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jalexbrown Blog

Live Streaming Games

Hey guys! If you want to check out my PC gaming live and streaming, I've got a Ustream page set up here. Sometimes I'm streaming sound; sometimes I've got the headset on and I'm streaming chat. Every now and then I'll schedule live streaming reviews that you can check out, too. I'm not streaming daily as of right now, but drop in every couple days if you want and see if I'm playing. And if you do swing by while I'm playing, hit me up in chat.

Ordered a New 360-S Today

My 360 has been having sporadic freeze-up issues, so I haven't been able to play too many 360 games lately - keep in mind that it's a 360 unit from early 2006. I got on Amazon today and saw a good deal on the 360-S: 250GB with Alan Wake and Forza 3 for the regular $300; I also have Amazon Prime, so I got free two-day shipping and no taxes applied. So I ordered it today, and it'll be here Wednesday. Woo!

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When Zach came to, he didn't know where he was. There were thoughts lingering in the air around him – mostly dark thoughts – and they were coming and going with regularity, never consistent, always changing. He's going to die, one person thought. We made a huge mistake, another one thought. There was someone else that seemed to be thinking about divorce, but that wasn't coming in clearly enough for Zach to make out entirely. His eyes were still closed, but he had somehow felt the drift from unconsciousness to almost-there. Even through his eyelids, there was a light penetrating; instead of seeing nothing but a field of blackness, he saw a field of blackness littered with tiny white specks. Then he heard the beeping, steady and rhythmic, close and yet so far away. His right arm was numb, his left arm was cold and felt like it had been submersed in icewater, but he could feel beads of sweat on his forehead.

Then he started hearing the voices. At first they were faint, sounding like they were swimming at him through a long tunnel – and then they started to come closer, closer.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

Will someone shut that ****ing machine off, he found himself thinking.

Beep. Beep. Beep.

The beeps were growing further apart, and that concerned Zach – quite a lot if truth were to be told, except the truth was that Zach wasn't really there. Or he didn't believe he was there anyways. Yes, of course; this was all just a horrible nightmare. Any second now he would wake up in bed next to Lizzy; any second he would–

Beep. Beep.

Zach could feel the thoughts around him growing more faint, almost less concerned. They knew the inevitable was going to happen: barring a miracle from Jesus Christ himself, Zach would die.

And now he was numb, wasn't he? There was nothing left. His arm didn't feel cold anymore; it didn't feel like anything. And weren't there beads of sweat on his forehead? Not anymore, not that he could tell. He tried to open his mouth, to say something, to scream something – but there was no response. He wasn't sure what he would say if he could scream, but dammit, it didn't really matter.


Friday Picks - 6/4/10

I just recently started playing Call of Duty 4 online on PS3, and I must say that it's fantastic! The whole game is so much better when you're playing online. There's still a crapload of players online, so finding and getting into a game is easy as pie. The only complaint I have about Call of Duty 4 online is that I suck at it, but it's a blast even in last place with a kill to death ratio of 1:6 (just an estimate folks).

Blood Red is a vampire story by James Moore. The cover boasts that Moore "stands toe-to-toe with the best of King, Koontz, and McCammon" - that's according to Cemetary Dance, a publisher of horror fiction. And indeed, the story is very good so far. The book is roughly 400 pages, I've read about 150 of them so far. If you're fan of vampire horror in particular, you should definitely check this book out.

I went back and watched this movie again the other night, and it's still a solid adaptation of the King short story. The movie is well paced, and from the beginning until the end there is a lingering sense that something bad is around the corner. John Cusack as Mike Enslin carries the movie well on his back considering he takes up about 90% of the screen time alone; Cusack does a great job depicting the descent into madness - even better than Nicholson did as Jack Torrence in The Shining. (I always felt as though Torrence had very little descent into madness in The Shining, because he seemed to have been at least somewhat insane from the get-go.) There are bits of subplot here and there that slow down the movie, but they also add to the emotional impact of the movie in a great way. There are a lot of eerie shots in this movie - including one particularly strange and frightening scene between Enslin and his father that you'll have to watch the movie to see for yourself. And of course there is Samual Jackson in the movie; that alone is good enough of a reason to see this movie.

