Tag Archives: Video Games

Another Tag! Plus a challenge of my own.

Well, they’ve done it again. A while ago I was once again tagged by Red Metal to answer a few questions. Unfortunately for me, life was a bit busy and I was also playing through a lot of Astral Chain to get out the review.  But I’m ready now! so here we go. These are fun so I hope you enjoy them. And give Red Metal a follow. They put out some rather in-depth long-form reviews.

 

Here are the questions I get to answer:

  1. Have you ever been involved in an emergency situation (e.g. a burning building/an earthquake)?
  2. What is the worst film you’ve ever seen in theaters?
  3. What is the best film you’ve ever seen in theaters?
  4. What is the strangest method by which you discovered a work you enjoy?
  5. What do you feel is the greatest compilation of collected works in your collection (of games/films/music/books/etc.)?
  6. Have you ever re-experienced a work you enjoyed a long time ago only to determine it has not aged well?
  7. Have you ever re-experienced a work you hated (or were indifferent towards) a long time ago only to warm up to it?
  8. What is your favorite opening theme to a television show?
  9. Excluding Western comic books, what series with a single, ongoing narrative do you feel has (or had) gone on for far too long? In other words, I’m not counting shows or other forms of media with entirely self-contained episodes such as The Simpsons or anthological works such as The Twilight Zone with this question.
  10. Have you ever been invested in a series only to be heartbroken when it was cut short with no resolution?
  11. Do you prefer hardcover or paperback books?

 

1.) The closest thing I can say I’ve come to an emergency situation is coming home as a kid to find our home had been broken into. If it’s never happened to you, it’s an awful feeling. Not only did someone potentially take some of your most prized possessions, the feeling of violation really takes a toll on you. You feel your stomach sink completely out of yourself. You fear they may be around somewhere. Your mind really goes to dark places. Even though the second time there was evidence they were scared off by our arrival and they dropped something they stole from a previous robbery we still feared they may come back. It sucks and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

2.) The worst film I’ve seen in theatres? It’s probably a bit cliche to say at this point. But I’m going to say Mac And Me. You can find all of the YouTube rants in existence to go over how bad it really is. But even seeing it on TV isn’t nearly the same. Again, I was a kid. My Father thought, “Hey my kids liked E.T. this is being advertised as an E.T. like, let’s go see it.” When you’re a kid going to the movies is a thing of wonder. Even a mediocre movie is something you don’t experience the same way at home. We all came out kind of disappointed we’d essentially seen a 90-minute product placement vehicle with an uninteresting and sometimes incoherent story. While it isn’t the worst movie you’ll ever see, it isn’t good, and it’s made worse in a theatrical setting.

3.) By contrast, this is a very hard question. Because I grew up at a time when a lot of good things were coming out. Star Wars, Back To The Future, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. There were tons of great films. But I’m going to say The Last Starfighter for a few reasons. Is it the *best* movie I’ve seen? No. And from a critical standpoint, it might not be the best I had going to the movies. But from an entertainment standpoint, I think it probably was with The Neverending Story right behind it. I can still vividly remember the day I went to see it. We had been pretty good all week, and my parents had a little extra to have a family day out. We went to Chuck E. Cheese (this was at a time when the food wasn’t completely terrible and they had actual arcade games. Have you ever taken your nieces or nephews to one these days? It’s ticket redemption prize machines. Where is Berzerk? Where is Pac-Man? Hell, where is Street Fighter II?) After that we went to Toys R Us where I got a Roton for my Skeletor to grind heroes into gibs with. Then met my Aunt for dinner and saw The Last Starfighter on the big screen. And any child of the 80s will tell you, alien Robert Preston showing up to tell you that getting the hi-score on a spaceship rail shooter meant that you got to defend the universe from an army of reptoids with bloodlust was one awesome scenario. And even rewatching it today is one hell of a fun time. Sure there are some hokey moments. But on the whole, it’s a pretty fantastic popcorn movie. Perhaps since they tagged me to answer these questions Red Metal should revisit the movie and write about it? 

4.) The strangest method I’ve discovered an awesome piece of work? Probably the day I left on the TV as background noise on my day off several years ago now. I heard a funny line of dialogue and before long had become an instant fan of Regular Show.

5.) Best compilation? That’s tough to say because while a lot of them are great they come with some baggage. I’d love to say Unreal Anthology, as it gives you every major Unreal and Unreal Tournament entry as well as a partial soundtrack album. But, UT2004 is missing a major bonus content patch. It also came out ahead of UT3 so that game isn’t in the box. I guess in lieu of that I’m going to say the Metal Slug Anthology on Nintendo Wii. It truly does include every game in the series up to that point, the emulation is rather good, and it costs far less than buying each entry digitally on storefronts. It’s certainly cheaper than getting a working Neo Geo and all of the cartridges.

6.) I wouldn’t say they haven’t aged well, but their control schemes have been far surpassed so it takes some time getting reacquainted with them and for this spot, I’ll say Rare’s two groundbreaking console shooters Goldeneye 007, and Perfect Dark. Still fantastic games, but having spent decades on mice, keyboards, gyroscopic controllers, and thumbsticks these games take some getting used to. Other N64 shooters fared better using the D-pad or C- buttons as a stand-in for WASD, and the thumbstick as a mouse.

7.) A game I changed my mind on for the better? Again, going back to Frogs & Flies. My Grandmother gave it to me one year for my birthday as a child. I faked a smile and thanked her but inside I was disappointed by the lack of killer robots, spaceships, and lasers. But later that night after all of the other toys and games had been played I fired it up. Only to find that it is one of the most surprisingly cutthroat and challenging multiplayer games ever made. Even today you may think it looks primitive and the premise bland. But Frogs & Flies is amazing. Pure one on one competitive bliss. Honestly, if an updated version showed up tomorrow I wouldn’t think twice about trying it out.

8.) This is a two-way tie because they’re both so great. He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe because it’s MOTU. It sets up everything you need to know in 60 seconds, and that Shuki Levy penned music is just great. Right next to He-Man is Magnum P.I. You can put that Mike Post music as a backdrop to anything and it instantly becomes awesome. Don’t believe me? Put it on while doing your dishes. Driving to work. Taking out the garbage. Vacuuming. Dusting. And it was one of the coolest shows ever made to boot.

9.) I don’t know any serialized show has gone on too long, as long as someone behind it still thinks of compelling stories within the scope of its universe it’s fine. Really this question is about jumping the shark moments where things even betray the series in question with something so over-the-top it’s not even believable by its own standards. I don’t watch much TV these days though save for some Pro Wrestling, and reruns. And while there are some stupid things in Wrestling programs, it’s not enough to want the operations to stop doing shows altogether. Just to wrap up the bad stories, and get better bookers to tell good ones. That said, I personally do not see the fascination with these Reality TV shows.

10.) Who hasn’t? Nearly anyone who played the two Half-Life games and their episodic add-ons will know this pain. I can also throw The Conduit and Conduit 2 into this category. I enjoyed both of these and although the latter began to veer into the very silly, I still kind of wanted to see where High Voltage Software was going to go with it.

11.) I’m of two minds. I like Hardcovers. They hold up better. They stick out nicely. But Paperbacks are smaller, cost less and allow you to have more books in a smaller amount of space. I guess it depends on the book and if it’s tied to a series I’m heavily invested in or something that just really captured my imagination and got me to really love it.

And I suppose with that I’ll come up with some questions for a couple of people.

1.) When you’ve had 1 hour of sleep and need to do a full-time shift do you reach for: Coffee, tea, soda, or something else to stay awake and why?

2.) What is a video game/series you really wish had more attention than it does and why?

3.) Pair your favorite game with a proper wine or beer.

4.) Pick one game that came out “Before your time” that you think looks interesting and tell us why.

5.) Pick one game that is outside of your comfort zone that you think you might be willing to check out.

And I nominate:

Red Metal

The Otaku Judge

MoeGamer

PlayLegit

The Well-Red Mage

Yheela

HungryGoriya

Shameful Narcissist

Lightning Ellen

Esperdreams

Mike at XVGM

sirhcman

Whoever takes up the challenge, I await to see your responses!

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Empire Game Expo Recap

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Over the last several years, I’ve visited ConnectiCon in July. It’s in my backyard. It’s a smaller show but every year the names become bigger. It’s got a sense of community, and it’s generally become something I look forward to. Unfortunately, this year with some stuff going on in my personal life and some shake-ups at work I wasn’t able to put in for the time off this year for the 3 to 4 days to visit. It looked like I wasn’t going to be able to get out to a convention this summer.

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But I unexpectedly won a ticket from Mike Levy for Empire Game Expo. And fortunately, I was able to get my schedule reworked to compensate for the one day. So I printed my QR code and directions for the trek to New York’s Capital. I hadn’t been that far into NY since I was a kid. Getting there was fairly easy for me. It was a jaunt from I-84 to I-87. A long, “L” shaped two-hours or so on the road. There’s a lot of beauty along that ride. A lot of scenery. That said, there were some really shaky moments in the early leg. I-84 needs a fair amount of work in my neck of the woods. It needs even more, the closer you get to Newburgh. But I’ve begun to ramble.

The convention was in The Red Lion Hotel in Albany, NY. The venue was actually quite nice. Clean, Spacious, and there’s even a massive indoor pool for those staying there. There was a slew of old, and current consoles set up in free play areas, as well as a rather impressive vintage computer exhibit set up where you could play on old computers.

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Imagine my surprise when I saw both models of the Commodore 64, both running on vintage Commodore monitors, running C64 games. Moreover, they had other classic machines like the Atari ST and Apple II running too. If that wasn’t enough, there was a bench filled with old DOS, and Windows configurations ranging from the days of the XT to the days of the Pentium III. It warmed my heart to see the classic computer formats get some well-deserved attention.

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I also got some time in with the Atari 2600 version of Missile Command and had a respectable score no less! There were many of the consoles you would hope to see at a convention, present and operational. There were also a handful of arcade cabinets above the pool area. It felt a bit anemic though as there weren’t very many games to choose from. After getting home and doing some research this wasn’t really the show’s fault. It’s whatever machines the hotel decided to have up year-round for guests.

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In addition to that, there were a few games that there were tournaments for.  There were Tournaments for Goldeneye 007, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. going on. There were also Events for Tetris, Apex Legends, Fortnite, along with a couple of fighting game tournaments for Tekken 7, and Street Fighter II Turbo. Not a bad selection of titles for competitive players.

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I did manage to get into a couple of panels. Mike Levy and Russ Lyman had a joint panel together talking about DIY projects, as well as going over some tips for people getting into collecting old games. Russ talked a bit more about how he made some of the cosmetic modifications to his car. Like making knobs for the stick shift, inexpensively painting the car, and how he had the custom decals made. He also brought up some simple, yet innovative ways to hang your photos, posters, and other framed art. Mike discussed simpler modifications one can do to their devices that don’t require solder jobs. He also shared some handy tips on removing used game store price tags from the DVD case overlays commonly found on games. He also brought up the importance of wrapping your wired controllers, and ac adapters properly. Both guests pointed to the episodes on their respective channels on these topics.

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Mike also had the opportunity to host a panel with Rodney Alan Greenblat. A renowned artist who you likely know as the father of PaRappa The Rapper. It was a fascinating panel. Not only for fans of the games and the stories behind their creation. But because of the long body of his work and some of the personal stories he spoke of. Mike Levy will have the entire panel up on his channel in the coming days. But some of the highlights for me were his work with bands. In addition to the sculptures and paintings, he’s done prior to being involved in game development he has done many album covers for musicians and artists. Two that really stood out to me were Shonen Knife and Puffy AmiYumi. 

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I did get to ask him about some of the differences between working on art for musicians and game development. And he pointed out that more than any other medium, video games were far more collaborative. While often times, a rock band may have a creative vision he or another artist has to work within, that’s about all the hands involved. In most cases anyway. With a video game project, there are artists to work with, animators to work with to ensure everyone is happy with how things move. Sound effects teams and voice actors have to have input or information to work with to ensure the voices properly portray the visuals, and mannerisms of the characters we interact with. That’s before factoring what executives and legal teams may do.

Someone else asked about the omission of a Hell-themed stage in Um Jammer Lammy. This was one such case. The executives in Japan and Europe liked how the game was coming along just fine. But the North American branch wasn’t behind the idea of a Hell level. So they pushed for it to be changed. As a result, the team was told they had to create an entirely new level for North American players. Which proved to be challenging because the game was nearing the end of production.

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He also talked a bit about his works on books and art about Buddhism. As well as his shop in Catskill, NY where he has a lot of his art on display. It’s open three days a week. He still works fairly regularly on new art and other projects. He also would love to do another PaRappa game, but due to the way, the rights fall it requires the approval of several decision makers. And many of the folks who worked on the old games aren’t with Sony anymore. Still, he holds out hope he’ll be able to get out another game in the series.

Overall, a fantastic panel. I didn’t talk about nearly everything in it, so I highly recommend you check it out for yourself when Mike gets it uploaded to his channel.

I didn’t get into any of the other panels, but Cherami Leigh and Mela Lee were there. Both of whom are well known in the realm of voice acting. Many anime titles and video games feature their work. Mela Lee was featured recently as Jade in Mortal Kombat 11.  There wasn’t much of anything in terms of food in the convention. But one vendor there was called Bard & Baker cafe, they made some fantastic pastries. I bought a carrot cake muffin which was able to tide me over until later. Their core business in Troy, NY combines a board game center and a cafe’. If you’re in that area and like having some good food while you play Stratego with a friend, check them out. 

