Friday, November 5, 2010

The King of All Games Strikes Back

By Jimmy Hrom

I’m not a child of the Atari age. The first system I ever played religiously was the NES but I did have an Atari 2600 collecting dust in the closet. Every once in a while when I got bored of beating Darkwing Duck I would pull out the Atari and play Combat and Space Invaders. They were never better than Super Mario Brother 2 or Blaster Master but they passed the time. Nowadays, Space Invaders is the Casablanca of video games. Invaders are graffitied on underpasses, they were featured in the music video “Happy Up Here” by Royksopp and the short feature PIXELS by Patrick Jean. Needless to say, Space Invaders is a pretty big deal.

The other day I was on an App Journey and I stumbled across a true gem: Space Invaders Infinity Gene. Available on the iPhone, Xbox Live and PSN, Infinity Gene is an intelligent reimagining of the original game. It takes a lot from the more action packed scrolling shooters like Galaga or R-Type but still keeps the stylization of the early 8-bit age.

In a nutshell, it’s like Tron on crack.

Infinity Gene combines two of Japan’s favorite things: evolution and space ships. As you rack up points you also gain new abilities, ships and secret levels. The game is fast-paced and stimulating. There are 3 different levels consisting of 6 stages (not including the hidden levels). There are photo galleries, sound effects and music (including the BPM for those of you who want to make some samples), which can be listened to at any time.

For an App it has a high price tag of $4.99 with additional content packs available for $1.99 each. I know that most people would shy away from such an expensive game but I think it’s well worth it.

What, you don’t believe me?!

Well, fine.

You can go on the app store and download a demo of the game. It’s a classic game, with a classic style. If you’re even vaguely interested, I recommend that you just go ahead and buy it. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Friend Indeed: Part 3

I was alone. I had to do this mission on my own. I started to panic.

Some soldier was explaining to me what I needed to do but I couldn’t pay attention. I had to figure out how to do this without my friend Fawkes. I didn’t know what to do; I was in an unfamiliar land with unfamiliar people. This soldier finished his say and started climbing the face of the mountain. I just stood there dumbly. Was I supposed to climb this mountain? How do I climb? Did I miss the tutorial while bemoaning the loss of a friend?

I didn’t know if I hack it…

But then I thought to myself, “No, I can do this!” I had to make Fawkes proud. I had to make sure he knew that his presence had made me grow as a bastion of self-confidence in the Capital Wasteland. And damn it, if I could do it in D.C. then I can do it in Alaska!

I found my way down the path to the enemy Chinese invaders. I could hear Fawkes in my mind bellowing out a great war cry as I hacked down a soldier with my trench knife. This would be my moment to shine. This would be my glorious return as the lone savior from Vault 101.

I fought tanks, invisible soldiers and platoon after platoon of communist invaders. I blew up their artillery, destroyed their gas supply and disengaged their pulse field. I was unstoppable.

Then it happened.

I was charging the final bunker with a small army of soldiers. There was an explosion and a rain of bullets. The camera angle changed and a swell of brass instruments played as I watched my avatar slump to the ground, taken out by filthy communists. It was sobering. For the past 30 hours of game play I hadn’t died once. My streak was over.

It was a strange sensation waiting for the game to reload. I felt an emotion somewhere between woe and betrayal. The game had lured me into a false sense of security and then pulled the rug from underneath me. It made the fact that Fawkes wasn’t there that much more bitter.

It was a pretty low blow.

I finished the mission in a couple of hours and I returned to the Capital Wasteland two levels stronger and war hardened. I was rewarded with armor that never had to be repaired and guns that were previously unavailable until now. I collected my boon and once again I found myself “over encumbered”.

Being “over encumbered” normally isn’t that much of a problem. Well, at least it wasn’t when Fawkes was around. It was a painful reminder that he was gone. He could be anywhere. He probably abandoned me after I took this dumb mission. I thought to myself, “Well, this is going to be a long, lonely walk back to my storage locker.” I took a deep breath and opened up the door to the Capital Wasteland and there he was.

