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My games of the year...

It's not fair for me to just pick one game that I enjoyed more than the rest...

My top 5 in no particular order

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Amazing game, amazing use of the license. While I wasn't a huge fan of the fighting mechanic, the game itself was engrossing and exciting. Never once did I feel like it dragged or artificially inflated it's length or difficulty.

Assassin's Creed 2

The first game was one of my most anticipated releases...And subsequent biggest disappointments. While the formula for a great game was there, it was hidden beneath layers of repetition and boredom. The sequel literally improves upon every point of the first game. It also builds on a terrific underlying story and sets up the third (and final?) portion of the story.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

While not nearly as charming as the first game, it makes up for it with great puzzles and what I felt was a much better mystery/story. It's a tremendously smart game presented in a very aesthetically pleasing manner.

Fallout 3 DLC

While I am cheating a bit by having this on here...The DLC for Fallout 3 really turned the game into a whole new game. Playing the different packs all led to different experiences. Which reminds me...I still need to get Mothership Zeta...

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2

I haven't played this in a few weeks due to cheating online and other games taking up my time...But very few games get me engrossed in multiplayer, and this is one of them. It's a shame that the experience becomes marred by people that exploit the game and clans that don't exactly play fair either, but that's no fault of the game itself.

Honorable Mentions

Demon's Souls

I am getting my copy for Christmas (don't tell Santa I know that) but I already know how amazing that game is. I'm a bit scared of it in both terms of difficulty and time spent playing it...

Forza 3

I loved Forza 2, but after a while it began to feel like a chore to me. Forza 3 does not feel like a chore at all, and I can't exactly place my finger on the reason for that. One thing I was skeptical about was the rewind feature, but I don't know if I could live without it. I only use it maybe one in every 10 races, but when I use it it's a matter of starting a race over or winning.

God of War Collection

Not usually a fan of "collections", but when they are done properly, they are a blast. Two great games for $40 and you get a shiny set of visuals to go with it. A great package for old fans of the series or newcomers. I just wish they would have added some bonus content to go along with the original bonuses.

Finally done with school.

After the firestorm that was my last blog, I'm back to non-editorial blogs for awhile...Those are just so...Frustrating sometimes.

Yesterday I turned in my final project for my final course of my college career. For those of you that don't know, I'm 27, so I finished kind of later than "normal" but I'm glad it took me a little longer since I found something I truly enjoy doing. During high school, I had no idea at all what I wanted to major in, let alone what I wanted to do for the next 50-60 years. When you're 18 I don't know how anyone could plan for something like that.

My first year of college was right after high school, I went to University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. It was basically a commuter school, I was one of three people I met that were even from Illinois...But it was good to get away, meet some new people and try something new altogether. There I "majored" in architecture, though I quickly found it wasn't something I really cared about. Strike one...

After my first year at Milwaukee I had no clue what I wanted to do school-wise, so I decided to not register for the following year and moved back to Chicagoland. I got a job as a small-time auto mechanic, something that I loved doing, and was working 50-60 hours a week just to stay busy. Turns out, being a mechanic is hard enough work on its own, but when you're there 6 days a week for 8-10 hours a day, it's like sucking the life right out of you. During my time there I took some mechanic ****s at the local community college to appease my parents a bit. After two years of that I had had enough. Strike two...

After that, I kind of didn't know what I wanted to do. I thought for sure working on or with cars was my passion, but it just didn't seem like the right fit. I took a few months and did nothing with myself...Moved back home, was generally just mopey and depressed. Toyed with several possible careers including education and law enforcement...

Around that time I met my now wife, and she helped me get back on track a bit. I enrolled full time at the aforementioned community college and thought I'd give mechanical engineering a whirl. I was always good at math and the career could lead me to the automotive industry that I thought I loved. Things were fine with that for about a year and a half and then I just stopped caring about it. I didn't get accepted to the school I wanted to transfer to, and was basically left with no other options for transferring since I didn't want to move away. Strike three...

Panicky, I checked out every single college, university, and tech school in the area hoping to find something that would light a match in me...I found it.

Growing up, my first computer was a Commodore 64. For those of you that don't know what the hell that is, check this link out. I had always been interested in computers, loved toying with them and such. It wasn't as strong as my love for video games, but it was a solid choice for second place. I was pretty close to going to Westwood College, which is a tech school that advertises on TV...Definitely not my first, or even tenth choice for an institution, but I was desperate. The field I was interested in was information technology. Luckily, I found an even better program at a much better school.