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Speaking of vendors, there was a room filled to the brim with vendors selling everything from retro games to collectibles to crafts. I picked up a couple of things while I was there. A shop called Infinite Lives was there and among the slew of vintage games they had stood one lone copy of Polaris for the Atari 2600. This was one of the fabled Tigervision games. A line of games by the company that would become Tiger Electronics. This particular one is based on the Taito arcade game of the same name. And while this game isn’t nearly as tough or as expensive to find as the coveted River Patrol, it isn’t something you’ll see very often. As such, I pretty much had to get it and the price was fair.

A couple of vendors I recognized as they were friends and acquaintances from Connecticut. Antoinette who you might recognize from The Best Spuds channel does a lot of really great art. Glossed Over was there too. They take the best looking ads from old magazines and turn them into something you can easily frame. I picked up a Japanese Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion ad, and a gorgeous Sin & Punishment: Star Successor spot from them. Russ Lyman and Mike Levy shared a booth where they had some art and retro stuff of their own for sale.

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But the biggest purchase I made actually came from Underworld Gamez. This is an organization that puts fighting game tournaments together at conventions. I didn’t realize they had a lot of merchandise. However, I was elated when I found a pair of Callie and Marie plushies for well below the online prices. It was the perfect gift for someone other than myself, so I hope they’re enjoying them.

I did want to point out a couple of nice booths despite not buying anything from them because they did wonderful work. Toying Around is a store in Johnstown, NY. that deals in a lot of pop culture merch and games. But they also had some nice silk screened trucker hats. And while I didn’t see a print that worked for me, they appeared to be higher quality than I usually see at these sorts of events. Plus the representative was a rather friendly fellow. Another one was Sticky Kitty Studios. This booth had a lot of handmade crafts, but it also had these really nice custom winter hats decked out with video game graphics. If they pop up at a con near you go look at their stuff.

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All in all a pretty fun time. And from what I understand this is a spin-off convention from the much larger Retro Game Con which is held further west in the Syracuse, NY. area. For an inaugural year, this was quite a nice convention. It had compelling guests, a large number of vendors, and a few great tournaments. And it had a vintage computer gaming area. Something even some larger shows do not have. I didn’t even get to mention the Video Game Trivia event, Cosplay contests, Board Game Tournaments, or that Super Thrash Bros. was there to play a show. Extra Life also raffled off some great stuff for charity.

If I were to suggest anything for next year it would be to bring in a wider selection of arcade cabinets rather than relying on the hotel’s small segment. There was an after party too, but with the long commute ahead of me I didn’t stay for that. But ultimately I had a nice experience. I wish everybody involved the best. This has the potential to become a great event for anyone in that part of the State of NY, as well as visitors to the area. If you live in upstate NY and have longed for a local show to go to, do check it out if you can. There’s at least something for everyone.

Things that most intrigued me from E3 this year.

Well, another year, another E3. Per usual there has been a slew of major announcements, directs, and panels. There’s a lot of talk about the Nintendo, and Square Enix presentations being the highlights of the year. While there’s no question there were a lot of major revelations and surprises that came from these two juggernauts, there was a lot of stuff overall. And while it’s true that some of the major panels turned out to be duds, there were some big titles that came out of the least hyped pressers.

E3 may not be as exciting as it used to be, but it still remains one of the biggest game-themed conventions around thanks to its long-standing relationship with being an industry, and press themed show. In recent years they’ve allowed fans to attend, but it is still geared far more toward showing off products than it is toward fandom.

In any case, every year I find myself more interested in some of the more obscure games than many of the popular ones. This year seemed to follow that trend for me, though there were still a couple of huge hits that squeaked their way in. In any event, read on. Maybe some of these will pique your interest too.

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10.) AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

A lot of folks were probably way more hyped about Final Fantasy than a computer component. But for those who tuned into the AMD conference this year, this was a major revelation. At $499 it’s price competitive with as well as comparable to the Intel i9 9920k.  They also showed off the benefit of extra cores when showing off the 8 core Intel i9 9900k, and 12 core AMD 3900X chips running Division 2, with OBS, on maxed settings. While the game itself ran comparably, the stream quality was night and day. If you’re a streamer who is going to be in the market for a new build in July, this may very well be worth your consideration. Especially when considering the current 12 core Intel solution is $1200 as of this writing.

 

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09.) No More Heroes III

While Travis Strikes Again wasn’t fantastic, it wasn’t bad enough to sour me on the franchise. No More Heroes 1, had a great story, fun characters, and dark humor. Bogged down by a barren overworld. No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle was streamlined and a terrific hack n’ slash game as a result. All we really got was a trailer with a glimpse of familiar gesture moves. But it was well put together. It veered toward the stuff we loved about the first two entries on the Wii. So I’m cautiously optimistic that Suda51 will deliver.

 

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08.) ASTRAL CHAIN

We previously only had a glimpse of this one, but the expanded footage made this game look even cooler. Giant robot monsters. Robot Police Officers. Fast-paced combat that Platinum Games is known for. The aesthetics are bombastic. The visual presentation is something that gets a resounding “Yes.”. Hopefully, this game continues Platinum Games’ tradition of quality action games.

 

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07.) Daemon X Machina

Last year Nintendo showed off a quick trailer of this one which looked amazing. Then they put out a short playable demo that gave us the basic concept. We know there will be a customizable character you can play as and that the system for doing so is deep. We know that you’ll be piloting giant mechs and that during missions you can even get out of them to fight on foot. The controls needed some fine tuning but other than that it felt like it would be a solid action game. This year’s trailer showed off a lot more. It looks even more expansive and the action looks even more hectic than before. Here’s hoping the extra time made everything that much better across the board.

 

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06.) Enter The Gungeon: House Of The GunDead

Devolver Digital always seems to have a great conference every year as they’re able to find a way to tell people what they’re releasing candidly while lampooning current trends the entire time. They showed off a few cool looking indie games but then they dropped a bombshell. The company is bringing out an actual arcade cabinet based on Enter The Gungeon. This game is a rail shooter in the vein of Operation Wolf, but with full-on light guns. It looks awesome. While I don’t have space to house it or the budget to buy one, I am interested to see one in action. Hopefully, a convention like RetroWorldExpo or Portland Retro Gaming Expo may have one on display someday.

 

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05.) The Messenger: Picnic Panic

The Messenger was one of the coolest takes on the Metroidvania in a while. It had fantastic action, a great story and terrific time-travel themed feature that was used very well. If you still haven’t played it, you should. It’s awesome. For those who have played through the game and were left wanting more Devolver also revealed that the expansion pack to the game will be coming soon. Plus it will be free! The trailer shows off a new beach themed area, new enemies and even a cool octopus boss fight. Any excuse to fire up more of The Messenger is a good one. Let’s see what Sabotage has in store.

 

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04.) Cyberpunk 2077

While RPGs aren’t my go-to genre, I can appreciate a good one and CD Projekt Red‘s next outing looks like it could be as big as their Witcher franchise. The expanded footage they showed off during Microsoft’s conference gave some nice details on the storyline where we’ll be playing the role of a mercenary in a dystopian future. The facial animations were quite impressive and the action looked great. This one may veer toward the Action RPG than the Witcher games did but even if that turns out to be true it will hopefully have enough to sate fans of the slower methodical pace of traditional RPGs too.

 

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03.) Outriders

While it’s hard to say how this is going to turn out as Square’s segment on it showed very little outside of a prerendered trailer, I am intrigued. For a couple of reasons. First, People Can Fly is a studio that has always made fast-paced First-Person Shooters of a very high caliber. Painkiller was an amazing FPS with a Smash T.V. feel. It was like a darker version of Croteam’s Serious Sam. Years later they would find themselves working with Epic and EA where they made Bulletstorm. This was another high-quality game that felt like Half-Life 2’s linear style of action game in one sense. You played through different set pieces as the story demanded. But on the other hand, the action felt a lot like Platinum Games’ MadWorld. You had to find creative ways in the environment to dispatch your enemies for big rewards. Oddly enough, Steven Blum voiced the protagonists of both Bulletstorm and MadWorld. Outriders will be a completely different kind of experience. It already seems like there will be some sort of hero or class system. But the character design looks really cool. Especially the monsters you’ll fight which remind me of the old Inhumanoids toys. Couple those toys with People Can Fly’s track record and we may see something special.

 

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02.) The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild Part II

Yeah, I know everyone is pretty much excited for this one. But seeing how great the first one turned out coupled with the imagery from the teaser, you can bet I’ll keep an eye on this one. There was a lot of Zelda shown off this year between the reboot of Link’s Awakening (which looks adorable by the way. I love the claymation art style going on), and Caydence Of Hyrule. But this one already looks pretty amazing. It’s probably a good two years out, but it looks great.

 

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01.) Chivalry II.

I’m going to preface this by saying that no, the original game wasn’t perfect. It had its share of bugs. When you made it to the highest level of play there were ways to exploit the movement system to do things the developers didn’t think possible. And while the expansion pack was fun, the lack of a true Team Objective mode meant many fans merely dabbled in it whereas in the base game they poured scores of hours into it. But in the grand scheme of things Chivalry was, and still is one of the most enjoyable competitive First-Person action games of recent memory. It did something few other games thought of at the time: Take the objective focus of a Modern Military Shooter like Battlefield and change the setting to the Medieval period. And while the game really veers into the Hollywood action side of things by portraying everything similarly to old time castle siege movies, there is some realism. The weapons in it existed. The missions take liberties with some of the dark war practices of that part of history.

So the original game was a blast in spite of all of its faults. This game looks to build upon the original’s solid foundation by adding new features. You’ll get to ride horses bringing essentially vehicular combat to the game. You’ll have newer objectives apparently. And they claim that the slashing action is being completely overhauled so some of the cheap looking stuff that could be done in the first game won’t be replicated here. I loved the original game so much that I put hundreds of hours into it. But as much as I love Chivalry I am tempering expectations a bit. The 1-year exclusivity with the Epic Games storefront is going to be a turn off for some. And while Mirage: Arcane Warfare was a fantastic take on the Hero shooter, it was a commercial failure. One can only hope that didn’t leave too bad a taste in the mouths of some buyers. All of those caveats aside, I really do hope Chivalry II lives up to Torn Banner Studios‘ advertised features. The trailer looked fantastic and something fans of the original 2012 release have wanted for a long time. It’s due out next year so hopefully, it shows up ready for primetime.

 

So there you go. Ten of the things that I was really invested in seeing. By no means is this complete, but these are the ones that stayed the freshest in my mind. But how about you folks out there? Feel free to comment below! Perhaps there’s something I missed or overlooked!

Competitive Awareness

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Recently, professional tournament player ThatSrb2DUDE made a video commentary about growing a community. In this case the competitive side of Splatoon 2. As someone who used to play in an Unreal Tournament clan back in the days of that franchise, I had a few thoughts about his points. As well as some things of my own that I couldn’t possibly reply on in a mere tweet on Twitter.

In the commentary, he brings up the fact that as Splatoon 2 is nearing the last run of updates, and will soon be in the final version of the game going forward. Because of that, some competitive players fear the competitive side of the game may go away. He goes on to tell people that rather than go around dooming the game, they should create awareness of the game. Make videos discussing aspects of what they love or don’t. Making debates about strategies, or any other number of topics about the game. And he very passionately talks about that content potentially getting people interested or even keeping people interested in the game.

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The potential for a bigger competitive scene in Splatoon 2 is absolutely there. The game has sold over 8 million copies and people are still buying it. There’s a lot of people playing it, and there’s no shortage of competitors when I’ve ventured into the game’s Ranked modes. Even if I never seem to get beyond the B ranks. But I digress.

He is right though. If you love a game and want people to look into it, you’ll have to bring it up. And it’s no secret that I’ve really liked playing the Splatoon series. The original and current entry have both been quite phenomenal. Still, while I’ve talked about the game a lot, I don’t cover this game exclusively here. But his video did make me think about some larger points. Some things I remember from my Unreal Tournament days are applicable to this topic, and even some things from other genres. Maybe you’ll agree with some of this. Maybe disagree. But I’m going to lay it out there anyway.

I’ll also preface this by saying while I was in a pretty good clan, we were by no means the top players in the world. Much like Splatoon did, Unreal Tournament really grabbed me. It had fantastic weapons. It had a wonderful aesthetic, and it had something no other FPS at the time did: A focus on movement. To become good at Unreal Tournament you couldn’t just simply master knowing the maps, or what gun was best for what situation. You had a dodge system. Mastering dodges was the best way to avoid projectiles and even get around maps faster. You could diagonally short hop down halls. Roll out of the way of missiles, and more.

The sequels 2003, and 2004 were more fantastical and added newer modes. But they also made the movement even more important. Adding greater distances, dodge jumps, and crazy animations that made characters harder to hit. Somewhere along the line, I decided that I just wanted to be good at the game. So I practiced and practiced. But I found simply doing this wasn’t helping. So I decided to take baby steps. I decided to get proficient with one weapon and give myself a small number of frags every deathmatch.

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I chose a weapon nobody seemed to use. The Bio Rifle. It shot little blobs of goo. If you held the secondary button though, it would charge a giant blob using all of its ammo. Often times this would kill people in one hit. Thing is, it was slow, and you had to have a great ability to lead opponents. It took time, but I would eventually consistently be in the upper half of the scoreboard.

By around 2005, I had played a lot on a server called The Super Witch server, where a lot of regulars noticed me. Again, I wasn’t great, but they were intrigued by how well I did with the Bio Rifle, before long, I was in the mXc Maximum Carnage clan. We played late night scrims with other clans. We were all really invested in the game, and by 2007 when the sequel came out things petered out. The new game changed some mechanics many in the community didn’t like. It changed the aesthetics to mimic Gears Of War more too. It was still an amazing game, but it didn’t have the staying power the old games had.

