whether or not anyone would live or die. Also, while ranged combat like spells and arrows is fun, melee combat is too slow and clunky. After recently experiencing the fantastic combat in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Skyrim's combat feels like a big step back.

But the Elder Scrolls has always been a series where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. My plan to get through my backlog has hit a major speed bump, as I'll likely be playing Skyrim for many more weeks to come. I couldn't be happier about that.

I'll need all the entertainment I can get after tomorrow. Occupy Wall Street is promising to grind Manhattan to a halt, which is sure to make my morning commute even more nauseating than usual. Maybe I should just call in sick and play Skyrim instead?

This One's For NColdhardt

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You asked for it. You got it. Here's what happened during my visit to my parent's house for Easter.

First, I got my standard greeting.

bite attack

Only Riley greeted me this time. Rachel was too busy protecting her couch.

guard dog

Rachel turned 3 years old about a month ago. The day she was brought home, she claimed that couch as her own. She's spent the majority of her days sleeping on it ever since. Unfortunately, Rachel does not treat her stuff very well.

it's seen better days

Apparently she run out of stuffed animals to pull the fluff out of, so she decided to work on her couch. She tries to hide the hole when company is over, but she doesn't do a very good job.

Dog relaxation time

I decided to help distract her with one of her favorite activities, fighting Riley.

dog fight!

It seemed to have done the trick.

happy dogs

Some things never change. After all these years, the dogs are still happiest when they're together.

back in the day

Meanwhile, the ducks continue to be ducks

duck

The Brain Does Not Know What the Mouth Is Doing

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Before leaving to visit my parents for the weekend, I decided to stop by the store and pick up a few things. After grabbing a few essentials I went to the cash register where the following conversation took place:

Cashier: Hello sir. How are you?

Me: Alright

Cashier: Oh fine, fine. And yourself?

Me: Uh.... fine

Cashier: That's great. Do you want a bag for that?

Me: No thanks

I quickly paid for my items and got the hell out of there. The day when every store on the planet has an automated checkout aisle cannot come fast enough.

Backloggery

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For the past couple of weeks, it seems like I've done nothing but read about Mass Effects 3's ending. I'm either pouring through long, elaborate lists of what's wrong with it or reading news stories about how people are demanding Bioware "fix" it. I think I've finally passed the point of not caring anymore.

Look.... I'm as disappointed with the ending as most other Mass Effect fans, but it is what it is. A bad ending isn't some bug that can be patched. It was a narrative choice made by the game's writers. Most people may not have liked it, but that's how they chose to end their story. Laura Parker is right. Creating some kind of DLC to add to or change the ending would cheapen the idea of video games as an art form. They don't change the content of already released books or films because of fan feedback, why should they change a game's story? And even if Bioware somehow managed to create a perfect ending to Mass Effect 3 that pleased everyone, it would never have the same impact as the ending we saw when we first completed the game.

I still maintain that most of Mass Effect 3 is an excellent game. It just happens to have some of the most disappointing last moments in any form of entertainment that I've ever experienced. After beating the first 2 games I almost immediately dove back in to them for another playthough. But thanks to that ending, or maybe the endless discussions about that ending, my enthusiasm for the Mass Effect universe is gone. And I don't think any DLC is going to bring it back.

Hopefully that will be the last thing I have to say or read about Mass Effect 3's ending for a very long time.

It's probably a good thing I'm not eager to replay a game I've just finished. After all, I have *a lot* of untouched games that I need to get to. It's taken months of people suggesting it to me for me to finally do it, but I've added my entire backlog to backloggery. It may not be 100% complete. I think there are a few XBLA titles that I still need to add. Still, what's there is.... daunting.

I've taken my first steps toward clearing that massive game pile by starting Skyrim. I should be able to finish that one by the weekend, right?

Is This the Emotion You Call 'Joy'?

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Nine days. Nine days with no one having long, personal conversations on their phone right next to me as a ride the train. No one in front of me stopping short for no reason as I walk down the sidewalk. No one jamming the copier and then asking me for help even though there's a diagram on the screen with a big arrow pointing right at the area where the paper is jammed. Nine glorious days with no human contact all. I cannot remember the last time I have felt happier.

But all good things come to an end. Tomorrow, I will have make the trip to that loud, crowded, filthy city known as New York. For the past few days I've tried to force the inevitability of my return to work into the back of my mind, but as it get closer to bed time today, I'm finding it harder to stop thinking about what tomorrow might bring. How long will these good feelings I currently have last? How long before the sea of humanity I have to wade through in the morning sucks every bit of relaxation out of me? I don't want to think about that, but I can't help myself.

I'm going to have to go sleep soon. I think I'll relax first by listening to the greatest song ever written while I shelve some of the books and games that I've been enjoying this past week. Anything to squeeze a few more pleasant moments out of this vacation.

Thoughts On Mass Effect 3

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I have finished Mass Effect 3. It's an incredible game, cementing the Mass Effect series as one of my all time favorite sci-fi stories from any medium. It's filled with great character moments and amazing action set pieces. I'm not going to go into detail because I think it's best for players to find out about these things for themselves. But I will say that you're given some really tough choices in this game with far reaching consequences and there are some missions that match or surpass the best action scenes from Gears of War or Uncharted. ME3 was the perfect game for me to have on my vacation. It's one of those games where you tell yourself you're going to complete one more mission before going to bed, and then before you know it it's 1am. And I didn't care, because I didn't have to go to work the next day! :)

Now having said that....

