Games Matter Blog
Games have been significant in my life, and as a writer and a critic, I enjoy sharing these opinions and insights.
I’m a lover of all games. Card games, board games, video games, you name it. It’s not just the escapism, or incredible creativity that goes into making these fantasy worlds, it’s about the people you play and experience them with and the memories you create.
My Conversion to Nintendo
A couple months ago I made a series of decisions that changed me forever. Some things I swore I would never do. Something in particular that I had had several long and winded debates about. Something I publicly professed I despised and that it was the epitome of everything wrong with the gaming industry.
But I was wrong. So terribly wrong.
I bought a Nintendo 3DS. And a mere month later, a Wii U.
I bought Nintendo products.
I had previously claimed ties to the dreaded PC Master Race and yet here I turned my back on all those customizable macros and anti-aliasing and dual or even triple monitor set-ups for graphics that had hardly changed in the past ten years. But I was happier than I had ever been.
I’m a fairly analytical person, some might say insufferably so. On paper, Nintendo was the joke of the gaming industry. They touted gimmicks like asinine motion controls and dual screens and built-in 3D displays that gave you a headache if you moved your head slightly in any direction. They have built an empire off of people’s love and dedication to the past. To loyalty and to nostalgia. I hated them for continuing to make insane amounts of money on a few key franchises. How many Mario Parties and Mario Karts and Super Smash Brothers and Zelda games do people need? Ever heard of developing a new IP? The most successful Nintendo games have all been around for over a decade. Pokemon? Yeah, I played that when I was 10. Yet they keep coming out with new ones. Why do people buy them? Why do people force themselves to stare at horribly pixelated screens when even my year old smartphone looks eons better? Because Nintendo games are DAMN FUN.
I bought the new Pokemon game. Then the last Pokemon game. Then the new Zelda game. Then Castlevania. Then Super Smash Brothers and Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario 3D World. Then and then and then. I couldn’t put it down.
There was something familiar about these franchises and something critical that made Nintendo a success way back when, without all the bells and whistles of modern technology. The focus is never on the graphics. The focus is on enjoyability.
I have cried time and time again about Ubisoft. I believe that they have had and continue to have great ideas about games and use all the cutting edge technology to make them look phenomenal. Yet what do you end up doing? Fetch quests. Learning how to hunt a digital deer for over an hour. Jumping from bush to bush and then whoops. Start over, you missed that last bush. Ubisoft seems to forget that the key to all games is actually fun gameplay. And that is where Nintendo is King. I don’t get frustrated with Nintendo games, I just have endless fun.
Lesson learned: You can analyze something all day and come up with the numbers of why it won’t succeed. But until you experience it firsthand, that means nothing. Nintendo knows what matters most, is having fun. And that’s why I’m a convert and have barely turned my PS4, much less my PC on in the past 5 months.
I’m back Nintendo, and I’m here to stay.
If you don't want to read it, listen to me talk about it!
Watch_Dogs is set in a futuristic Chicago. You play as Aiden Pearce, a man who lives in the somewhat underground, hacker community. Hacking is apparently super easy in the future, as everything requires the press of a single button. Bring down an entire block’s electrical grid? Sure. Just press X. Change revolving bridges in order to escape those in pursuit? X. Hack a civilian’s phone and gain access to his money and then rob him blind at the nearest ATM? X and X.
You get the point.
The game starts off fairly well, and right away lets you out to explore the vast expanse of Future Chicago. There’s mini-games out the wazoo! Look, you can sit for half an hour and bet virtual money poker with programmed AI! Alright! And then you realize you really want to actually get out there and start causing some mayhem.
Here’s where the game goes wrong. It seems to have its own unique identity ON PAPER. But in actuality, it becomes just a hodgepodge of all the other great games you’ve played. But without the things that made them great.
