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Live from Death Mountain

In my frenzy to see Scott Pilgrim, like any good fanboy, I was searching for clips and pictures as well as interviews and articles. Through the course of my research, I saw a phrase which gave me pause and suddenly made me feel nostalgic.

When asked what he did to get Nintendo to give him the rights to use their music and sound effects in a movie (something rarely done by the gaming giant), he said that he wrote them a letter including a phrase which described video game music as “like nursery rhymes to a generation.”

I had honestly never though of it like that before but, when you put it that way, it’s entirely true.

One of the most recognizable songs in the world right now is the Super Mario Brothers theme. My generation knows it. The generation below me knows it. The generation above me (for the most part) knows it. Hell, my mom knows it if only just from it playing constantly in her bedroom when I was a kid (because most of us didn’t have TVs in our room back then).
The Super Mario Bros. theme has been chopped up, stripped down, done up, made classy, and dragged through the mud. I’ve heard versions of those familiar tones done by everything from a ska band to a pair of tesla coils (look it up). Metal, techno, classical guitar, string quartet… You can’t throw a rock on YouTube without hitting a cover of the Super Mario Bros theme and having it ricochet off of a cover of the Zelda theme.

Right now, on my smartphone, my ringer is the Dr. Wily Stage 1 theme from Mega Man II. If you played that game, you know the song. Rather than downloading real music ringers, I went for the VG themes. I have Punch-Out (fighting and running), Zelda (overworld, underworld, game over screen), and numerous tracks from the Mega Man universe among many others. I tend to stick with the Wily theme because I have always thought it was particularly awesome.
My notification sound switches between the Zelda discovery noise and a Mario Bros 1-up.
I have downloaded soundboards of Nintendo FX to my smartphone for the purpose of having good quality video game ringtones and for having those particular sound effects at my fingertips for just the right moment.

For people of my age range, the Super Mario Bros theme and other video game music is just as integral to nostalgia as any familiar pop song or summer anthem. Edgar is, no pun intended, right. Sometimes, hearing that music brings us back to our youth.
Every time I hear a theme from any stage in Street Fighter II, I remember riding my bike with a friend of mine to a pizza joint on my town’s main street with a pocket full of quarters and jamming out for the better part of a summer’s afternoon, then going back to my house to go swimming. I can still smell the garlic and onions.
Obscurer music, like the theme from Dig Dug, even holds some meaning to me. I remember playing that game into oblivion in the Penny Arcade at Kennywood. It was the best way to spend a quarter because, if you were good, you got a ton of play out of it.
And, tell me your eyes don’t start to water every time you hear Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies or Korobeiniki, aka the Tetris songs (Nintendo and Game Boy, respectively). When I hear either of these two songs, all I can think of is making lines, no matter what the genre. Tetris for Nintendo ruined the Nutcracker for an entire generation. I went to see it with my wife one Christmas and sat there with my hands up and my thumbs moving. Was I just joking around or was I compelled to do so out of reflex? It was a long time ago and I don’t remember, but I wouldn’t doubt if it’s either.

I have an entire video game playlist on my iPod. Most of this is covers of video game songs done by obscure little bands like Powerglove, a semi-defunct thrash metal band with two albums worth of video game covers, or The Black Mages, a band headed by Nobuo Uematsu and specializing in metal covers of Final Fantasy battle themes.
Some of the playlist is the entire soundtrack to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Some of it is stuff downloaded from Overclocked Remix. All of it is totally blastable through my car stereo and every song on that playlist has seen the light of day at least once.

There’s also a special place in my heart for people going back and using those familiar 8- and 16-bit noises in current music. The 8-bit Universal Theme and techno song during the opening and closing of Scott Pilgrim made me realize that the people of the gaming generation would get a huge kick out of more music like that. Original compositions done in 8-bit. I’m sure there’s a ton of it out there. If someone could point me to it, I’d be more than happy to go.

Gaming music is most definitely like nursery rhymes to our generation. It’s a tough point to argue when you have something like Video Games Live!, the orchestral tour that plays game music both old and new and sells out quickly in every city it visits. Haven’t had the chance to see them yet, but I’d like to the next time they roll through the Burgh.

Nintendo and other gaming companies could make a mint from selling CDs worth of the original 8-bit tracks. Just a thought.