There is a review on the way eventually - there really is; I swear it - but for now, let me just say that Disintegration is my pick of the week CD. This was the first Cure CD that I listened to, and I didn't really know what to expect. What I got was a great, mellow vibe with a lot of really awesome songs. The title track in particular stands out in my mind as being particularly awesome, but the rest of the tracks are all fantastic; there doesn't seem to be a weak one amongst them. The Cure is a band that is very much technically proficient, but more than that they're just in touch with it. This is music as an artform - just how it should be.

Friday Picks

3D Dot Game Heroes is incredible; any fan of the old-school 2D Zelda games have no reason for not rushing out to pick it up as soon as possible. Plus it's an Atlus title, so I'm wagering it'll become one of those niche, hard-to-find titles down the road a ways. The gameplay is a fantastic recreation of 2D Zelda, and the art is quirky and whimsical. Plus it has a trimmed-down $40 price tag, so I see no reason why you shouldn't own this game if you have a PS3.

This movie always gets chuckles out of me - every single freaking time I watch it. And I've watched it more than a few times. I felt that Kevin Smith was really in touch with his funny yet mature side with this film, but he's still not afraid to let his juvenile side have some of the fun (donkey show anyone?). The cast has some shining moments, and there's even an incredibly hilarious cameo by Wanda Sykes. The thing that impressed me most about Clerks 2, though, was the very simple fact that I laughed at all of the right moments.

What a great collection of short stories by Richard Matheson. The man is simply one of the great writers of the horror genre - plain and simple. His elegant yet simple sty1e of writing is just so fantastic, and his stories are always very creative and interesting. I read through this very quickly - in about three days - because I just couldn't put it down. It has my highest recommendation as a horror book fanatic.

I went back again and listened to Mechanical Animals, and it is still by far my favorite Manson album. There are very few weak tracks on this CD - few enough that I was able to listen to the entire album without skipping a single track. There are even some tracks - like Coma White and The Speed of Pain - that I went back and listened to multiple times. This to me is the shining example of what Manson is capable of doing when he puts his mind to it. Some might feel it's less focused than Holywood, but I actually think it's a better album because of how it's all over the place.

Where I'm At Now

Some of you might want to know what areas of Gamespot I frequent. Okay, that's pretty much a lie, because I know most of you couldn't care less which areas I frequent. Well, regardless, I'm going to fill you on a little union that I'm hanging out at these days. It's the Gamers EXP Union, a great general gaming union with a friendly atmosphere that isn't too tight on the modding. (I'm an officer myself, so I try to see to it that the modding doesn't get tight; to date I can't remember there being very many posts that had to be moderated.) I was running my own union for a bit, but I let it go and disbanded it so that I could dedicate more of my time to the EXP. So if anyone's interested in checking out where I'm at these days - and let's face it: you're probably not - head on over there, join the union, and join in on the fun discussions, light atmosphere, and great people!

Come One, Come All!!!

I've been gone for a little while, but I finally came back for good. Since I came back, I decided to totally redeisgn my union, the All Things Gaming Union ( It's a great community to join and discuss all matters game related. The union right now is relatively small (27 or 28 members), and we have an active community that post on a daily basis to keep conversations going. We welcome anyone to join; all you need is a passion for discussing games. There will be room for some people to be promoted to an Officer assuming we get a larger community. Right now we have three Officers plus myself, and we're very relaxed; I've never moderated or deleted any post, and I don't believe any Officer has moderated or deleted any post.

So if you're looking for a good place to talk all things gaming (hence the name...), why don't you swing by and join?

A New Story (First Two Chapters; Please Let Me Know What You Think)

This is the first two chapters (mini-chapters, really) of a new story I started working on. This isn't typically something I would do (showing someone an unfinished story is kind of like inviting your girlfriend over to your place when you haven't cleaned in months; nothing is at all presentable, and you're definitely not going to impress anyone), but I'm looking for some feedback before I continue and there's not anyone to ask, so here goes...



It's just a job.

At least that's what Robert Walker told himself, sitting in the driver sear of his black Lincoln with a cold, I-didn't-do-it smirk on his face. He started across the street at the small, single story brick building. The building was clearly some sort of business, but there was no sign or any sort of indication as to what sort of business was being ran there. It was 5:00 in the morning, and Robert was forever grateful that he was there that early. He was there that early every morning, in fact.

