Unpublished blog: Collect or Evolve: A Gamer's Dilemma

This is an unpublished blog from 20XX. To be honest I forget when exactly I had started writing it but figured I would finish it eventually and, occasionally touching it up, wanted it to be my debut blog on TheBGB.com. Unfortunately I never did get around to finishing it but continued to try. I have resisted the urge to touch things up so this is the unedited and very unpolished version of something that might have been. And for the record: my current collection sits at over 600 games right now.



Displayed in my room on three bookshelves is the bulk of my gaming collection. Over 300 games ranging from PC to Neo Geo Pocket Color, from Xbox One to Sega Saturn. PS1, 3DS, and even N-Gage. Due to a lack of space my Genesis, N64, and Atari games are boxed away along with their consoles. Every so often I drag them out when I get a new game and play them for a little while, only to stick them with the rest and probably never played again.


I'm a collector.


I wouldn't consider myself a rare type of gamer since the popularity of collecting has increased in the last few years. I can't begin to think of how much money I've spent or the exact number of games present as I always seem to miss a few when attempting to catalog them, but I do know the number is over 500 according to some websites I use, which also includes digital titles. I have all these games, genres, and consoles to choose from but I never know what to play. The depth of my backlog is truly in the hundreds.
I've been collecting for at least 9 years but the fascination with it grew when Retro Hunters premiered. It was a YouTube show about two guys going to flea markets looking for old games and good deals. It seemed like a fun hobby to be a part of and I was fortunate enough to have a few friends who liked the idea of "the hunt" as well. We've never found anything truly rare aside from the occasional JRPG or uncommon NES game. The only problem we've come across is that most sellers just don't understand the value of some games. More than half the prices are so outrageous that it may not be worth it to have the game immediately. Old does not mean rare. Rare does not mean expensive.


These friends have also been ahead of me in terms of consoles. I was always one of the last to have something new until recently when I took the plunge and bought an Xbox One. I'm glad to see that the general length of games has increased and most of them allow for weeks if not months of interesting play. The constant online connection now allows for true MMO-style games and better background downloads. The depth and ability of things to do has greatly increased since the last generation and the possibilities to create and publish your own games are easier than ever before.


But for a while I've felt that I've been at a crossroads as a gamer which I could best simplify into one question: Do I continue to buy old games, building up a collection with stuff most others have ignored, or do I evolve and focus more on the now?
Many people I know would say I could do both but I would prefer to think of the situation from a financial standpoint. I could spend $60 on one new title or I could spend that on several classics. In my mind there is no need for me to have more games. Its not a collector's addiction. Most of my games, both old and new, are gathering dust, going untouched for months. Even now there are several on these shelves that I could do without. Games I don't think I'm going to play years down the road. Some I've bought on a whim, thinking they'd be great, only to turn out to be major letdowns. Others I've collected just to have, never really bothering to play them or try them out. My top favorites reside among the rest of them, alphabetically and separated by console but not in any order. My DVDs and CDs are also on these bookshelves and deep down it irritates me that they're taking up space that could be used for the ones boxed away.


The last time I purged my collection was years ago when it reached 200 games total. I sold to EB Games what I didn't want, didn't like, or never played anymore. I then used that money to buy (then) newer games on Xbox and Gamecube. I regret getting rid of a lot of them but now with access to Amazon and eBay, the memories can be simply bought and sold. Which brings up another question: if I so readily sold those games long ago, why would I want to own them again?
There are several I'll never get rid of and a few that I've kept for the longest time. Metroid II, for example, being one of them. The internal battery still works and I have one save file on the cartridge just before facing the Queen Metroid. The affection I have for this game isn't just for nostalgic reasons; Metroid II helped shape me as a gamer and I feel like I owe it to keep it around, even though I have it on my 3DS as well.
Its the few classic games that I still own that keep me coming back to them years later that I feel like I could never get rid of. Those that I did sell I still have fond memories of, but I've already experienced what they've had to offer. Others, like Jersey Devil, I remember for its difficult camera, awkward platforming, good animations, and spooky soundtrack, but it was one of the first that I traded in. I beat it after a couple weeks of play and just didn't find it compelling enough to keep around, but at the same time I wish I had it now so I could play it one more time.


Meanwhile the current console generation is having its gaps filled in by HD remasters and Definitive Editions. Platinum-selling games that were released near the opening of the new console cycle are up for upscaling. Developers seem to be repeating games rather than putting more effort towards new series entries or new IPs. It makes me wonder how this generation will affect us as gamers. Will we look on the memories and experiences with fondness like we do our old treasures or will it be seen as just another obstacle towards more realistic graphics and new ways to not press a button?
Its hard to get excited for new games when repackaging old product seems to be acceptable to some publishers. Don't get me wrong: I think the current selection and variety of original games is going strong but its hard to ignore when walking into a game store yields more used games of those who received the “HD Remastering” treatment.
I expect it will be a "throw away" generation: one that we play and get rid of, moving on to the next first person shooter or recycled sports title. It will take the minds of a few new companies to push the limits of capabilities. No Man's Sky is one that will prove the technology is at height of expansiveness for this generation. It'll be up to another company to come up with something that can top it as we move forward. Mind you I'm not saying the Big Three companies aren't trying but there are suddenly a lot of upstarts with Android-powered systems, pre-built PC gaming machines, and even the impending threat of Steam becoming the fourth superpower in the industry.


The rarest and most valuable game in my collection is Einhander for the PS1. It goes for about $70 on eBay and over $400 if still in shrinkwrap. Meanwhile I have Vectorman for the Genesis, which I've had since its release in 1995. It was one of the best games for the system and is fondly remembered by all who played it, but averages an asking price of $10 (unboxed) on eBay. So a fourth question: just how valuable are all of my games?
I suppose it depends on how the word "value" is seen: it could be defined as rarity due to a limited release or a wide publishing range but still in high demand years later. Value has little to do with a player's memories and more to do with a number on a website. I would take Vectorman over Einhander any day. I can still lose myself among the variety of levels but I know how to beat every boss because I've learned their patterns. I thought playing through Einhander would be awesome but its plagued by design issues like a small moving area, major screen clutter, and more attention to atmosphere than to gameplay. Remind me again why this goes for $400?
My all-time favorite games aren't rare but I would rather keep them around and keep enjoying them than spend $70 on a game that I'm not going to bother trying to complete.


