Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Stepping Up

Labels: , , , ,

Time to man up.

Azeroth United has started a charity drive sponsoring the amazing Child's Play charity.

Granted, I don't write much about World of Warcraft any more, but I'm still Uniting with Azeroth in this one. Child's Play is an amazing charity that is worth it. Rarely do you find a charity where literally EVERY DOLLAR makes a difference.

I assume anyone reading this blog is familiar with Syrana. Her and Sideshow have stepped up to the plate, offering to pledge up to $100, based around the success of the #IBlameSyrana hashtag on Twitter. Every time someone tweets using that hashtag, it's money in the bank.

This puts me in an interesting situation.

I CREATED #IBlameSyrana

So, I have decided that I will match the contributions of $0.10 per tweet, up to a maximum of $50. It's the least I could do.

Fulgualis and Fuubar have also pledged their support. Between the lot of us, this brings the potential total to $0.50 per Tweet.

So, get out there! If you aren't on Twitter, there is no better time to join the party. If nothing else, revel in the fact that you're costing us money.

Own a Piece of Sam

Labels: , ,

Calm down, ladies, none of the fun parts. However, you can now possess my voice, free to listen to at any time of your choosing.

Due to my incredible awesomeness, Roger was able to upload yesterday's podcast a full day earlier than usual.

Head over to For the Lore for the full information. The podcast is available on iTunes, as well as a direct download. Please leave some comments on the iTunes page to show these boys how much you love me.

Party Crasher

Labels: , ,

Guess what, kids?

Spooner is busy doing... whatever it is that he does.

That means there's an empty chair over at the For the Lore Podcast. An empty chair that yours truly will be occupying this week.

So, TOMORROW, Monday, October 26th, I will be co-hosting the podcast alongside Roger and Joe. The pre-show starts at 6:45 PM Eastern, with the recording at 7... ish.

So, head on over to the Ustream channel and join us. Sign up if you want to chat, and let's show these boys what ol' Sammy can bring to the table.

Xenogears: A Retrospective

Labels: , , , ,

As I mentioned yesterday, Xenogears is my favorite game of all time.

Back in the late 90s, Square was a powerhouse, releasing great game after great game, not all of them with "Final Fantasy" in the title. Games like Brave Fencer Musashi, Bushido Blade and Parasite Eve. Xenogears was released in North America in October 2008, one year after Final Fantasy VII. It didn't receive any hype and only sold a couple hundred thousand units, but quickly became a fan favorite, thanks to its wonderfully diverse cast of characters and MINDBLOWING story.

The game is standard JRPG fare, with overworld exploration, random encounters and Square's standard Active-Time Battle system. Graphically, the game presented a full-3D game world with rotatable camera populated by 2D hand-drawn sprites. It holds up terribly by today's standards, but at the time it was vibrant and beautiful. The game even featured a few short full-anime sequences.. Sound work is top-notch. Granted this was before the time of full voice acting in games, but the music is some of the best you'll ever find.

As previously mentioned, battle takes place in the same Active-Time Battle system as the Final Fantasy games of the era. However, the similarities stop there. While Magic is useful, it plays second fiddle to the physical combat here. Your characters have a given amount of Ability Points which are used by selecting your moves. X Attacks use 1 AP and are weakest, up to Square Attacks for 2 and Triangle Attacks for 3 AP. You can chain these attacks together, using your available AP to create combos. Use these combos enough, and you'll eventually learn very powerful Deathblows, which have amazing animations in addition to massive damage.

Wait! That's only half the gameplay. Larger enemies require you to step inside your giant mecha, called a Gear. Gear combat follows the same "X, Square, Triangle" style of basic combat. However, instead of AP, you're limited by Fuel, with the more powerful attacks using more Fuel. Instead of chaining together combos, you only use one attack per round, with each attack raising your Attack Level. With each Attack Level, you unlock various Deathblows, based upon the ones your characters have learned through the on-foot battle system.

That's all great, but an RPG can have the greatest combat in the world, and it won't matter if the story is weak. Well, Xenogears has story to spare. You start out as Fei, your traditional JRPG hero with funny hair, a dark past and hidden power. Fei's village is destroyed in a military attack, sending him on a long voyage. He will overthrow a government, break out of prison, become a fighting champion, travel to cities floating in the sky, learn the entire history of the universe and eventually save the day. This is a severe understatement of the game's plot. I could make a career out of blogging about this game's story. It delves heavily into the subjects of reincarnation, destiny, love, loss, conspiracy, deception and manipulation, while heavily referencing many religions, myths and practically teaching a course in psychology.