It's just a job.

Robert never glanced away from the building as he reached towards the cup holder, fidgeting a pack of Marlboros trying to get a cigarette. He pulled one out and put it to his lips, letting out a heavy sigh as he did so. He pulled a lighter from his breast pocket and quickly lit the cigarette, taking a shallow drag from the old, stale cigarette before putting the lighting back into the pocket from which he had gotten it.

It was at that moment, staring blankly across at that building, that Robert realized for the first time he had some sort of remorse. He felt bad. His stomach dropped a little, and he took another drag from the cigarette, this one deep enough to make him have a short coughing fit.

It's just a job.

But was it really just a job? Robert wasn't so sure these days. When he was fresh out of college, an ambitious 28 year old with long hair and a short attention span, it was just a job. But now, in his 40s with a receding hair line that was starting to lose its color, it wasn't just a job anymore. It somehow felt more personal.


When Robert was in college, the idea of abortion wasn't on his mind much. He'd thought about it only in passing, and only when it was brought up in the media. And even on those occasions, he had very little to say about it. And when Robert took that job at the abortion clinic only a month after leaving college, he still didn't think much about it. After all, it was just a job. But all those people marching around outside, holding up picket signs claiming "Abortion is Murder!" and "Save a Life, Don't Abort!" (all very conservative, left wing Christians, Robert assumed) didn't think so. They acted as if Robert was getting some sort of personal vengeance, as if Robert had something against those babies. In all honesty, Robert never thought about it. How could he? If he'd put any sort of thought into it, it was hard to say what he would decide. So he just figured issues like this were best left out of his mind.

Now, sitting in his Lincoln at 5:00 in the morning and staring across at that brick building, those thoughts (the thoughts which he had in his beginning years forbid from entering his mind) seeped slowly into his mind. They are babies, Robert thought, snapping his head in both directions as if some voice had actually said it to him. Robert took another drag off the cigarette and tilted his head back, looking at the roof with a confused look on his face.

"It's just a job," he whispered to himself. "It's just a damned job. It's nothing more, nothing less." But did he really believe that? These days he wasn't so sure he bought it.

Taking one final drag off the cigarette, Robert opened the door of the Lincoln and stepped out, slamming the door behind him and flicking the cigarette into the distance. The building's presence felt cold to Robert; the feeling was similar to the feeling one might get when looking at a cemetery, that lingering sense of death in the air. Robert realized at that moment that he had pulled his car keys back out of his pocket, as if he had the intent of turning around and heading home to find another job. He put his keys back into his pocket hesitantly, for the first time wondering consciously if he should go home. He started across the street, a narrow two-lane highway in Fairfax, Ohio. His walk was slow, nervous, and all too unenthusiastic.

One last time, as if looking to convince himself to change his mind, he whispered, "It's just a job."

Bioshock (Xbox 360) Review

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After I finished playing Bioshock, I knew immediately that I'd played an amazing game. That feeling after finishing a game where the game just sticks with you, I felt that with Bioshock. It was an incredibly emotional game. The mystery of the world of Rapture sticks with you long after the game ends. And yet, frankly, at first I had a hard time summing what it was that made Bioshock so amazing. It really left me at a loss for words, and I had to postpone writing this review for several days so I could actually figure out what made the game so amazing.

For starters the atmosphere in Bioshock is amazing. And by atmosphere I mean more than visuals. Sure, the visuals are amazing (a bit on that in a minute), but the whole game's presentation is just immersive and amazing. I don't think I've ever felt so totally involved in a game before. The world of Rapture is just so intriguing and well conceived that, despite it's obvious sci-fi setting, it seems almost plausible. The world is well developed; it's as if the developers actually mapped out every square inch of Rapture. The problem with all of this is that, while the city of Rapture is presented as being this huge underwater world, you really feel confined to the small corridors and buildings the game lets you into. A breathtaking opening cinematic makes Rapture feel huge, but you'll quickly feel disappointed once you find out you're constrained to the path the developers put you on. With all the attention to detail in the world, it's a shame that they confined you so much.

