Saturday, December 22, 2012

"This Generation"

Rather than write a "Game of the Year" feature or some other Top 10 to close out 2012, my approach this year was to take a look at "this generation" of hardware and games and attempt to figure out five hallmarks or touchstones of this generation. The Wii U is the harbinger of the "next gen" and rather than look ahead at "What might be" I decided to take a look back at what this generation would be remembered for.

I probably could have added a couple more aspects of this generation that fit the bill as helping to define this generation, but I felt the five I picked were probably the strongest. These aspects will be the hallmark of what this gen is remembered for:
Part I - Meaningless Rewards 
Part II - Motion Controls 
Part III - Co-Op Gaming 
Part IV - Episodic Games and DLC 
Part V - Open World Games
I tried to be "on point" with my observations and make the pieces easy to read; and offer some evidence for why I picked those aspects.

Leave a comment here or smack one down on your article of choice.

Monday, December 10, 2012


Sometimes I read something that just catches my attention. A billboard with a controversial slogan, the ingredients of most canned variety of soups, whatever, something grabs my attention and sometimes I learn something new. In this case I was reading a "Quick Start Guide" for a frontload clothes washer. And I got this part:
Under certain conditions, hydrogen gas may be produced in a hot water system that has not been used for two weeks or more. HYDROGEN GAS IS EXPLOSIVE. If the hot water system has not been used for such a period, before using a washing machine or combination washer-dryer, turn on all hot water faucets and let the water flow from each for several minutes. This will release any accumulated hydrogen gas. THE GAS IS FLAMMABLE. DO NOT SMOKE OR USE AN OPEN FLAME DURING THIS TIME.
Who knew doing laundry could be so hazardous?

Of course, that kind of thing isn't a danger in my house, where it's an exception that the clothes washer isn't in operation.

It's also one of those warnings that I'd like someone to independently verify. How easy it to cause an explosion in such a way? How does the hydrogen build-up in the first place? Common thought is that warnings that appear on products are there because some moron without two IQ points to rub together used the product incorrectly. That's why so see those, "This bag is not a toy" and "Poison DO NOT EAT" on those little silicon packets found with new shoes. My imagination takes me to that moment when some repair guy showed to look at a busted washer only to have the whole thing explode in his face when he lit a cigarette. It's straight out of a Daffy Duck adventure.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Killing, A-Okay. Naked Breasts, No Way!

In playing Hitman: Absolution I was struck again by this really weird thing that exists in popular media, like television and games. It is absolutely okay to gut your enemies in every gruesome way possible but showing a naked breast is a wild exception.

I can only think of a handful of (mainstream) games that have included nudity in this regard: God of War, The Saboteur, The Godfather, Dante's Inferno, uh, there might have been some in a Larry 6 (my memory is foggy).

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nikola Tesla

The second time a game ever got me to go to the library and start reading a book, was Red Alert 2, which featured a defensive structure that zapped incoming opponents with a burst of electricity called a Tesla Tower. (The first was Gabriel Knight II and King Ludwig II of Bavaria.)

I actually meant to pick-up a book about Nikola Tesla ages ago, but when I saw "Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla : Biography of a Genius" on the new arrivals shelf at the library I finally had the topic thrust toward me. I'm interested in the topic and it was free. A perfect storm.

Besides examining Tesla, what I find so fascinating about the book is how well it situates Tesla in the larger world around him and the kind of profound technological changes that were happening at the turn of the last century.

People didn't have electricity, even in the cities and this was a time without radio. Books, newspapers, and magazines were the principle purveyors of information and news. And at that same time in different parts of the world there's the onset of wireless communication, electricity (Tesla's AC current winning out over the DC advocated by people like Thomas Edison), and flight technology. All of this would bring profound social, commercial, and economic changes to the entire planet, but the author, Marc Seifer, argues convincingly, I think, that Tesla -- a single person -- had more impact on those three than anyone else.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I Just Thought it Was Funny

It was the "Touch and Feel!" part that got me chuckling, but the exclamation mark that got me laughing out loud.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Halo 4 Review Coming Soon

My Halo 4 review is "in the can" as it were.

That means I have only to hit "Publish" and the review will be live. It's not a glowing review. In fact, the tone is quite negative all-round.

As is my habit after writing a review, I peruse the Metacritic and Gamerankings collection of reviews, both "professional" and amateur. Not so much to confirm my own thoughts but to gauge the reaction the review might receive, when put alongside these other reviews.

While the review doesn't dig a hole for the game like the one on Quarter to Three, it sure doesn't align with the early reviews from last week, which seem to trip over each other to heap praise on the game. There are things I like about Halo 4 but as you'll see in the review on this is definitely one of those games where I wasn't feeling it.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Game Design and The Number 3

I got so irritated with Halo 4 last night that I actually turned off the game. In a move that is definitely not restricted to the Halo series or the fine folks at 343 Industries, Cortana, the digital desire of nerdy fetishists the world over, informs Master Chief to disable 3 relays.

This after I'd just spent a chunk of time taking out three other things and disabling three force field installations.