I'll just have to pick and choose my games more carefully in the future. I don't expect to ever beat Shadowgate on the NES, or the recent PC remastering anytime soon. Maybe I'm just hoping to collect a lot of them then one day sell them all for some big bucks. Maybe one day after I've retired and I've made some money after selling them I may have time to sit and play. In the distant future I can retire from working, sit at home, and finally try to beat the original Shadowgate. Maybe I can evolve while being a retro collector.

 Keep Playing. 
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SGC 2015

But here's one more thing.

Here's a video from SGC 2015. In all honesty I was hoping to end the blog after SGC but the Picasa error forced my hand.


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Game Over. Thank You For Playing.

As you may or may not have noticed that I haven't written anything within the past couple of months. Its with a heavy heart and clear mind that I write this, a final entry, into my much-ignored blog. After 5 long years, countless missed release dates, over 60 unpublished blogs, almost 10,000 views, and only 4 comments, I've decided to end things. I started writing in hopes to increase my proficiency, hoping one day to get on with a major gaming site to write reviews for them. Now that dream is non-existent. The word "journalist" has been tarnished.

Gaming is no longer fun in many areas. The communities that sprung up in the early 00's are now defunct and have been shut down for several years. People have moved towards streaming and YouTubers only seem to be in it to get picked up by larger companies. The deep-rooted movement of gaming culture going into streaming has left people a bit wary of buying games. Now instead of seeing gameplay videos they wait for their favorite streamer to play the game to see if its any good. Reviews and scores can no longer be trusted, and with the recent debacle of #Gamergate a lot of people have turned to hating reviewers because its the "in" thing to do. Journalists and reviewers who had nothing to do with the underlying problem of #Gamergate are being hated for their review scores of popular games, many games are released outright broken and deserving of low scores. But let's face it: unless you have a journalism degree, you can't get your foot in with major review sites, and unless you have thousands of dedicated readers, no independent site will proudly display your writing. No one has time to read detailed reviews, they'd rather watch them.

Hype trains have derailed as $60 games only have $30 worth of on-disc content while DLC that costs $40 or more completes the experience. I'm not sorry to say: Destiny is only half of a game. Day one patches are commonplace and special editions charge more for season passes. Others have packed in much more content and didn't promise to "finish the fight" with 10 years worth of DLC on dying last gen systems. Size doesn't matter when more than half of the map area is unpopulated or has nothing to offer in terms of loot, things to see, or enemies to fight. Speaking with our wallets doesn't matter when there are 10 million other gamers who dive blindly into recycled IPs.

There is no need for written reviews anymore. No one reads. No one shares. That's the sad truth. Feedback as to how to improve my writing style would have been greatly appreciated, but almost everything I wrote went unnoticed.

People want to see and hear about a game.
"Well why don't you buy the video capture equipment and quit complaining?"
If it were that easy I would have done so long ago. There's this little thing called "LIFE" that gets in the way of that plan. Gaming is such a deep-rooted part of who I am that its become mostly what I know. I realized something a while back and to put it simply: I'm not interesting. I can't talk about politics, world news, or recent discoveries but I can talk about my opinions on games. I find that unacceptable in the grand scheme of things.

After 15 years of calling myself a gamer, what do I have to show for it?

I'm not going to stop playing games, but I have greatly slowed on my collecting. I've already sold off a small chunk of my collection, bringing it back below 600. I've wasted a ton of money on games that I don't even play. Games that I bought just to have, ones that would look good in a collection. Some I have no idea why the hell I spent so much money on.

I have no plans for other projects or to keep writing reviews when they go unread. So with that, this blog has come to an end.

Keep Playing.
- Garrett
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Preview: Hover: Revolt of Gamers


While running and jumping around the vast city of Hover, you come across a locked box. After a few seconds of hacking it opens to reveal a gameball. Video games are highly illegal on this world thanks to the imposing security force. You are part of a resistance movement to bring games back to the masses and with your parkour skills the multiple levels of the city are simply your playground. You grab it and run, leaping over walls, bewildered citizens jumping out of your way, through tunnels, across rooftops, through a crowded plaza. Suddenly a security camera spots you and from seemingly nowhere a hovering SecuBox is right on top of you, threatening to take away the console or imprison you. You run and the adrenaline starts pumping. 


Hover: Revolt of Gamers is developed by three French amateur game designers with the studio name Fusty Game. This is the second game they've developed, with the first having unfortunately been canceled on Kickstarter. The style is similar to the ones found in the movies The Fifth Element and Star Wars: a variety of alien species living together in a multi-tiered society with the threat of a police force controlling everything. Alien languages on billboards, anti-video game propaganda, and the jumbled crowd of alien species walking about lend greatly to the atmosphere. The gameplay is a mix between Jet Grind Radio and Mirror's Edge: a fast-paced first- and third-person camera view allows you to feel in control as the action takes place. Delivering gameballs and completing missions will help you raise your stats to better your speed, jumping, and grinding, just to name a few.
This is a parkour game; it unleashes the fast-paced art of free running into an open neon-colored metropolis that's rife with sharp angles, large drops, bright lights, and a security force that wants you out of the equation. The futuristic world is a maze of pathways and, barring the obvious invisible walls, if you can see it then you can get there.
Following a MASSIVELY successful Kickstarter that ended with over triple the amount of the original goal, they were able to not only double the initial size of the city but they brought on board Jet Grind Radio/Jet Set Radio Future composer Hideki Nakamura. If you were a fan of his work for those games then you'll feel right at home here. Also for those of you lucky enough to have an Oculus Rift handy, the game is compatible with the headset but may give you motion sickness if you're unprepared for the insane movement. Biggest of all is a planned Wii U release, however no information on this has been posted. Those who were lucky (and rich enough) to contribute majorly to the Kickstarter will get rewards along the lines of a special DJ pet, an exclusive character skin, a physical copy, and, to someone who contributed $1,500 to the campaign, will have their likeness turned into a giant statue somewhere in the game.