Or, maybe I’m just as much a nerd as Edgar.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word: BioShock 2

Ah, Rapture.
The most glorious city at the bottom of the sea. Hell, the only city at the bottom of the sea. How I missed this submerged dystopia since last we met. The place is still as dank, dark, and leaky as I remembered. The only thing that’s changed is that, this time, it’s twice as crazy.

BioShock 2 is probably the first time I’ve anticipated a sequel so ravenously since Super Mario Bros. 3. The original BioShock, as you’ve seen, easily made my Ten Best Video Games of the Decade list, and with good reason.
BioShock was unique in that it was a first-person shooter with an extremely immersive story. One could easily get lost in the plot, sometimes only fighting off the hordes of splicers or beating down a Big Daddy so that you could grab that one tape recorder or see that one crazy piece of graffiti or get to that next radio message. If you’re anything like me, the plot and the atmosphere were the driving forces of the game with the excellent FPS action being a welcome vehicle to make things progress.

In a completely spoiler-free bit of story exposition (I’ve not finished the game, so I don’t know the whole thing), this takes place in 1968, almost 8 years since Jack (the player-character from the first BioShock) rolled through and did what he did. You are on what seems like the other, seedier, darker side of Rapture from the original adventure and many familiar names and faces pop up, sometimes post-mortem via diary entries. It’s nice to see so many familiar characters and hear so many familiar voices. There are some expositions and short blurbs that make the experienced Rapturite chuckle. I know I did.

BioShock 2 brings the same deep story and gloomy art-deco feel, this time with amped-up action. And, when I say amped-up, I mean amped-up. I’m probably about halfway through and I’ve already offed more splicers and Big Daddies than I did in the entirety of the first game.
This time, rather than being a “random” discoverer of the city of Rapture, you’re one of its marquee residents. You play as one of the very first Big Daddies, referred to throughout the game as Subject Delta. The big differences between you and the standard Bouncers and Rosies we all grew to love on our first trip to Rapture is that you have the ability to use multiple weapons, the ability to use plasmids, and the often-taken-for-granted ability of autonomous thought.
The first two weapons you can use are the weapons you wish you could have looted on your first trip down here, namely the Bouncer Drill (replacing the trusty old wrench as your chief melee weapon) and Rosie’s Rivet Gun. The rest of the weapons are equally beefed up and awesome looking. All are equivalents to the original BioShock weaponry, but somehow, a touch nastier. Wait until you see what they used to replace the crossbow. KA-THUNK! Heh heh heh…
Plasmids have changed a bit, but not much. All the old powers are here without much new. You still get your big three of Electro-Bolt, Incinerate, and Telekinesis. The main change to the plasmid system is the manner in which tonics are handled. Instead of using three different types of tonics, you now have one large 18-slot chart of tonic slots available for unlocking. There are some really good additions to the pool and, even when your slots are maxed out, you’ll be scratching your head over which ones you should use and which ones you should shelve.

One very notable change is the way in which gaining Adam, the substance needed to purchase plasmids, via Little Sisters is accomplished.
Previously, it was all about killing Big Daddies, then taking their Little Sisters on a rescue-or-harvest basis. Now, things are a bit more interesting.
Seeing as you are a Big Daddy yourself, the Little Sisters trust you. You can choose to adopt the girls and allow them to ride on your shoulder for their normal Adam retrieval duties. They will guide you to certain corpses (read: “angels, Daddy!”) which are ripe for Adam harvesting. While they’re working their needle-poking magic on the dead, splicers will flood the area trying to get their dirty junkie hands on your little one. Defense of the Little Sisters can be difficult in spots but, with some clever use of traps, plasmids, and security hacks, you’ll get through it. It’s actually kind of fun figuring out a strategy for each gathering point.
The funniest part about this new aspect is that, while the Little Sister is riding around on your shoulders, she periodically adds twisted little girl commentary. Lighting a splicer on fire with Incinerate prompted one to enthusiastically shout: “Yay! Marshmallows!” and electrocuting another prompted a giggly: “Look, Daddy, he’s dancing!”