Just as dumbly as I had found him, Fawkes was standing there looking around and patiently waiting for me to return. I ran up to him and said, “Oh, thank you Jesus-God!” I unloaded all my extra equipment on him walked out into the Capital Wasteland.

Normally, you can instantly travel to places you have already been, but not today. I was with Fawkes. We walked all the way back to my storage locker in Megaton. On the way we fought Raiders, Yao Guai and Mirelurks. I told him about my adventures in Anchorage. Hell, I even sung him the Danny Kaye song “Civilization” when it came on Galaxy News Radio (I let him sing the Andrews Sisters parts).

All was well in post-apocalyptia.

The Capital Wasteland is big, dangerous and scary and it is best not to brave it on your own. I found my friend in Fallout 3 and on October 19 Fallout New Vegas hits the streets. Who will travel with me to the Hoover Dam? Who will go with me to the nuclear testing site? Who will travel with me to the Grand Canyon?

Who will be my friend in the deserts of Nevada?

By: James Hrom
Edited: Alex Daniel

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Friend Indeed: Part 2

Fast forward to the fall of the Enclave. The HQ was going up in flames and I narrowly escaped with my life. I climbed down the mountain and there was my friend Fawkes. He was shooting down Enclave with his Gatling Laser Gun and I was pretty impressed. “It looks like you got a new toy,” I responded to his warm greeting. I asked him if he wanted to follow me and he agreed. And with this, a new chapter of my story as the lone savior of Capital Wasteland began.

Fawkes became my right-hand man. If I was a little timid about going into an area infested with Raiders, his battle cry would inspire me to run head first into the fray. If I had become “over encumbered” with loot I could turn to him and say, “Let’s trade equipment.” He would respond in an enthusiastic growl “Yes, let's.” It never failed to put a smile on my face. I even find it poignant that he would happily kill any mutant that stood in my way.

All in all, Fawkes was a good friend. That’s not to say he didn't have his flaws. He’s a Super Mutant so he’s super strong and for a while he would kill enemies before I could even get close. This would rob me of the precious experience points I would gain if I had at least shot them once. Randomly, Fawkes would incessantly shoot at a dead creature as if in some mad panic. Though it’s obviously a glitch in the game, I told myself that he was blowing off some steam. Then there was that time in Rivet City when he started shooting at nothing. It almost ended badly but I'm a better diplomat than Fawkes.

The landscape of Fallout 3 was scary. It’s nice to have someone there to help you out. I'd compare it to watching a scary movie alone and being truly horrified or watching it with a friend and making fun of it the whole time. Since Fawkes joined me, I hadn’t died once, which brings me to the reason why I started writing this.

The other day I went all the way out the Patton Creek Game Stop to pick up the “Game of the Year” edition of Fallout 3. This version of the game comes with all the expansion packs and I was equipped with a gift card I received for Christmas (Thanks, Ryan and Krystn). I was ready to take on the streets of Pittsburgh, shoot down redneck mutants, and liberate Alaska from the Communist pigs. What I got was a harsh lesson in losing a friend.

I installed the expansions on my Xbox 360 and waited for the game to inform me that it was time to start my new missions. I wanted to take on Anchorage. In the trailer it looked cool and I was excited. I traveled southeast, fought past some mutants (with the help of Fawkes, of course), and finally met up with some folks with rather bad attitudes.

They were from the Brotherhood of Steel (the group I had allied myself with in the game) but also sort of bounty hunters. They told me that if I wanted a share of some valuable equipment I would need to complete a simulation, the liberation of Alaska. I reluctantly agreed, put on a neural suit and was whisked away to a snowy cliff side. I looked to my left then to my right. Fawkes was not there. I looked down the face of the cliff, nothing. I checked my radar and there was nothing.

My friend, my foundation, my mutant were gone.