Be that as it may, I can see some parallels. Getting new people to embrace the game is going to be the first major goal. This is true of any game. Again, the potential for Splatoon 2 is definitely there in the sales numbers alone. One factor in this is what ThatSrb2DUDE talks about when he mentions content. Sadly, most console games don’t have mods. But that is one of the ways we kept the UT games going as fans. Sure, internet video would have been a Godsend back then, but mods did the same thing. If you were playing UT, and a friend came by you could load up custom levels. In fact, the second game came with the Unreal Engine utility if you bought a certain version. I actually got invested enough in the game to attempt making my own maps for Maximum Carnage. I went to Borders, (I miss that bookstore) bought a 900-page textbook on it, and tried to learn the basics. I figured out enough to make very blocky, poorly textured maps. But you know, other players who knew what they were doing liked my layouts. So a few of our members took them and polished them up. Lighting effects, some terrain, some modeling, and they ended up on map rotation.

Thing is if you love Splatoon 2 or any game you don’t have to be a master to contribute to the fandom around it. And growing that fandom can increase the number of people who want to play more seriously. Back in the day, there were a lot of Unreal Tournament fans making wallpapers, icons, maps, and mutators. You might not be able to mod Splatoon 2 but people have done the former. Over the last few years, a lot of talented people have done extensive animation. Even small bands have covered songs from the two games’ soundtracks.

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Where am I going with all of this? The point is you don’t have to be a professional gamer to potentially bring in a player who may want to play at a professional level. Like Unreal Tournament, that kind of stuff can get people to at least look at the title. To see what all of the fuss is about. Another thing you can do is simply play the game with friends or relatives. Bring the Switch over to their house and let them try it out. Talk about the basics with them. If they find it fun, they might go pick it up for themselves. Sure, you can stream the game, but people will generally keep coming back to see you more than a game. If they like it, they may recommend it to people they know. Keep in mind that doesn’t guarantee they’ll love it as much as you do. But somebody else they know may.

Of course people already hopelessly devoted can talk endlessly about tricks, strategies, and metagame topics. But a lot of that is going to appeal to people who have already decided they want to put in the extra time to master the game. This again is where someone who doesn’t mind talking about the beginning paces can be key. Potential newcomers to any game can find even dipping their toe into competitive environments daunting. The perceived complexity can bring a bit of apprehension or frustration to someone coming into a new game green. Especially if that game has been out for a while. This is why veterans should be mindful of new players. That doesn’t mean going easy on them or letting a newcomer win. That sort of thing doesn’t make it fun for the long-time fan plus, it can even feel condescending to the person who just started the game.

But it does mean letting go of some of the pride. We’ve all run into that player in our favorite game that has to let everyone know they’re top dog. That person who has forgotten that at one point they too were once a beginner. That person who will deride anybody who may suggest something that may potentially help someone just getting into the game at their detriment.

But those newcomers looking to become a competitive player need to also remember that it isn’t going to come easy. Splatoon 2 may look family friendly, and cute. But it is just as cutthroat as any other team-focused shooter. You have to have some self-confidence going into those ranked modes. But you also have to have humility. You’re probably going to lose an awful lot of matchups before you fully grasp the nuances. “How did I get shot by 20 missiles already?” The other side filled up their specials at the same time. “I shot that guy point blank! How is he not dead?” Did you see what perks they have equipped? This is where you’re also going to have to analyze your own habits, find where you messed up, and try to come up with contingency plans or ways to avoid the same situation.

And you shouldn’t give up. When things get rough remember that while you’re trying to be the best, it is still a game. Unless you’re in the midst of a tournament because you got to the professional level, and have big money riding on a win, a loss means nothing. But each loss can give you valuable data that you can learn from. Going again, back to my days in UT, (specifically UT2k4) It took me months of playing on Deck 16, to come up with the best possible path through the map. Memorizing the four main choke points, and how to shoot down the redeemer with a glob of slime. Did that mean I was always going to be at the top of the scoreboard? No. In fact, everyone who spent a lot of time in the Unreal Tournament games had a very good idea of how to move in that map as it was one of the most popular maps. But I did learn what rooms to avoid, or how to use trick jumps to escape a certain situation. If I had thrown up my arms, and pressed CTRL+ALT+DEL I would have never gotten as far as I had. That isn’t to say I never got angry. But I didn’t leave mid-match. I finished a grueling round.

Rage Quitting is also something you should never do. It doesn’t look good on you, and it drives away anybody who might have tried to help. Splatoon 2, in particular, is also a game that can turn on a dime. If you watch some of the Championship matches you’ll see matches that seemed like decisive victories for one team, completely change in the last twenty seconds. Even if you’re not having the best day, you at your worst is still better helping to the other three players, than not having a fourth at all.

This is applicable to all kinds of games. One of the bigger names on YouTube, Maximillian_DOOD talked about this a long time ago. But it’s still applicable here. Just as it was applicable to me back in my Unreal Tournament days. I can tell you, I can be a sore loser. Nobody likes to lose. But it is so much better to finish the round, then go calm down, than to take the ball and go home mid-match.

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But if you can roll with the punches in a game you really enjoy, over time you will improve. It’s like anything else. If you play regularly, eventually you’ll get better. A competitive environment isn’t easy, but it isn’t supposed to be. Don’t go in expecting to win or lose, go in doing everything you can to win but making small, reasonable goals that are more important. “I’m going to get five splats.” “I’m going to learn the side path in Walleye Warehouse better.” “I’m going to get better at finding, and destroying enemy beacons.” You might not get the win, but they’ll get you one step closer. Making the first time you do get that win to feel even more satisfying.

Anyway, I realize I’ve been rambling, not all of it may seem related, and I don’t know how much this helps. But if you love a certain competitive game like Splatoon 2, and want to grow a competitive community talk about the game with anyone who will listen. Be welcoming to newcomers, while helping them realize it takes a little bit of time, and practice to become better than average. If you have a skill apply some of that to the fandom. It’s part of the reason why fighting games made a resurgence, and even why arena FPS attempts have come out of the indie space. I have no doubt there will be another Splatoon, as both the original Wii U game and the Switch sequel have done so well for a relatively new I.P. But ThatSrb2DUDE raises a great point. If you like a game, don’t cast a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom on it. Celebrate it. Have fun with it. Share it with as many fellow players, and collectors as possible. Also, if you are competitively minded and Splatoon 2 intrigues you check out his channel.

Until next time…

STAAAAY FRESH!

Another 10 great beers to pair with games

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I apologize for the lack of updates last week. When you crash your car, you tend to do a lot of phone tag on the free days until it’s time to get the thing into the body shop. And no before you ask, what I’m going to talk about in a paragraph was not a factor. It wasn’t a horrible accident, and everyone walked away fine. But now I’m paying the price for not paying enough attention. Also to rent this Nissan while my Dodge is in the shop.

Anyway, a while ago for something a bit different I combined my interest in gaming, with my interest in beer. It went over fairly well, though some pointed out I could have had a wider variety of genres. India Pale Ale was, and still is the king of the hill these days. But there are plenty of great Stouts, Porters, Lagers, Pilsners, Ales, out there too. For a while I’ve been thinking about taking another crack at this idea so here we go. Another ten great beers to check out. Again, I have to preface this  with the fact that not all of these will be available to you. Unfortunately the world of distribution is rather convoluted between contracts, and each State’s regulations. Still, if you do see one of these, pick it up!

10.) Armada brewing – Liberty Abandoned Stout

Armada is a small but growing outfit out of New Haven, and could easily take half the slots in this feature. They make a lot of great stuff in any style you can think of. One of their best is also one of the best stouts I can recommend. It’s thick, rich, with notes of chocolate, and coffee. It’s also 10% ABV which packs a wallop. But it packs that wallop without tasting boozy. It’s the perfect kind of wallop to nurse through long sessions of a JRPG. Perhaps one of the longer Final Fantasy games, or something in the Xenoverse.

09.) Sloop brewing – Sloop Juice Bomb IPA

Based out of Hopewell Junction, NY. Sloop has two major locations, one of which is built upon the former IBM semiconductor plant in Fishkill, NY. So right away there’s a hint of PC Gaming potential. All of their beers are pretty great, but their attempt at a New England style India Pale Ale is a nearly flawless performance. The hazy textured beer doesn’t lie. You do get a figurative bomb of juicy taste in every gulp. And it transitions to a hoppy bitterness at just the right level. Their Brew Master must be some kind of evil genius. Which makes this a wonderful pairing for some vintage DOOM, and Quake. At 6.5% ABV it’s not so heavy you’ll be too slow to react, but also strong enough for fighting imps, pink demons, and cacodemons.

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08.) Clown Shoes – Octofest Oktoberfest Lager

Clown Shoes has a long storied history of marrying pretty great brews, with over the top label art. In the fall, they make their own North American take on the German staple. This one has just the right amount of spice, and sweetness atop the light, delicious lager you would expect such a brewery to make. In my opinion, it’s a good step or two up from many of the other North American takes on the style, many of which are also quite nice. But this one is just that much better. And it has a giant Octopus on it drinking eight pints of it. This was the obvious pairing for me last fall when playing in the Halloween Splatfest for Splatoon 2. With another coming up this weekend I wish I had some left. That said, if you’re an Inkling, or Octoling looking for something in six months, make like Marie, and DRINK FRESH! While staying fresh of course.

07.) Weyerbacher – Sunday Mole Stout

Here we go, another crazy, high-octane stout on the list. This one from Weyerbacher, a Pennsylvanian brewery known for crazy, high-octane beer in general. Based off of their already solid Sunday Morning Stout, this variant adds a spicy kick, and subtracts the barrel aging. The result is something less syrupy, but equally potent, and spicier. So it brings the heat. Not too much though, where other beers go overkill on spicy peppers, or barely bring any to the table this one finds a great balance. You’ll get the chocolate notes you love, a bit of spicy kick, and a bit of roasted aftertaste. At basically 12% ABV it isn’t something for fast paced NES Batman. But it is something you can take your time with as you take your time with the Batman Arkham games you have in your backlog. Plus it also has an evil clown on the cover waiting to be served Bruce Wayne on a silver platter.

06.) Narragansett – Lager

Not every beer needs to be eccentric. But for many people the mass market stuff everyone sees on TV just won’t do. It’s fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. But we’ve been spoiled by the independent brewing revolution. Still, sometimes you’re in the mood for something that isn’t complicated, but want something better than the bog standard too. Enter Rhode Island legends Narragansett. Their Lager is just that. A great Lager. No gimmicks, just succinctness in beer form. Which makes this the perfect beer to buy for get together events where you’ll be playing Warlords, Mario Kart, Mario Party, You Don’t Know Jack, Wii Sports, or Monster Prom. (And yes, you DO want to have 4-player Warlords at a party.)

05.) Victory – Golden Monkey

Belgian style ales may not have the popularity of other genres these days (at least not in my area), but that doesn’t mean one should rule them out. Another Pennsylvanian brewery Victory, makes one such beer. This one has a terrific hint of sweetness on the backend of a light, and crisp texture. At 9.5% ABV it isn’t quite the wrecking ball some of the other entries are, but it does give a nice punch, while being relaxing. It’s pretty versatile in terms of game selection too. Whatever game you’re in the mood to play, it’ll probably go along with it. So I’m rolling with the obvious  pairing: Golden Monkey, and Golden Axe. Plus it’s by Victory, and you’ll want to wash down Death Adder with it. That was a terrible joke. But the beer isn’t.

04.) Collective Arts – Stranger Than Fiction

Deep within Ontario Canada, lies a brewery that often seeks out artists from all over the world to find art work for its decorative labels. They don’t look to get it Scott-Free either. They buy it, and promote it. But they don’t just sell fancy cans, with art by really talented people. They fill those cans with delicious beer. One of those beers is a really nice North American porter, a dark beer with a nice aroma, and notes of chocolate balanced by a nice hop composition. It’s a nice one to have when playing some classic shmups like Gradius, R-Type, or even Zaxxon!

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03.) City Steam – Starlit

City Steam Brewery is in the heart of downtown Hartford where they make some of my favorite brews. One of their newer ones is this experimental New England style Pale Ale made with wheat, and oats, while having citrus, and mango notes at the same time. And at only 5.5% ABV it’s not a weak session beer, it still has a nice kick, but it also isn’t a double-digit monster you’ll only want one of.  It’s got a great all around balance of all of its elements. Making it great for fighting games. You may want to have some around when Mortal Kombat 11 comes out, or when those Super Smash Bros. Ultimate DLC characters hit.

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02.) Bad Sons Brewing (Featuring Armada) – Candy Castle

Bad Sons Brewing is an upstart in Derby, CT that has quickly gained popularity. Not only do they have a bitching logo (A skull with a hop growing out of it), but their beer is fantastic to boot. This entry is a collaboration they’ve done with Armada. Candy Castle takes the IPA tinkering to the point where you’ll wonder if it’s something else entirely. But if it is that something else, it’s a damn good something else. It’s a Milkshake IPA, a style where they use lactose milk sugars in the process. This adds to the texture. But they also throw a slew of candy into the brew.  This gives it the properties of getting a mystery flavored carnival drink. All while retaining the properties of a beer. It still tastes like a high-profile IPA, and yet something different at the same time. Trust me, it’s way better than it sounds. Easily something you’ll want to have on hand when attempting to beat Cuphead again.