Another "three directive" and I was out. It just struck me as utterly lazy and I turned off the game -- just pressed the power button and was done with it.

But thinking about it for a handful of minutes while brushed my teeth, the number 3 is endemic to games in general. Right back to Super Mario Bros. on the NES, which most everyone has played, as an example. World 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, then the castle level, "Our princess is in another castle," then onward.

Friday, November 2, 2012

"Last year my brother was skewered by a moose."

I've started posting items on a more regular basis to the Gaming Enthusiast Press Awards blog and as result I find myself constantly flipping back through the metaphoric pages in my brain looking for "pinnacles" of good writing.

I've already added a post to Old Man Murray's classic feature "Crate Review System" which actually provided quite a bit of mirth back in 2000. Oddly enough, the Crate Review System is still valid twelve years later, possibly more so. But there are other "classics" that stand out over the last decade and one of those is a (fake) Cudgel of Xanthor game preview, penned by Jeff Green back in 2007 (in Computer Gaming World), which I've included below.

The piece does an effective job of completely skewering games writing and lampooning the extremely low bar that many of the enthusiast press aspire to. The article also manages to include just about every cliché about games writing one can find, all the while not saying anything substantive about the game even though the writer was "literally foaming at the mouth" after playing the game.

I present to you the piece in its entirety:

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Maybe It's the Candy

Only hours away from zero-hour, it's finally starting to feel like Halloween.

As a kid, I remember the lead-up to Halloween was often weeks of planning and covertly lighting off firecrackers. The firecracker part is self-explanatory, with the possible exception of bottle rockets -- single stage; three stage rockets are inferior -- that are akin to Silly Putty in the many different uses we came up with, which mostly revolved around firing them out of metal tubes.

But the planning...

That always seemed to me as "carefully considered" like some kind of complicated math problem. We'd consider the best route through the neighbourhood to take, cutting across lawns when needed, take into account what houses gave away full size chocolate bars last year, then timing it out because after a couple hours people took in their jack-o'-lanterns and turned off their lights. Planning the route was key!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"I Read it for the Articles"

Over at The Armchair Empire - Infinite we recently published an interview with Pamela Horton, a.k.a. Miss October 2012, who it turns out really is a fan and player of video games. She even has aspirations of getting into the industry on the development side (specifically, character design).

What I really enjoyed with this interview was the fact I did some actual research. Well, maybe more accurately, confirmed something with a source.

During the course of the interview, Ms. Horton mentioned she'd had a letter published in an old issue of Nintendo Power when she was twelve. Not that I was sceptical, but it's one of those things that could be said off the cuff (i.e. filler) in order to create an air of credibility.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Some Recent Writing

I signed myself up for the annual NaNoWriMo novel writing contest/project for November, so I expect that all available words in my head will be used up for that cause. I'm planning to write a full-length story about Aloysius and Mitchell. I've done some thinking about these characters and I think something longer might actually work, rather than one-off blog posts. ("3rd One Down" and "Aloysius Recounts" if you're interested.)

So, I've been trying to keep my plate clear or at least manageable so I don't get too far behind in terms of game reviews and other articles for November. Here's a few of the more recent articles that have gone up on
There will no doubt be a bit of a lull on this blog. Like I said, all my words will go toward my novel.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Adventures With Diapers" (2000)

Wa-a-a-y back on January 16, 2000 another piece I wrote for the Vancouver Province appeared in the "You've Got Kids!" section of the paper. The last column I wrote was about sleep deprivation; this one's about diapers.

Changing diapers goes hand in glove -- you'll wish you had gloves! -- with having kids and this recounts some of the "joys" and challenges of diaper changing. While I'm sure my 13-year old son appreciates reading about himself in this piece, it can't be said that my diaper-changing days are behind me. My youngest is just a little more than a year old so in all likelihood I have another year (maybe) of diaper changes. That's when we switch to changing bed sheets on a regular basis and thanking Science for plastic undersheets.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Strong Silent Type

I'm glad I'm not the only one that has been picking up on the silent protagonist connection between Dishonored, Half-Life, and BioShock. But the games really do share more in common than just a protagonist that says absolutely nothing in reaction to things happening around him. Even bone-breaking falls illicit little in the way of reaction.

Strong silent type and creepy walkers.
Another  connection with Half-Life.
What really connects these games is the way the story is spun out. There's a mythos to each game that the developers do their best to not spoon feed the player with information about what is happening. The player is left to fill in the blanks from what's laid out in each level, and the bits of evidence and "filler" that textures the whole experience.

In Dishonored, the first time I came across a rat trap I was a little taken aback. Not content with snap traps or poison, Dishonored showcases rat traps as big dumpsters. What they're baited with or how they work isn't provided -- at least not so far, from what I can tell -- but my mind fills in those blanks quite easily.

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Dishonored" Doesn't Bother With Spelling

Reviews of Dishonored are embargoed for a bit so this isn't a review by any stretch. This post is more along the lines of "impressions."