In your free time between missions, you can explore the city to look for the best lines to get the best speed and ways to get around. It will most certainly put your pathfinding skills to the test. Currently the alpha version only allows players to traverse a small section of the city, both online and off. You can gather gameballs, GameGirls, avoid police, and take part in a few races against NPCs, or race other plays online if you prefer. The full version will have missions that include police evasion, stealth infiltration, and a few more variations that the creators have yet to reveal. A deeper character customization will be available in the full version as well as spraypaint tagging, more playable character skins, a deeper history of the world, and an expanded soundtrack.


A modern mid-level system will have no problem playing Hover on medium graphical settings. It will take a lot of horsepower to make it run at max with 60 fps. Fusty Game took no prisoners with the depth of the game's graphics. Even my laptop that's only a few years old manages to crank out a meager 15 fps on the lowest settings. There's a lot going on that's not on-screen that the game is having to keep track of: mindless NPC pedestrians, traffic, and the security system are all present and don't fade at a distance. Expect the fps results to pan out better as they make the game more compatible with different setups.

The game is compatible with an Xbox 360 control pad and is easy to use with it's minimal button usage. While it feels more organic than the keyboard and mouse layout it loses the ability to make sharp turns and that is something that's required for traversing this city cleanly. A rewind feature is extremely useful and helps you correct mistakes if you miss a jump or find yourself stuck in some way. Currently in the alpha there is no limit to how far back you can go. The ability to scan things can bring up a text menu with some interesting tidbits on the city and its inhabitants. This can also show you the locations of important NPCs, gameballs, race starting points, holographic signs, security cameras and E-cops. It can leave the screen cluttered and is disorienting at first. Time will tell if this is corrected.

 The Fusty Game team: Charles Vesic, Marine Baron, and Pierre Raffali

If you missed out on the Kickstarter, Hover will be coming to Steam via Greenlight and will be available on PC, Mac, and Linux OS's in a multitude of languages. No pricing or release date has been posted yet but its not too late to get in on the hype.  If the alpha proves anything, its that even dedicated fans can make the game of their dreams. There is something awesome about just hanging out in another world, running and exploring. Hover has something that a lot of the AAA titles these days are lacking: fun.

Keep Playing.

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Review: Colin McRae Rally (Steam/Mobile, 2014)





You know your favorite band's greatest hits album? Sure, you've heard all the songs before and are probably tired of them but you know they needed to make a little more money before the next full release so a greatest hits collection is their next step, and maybe you still buy it anyway. Colin McRae Rally is that in a nutshell. I understand that its actually a port of the iOS game which is a remake of Colin McRae Rally 2.0, but you would think Codemasters would add a little extra to sweeten the deal for both new and returning fans of the original franchise. Instead it feels like less-than-half of what the latter games in the series became and a barbones recreation of the PS1 classic. Last year Codemasters teased that the next CMR game will be focused on rally racing, rather than hopping from one sport to the next as done in the DiRT Series. There's been no word on whether it will be the next DiRT entry or a return to the classic CMR staging but us fans can only hope that this isn't what they were talking about.



There are only 4 cars and 30 stages. The stages feel planned out rather than organic. The physics dulled down. The power sucked out. The driving stiff. The awesome feeling of awesomeness as you drift through a hairpin is completely absent. A lot of the magic has been lost in its conversion to mobile, and even more so with its port over to Steam. I'm sure the original was never this dull and there was more than likely an exciting feeling of powering through turns and speeding through forests but this time it suffers by removing a lot of the technical aspects that introduced a lot of people to not only sim racing games but the sport of rally racing as well. Players can no longer tune their cars before each race (which is fine because all four cars play exactly the same) and for that it grudgingly inserts itself into the casual racing category, but even then it fails because the driving is simply boring.
The physics problems are just the beginning. In one of the first races in Australia, a large jump is the main event that completely breaks the game (see below). As your car almost does a barrel roll in mid-air it immediately proves the point that the game engine itself is broken. Speaking of breaking, the cars actually break down as they drive through the stages, and not just falling apart from hitting things; by the end of the second stage there is a clanking sound that wasn't there before that lets you know something is seriously wrong. Repairs are still allowed after every other stage but players may find the 30 minute time limit a bit too short for all the damage that was mysteriously caused while driving.
Australia, Greece, and Corsica are the only three locales to drive through and there just isn't anything within them to make things interesting. There are no sights to see, no majestic backgrounds, nothing within the roads to make it fun and yet it stretches out to 10 stages a piece. Ford Focus, Subaru Impreza, Mitsubishi Lancer, and Lancia Stratos are the four cars but, like I said, since they all play the same it only comes down to which one you prefer. 
On mobile devices you can choose between tilt controls with auto-acceleration or full on-screen controls. On the PC/Mac version, you can choose to use either the keyboard, a gamepad, or wheel support. Mapping the controls are difficult as it seems to fight against what the player has chosen as presets. There is no pressure sensitivity for accelerating and braking so even the keyboard feels fine when being played with.

