Friday, December 31, 2010

My Favorite Gaming Moments of 2010

As 2010 draws to a close, it's time to pay homage to my favorite hobby. Rather than simply making a list of my favorite games (many of which you'll see here anyway) I've decided instead to share my favorite moments in gaming over the past year. So, without further ado:

My Favorite Gaming Moments of 2010

Uh, maybe let's let the big alien lead the pack
My Anal Retentiveness Pays Off
(Perfectly) Surviving Mass Effect 2's Final Mission

Mass Effect 2 won me over way before I stepped into the final chapter of the game, but the icing on the cake in Commander Shepard's quest to save the universe was the fact that plot-wise, every single character in the game that I'd spent hours developing a relationship with - racing through the cosmos, fighting aliens, saving planets, or just trying to bone them - were not automatically scripted to survive. Any and all of them (including you, technically) could die in the final mission. For those of you who haven't played many games, this is actually a pretty radical concept. Generally speaking, characters in game are only ever scripted to be killed at certain story-specific points, and the rest of the time you can only watch (or participate in helping) him or her get shot, slashed, drowned or burned alive only to fall unconscious and return to your side moments later.

The way you prevented this from happening mostly depended on how you were playing the game from the very beginning. If you were diligent in spending time with your crew, talking with them between missions, gaining their loyalty through side quests, and upgrading your ship through special tactics each of them knew (and naturally, wouldn't share with you until you became best buds) then you already had a leg-up. At that point, once you actually got to the final mission, it was mostly about just not making stupid decisions (i.e. have the chick with psychic powers to create the psychic force field, send the sentient robot anywhere dangerous, and keep the almost eager to die black guy on the back line of combat).

While there were many strategy guides available explaining what needed to be done, I never had to use a single one. Because I naturally (well, not always apparently as you'll soon see - but if I love a game enough, and I'm still having fun, certainly) play my games this way - with an anal-retentive level of dedication to seeking out every last morsel of content. So to be rewarded with the completion of the last mission, knowing that everyone could have died, but I saved them all thanks to my usually overzealous efforts was the icing on the cake of an altogether fantastic experience.

Not pictured: crippling self-doubt
An Existential Crisis, Overcome?
Creating a Deadly Metaphor Out of Super Meat Boy's Insane Difficulty Level

They say you can judge a man's character by how he faces his failures. There are moments when I'm faced with falling short of a goal, or rejection and disappointment, and during those times I'll mentally shield with myself with a moment of great success, a story of something I've overcome recently that proved that every failure is a chance to learn, and to overcome. And while I have my fair share of life successes, more often than not my go-to thoughts of success often come from a video game. That's a somewhat embarrassing admission, but what you need to understand is that at any given moment if you were to look inside my brain via some sort of brainwave interpreter, you'd realize my thoughts are mostly game-related to begin with. Hmm - that actually might be the more embarrassing admission, now that I think about it. Ah well, bleep blorp boop!

While recently playing the incredibly difficult Super Meat Boy - a game that often involves dying dozens of times in a row in order to complete a level - my ego was suddenly put on the line when I went through this thought process during a recent play session:

"Huh, this is hard. But that's how I like my challenges. The bar's been set, and I'm about to fly right over it. BRING IT ON SUPER MEAT BOY!!!"

24 deaths later:

"Wow. I still can't beat this shit. Maybe I should skip this level, or come back later. No, wait, fuck that, that's what Super Meat Boy WANTS me to do. Get it together, Shafeek! YOU SHALL OVERCOME!!"

17 deaths later:

"What. The. Fffffffffuckkk. This is an impossible stage. This stage is BROKEN. I HATE IT. RGRHGEIRGFGHDKH I HATE EVERYTHHHIINNNNGGGGG!!"

46 deaths later:

"I...I...I can't beat it. This is supposed to be something I do well. And I can't do it. Games are set up to be won. I have no excuses. If I can't do this...can I win at anything? I shouldn't just give up on this game...I should give up on LIFE."

84 deaths later:

"..." (with teeth clenched, and seriously angry controller gripping)

3 death later - Victory!

"WOOOOOOOOo!!! Yes, Yes YES! Oh, thank god, I'm not a complete failure."

Next stage, first death:

"Time for another game, I think."

I talk a lot about threshold that gamers sometimes pass where the game stops being fun, and I think this kind of exemplifies why I sometimes go to the point of masochism. The eventual victory (assuming I don't kill myself first) becomes that much sweeter.