First, for some reason I can't stop reading the title as "Dish ono Red!" No real reason for that, it just happens. Maybe it's because I've been staring at the title looking for the missing "U." Localization of video games is big business but apparently Bethesda Softworks and Arkane couldn't be bothered to slip in a "U" for Canadian and British gamers. Or possibly the "U" escaped at some point and wound up at Nintendo.

The Rat Plague is pretty cool. At first, I thought maybe this was like The Plague in the traditional sense but this is actually a rat plague in the Biblical sense. I'm looking forward to how that part of the game pans out -- a squeaky third faction.

I can't figure out if Arkane was going for Steampunk or Whale Oil Punk or Medieval redux or American Civil War or what with the design of the characters and setting, but I'm certainly enjoying the look of the game. For some reason these clashing styles are blended together to make something interesting to watch and look at.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Buried: Mass Effect 3 Leviathan DLC

It's possible that BioWare and EA were going for some kind of meta experience with the Leviathan DLC for Mass Effect 3 -- not entirely sure; this the first piece of additional content for Mass Effect 3 I've played -- because it's so difficult to find.

The basic starting point for the Leviathan story is that there's this mysterious Reaper killer something out in deep space. It's up to Shepherd to find it. And it's up to the player to figure out where the hell the story arc is buried.

Granted I haven't played Mass Effect 3 in a while, but I was expecting a flashing light, a big button somewhere that said, "Leviathan, GO!" to kick off the story.


So, I check Shepherd's email. Nothing obvious there. I wandered the Normandy and Citadel expecting a flashing arrow or other obvious indication of a starting point.


What the hell? I went online to track this down. Surely, it can't be that difficult to start playing this thing that people have plunked down money to purchase.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Oh, For A Good Night's Sleep" (2000)

(Click the picture so you can read the article.)
Believe it or not, that's me in the picture above (circa 2000).

Twelve years younger... and I actually look more rested than I feel in 2012. I certainly have less hair in total, and the hair that remains is flecked with gray. Plus, I have four more kids. (So does my wife, but she looks far better than I do!)

The "kid" pictured above is still a kid but he just turned 13. Officially a teenager, though he's been eating like one for a couple of years, it's hard to believe that he ever kept us awake all night with his crying!

This is a falsehood.

Even if they're blurred together, I remember a lot of times being kept awake or startled from a deep slumber by plaintive cries.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Plastic Prices, Batman!"

In doing some research on potential display cases for some of my large collectibles, I approached a local company for a quote on producing a large five-sided box made of clear plastic. Using the dimensions of the largest display box available on Sideshow Collectibles -- see this blog post -- they came back with an astounding price of approximately $500! (More or less, depending on the thickness of the material.)

I describe it as "astounding" because the cases available on Sideshow, which light up by the way, run about $300.

So, basically, it looks like I'll try my hand at building a display case of some sort. I already have a vision in my head as to what it will look like. Now it's just a matter of measuring and cutting, gluing and swearing.

That last item tends to go hand in glove when I attempt DIY projects. What initially begins so simply and easily... well, that's the warning sign that something is about to go completely sideways. I'm a realist when it comes to this. The only thing one can do sometimes is just stammer, throw down a hammer, and fire invective at the walls (which are hopefully thick enough to shield people walking by the house).

And a lot of the time that old nugget from Jurassic Park springs forward.

You were "so preoccupied with whether or not [you] could, that [you] didn't stop to think if [you] should."

DIY enthusiasts take note.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Aloysius Recounts

"When I finally come out of it," Aloysius suddenly stops talking. He swirls the water in his glass then gulps it down. "When I finally come out of it, I have no damn recollection of what happened. Just the last of that third can of Red then I'm stumbling around in an alley somewhere or face down in the middle of a landing strip. Came to in an alley in Hong Kong once, not a shred of information as to how and why."

"Not even a hazy recollection of anything?" Mitchell asked.

"Not ever! No, not a shred!" Aloysius answered. He banged his glass on the table top but the noise was muted against the rolling sand dunes on all sides. "Well, once."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

French Zombies in "The Horde"

I miss going to the video store to rent movies but the advantage of Netflix -- being able to browse movies, watching each one for a few minutes to see if it grabs me -- outweighs that loss. Plus, I've watched some really good films and TV shows that I otherwise wouldn't have. (And it also allowed me to completely avoid some trash.)

One of those non-trash films -- at least in my opinion -- is The Horde. (It's no gem, but it held my attention.)

It's a good zombie flick, especially if you can stand the extreme gore. The biggest problem is that the description of the film obliterates the surprise, the sudden "Oh, we have bigger problems right now!" turn of events that turns the plans of some corrupt cops to kill the drug dealer responsible for the death of one of their own into a scramble for survival.

Their revenge plot isn't going so well when the bad and badder guys come under attack by super strong and fast zombies. These aren't the kind of zombies found in The Walking Dead. These ones are more along the lines of 28 Days Later. And from what the survivors can see from the roof of the apartment building it's pretty much the end of the world. What ensues is survivors alternating turning on each other and working together to escape the building to (hopefully) reach a nearby military base. The end is rather stark and depressing but it wrapped up the way the zombie apocalypse probably should.