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01.) Thimble Island – Mutually Assured Destruction 

I have to close this out with one of the best pairings of all. This is a beer that goes perfectly with Atari’s classic: Missile Command. It’s a rich, thick Russian styled stout with some coffee, and chocolate notes. But it doesn’t end there because there are several versions of M.A.D. that you can find in the wild. The standard one is delicious, and potent enough. But the more expensive barrel aged version is even better, as it takes on some of the properties of the barrel. Then they also make a variety pack of experimental flavored versions, a Cherry one which is the weakest, but still good. Also a Smores one which is quite nice. A peanut butter, and chocolate one that gives some of the more well-known PB beers a run for their money. Finally, there’s the Chipolte Ginger version that you’ll have to taste to believe. All of these are 10% ABV or more, but all work well in any game where geothermal nuclear disaster is in the backdrop. Missile Command, Metal Gear, Countdown To Shutdown, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., you name it.

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Many of these are in New England, and East Coast territory, but some do make their way outside of the area. And with things growing in the craft scene you never know how distribution will change. Still, take note in the event you ever come into the region. Also, over the past few months I haven’t always remembered to take a photo of whatever beer I’ve purchased. So I apologize for some missing photos. But rest assured all of these are pretty great releases. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading through this list! Thank you for checking it out, and feel free to post your own beer, and game pairings below!

 

Insurgency Sandstorm Review

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Wow, two reviews this week? I really had to crunch to get this one done. It’s worth it though because like DUSK, this is a new FPS release that really ought to be on your radar. Insurgency Sandstorm, like its predecessor is here to give you a blend of arcade run speed, with late 90’s tactical subgenre features. But does it reach the lofty goals set forth by the original?

PROS: It’s an Insurgency sequel on a much newer engine!

CONS: Not every promised feature is here (yet.) Minor issues.

GIBS: A common 90’s FPS feature returns.

The original Insurgency set that bar rather high. What had started out as a mod became a full-fledged game that pushed Valve’s Source engine to its limit. It bridged the gap between Tactical FPS games like Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, and large-scale objective Military Team FPS games like Battlefield. In doing so, it offered a great alternative to some of the titles in the AAA space. While it didn’t run on the latest tech, it did give players a unique experience. Insurgency did well for itself, cutting out a nice niche for itself, and becoming one of the most beloved competitive games on Steam for some time.

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So what does this newer version bring to the table? Does it improve on the foundation set by the original? Should you play this over something else in the subgenre? All of these are questions you might have going into this one, and they’re all valid ones to ask. When the game was announced it was touting a robust single-player campaign in addition to the multiplayer goodness fans of the first game came for. It showed off some vehicle play, and all in a vast uptick in visual fidelity.

Well let’s get the one major point of contention some will have out-of-the-way. There is no one-player campaign. At least not yet. Now to be fair, those who followed the news around this game during its development, or played it while it was in Early Access were told it wasn’t going to make it in by launch. So a big chunk of the potential audience who were excited upon seeing it during E3 2017 already know this. But if you were one of those interested who saw the early trailers, put it on your “Look forward to seeing it when it comes out” list, and are just now looking at it? You’re going to be disappointed.

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But this is also not an “All is lost” moment, the studio has said it should be coming later, and that it should be included along with the other DLC. And that’s where the barometer may swing from disappointed to optimistic. Because the folks at New World Interactive will not be charging for DLC, nor implementing micro transactions or loot boxes. So everything that comes out for this game in the future will cost you nothing extra. New maps will be included. New weapons they decide to add will be included. Any new modes they cook up will also be included. So the lack of the campaign might sting, but they haven’t outright cancelled it either. If you only come to your army shooters for a campaign, and touch nothing else, you may want to wait. Or not, because there are things here you might still enjoy.

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Of course Insurgency, became a cult hit for a number of reasons. Its various modes. Its unique blend of styles. And that it pushed an aging technology pretty far in the process of delivering its fun. It didn’t look as good as the games EA, and Activision were putting out, but it stood in the same league when it came to game play. And that trend does indeed continue in Insurgency Sandstorm.

Think of Insurgency Sandstorm as an experiment in combining the best elements of various military themed shooters you’ve played over the years. All while implementing its own ideas into the monster before releasing it upon the world. What does it borrow? Well it gives you the vast conquest maps Battlefield fans would love. It also uses point capture as the primary goal of its competitive modes. Insurgency Sandstorm has three of them. (Though like the campaign, more may follow.)

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PUSH: This is the mode most like the Rush mode in the Battlefield games. It places one army as defenders, and one army as attackers. Attackers have a miniscule number of lives spread across its combatants. While Defenders have a much larger pool. However, if the attackers manage to take the first point on the map, they will gain more lives. They will also force the defensive team to fall back to their next point. This continues until either the defenders are made to fight their last stand, with no remaining lives to defend a cache. If the attackers blow it up, the defenders are defeated. The defenders will also be defeated if all of their lives are lost.

What makes this mode compelling is that there are a number of ways each side can approach their situation. When playing defense, you can do what I like to do. You can literally lie down on the objective (represented by a room with a giant flashing letter.), and attempt to kill any intruders. If enough of your team follows suit, it becomes nearly impossible to take the point. However, I said “nearly”. That’s because there are any number of ways a skilled attacking team can crack this. They can employ explosives to spook people to leave the point or die. They can send in their best stealth players to get inside. They can try to flank spawning defenders rushing to get back to the point. These are just some of the strategies you’ll see employed.

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FIREFIGHT: Is the next mode, and here all of the points on the map are preset with both armies having to take an attack position. One point is predetermined to be for one side. The second for the other side, and the third being unclaimed. The first team to capture all three of these wins. However, it isn’t easy because each player has only one life. The only way you get to come back into the battle is if your team captures a point while you’re dead. What people love about this mode is that there’s a tug of war going on with it. If you’ve got two points, but not the third, you’ll have to send people to take the third. But that means the opposing team will find less resistance, at one of your two points. If they take one, you’re at a disadvantage, and have to figure out which of their now two points is easier to take.

SKIRMISH: Takes the game play of Firefight, and adds the caches from the Push mode which gives each team multiple lives. So you’ll be going along in your back, and forth. But the twist comes when one of the caches is destroyed. Without a cache, your team will fall back to the stock Firefight rules, which makes it easier to become overrun. So you have to decide as a team whether you want to go all out, and take points. Or do you designate a few of your combatants to defend the cache while others go for points? Insurgency Sandstorm involves its own strategies into proven concepts.

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This is where the implementation of other ideas, along with NWI’s modern twists, and original features really begins to take shape. Insurgency Sandstorm may use some ideas you’ve seen elsewhere, but it isn’t a knock off. It isn’t just reskinning a popular game, and shouting “Ta-da!”. It’s transformative. It retools these ideas to work in ways that weren’t expected before. It again, also has original ideas too. That’s what made the first game so great, and that continues here in the combat system.

 

Like the original, it takes a page from the original Rainbow Six games, and goes for far more realistic damage. If you play Rainbow Six Siege, as fun as it is, you can still survive firefights if you get shot. Even if you go down a friend can revive you. But if you go way back, and play Rainbow Six 1,2, or 3, that is rarely the case. In those games a single hit was usually lethal. If you were hit in a limb, maybe you could take a second bullet to go down. Insurgency Sandstorm is tough like that. If you get shot, you’re probably dead. If you’re hit in the arm, perhaps you’ll find some cover to survive a little bit longer. But another hit, and you’re toast. Because while your vision comes back, your health does not.

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But Insurgency Sandstorm goes further. Because it eschews plenty of other ideas its competitors love. For instance, there is no mini map. There are no little lights on a square in the corner telling you where to go. You’ll see a flashing letter in the distance. But that’s it. Insurgency Sandstorm has no kill cam. You may be able to have the run speed of a soldier (provided you have no body armor) of a Call Of Duty entry. But when you get sniped running onto the point, and die you will not be watching the person who killed you as you wait to spawn. You can see your teammates, and communicate with them if you see a threat near them. But that is it.

Insurgency Sandstorm also adds a bit of realism in its movement. When you sprint you may not tire. However, you also can not shoot. You have to think about that when going about. If you think you can blast a nest of enemies while charging into a room, think again. At best you can kick doors down while running, and if it hits an enemy in the process you can kill them with the door. But you’ll also be wide open when the other campers see it. On the flip side, if you’re trying to snipe, and you’re too close to the banister, your arm will simply bend back toward you, as you struggle to find a spot where your gun isn’t going to go up against an object. It’s a small thing, but it adds a lot to the environment.

 

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Insurgency Sandstorm borrows an element from Arena shooters of yesteryear too: Gibs. In this game, getting hit in key parts of the body will cause limbs to fly off, heads to explode, and bodies to disintegrate. Since this game is going for a little bit more realism it doesn’t come off like it would in The Expendables. It comes off a little bit more like Glory. Rather it tries to. It doesn’t quite make that emotional transition, but it doesn’t elicit that same joyous surprise as it did back in DOOM, Duke 3D, or QUAKE. At least not for me. The point is, there is an element of its use in a contemporary setting that might remind some players of how horrific wars can be. Whether or not this is intentional is solely up to the artists to decide. They may have been going for the action movie vibe more so than the dramatic movie vibe. In which case I think it fell somewhere in between. But they do come off as impressive. The first time you see it, you really won’t be expecting it, and it honestly might just shock you even knowing about it going in.

The move to Unreal Engine 4 also means a big uptick in visual fidelity, and a jump in system requirements. However, New World Interactive deserves some praise in just how much they’ve done to ensure those like me, with aging video cards can still play their game with great performance. If you do happen to have the hardware that can run this at or near maximum settings, you’ll be pretty pleased with the end result. There are some very impressive lighting effects, Anti-Aliasing effects, Bump mapping effects, among others that UE4 can support. However, if you have a machine that’s five years old, you’re probably not going to be playing any game maxed out. The scalability this game provides is great, as are its customization options.

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All of the shots you’re seeing in this review were taken at the lowest settings. These can hang with a lot of other games despite the reduced image quality. Granted, you can’t expect miracles either. If you’ve got a ten-year old computer with barely any RAM to speak of by today’s standards,  you probably cannot run it. But If you have at least a fourth generation Intel i5 or AMD FX 6330 (around 5 years old now), a NVIDIA GTX 760 or AMD Radeon 7970 in there (also around 5 years old as of this writing), and a good 16GB of RAM in your system you likely can. And at better performance than you might expect. At the lowest settings, I’ve been able to play between 70, and 90 frames per second resulting in a relatively smooth, and responsive experience.

And with the game slated to hit the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 next year, it does give those who prefer a console experience something to look forward to. As for the artistic side of the visuals, they’ve really gone out of their way here as well. Textures on buildings, look sharp, the costumes of the characters all fit the motif the game tries to present. Even on the lowest details, the backgrounds all still look great with some nice lights, and shadow effects going on.

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As in the original game, one side of the roster is composed of security forces. So when playing  as a security force member you’ll have a military themed character. The other side is composed of insurgents where you’re basically playing as a terrorist group of villains. One thing this game introduces over its predecessor is a cosmetic customization option. As you play the game you’ll earn in game currency. Much like Nintendo’s Splatoon series, you cannot buy this currency. These are points you use exclusively for this feature. Unlike Splatoon, these clothing options do nothing else. It’s strictly just to personalize your characters when playing online. No perk slots, no RPG elements, that is it. That being said, a lot of the costume selections are quite good, and go for something grounded. You won’t be running around on the security side wearing only pants, and bandoliers or rocking a Cobra Commander costume on the insurgent forces.

As in the first game, there are no unlockable weapons. When you start the game every one of your classes is given a certain number of points. Which you can use on your load out. So you have to use tactics even when deciding what to go onto the front lines in. You may not have to grind your way to that powerful machine gun you want to use. But if it costs a lot of points that doesn’t leave you a lot left over for attachments, or defensive items or a secondary item. Similarly, you can choose to go for a lot of body armor, and items. But this will actually affect your run speed by making you slower. You might be able to take a third or fourth bullet before dying though. So you need to approach every class situation differently.

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Also new to this game are new Commander, and Observer classes. These classes have to work together, and stay within a certain proximity to one another. Because these classes can work to call in air support. They can call in helicopters, or mortar storms to help them push when attacking, or to defend their position when being pressured. Every one of the classes is viable though, and if you couldn’t already tell, the best way to play is with friends who communicate. Insurgency Sandstorm is very much designed around teamwork. It has built-in chat, so you can easily talk to your team on the fly. For those who don’t have a headset, or a microphone, you can still type to your team members.

On the other hand, when playing with random strangers, there is always going to be a troll or two. It’s just the reality of online gaming. Fortunately this time around you can mute everybody wholesale if you have the misfortune of dropping to a match where everyone annoys you. Still, when playing with friends, the voice chat can be an accommodating feature. Especially for those with friends who don’t know how to set up their own chat alternatives like Discord.

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And if all of the heated PvP stuff sounds too tough for you, the cooperative mode included is something you may gravitate toward. Similar to the Terrorist Hunt mode of the Rainbow Six series, Insurgency Sandstorm’s cooperative experience pits you, and others up against a team of NPC bots. With frequently changing objectives. It basically blends some of its competitive elements into the mode. So at first you, and the other humans may be taking points. But then the game will decide you have to defend the one you just claimed against an onslaught, or destroy a cache. But all of it is done in, a fun, and entertaining way.  You’ll get a variety of enemy bot skill levels. Some will be pretty good at movement, others will be marksmen. But you’ll occasionally get that idiotic bot that just stands there after missing. Still, they employ some tactics one might not expect, making for some surprises. And of course for those who only want to go up against the best, Insurgency Sandstorm features a competitive option where you’ll be placed with other people on ranked servers, and modes to keep up your street cred.