The stealth feels a bit like Splinter Cell, another game by Ubisoft. The bleak futuristic city coupled with super(hacking)powers is reminiscent of Infamous. And of course, the open world sandbox, ready to be laid to waste makes every gamer immediately think of Grand Theft Auto. The problem is, Splinter Cell has a great story in almost all of their games. And Sam Fisher is an absolute badass. Pearce feels like a generic vigilante wanting to be Batman, as he thinks covering his face with a scarf is a sufficient disguise on top of making his voice sound overly seedy and gravelly a la Jack Bauer and Christian Bale.
Infamous allows you infinite room to explore as you can run atop any building, dive into the ground, and begin unleashing utter chaos and destruction while leaving you with an adrenaline rush the likes of Zeus on a bad Monday.
And Grand Theft Auto V (the most recent incarnation) stands out with some of the best writing in Video Game History. The characters are phenomenal and well-rounded, and seem unique and interesting. You WANT to know more about them and dive deeper into their story. Pearce? He’s forgettable. His story is forgettable. Which leads me to the next point.
Every aspect of the game is forgettable because everyone else has done what it does, but better.
The driving is an absolute nightmare, especially with a keyboard and mouse.
The optimization is pitiful. Aside from being in bed with NVIDIA, and leaving AMD users cold and crying on the street, the game requires massive amounts of power to even look better than a PS2 game. Plus, you have to manually go into the coding in order to fix the horrific mouse acceleration nightmare.
The game looks subpar during the daytime, and only shines at night in the rain. But then you get excited, attack a cop and the whole game goes downhill because outrunning cops is IMPOSSIBLE. Unless of course you swim three miles out into the river, and hide behind a tiny wooden pole. Then apparently all of their attack dogs and attack choppers run away and mistake you for dead.
The game tries to add “more hours of game time” by making side-missions horrifically tedious and boring. I don’t want to press X 17 times in a row, hopping from one camera to another, simply so I can open a garage door and then run inside, press X again, scan a crate, and then repeat 8 more times in order to unlock a slightly better weapon. That is not payoff.
Honestly, gamers today are spoiled. We live in a world of online reviews that sometimes get leaked before a game’s launch, which ultimately dissuades people from spending their hard-earned dollars on a $60 time suck. Because next month, 3 more games are coming out. And they deserve your cash money as well! There’s so many great games out there, it’s hard to justify time or effort spent on something mediocre. Besides, gamers are getting older. As much as it may seem like it when you turn on Call of Duty, the majority of gamers these days aren’t 12 years old. We have jobs and girlfriends (whoa). And we deserve better than a mediocre game wanting to imitate truly great games.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
TL : DR? Hear my lovely *but manly* voice serenade you with the review instead!
Wolfenstein has been around since the early 80’s if you can believe it. It’s one of the genre-defining first-person shooters alongside Doom and Half-Life.
And here, nearly 30 years later, we get another masterpiece added to the canon.
The best part about Wolfenstein: The New Order, is that it’s a throwback to the good ol’ days of shooters. The developers didn’t abandon the single-player campaign in order to pander to the Call of Duty crowd. The Creative Director even said he didn’t want to focus on both single-player and multiplayer in the same game, due to fear of jeopardizing the quality of the campaign. This is the diamond in the rough we’ve been waiting for. The light at the end of our dark gamer tunnels. And boy does it shine bright.
If you’re not terribly familiar with the Shooters of Yesteryear, let me give you a rundown. They used to have puzzles and periods of downtime other than just gunning on rails in the likes of a tank or a helicopter. They even had, wait for it, a story! Yes, my friend! A genuine, heartfelt story with complex characters that you cared about! And even decisions that affected said story. It’s not even an RPG, but a “mindless shooter” and they had depth! It was a glorious time.
Halo continued this tradition on the original Xbox, 10 years ago. Great story, character focused, with large open levels allowing you to explore and go about an objective multiple ways. It wasn’t simply walk forward. Aim. Shoot. Reload. Repeat. You sometimes had to use strategy, and hide behind walls from tough enemies. Not simply lob a grenade and keep running. It was a glorious era.
Enter Wolfenstein: The New Order – 2014.