I literally gasped aloud.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Friend Indeed: Part 1

So, the other day I convinced a computer to destroy itself and therefore bring down the evil regime known as the Enclave. I only had a 25% chance of persuading the machine to self-destruct but lady luck smiled on me and I was successful. I took the FEV and quickly escaped Raven Rock. There were explosions, fallen Enclave, downed allied robots and finally Fawkes.

I love Fallout 3. It is one of the best games I’ve played in a very long time. I love the story, I love the characters, I love the way it plays, and I love the way it’s stylized. It all reminds me of playing Final Fantasy 7 and if you know me even remotely, I wouldn’t say something like that if I didn’t mean it.

The game spends a lot of time trying to immerse you in a world where you feel like you are a legitimate moral agent in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. And I must say that it does a damn fine job at that. Who you chose to help or kill determines your “karma”. You can help reunite a family, which accumulates positive karma, or shoot up a room full of innocent civilians, which bodes quite ill for your karma. One of the consequences of your good or bad karma is the people who choose to ally themselves with you. I killed the Slavers, I never stole nor was I simply ugly to anyone arbitrarily. My reward was Fawkes the Super Mutant.

I think it’s worth telling Fawkes’ story before I tell you why this NPC has made my experience of Fallout 3 memorable. I accidentally ran across Fawkes on a mission. I was supposed to investigate a Vault, a safe haven for those who were seeking shelter from the fallout of nuclear war. Something had gone terribly wrong and experiments were being conducted on humans and animals.

I passed by one of the locked labs and saw a super mutant trapped inside. He cried out in a sad vacuous tone. He wanted help and I was the only one who could help him. I remember feeling conflicted because I had killed so many mutants. Was it a trick? Did he know? If I helped him would it seal my fate as yet another victim of the mutants?

I decided to hear him out. He talked about how he wasn’t one of the brutish mutants of the wasteland. He used to be a scientist but the mutation had made him forget who he was and what he had learned as a human. He had spent his time in the locked lab accessing the computer and learning about the world. A self-educated brute, I found it touching.

I decided I would help him. I unlocked the doors, released him and there he was, a super mutant that, until this point, I would have given a buckshot makeover. Instead, hell, I gave him a gun and he started mowing down all the marks that showed up on my radar. Because of his mutation he had become immune to radiation and ran through the highly irradiated underbelly of the fallout shelter Vault (92) while I waited patently for him to bring me the G.E.C.K. (an item I needed to complete the mission). After we left the Vault we parted ways. I wouldn’t see him again for weeks.

By: Jimmy Hrom

Edited: Alex Daniel

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fallout Series. Re: Fawkes

So, there is a new Fallout game coming out next week and I have a 3 part series based on Fallout 3 to celebrate the occasion. It was started a while ago so some of it is a little dated but I think you all will get the idea. I hope you will enjoy it!

Keep your eyes open for later today.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Scott Pilgrimage Into My Life

So, I watched one of the most hyped movies of the year yesterday: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. As I left the theatre there where clusters of nerds explaining to their girlfriends that Clash at Demonhead was a NES reference and the first evil ex-boyfriend fight referenced Darkstalkers heroine Morrigan. Today as I look at my facebook new feed I see people losing their minds over this movie. People are referencing references referenced in Scott Pilgrim left and right. “Mind blowing action 1000 points” “Awesome movie +4” etc…

Well, you know what?

It was pretty good and that cluster of nerds was my friends and I.

Being the video game/comic/sci-fi nerd that I am this movie stimulated everything that appeals to my entertainment sensibilities. In fact there where so many references that it was somewhat distracting. I spent most of the last fight trying to decide if Gideons character was referencing the new No More Heroes game or if it was more of throwback to Rival Schools' Kyosuke.

During the fight between Ramona and Roxanne I kept reminding myself that I needed to see if Sonic 4 had come out yet.

… It hasn’t.