Fei Fong Wong is the central character of the story. Based upon the famous Chinese martial artist Wong Fei Hung, Fei is a master with his fists. Living in the village of Lahan after being found as a child with no memory, Fei leads a happy life until he is pulled into a global struggle. Through his adventure, Fei will uncover the secret of not only his life, but his entire existence. Fei pilots the Gears Welltall, Welltall-2 and Xenogears.

Elhaym Van Houten, or Elly, is an officer in the Gebler military. Her unit was actually responsible for the destruction of Lahan. After being found in the forest by Fei, Elly feels a connection to him and wants to help. Elly and her Gear, Vierge are the only "mage" type characters in the game.

Citan Uzuki is the doctor of Lahan. The closest thing Fei has to a father, Citan sets out with him after the village's destruction. Citan is harboring some huge secrets, not the least of which is the fact that he's a master swordsman. There's a reason he's been living in Lahan all these years. Citan pilots Heimdal, and later Fenrir.

Bartholomew Fatima is the heir to the kingdom of Aveh. When you first meet Bart, he is a Sand Pirate, sailing the desert in his ship, Yggdrasil. Fei helps Bart reclaim his throne, and Bart joins Fei in his quest, lending the use of Yggdrasil and his whips. Bart starts piloting the gear Brigandier and is the first character to obtain an Omnigear, Andvari.

Ricardo Banderas, in addition to looking like Blanka and having a completely awesome name, is a prisoner in Kislev. Rico, however, is a prisoner by choice. Rising through the ranks of the Kislev fighting circuit, Rico lives a better life as a prisoner than a demi-human such as himself could ever hope to live outside. Of course, Fei turns everything upside down and earns Rico's respect and strength. Rico uses a variety of wrestling moves, both himself and in his Gear, Stier.

Billy Lee Black is an Ethos Priest. He runs an orphanage where many children including his sister live. Billy is not an ACTUAL priest, though. He is a member of the Etone, the offensive branch of Ethos. His holy mission is to rid the world of the Reapers, horrid humanoid monsters. After learning the truth about the Ethos and Reapers, as well s his estranged father, Billy joins up with Fei's crew. Billy is a marksman with a variety of guns. Even his Gear, Renmazuo, specializes in ranged attacks.

Maria Balthasar is the daughter of a famous Gear designer, and granddaughter of one of the Three Wisemen. She defends the nation of Shevat using her massive Gear, Seibzehn. Seibzehn is autonomous and does not require a pilot. Instead, Maria has a sort of mental connection to is and can issue it commands from safety. Maria is immensely weak in battle. Rather, her "magic" abilities call Seibzehn to devastate her foes.

Chu-Chu. Her name is Chu-Chu and she's awesome. Initially thought to be a stuffed animal, Chu-Chu stars in one of the most epic moments in the game, after many hours of just... being there. With some creative stat-boosting, Chu-Chu can actually become one of the best characters in the game. When maxed out and "full grown" she can easily match the damage of high-end Gears with no Fuel cost. On foot, however, she still doesn't stack up to the rest of the crew. Every game needs its cute mascot. It's rare that you find one actually USEFUL.

Emeralda Kasim is not a "person." She is a colony of nanomachines given humanoid form. When first discovered, she seems to remember Fei from her past. Emeralda is the last character to join the group, and is just a blast to use. Without being constrained by a human body, she is able to morph her body into various weapons. Also, proving that you don't need arms to be awesome, her gear Crescens is easily one of the best in the game. Its speed is unrivaled, and can deliver two attacks to others' one. There is even a sidequest late in the game to let Emeralda grow up from her child form, further increasing her stats.

While that is an amazingly varied cast of characters, those are just the playable ones. The supporting cast is magnificent, and the villains even more so. As a matter of fact, your enemies are even better characters than the heroes in some cases.