A little backstory. You play as B.J. Blazkowicz, an American soldier, fighting the terrible Nazi regime. This is an alternate history where the Nazis unfortunately overcame the Allied forces, and live to reign terror upon the world for some 15+ years. Until you enter the picture, soldier.
Now, somewhat in the future (from WWII, not from today), you encounter Mech-Nazis! And evil Mech-Nazi-Wardogs! What’s worse than a terrifying German Shepherd trying to rip out your throat than a mechanized German Shepherd with an evil Nazi brain! Albeit, some of this is pretty goofy, and my assumption is they’re trying to keep current with the fascination of giant scary mechs (look up Titanfall), the game still feels GREAT.
And it’s beautiful! So beautiful. Honestly, at times I felt like I was playing through Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Which is a glorious feeling. Excellent writing, with unique and funny characters, and a story about revenge and joyous extermination of Nazi scum. The game looks that great, it’s cinematic. Granted, I’m playing on a PC, I’m not sure exactly what it looks like on consoles, but I’m sure it’s gotta be great.
It’s truly one of those games that you just have to play. Buy it. Support these developers. And I promise you, immediately after beating it, you’ll start a new game to start playing through the other decision. No spoilers, that’s yet another great game mechanic. Giving the player an option early on that changes the outcome of the game and warranting another play-through without some $20 DLC gimmick. We gamers are poor folks. Save us a buck when you can.
All in all, it’s wonderful. It’s what the genre has been needing. It’s a blast to play (no pun intended) with a great foe that’s loads of fun to pulverize time and time again. Go buy it, you shan’t be disappointed.
Smoking Lounge Blog
I consider myself an aspiring cigar connoisseur. I got hooked a bit younger than I should have, but it’s been the catalyst to so many great conversations I would have otherwise missed. If anything in life is important, it’s community. And cigars provide a hell of a great one.
Cigars are Community
I was recently asked why I smoke cigars. Aside from the wonderful flavors and aromas and the intricacy of the art form, cigars to me, are a community.
I enjoy traveling as much as possible and whenever I find myself in unfamiliar territory, I first look for a cigar shop. Here in this strange new place I suddenly find myself surrounded by people with similar interests but vastly different and intriguing backgrounds.
To meet a banker from Nepal or a former beat cop from Chicago and hear their tales and bond with them all because we share a common pastime. A good smoke.
If you opened up to the stranger next to you at a bar about your past three wives and recovery from alcoholism you would be deemed the crazy guy who won’t shut up. And then of course they would wonder why you’re sitting at a bar by yourself. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon. On a Tuesday.
But you find another who shares the same taste for tobacco, no topic is too taboo. People open up like they’ve been lifetime friends and I’ve gained many a great friend because of one thing. Cigars.
My First Cuban
This past Memorial Day, 2014, I was able to enjoy my first, true Cuban cigar. And it was magnificent.
I’ve been frequenting the same cigar store for almost 10 years now. I walked in one Saturday afternoon after a long shift, like any other regular day. Until I got "the look." The owner smiles and walks to the back of the shop saying he’s got something special that I’m sure to enjoy.
He comes back with an unmarked box and opens it. My eyes widen with wonder as I realize what this means. I stutter, are these Cubans? Yep, he replies. One of my friends got some for me and brought 'em back as a gift, he says. My excitement is growing, and I barely manage to get the words out, when I ask, can I obtain one of these beauties, good sir? Really, I’m sure I just blurted out in slurred speech, buy! Let me buy! But I’m trying to be a writer here, geez.
He smiles back and says, absolutely.
Unfortunately (read: fortunately), they were in somewhat bad shape (meaning needed to be properly humidified and brought back to life after a long journey) and I wasn’t able to walk out with one that same day. Luckily, this means I was able to make myself wait a few more days until I was able to smoke one for a special occasion. What better day than Memorial Day?
As Monday approaches, I’m counting down the hours until my buddy and I can light our stogies together and solve the world’s problems singlehandedly.