I just wish the film description was misleading or omitted any mention of zombies. If the description focused on the revenge aspect of the four corrupt cops, that probably would have been enough. Make the zombies an actual surprise.

The Horde also suffers the same problem as nearly every other zombie film. Though it's set in the "real world" zombie films don't exist. No one automatically says, "Shoot for the head!" There's always this drawn out process of figuring out how walking corpses might be put down. That's just kind of irritating. If I saw a shambling horde of zombies coming down the street right now I'd know to aim for the head.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"For Display Purposes Only"

The bust, I mean, dust is a real challenge with mixed
media statues.
Dust is a problem for just about everyone and everything. Space dust, skin dust, dirt dust, clothing dust, dust dust... dust comes from everywhere and it's murder on things like electronics and lungs (especially if it's asbestos dust). Being a bit of a collector -- action figures and large collectibles mostly -- dust can drive me to distraction because next to heated electronics and my CPU fan nothing collects more dust than my collectibles.

For the plastic and poly resin figures, clean-up is easy. A little warm water and air drying is enough to bring the figure back to it's dust-free state. However, when it comes to mixed media statues (figures that combine plastic, polystone, and, in some cases, fabric) it becomes a real issue.

When I had Morrigan (Darkstalkers) on display I was constantly blowing dust off the leggings until my wife asked me if I wanted to be alone. Currently the issue is present with M. Bison.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Walking Dead Episode 3 Commentary

The Walking Dead (from Telltale) continues to impress with Episode 3. This is the first dozen minutes or so of the episode with some commentary from yours truly. Check the full review right here on The Armchair Emprie - Infinite.

I'm starting to get the hang of this thing -- taking a video then recording commentary over it. This time out I tried messing with the sound a little. Bumping the audio level of the game when appropriate so more of the game's flavour comes through, then dumping it down when I have something, ahem, important to say.

I've gotta say, I'm enjoying it more than I probably should.

Writing is still my first choice, but in an effort to cultivate a cult of personality, I think I'll keep tooling around with these little projects.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sleeping Dogs

It's quite possible I should not have bought a copy of Sleeping Dogs. (Playing it on 360.) We're coming up on the busy season for new releases and I can tell I won't be finished with the game before the games start flooding in. Which means that if I don't finish it quickly, I'll never get back to it because I'll be constantly assaulted by something new that has be thrashed through as quickly as possible in order to grab a share of the eyeballs looking for a review.

Being interrupted during a game, particularly when the conclusion/climax is within sight, is not the end of the world but it's certainly irritating. There have been a number of times that I've stopped playing a game to play other things and just never got around to going back and finishing a game off to see how the story ends.

I'm trying my utmost to blast through Sleeping Dogs because it's a success story -- I hope it's successful; the Vancouver game development community could do with a "win!" The game, a "continuation" of the True Crime games, was originally "cancelled" by Activision, was then picked up by Square Enix, reworked, and brought it to the masses to quite a bit of acclaim. Whether it pans out as a high seller remains to be seen. So, I wanted to see how it turned out. It wasn't a smooth development for sure, but if I don't finish it soon I'll be out of luck when it comes to actually seeing the credits roll.

Anyone else do this? Buy a game then take too long to finish it, get distracted, and never come back to it?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Some Recent Reviews

I know I don't do enough advertising when it comes to my writing, so this post is a bit of a catch-up for Reviews for New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS), Ghost Recon: Future Solider (PC), and The Walking Dead: Long Road Ahead (PC).

New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS)
I think it speaks volumes that I'm still fooling around with this during my commute. Coin Rush is revisited at least once a day to "challenge" StreetPass records of random strangers, but there's still one "World" I have yet to open and it's bugging the hell out of me. I know there's a way there -- otherwise why would it be included on the map? -- but I'm trying to stay off Gamefaqs. I'd like to find the secret and I'll bet it's a path so obvious that I'm missing it because it's in plain sight. Also: The game is a re-telling of the film Scarface.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

2003: Paul Myers Show

I've written about this elsewhere, but back in 2003, Mr. Nash and I appeared on AM730 MOJO Radio "Talk Radio for Guys" in Vancouver. The station is long dead, at least the talk radio format. It switched to all sports, and is currently a traffic station.

But back to 2003 in a time just before Christmas.

Nervous would have been putting it mildly. I was practically vibrating with anxiety as Jeff and I sat in the Corus Radio reception area waiting to be retrieved. Which is the only reason I can come up with for the fact I made up answers on the spot rather than say, "I don't know." If Jeff and I did the segment again now, 9 years on and a ton of more experience under our belts, this would have gone very differently. And I wouldn't be as nervous.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

"Police Quest III Murder Map"

I know Gabriel Knight III gets stuck with the "worst puzzle" award but if my memory serves, this one was just as maddening. If those stars weren't exactly in the right place you just couldn't go any further. It was pixel hunting taken to it's most sinister and damning form!

I stumbled on the picture above after trying to install my 1995 CD version of the Police Quest Collection. It's a little bit of a nightmare to get running but I found all sorts of things I forgot about, like a video interview with former LA police chief Daryl F. Gates talking about "Did OJ do it?"