As for music, all the Sex Bob-omb where written by Beck. If you get a chance to hear his original recordings (available on the soundtrack) they’re really good. I kind of wish that they had just put Beck in the movie and let him sing. I was also happy about the inclusion of the Black Lips (a new interest of mine) on the soundtrack. But we all know that The Legend of Zelda, Link to the Past stole the show for the first half of the movie.

One thing I’ve heard a lot is that Michael Cera ruined it. Honestly, I thought he did the job just fine. Scott Pilgrim is a weird character in the comics and Cera has a weird approach to his roles. For me it works as well as it really could without some serious rewriting. It seems to me that it is cool to hate Cera in that same way that people claim that Zach Galifinakis is only funny in Live at the Purple Onion. It’s just arbitrary contrarianism and I think it’s dumb.

Let go and let Cera.

But I know this review is coming out a bit after we have all seen that the movie hasn’t done that well. I guess that’s a shame. However, we do have something else Scott Pilgrim based to look forward to: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game by Ubisoft.

Honestly when I heard that Ubisoft was making the game visions of glitchy untested somewhat-okay games without endings drifted through my head (yeah, I’m talking about you Prince of Persia and Assassins Creed). I downloaded a demo and you know what it was not what I expected. Scott Pilgrim does not suffer from the Ubisoft curse.

If you played the Simpsons or the X-men arcade games you will be pretty familiar with how to play Scot Pilgrim. The animations are good reiterations of 16-bit animations by modern pixel artists. One of my personal favorites, Paul Robertson, is a great addition. I’ve been a fan of that guy’s stuff for a while.

Though I would have preferred another band other than Anamanaguchi, they did a good enough job. Personally, I think there are better chiptune artists out there but I think my opinion of Anamanaguichi is highly influenced by seeing them at BlipFest 2008. They were a little self –indulgent. But if it works I guess I can let anything go.

So if you’re unsure about the game (and you have an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 (sorry WiiWare)) download the demo and grab a friend. The multiplayer mode reminds me so much of playing the Simpsons Arcade that I couldn’t help but love it. And I think you’ll love it too.

Viva la Pixel!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Introducing the introduction

So I’m not really all that sure the best way to go about this. There are so many routes one could go with the basic introduction and none of them are my style. There’s the cutesy, tongue-in-cheek, “I’m trying to be charming, but really I’m smarmy and pandering because frankly I’m just trying too hard” angle, which works for some, just not me. Besides, the vibe I’m getting from Hrom is that he wants some intellectual thinking man’s next level shit, and that sort of thing just won’t do.

I could be sensationalist and play the part of the salesman, spouting all types of propaganda relating to the GREAT THINGS we plan on doing with our mission statement in great bold letters in the header on every page! And exclamation marks after every sentence! So you know we’re excited! About ourselves! And sentence fragments! But I’m neither in Public Relations nor Marketing. I’m not the type that wants you to be unnaturally happy and stoked about anything without real merit. That isn’t to say that I’m a pessimist who is perpetually cynical and cautious either. I’m just not artificial. It also isn’t to say that I’m lazy. There are a lot of things we’re kicking around as far as content goes, but we’ll tell you about them when they’re finalized and ready, not when they’re merely newborn hopes and dreams percolating in the brain. The point is we’ve all been teased and led around on a leash before, especially in the gaming community, where exaggeration and hyperbole are merely tools to get a game noticed. I don’t want to be that guy to anyone.

I also don’t want to be the guy who gives you every minute detail about me before you even get to say your name. But alas, that is unfortunately the entire point of this post. So please, if you are actually reading this, post a comment and introduce yourself so I don’t feel like such a pretentious self-absorbed weirdo. Trolls will be tolerated if they’re any good.

So here we go.

The Actual Introduction

My name is William. I live in Alabama with my wife, Rachel, and our two cats, Ardy and Jorma. I’m still in school at the University of South Alabama for Print Journalism, but I should be done soon. I’m 28. I play guitar and write songs occasionally. Blah blah blah.