The hour is finally upon us, when I slowly cut the stick. I had purchased two separate cigars, from manufacturers I would never in a million years normally purchase. Apparently, the American Romeo Y Julieta, and the American Cohiba have nothing on the tour de force that comes from the same manufacturers in Cuba.
I slowly toast the foot (light the end without inhaling), and then began drawing on it slowly, making the fire burn stronger. My first impression was one of wonder. It drew smoother than butter. Buttery smooth, but I Can’t Believe this is Not Butter, buttery smooth. The scent was unlike anything I had smelled before, and the flavor was soft and subtle, but unique and powerful. I truly had nothing to compare it to. I puffed and puffed away for well over an hour, enjoying the subtleties of flavor. Not sweet, nor spicy. Not peppery, nor overpowering. Just perfect.
It burned well the entire time, never faltering nor causing a tear (when one side of the cigar begins burning faster than the other). I was in Tobacco Nirvana. About two-thirds of the way through, I got sucker-punched by the power that is Cuba. Usually mild tasting cigars have mild effects. But this beaut, hit me like a freight train when I least expected it. I was much more buzzed than I was expecting, but boy did I savor it.
Luckily, these guys cost a pretty penny, or else I would be smoking these bad boys every day, and never be able to get any work done. But it was a wonderful first time experience, and a great special occasion cigar.
My Uzi Weighs a Ton
The main reason this stick is on here is because it’s so different from every other cigar I’ve smoked.
Often, the bigger the ring gauge, the more difficult it can be to draw on the cigar. This seems like an amateur mistake and happens when people pack it far too tightly with tobacco, leaving little room for the smoke to flow through. Even though My Uzi is one of the largest ring gauges I’ve smoked, it’s always drawn perfectly. Which makes it a great 2 hour cigar, able to be smoked with ease.
Another primary characteristic of many cigars on the market, is the experience of the cigar’s peaks. I typically prefer a cigar that tastes and burns the same throughout, providing a singular experience from start to finish. Many cigars tend to burn hotter and stronger at the end, making some people put them out once it reaches the final third of the stick. My Uzi does the exact opposite! It starts off hot and heavy at the very beginning, knocking you off your feet with bold, overpowering flavor, and then mellows out as you get past the first third.
This was an unexpected and extremely memorable experience.
Verdict: If you want to be puffing for a couple hours and don’t mind strong flavor with a stronger buzz, pick this guy up. You won’t forget it.
Padilla (Sungrown vs Maduro)
I’m typically a Maduro guy. I don’t know why, but even starting off smoking cigars, I always wanted the boldest, strongest flavor. Maybe I thought it was more manly that way, but I’ve never regretted it nor changed my opinion on the matter. Until recently.
I owe this revelation to a generous passerby at my Local Cigar Shop. He had been given a stick from a cigar rep, and as he was leaving, asked what trash the young buck was smoking (seeing as I’m not the average age to be found frequenting Cigar Shops). I told him and he said, that’s a decent stick. Here, try this. You won’t regret it. And left me with that.
The next day, I lit it.
Padilla, where have you been all my life? And what is this delicious wrapper that was strong and flavorful, but different, and not a Maduro? Turns out, it was Sungrown. Most cigars have either Maduro, Connecticut or Colorado wrappers. Sometimes you’ll see an Oscuro here or there. A Sungrown however, doesn’t seem to be nearly as prominent, and is vastly more delicious.
You see, the tobacco plant gets more potent the longer it’s been exposed to the sun. A leaf higher up on the plant soaks in much more light than the leaves being obscured at the bottom and aren’t half as strong. A Sungrown wrapper is made from the leaves which absorb the most sunlight and are known for their greater sugar and oil content, providing a sweet and deliciously strong taste.
Padilla Sungrown are so incredible, they’re typically even pricier than the Maduro sticks of the same size. Supply and demand, baby. I promise you, spend the extra buck or two, as a friend once told me, you won’t regret it.