He says, "Yep."

Well, to be fair he does a very good job explaining his answer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Video Commentary: The Attempt

Over on The Armchair Empire's official YouTube channel, Mr. Nash has been providing an assortment of commentary and video for the last few months but it's only recently I've tried my hand at doing the same thing.

I've done two videos so far, one for Prototype 2 and the one above for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. There's plenty of room for improvement on my part but it is quite fun though I don't think it will replace my written articles.

Friday, August 17, 2012

12 Years

Celebrating 12 Years!

The date came and went without even a ripple. In fact, it didn't dawn on me until about a week later that The Armchair Empire has been in existence for 12 years.

The official date of registration of the URL -- -- was August 5, 2000, two days before my first son's first birthday and on the same day Alec Guinness died.

That was when all the trouble started.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In My Other Life I'm Emperor of the Universe

It's not exactly the feeling that I was meant for something greater -- some alternate Aaron is probably enjoying being Emperor of the Universe -- but there's definitely the feeling I was meant to be doing something else.

It's kind of a dangerous thing to admit because people tend to jump to conclusions about what that something else is or what spurred the thought in the first place.

Sometimes, it's just a feeling, something that lurks just beneath the soul line. Sometimes I see ripples.

Did I just see that? Is that the thing I should be doing? Is that the one thing?

And what do I do to catch that thing? Wait until it leaps up and lands in my boat? Bait a hook and trawl along? Next time I see the ripples, leap into the opaque water with fingers outstretched?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Playing Inverted

Hours and hours of my early gaming life was spent playing Wing Commander, X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, and Stunt Island. (One of my earliest memories was playing the original Falcon on my XT.) In those games, the Y-axis -- the up/down axis -- was always inverted. Pull down on the joystick and the nose of the craft would incline; push the stick forward and the craft would angle downward.

The control method ingrained itself so deep into my brain that when consoles began to come packed with controllers that featured dual thumb sticks -- and even before that with the N64 controller -- I played with the Y-axis inverted. (Playing with mouse and keyboard, this issue just goes away.)

Gears of War, TimeSplitters, Prototype 2, Halo, LA Noire, Batman: Arkham City, Rainbow Six Vegas, Stranglehold, Max Payne, the list goes on... games and series that I've played inverted. It helps to cement that Y-axis quirk that was established so long ago. So, when I come across a game, especially a modern game, that doesn't feature the option to make that switch (or even makes it the default control preference) it's enough to completely stonewall any enjoyment I might otherwise squeeze out of the game.

Right now I'm thinking specifically of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. The PC version of the game.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sorting, Sorting, Sorting

Just prior to the sorting, the bins await my attention.
I recently started sorting my massive collection of action figures -- I had upwards of 12 Rubbermaid totes stuff full -- and it has been a completely upward climb trying to organize everything, especially when it comes to accessories, which I typically just threw into the tote with little thought of the kind of frustration I would cause my Future Self.

I'm somewhat impressed that I've been able to match up so many of the accessories to the various figures, but I still have a couple of small cardboard boxes filled with swords, guns, tentacles, chains, and appendages. I either can't remember which figure the pieces go with or have no idea where the figure is that pairs with the accessories. And The Simpsons figures are another ballgame entirely. Each figure came with three or four accessories. My memory just isn't good enough to pair that stuff up and I don't have the time necessary to research that stuff. At least the accessories in tend to have a similar look so that makes it a little easier.

I've been heavily collecting and reviewing action figures for the last 12 years and I've built quite the collection so as I sort and bag these figures, I'm in a philosophical battle with myself about boxing them back up and shuffling them down to the crawlspace. I don't really get a chance to "enjoy" these figures. I have a small handful of figures displayed and a few large Sideshow pieces out, but that's it. What good are these things doing packed away?

At any rate, I've been taking pictures so I thought I'd share some:

I have enough Halo figures and accessories -- from Joyride Studios and McFarlane Toys --
to recreate Halo: Reach. The pile includes a Prophet and Flood figures.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Prototype 2 (PC): Turmoil

I will likely post a stream of Prototype 2 screens in the coming days. It launched yesterday for PC and I love the fact I can just hit F12 and produce a picture-perfect grab of whatever I'm looking at. Or using FRAPS or Bandicam and a button press automatically takes a pic after a set predetermined period.

The game finished downloading late last night -- early this morning, really -- so I haven't played anything beyond the main title screen. (I just wanted to be sure it booted up okay.) I'm not sure if I'll enjoy Prototype 2 as much this time around -- I reviewed the 360 version -- knowing that the studio is essentially closed.

This isn't a unique feeling to Prototype 2. I tried going back to TRON -- developed by the now-closed Propaganda Games -- and it's difficult for me to play more than a few minutes. I start thinking about the people that made the game that may have struggled mightily after the studio closure. Those with families to support; trying to make mortgage payments or car payments or rent. I'm sure some landed on their feet right away or got jobs in other areas of the tech sector or gaming. I want to go back and play L.A. Noire again, but after Team Bondi collapsed, it feels somehow wrong to be playing the game. This is obviously something tripping in my own brain; some intensive game therapy might be required.