Unfortunately, the game is an unfinished masterpiece. Even though the main quest clocks in at a life-breaking 75 hours, it could have easily gone over 100. Once the second disk starts, the game comes to a crashing halt. The development team just completely ran out of time and money, and had to release the game they had or shelve it permanently. Many story segments of the second disk consist of nothing more than the characters sitting in a chair TELLING you what happened, while pictures of the dungeons you should have been exploring scrolled by. In some cases, you can even see the save points! While the gameplay may have suffered from this, the story does not slow down at all.

This game consumed most of my senior year of high school. I played through it twice completely, just to get a better understanding of the story, and avidly searched out message boards and fansites to fill in the gaps. If you like your games heavy on story, you will find none more saturated with it that Xenogears.

Sadly, you're pretty much Ebay bound if you want to play it now. Additionally, it will only run correctly on the first Playstation. There is a certain attack the final boss uses that will crash the game if played on PS2 or *cough* emulation. A downloadable PSN version was released in Japan last year, but there has been no word on an American release.

Epic Soundtrack

Labels: , , , ,

No, this is not another Brutal legend post.

Just yesterday, the crew over at OverClocked ReMix released a new album: Humans + Gears: Xenogears ReMixed.

Two things to know:

Xenogears is my favorite game ever.

Yasunori Mitsuda is the best video game music composer out there. Even better than that Uematsu guy.

Mitsuda is responsible for such masterworks as Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross and Shadow Hearts. In my opinion, his work on Xenogears is by far his best.

The album is available completely for free and is FANTASTIC.

As a matter of fact, I'll be writing a Xenogears retrospective article this week, it's inspired me so much.

What to Excpect from Brutal Legend

Labels: , ,

It's no secret that I've been anxiously anticipating Brutal Legend.

Many of you out there may be a little dissuaded by the negative reviews popping up online. Is it a bad game? No. Is it a Game of the Year contender? Not likely. Many reviewers are giving it a 1-point Schafer Bonus.

Here's what you need to know about the game:

The demo is a bit misleading. Playing it may lead you to believe that the game is a Heavy metal Legend of Zelda. This is true, to a point. After the initial missions, the game transitions into strategy gameplay.

No, it's not Halo Wars. It's very LIGHT strategy. You capture objectives, pull up a quick menu selecting units to build, point them in the general direction of the enemy and unleash Hell. You're not some omnipotent overseer, you've got to get in there and mix it up yourself.

Check out the multiplayer trailer for the game:

If that seems fun to you, then you have nothing to worry about. It's action with small strategic elements added in. Check out this article by Tim Schafer himself discussing the Strategy battles.

The next major concern is the length.

Yes, you CAN beat the game in one sitting. The missions are very short, some taking only 5 or 10 minutes, with only about 20-ish of them to complete. However, there is MUCH more to do. Free Bound Serpents for stat boosts. Seek out Legends for an AWESOME look into the game's lore. Unearth Buried Metal to expand your soundtrack.

I can relate it to Assassin's Creed. AC was a fantastic game, but COULD be very short, 5 or 6 hours. However, the more you put into the game, the more you got out of it. The more story you experienced, the more fun you had.

Personally, I've invested about 5 hours into the game, and I'm a little under half "Complete." I see this as reasonable. Sorry kids, this isn't the 90s. 10 hours is about average for a non-RPG these days. I finished Modern Warfare's Campaign in one awesome sitting, and never held that against the game.

One thing made me feel like a total idiot. The game constantly bombards you with hints. After 5 hours, apparently I still need to be reminded how to use Nitro while driving. So, when I came across my first Bound Serpents and Legends, and the game DIDN'T tell me how to unlock them, I assumed that meant I couldn't do it yet. I tried a couple attacks just for the heck of it, and went about my business.

So, just so you don't make the same mistake I did:

Bound Serpents: Pyro Attack (Hold X/Square)
Legends: Earthshaker (X+A/Square+X)

Also, for the Powerslide (Press X/Square while running), you're not actually RUNNING until you click the Left Stick.

Gameplay aside, the game is amazing. The world is brilliantly crafted. The writing is top-notch, and the voice work is some of the best I've seen, especially considering many of the actors are musicians. Even Ozzy and Lemmy's work is professional quality.

Bottom Line

Pass on the game if you don't like the strategy aspect.

Pass on the game if you're not into metal. Seriously, this game isn't for you.

Rent the game if you're the type of gamer that just wants to play through the story.

