If you think this all sounds incredibly selfish during a time when Japan, the people who practically birthed the modern video game industry are still toiling under the aftermath of a quake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown, well... yeah, it is, a little. That said, I did donate to the Red Cross for this recently. I owe no other landmass more for two decades of entertainment and escapism, and while I don't want to get into specifics, I can tell you the donation was more than $40.
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Playing The Sacrifice and the Defiant Maps in Halo, I recalled a saying from a fan-review of Mega Man X3 I read at socksmakepeoplesexy.net. I'm paraphrasing here, but the basic gist of it is:
"While most people think of the boss characters as the selling point of the Mega Man games, the real stars are the levels themselves."
The levels are the stars. I've never understood that. I've always felt that your Cutmans and your Elecmans were the stars. Their levels are certainly fun, well-designed and all that, but I don't see them as the face of the games. Although a better example might be the Mario Kart series. There is a set of games where the levels are the real main attraction, filled with as much personality and variety as the onscreen player characters.
This is something I've found in the Halo series. Maybe that's one reason why it appeals to the younger audience? I never thought of it as being in the Left 4 Dead games, however, because the immediate character designs overshadowed the stages(until Ellis, Coach and Pukeface came along and ruined it). But I finally understood what that reviewer meant when I played "The Sacrifice". The levels weren't the wide-open, Pixar bullshit that ruined the sequel. There were interesting locational themes, like a brick factory and beached barges in coastal residential districts. Alleys and diners, and train-wrecks. There were winding rocky roads, buildings that you had to snake through and around. It was an interesting place to spend an hour shooting virtual zombies in the face, is what I'm saying.
And then I played on an older set of stages, the "No Mercy" campaign. But this time I had all of the new weapons, items and monsters of the sequel. And I can see now why Left 4 Dead 2 was such a miserable failure. All of the things Valve added to it, the fire ammo, the bile bombs, the Charger, the Spitter, etc., all of those were good ideas. The problem is they designed these things with the first game's levels in mind. Now you have to be careful about where you're camping, because the Spitter is a force to be reckoned with there. The rooftops of the hospital with the open ledges are a terrifying place to be, now that the Charger can insta-kill you if you happen to be standing in his warpath in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Ultimately, it wasn't the outrageous, controller-smashingly unfair bullshit of the second game. It was just the first game, but with the difficulty turned up a notch. Just a notch. It's intense. It's fair. And it's fun. All because of the location... Alright, playing as the old group of surviviors certainly helped.
IT'S ALMOST AS IF LEFT 4 DEAD 2 SHOULD HAVE JUST BEEN AN EXPANSION PACK, BUT THAT THEY GOT GREEDY, BUT THAT CAN'T BE TRUE BECAUSE VALVE CAN DO NO WRONG, LOLRITE
(Okay, Portal 2 I'll admit does look fun, but I think it's time we stop giving these guys a free pass just because of Half-Life)
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The Defiant Map Pack is fucking gorgeous. These are levels that should have been on the retail disc of Reach, in the Campaign, in the multiplayer from the start. They all take place in situations much more compelling than anything that happens in the "actual" game. For an example, here's what the map "Highlands" looks like:
Compared to the level "Boardwalk" that shipped on the first day:
"Highlands" for that matter might just be the single best map in any of the Halo games. "Unearthed" is visually inventive enough that it actually looks like a modern JRPG in some places. And "Condemned" shows the actual annihalation of the game's namesake planet, which you would think would be in the game proper considering how long that event has been hyped up. Imagine my surprise when the game made my team of expensive, highly-trained super-soldiers do unimportant bullshit for about two hours.
And it had to be designed by a completely different company. I still don't know if the rest of the game was just a catastrophic accident, or a carefully calculated middle-finger to their former owners Microsoft/their fans. In either case, it's obvious that the people who created this beast don't give a shit anymore, and need others to pick up the slack.
In any case, these maps will serve me, and anyone else looking for locations to film Machinima well.
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There were so many things I wanted to buy in the online marketplace. Castle Crashers. Limbo. Super Meat Boy. Mega Man 9. X-Men. Dead Rising: Case Zero.
But after getting a taste of Beyond Good & Evil and Braid, I swore I'd get them. I'm a man of my word. That, and as much fun as the actioney, old-school titles look, I'm more into the artsy stuff. Especially the stuff that gets critical acclaim but does poorly in sales. Okami and Fragile Dreams are on my shelf, for example.
Still have to get Ico, now that I think about it. I'm not planning on purchasing a PS3 in the near-future, although rumours of an HD remake of that AND Shadow of the Colossus are tempting. BGE and Braid, however, are shaping up nicely from what I've played, and I regret not checking them out sooner...
...Also, Michael Gough died. Sad-face. D:
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