It's always the last games as well. I've had no problem going back to the likes of Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction or Turok, but there's some kind of mental block when it comes to the last game a studio produced. I don't get physically ill or anything like that... I just don't feel good about it.

Deserves some additional thought....

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More "Killing Floor"

Man alive, Killing Floor has really impressed me of late.

I should have drawn comparisons between it and Counter-Strike much, much sooner. Ten years ago, I put in many, many hours with Counter-Strike and Killing Floor might be the first game I've played since then that has done a good job of nailing that upwards upgrade progression during the course of a match. Do well in a round (survive, at the minimum) and the player is rewarded with additional funds to purchase bigger and better weapons or equipment. And if you don't do so well, you need to rely on the generosity of your comrades to drop some money on the ground so you might be able to put down the next wave of zombies together.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reviewing: They Need to Watch

I'm 8 hours deep, but that wasn't nearly enough time to spend with a game that boasted "hundreds!" of hours of content. There's a drone sharing the room with me. The publisher's nameless eyes on the ground -- Darkfriend, some in the office derided -- to ensure I didn't upload the source code to the Internet or pass the disc to a conspirator to copy en masse to sell on street corners.

Occasionally he would shift in his seat, adjust his tie. Maybe take a sip of water. Though I'd never seen the full contractual details, I was pretty sure that as long as I kept playing, he had to stand guard. Watching me. Waiting until the credits rolled.

Hour 9 is when I stand up, sigh, and take off my pants. I kick them into the corner of the room.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Gains a Toe-Hold

A long time coming, summer has finally arrived in Vancouver!

June was a sloggy mess of cloud and rain, unexpected chills and periods of brief sunshine. For the last four or five days, it's been nothing but sun, and some smoky haze that that the weather guy keeps telling us is drifting up from forest fires in Montana. But at least it's not rain.

Temperatures have been riding at 25 - 30 degrees (Celsius) as well, which means the barbeque has been put to use (twice!) and I'm wearing clothes that have dried in the sun.

There's a smell associated with sun-dried clothes, sheets, and towels that's hard to pin down. It's a unique, comforting smell -- one that reminds me of past summers spent at the beach or camping or at summer camp. It's a crisp, unspoiled smell. And the fabric feels different. A tumble dryer beats a towel smooth. Sun-dried, that same towel feels prickly and somehow more absorbent.

So, even though I do find it difficult to nod off promptly in a stuffy bedroom, I won't complain about the heat. We've been waiting for it, it's finally hear, and I love the smell.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dumb Forum Threads

If there's one thing that reading gaming forums -- or any forum, for that matter -- provides is that there's often very little thought about thread titles. Making the title clear and saying a little something of what the reader will find once they click on the link is important but too few people actually take the time to formulate a single line to sum up what they hope to discuss in the forum. Or worse, pose a question that can be answered with a single word.

It also annoys me to see questions that anyone able to type could peck into a search engine and have an answer *SNAP* now.

I could shoot these barrel-imprisoned fish all day, but here are a few examples of what I'm writing about:

Who is your favourite gaming companion?
Misleading. My favourite gaming companion is a loaded .45 (ol' Betsy) and an open bottle of rum (Captain Morgan) but that's not what the poster is asking. It should read: Who is your favourite in-game companion?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Killing Floor - 6 Hours In

The game has been around for ages, but I'm finally getting around to playing Killing Floor with the recently released Gold Edition. And in a lot of ways, it's showing its age. Graphically, it's well behind what's currently available in the multiplayer shooter genre on PC and the world is extremely static as there doesn't seem to be much of anything in the way of physics.

The lack of respawn reminds me of the run I did with Counter-Strike back in the early days of The Armchair Empire, 12 years ago. Once you die, you just have to wait until the start of the next round! That's unheard of in most multiplayer shooters that are measured in kills-per-minute and things exploding.

And the menus... it took me more than a dozen rounds to figure out how the store worked. If it was found in any other game, it would receive a round of critical invective.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"Let's Start a Gang!"

If there's one thing I've learned about children's literature and "learning to read" books is that they can be entirely subversive and get away with it because kids like nonsense and colourful pictures.

Take for example the page above, taken from an early reader called "The Monster Gang" by Felicity Everett.

Every time my 3-year old takes it off the shelf and asks me to read it to him, I get to this part and just start laughing. Ben could be saying anything but instead shouts, "Let's start a gang!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

*POP* Lollipop Chainsaw

Even before playing Lollipop Chainsaw, I kind of knew what I was getting into. Even without any fore knowledge of the title, aside reading press releases as the game neared release, the cover art acts as a perfect indicator of what will be found once the game boots up.

Titillation and craziness. Candy might be be involved. And a chainsaw that spews rainbows.

It's just weird. And that's even before I've played a second of the game.