Buy the game if you love the music and just want to play a great game, regardless of length.

Ultimate Alliance 2 Legendary Tips

Labels: , ,

This past weekend, I finished Ultimate Alliance 2 on Legendary difficult. It was... not easy. So, I though I'd share some tips.

First of all, and this SHOULD be a given, make sure you choose the opposite side for your second playthrough. You cannot unlock all the attributes for most of the characters until you've played both sides.

Group composition is key. You can't just roll into Legendary with whoever you want, as opposed to earlier difficulties. My team:

Thor: You need a "tank" character. You should control this character as much as possible, as the AI will tend to home in on you. Thing, Hulk, Juggernaut and even Luke Cage or Ms Marvel are all viable options, but I love me some Thor. Aside from the God of Thunder being my favorite comic character, he's a beast in this game. His Mjolnir Strike is a great way to rush in to a group of foes and deal a nice bit of damage to them all, as well as getting the heck out of there if you're low on health. Mighty Swipe is, pardon the pun, godly. At max level, I was dealing over 1000 damage with each swing.

Iron Fist: He's fairly indispensable. He's the only character in the game with a heal. Low on health and out of Tokens? Switch to Iron Fist and throw out a few heals. Protip: hitting Block as soon as the heal goes off will cancel the animation, allowing you to spam heals twice as fast. Additionally, he has one of the best radials in the game. He's a bit weak defensively, so leave him to the AI unless you need the heals.

Songbird: You need a ranged attacker to back you up. Jean Grey and Storm are also good choices, but Songbird is a beast. Her Decibel Barrage will clear out the weaker enemies, while Shatter Scream will annihilate more powerful enemies. The thing that makes these three ladies my choice for ranged attacker is their Fusions. They each have a Fusion-boosting attribute, as well as high Teamwork stats.

Wolverine: This last slot is open to whoever you'd like. The only requirement is to have SOMEBODY who can perform a Targeted Fusion with your Ranged character, since almost any combination with Thor and Iron Fist will be Guided. I chose Wolverine because my best options for Songbird were him, Spiderman and Venom.

Granted, this is not the ONLY possible combination, just my suggestion.

With my team, I would use Songbird on solo bosses. Using her Targeted Fusion with Wolverine whenever possible, and keeping Shatter Scream going as much as possible, while still maintaining a safe range. For bosses with minions, I'd stick to Thor, since Songbird is fragile. Just Mighty Swipe away, and switch to Songbird to quickly use Fusions.

Equip Stamina Boosts! Especially Reserves IV, which you get from defeating Titanium Man on Legendary. This DOUBLES your Stamina, essentially allowing you to IGNORE melee attacks.

Level up as quickly as possible. Equip Experience Gain Boosts. Get those stats and Attributes up there before the real hard stuff hits.

The biggest tip is to finish your Simulator missions BEFORE starting Legendary. You have almost no hope of earning Gold Medals after.

Anybody else out there have strategies to share?

Comcast Really Does Care

Labels: , , ,

I have been a loyal Comcast High-Speed Internet customer for years. Their Speed/Price ratio blows away the local DSL competitor. In all these years, I have never had a service problem not related to a hurricane.

All these things combined have allowed me to switch several friends over to their service, and they are all happy with it.

Well, two weeks ago, my girlfriend's cable internet went down. Not just a little down, all the way. Here is where Comcast's big weakness shows. Their support is terrible.

I used to work for a tech support firm that had a Comcast account. I was not on it, but worked with several techs who had been. Cable's simplicity is fantastic... when it works. When it doesn't, this leaves a phone tech with basically 3 options. Check for an outage, powercycle the modem or roll a truck. A truly enterprising tech could check some line stats and possibly suggest a small tweak, but that's rarely going to be any help.

Well, no big deal. They're doing the best they can with what they've got. DSL support is MUCH more strenuous. Well, what about those trucks? Most of Comcast's technicians, if not all in many areas, don't actually work for Comcast. They're contractors, a third-party company. They really don't care whether or not they fix your problem. They show up, do a minimum amount of work, blame the problem on someone else, leave and get paid.

I will give Comcast some credit here, though. They seem to be cracking down on these contractors. Last time I had an issue, they had about a 75% rate of not even showing up.