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For those who absolutely must have something here for playing alone, there are a couple of minor options though. There are a couple of short tutorials that get you used to the game’s mechanics, and modes. These aren’t really necessary for those who have played FPS titles for years, though it can catch you up on the nuances here. The aforementioned cooperative mode is here however again as a single player option. Sadly this just isn’t going to be as fun as the cooperative experience. That’s because you’re paired with bots who aren’t as adept as the bots you’ll go up against, and you’re only given one life per objective. So if you die trying to get the first objective, the round ends, and you’ll move onto the next. This makes the one player option a lot more challenging too because without some competent bots, you’re basically going up against an entire army alone. Still you get five attempts, and winning alone is doable.

But there are also a load of options for you to tinker with. Not just the aforementioned graphics settings, and performance settings. Not just the look of your hero or villain. You can even tweak some of the marker settings, like changing the colors of the letter markers,  and names to something clearer to you than the default. You can also put on displays to show you the current frame rate, and ping. Things that have been in Unreal Engine games for years, but are often closed off in newer releases. It’s nice to see it here so that you can see the math when turning something on or off.

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There are a few problems I do have to point out though. While I imagine most people will get pretty good performance out of this game, there are a number of small visual glitches I’ve stumbled upon. In one game I noticed somebody’s weapon just flickering in the sky before the round began. Another round I noticed player models that hadn’t completely loaded in. So they were shooting at me, but the weapon they were using couldn’t be seen. These are rare occurrences. But the common issue I run into is texture pop in. Again, it loads in fast enough. It doesn’t affect the game play. But the 2 seconds between seeing a blue wall, and seeing a blue wall, with dents in it, and other details can sometimes distract from the experience. I suspect it could be an issue with older cards, that will eventually be fixed with patches, and drivers. But it is a minor problem.

When playing the cooperative mode, alone or with other players, there are a few minor nitpicks. Mainly with the inconsistent A.I. as I mentioned earlier, the bots you face can have a fair amount of variety in skill which is nice. But when you have to rely on them in your team, and a few decide to be idiots, you almost wish they weren’t there. The enemy bot spawns could have been obfuscated a little bit better too, as there were a couple of times in the single player cooperative I could go out a door of a point I had to defend, and see the game drop them in.

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In the grand scheme of things these issues don’t really amount to much of anything. The A.I. is still better than in many of the bots in other titles. The game rarely looks anything less than great aside from the 2-4 seconds of pop in you may experience. Leaving the bot spawn issues, which really breaks the immersion more than anything else. Back on the pvp end of things, there is far less to pick apart. The net code is generally very good. Unless you’re connecting to a server half the world away, you don’t see a lot of rubber banding, or players warping around like Mr. Game & Watch.

All of the online modes are generally quite fun. The studio kept them to the best maintained modes of the first game to ensure that you can always find someone to play against, and this strategy has worked. Yes, you can get into situations where there are people trying to spawn camp, or situations where you’ll have people on your team who refuse to run to the giant flashing “A” along with everyone else. But these aren’t issues with the game, these are the same issues you’ll run into with certain individuals in any multiplayer game. Fortunately, the game does offer the ability for you to mute individual people, or even everyone wholesale.

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The gun play is fantastic. Every weapon has a nice heft to it, and there are options here for every type of player. If you prefer to cover your team, there are many sniping options. If you want to go stealth, there are a slew of close range rifles, shotguns, SMGs, and other options, and attachments. The sounds of gunfire, and explosions are phenomenal too, which adds to that feeling of weight. You also have to hold your breath to steady your aim. Not only with the long-range weapons, but every weapon. Hip firing will just go wherever the gun is aimed. So panic shooting is going to be a crap shoot. These are all seemingly tiny things. But they add so much depth to the combat.

The maps are also mostly really good. Save for an exception or two, just about every map is built around each mode, and objectives are set that put either an attacker or defender into a tough situation at any given time. There are choke points defenders can use to their advantage. There are multiple paths attackers can take at any given time. The inclusion of vehicles in the Push mode also adds a new dynamic. I would have liked to have seen more of them. But between the drivable trucks with mounted guns, and the air strikes the two new classes can call in, there are new strategies that have to be employed to deal with them. And some maps actually make using these things harder. On the refinery stage enemies can just go inside buildings to escape the wrath of a Blackhawk helicopter. Similarly someone can put out roadside bombs in key locations that might deter someone from racing to the point in a pickup.

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In spite of its faults, Insurgency Sandstorm is a phenomenal game. It offers a real alternative to those who have felt disenfranchised with Electronic Arts’, and Activision’s annualized offerings. While it might not have quite the same level of visual fidelity of Battlefield or Call Of Duty, it also doesn’t require the purchase of season passes or micro transactions to have access to everything included in it down the line. The game play in it is also unique thanks to reintroducing an audience to hardcore simulation elements while retaining the run speed of something more twitchy. Absolute simulation purists may still want to go to the excellent ARMA games. And while this game may not be as recognized by the wider audience, the potential is there for that to change.  Especially if the game’s smaller issues are cleared, and the promised campaign shows up before it sees a port to consoles next year.

Whether you loved the original Insurgency, and poured hundreds of hours into it, or you’re a military FPS veteran looking for something new, this is pretty much a game you’ll enjoy diving into. This is also an excellent option for those who want something competitive to play, but without the pressure to spend more money. It’s also a great game for the casual military FPS fan who doesn’t have thousands of hours to devote to unlocking things. Insurgency was also supported for many years after it came out, and there’s no indication New World Interactive won’t do the same for the sequel. People who were interested solely in a campaign story mode will want to wait for its arrival. But for anyone looking for a unique take on the modern military multiplayer shooter? Insurgency Sandstorm should be on their wish list.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Retro World Expo 2018 Recap

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It seems like only yesterday I attended Retro World Expo 2017, and here I am talking about the fourth iteration of this convention. RWE 2017 was an absolute blast, and RWE 2018 was also an absolute blast. I made my way to the Hartford Convention Center Saturday morning to find that this year’s entry was different. Instead of going up the center’s escalator, and lining up, this year used the ticket booth section of the lower floor. This was an improvement, as it made figuring out where to go much more seamless. There was however one piece of confusion that a convention center employee had to solve, and that was the front door. Some guests inadvertently cut the line by going right to the booth before it was made clear they had to go to the rear entrance of the lobby to enter a line.

That said, everything moved smoothly, and even though I’d arrived behind a few hundred people, I was getting my bands in less than ten minutes. For whatever reason the QR code did not display on my pre-registration form when printed. But the ticket attendant was easily able to find my info, see I had prepaid, and give me my wristbands for the weekend, and after party. Once inside, I went upstairs to find not one, but two amazing custom vehicles.

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The first was a really cool Jurassic Park themed vehicle. The paint job was right out of the films. Impeccable. The pattern was spot on, and had a nice gloss finish. There was also a plastic triceratops near by to finish off the movie vibe. Great stuff. Next to that vehicle was none other than Russ Lyman’s Super Mario Kart 2.0. Sadly, earlier this year he lost his original Super Mario Kart in an accident. Fortunately he was able to replace his vehicle, and over time modify it. The end result is an even better design than before, sporting a beautiful multicolored design, and a breathtaking Super Mario Bros. pit crew portrait by Tom Ryan Studio. Both vehicles were parked out in front of the convention floor so that attendees could take photos.

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Some of the earliest guests I met were Daniel Pesina, Rich Divizio, and Anthony Marquez who were character actors in the original three Mortal Kombat games. All of them were super cool, and down to Earth folks. I talked with them about how big a part of my teenage years that the MK games, and Street Fighter were for me. As well as pretty much everybody else. I ended up buying a promotional poster style photo, and all three of them were kind enough to sign it for me. If you ever have the opportunity to see them at a show, you ought to take it.

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As I wandered the floor, I veered into the arcade area where I saw something both wondrous, and disappointing. The KRULL arcade cabinet. Based upon the cult 1983 Sci-Fi Fantasy film; you’re sent through a number of action sequences loosely based on those found in the movie. It uses a twin-stick setup similar to the one in Robotron 2084, and it is a lot of fun to play. Sadly, the machine was out-of-order, so I couldn’t actually play it. I did however get a few photos of it, since actually laying your eyes on one these days is a rarity. Should you find one in working order at a barcade, amusement park, convention, or other situation, do play it. It’s pretty cool.

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Around this time Russ Lyman bumped into me, and we began catching up. Around this time I spotted the Imaginary Monsters booth, so we walked over, and I introduced him to the developers. (Full disclosure, I know two of them personally.) The team is working on a new Metroidvania style game called Abyxsis: The Demon Reborn. They brought a demo version to the show, and what they showed was pretty good! It obviously has a way to go before completion, but I liked what I saw. In it, you appear to play as a winged monster who has to traverse dark labyrinths to find NPCs, power ups, and other items. Like Metroid, there’s a sense of exploration. But at the same time, your character has the ability to do some really fun aerial moves. This looks to be one of the themes of navigation. What they showed was also pretty tough. Enemies take a lot of damage, and can put you down quickly. Again this is all subject to change being a fairly early demo. But the tight controls, wonderful pixel art, and map design are promising.

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Imaginary Monsters wasn’t the only indie studio to attend though! Adjacent to their booth was a studio called Jumpmen Gaming. They had two games they were showing off. The first was Project Myriad, a hexadecimal tower defense game with puzzle elements. I didn’t get much time with it so I certainly can’t review it here. That said, it might be something worth looking into if you’re a fan of the genre. I’m not fond of using the phrase “Fan of the genre” as it tends to be overused. But in this case I think it’s applicable. It clearly looks to do something different with the concept by going with a hex display, something usually geared toward a special niche of war games. The puzzle elements seem to add some flair as well. If any of that sounds like something you would like to try, it was recently released on Steam, and isn’t too expensive.

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The other game they showed was Sentinel Zero. This game was in its very early stages. This upcoming release is a horizontal shoot ’em up game in the vein of R-Type. What sets it apart are its cartoon vector graphics. The presentation reminded me a lot of early Newgrounds games written in Flash. Think Alien Hominid. But the little that was shown was pretty fun. You earn power shots by filling a meter. You fill the meter by shooting everything. The hook seems to be quickly filling the meter, and unleashing charged shots as fast as possible. They also had two bosses to show, one of which was a giant spider. Again, it has a long way to go before being ready for prime time. But it looked like good start for a project by a two-person upstart.

Another interesting looking indie game demo was Depths Of Sanity by a studio called Bomb Shelter Studios. I didn’t get any real footage or screens of this one as I didn’t get the chance to try it myself. But it was intriguing. It appears to be an underwater action, and exploration game where you’ll pilot a submarine, and find all kinds of upgrades for it that allow you into previously inaccessible areas. Like a Metroidvania with elements of Blaster Master thrown in for good measure. Again, another early build. It does have a store page on Steam with a release date of Q4 2019.

Finally, Giant Evil Robot was back with the recently released full version of Mecha-Tokyo Rush. This is a combination of endless runner, and Mega Man clone. Things seemed a bit better than the build I saw last year. I didn’t have time to really play it though, so I can’t really say much in terms of its final state. The game does have a free to play model however, so you really don’t have anything to lose if you want to check it out.

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After taking my initial walk around the floor, I went to the first of the panels I attended. The Connecticut YouTube panel. This panel featured Ryan Alexander (RAXTheGreat1), Mike Levy (Dongled), Sam Hatch (Culture Dog), John Delia (The Video Game Years), Paul Barnas (Retro Gaming Arts), and Russ Lyman (Russ Lyman). For those who don’t know, Retro World Expo has roots in Retroware TV, one of the earliest video hosts before YouTube became the de facto delivery model video content creators use today. Many don’t realize Retroware has its own roots in Connecticut. So it only makes sense to have a panel dedicated to some of the online content creators who are local to the area.

But while the panelists are natives of the State, the information delivered in the panel is applicable to anybody getting into video content on the internet. I would even go onto say a lot of it is applicable to any creative endeavor online or off. A lot of the questions posed to the panelists revealed some insightful answers. When asked about the motivation behind creating content everyone unanimously agreed one has to do it first, and foremost out of a love of it. Few, if many creators of any medium become overnight success stories. One shouldn’t make a video expecting to be the next James Rolfe. If it happens, fine, but going in with that expectation is a recipe for disaster. More than likely, you’re not going to garner a massive flood of views, and subscriptions when you start out. Even the creators who are big names today, often took months or years of work to become those big names.

Continuing from there, Mike Levy brought up the importance of making content you, as a creator want to make. Chasing trends isn’t going to work because it isn’t genuine. Others pointed out that potential fans may be able to sense that as well. When the subject of potential collaborations between creators came up, Mike, and Russ also pointed out the need to have a fleshed out idea to present. It isn’t enough to simply ask another creator to do a crossover project. Especially since they’re often pressed for time for their own projects, jobs, and lives. Instead one has to have a project idea ready to go, ideally with what role the person has in mind for them. The creator may still decline depending on the given situation. But they’ll be more likely to at least listen to what it is you have to propose.

Other panelists also drove home the importance of consistency. Trying to keep content coming out for the audience to experience. At the same time though, they did acknowledge there were times where a legitimate break is needed. Commitments, responsibilities, and other things may eat into time normally allotted toward creative endeavors. Sam, Paul, and John also talked about the guilt creators often feel for missing self-imposed deadlines, but acknowledged sometimes it’s unavoidable. Another topic was the importance of lighting, and audio in videos. Even a high quality camera can’t compensate for a lack of light, or bad audio. If the audience can’t see you, or your audio is too distorted or too light or too loud it can turn them off. Even if the content is good. Russ pointed out an episode he made on this very subject.