Then it just gets stranger. More profane, too, but I'm not sure that does any favours for the game, which is mostly "hack, hack, pom-pom, slash" action from what I've played so far. Initial reaction is that I'm having fun with Lollipop Chainsaw because it is so weird and doesn't take anything seriously. I remember Bullet Witch being a little like that. For everything it did wrong, there was something unique about it -- mostly the locations. I remember one section where you faced off against a dragon while standing on top of a 747 in flight.

At any rate, my review of Lollipop Chainsaw should be ready this week.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Not Quite a Short Story: Free Fall

I wrote this almost two years ago and it was kind of inspired by a level in the game "Wet" and a particular scene from the Bond flick "The Spy Who Loved Me." It was cool to play another scenario like the one below in the opening minutes of "Saints Row: The Third."

I can hear wind. It's whistling and it feels like I'm falling. I open my eyes in a squint.

I am falling and I grab my chest, clawing at a rip chord that isn't there. It's then that I notice debris falling with me. A fuselage of some kind of plane matches my speed. I point myself toward it. I inch closer to it on the wind and in the dim moonlight the interior becomes visible.

I reach the jagged edge of the fuselage and hold on to it, using what little leverage I have to haul myself in. It's dark so I fumble the walls, floor and ceiling or some order of the three. My fingers touch something familiar.

I strap the parachute to my back and kick off one of the seats to get myself clear of the debris. The ground is so close, I can easily make out features of the city below framed in the glow of streetlights and vehicle traffic. I pull the chord and there's a dull flapping sound and the world jerks up with a punch. My broken ribs scream and my breathing struggles in ragged chunks.

The debris begins to the hit earth.

So very close to the ground, searchlights suddenly hold me. It's quickly followed by a sputtering of gun fire. A massive explosion rocks the area above me, another one a hundred feet to my right.

I steer myself toward a black area and hope for the best. At the rate I'm falling, I should be able to make it, unless the fireworks from the ground manage to punch a hole in my salvation.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Max Payne 3 Screenshots

It's hard not to keep pressing the F12 key again and again with Max Payne 3. See below for the reason! Nice work on the visuals, Rockstar!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

"$1.49 Day, Tuesday!"

The face of uptown New Westminster changed irrevocably when the old Woodward's department store was torn down to make way for something new and modern. Here's snapshot of what the building looked like about five minutes to noon someday in 1954, the year it opened:

Woodward's in New Westmisnter (1954), facing northwest at the corner of 6th Avenue and 6th Street
My memories of this building from the 1980's and the people that worked there are nothing but good, even if all I remember is snippets of things.

Right on the corner of 6th Avenue and 6th Street, there was no missing the building. It was a landmark for uptown New West. If you wanted to meet someone it was "Under the Woodward's clock."

Leading up to Christmas, the display area right on the corner was dominated by Santa's workshop, that included a dazzling array of robotic elves swaddled in cottony snow, carrying out never-ending motions of building toys and wrapping presents, amid blinking Christmas lights and various fake trees. Santa would hoist you up on his lap, chat with you for a bit and send you on your way with a candy cane and maybe a colouring book. The "helper elves" would snap a picture with an instant camera right on the spot. I was always amazed by that part. The way the picture reverse-faded into existence. Lines would grow more defined, the colour would fill in gradually. I used to wonder when the process would stop. Would the lines get bolder, the colour pop so much that the moment would come alive? (I swear J.K. Rowling stole this idea right from my 6-year old brain.)

Friday, June 1, 2012


For the first time in a couple of years, I'm finally getting away from work for a proper vacation!

"Proper" mostly means not dragging myself to work, working up a frenzy during working hours, then dragging myself back home, sleep for a few hours then repeat the process. It has started to feel like a bit of a slog. Encountering "slog" is easily recognized when I have to look at a calendar or my watch to establish what day it might be. (I've been wrong on occasion.) The days blur together far too easily.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Customer Service: Apple Store

If every store had customer service like we got at the Apple store last night, brick and mortar retail outlets wouldn't be in a slow decline.

We had two problems we needed to have addressed: Macbook with a missing "x" and my son's iPod (that had obviously been stepped on), which needed a new screen.

Initially I was put off by the fact one the reps said we needed to make an appointment -- one for the iPod, one for the Macbook. The fact I had three kids in tow put me in a frame of mind that I didn't want to wait, period. Just tell me how much these things are going to cost to repair so we can get this done!

But these things needed to happen, so I made an appointment for the Macbook, for about 30 minutes after we stepped into the store. (It would have been more than an hour later for an appointment for the iPod; son would have to make arrangements for later.) When we came back, the "Genius" handled the repair on the spot. He brought out an "x" and using a multi-tool obviously tailor made for these kinds of repairs, snapped the key into place within a couple of minutes.

No charge!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alan Wake's American Nightmare Screenshots

Just a handful of hi-res screenshots from the PC version of Alan Wake's American Nightmare. Playing through this version is much more enjoyable than the 360 version for a couple of reasons. The obvious graphical upgrade, but also aiming with the mouse! Review should be posted on this week. *WARNING: Possible spoilers ahead.*

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Benevolence of the Games Industry

Benevolence: The Mark of the
Games Industry
I've been reading a lot about the recent implosion of 38 Studios, which also took out developer Big Huge Games and left multiple hundreds of people unemployed. There's no shortage of ink being spilled on this particular subject. Some pieces take good stabs at completely serious features chronicling what happened and the ramifications of this event.