Hacking has also changed from the play-pausing pipe dream-like mini-game to an action-oriented button timing affair. There are still auto-hacking devices, but the action-based hack system allows you to achieve bonuses for well-timed button pushing. You may find yourself trying to actively hack unless it’s extremely inconvenient. This game also introduces remote hack darts, fired from a small gun, which can allow you to peg a turret, duck around the corner, and worry about hacking it without staying in the line of fire. Yes, there’s still hacking buyouts with some machinery but, trust me, save your money. You’ll need it for First Aid and ammo.

New enemies include the Rumbler, a new design of Big Daddy with some new tricks up its sleeve, and the much touted Big Sister; a female variant which is essentially a Big Daddy crossed with a plasmid-wielding ninja and twice as tough. Like I said, save your money and buy some ammo.

BioShock 2 absolutely delivers. It’s everything I hoped for. If you’re going to pick this game up, I strongly recommend you play the first one before you do. If you’ve already played the first one, it might be worth it to make another run through Rapture the first time around to refresh your memory before you pick up the sequel.
I haven’t yet tried out the new multiplayer feature, but I plan on doing so soon. I don’t really think this game needed a multiplayer feature to be good, but, give the people what they want, I assume. It doesn’t take away from the story and can only add to the replay value.
Now, go to the store and pick up both of these games, would you kindly?

Bidula’s Last Word: 9.5/10

Bidula’s Last Word: The Decade’s 10 Best Video Games

10. Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, 2007, Wii)
Why not Sunshine, you might ask? Why not New Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo DS? What makes Super Mario Galaxy the best Mario game in the decade and what gives it the right to sit on this list?
Only because it was the single most innovative platformer of the last ten years.
Taking a concept and improving on it is something Nintendo has excelled at for almost three decades. When they had a chance to bring their biggest ticketed franchise over to the latest console, they couldn’t just make a normal 3D platformer. They’d already done that twice already. They needed a way to change it up.
Making Mario run around on three-dimensional objects with their own gravitational field? Check. Making players wonder how to reach that next object, relative to the gravity and physics of the surrounding celestial bodies? Check. Taking something as simple as run-and-jump and elevating it beyond a point it has ever been? Check.
Beyond all that, the game is insanely fun and challenging at the same time. Mastering Mario’s many types of jumps, bouncing off of corners, spinning into the stratosphere, and gaining a free-flight ability are all part of the awesomeness that awaits.
They also integrated the WiiMote in an innovative way, allowing it to act as a magnet to attract and a reticle to shoot the in-game collectable meteor bits, sometimes to great effect on the screen, sometimes just for show. Adding these additional elements plumbed (ha!) new depth and gave all future platformers something to strive for: perfection.

9. Portal (Valve Corporation, 2007, 360, XBLA, PC)
The cake is a lie.
If you haven’t had the chance to play Portal, sit down, spend the couple bucks to download it on XBLA, and give it a good run through.
A puzzle game that pretends to be a first person shooter, or the other way around, is an awesome concept. The small team that put Portal together to be included in the Orange Box with Half-Life 2: Episode 2 and Team Fortress 2. Though TF2 is still enjoying some intense popularity, Portal quickly became the main attraction and the real reason you bought the Orange Box, even with the second part of a highly-anticipated sequel on board.
With some great voice acting portraying the seemingly cold and uncaring GLaDOS, the insane computer who is watching your every move within the Aperture Science Testing Facility, you find yourself laughing even when you’re frustrated because you can’t finish the puzzle at hand. Plus, she gives a killer cake recipe near the end. The turrets have some absolutely awesome dialogue as well.
The physics of the game are incredible. Being able to open a portal on any flat surface in any direction helps to achieve a number of awesome effects and requires some creativity to figure out a solution to some problems.
It also has one of the best ending songs of the decade with GLaDOS cheerfully singing the written report she’s making in reference to your performance and the performance of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device.
Don’t even bother with the whole Orange Box. Download this and be done with it. You don’t need that other trash stinking up your Portal. And I mean that double-entendre.