There was also a discussion about the recent controversy over former IGN writer Filip Miucin’s theft of YouTuber Boomstick Gaming’s Dead Cells review, which led into a wider discussion of online content theft. While some felt Miucin likely felt pressured by deadlines, everyone agreed that plagiarism was despicable behavior. Some of the panelists were rather shocked when they found their own content re-uploaded by other people without permission.

On the lighter side of things, there were some humorous moments where the panelists discussed changing trends in online video. At one time, many preferred long form content. But these days some viewers complain if it isn’t quick, and digestible in a few moments. One particularly funny point was when the crew talked about the trend of unboxing videos being popular. The joke that stood out centered around an unboxing video where the box would house smaller boxes within boxes like a set of nesting dolls. It was also in this panel that Ryan would point out some new YouTube creators were in the crowd.  Nerdy, and Squirdy are YouTube newcomers, and after checking them out I think Ryan may be onto something. These two have a nice variety of different gaming content you just may want to look into.

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After the panel I walked back down to the main floor, where I got in some arcade gaming in. Every year Retro World Expo has a respectable number of arcade machines set up, as well as console set ups where attendees can play without quarters or tokens. Every machine is set to Free Play mode. Some of the machines I saw this year that I don’t remember seeing last year aside from KRULL, were a Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi machine, The Simpsons Arcade Game, and a Dig Dug cocktail table. Over the course of my time at the show, I played a fair amount of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, Final Fight, Shinobi, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Dig Dug. There was also a Ghouls n’ Ghosts machine, but it was always in use. One of the guys in my local trade group managed to find some time on it though, and even cleared it on only a few lives! Impressive.

I also wandered the floor this year looking for some Atari 2600, and Commodore 64 game deals. On the first day, I managed to track down a boxed copy of Gravitar, and a loose copy of Cruise Missile. The latter of which I had never seen before. Apparently it was released in 1987, and is a shmup involving above ground combat, and subterranean combat in the vein of MagMax. I also saw many of the guys from RF Generation were back, as well as Steven Christina Jr, and Karly Kingsley from Super Retro Throwback Reviews. I sat down with them for a short interview they should be airing in the coming weeks. SRTR was also raffling off a bunch of cool PS4 releases, as well as an NES Classic, and a Super NES Classic so I bought a couple of tickets to try my luck.

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At around 4 o’clock or so I attended the Mortal Kombat panel with  Daniel Pesina, Rich Divizio, and Anthony Marquez. They were joined by Sal Divita. Sal was instrumental in bringing the NBA Jam series, and its spinoffs to arcades, and consoles. But he also had involvement as Nightwolf in Mortal Kombat 3. In addition to that, he still saw a lot of the development process on all of the early Mortal Kombat games. Daniel, Rich, and Anthony brought a lot of insight into the world of game development as they talked about the creation of Mortal Kombat. It was an idea that almost didn’t come to fruition, as Midway was hoping for a licensed project with Jean-Claude Van Damme. But when that fell through, Midway allowed Ed Boon, and John Tobias to move ahead with their ideas.

As it turns out, there was a great deal of painstaking work involved in the original games. Every video taped action the actors made, had to be cut down to 8 frames of animation due to memory constraints. Not only that, but many of the characters’ moves had to be shot multiple times when it was discovered that being even the slightest bit too close or far from the camera would make sprite sizes inconsistent. Midway also had a very low-budget for the early games so the crew had to use make shift lighting using office desk lamps, and some sessions were filmed using a camera owned by John Tobias’ father.

As for the controversy surrounding the game’s violence level, when it came to politicians, Midway’s stance was to ignore it. But the actors were contract players, not official Midway employees, so they were unabashed in defense of their work. All in all, a very informative panel not only for fans of Mortal Kombat, and fighting games, but for anybody interested in video game development, and history.

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After that panel I wandered the floor some more, stopping to talk to friends, and acquaintances whom were either shopping, gaming, or vending. I also finally met The Gamescape Artist in person. My first contact with him was during a fellow blogger, hungrygoriya’s live streams (If you love old school JRPGs, check out her blog, or channel. It’s great!). He’s a friendly guy, and quite the painter! He has a wide range of paintings of iconic video game scenes to choose from, and he also does commissions. They’re high quality, highly detailed pieces, so if you’re looking for something to spruce up your game room consider giving him a shout out.

I also ran into the makers of an independent games’ magazine. Old School Gamer Magazine is just what it sounds like. It’s a new publication with articles covering retro games, as well as modern stuff inspired by retro games. The format is a little bit different from what I’d expected. It reminded me a bit of 1980’s computer magazines like Compute!, Ahoy!, and Commodore RUN, minus the program code you could type in, and save to a floppy for free software. The issue they gave me was the fifth one, and it came with a cool poster of the cover art. The representative informed me that they give away the digital version for free via email, but for a fairly low price you can have the physical magazines mailed to you every month. If you miss the days of getting Nintendo Power, GamePro, EGM, and Computer Gaming World at the newsstand, go check it out to see if it’s right for you.

I also met a group of Video bloggers who do VLOG articles, and live streams. The Geeky Panda covers convention cosplays, as well as games, and have an active Twitch page you can check out if so inclined. They play a bunch of stuff including Resident Evil VII, and Fallout IV. If you’re looking for a new variety streaming channel to follow, they may be your ticket.

After the show floor closed I walked over to the adjacent Hartford Marriott’s hotel bar. Normally I would have paid a visit to the City Steam Brewery, but the after party started an hour after the main show ended. I felt I wouldn’t make it back in time. Fortunately the hotel bar did have City Steam Naughty Nurse, so I pre-gamed with the delicious Amber Ale. After that, I went back to the convention center for the after party event which was a lot of fun.

There were a number of things to check out over the course of two hours. You could play arcade cabs that were set up in one of the rooms. Big Bucks Entertainment ran a special edition of Press Your Luck, where contestants who landed on a Whammy had to take a shot. Host Davira Kuy was also doing so in a rather impressive Quan Chi (Mortal Kombat 4) cosplay. The Imaginary Monsters developers were there, so I introduced them to my friends, and acquaintances, as everybody mingled. There was also a fun Drink, and Draw event going on. It was a nice way to end the first part of the convention.

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I commuted back home after that, put away the first day’s pick ups, and got some rest. Day two was a Sunday, so after services, I headed back to Hartford to catch what I could. I did manage to get into Pat Contri’s panel which had some updates on projects he has in the pipeline. He, and his team are working feverishly on the follow-up to his excellent NES collecting guide. This one will be centered on the Super NES, and will be in a similar format. There will also be an alternate cover for the PAL readership. He is also looking into updating the original NES book with some improved screenshots. So future print runs may include these. But the biggest news is that he is working with some other creators on a documentary video about the video game industry’s shift away from physical media. The project will talk about both the pros of such decisions, and the cons of such decisions. The teaser he revealed does look quite promising.

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At the end of the panel he brought back the NES Challenge, and I was able to be a contestant in the second bout! In a cut throat match of Donkey Kong Jr. Math, I barely managed to squeak out a victory! The first round pitted two fans against one another in Balloon Fight, while the third round pitted a couple against one another in an Abobo Vs. Abobo match in Double Dragon. The winners were granted a download key for a digital edition of his NES guide, while the losers were granted shoe string budget games for the Atari 2600, and Sega Genesis. A great panel overall.

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I also got to see Norman Caruso’s Gaming Historian panel again this year. This time he did a live episode centered around a certain Nintendo made boxing franchise. I won’t say anything else about it, but like all of his episodes, you can expect to be amazed as there will be some revelations you won’t believe. This year he also changed game shows. Instead of video game history themed Jeopardy, he did video game history themed Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? This year’s contestant won last year’s Jeopardy game only to discover he won a T-shirt that didn’t fit, so this year he was attempting to win the appropriate size.

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The last panel at the show I caught was a special panel centered around the history of Castlevania, and the Metroidvania formula used in modern independent games. Mike Levy was joined by Marc Duddleson (My Life In Gaming), Mike Desiderio (Rewind Mike), and Pam Dzwonek (Cannot Be Tamed.). Throughout the panel they went over many of the games in the series, and talked about the transition from action platformer to the Metroidvania style most think of today. But they also brought up the fact that there were times where the series hasn’t simply abandoned one style for the other. Marc, brought up the fact that the Nintendo 64’s entries in the series have many similarities to the NES trilogy with a focus on platforming, and combat. Pam, and Mike talked a bit about how even Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest had RPG elements that in some ways can be seen as a forebear to the labyrinthine designs seen in later games.

But they also discussed many newer games like Axiom Verge, Hollow Knight, and Mystik Belle. Here, Rewind Mike pointed out that some of these games veer more toward Metroid, while others veer more toward Symphony Of The Night in terms of design. He also mentioned Abyxsis after seeing it on the floor earlier in the day, and having liked what he had seen. Things closed out with some Castlevania trivia, with the winning attendee getting a Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest Game Pak signed by James Rolfe, and many of the online personalities who attended the show. From Mike Levy’s personal collection no less. And no, I did not win. My Castlevania knowledge is rudimentary. Although I do surprise people when I point out Konami did port the game to many 80’s era computer platforms. Also they’re expensive. If you thought the NES cartridge is steep, try getting the Commodore 64 floppy disk. Anyway, it was a great panel.

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I spent most of my final moments of the show on the floor again. I found a few great deals over that time. The crown jewel was the copy of Bubble Bobble for the Commodore 64 a friend of mine had at his booth. Most people remember the NES release, but the C64 version was pretty much on par, and you don’t see it as often. Another vendor had a slew of boxed, and unboxed games, so I looked through the vast selection where I found a copy of Pengo for the Atari 2600. It’s not a release that you see very often at all. It had no tag on it so I asked for a price. When they replied “It has a ripped label so ten dollars.” I just said “Done.”, and picked it up.

I was demoed a party card game called Cheer Up. It plays similarly to Cards Against Humanity, but with its own twist. It goes through rounds in three steps while also simplifying it with a three-letter system. This opens things up by having three card answer types, but also color coding them to make things easier to follow. It wasn’t something I got into, but that’s probably me not being as drawn to board games as other people. I can see the appeal though for those whom have guests over often. Basically, the person asking a question gets every other player to submit answers from their hand, with the funniest one getting points. If you have people over for regular game nights, you might want to see if it’s for you. They have a free digital download version on their site which is nice, because then you can try it to see if you’ll enjoy it before buying a copy.

I also spotted a booth hosted by another YouTube up, and comer GothamLounge who does Long plays with commentary. If you’re stumped on a game, you may want to see if it’s something he’s played through. He seems like a nice fellow, so I wish him luck on his online endeavors. As I was catching up with friends, and acquaintances before the show closed I was tracked down by the Super Retro Throwback team to discover I had won the Super NES Classic Edition raffle! So I guess this was my “steal” of the show as I ultimately got one of these ridiculously cheap. A special thanks to them for interviewing me, and hosting the raffles. I also nabbed some sweet Splatoon themed stickers, and buttons from the always great Elijah Taylor, and JustM3hStudios booths. If you see them at a con near you check them out sometime.

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All in all, I had another great year seeing some great panels, scoring some deals, and meeting up with friends like The Best Spuds. But there was so much going on it was impossible to get to everything. I didn’t get a chance to talk to a number of guests. I didn’t get to say “Hello” to The Gaming Historian, RGT85, Game Dave, or Bob Backlund. (Yes, the great wrestling legend Bob Backlund was at the show.). There were a ton of interesting people there this year, and I’ve undoubtedly missed some of them. I apologize in advance.

But even if you weren’t interested in any of the guests there were a lot of other things happening. The Arcade games, and console games were set up to go all day. There were pinball machines to play. There were tabletop miniature games to play. There were live musical acts to jam out to. There were several tournaments going on as well. The ever popular Fortnite had a singles, and doubles competition, there was a Mario Kart 64 competition, a Goldeneye tournament, even a Nintendo World Championships tournament.

There was also a cosplay contest going on this year, and the massive auction made a return. Unfortunately for me I missed it. I was told somebody won a complete Commodore 64 setup (including a vintage monitor) for well below value. Some years the auction can actually lead to deals for some con goers. And even if none of that appeals to you, there are always a lot of vendors to check out. You may not get insane deals, but you can almost bet at least someone will have something you never see when you go hunting locally.

Congrats to everyone at the convention for putting on another great show this year. I hope to be able to make it out again next year. And thanks to all readers who made it this far. As you can see, I had a lot of ground to cover, and I still didn’t get to everything. If you’re in New England next year when it rolls around, check it out. It’s well-organized, entertaining, and they squeeze a lot into it.

The Messenger Review

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Sometimes a game comes out with a ton of fanfare, but ultimately lets everybody down. This is not one of those games. The Messenger earns every ounce of excitement, and praise preemptively thrown its way. Nearly everything about this one is so on point you can stop reading, and buy the game. In the words of Triple H, it is “That damn good.”

PROS: Sprite work. Controls. Music. Story. Humor. Nearly everything really.

CONS: A bug that makes a certain section of the game nearly impossible to solve.

NINJA GAIDEN: The original NES designers were invited to play it, and loved it.

The Messenger was largely advertised as a love letter to the trilogy of NES Ninja Gaiden games. Upon booting up the game it’s easy to see why. The action, cinema screens, wall climbing, and secondary weapon throwing are obviously influenced by those classics. Devolver Digital even had the two lead designers of Ninja Gaiden play their demo before release as they couldn’t wait to see their reaction.

But while The Messenger would have likely done well enough as a mere homage, that wasn’t good enough for the team at Sabotage. The Messenger does so much more than mimic one of gaming’s best action platform games. It uses that formula as one small piece in a much, much larger puzzle. A puzzle that will likely take you hours to solve.