Bioshock is visually a treat. The moody lighting is just so well done, and many of the creepy set pieces will stick with you long after you've passed them up. The models are textures are equally impressive, and I never noticed any major frame rate issues. The game is littered with special effects, and none of them feel cheap or lazy. The way the world interacts with you, and with itself, is also quite amazing. The visual appeal (not to mention gameplay appeal) of being able to send a bolt of lightning at a puddle of water and fry the person standing in it is just so pleasing. Even today I think that Bioshock is a testimony to what the Xbox 360 can do visually when a group of talented developers are really up to the challenge.

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The audio never goes wrong, either. Eerie sound effects, spooky music, and amazing voice acting is aplenty in this game. One of the more interesting things about this game's soundtrack (a tip of the hat to Half-Life, perhaps) is the fact that your character never speaks. And, just as in Half-Life, this only ramps up the immersive factor of the game. Putting some generic voice on the hero would really only cheapen then soundtrack. Guns sound satisfying to shoot, and the sound effects when you're shooting fire or lighting are also very satisfying. The whole soundtrack is a tight package used to wrap you up in the game's immersive environment.

The gameplay is also well done. The way this game so seamlessly fuses the audio and visuals into the gameplay makes this game easily one of the most satisfying 360 games you can buy. As you go through Bioshock you'll acquire things called plasmids. These plasmids are used to, literally, modify your genetic code. These modifications are used to allow you to do special things like shoot lighting or fire, or give you telekinesis. The plasmids also often times are necessary to complete some of the game's puzzles, although it will mostly be immediately obvious if you need a certain plasmid to progress. The way the plasmids allow you to interact with the environment makes for some of the most fun there is to be had in Bioshock. Shoot some lighting at a puddle at watch anyone in the puddle shock to death; send some fire towards a path of gasoline and watch the whole path burn, taking anyone in or around the path with it. It's really these small details that make the plasmid system so fun and entertaining. Really, though, the shame is that most of the time you'll discover the easiest way to kill an enemy is the most boring. Shocking an enemy will temporarily stun them, and a solid hit with the wrench will take most basic enemies to the ground without problem. Unfortunately, this means that often times you'll throw creativity out the window in favor of discarding the basic enemies faster. It would have been better had the developers put you in more situations where you were encouraged to use the plasmids in a creative manner. Even at that, though, the plasmids are still satisfying enough that this is only a minor gripe. The weapons, on the other hand, lack the satisfaction of the plasmids. Most of the weapons feel sort of underpowered in comparison to the plasmids. For most of the games your weapons will be your secondary means of attack. This does admittedly make the game feel a bit unbalanced at times. The game also incorporates a hacking mini game into the fun. Basically, the hacking mini game consists of flipping and switching tiles to send some ooze from one spot to another. These hacking mini games can range from incredibly easy to maddeningly hard. Hacking is never required to progress, though, so if you start to feel too frustrated with one of the hacks you can proceed without it.

Difficulty can be a major concern for some games, and this is one of Bioshock's biggest weaknesses. The game is too easy. The game world is littered with Vita-Chambers, and should you die, you'll respawn in one of these Vita-Chambers. To make matters worse, any damage you've dealt to an enemy prior to death will still be in effect, meaning that you can haphazardly shoot away at enemies until you kill them, and dying will never be a concern. Luckily the Vita-Chambers can be turned off. In either case, even with a difficulty on the easy side it doesn't mess too much with the game's overall quality.

The story of Bioshock is one of intrigue. Unfortunately, it's too hard to easily put into words. Thankfully, though, the game does an excellent job pushing you along through the story without having it intrude too much into your fun. An interesting note is that throughout the game you have the opportunity to save or harvest things called Little Sisters. The problem, of course, is that Little Sisters are protected by Big Daddies. After killing the Big Daddy (these are pretty much the hardest things in the entire game to kill), you'll have a moral choice to make. You can either harvest the Little Sister (essentially getting more adam but sacrificing the Little Sister in the process), or you can save her (this will give you less adam, but you'll get the moral satisfaction of knowing that the little girl is alive and no longer possessed). Throughout the course of the game this decision will come up many times, and you'll never be tied to the same decision you made before, so if you decide you want to harvest one Little Sister after saving another, go ahead. This whole moral aspect of the game can be quite interesting at first, but over time it seems to get more in the way.