Bottom line, unless something is SERIOUSLY wrong with the cable in your area, don't count on seeing an actual Comcast employee.

So, these techs came, and they went. And came, and went. And so on... One would install a new splitter, one would look at the wire running to the house. No, not inspect it, just walk outside and look at the bloody thing. One would replace the modem. One would run a new wire to the modem. One would install ANOTHER new splitter.

See where I'm going, here?

Like I said previously, I don't want our local DSL. Verizon FIOS isn't available in my area yet. It's Comcast or bust for me. They WILL fix this.

At this point, what more can we do, though? Well, I recalled a story I read on The Consumerist a while back about Comcast Frank. Comcast Frank is Frank Eliason, the Director of Customer Service for the ENTIRE freaking company.

And Frank likes to help people. His screen name is @comcastcares.

And they really do.

Frank very patiently listened to me whine, bitch and moan about our problems. He offered a startling amount of support via Twitter, then sent the issue up to the people who can fix it.

Unfortunately, this leads us to the bottleneck of local technicians again. Again, they did not disappoint in their disappointment. After several more techs, I was pissed. Frank informed me that there was a Work Order scheduled to fix a wiring issue outside. This was great news! Something new that could quite possibly be the problem. I mean, plenty of people have LOOKED at that wire, maybe actually TOUCHING it would help.

Saturday afternoon rolls around and there's a knock on the door. Allow me to let you in on a little secret. If you have a problem outside, and a dude knocks on your door with his little computer in hand, it ain't getting fixed. Whether they actually don't do work outside, or just SAY they don't, I'm not sure. He does the usual. He checks the modem, the splitter, takes a little stroll outside.

Before he can bail, I get proactive. I hop on my cell phone and pull up Twitter, informing Frank of what's going down. I get the greatest reply ever from Frank, "I just reached out to find out what they are doing there. I am looking forward to the response."

Suddenly, things change. The guy gets his ladder out and changes that damn wire. Guess what? The internet is running better than ever.

Buddy comes back in and gives me some story about how he "Called to check, and since we're the only house in the neighborhood with no internet, it MUST be that wire." Sure thing, Chief. I know what really went down. Frank said "get it done," and you coincidentally decided to change that wire.

So, a big shout out to Frank and his team, Bill, Bonnie and Mark.

However, I have to point something out. First of all, Twitter, while a useful service, should not be the best way to get support from a multi-billion dollar company. If your internet is out, accessing Twitter may not be an option, and you're stuck in phone/truck Hell again. Secondly, if these FOUR people can get done what hundreds, hell THOUSANDS, of others can't, isn't that a problem?

Comcast, you guys offer the best service that many residential customers can get. If your support system improves to match that, there would be no reason for ANYBODY to go to your competitors.

Momentous Occasion

Labels: , ,

One year ago today, I started blogging over on Hardcore Casual.

I'm amazed I made it a whole year with this blogging thing.

The secret? The community. That's right, you guys out there reading this.

In celebration of this milestone, I have joined up with Byaghro, who some of you may remember, for his new website, Diabolical Minds.

No, I'm not leaving THIS blog behind. Rather, I'll be posting some articles over there that would benefit from some increased exposure.

My first post there is a quick introduction, so please stop by and look around. There should be some other familiar faces popping up on there, as well.

Song of Ice and Waiting


I'm a patient person. I will always gladly wait for a quality product. Diablo III going to take an extra year? No problem. It's going to be worth the wait.

I love my books. As an avid reader, I'm accustomed to waiting for the latest installment of a favorite series. You can't rush creativity.

For a perfect example, look at The Dark Tower series. Stephen King wrote The Gunslinger when he was 19 years old. Fifteen years later, the FOURTH book, Wizard and Glass was published. Then there was that little jogging incident, and King decided to finish the saga before he died for real. He knocked out the last three books in a comparatively short amount of time, and the quality seen previously just wasn't there. I'm glad I got to see out heroes reach the end of their journey, but I didn't really enjoy it much after a point.

Recently, I started reading George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series. I absolutely LOVED the first two books. I read the first three books, and all was good. I LOVED them. Political intrigue, deception, betrayal, all kinds of good stuff. The fourth book, however... I really did not enjoy the third book. It focused on characters that I really didn't care about, plot lines that really didn't lead ANYWHERE. I finished it off, wondering what the heck happened, where did all my favorite characters go? I was having flashbacks to Perrin disappearing from The Wheel of Time for several books.