The Illinois Institute of Technology is where my dad went...And it's where I ended up. They had recently begun an information technology major similar, but much better than a technical college could offer. Most of the ****s were near me, and everything just sort of fell into place. I was easily accepted and was truly excited about my new calling. Three years or so later and here we are. I had lots of ups and downs at IIT, their administration is pretty terrible...But I'm done.

Would I do it all again to end up where I'm at? Yeah, probably...But I would try to expedite things a bit so I would be a little bit younger ;)

Now that I'm done nothing much will change work-wise...I've been at my job for a year and a half now, I've been full-time for a few months, so I'll pretty much just stay here for the foreseeable future, I like what I do, and I'm thankful to be able to have the opportunity to do what I do.

So, since this is a fairly long read (sorry about that) I'll summarize: If you don't know what you want to do when you grow up, don't worry about it, it will come to you. It is so much better to find something you care for than getting stuck in a rut right away.

Big 3 Systems - Report Cards After 3-4 Years on the Market

Brace yourselves, everyone...This entry is likely to ruffle some feathers. First and foremost, all I ask of you, the reader, is that you try to see this as level-headed as possible. Try to take off your fanboy caps for a few minutes while you actually read what I have to say. Also note that these are my OPINIONS...I'm not saying I am right, and I'm definitely not saying you are right either. Now, without further ado...I'll do these in order of appearance.

Xbox 360

Released November 22, 2005 the Xbox 360 was the first out of the gates, which is automatically a plus. It gets developers started sooner, and it gets it in peoples hands first. This is a similar move to Sony's PlayStation 2, which was released approximately a year before the original Xbox.

Originally off to a neutral start, like many new machines, the games available ranged from great to pretty crappy. Stand-outs like Call of Duty 2 were great examples of must-have games. Also, the much-improved Xbox Live service stands strong. Once availability had increased, reports of hardware failures became abundant, eventually leaving Microsoft with a huge bill and an increased warranty for the 360. Several chipsets later, hardware problems are still somewhat rampant.

To measure games, they must be separated by exclusives and multiplatform games. For the purposes of this entire comparison, I will be excluding PC games completely and also handhelds, so for example, Gears of War is an Xbox 360 exclusive. That said, Gears of War and its sequel go on to be huge hits in sales and Xbox Live gaming. Halo 3 goes on to be one of the biggest gaming releases in history. Steady stream of releases continue, despite seemingly tepid first party support from in-house developers like Rare. Multiplatform games with the Xbox 360 as lead development platform seem to fare better, but in most cases, any comparisons result in a wash.

Xbox Live and the 360's dashboard have undergone some major changes in the past 4 years as well. Most recently is the addition of Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM, and the Zune marketplace. Since the release of the NXE dashboard design, Microsoft seems to be trying to capture more of a "casual" market that has been dominated by the Wii since its release. No functionality was lost with the conversion to the NXE dash, however, and I feel more improvements were made than anything else. Xbox Live itself has had some rough times, but overall the service has been stable and continuously updated. Though the Gold membership is not free, the resulting cost is so minimal that it's not much of a factor. Subscription cards can be found for less than $40 online for 13 months, which ends up being about $3/month. Not a bad value, in my opinion.

Oh, and how could I talk about the 360 without talking about achievements?! For those who follow my blogs or are friends with me online, you may know that I'm a bit of an achievement slut. I do play games for achievements at times. This was one genius move on Microsoft's part to give gamers extra incentives to play games, and it's good for the retail and rental industry as well.

Overall, there are titles for nearly every type of gamer, though the focus does seem to be on mature-rated shooters. The interface is easy and accessible and the controller is possibly my favorite standard controller ever.

Game library - A Wish there was better first party support, otherwise strong titles to continue through 2010
Hardware - B- Though only having 1 RRoD from my launch unit, it's too big of a problem to simply dismiss [NOTE: This rating is NOT based on overall failure rates or anything...It's also not a rating of what it doesn't have...It's a rating based on how well the hardware does what it's supposed to do. The one failured unit I had detracted from MY score.]
Online - A+ Despite the fees, integration of friends and services is unmatched (annoying kids playing Halo aside :P)
Overall - B+ Things seem to be slowing down a bit with the looming presence of Natal, I would be shocked if we don't start hearing of a successor soon
Outlook - Natal is the next big thing for the 360, but is it enough to prolong the life of the system? Games are still getting better, but DVD limitations seem to be a major issue going forward

Playstation 3

Released a week before the Wii on November 11, 2006, the Playstation 3 has had the rockiest time this generation. With a shockingly high price tag, very little software support that wasn't also available on the cheaper Xbox 360, but also being the cheapest and best Blu-Ray player on the market. Sony set themselves in a very weird position from the beginning, but the gamble to choose Blu-Ray has certainly paid off.