(via Steam community member CueZero)


The graphical update is just about the only thing done well enough. The graphics engine gets the job done until you notice the faults such as front-facing sprites for the trees, flat crowds, and the plastic-like textures on the cars. The stages fair no better with a static image for the background and distance pop-in. Understandably this is all limited due to being built for mobile but nothing was changed for the Steam release. If you own a computer from 2006 then you should still be able to play on lowest settings with few hiccups.
The co-driver directions by Nicky Grist are just pre-recorded and chopped together but are accurate enough to not leave you heading toward a tree at high speeds. One of the biggest concerns that you'll face immediately in the area of sound is the airhorn which blares EVERY TIME you pass a crowd and is so distracting that you may want to consider turning the SFX down, which in turn reduces the engine and gravel sounds so its a lose/lose situation unless you can do without either. Sliding on gravel or the pavement produces an accurate enough sound and crowds cheer as you pass but your attention should be focused mainly on the directions rather than immersion.
Engines don't sound powerful at all and gradually decline in strength the more you drive. At least they put in enough thought to make the engines separate from one another.
There is no in-game music, only the menu, which is a simple tune that is easily forgotten. 


It will take you about 5 hours to complete and there is very little after-game. Playing a few stages here and there is all it will amount to but there are other racing games on the app stores and Steam that are worthy of attention. This game should have stayed on the mobile platforms and even then the small amount of content should be asking for no more than $5. To even call itself a remake is a disappointment since it doesn't really feel like a Colin McRae Rally game, more like a fan project. The original CMR games were about the driver's skill and knowledge of the car and physics, that's all been thrown away in favor of tilt controls and making it more mobile friendly. The thrills of driving and overcoming opponents have been cut out in favor of ease-of-access just to make a quick buck.  Its an insult to the series and the fans, and that's what hurts the most.


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DC15



Remember remember the 9th of September
Dreamcast release and next-gen splendor
1999 and a new year comes soon
The PS2 means for Sega's doom
Awkward controller and internet activity
Fell short into the massive tragedy
But with homebrews still made
And games still played
The last great console is still not downtrodden
I can think of no reason the Dreamcast should ever be forgotten

I've unfortunately almost missed this year's DC anniversary but its been on m mind today more than the release of Destiny. I wasn't able to come up with something big, just this that I wrote while on break. If you've fallen into the hype of the year's biggest release (like I have), at least take a minute to hook up your DC and play one of your favorite titles.
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Review: Shadowgate (2014, PC/Mac)






As I said before in my preview of Shadowgate: point-and-click games, more commonly known as the Adventure genre, are becoming few and far between these days. Some of the more recent notable games of the last few years would be The Walking Dead series or The Raven, but if you want to travel back in time you may recognize the Monkey Island series or Maniac Mansion, which was also ported over to the NES during its lifetime. Given that every title in the genre does something different, measuring this adventure to the old school Shadowgate rather than comparing it to other adventure titles only seems fair since even the devs call it a re-imagining. The changes, similarities, what it does well now and what it lacks are up for inspection. Its mostly the same Shadowgate, but this time you get a lot more reasoning behind the journey.

As Jair Cathegar, you are instructed by the wizard Lakmir to take on a perilous task by traveling far and finding your way to the living castle of Shadowgate, then navigating its many perilous halls to stop the evil Warlock Lord, Talimar the Black, from unleashing the Behemoth to destroy the world. A little ways in to the game the bulk of the plot is explained to you through a couple of cutscenes. Lakmir, who is a surviving member of the Circle of Twelve, the only other being Talimar, has grown too weak to fight him face-to-face. Which is where Jair Cathegar comes in. He's descended from a long line of kings and prophecy states that he will be the one to defeat Talimar, but standing in his way is the castle and it's many, many, MANY traps and treasures. Almost everything you pick up can be used for something down the line but there is also a hefty amount of trash. Discerning which is which is up to the player. On the hard difficulty, you're limited to how much you can carry and since the puzzles adjust with each level something that can be used at one point may instead work somewhere else on another difficulty. Its these three levels that give the game am immense replayability factor.




Fools Rush In
The first thing you should know about playing Shadowgate is that its not for those who lack patience: you will die a lot and if you're not adept at using your noggin to solve some complex puzzles then I'm afraid Shadowgate isn't for you. Additionally an attention to detail and a keen eye for things that stand out is also definitely required. If you enjoy games with a steep level of challenge then you'll love it. If you're looking for a nostalgic trip you may or may not be disappointed: while a lot has changed, conjuring up memories of past solutions might help you in some ways but not in every case. In the first screen you find a talking skull named Yorick that offers vague hints and the occasional commentary, he's a decent traveling partner and provides a few passing chuckles, you're notfied by what he says when you hear bones clatter ominously. If you don't like his chatter you can simply choose to hit him to make him speak less. There is no direct combat, just a command that will let you HIT something, including yourself. You will encounter a few beasts that will attack and sometimes finding a way to avoid combat is your best bet.
From the dragon immolating you with fire breath to falling down a pit, almost everything can kill you, the game is still fraught with the familiar death traps that made the original so tricky to navigate. Shadowgate can be smooth as silk when you remember all of the possible combinations of things and think cleverly on when and how to use items. Sometimes being stuck in an area will require backtracking by several rooms. Keeping your torches lit is also a priority. Yorick will notify you when the light is getting too low, and letting it burn out is a bad idea. Once the fire is gone, you can't start another one, and it'll be awfully hard navigating the darkness by feeling your way around.

Shadowgate now has a spacious interface with the inventory and other options no longer taking up most of the screen. Part of the action unfolds through a text box at the bottom while an animation shows. Yes, a basic reading skill is required to play. The most dialogue you'll come across will be written on notes, the voiceovers are sparsely placed throughout the game.
The way of playing takes some getting used as it seems you need to be sure which command you're clicking at the top of the screen or which item you're selecting. Sometimes trying to click on an action requires a second click (or my 2-month old mouse is already breaking). The menus and inventory seem to get in the way of the game itself so if you prefer keyboard bindings over mouse movement you can set those up in the options, or in case you want the very old-school MacVenture feeling.