8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Series (Neversoft, 1999 – 2009, All Platforms)
When I say all platforms, I mean all platforms. The Tony Hawk video game franchise is something which is storied. From the original Playstation version in 1999 (I know, it’s not technically this decade, but the majority of the series was, so suck it) with ports leaking into Dreamcast and even N64 territory, up through the current Tony Hawk’s Ride for 360 and PS3, this game has always been active and awesome.
Personally costing me countless sleepless nights and horrifying thumb calluses which I still have to this day (actually called Tony Hawk calluses among some of my friends), this game helped transition skateboarding from the 90s into the new millennium by showing people how difficult skateboarding, even fantasy skateboarding at times, can be. It introduced a new generation of kids to the true pro generation of skaters such as the titular Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist, Bucky Lasek, and even Bam Margera to an extent. It prompted some of the younger children playing the game to run out, grab a board, and take it to the streets. Tony Hawk games, for all their addictive nature, were, in the opinion of your humble narrator, instrumental in inspiring a new brood of extreme athletes.
When it first came out, the only other skateboarding game I could think of was Skate or Die for the NES, and I remembered how much it sucked. It took a friend from out of town to sit me down in front of a PS1, jam a controller into my hand, and get me well on my way to becoming the dominant Tony Hawk Pro of my particular postal district.
With every iteration came new features, new nuances of skating, new modes, new courses, and new fun. Even now, Tony Hawk Ride, though panned by critics, introduced a new skateboard controller which responded to motion. Pretty sick in theory, but apparently not yet perfected enough to be good.
It was also one of the first game series to offer serious customization, from boards to skateparks, in any significant way. Eventually, having the ability to sandbox around levels and careen through the areas in search of the best trick spots was the greatest thing. Stringing combo after combo after combo was a point of pride for my gaming clique on just about every incarnation of the game. I still hold the record as the only person I know to have gotten a 2500000+ (that’s two-point-five million plus) combo on the carnival level of Tony Hawk 3.
Tony Hawk has since influenced every extreme sports game on the market. When you have a system as awesome as the original Tony Hawk package, you can’t really argue with it. Often imitated, never duplicated. Tony owes me some new thumbs.

7. Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (Capcom, 2000, Arcade, Dreamcast, XBX, 360, PS2, PS3)
The battle for survival unfolds.
As the follow-up to one of the greatest arcade fighting games and the source of many a fanboy’s uncontrollable orgasm, MvC2 claims the spot of greatest fighting game of the decade. With characters from a previous decade’s worth of fighting games (both shitty and spectactular) brought to us by our friends at Capcom all rounded up and jammed into one sleek little package, there was no doubt that from the moment this machine was revealed in your local arcade/movie theater/generic gaming area, you would be pumping your hard-earned quarters into the slot to try and unlock all the still-unrevealed mystery characters behind the wealth of questions marks on the selection screen. When you weren’t actively playing, you would most certainly have your 50 cents up on the glass claiming that you got next.
With a smorgasboard of characters both new and old combining with the ability to make three-character tag teams, matches could be extended and fierce, often running through the end of the 99 second time limit and being judged by the amount of energy both sides had left. Fights were much more intense with this game than they ever had been in 2D fighting. Strategy was a major key. Choosing the right squad and which special abilities they’d use when tagged or summoned for the three-character hyper-combo became the definitive way of gaining a leg up on your competition. If your three-way (heh heh…) didn’t jive, your team would have a much tougher time winning.
Even my wife loves this game. So much that, when we unburied our Dreamcast upon moving but couldn’t find the game disc, she promptly went to eBay and bought the cheapest working one she could find. When it came up for download on XBLA just this summer, we downloaded it and played for 3 days straight.
This is the definitive fighter. The hell with Street Fighter 3. The hell with Mortal Kombat and all it’s garbage. This fighter beats all comers and stands proudly at the king of the hill for the decade.