Though it's no longer the cheapest Blu-Ray player on the market, it's still one of the best. The fact that it also plays PS3 games makes it a wunderkind of sorts now. I say "now" because Sony has had a procrastinating attitude, it seems. Many features have been added from firmware updates over the years, and even now I feel like the XMB dashboard is clean, but not always that simple. Things like Home have been just a curious disaster of delays and the end result is just lame. I still haven't upgraded to a Dual Shock 3, something I believe should have been there from the start.

Luckily, exclusive gaming on the PS3 is unmatched. Games like Uncharted have set the bar in terms of just about everything, especially graphics. Much of this may be due to the Blu-Ray's capacity, which has certainly become an asset now that HD-DVD is dead. As previously stated, multiplatform support has ranged, mostly dependant on whether or not the PS3 is the lead platform during development.

With the release of the Slim PS3, Sony was able to lower the price to a reasonable amount, and with the games available gamers choosing between the three systems will likely have a hard time making a decision. It all comes down to games, and while all the systems have great games, the exclusives for the PS3 do seem a bit more varied from FPS/TPS games.

The PSN is something I have never been a fan of. By not including any sort of headset, almost no one communicates when I play, and that detracts from the experience when teamwork is needed. I have had some problems with lag and general weirdness playing online moreso than the 360, but I have heard the opposite from some folks, so who knows?

The removal of backwards compatibility has always struck me as a dumb decision as well. I completely understand taking out the Emotion Engine to save on space, power, and heat...But emulation is completely possible and has been mostly overlooked by Sony. The fact that some of the older 80GB units without the Emotion Engine will play 95+% of PS1/PS2 games, it's almost a slap in the face that they don't allow it at all on current systems.

Though I have felt kind of burned being an early adopter, my 60GB unit is still going strong. Since I prefer the 360 controller and Live more, I do tend to play all multiplatform games on that system. However, the high caliber titles that come out for the PS3 are almost always a must-buy for me. If it was my only system, I would be more than happy.

Game Library - A- The only thing keeping this score down is that multiplatform games tend to be better on the 360
Hardware - A With so many hardware iterations and configurations, it's hard to keep track of things. Luckily, problems with the hardware have been minimal, and with the Blu-Ray, integrated WiFi, make a great piece of hardware
Online - B More often than not, the lack of headsets in an online match irritates me. Also, minor issues with stability have been an issue for me
Overall - B+ While originally I would have rated it closer to a D, Sony has taken their time to get things right and they are almost firing on all cylinders now
Outlook - As long as software support keeps up, I'm sure Sony will continue improving on things. I doubt the XMB will ever match the NXE in terms of friendliness and usability, but the PS3 hardware alone is worth it for gamers that can only afford one system.

[update]Increased hardware score based on some things I had not originally considered
[update 2] Reworded outlook to better suit rest of editorial

Wii

The last contender out of the gates on November 19 2006, the Wii came in with the force of a hurricane. Stores were unable to meet demand for nearly 2 years while Nintendo sat back on their piles of money. Still the strongest selling system, though it does seem to be losing momentum now.

I have had many love/hate moments this generation with Nintendo in general. They did many things right with the Wii, but also stumbled in some areas. First party support for Nintendo has never been an issue. I have long stood by the opinion that they are THE BEST first party developer around, and one of the best around period. I still stand by that. My problem with the Wii releases is the fact that they weren't staggered. Almost all of their standard top-notch titles were released early on in the system's life, leaving us dry right now. Normally, this wouldn't be much of a problem, but third party support ranges from complete garbage to excellent with many mediocre titles in between. Toss in watered down ports of some games and the library is truly all over the place.

Nintendo in general is it's own biggest enemy, they have stellar IPs that have lasted for 20-some years, but they simply aren't advancing. When was the last great new Nintendo IP? I'm not talking about Mario Baseball, either...Some of those off-shoots work great, like Mario Kart, others are pretty boring. Maybe this has always been the case and I've been too young to take note, but I feel that it's a problem now.