Painting Life 
The land of Tyragon is a dark and dreary one where magic is abundant and there remain spells crafted from people whose names have been long-forgotten, and Castle Shadowgate is almost the epicenter of it. The room and inventory art was done by Chris Cold, who has been able to create not only a variety of dungeons but ones that flow well together from one room to the next, they're greatly designed and all fit within the theme of what you would find given the atmosphere of the world. The cutscenes were animated by Wang Ling, also a digital painter, and are somewhat reminiscent of what you would see during the cutscenes of Guild Wars 2. You won't have to worry about too much brown or gray with splashes of colors in certain areas (as seen above) that almost command attention, each space is different and the map in the bottom left of the screen is a handy tool to help you remember where things are.

The voice acting, though few, is top notch with voices neatly matching the characters but the main thing you'll hear will be the soundtrack which is impeccably orchestrated: immersive, haunting, mysterious, calm at times and adrenalized at others, fitting the moods of the rooms perfectly. But don't you wish there was a bit more nostalgia to be had? Have no fear. In the options menu you'll find an NES music mode that inserts the original tunes from the 1989 NES release as well as the transitions and text-scrolling animation. Basically you can turn it into a big nostalgia trip with updated visuals. Its a nice addition that has no bearing on the gameplay itself but is a very welcome one.

Invokan, Agaap, Entraiz...
As of writing this I haven't been able to complete the game. I had a lot of trouble with it until Dave Marsh, one of the creators, helped me out. That being said I can't tell you how long it will take to complete but with the puzzles and items changing with each difficulty level you'll sink in at least a dozen hours. While Shadowgate holds itself together like a AAA game you can't help but feel overwhelmed as your torch light slowly dies and you've exhausted all options to figure out what to do next, you will feel stupid that the answer may be something you simply overlooked. A lot of thought and effort have gone into remaking everything and making it all work together and it shows... almost a little too well. When you hit a stride it feels good but when the game comes to a halt then you need to think your way through. You might find yourself trying items and actions repeatedly on random objects in the hopes that something will happen, but it never does.

Upon entering the pitch black dungeon, a shaft of light pierces the darkness, illuminating a book upon a pedestal. Opening the pages you find only two words written in the entire book: "PRICE DROP!" Then a trap door opens below your feet and you plummet to your death.
If you've been curious about it, its best to wait for a Steam Sale. Nostalgia or not, Shadowgate is a pure challenge to play and many people will be turned off by that, which is a shame since this time around it has a lot more to work with. Amazing visuals, captivating music, and a bit more depth to the story give a more complete sense of the world than what we had on the NES. Games are meant to be fun but Shadowgate proves to be a lesson in patience and observation. The immersion in the world matters little if you're not allowed to guess. I'm not saying "don't buy this game," I'm saying you should wait for some brave adventurers to go first. But if you're craving a challenge, you may have found one worthy to test your mettle.


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Preview: Shadowgate (2014, PC)


Shadowgate, originally made by ICOM Simulations, started life in 1987 on the Apple Macintosh and found its way to the NES in 1989 where it gained a cult following. It was innovative for the time with its first-person view point-and-click gameplay on a home console but never garnered a widely celebrated status, though it did have sequels on the TurboGrafx 16 and N64 as well as a newer port to the Game Boy/Game Boy Color. The story was you against the Warlock Lord as you sought to disrupt his plan to summon a demon that will destroy the world. As you made your way through Castle Shadowgate, filled with dungeons, traps, an occasional dragon, puzzles, and hidden areas, you wouldn’t find much of a sense of lore within the dark walls. The backstory was a generic medieval tale of ancient magic versus evil, but at the time that’s all you needed as a reason to make a game and go on an adventure. Jump to 2012 where original game creators Dave Marsh and Karl Roelofs have made their own studio, Zojoi, LLC, and have “re-imagined” Shadowgate for a new generation. Following a successful Kickstarter of over $137,000, they were able to reach at least one of their stretch goals which will let players adventure through a re-made Castle Shadowgate as well as a third tower that builds on the world’s previously barren lore.


While it didn’t create much lore in itself it still held a very mysterious atmosphere that was compelling and the new game will follow along the same lines with both old and new pathways; the same formula of puzzle-solving and dungeon-traversing as the original will remain with a few puzzles remade and many new ones added as well as some content that was cut from the original game. It will have 24 in-game achievements that also tie in to your Steam achievements, an original NES music mode, voice acting (so its not just music and sound effects all the time), three difficulty levels that change the game’s puzzles, and will most prominently feature amazing moving artwork by Chris Cold and Damian Audino.
If you’re a fan of old-school point-and-click games then this new Shadowgate is definitely something you’ll want to pay attention to; games of the point-and-click variety have been fading in the last few decades and most of them have moved to mobile devices at the cost of graphics and length. But even if you’re not a fan, you may enjoy the challenge that this game will offer and you might find it will be a nice change of pace from the repetitive titles of the current generations. Immersing yourself in the world of Tyragon, a place of magic and danger; conquering the puzzles of Castle Shadowgate and discovering the truth behind the Warlock Lord; and becoming the hero of a time-forgotten prophecy. That sounds a lot better than another military shooter.


You can pre-order Shadowgate from Zojoi’s website and there are three different tiers that offer an abundance of extras (and right now, each pre-order has a 25% discount, prices described are without the discount). The Wayfarer Tier, priced at a simple $19.99, gives you just a Steam key for either a Windows or Mac digital download. The Adventurer Tier, which is $24.99 includes the game and over two dozen wallpapers based on concept art, the Grim Reaper, and a collection of desktop wallpaper calendars. At $29.99, the Hero Tier includes the former as well as a 25-song orchestral soundtrack based on the NES score, a 60-page digital art book, digital map of the land of Kal Zathynn, a beta test release with an in-game tester credit, and a one-week early release of the full game.

Shadowgate will launch in late August. I have pre-ordered the Hero Tier and have already downloaded the wallpapers and soundtrack, the beta or full game isn’t available just yet but when I get my hands on it, expect a review.