Wow, I had no idea the title was so literal.
There's No Time To Think!
Realizing Sleep Is Death's Limitless Possibilities

I wrote a post a while back on this fantastic game, so I won't go on too long about how awesome it is here. But suffice it to say although I probably didn't invest as much time into playing it as I should have (I think a sequel or version 2.0 that was a bit more user friendly would do wonders for not only me playing it more, but also for me being able to convince others to play), Sleep Is Death's concept - two players creating a story together, where one plays and interacts in the environment while the other generates the entire world and all its content on the fly - is amazing.

I had some truly inspiring moments trying to react to inventive players circumventing the path I was trying to lay out, all the while trying to craft a continuous, plausible and hopefully entertaining narrative. And on the other side of the table, when I was playing I felt like a part of the storytelling experience. Which got me thinking: one particular angle I hadn't considered before now is how this game could potentially bond two gamers more than other cooperative or competitive setting. This game is ultimately about two minds coming together for an interactive, symbiotic storytelling and game playing experience.

Sleep Is Death is the ultimate sandbox game and an experience every gamers owes it to himself to check out.

(Mental note: bring this game to PAX this year to play with others)

Sorry, no time to chat. I've got other games to beat.
On Second Thought, Maybe I'll Just Save The World Now
Shelving Dragon Quest IX's Overwhelming Amount of Content

This is less a 'Favorite Gaming Moment' and more a 'Favorite Moment of Personal Clarity to Occur Whilst Gaming.' It also doesn't just belong to Dragon Quest IX, but this game is the most egregious example of a title that I really enjoyed playing but simply had to draw a line in the sand with, content-wise. I played Dragon Quest IX for easily over 100 hours, and still somehow only managed to scratch the surface.

It's probably not much of an exaggeration to say that Dragon Quest IX has a near endless amount of content. An incredibly large world with dozens of dungeons to explore, treasures to be found (and made, via the game's alchemy system), and of course, character customization. One small example from this last point - you could conceivably make your character(s) a maximum level warrior, then have him jump to a new occupation as a wizard, then a thief, then a priest, etc. Your character(s) would slowly become sort of a god. And you know, there was definitely a moment when I debated doing this. But then I realized that would take more than 3 years of train rides with my DS to do that, and the fact was I had other shit I wanted to do. So I made my half-warrior half-paladin who was just badass enough to beat the final boss - who, in games like this, was not nearly as tough as many of the worlds' other outside-the-main-storyline-enemies - and I put the game down forever, leaving a ton of content on the plate.

As I stated earlier, this sentiment is sort of at-odds with my Mass Effect 2 entry, but even in Mass Effect 2 there were things I chose not to do (ok, one thing - I did not mine every single planet in the galaxy for materials, but that was probably the one really really not fun thing to do in that game). The difference now is my OCD-like behavior in gaming officially has an expiration date - and that date is the moment I stop having a LOT of fun.

Side note: another game blogger's thoughts on this very topic/game. She apparently is still playing (or simply not finishing) DQIX, not seeing the point in beating the final boss both because she doesn't want the experience to end, and because when it does, it will inevitably not be a grand enough punctual mark on the time she invested in it. I say that sometimes that sometimes the punctuation mark really just needs to be the what keeps the game from being an endless run-on sentence in your life, even if that sentence started off awesome but then eventually overstays its welcome and soon makes it clear that no matter where it ends it's probably not gonna be worth all the time that went into reading and/or writing it - but that could just be more of a personal preference...maybe.

Sadly, by the time he built the Paddle Saw, all the zombies had hitched a ride to Miami
The Simple Pleasure Of Splattering Zombies
Killing Zombies in Dead Rising 2 with the Kitchen Sink

When I wrote two posts back in November on why I game, I listed my final reason as "Pure, Unadulterated Fun," and I think if I had to describe a concrete moment of pure joy I experienced this year, it was the simple pleasure I got out of discovering, creating, and using all the ridiculous duct-taped weapons I was able to use to fight the zombie horde that had taken over Fortune City in Dead Rising 2. Weapons like:

A Flaming Tennis Raquet:

A Fireworks Rocket Launcher:

A Shotgun/Pitchfork, or 'Boom Stick':

A Parasol/Leafblower, or 'Parablower':


I literally could not control the smile on my face while playing with these wonderful toys. Zombies are the perfect video game fodder, and this game (once again, only better this time) threw me into a large space with an endless supply of them, along with a ridiculous number of creative ways to destroy them. Good times, indeed.


That should just about do it for this year. I still have plenty to mess with going forward in my backlog, and with Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, Portal 2 and many others coming out in 2011, I'm confident this little hobby of mine is no danger of lacking new, amazing moments well into the future.

Happy New Year Everyone!