It's not as good as Mass Effect 2. Since ME2 is one of my favorite games, this isn't exactly the worst criticism I could make. Still, it's a bit disappointing.

I'll list some of the minor issues I had with the game. I really wish you had the option to spend more time with your Mass Effect 2 squad mates, but most of them just show up for quick cameos. With all the different characters this game is juggling though, that's understandable. Less understandable is the fact that your mission log doesn't get updated when you progress in a mission. So if you're on a mission to find a doodad so that you can bring it to an NPC and you find that doodad, your mission log doesn't indicate that. Since you could have over a dozen sidequests open at one time this is a problem. You just have to walk over to the NPC you're possessed to hand it to and talk to him in order to tell if you've got what he needs. I also found a bug in one sidequest that made it impossible to complete. I had to use a computer terminal to continue the quest, but the "use" option never came up. There's also currently a bug in the game where you're unable to import your character's face from ME2. This is a pretty big deal, as carrying over your character from game to game is one of the series best features. Your decisions can still be imported though, which is the most important thing for me. And hopefully this problem will be patched before too long.

If those small issues were the only problems I had with ME3, I'd still consider the game a masterpiece. But there are some major problems that I still need to talk about.

The DLC. The mission that comes with the "From Ashes" DLC is okay. It lasts about 30 minutes. It's good, but doesn't really stand out from any of the other missions in the game. The real highlight of From Ashes is the companion you pick up after the mission is over. He's a useful character to bring into combat, especially in the first half of the game when your squad options are limited. And he's got some of my favorite dialog in the entire game. He interacts really well with the other members of the crew and when you bring him on missions, some of the reactions he gets from NPCs are hilarious. Unlike the lame Zaeed and Kasumi DLC characters from Mass Effect 2, he really feels like he belonged in the game right from the beginning.

So why is this DLC a bad thing? Well... because it's DLC. I got to enjoy it because I pre-ordered the collector's edition, but most fans will have to pay for it. This is something that really feels important to the game's story, and it's a real shame it wasn't included with the retail price of the game so that all fans could enjoy it.

The multiplayer. Online multiplayer is like the cockroach. I know that it will never be completely exterminated. All I ask is that it doesn't show up in places that I enjoy visiting. When I first heard that multiplayer had infested my favorite gaming series I was afraid that it would harm the only thing I and the vast majority of ME fans cared about; the campaign. It seems like that's exactly what happened.

One of the few missteps in the campaign is that there are a few too many "hold this position against waves of enemies" missions. In all likelihood, that is so they could use these missions for ME3's multiplayer mode. Every time I found an open area and was forced to hang around until I had finished the last wave of enemies I couldn't help but think "this must be a multiplayer map". After finishing ME3 I tried a few rounds of multiplayer to confirm my suspicions. And yes, all the multiplayer maps come from those missions. Wonderful.

But that's the least of multiplayer's sins. The ending of Mass Effect 3 is tied to this meter that you fill up throughout the game by getting ships and personnel to help in the war against the Reapers. To get the best ending, you must fill the "readiness meter" by getting every possible asset you can throughout the campaign. But there's no real indication of the maximum level is. I had the bar filled about midway through the game and I kept adding to total number after that. But I didn't get the achievement for having most of the assets so I guess I didn't get the best ending, even though I completed every single sidequest except that one glitched one. It was pretty easy to understand what the best ending to Mass Effect 2 was. Keep your squad alive through the last mission. You could tell when your squad was loyal to you. You could tell when one of your decisions cost a squad mate his life. There's nothing that clear about the Mass Effect 3 ending. And this only reinforces the idea that most fans seems to have; you need to play multiplayer to get the best ending. If you're going to cram an unnecessary multiplayer mode into your game why add to this mistake by making it affect your progress in the main game?!

And then there's my usual issue with multiplayer. My problems with things liked bugged sidequests and mission logs not showing your progress didn't exist in the previous games. If the resources devoted to multiplayer had been spent polishing the campaign, would these problems have been fixed? I don't know, but I sure would have liked the chance to find out.

The ending. I'm not going to spoil anything here, though some of the things I link to may contain spoilers.

The ending is AWFUL. So awful the last 10 minutes almost made me forget how much fun I was having during the past 30+ hours. It's so bad, even Hitler hated it. My reaction is best summed up here. I'm currently in the last stage of the recovery process, but it's still hard to even think about it. At best, it was a really poorly thought out idea. At worst, it's a shameless ploy to keep us coming back for more sequels/ DLC. This is the end of the trilogy. We were promised closure. We expected to see where all our decisions up to this point would lead. Instead of getting any of that, we're simply dropped back into the galaxy map so that we have a chance to download future Mass Effect 3 DLC.

It may seem like I'm being really harsh on this game, but that's only because I had such high expectations. Mass Effect 3 should have been the brilliant conclusion to one of the most important series in the history of gaming. Instead, it's just a really good game. The real shame of it is that the core game is so great. The things that drag it down are things that look like business decisions. The Prothean squad member being cut away from the game to be used as DLC, the inclusion of a multiplayer mode that was never needed, and giving us an ending that didn't give us the final answers we wanted all seem designed to squeeze more money out of Mass Effect fans instead of making the game as great as we wished it would be.