I can't talk about the Wii without talking about the controller, either. I love the idea behind it, and the execution is mostly spot-on. I still remember the excitement of finding out exactly what was the secret behind the new revolutionary controller. Speaking of reminiscing, remember when they announced the name "Wii" and the collective Internet both laughed and felt queasy all at once? I do. It seemed like a huge blunder, but now I can't imagine calling it anything else.

My overall view of the system is that it's best as a secondary system behind a 360 or PS3, or as a primary system for the whole family. Innovation is great, and I can't wait to see what they think of next.

Game Library - C+ If it wasn't for the first party games, there would only be a handful of titles I am interested in
Hardware - B+ It's been 4 years and still no DVD player support? No HD support? What's with that? Otherwise solid, and taking a page from the book of Apple in terms of design and packaging, it seems
Online - D Though getting better, this is the one area Nintendo NEEDS to work on for their next system
Overall - C+ A great start from the get-go, but momentum has slowed to a crawl. Even with a price drop, I'm not sure how long it will stay afloat
Outlook - I fully expect a successor announced in 2010. They have pretty much saturated the market with their current offering and we need something new and better, even if it's just a slight upgrade like the DSi

Overview

If you can only own one system this gen, I would personally recommend an Xbox 360 since I find it to be the most diverse system that everyone can find something to enjoy. However, every system has obvious strengths and weaknesses. Find the system that has the features that YOU find important, and remember that games are probably the biggest factor in the decision. What's the point of having a gaming system if you don't like the games available?

While I know the comments will be inundated with people thinking I'm wrong for whatever reason, this just goes to show my point that what you find important is only important to you. I will never understand brand loyalty for the sake of brand loyalty. If a system offers what you want it for, that's great, but it doesn't make anyone elses wants less valid.

Mini review of MW2

For about a week now I haven't been feeling 100% well, but not really that sick either...Yesterday though I was so stuffed up my head hurt and my whole body ached. Coincidentally, Modern Warfare 2 came out the day before. I got to spend the whole morning playing the game, and even though I was feeling like poop, managed to beat it on hardened difficulty. Below is my kinda-sorta review of the game as a whole.

Campaign

I keep hearing complaints about how short the campaign is and stuff, but I don't agree with that. It took me a little more than 8 hours to play through on an elevated difficulty, but there weren't any parts that I spent more than a few retries on. I would think that even on easy the game would clock 5-6 hours if someone took their time. That said, I tend to explore in games for collectibles, so my time may have been inflated from that. Either way, it's on the short side, but nothing out of the ordinary for most modern FPSes.

The campaign itself is broken up much like the first, the missions aren't short but not long. There are plenty of checkpoints and they are all at the right times. Unlike all other previous Call of Duty games, there were no checkpoints where I was stuck getting shot and had to start the level over or just try until I got super lucky. However, I thought the campaign itself wasn't as thrilling as MW1's. There are some amazing levels, but I didn't have any 'OMG AWESOME!!' moments like I did with the first.

Hardened was just the right difficulty too, there were only a handful of portions that were frustrating but doable. Most of the frustration came from grenade spam or an enemy unexpectedly flanking me. I have to try on veteran, and I'm in no rush to.

Score: 8/10

Spec Ops

These mini-missions are a blast. I have to play that many of them, or play any of them in co-op...But it's a real treat. My only complaint so far is lack of checkpoints (which makes sense) and the fact that the campaign wasn't co-op. I hope to play some more of these soon, I just blew through a few of them on casual to get a star and see what they were like.

One thing to note is that I never played World at War, so I cannot compare this to the Nazi Zombies mode...

Score: 10/10

Multiplayer

While I played a lot of MW1's multiplayer, I was no where near as invested in it as many people. I never prestiged, I think I only logged less than 20 hours into it total. It's not that I didn't enjoy it, it's just that my playing habits don't really allow me to play lots of multiplayer for one game. I like to dabble, and I move from one game to another. I took too much time off from playing, and just got rusty.