 If you remember this screen, congratulations: you’re old. :-P

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Screen Masher: Dots

A New Blog Type Has Arrived!
In Screen Masher, I'm going to do quick reviews of mobile games that you can get either for free or for pay, most of the time from whichever app store you choose. These will be short reads with some details in certain areas. I'll try to crank these out faster than I do my normal reviews.


A lot can be said for simplicity in gaming, especially for mobile devices. Make things too simple and people may reject it. Add a lot of details and nuances and it becomes a hit. If Tetris is the latter and Flappy Bird is the former then Dots sits somewhere comfortably in the middle.
Dots is a minimalistic game where you connect dots of the same color. Simple. Easy. Tricky.
Timed, Moves, Endless, and Challenges are the four game modes you can spend your time in. Timed gives you one minute to gather as many dots as you can. Moves gives you a small amount of moves to gather as many. Endless, which costs $1.99, is exactly that: an infinite amount of time and power-ups to play with. This mode doesn't bank you any dots. Challenges sends a challenge request to one of your friends on either Facebook or Twitter. A friendly competition mode to see who can bank the most dots.
You can't connect diagonally and if you react too quickly you may miss your chance at a better move and there is no undo function. Connecting dots to make a square will cause all the dots of the same color to disappear. Your final score results in how many dots you bank. By banking and using those dots, you can purchase power-ups such as Time Stops, which stops the clock five seconds; Shrinkers, double-tapping a single dot will make it disappear; and Expanders, double tapping a single dot will make all dots of the same color disappear. Time Stops and Expanders can only be used once per game, so you'll have to consider whether or not its worth using one to get a few extra dots.



The game has 35 trophies and these can be shared on the two previously mentioned social networks. These can be earned by playing 40 rounds, scoring a certain amount, or using so many power-ups. Most of them are easy to earn so there's no pressure when you set your sights on unlocking one. It will take some practice to reach a score of just 300 but once you do then you pretty much have the game fully understood.


If the bright white of the game is too much to handle, included are three other themes. A dark theme reverses colors, and Winter Day and Winter Night (leftovers from their last holiday update) feature snow falling on all screens as well a winter scene during play. Its peaceful and almost relaxing. You can also change the dot's color intensities, this is for people who may have a hard time telling them apart. These colors also change based on theme.


I've had Dots on my last three Android phones. Its perfect for killing a minute or two when I have some free time or when I want to bank more dots. At some times its my go-to game when I don't want to wait for something to load. Playdots, Inc. has a follow-up game simply called Two Dots, it follows the same basic gameplay but with a few twists. But that's for another time.

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A Second Look @ Halo: Reach with Foreword

I know I've been absent for a long while and it is all my fault. I originally intended June to be an Origins Month of reviews, games that I've held onto the longest and games that made me call myself a gamer, but since the car accident I haven't had enough time to write anything weekly. Instead I wrote this retrospective for a site called The Better Gaming Bureau, and the overall response has been better than anything I've seen here or on ScrewAttack. The guys there support my writing and think I'm good at it and I'll continue to write for them for as long as they want me to. Expect a few more blogs in the coming weeks as well as video from my SGC trip.
If you've read my last blog, you'll know that I've had to sell a few games on eBay to have enough money to spend at SGC, that's still going on and while I still can't sell a lot right now my original first five games have already been sold. As far as continuing to sell past SGC, that's up for internal debate of which I might post about later. For now, I hope you like this retrospective, which I've had to rewrite in a way different than what I'm used to.

Thanks and Keep Playing.




Some people were skeptical of Halo: Reach even before its release but with good reason: it was Bungie’s last time working on the franchise and many fans thought their hearts wouldn’t be in it, causing it to fall short of living up to its fullest potential under the Halo name. The ending to Halo 3 left us all wanting more from the Master Chief and, with Reach being the third spin-off/side story game in a row, it didn’t get a lot of love due to many fans stepping away from the series after finding too many faults in ODST. In that case, they missed out on a piece of history in the Halo universe. Their fears would have been quickly brought to an end as the game proved it was more than capable of balancing the campaign story with multiplayer action all with great graphical fidelity.


Gone is the blandness of Master Chief and in his place are five Spartans, each with differing personalities and varying sets of skills, and yourself whose face is never seen (Its like being Master Chief without the title). As the newly transferred Noble Six, you’re informed by team leader Carter, callsign Noble One, that your days of acting as the lone wolf are at an end; you are part of a team now and must follow orders. You can once again rely on teammates with competent AI to have your back as you must also watch theirs. Starting the campaign, you are airlifted in to a farmstead near a satellite installation where communications have strangely gone dark. Thinking its insurrectionists, your team is prepared for a small arms firefight only to discover that the Covenant have reached planetside. And so begins the lengthy campaign with a compelling story, long areas to traverse and, in a later level, one very chaotic run through a long field of Covenant.



The campaign never feels tacked-on like in other FPS games, clocking in at around 7 hours to complete and is as pulse-pounding, frustrating, rewarding, and unique as the other Halo titles, if not more. You feel the weight of an entire planet that's at risk of falling and you feel the hopelessness as the population is evacuated or slaughtered. Can you recall your first time taking control of the Falcon helicopter as you flew around the skies over New Alexandria? What went through your mind as you saw the E3 video of the space flight and you were finally able to take control of the Sabre to take the fight to Reach's atmosphere? If you read the Halo novels, how did you feel knowing that in the end Reach would be glassed by Covenant plasma? While the story isn't a ground-breaking work of fiction, what you play through is an integral part of the history of the Halo universe and serves as a good prequel to first game.
You are no longer the bullet sponge as your teammates can take hit after hit without dying and are also as effective in firefights as much as you are. They can kill and react to situations and occasionally have banter, much like in ODST. Unfortunately relying on them matters little in the campaign as the most they do are follow you or take control of vehicle turrets and sometimes the vehicles themselves. Level exploration isn't really encouraged as only thirteen skulls are pre-unlocked with fan favorites such as Mythic, Grunt Birthday Party, and Catch making their return. Since there were no hidden items to collect this time around, it lends more thought on the focus of the game rather than hunting down Easter Eggs.  Making their first appearance in the series, Armor Abilities give you temporary enhancements such as a projected hologram, jet pack, armor lock, and even the ability to sprint a short distance. These simple tactical advantages can sometimes mean the difference between life or death on Hardcore and Legendary difficulties. At the same time, these can also play a big part in the multiplayer and can earn you some kills if used properly or cheap deaths if you find yourself on the receiving end.