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The Messenger centers around a Ninja clan that gets attacked by monsters. As one of the Ninjas, you’re chastised by your sensei for not taking your training seriously. You’re told a super warrior is supposed to save the day, but unfortunately for everyone this person doesn’t show up in time. The monsters wipe out the village, and you’re about to be destroyed when they show up just in time. The enemies retreat, and this warrior gives you a scroll. You’re told to deliver the scroll to the top of a mountain, and so you go on your way.

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I won’t go into the rest of the surprisingly deep, and convoluted storyline here. But rest assured it is quite good. Filled with twists, turns, and even a lot of sardonic humor. I laughed a lot at the various jokes throughout my time with the campaign. But at the same time, I was pleasantly surprised at just how invested in the overall story I became. Plus the gameplay ties into everything very nicely. When the game begins, it truly will remind you of the NES Ninja Gaiden games. You have a similar run speed. You have similar jumping physics. You’ll even have a sense of familiarity as you can climb certain walls.

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But The Messenger throws in its own entirely new mechanics that set it decidedly apart from Ninja Gaiden. Most notably the extra jump you can get by killing enemies, or hitting specific targets. If you get the timing right, you can jump, hit a target, and jump immediately after to get extra air. You can also gain momentum by repeating the process on subsequent targets. This allows you to kind of hop distances between targets, and get through areas faster.  As you progress, the game makes mastering this technique essential, as it begins throwing in jumping puzzles, as well as highly challenging platforming sections where you’re surrounded by bottomless pits, spikes, or other death traps.

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The game goes along much like those old NES action games. You’ll battle your way through a stage, then fight a boss, watch some dialogue boxes, or cinema screens, and move on. However each stage has a few checkpoints after every few gauntlets. Some of these gauntlets are shops, where you can spend the diamond shards you find on upgrades for your ninja. Some of these give you more resistance to damage. Some of these give you more attack power.

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Over time you’ll also acquire new abilities like a wind suit, and grappling hook. And later in the game you’ll need them because stages are built around their use. It’s crafted so well, and so engrossing you’ll want to keep playing until you get to the final showdown with the demon army, and win the day. Throughout it all, you’ll be blown away at the NES inspired sprite work, and Famicom-esque chip tunes. It’s nothing short of amazing, and you’ll love every minute of it.

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Another interesting mechanic is that while old school, this is another game that ditches lives. Instead of dying a set number of times, or having a limited set of continues, you simply keep playing. Now the original first two Ninja Gaiden games on the NES had unlimited continues. However this game does something a bit different. When you die, a little red bookie monster shows up. He steals any money you make until his debt for respawning you is paid. So while the game becomes more forgiving, at the same time you do well for not dying. Because not dying means more money, and more money means getting all of the items, and upgrades sooner.

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When you finally defeat the Demon army’s second in command you’ll probably do what I did. Think there’s one last stage where your endurance, and cunning are pushed to the proverbial limit. Then one grandiose boss fight, and a satisfying finish. Well this is one part of the game I have to spoil in order to talk about the entire package. I’m not giving away details, just know that nothing could be further from the truth. The game basically comes out, and yells “Surprise! Now you’re going to play a Metroid clone!” The game really opens up at this point, and connects every stage you’ve played together. This makes one overarching world, and you’ll be sent throughout it.

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However, The Messenger does not go sending you on power up fetch quests, in order access the new areas. Rather, you have to go find items that act as keys, and find NPCs to further the story. You can buy map markers in the shops, but even then, getting to those places is going to be very intimidating when you first attempt it. These new areas are filled with new traps, and puzzles. There are also challenge rooms where you can try to get these green tokens. If you find every one of them in the game there’s a surprise waiting for you. But that’s not even the best part.

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The Messenger also adds a dash of stage morphing. It may just remind you of Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams, although it isn’t done in the same way. The storyline adds an element of time travel, where you go through portals that send you 500 years into the future. And then other ones send you back. When you go into the future, the 8-bit NES aesthetics change to 16-bit Super NES aesthetics! The music also goes from sounding like the Famicom, to sounding like the Super Famicom, and Mega Drive decided to go on tour together. The soundtrack in this game immediately skyrockets from a pretty great one, to an absolutely stellar one. Not only that, but the game uses the time travel mechanic in some pretty intricate ways. Like Metroid Prime 2: Echoes did, The Messenger will make you go to one area of the map in the present, go through a portal to the future, so that you’ll come out in the right place in a different section of the map. Then you’ll go through a portal there to come back in the present where you’ll meet an NPC, or find a room with a green token challenge. Or something else entirely.

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The story also begins to get both more interesting, and more cryptic when you discover a hub section, and you’re discovering entirely new areas that were never part of a previous linear stage from the first act of the game. They’ve done a terrific job with all of this, and that’s before you even get to the impressive boss encounters that follow. They make the early bosses you may have found difficult seem like you were lifting feathers before. But it does this by easing you over time without you even realizing it. It’s an action game, that becomes an adventure game, that implements a feeling you get when playing an RPG.

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And I think that’s probably the best thing about The Messenger. It’s like you’re playing two completely different games back to back. You played Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos. But instead of credits, a dying Jaquio goes “It’s not over. You have to defeat Mother Brain now, or the world will end! Ha. Ha. Ha.” The fact that it makes you feel elated, rather than angry is quite the feat.

So with all of that said, is this a 10 out of 10 game that will forever be the title future indie games are held to as a standard? Not quite. Though it is very impressive, and should be something you should buy I had one major problem with it. At one point in the game there is a section where you have to navigate an area by listening for sound. Well for whatever reason, the game would not play the sound properly. It made finding my way through a complete crapshoot. I had to guess my way through as if I were playing the final stage of Super Mario Bros. And while this isn’t something that breaks the game, as you can still get through it. It does ruin the intended experience of hearing what you need to hear in the place you need to hear it in order to follow the right path. I’m sure in time they may fix it with a patch. But as it stands it’s just enough to keep me from calling it near flawless.

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Still, if you were hoping for a wonderful homage to Ninja Gaiden, you’ll get it. If you were hoping for something more than a wonderful homage to Ninja Gaiden you’ll get it. The Messenger truly is one of the best games to come out this year, and is something you really ought to check out. It’s one of the most engrossing games you’ll play this year. As impressive as the trailers may be, it’s still the kind of game you have to see to believe. Go buy The Messenger now. Even if you’re just stumbling upon this review 500 years from now.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10

ConnectiCon 2018 Recap

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Another summer has come, and with it another ConnectiCon. I generally look forward to attending every year. There’s almost always something to look forward to. A certain guest, or a certain panel. There are workshops, contests, and a lot of other things going on. Even if none of that appeals to you any given year, there are still plenty of people to meet, video games to play, and board games to play. You can also bet on a lot of vendors showing up, and chances are you’ll end up going home with something.

Unfortunately this year, my work schedule, and health issues kept me from being able to attend the entire duration of the show this year. The convention really runs three days, although if you count the ability to pick up your badge a day early you can technically say four. But in any case, I usually go for the whole weekend, and try to get into as many panels as possible. This year I could only attend Saturday, but I still tried to get in as much as I could into the day.

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When you attend the show, there are three lines upon arrival. One for weekend guests to get a discounted parking pass, a second for those who pre-ordered their tickets, and a third for those who did not. This was the first year I would be in the third line, but aside from a long wait time (a lot of other people were apparently last-minute) it really wasn’t that bad. Things moved along pretty smoothly in general, and while I was waiting I chatted up a few of the others in line. This is one of the things about the show I like, and that is for the most part everyone gets along. There are exceptions of course, but most of the time people get along. So often people forget just how much hobbies can bring people together. You might not see eye to eye on any given topic, but you can both agree that F-Zero GX is pretty cool.

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One of the cosplayers in line was a kind gentleman whose selection would impress one of my fellow bloggers. He did a terrific job on short notice making a Red Mage costume inspired by the class from the original Final Fantasy. This is also where I have to inform you of some bad news. Like an idiot I had left my memory card at home, so I was forced to take pictures with my sub par cell phone. So unfortunately most of these will be fairly small. Still, I wanted to make sure I had *something* to represent the weekend.

I also have to give a major thanks to the Best Spuds, and a congratulation to them for cracking a major milestone on YouTube. They hung out with me a lot of the day, and were kind enough to check on me as they know I’m not at one-hundred percent. If you haven’t gotten around to watching their stuff on YouTube you really ought to. They blend traditional Let’s Play conventions with sight gags, and comedy in their own way. Some of the bigger names on the platform have even challenged them to take on some difficult games. Some of them because they’re genuinely good, but challenging titles. Others because they’re broken, and notorious for being almost impossible. But in either case the results are entertaining. One small anecdote from that morning happened on my way down a hall. One of the ConnectiCon staff members saw my CGR 2085 shirt, and shouted “TRUXTON!”. So we spent a few moments talking about Mark Bussler’s show, and some of the other regional cons the staff member worked on. He got to see Machinae Supremacy play at MAGFest one year, which sounded like quite the experience. If you haven’t heard them, check out some of their stuff on YouTube sometime. They’re great.

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Speaking of YouTube, I was able to get into one panel that morning.  Helmed by Random Encounters, the panel centered around ways to improve your content, and drive. Rob Walker, and Doug Walker of Nostalgia Critic fame joined in shortly thereafter. Random Encounters is a channel that does their own musicals based upon video game characters, and storylines. It was a pretty good panel overall. Some of the things they brought up in the panel could be applied to other creative endeavors as well.  Things like making content first, and foremost because it’s something one is passionate about doing. If one tries entering the arena as a get rich quick scheme, it probably isn’t going to happen. The odds of posting one video, and having it become a phenomenon is similar to the odds of winning the lottery. All of the panelists also drove home the point of consistency on YouTube, constantly giving potential fans something new. But the team of Random Encounters also reminded the audience that if one project does well it doesn’t guarantee that every project will. There will be ups, and downs for every creator of every size.

Throughout the Q&A there were plenty of good discussions, and anecdotes. There was a point where the idea of diversification came up. With all of the rules YouTube changes frequently, there are no guarantees things will always be good or bad. Some YouTube names like Classic Game Room have moved their shows to other platforms like Amazon Prime in addition to or in lieu of YouTube with better success. But even names that have better success on YouTube have followed that show’s lead by offering other merchandise to help fund their projects. As well as services like Patreon that allow fans to directly contribute to the projects if they wish.

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All of the panelists also were asked about how they were able to get some of their guests, and collaborators to do crossovers. Many of these came down to already having a project ready to go to present to them, and simply asking without expecting to get a “Yes.” for an answer. When they did, they were grateful for it, but acknowledged there were far many more times when that answer was a respectful “No.”.

There were even some moments with fan interactions, like the M.Bison cosplayer who projected a very good impression of the late Raul Julia’s classic performance of the character. He had a back, and forth with Doug Walker who had reviewed the Street Fighter Movie as The Nostalgia Critic years ago. Everyone on the panel really adored one cosplayer’s Butterfree Pokémon costume with working wings. One of the Random Encounters team liked my Atari trucker cap. So that was nice.

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Nintendo Of America was also at ConnectiCon. Not for a panel, but to let people check out their Mario Tennis Aces, and Labo products. They also gave out a TON of cool swag. I got my nieces a few free posters, and Splatoon 2 plastic cups. I spent some time on Mario Tennis Aces, and while one or two matches aren’t enough to really give it a full on review, it was a pretty fun time. It has a large roster of Super Mario Bros. characters to choose from, and the mechanics seem to be about on point for a Mario sports game. There seemed to be an emphasis on not just hitting the ball, but on the timing, and using the traps within the environment to ones’ advantage. It certainly won’t interest everyone, but it did seem like an enjoyable enough game for the most part.

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The one panel I wanted to get into was the Voice Actor Cards Against Humanity panel. Unfortunately when I went to double-check the time for it, it was crossed off, so it appeared to have been cancelled. There were a number of high-profile voice actors who came out to this year’s show including Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop) who I was really excited to see. I didn’t get a chance to meet him, though I did catch a glimpse of him through the massive crowd of fans around his booth. Hopefully, he’ll return another year. Jon St. John was back this year, and I was told also had another fantastic panel this year on Friday.  Some of the other big names were Ron Rubin (X-Men), Cal Dodd (Wolverine), Katie Griffin (Sailor Moon), Susan Roman (Sailor Moon), Nolan North (Nathan Drake in Uncharted), Troy Baker (Joel in The Last Of Us) among others. It was a great year for those who wanted to meet actors who have done work in anime, and games.

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Speaking of games, the gaming area was greatly expanded over last year’s show. This year they even had an F-Zero AX cabinet! For those who don’t know, back in 2003 when F-Zero GX came out on the Nintendo Gamecube, Sega also made an arcade version called F-Zero AX. They’re the same game on paper. You won’t see much of a difference in graphics quality, or sound. However, the arcade cabinet had many racers, and tracks that were playable fairly quickly, that were almost impossible to unlock on the Gamecube version for many people. Why? Because doing so required top honors in its courses, and missions on the highest difficulty settings. However, if you brought your Gamecube memory card, with an F-Zero GX file on it to the arcade cab, these would unlock when you came back home to play the home version. The thing is, this was at a time when arcades were dwindling in North America. So for many people, seeing one of these cabs was all but impossible. This was compounded when only a proverbial handful of these cabs made it to North America anyway.

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So imagine the joy I felt upon seeing one in person! They also had a Mortal Kombat II machine, several Street Fighter games, a vast selection of rhythm games, and a classic Centipede machine. Unfortunately for me the Centipede machine wouldn’t save scores, so when I toppled the high score, I had to take a snapshot for proof. The dealer section was also much bigger this year. There weren’t a ton of video game vendors, though I managed to spot three of them. One was a massive vendor of Japanese imports. I found them a bit high, even for a convention but it was cool seeing never opened, Japanese region Super Famicoms, Sega Dreamcasts, Nintendo 64’s alongside a plethora of Japanese exclusives, and other cool stuff.