I’ve been playing videogames since I was born, really. In my infant years, I can remember Pac-Man and Space Invaders on our Atari. I remember being completely puzzled and confused by the E.T. cartridge we had. My older brother and his friends would try to break high scores posted in the Guinness’ Book of World Records. I was too young to have decent enough motor skills to be any good at anything, but I remember being enchanted with the bleeps and bloops and primitive visuals. My favorite game was this weird Sesame Street edutainment title that came with this big blue peripheral controller that had a number pad on it. Each mini game had a matching card that was placed over the controller with different button configurations. Honestly, I can’t remember much more about it. I just remember that big blue controller more than anything. If anyone else remembers anything about that game, please don’t hesitate to drop an e-mail and refresh my memory!

The day our family got a Nintendo Entertainment System was the beginning of the end. Super Mario Bros. changed my life completely and totally. But I don’t want to go into too much detail about that, as I think childhood memories involving games will definitely be a frequently tapped resource in the future. All you really need to know now is that I love videogames and always have.

I don’t believe in grading games, outside of maybe a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, and even then I’d feel weird about it. Review scores are really only used to fuel the flame-wars between crazed fanboys/girls anyway. I don’t even agree that reviews are completely necessary really. Thanks to the internet, I can blog my experience with a game as I play it. Even then, someone out there will most certainly have a completely different experience than I did. My experience should never invalidate someone else’s experience. I suck at FPS games. Due to that, I don’t enjoy them near as much as some diehard Modern Warfare fan.

I’m not a graphics whore. If I were, I’d play more PC games. I do enjoy good graphics. I’m not some retro-elitist. It just doesn’t make or break a game for me. Like you kids out there ripping on the 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII because it isn’t true HD. Give me a break, man. It still looks awesome.

So yeah, this is getting a little long. And I could be playing something instead of writing… so that’s what I shall do.

Will Brett

Blown to Bytes

Well, where do I start? I’ve played video games ever since I can remember. We used to have a dusty old Atari that I would occasionally play Combat on when I was really young. However, my love affair with video games began with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Like many other cusp Gen-“Y”ers this is the game system that changed everything. To this day I never hesitate to pop Blaster Master or Super Mario Brothers 2 into that little grey box.

I loved games so much when I was little because it fostered imagination. I would sit and play Zelda 2 and think to myself, “I want to explore dark dungeons and slay monsters in the woods.” I would grab a wooden dowel that was my sacred weapon and I would go off crawl through a ditch or explore the woods. No adventure was ever the same and every time I went out to explore I would venture further and further away from home. It was one of the most fun times of my life.

Now I’m older and supposedly wiser.

Currently, school and work dictate my life. I did my undergraduate studies at UAB in philosophy and I’m currently working on a graduate degree in Public Health at the same school. When I’m not there I’m the Chief Operations Officer at the Metropolitan Youth Orchestras of Central Alabama as well as one of their music instructors. I have a girlfriend, she has a dog and I just became an uncle. Essentially, I grew up but that doesn’t mean I stopped gaming.

Nowadays, I can wax philosophic about the games I love. I’ll talk for hours about how Final Fantasy 7 marked the Golden Age of videogames. Or how Katamari Damacy is one of the best indicators of incommensurability between Eastern and Western cultures. Sometimes I can be pedantic and esoteric. Sometimes I don’t make any sense at all. But sometimes I can find that connection with people and their experiences in gaming.

This brings me to Blown to Bytes.

Videogame commentary is saturated with subjective observations hocked as objective truth. Magazines and blogs place games on arbitrary gradients in an attempt to sell games, influence opinions or just look cool. Personally, I think it’s pretty stupid and I hate stupid things. Blown to Bytes is videogame commentary that is supposed to be cut of a different cloth and not stupid.

Blown to Bytes is about the toil of gil farming.

Blown to Bytes is about warding off evil sorcerers in the backyard when you were young.

Blown to Bytes is about that Epic Win.

Blown to Bytes is about my experience and hopefully your experience through the medium of videogames.

Jimmy Hrom