6. Final Fantasy X (Squaresoft, 2001, PS2)
With a next-gen graphics update as well as fully spoken dialogue, FFX changed the way RPGs could tell a story as well as changing the way it could affect a player.
X was the first game in the Final Fantasy series to incorporate a seamless character transfer from world map to battle system to cinematic, replacing the old switcheroo we’d seen many times in games past. This gave the game a better flow and allowed for more believability.
Because of its true, flowing play, watching the game felt like watching a computer animated feature. Ask my mother who, as I was playing it while still living at home in college, would beg me not to play when she wasn’t around so that she could watch the compelling story unfold.
The addition of voices to the normally powerful Final Fantasy method of storytelling grabbed you by the heart and would not let go. You became involved in the tentative love story between Tidus and Yuna even more than you had within the Cloud/Tifa/Aerith triangle in VII back in the 90s (I’m sure I’ll get debated on that point, but I’m being honest).
It was one of the shortest in the series, easily beaten within a 40 hour window, but side-quests and unlocks as well as searching for parts of the background story became a great lengthener. Sure, the world of Spira wasn’t quite as big as previous FF iterations, but it was excellent for what it was.
Also, the sphere grid system brought up the idea of characters crossing classes within the same game and contributed to flexibility in many Squaresoft and other games to come, including a big time carry over to Final Fantasy XII’s license system.
In addition to being graphically amazing and including a heart-wrenchingly wonderful story, it also allowed you to do something no other Final Fantasy had done before: break the 9999 damage barrier. Tell me it wasn’t sweet the first time you summoned Bahamut and you saw that great flare-breathing bastard smack a bitch for 10k+. Aww, yeah.
When Yuna’s standing on the dock at the end, whistling into the ocean, I always get choked up. I’m not usually a crier when it comes to stuff like this, but I wept my eyes out the first time I watched that ending. Like a little bitch. I’m not ashamed to admit it, either.

5. Wii Sports Series (Nintendo, 2006 – 2009, Wii)
Both Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort showed us how to have fun while playing video games again.
While I’ve heard from many non-gamers that they’re frustrated with the advances gaming has taken as far as the controller is concerned, Nintendo busted out the Wii console aimed at bringing their old two-button-one-d-pad audience into the next generation not by making things more complicated, but by simplifying.
Where the gaming industry was losing interest by continuously providing anime-styled epic adventures and an ever-growing library of faceless first-person shooters which may not appeal to all audiences, Nintendo came along and said: “Hey, you guys wanna go bowling instead?”
The Wii Sports games brought back the idea of family gaming, allowing everyone from little kids to grandparents a chance to play and have a good opportunity to win.
Better bowlers bowled better games. Better golfers could chip for a birdie over the inexperienced gamer. Boxers could stick and move. My wife could take her vast softball experience and soundly thrash me in baseball. For once, the non-gamer could get the other hand.
Sure, there are the dicks out there who don’t play fair and won’t get off their lazy asses to stand and pretend to throw a bowling ball. They’ll just sit there and casually flick the Wiimote in such a way to grant them a strike every time. This negates the entire point of the game and these people should be slapped and possibly have their pasty-skinned asses pushed (or forklifted if necessary) out of the house to get some fresh air.
Wii Sports Resort added even more events and better motion control with the WiiMotion Plus accessory. If it didn’t feel real before, it’ll sure as hell feel real now. Especially when you re-experience the horror of your off-the-tee slice in a virtual setting. Just try not to throw the club at the screen.
What was once just a demo for the Wii’s innovative motion controls became a family fun activity and really brought gaming back to a level of more friendly competition out of a world of teabagging and pwning. You may have been scratching your head at the beginning of this entry, but you should now realize how much this deserves a spot on this list.

4. BioShock (2k Games, 2007, 360, PC, PS3)
Quite possibly the safest choice for one of the best games of the decade. BioShock is a true mind-blower in just about every way possible.
If you’ve never played it, get your ass out to the store and buy this game as quickly as possible. Trust me, this is one game you don’t want to order from GameFly. You’re going to end up replaying it at least once and will probably get a hankering to pick it up again soon after.
With a story as rich and deep as the sea in which it takes place and a crazy mash-up of styles that could be classified as deco-punk (a combination of art deco and steampunk) which fits that story perfectly, this is one you will not be able to put down.
BioShock was one of the few first-person shooters where you will be almost compelled to stop and pay attention to the story rather than just blasting your way through the entire game in a few hours. The plot twists have as much of an impact as a movie and will leave you in disbelief.
It’s also one of the few first-person shooters that makes you think about things other than, well, shooting. With the ability to hack machines and turn them to your advantage and Plasmid abilities (essentially psychic powers) in addition to traditional and not-so traditional firearms, there are more creative and sometimes more effective ways of taking out your enemies. Trust me, you’ll want to conserve that ammo as much as possible (don’t forget you can re-loot your crossbow bolts, kids) because you’re gonna need it in the end.
Easily the most innovative first-person shooter of the decade, if not one of the most innovative games period, BioShock is certainly a must have in your collection. With BioShock 2 due in early 2010 and slated to be one of next years biggest sellers, make sure you get your hands on this instant-classic while you can (and while it’s still relatively cheap and available used).