But some of these very serious articles completely undermine themselves by including one or two lines that completely change my opinion of the entire article.

This is from an article The Verge posted a few days ago (linked above):
A slew of developers from around the country have been Tweeting that they are hiring in hopes of finding the hundreds of displaced employees jobs.
They were (or still are) developers aiming tweets at former 38 Studios employees. But this is an entirely common practice. It's not just when a studio goes does that the HR personnel mobilize to grab the best talent; tweets happen all the time. Does anyone seriously buy the idea that HR personnel have "hopes of finding the hundreds of displaced employees jobs." While not the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard, this one makes the list.

This is how I imagine the conversation running in my head:
"Hey, Kathy, 38 Studios just went under, everyone was fired," says Tom. 
"Yes! I won't have to head-hunt anyone, they'll jump at the chance of working here!" says Kathy, who does a cartwheel and high-fives the nearest person.
HR Happy Dance!
This is what the feature would lead me to believe actually happens.
"Hey, Kathy, 38 Studios just went under, everyone was fired," says Tom.
"Oh, the poor dears," says Kathy. She slumps in her chair, lost momentarily in utter despair. Hope stirs. She stands up, kicks over her chair, starts typing away, and shouts in a booming voice, "We are going to find each and every one of those wretched souls a source of income! Be displaced no more, former employees of 38 Studios!"
I don't like to see anyone lose their job -- unless they're grossly incompetent -- and if I knew a guy that was free to take a job that would be perfect for him, of course, I'd make the recommendation, but I'm not sure why there's an assumption that game developers are selfless is making sure people have jobs. I'm sure other developers feel some sympathy and empathy for employees of 38 Studios, because I think they probably understand that it could just as easily be them that's out of a job, but that single paragraph manages to undermine the professionalism of the entire piece.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Alan Wake's American Hair-Trigger Aiming

Alan Wake's American Nightmare was recently released for PC and playing through it again... egad, this game nails ambience and setting like nobody's business. And yes, it looks better than the 360 version.

It also has hair-trigger controls, especially in comparison to the 360 gamepad.

Even turning the mouse sensitivity all the way down, there's always the danger of overshooting the mark.

Imagine sneezing, opening your eyes, and finding that you've spun yourself 180-degrees and are looking at the floor. That's what it feels like. It feels a little strange to have to use such a steady hand. I didn't find this with Saints Row: The Third -- I made a minor adjustment and I was good. No further changes required.

This over-sensitivty comes in handy during fights with swarming enemies because aiming is so quick and accurate, but I so far I've felt like I'm walking a tightrope being quick and not knowing which direction I'm facing.

The full review should be posted on next week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Armchair Empire Explodes into the Future!


Move to blog format and expanded use of social networking and video content to bring “All Things Gaming” to the next level with “The Armchair Empire - Infinite”

Vancouver, British Columbia -- May 22, 2012 -- The Armchair Empire is proud to announce its second evolutionary stage, nearly 12 years in the making, with the launch of The Armchair Empire - Infinite (

“It has been more than a decade since The Armchair Empire launched and it was probably about time we made use of some of the dramatic changes in technology to make our own dramatic changes,” said co-founder and head writer Aaron Simmer. “With The Armchair Empire - Infinite we’ll be able to react faster to news, gets reviews posted sooner, and do a better job integrating video content and social networking nonsense, etc.”

“Mostly we took this step to make our lives at least 56% easier,” said co-founder and VP of Video Content, Jeff Nash. “It was time to go “blog out” with the Armchair Empire - Infinite, which features the same writers, the same level of insight of the regular Armchair Empire, but the articles can be presented much faster and possibly with more sparkles.”

The Armchair Empire ( will remain a vast planetoid of gaming information, reviews, previews, features, interviews, and editorials of the last dozen years. The Armchair Empire - Infinite is essentially a satellite launched in the hopes of remaining relevant and possibly ride on the likely success of BioShock Infinite.

The Armchair Empire - Infinite is here:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Kid "Hammerclaw" Icarus

I'm finally catching up with the latest Kid Icarus and I'm really having a hard time figuring out what some members of the enthusiast press have been saying about the controls for this game.
From the way some described them, the controls are enough to turn a person's hands into a bundle of arthritic, claw-like sticks. I'm a couple hours into the game and -- playing without the included stand -- I'm not experiencing any problems so far. And since the game hasn't deviated from the flying/ground/flying combat mix, I'm not anticipating any.

Of course, I'm not walking around playing the game. I've been sitting on the bus/Skytrain. It has presented no problems.

My only complaint related to the controls is that sometimes it doesn't feel like I'm dashing the direction I think I should be.

So far, it has been a fun experience! And I would agree with some commentators that this might have started its development life as a Wii game. The controls would translate favourably to the Wii Remote and nunchuck.