From everything I've seen so far, there are nothing but improvements here. The leveling system is better, but arguably more inaccessible to new players. The maps are bigger, but feel familiar. However, I'm still no good at it. I'd like to blame most of my deficiencies on being sick, but I was getting massacred. Time will tell if I will get better as I unlock weapons I like, or if I will continue being in last place in team deathmatches...:(

Score: 10/10

Overall score: 9.5/10

If you aren't already a friend of mine on XBL, my gamertag is SPAZZx625...Just send me a message reminding me of who you are ;)

You may never see me again...

Between work and school...Tomorrow marks the date where I may never set foot on GS again.

Modern Warfare 2 comes out.

[spoiler] this is in jest, I'm not going anywhere, but I am already strapped for time, and this game is going to suck up some more of it [/spoiler]

Dragon Age: Origins - First Impressions

Let me preface this by saying I love Bioware...But I never really got into any Baldur's Gates games or anything. I went into this game thinking "medieval KOTOR" and for some aspects that rings true. It's also worth noting that I got the special edition ordered from EA direct, with a coupon, so I paid $55 for the game, which is $20 less than retail. Also, I got the seemingly most inferior Xbox 360 version. On to the impressions...

During boot-up: Oh, I love that blood dragon logo...Every time I see it it's awesome.

While downloading premium extras: Wow, you get a TON of free stuff...Lovin' it. This Blood Dragon armor looks sweet!

While building my character: Okay, lots to choose from...Let's see, I'll pick this...NO! Thissss...And that...

15 minutes later, still buildling character: *crying* I just want this to end!

After picking character, but before starting game: Ahhh, that's good beer *sets glass down*

Starting game up: Holy hell this game is ugly. There are literally next to no textures on so much of the environment that it's PS2-like in quality at times.

While first given control of the character: Okay...No tutorial? What do I do?

After a battle: The blood splatter engine is amazing. The fact that it stays there is pretty rad, too.

After the first hour: The game is still ugly as sin, but I'm hooked.

So there you have it...My first hour (or so) of Dragon Age. If you're on the fence about it, there's a few ways this could go. Some notes:

This is NOT medieval Mass Effect, it's more akin to KOTOR in that battles are not real-time, but they appear to be. There are hidden "dice rolls" for combat, but you do get some control over what you do. So it's an RPG, but not an action RPG despite what it looks like.

The game is not like Oblivion aside from similar settings. It's not free roam, but it's not linear...It's kind of like Mass Effect in that aspect...

$75 would be WAY too much for the collector's edition, despite it coming with a ton of "free" stuff. Unless you're a huge fan of this stuff, get the regular version. Extras include stuff you can buy from the marketplace and stuff not found on the marketplace, and you DO end up paying less for this edition if you want all that stuff, but I'm not even sure I want that stuff yet.

There are several different character types/classes to choose, and while I am playing as a human noble, I can only imagine the others are vastly different, at least from the beginning. There are achievements for playing the origin stories of each, and that took about the full hour for me to complete the one, so that's pretty neat, actually.

Achievement Unlocked: Get over 100,000 gamerscore

Ahhhhh....Satisfying.

I just unlocked an achievement in X-Men Origins: Wolverine to net me 100,005 achievement points. I've been an achievement slut since I got my Xbox on day 1, now I feel like I've achieved something that really only proves my nerdiness, but it's an achievement in and of itself.

Thanks, Wolverine!

Take THAT Windows 7!

So today I got a helluva deal on a MacBook, so I'm the proud owner of one. I originally planned on getting a MacBook Pro, but considering Apple updates their line yearly, I don't think I'll feel too bad about it in the long run. Technically this is "last years" MacBook without the unibody design or anything, which is what I wanted anyway.

What did I pay for it, you're wondering? $699 after a rebate at Micro Center. I've been building Windows 7 laptops and they all ended up being close to $1k after I built it the way I wanted...The Mac might not be as powerful, but I'm a .NET developer and I work on Windows with ALL Microsoft products all day...So it's tiresome. I'm no Mac fanboy, but I think they make great products. I've had nothing but great experiences with my iPhone, iPods and iMac.

So, now my old HP laptop that I'm currently writing on shall now be known as my Crapbook. It's about 4 years old now, it's served me well over the years, but it's getting old and tired. It has no battery life to speak of, and at random times slows to a crawl as the fans sound like it's about to takeoff from the runway. I'll still be using itfrom time to time, but it's no longer my "daily driver" so to speak.

I'm back!!!

We just got back from our wedding/honeymoon last night, but since I have tons of catching up to do, I may not be on very much for the next week or so...

Pictures and stuff are coming soon...