Then, I got to the end. To quote Martin himself, "Tyrion, Jon, Dany... and all the rest of the characters you love or love to hate will be along next year. (I devoutly hope)" Basically, he wrote the whole story, realized it was too bloody long and decided to split it in half.

You know what? No problem. I can accept that.

This brings me to a post on Neil Gaiman's blog that I happened across a while back. At the time, I totally agreed with it. Martin will get the fifth book out when it's ready.

After finishing A Feast for Crows, my outlook changed dramatically. Back in May, when I read Gaiman's post, I had no idea the status of Martin's next book. After catching up, I did. The fifth book is basically already written. There is no conceivable reason it should be taking 4 1/2 years to get it out. Yeah, that's right. That quote about getting the next book out in a year was written in June 2004.

If Martin had merely said "The book was too long, I decided to split it up," I would have been happy. Christopher Paolini did that recently with his Inheritance books, and I was okay with it. But, no, Martin had to go and tell everyone that the next book would be done in a year, that the story was already written. Then, over four years later, here we are with nothing.

A Look at Ultimate Alliance 2

Labels: , ,

It's no secret. I love comic books. I love video games. When you get chocolate in my peanut butter, I'm in nerdvana.

I absolutely LOVED X-Men Legends. X-Men Legends 2, not so much. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance falls somewhere in the middle.

Ultimate Alliance 2 beats them all. What put this game and the first Legends title at the top of the list? Character switching. In a game with such an amazingly diverse cast, you want to try out and use as many characters as possible. The second Legends and UA1 both penalized you for switching. Your "bench" players did not gain any experience, leaving your team seriously underpowered when you swapped in a new member.

Not so in UA2. I loved being able to switch members on the fly, tweaking my lineup for the mission at hand.

The game follows the Secret War and Civil War storylines fairly closely to a point, then it splits off on its own insane tangent, to give everyone a happy ending. Yes, much like the Civil War comics, you must choose a side. I won't get into too much story detail, but you basically have to pick between Captain America and Iron Man, who find each other on opposite sides of the conflict.

Choosing Captain America's Anti-Registration side gives you exclusive access to Luke Cage and Iron Fist, while Iron Man's Pro-Registration gives Mr. Fantastic and Songbird. WHICH SUCKS! Well, for me, at least. I love the B-List heroes, and Iron fist, as well as the old-school Thunderbolts like Songbird are near the top of the list. Not being able to have them on the same team hurts. However, starting a New Game+ allows you to use the full roster, regardless which side you choose. Yes, you can cause a paradox by having Captain America fight himself.

Which leads me to one of the negative points of the game. Currently, you can only start a New Game+ on the highest difficulty setting. This doesn't bother me, as I have no interest in playing through the lower difficulties with a fully pimped-out party. However, many players don't like this. Additionally, there are some glitches to be found, but nothing terrible. More annoying than game-breaking.

Another thing that gets on my nerves a bit is the Alternate Costumes. In previous games, characters had 3 alts to unlock. In UA2, each character only has one, due to development constraints. Which is fine, as long as they're all worth it. Some like Spider Man, Storm and Gambit are awesome. However, the Secret War and Ultimate alts for some characters are just disappointing.

WTB yellow silk shirt and tiara for Power Man.

All in all, the game is FUN. There's tons of nods to the comics to keep fans interested, while still being accessible enough for non-fans. The game has TONS of playtime, between the 2 story paths, simulation missions and unlockables.

Some character recommendations:

Luke Cage: Very underrated. A great "tank" character in the early game. Can take a beating while dishing out respectable damage.
Ms Marvel: Her energy absorption powers make her nearly invulnerable to some enemies.
Iron Fist: Made of win. Great power damage, and the only character in the game with a group heal. Almost essential for higher difficulties.
Wolverine/Deadpool: Characters with regenerating health make Legendary a little easier.
Green Goblin: His glider is almost unstoppable. Learn to master it.
Jean Grey: Remember the end of the third X-Men movie, where Jean just disintegrates everything? Yeah. Totally OP.

THOR: The God of Freaking Thunder. The game gets 10x more fun once you unlock him.

DLC Wishlist:

Moon Knight