3. World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 2004, PC)
Yeah, I had to put it here. I admit, I was not prepared.
Like it or not, the MMO world exploded with the November 2004 release of World of Warcraft. Yes, I purchased the game during the opening week. Yes, I played for almost five years. I was tenured. It was only within this very year that I decided to give it all up and run away from Azeroth, never to look back.
Well, I look back, but I won’t go back.
World of Warcraft brought the World of Reality to its knees as it continuously steamrolled over every shred of competition. Gamer after gamer joined the growing snowball and it still holds true today. Millions of players around the world log in daily for their dose of WarCrack.
What was thought to be a safe place to flitter about for “casual gamers” (as opposed to career ones) quickly turned into a cemetery of addictions and time ill-spent gaming online to no end. Planning and grouping raids. Timing runs. Scheduling life around a particular world or guild event. Dominating your every free moment with material grinding for professions or power-running guild lowbies through instances.
Is it all that bad, you may ask? Is WoW, indeed, the Devil Itself? Nay nay, I say to you.
For all of its bad notes, World of Warcraft is one of the most important games of the decade, if not for sheer player number and dedication, then for the fact that it is the one true consistently expanding MMO experience. Blizzard learned from the mistakes of the games that had come before and built Azeroth on the dying corpses of previous also-rans.
They found what was right and what was wrong with the flood of MMOs. Even as new competition would pop up, they would analyze and learn from it. They are the MMO Borg (if I may counter one geeky reference with an even geekier one), absorbing everything good and spitting out the bad as it rolls on across the gaming universe. They created one fairly simple and, for the most part, user friendly interface and continued to improve on it, even though some may call such improvements detriments simply due to what they’re used to.
It is, truly, an ever expanding world with new areas, quests, and enemies opening with every patch, sometimes long before the giant expansion sets (of which there will soon be three) drop. They’re going as far as to revamp their original world, Azeroth, as an entirely different map for an entirely different leveling experience and adding two more races to their already impressive collection of 10.
It is such a juggernaut that it warranted and entire in-game animated episode of South Park. How funny was that shit, by the way?
I was staved off from actually buying new games for a long time due to my obsession with WoW. That, in itself, makes this game one of the best of the decade.

2. Guitar Hero and Rock Band Series (Harmonix, Neversoft, 2005 – 2009, PS2, PS3, 360, Wii)
Say what you will about fake-bands. These two franchises have changed the industry.
You may be incensed at me for naming both of these franchises as games of the decade on the same entry. What you need to realize is that one wouldn’t exist without the other which wouldn’t have evolved without the other.
Guitar Hero coming on to the scene in 2005 was something incredible and new. Though the Japanese had similar rhythm games dominating their arcade and home scenes since the early 90s and DDR was, at the time, insanely popular in the States, Guitar Hero brought something along which none of the other rhythm games had before. Real music
DDR may have offered a few remixes and some 80s pop before that, but most of it was J-Pop or Techno Trash. Guitar Hero was the first to feature real rock tracks – real popular rock tracks – even though the first iteration was mostly a series of well-played covers by a studio band. But, it sounded real enough.
Later, in 2007, as the popularity of Guitar Hero grew, Harmonix split from the franchise and created Rock Band, a combination of elements from Guitar Hero as well as singing and drumming games, to provide a more immersive multiplayer experience. Being backed by MTV gave them the ability to recruit actual artists to their cause, contributing the actual tracks instead of just the rights. Neversoft countered with Guitar Hero: World Tour, including the same elements and a larger drum kit. With the advent of things like XBLA and the WiiShop, both games started flooding the market with downloadable content. Rock Band came up with the idea of allowing their additional games to be used within the same game system (Rock Band and Lego Rock Band tracks can be downloaded to your hard drive and played on the main Rock Band 2 platform). People got serious about it, including me, who was gifted a pricey “fake” bass for his birthday right as he decided to make the jump to Expert mode and also including my “band-mate” Budda who I helped to purchase an Ion drum set (which can actually be used as synth-drums with an attachment).
With the Beatles, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Van Halen, and Metallica all contributing entire solo games of music to these two franchises, the future can only go up from here.
It may be fake band, but for those of us who have no idea how to play a rock instrument, it’s the closest thing we’re gonna get to jamming on the songs we love.