PS: A little something silly and non-game related with me that was shared with me, that I loved and feel the need to share with you:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Giving The Devil His Due

I'm also a big Ed Hardy fan!
There's a lot of questioning of the existence of God out there, but not nearly enough questioning of the existence of the Devil. Sure, he's got a popular sort of canonical presence in popular culture, and his diabolicalness ranges from cartoonish buffoon (South Park) to unholy representation of evil (The Devil Wears Prada - I haven't seen this movie, but I hear it's a biopic of Lucifer discovering his preferred fashion designer). I argue there's not nearly enough people out there really looking for signs of his existence in the real world, here and now.

Take this man for example. George Castro, 48, arrested last month for allegedly stealing $5 million dollars from Columbia University. When they caught him, he had $200,000 in a bag, and a brand new $80,000 Audi parked in front of his house. When they asked him where he got the money, he told investigators the money "just appeared" in his account, and he "got greedy and spent it."

At first glance, our buddy George here looks like he got caught with his hands in the cookie jar. And while his thieving skills may up to snuff, his on-the-spot lying skills are clearly total shit. But see, that's what a person who stopped questioning the existence of Satan would say. They'd lock up poor Mr. Castro, and throw away the key, satisfied with the knowledge that the money was safe and the crook was behind bars. I however, have an alternate theory: George Castro was hoodwinked by the Devil.

George Castro: Satan's Bitch
No one ever thinks to listen to statements that initially sound like the words of a crazy person. Especially those of us who are New Yorkers - we hear so much crazy all the time, just on our commute to work, that we simply have to filter out the nonsense immediately, lest we spend our entire workday on wikipedia sorting out exactly which ethnic/religious group have teamed up together to conspire to kill us all. But guys, come on - how often have you seen this scenario in movies with supernatural events/monsters/aliens before? Everyone's skeptical, except for our hero, who always wonders "what if..." and only then is the truth exposed. So guys, get with the program: George Castro clearly asked for $5 million dollars in exchange for his immortal soul, which the Devil delivered without explicitly stating in advance where the money was coming from, which was in fact Columbia University.

You might still be skeptical, and I get that. It's very hard to prove these things definitively. But I ask you this: what sort of person has the intellectual capability to steal millions of dollars from a highly renowned private university, but lacks the social wherewithal to understand that walking around with $200K in cash and a new car might get you the wrong kind of attention should people start asking questions? Ok - most nerds, fair enough. But friends, you have to believe me: George Castro signed a contract with Lucifer in his own blood, and when the cops came knocking on his door he decided the only way out of his situation was to try to tell them the truth, in a matter of speaking (though clearly, his story might have sounded better if he kept the 'devil in the details,' so to speak). 

So yes, he still messed up big time. Now he's gonna go to jail, and when he sheds his mortal coil via shiving - in 2 years or 20, he'll sadly be off to Hell penniless as he was before he signed the contract. But hey, I'm not one to judge. Lord knows I've offered up several enticing propositions to you-know-who in the past to grow an extra foot, get all my hair back, and change my voice to that of Michael Clark Duncan's, but apparently what I have to offer* ain't good enough.

All I'm saying people, is dare to a chaotic, evil force that's conspiring to ruin our lives, take our souls, and drag us underground to spend an eternity in hell. Because like with God, it's a LOT easier to get through the day being able to blame all your problems on this guy. Try it and see!


*No, actually I haven't offered him my soul. But I have offered him comps to many improv shows, free gaming lessons, and the opportunity to guest blog here at any time. You tell me that's not a great deal!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Arthur Herbert Fonzarelli Hones His Craft

It's easy to look at people who've mastered something and forget that they weren't just born that way. No one exemplifies this more than cool guys, who more than professional athletes, musicians, surgeons, or chefs really seem like they came out of the womb with two thumbs up and not a care in the world.

But at some point or another, even the coolest cats out there didn't have it all figured out. They stumbled, they fumbled, they trialed and they errored. And for me, the idea of the Fonz spending some time learning how to hit that jukebox just right serves as a loving reminder of this fact.

Special thanks to my good friend Rolando Garcia for not only drawing the artwork you see above (which would have otherwise have been a mis-mashed photoshop job or a stick-figured MS Paint drawing), but also for being ever-vigilant in reminding me of the values of perseverance, taking risks, and believing in yourself well before the world's ready to.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

I Refuse To Be Typecast

So you guys may not know this, but I'm a big fan of the Underworld series*. Recently I discovered they were holding a casting call for fans for the upcoming 4th movie that's going to be shot next year. What an opportunity! So I decided to submit a video audition of the script they provided, which I think came out pretty well, if I may say so:

And yes, I actually did submit this.


*Despite the bit, this is actually the truth.