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The second vendor only had a smattering of NES, and PS1 games amongst the large selection of soundtrack albums. I was tempted to pick up a few of these OSTs, but ultimately didn’t. I probably should have picked up the lone Rockman boxed set I saw there but it is what it is. The third vendor was Retro Games Plus who had a booth for the upcoming RetroWorldExpo. But they also had a selection of games on hand to sell. I found a game I hadn’t seen before, but looked interesting called Weaponlord for the Super NES. It hadn’t been marked, but it was in great shape so I asked about the price. So after looking it up, the rep told me it would be $15. So I picked it up.

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After browsing the floor with friends, we headed out to get lunch. Again the show coincided with Hartford’s Riverfest. An event where the city brings many food trucks, and some live entertainment along the Connecticut River. It culminates at night with a fireworks celebration. (More on that later.) This year the Chompers truck from last year was back. So I tried their new taco variation of their food balls. They were really good. Not too spicy, they did in fact, taste like tacos inside of a breaded meatball. They also had a sour cream, and mild salsa dip for them. We spent some time checking out the area before heading back. We walked the floor getting a few photos in, before going to the dealer room one last run. While there I found a heavily discounted copy of The Art Of Atari Poster Collection book. It’s fantastic, compiling most of the Atari 2600 box art covered in Tim Lapetino’s book The Art Of Atari. But here, all of the paintings that graced these covers, are presented without any text on them. The original artwork on pages that can be removed, framed, and hung on the wall in poster form. At less than half of the MSRP I couldn’t say “No.”.

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Shortly after that we went to Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ for dinner. If you’re in Hartford, and you’re in the mood for grilled meats, this is a great place. I had their Mac Attack with Brisket. It was awesome. Macaroni, and Cheese topped with Brisket, and they had a sweet, and tangy sauce seared in. It also wasn’t that much more expensive than going to a traditional diner, and the service was great. We headed back to the Convention Center, and that’s when a bit of commotion happened. The Riverfest fireworks where going off, when we saw crowd come running from the Convention Center, and police coming speeding in to investigate. We would later find out that there was an altercation between two attendees, and someone hearing the fireworks though a gun had discharged. So people panicked. According to the Hartford Courant though, Oddly enough while this was going on, further away, someone did in fact shoot a stolen gun at absolutely nothing, and was promptly arrested.

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This is the only time in any of the years I’ve attended the show that anything like this has ever happened. But in spite of the hysteria, the police did do a good job of getting to the bottom of it quickly. Shortly after we got back inside the convention put out an alert that things were safe again. The entire thing was over with fairly quickly. Thankfully nobody was hurt in any of it. After that short fit of panic we went to the bar in the Marriott connected to the Convention Center, and winded down with a drink.

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All in all, I had a great time. Save for a short-lived scare I didn’t really have much to complain about here. ConnectiCon is a great show to visit. Again, it’s one of the larger conventions that focuses on the community aspect of fandoms. That being said, I would have liked to have been able to attend the whole weekend this year. I could have made some more of the panels. I also really would have liked to have seen Steve Blum, and Jon St. John play that card game. But perhaps they’ll return next year. Even though I could only experience the one day this time around, I still had a mostly terrific experience. Here’s hoping next year’s show will be even better, I’ll be able to experience all three days, and I won’t forget crucial equipment.

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion Review

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Splatoon. It’s become one of the most popular Nintendo franchises in a fairly short period of time. And, as I’ve pointed out in two reviews, it’s easy to see why. It’s an excellent take on third-person team shooting. Plus, each of the games offered a substantial campaign that was easily worth the asking price. Now, Nintendo has gone 90’s PC gaming, and released an expansion pack for Splatoon 2. It boasts a whopping 80 stages, and promises to expand the lore. But does this expansion truly deliver?

PROS: An 80 stage campaign. Killer OST. Unlockable multiplayer content.

CONS: Some of the mission goals aren’t always clear.

PEARL & MARINA: Can be used to cheese your way through.

Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion does indeed deliver on its promises. Maybe not in the exact way you might want. But it gives you what it promised mostly in spades. The campaign centers around Agent 8, a Octoling who wakes up in a subway with no memory of who they are. You’ll start out by customizing the general look of your Octoling, like you did for your Inkling in the mainline Splatoon 2 campaign. As it turns out, Captain Cuttlefish from the original game is also in the subway. Over the course of the campaign we learn that the subway is actually a test facility.  That’s right, Inkopolis has its own Aperture Science.

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The way the expansion is structured is a bit strange at first, but eventually you’ll figure it out, and everything will make sense. Throughout the course of the game you’ll be riding along on a subway train. Stages are placed about along train lines. Some of these tracks intersect with other train lines, and if you want to see everything, you’ll need to complete every stage on a line. Beating any given stage, will give you something the game calls Mem Cakes, icons that resemble the characters throughout the Splatoon mythos. That is, if the characters were marshmallows in a breakfast cereal. Completing an entire line, and collecting all of the Mem Cakes will net you apparel you can use online when you complete the storyline. There’s a giant insect on the subway train. Every time you go to him with a set of Mem Cakes you’ll get the aforementioned clothing.  You can also play as a Octoling online if you complete the storyline. So this expansion gives you incentive to try to beat all eighty of its stages.

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In order to play stages you’ll need some power eggs, and the game starts you out with some. Each stage has an entry fee depending on how difficult the designers feel it is. Once the fee is paid you’ll begin the stage. Stages do show off a lot of variety. Many of the levels play like the ones in the primary campaigns of Splatoon, and Splatoon 2. You’ll go from point A to point B, and take out any enemies you see along the way.  While that sounds simple, in practice it rarely ever is. Your reflexes, and mind will be pushed hard as you try to balance combat, and platforming. These are a lot like EX grade stages in other games, where the bar is raised even higher. You’ll find yourself learning advanced techniques, and new mechanics. But don’t be intimidated. These skills parlay into the primary Splatoon 2 multiplayer, and you’ll likely do better at its other modes too.

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But that’s far from the only kind of stage you’ll be playing. Other stages are survival modes, where you have to go a period of time avoiding obstacles, and projectiles for a period of time. Some of them will send you into a room of death traps. Other times it will be a room of enemies. Often times you’ll be completely unarmed, and in just about every instance you cannot take a single hit of damage. The time limit can be as low as a few seconds, or as long as a few minutes. When you first start out these will indeed be pretty tough. But over time you’ll learn patterns, and eventually clear them. As frustrating as the early attempts can be, these stages are a lot of help too. Because again, you’ll learn how to better dodge, and outwit online opponents by playing them.

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The 8-Ball stages are about on par with what you’d find in Valve’s Portal series, at least in terms of complexity. Initially, things start out pretty softly. You’ll get the basic mechanics of the idea, shooting an 8-Ball at just the right angle to move it along a series of courses to the end. But as you unlock newer stages based around the mechanic, they become far more elaborate. Many of them have segments where there are no guard rails. So if the ball falls into the abyss, you lose a life. Some of them involve pinball bumpers, multiple balls, switches, and time trials. They’re some of the best stages in the expansion.

There are also a number of puzzle stages that involve rotating the stage around in order to reach your objectives. Again, these are comparable to some of the Portal puzzles in terms of complexity. Then there are the handicap matches. These are the multiplayer games, only instead of playing online, it’s just you up against a team of Octolings. These matchups can be compared to the ones in the main Splatoon 2 campaign. You’ll have to defeat the Octoling soldiers which seem to have advanced A.I.

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But it doesn’t end there. Some of the stages will give you an option of what weapon to use, while others will demand you use a specific one. There are also gauntlet stages, where you’ll have to defeat hordes of enemies in order to get to the next checkpoint. Some of these use the mechanics from the main game as well, such as invisible walls, and floors that need to be inked in order to see them, or switches that have to be shot in order to freeze a piece of geometry so you can jump on or over it. There’s even one that puts the attackers on a turn table, where a switch will cause enemies to spin around in front of you.

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There are also a few boss stages in this campaign. Many of them bring back harder versions of previous bosses. But there are also a few new ones that go along with the storyline of the Octo Expansion. The toughest part about these, are the high entry fees. If you lose, you’ll be going back to other levels to grind away enough currency for a re-match. Be that as it may, these can feel like a massive accomplishment when you finally emerge victorious. When I say these are harder versions, I really mean these are harder versions. The strategies you used before won’t always translate to the rematch. Plus you’ll have to dish out more damage than before, and be on the lookout for new tricks from these old dogs.

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The overall goal is revealed to you when you happen upon a phone in the early goings of the Octo Expansion. This mysterious phone wants you to collect four devices, that are represented on the rail line maps. In order to get to each, you’ll have to play stages that lead up to them in order. Once you’ve done so, you’re ready to escape (which isn’t as cut, and dry as it sounds) But you won’t see every rail line initially. You’ll discover them when you find a stage that intersects on them. So as I mentioned earlier the game gives you a lot to do. Especially if you want to earn those cosmetic items for multiplayer in Splatoon 2. Discovering new lines will also have the conductor giving you currency to enter new stages with so you’ll get a perk for doing so. Don’t forget clearing stages also gives you money so you’ll earn money to go on. As stated earlier, certain levels also give you a choice as to what weapon to use. So if you want to go high reward for an equally high risk, you can choose the least advised option for a bigger payout.

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Of course some of the challenges on display here take only the most honed skills. For many, this will only give the drive needed to complete these. But if you find them too frustrating you can call on Pearl, and Marina to let you skip them. It’s a lot like the aid Nintendo has put in some of its Super Mario Bros. games. Allowing people of a lower skill level to see everything. However the game also makes note of the stages you’ve skipped, and gives you faded versions of the meme cakes outlined earlier. This means you also miss out on some of the lore, because much of the storyline is built into background item drops, chat logs, and other devices. It isn’t all front, and center via cut scenes.

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A lot of this stuff is really well written too, and goes a lot deeper with allegorical commentary, than you might realize. But it also does it without beating you over the head. It’s subtle enough that those looking for it will find it, and those that don’t pay as much mind to it won’t miss it. And at the same time there’s nothing controversial one could glob onto. They did a great job of letting players see the events from a number of viewpoints. There is also some Sci-Fi in this that comes out of nowhere, and yet still fits the storyline like a glove.

You don’t have to clear every stage to be able to complete the campaign, but because of some of the multiplayer rewards, and some of the storyline elements you’ll have enough incentive to go back, and play the stuff you skipped, or replay the stuff you might have previously found too taxing. You’re definitely getting a lot of value in the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion.

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Be that as it may, I do have a few minor gripes with it. The largest small problem is that it isn’t always clear where you’re supposed to go in some missions. In this handful of stages, you’ll figure it out simply enough with some trial, and error. But knowing off the bat helps immensely most of the time. A minor nitpick but there you are.  It’s also possible to cheese your way through by skipping stages after every two failed attempts. The flip side of this is that you’re not really getting the experience of actually playing the game. It’s certainly a viable mechanic for newcomers to be able to see more of the game, but it has the potential for abuse.

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I also would have preferred more original bosses over the returning bosses from the campaign. The new versions of these old bosses again, do present new, and more difficult challenges than before. But seeing these guys again just didn’t have the same magic. Especially when so much of the rest of the expansion is so new. Still, you’ll likely enjoy the tension that these skirmishes provide. It’s just too bad they couldn’t have had some more original characters for these encounters instead. Visually speaking, there isn’t a notable jump over the base game, but it still looks great. Nice designs, some slick textures, and visual cues. Pretty much everyone will be fine with it. But for those holding out hope this would look like a pseudo-sequel were probably aiming a little too high.

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And finally, I would have preferred more New Wave, Power Pop, and Pop Punk tracks than the expansion pack delivers, but the Electronica it gives the audience is very good. It’s at its best when it goes for ambience during some of the most difficult tasks at hand. There are also some great uses of sampling the original Wii U game soundtrack in it. So in terms of using the soundtrack for telling the story, one can’t complain much.  Again, all of my issues are minor, and two of them boil down toward preference more so than actual complaints. Really the main issue is that some goals aren’t laid out to you properly in a very small percentage of levels. In the grand scheme of things, that really isn’t that big a deal.

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Octo Expansion is a worthwhile expansion pack. Players who wished the base game had more single-player content than the base game should absolutely download this. With 80 stages, and so much variety, chances are you’ll be playing this a fairly long amount of time. It also has plenty in it for anybody who has become a big fan of the characters, and the world they inhabit. There is a lot of backstory here for those willing to look for it, and for those looking to uncover it. Not only in the cut scenes, and chat logs. But in the actual gameplay as well. It is even a solid buy if you come to Splatoon 2 for the Turf War, Ranked Battles, and Splat Fests. Because beating a lot of these stages will actually improve your skills online. They often require learning some advanced techniques to complete which then parlay into multiplayer. Plus there are all sorts of apparel, and Octoling options you’ll have access to once you manage to complete the storyline.

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Is Octo Expansion required to be able to enjoy Splatoon 2? Not at all. If you stick with the base game, you’ll still get to enjoy all of the Turf War, and Salmon Run you want. But if you like the idea of some added online perks, and hours upon hours of new content for a game you already love, Octo Expansion is a solid recommendation. There are so many things to love about this one. Whether you’re a hardcore fan who sings Calamari Inkantation every chance they get, or just somebody who happens to enjoy a good console shooter, Octo Expansion is quite the catch.

Final Score: 9 out of 10