One of my biggest gripes about Bioshock is its total lack of a multiplayer component. Being able to play through parts of the story with a second player would have been awesome, but I suppose co-op was a worthwhile sacrifice to give you that immersive experience. Bioshock wouldn't have lent itself at all to deathmatch multiplayer, though, so I suppose perhaps the lack of a multiplayer component was for the better. Still, in 2008 a FPS game feels unfinished if there isn't any sort of multiplayer included.

At the end of the day, Bioshock is just an incredible experience all the way through. The story is a bit short-lived, but you'll never feel cheated by it, either. Bioshock has created one of the most immersive worlds of any video game I've played to date. The whole game just drips with atmosphere unmatched by anything else out there. If you're in the market for a good, worthwhile FPS game, Bioshock should definitely be your top purchase choice.

Gameplay: 9.5
Visuals: 10
Audio: 9.5
Fun Factor: 10
Overall: 10

Unreal Tournament 3 (PC) Review

Unreal Tournament games have been one of the staples of online FPS gaming. Their fast-paced, arena gameplay makes for a great online experience. The multiple modes on online play adds enough variety that you won't get bored with the standard deathmatch games. Unreal Tournament 3 doesn't take a whole lot of risks. It does pretty much what the series has always done...and it does it damn well.

Unreal Tournament veterans won't have any problems jumping into the new installment. It plays very similar to previous installments, albeit a few mode changes and additions. The modes included in Unreal Tournament 3 are deathmatch , team deathmatch, capture the flag, vehicle capture the flag (same as capture the flag but with bigger maps that encourage the use of vehicles), warfare (team-based gameplay; take control of nodes scattered around the map to destroy the opposing team's main node), and duel (a one-on-one match with other plays simply acting as spectators). The mode that I have the biggest gripe over is the warfare mode. Perhaps it's simply because I suck at online FPS games, but it's extremely hectic and can get overly complex at times. Nevertheless, the online experience is the meat of the game, and if you really want to get your money's worth you'd do good to play it online.

The game's campaign mode (as always) only serves to train you for online play. Odds are good that most Unreal Tournament veterans will skip the campaign mode altogether, which would be a bit of a shame. Instead of being a simple tournament, the campaign mode now has a story about a war going on that you're caught up in the middle of. Throughout the course of the campaign mode there are branches where you can start doing missions in the order that you want to do them in. Really, though, once you look past the superficial story you're still playing the same campaign you played before. Even at that, the direction they took the campaign drastically improves the presentation of it if nothing else. The other cool addition to the campaign mode is that you'll get cards as you play through the campaign. These cards will allow you to do certain things (lower enemy count by two, for example) on missions of your choice. This is an interesting way to give the player a handicap if there's a mission they just can't get beyond. The interesting thing about the campaign mode is that you now play it online with other people, which is a pretty awesome addition if you and a buddy want to team up on those bots.

Visually Unreal Tournament 3 is a treat. Even on mid-range machines the game will run at a solid 45-50FPS on medium detail, and medium detail looks good. The game has a gritty, war-torn look to it as opposed to the more metallic, arena look of previous games. Even where there were ten or more characters on screen with bullets flying every which way, the framerate never dropped.

The audio for Unreal Tournament 3 is pretty much what it's been in the past. The interesting thing about this type of game is how it seems they all use the same sound bytes. The game does lack much in the way of ambient sound, but it doesn't matter because you'd never have the time to enjoy it if it was present. You'd be too busy shooting.

Really I don't know what bad thing I can say about Unreal Tournament 3. It's everything I expected it would be. I never felt disappointed with any aspect of the game (except the fact that I'm no good at it online). Still, I can't really quite say it's perfect either. There's no flaws per se, but the game does have a kind of "been there, done that" feel to it. The few risks that Epic made paid off, but not in a big enough of a way that I really felt like it was a new game. More like a fresh coat of paint on an old game. Still, for $20 (for the PC version) there's no reason not to buy it if you're a fan of the FPS genre, even if you (like me) are no good at playing them online. It doesn't matter, because you'll have a damn good time losing.

Gameplay: 9.0

Visuals: 9.5

Audio: 8.5

Fun Factor: 10.0

Overall: 9.5