1. Grand Theft Auto III & IV Series (Rockstar Games, 2001-2009, PS2, XBX, GBA, DS, X360, PS3, PSP, PC)
Is there anyone playing video games out there who hasn’t played at least one iteration of the GTA series at some point in their life? Better yet, is there someone out there who hasn’t at least played a game influenced in one way or another by the GTA series? I defy you to find one.
Though the series found its humble origins in the late-90s, with groundbreaking open-world game play and earth-shattering ultraviolence from an overhead perspective, it was GTA III that truly got the ball rolling in 2001 and brought the series to legendary status.
GTA III was the beginning of something new – a gaming experience which would be directed by the classic mission-giving NPCs in the game, but would be ultimately and completely controlled by the player. You could completely ignore the brutal missions to perform even more brutal or insane acts on your own.
This was also the first game where you were not penalized for killing innocent bystanders or other normally helpful characters. Nothing compared to beating an old lady to death in front of the police station, jacking a sports car, and leading the police on a lengthy chase around Liberty City, opening fire until they broke out the National Guard to stop me (that’s six-stars for those of you playing along at home). It was fun and it was an incredible way to let off steam after a hard day. Still is, really.
Former Lawyer (disbarred, in case you hadn’t heard) and notorious enemy to gamer-kind, Jack Thompson, slammed the series from III onward. He described the proliferation of these games as “Pearl Harbor 2”, slamming not only the cultural impact but also as a racial slur against Japan-based Sony. He called the GTA series “murder simulators” and condemned both the adults who played it and the adults who would buy it so that their children could play it. There has yet to be a link established between a rise in real-world violence and the wide distribution of GTA games.
Though it did bring a new brand of ultraviolence to the home console, the GTA series also allowed for incredible industrial breakthroughs in graphics, processing, physics, and most notably the introduction of celebrity voices for video game parts. With most of the first chapter in the III saga being voiced by the cast of the Sopranos, it suddenly became cool for real actors to get involved in gaming. It added more depth to games when it wasn’t just some third-tier voice actor whose skills were relative to a plank of wood as far as emotion. It made you feel like this world around which you were riding and causing havoc was a real place, no matter how farfetched the mission goals were.
Beyond the voices came the soundtrack. The radio stations have always been the best part of the game. Riding around San Andreas listening to gangsta rap in the games early 90s LA setting made me remember the hours I wasted watching MTV when it actually played videos. Rolling around Vice City blasting hair metal and 80s pop or Liberty City in GTA IV tuned in to classic rock, the game keeps you bobbing your head and makes your foot (thumb) just as heavy as it would be in real life if you heard the right song at the right time. As with the celebrity voices, GTA was probably the first series to really attract the attention of the mainstream recording industry to video games.
With GTA IV now setting the bar for the concept of continual gaming by offering two downloadable mission packs for the same city (including new places, vehicles, weapons, and features) which seamlessly integrate with the original product, something unheard of in the scope with which Rockstar delivered, this series is pushing the envelope again.
Sure, most games don’t even profess to be anything like GTA, but they have all been influenced by the way Rockstar and the next-gen GTA series have consistently driven the industry by setting trends and paving the way for breakthroughs that have us arriving at the end of this first millennial decade still enamored with consoles as a whole.

Bidula’s Last Word – I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1NIT!!!1

I have been skeptical of Microsoft’s Indie Game program for the 360 since its inception.
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I wasn’t sure what sort of garbage would start turning up if you let the world make video games. How many half-baked bullshit ideas would surface? How many crap games would inexplicably float to the top of the pile, showing off excellent screen shots and delivering on absolutely nothing? How many dumb and repetitive ideas would be presented?
At first, I was convinced that my apprehension was righteous. I would scan through the indie titles in the “most downloaded” section and be treated to the sight of such gems as “Fart Machine – includes 50 different fart effects!”, “Math Tutor”, and approximately 3000 different synth-drum programs so that those of us with a Rock Band bent could pretend we were actually making music.
Though I’m sure there were some gems, I largely left the library undisturbed. I didn’t even bother looking because I felt that there would be nothing good buried under all of that shit.