Multiplayer consists of the usual Halo games and brings back ODST's Firefight mode, which is similar to Gears of War 2's Horde Mode wherein you fight wave after wave of oncoming enemies with increasing difficulty. Even today, if you can find several friends to play with, it can easily give you a dozen hours of entertainment with many adjustable rules that can make it a tough challenge from the start, and even the opportunity to play on the opposing team as a Covenant Elite. If Firefight doesn't sound appealing, playlists made of different maps and rules can be found as well the ability to section players off by how well they play or how much they talk. If all else fails, there's always the unique mode of Grifball. 


Spartan customization makes a return and offers more options this time around to make your character unique, allowing you to use the same design in both the campaign and multiplayer. These are only cosmetic and don't have any effect in the actual game; armor upgrades don't provide any more protection and ammo belts don't improve magazine capacities. With the Command Points credits system along with leveled ranks, dozens of hours would have to be spent in order to get the more unique and costly items such as a Mjolnir Mark IV helmet, Kat's robotic arm, or armor effects. A player with a high rank and unique armor parts is to be commended for having the patience and skill to obtain them. Also, avoided if you're anything below the rank of Major. 

Reach went beyond the usual themes of cramped human and alien space stations and underground caverns made of metal. While you do fight in a Covenant ship at one point, most of the game takes place outside along canyons with vast draw distances that lend to a grand sense of scale. Mountainous levels have blind corners and cliffs that can lead to an instant death if taken too hastily in a Warthog. New Alexandria, though wartorn, has a sense of a clean and futuristic city. Character designs, as well as their armors, are a welcome change from the Chief's standard Mjolnir equipment and the thought of using the same armor in campaign and multiplayer is one of the best ideas that Bungie has ever had. The vehicle designs are familiar and are just as easy to operate. Light blooms, fog, weather, and fantastic draw distances coupled with amazing environmental art give Reach a feeling of being alive and organic. Before Halo 4, it was the best looking game in the franchise.

As the game's story unfolds in small victories and huge defeats, the soundtrack collides sorrow with hope, action with solemnity, and mystery with the knowledge of how it will all end. The drums give a tribal feel while the orchestra and singers add to the ambitious overtone of the game. Marty O'Donnell and Michael Salvatori both show their talent by making the Reach soundtrack unique in many ways while still holding on to the essence of the past games. In one level, you'll hear a song that borrows notes from the original Halo theme. This should incite in you a feeling that you don't need to be Master Chief to be a Spartan. If you're one who enjoys collecting game memorabilia, the Halo: Reach soundtrack comes on two CDs, has bonus tracks, and is definitely one you will listen to several times. 
The voiceacting is superb but the lines of dialogue might wear a bit thin if you die and have to restart from a checkpoint. Each voice actor has brought their A-game and gives life to each character. From Carter's tone of leadership to Jorge's sympathy, each Spartan is given a personality behind the helmet; even your own Spartan sounds like an every day man/woman, making them feel more relatable.
Explosions and gunshots during firefights coupled with friendly and enemy banter make up the bulk of the game's sounds and with a wide variety of them they never seem to get old, but it seems the sound was given the backseat treatment in favor of the soundtrack as there's really not a lot of new things in comparison to the previous series entries.



Halo: Reach is the last great "Hurrah!" from Bungie and it shows that they put more effort into making a complete game than they have before. Each of the numbered Halo games seems to follow a central theme of discovery, not just along the lines of gameplay environments but more so in the Halo universe:
   *Halo CE is about the mystery of the first ring-world.
   *Halo 2 dealt with humanity's part in the grand scheme of things.
   *Halo 3 is about the deception of the Covenant.
   *Even Halo 4 is about uncovering more of the history of the Forerunners.
Reach takes a different path and chronicles the fall of the UNSC homeworld of Reach; the first and last bastion of military security for the human race falls in a very short amount of time. It doesn't need additional campaigns or massive amounts of DLC to complete the story. It gives a feeling of defeat at the end but a reassurance of hope. Its not the story of how Noble Team dies, but of your Spartan's heroic effort to ensure the safety of the most important person and AI in the Halo lore. As your teammates fall one-by-one, and as you fall in the end, Cortana reassures you that your sacrifice is not in vain. If not for your efforts, the AI never would have made it back* to Master Chief.
It's a thrill ride that leaves you wanting to see more of the vast landscapes and cities. You'll want to do more to help the population and fight the covenant. You'll want to battle online more to reach new ranks and prove you're damn good at it. You'll want more Spartans with personality. You'll want to hear more of the epic soundtrack. And in the end, you will be satisfied. If you missed Halo: Reach, you missed out on one of the best games in FPS history, and I stand by that wholeheartedly. 


(*In the Halo novel, Fall of Reach, Chief and Cortana ran a test exercise before being evacuated from the planet. Cortana was returned to Dr. Halsey while Master Chief was prepped for evac. Noble Team's mission was to get Cortana aboard the Pillar of Autumn in time.)
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A Second Look @ F355 Challenge: Passione Rossa

(The things I do for a review. I knew about this game long ago because I bought it from Play N Trade. I owned it for a total of one week before taking it back. I played it for a total of 10 minutes before I was completely disappointed. I spent a total of zero hours thinking about this game from that point on. I knew I had to get this game again to review for Ferrari Month so I got it from eBay. I was willing to give it a second chance for the sake of the review but even after setting the game up through the menus I was disappointed even before I started racing. As I literally hit the first turn of Monza I knew that there was no hope for me ever liking this game.)
(Screen shots taken from Gamespot, and are the only "quality" pics that I could find)
 
Personally, I've always felt that if a game makes you work too hard without any reward it quickly becomes a chore. For example, MMOs gradually increase in difficulty the further along you are. Boss battles become more difficult as knowledge of the game world and skill utilization increases. It becomes fun through the adventure of gaining things, whether it be loot or levels, that adheres you to want to play more. With F355 Challenge the opposite occurs as the driving feels like the player's understanding of physics is put to the test with the only reward awaiting you at the end of each race is another race. No unlocks, no special modes, no surprises. In this sense F355 Challenge is completely a chore to play: you play it only if you want to, not because you feel compelled to. There is nothing to draw you in and nothing to hold your attention unless you're either intent on beating it or are a huge Ferrari fan.



Arcade and Single Play modes are the exact same, each has three different sub-levels of Training, Driving, and Racing. Training adds a recommended line and vocal assists. Driving takes you out on the field in a Time Trial where it records your best lap and ghost. and Racing (where the screen to choose this says you can "Praticipate" in a real race...) pits you against a full field of cars when you're ready for it. In Arcade mode, you can choose any of the immediately available 6 tracks out a total of 11 tracks, the remaining five are unlocked by advancing in the Championship mode, or by going ahead and unlocking them through the password codes. Championship mode is a straightforward race to cross the finish lines first. Versus play pits you against another player. Network Race makes use of the Dreamcast's dial-up modem for you to take to the track against players from around the world, but since its now defunct there isn't an option to choose this.
The game is more geared to be used with a steering wheel for maximum effect but doesn't hinder the playing when using the Dreamcast controller. The controller's analog pad is very accurate and better to use than the d-pad. Since there isn't an option to just look back behind your car, the game uses two of the face buttons for selecting driving assists and turning them on or off. Spin Control, Traction Control, and ABS are the usual assists you'll find along with auto-braking, using this feels like the game is holding your hand but is very necessary for those who aren't used to sim racing games. The selection for the assists could have been mapped to the d-pad while a look behind and hand brake button could have been used instead, but it seems that design flaws are abundant.

Design flaws come in all shapes and sizes and are never glitches. These are ideas that are implemented into a game during its creation that the developers put in place thinking they will be good to play with. The single in-car narrow first-person camera view that can't be changed is the biggest design flaw this game is guilty of. The length the game goes to uphold the title of racing simulator is dumbfounding. Its an idea that's good in theory, but mediocre in practice. It works, but not well. The only way you'll know when a car is behind you is either the rear-view mirror or the small radar at the top of the screen.
Graphics aren't breathtaking and it looks like the typical Dreamcast style, but its not pushing the limits of the system. It goes for a realistic graphical design and its pulled off well but it seems dark, blurred, and just visually unappealing. There is no damage and bumping into a wall will immediately turn your car into the direction you have your steering wheel. Its almost as if its saying "Oh, I'm sure you didn't mean that. Here you go, mate. Be on your way." Additionally bumping into another car on the track will result in a loss of speed for you.
The only time you get to see the car model is just before the race and the opponents on the track. Regardless of that drawback, the F355 looks accurately detailed, down to the air scoops on the side. As for the tracks themselves, a few turns missing turns here and there means that whatever you may be familiar with will have to be relearned. They don't feel like accurate representations of the real courses since they seem to go faster than what you may be used to. I may be judging too harshly as a lot of racetracks are known to reinvent themselves for the sake of keeping things new. 


 
The music goes for an 80's hair metal theme throughout and aside from the opening video only comes off as ANNOYING. In-race is an auditory assault where the main sounds you'll hear are the whine of the engine, the squeal of the tires, and the terrible unlicensed hair metal that the game tries to pass off as music. Its cheesy to the fullest effect and is actually distracting while driving. A radio DJ speaks at the beginning of each race to talk about the song and most of is inaudible as it quickly goes into the song. Oddly enough it goes well together, as well as a peanut butter and melted plastic sandwich.




While it tries to pass as a true-to-life racing simulator, it ends up not being a very fun game at all. There's little or no sense of progression and as far as racing simulators go it would have definitely pushed the boundaries had it been more accessible and had a willingness to not be so stuck up. Better simulation of speed rather than just handling. More options for the player and less restrictions. So what do you do when a game throws out fun for the sake of always trying to be right? Throw it out. You don't need to play F355 Challenge. What you'll find is a game that played by its own rules and ends up constantly smacking you on the back of the head to insist that you're driving wrong. Its not a terrible simulator since its adhesion to reality is commendable and it offers realistic physics on a console meant for arcade ports, but that does not excuse it for being annoying.
The Ferrari license is wasted here and how the game was popular enough to attain an arcade-exclusive sequel is mind boggling. I always do try to find the good in each game, a fair chance has to be given, but in the case of F355 Challenge I won't. With terrible physics, annoying sound, bland graphics, and bad presentation there is no hope for F355 Challenge to even be considered playable in my book. I can't think of a niche of sim racing or Ferrari enthusiasts that would find this game appealing.


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Avid gamer, common video game blogger, Christian, g1, Chiver, Ravenclaw supporter, nerd, blue collar worker. I've been gaming since '91 and I don't know where my life would be without it. I'm a collector with a taste for the unpopular. My favorite game of all time is Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 on Dreamcast. I'm a big fan of the racing and puzzle genres. Not too big on RPGs right now. I like all consoles but I can't afford them all.

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Game reviews, thoughts on the industry, videos, and more from yet another gamer on the internet.

THIS BLOG HAS ENDED AS OF JULY 2015. THANK YOU FOR READING.

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