Then, recently, I started giving indie games more of a chance.

It started with a few awesome flash games, most of them available at armorgames.com including Demolition City, Test Pilot, and Clockwords. These have been my most recent obsessions and have helped me come to the conclusion that indie game creation is a marvelous thing. Why wait for the big companies to try and shove the latest ultra-realistic epic down my throat when there’s plenty of fun to be had in 2-D with simple concepts and clever puzzles? FPS is only fun for so long, I have to take long breaks between RPG Epics that devour my time, and WoW (for me) is played out. I needed something more. I looked to the independent media because anything free and fun, especially in this economy, is well worth the search.

My faith in indie games renewed, I started looking through the X-Box Live Arcade indie games pile again. A few drum machines were still there and almost deterred me from continuing my search for something cheap and fun. I was about to back out of the menu when a game title grabbed my eye.

I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1NIT!!!1

The title was written on the card in blaring white 8-Bit letters on a black background.
I chuckled. I was intrigued. I decided to check out the screenshots. Looked like a fairly solid game graphically.
I paid my dollar (80 MSP) and hit start thinking I had nothing to lose. For a dollar, I had no idea what I would gain.

Z0MB13S is absolutely awesome.
It’s a 2-Joystick Shooter which harkens back to the days of haunting mall arcades and playing rounds of Smash-TV when the line for Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat was too long.
You’re set in the center of an open field and zombies start to spawn all around you. You’ve got to shoot and avoid, often jamming the joysticks enthusiastically, to blow away the encroaching hordes.
Power-ups materialize in the form of 4-bit icons, looking out of place but awesome for a game with fair graphics, and offer about a dozen different methods of undead disposal.
From the beginning, it has you laughing. From the l33t-sp34k title card of the game (same as the box) to the soundtrack of the first level – a slow punk song describing the simple objects of the game with a chorus that announces “I made a game with zombies in it!” – its amazingly entertaining.
The game is challenging, as well. As the numbers of the horde increase, you start to feel the pressure, moving around the screen and blasting in every different direction. Different enemies show up through different stages (not all zombie related), each with a different pattern of movement and toughness level. This isn’t what makes the game truly challenging, however.
As you find out when the soundtrack of the first level reaches its chorus, this game uses the surface under your character to flash large messages and introduce different effects. From large 4-bit font words to pure epilepsy inducing black and white and colored flashes, which can get rather distracting. Add to that dance-hall style lights from the edge of the screen while being surrounded by dozens of enemies coming in from every direction and you’re bound to lose a life or two.
I think the way the soundtrack contributes is probably the best thing about this game, though, going from slow punk to metal to an instrumental interlude and even into techno before the game is over. Each stage has its own background, its own effects, and its own enemies to go along with the particular music. The soundtrack is limited, however, which means so are the stages. When you reach the end of the track list (a remix of the first level song), you’ve reached the end of the game. Potentially, the whole thing takes about 15 minutes to reach the very end, if you survive. Perfect, bite-sized, and fun.
The game also incorporates 4-player co-op mode and does not work through LIVE but can be incredibly fun if played by 4 people in the same room.

If you’re looking for a cheap thrill, this is it. Get the game W1TH Z0MB13S IN1T!!!11!1

Bidula’s Last Word: 9.5/10

I defy you not to get the theme song stuck in your head.

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Zen and the Art of Tetris

I have a strong belief in the idea of Zen.

We all have at least one thing that can get us to a more conremplative point. There’s always that one particular activity that you can use to simply lose yourself. Where you can dissolve from all the troubles you may be facing and the stresses of the real world and be completely absorbed and engrossed in that one thing while allowing your mind to simply drift; to find that spot of inner peace.

At least one of my good friends uses cooking as that medium. When she is cooking or baking (actively, not waiting for something to get done in the oven) you can’t really have much of a conversation with her. She’s in her happy place. She’s allowing the activity to absorb her, to clear her mind, to allow her a moment or two of pure thought. Her motions become more reflex than calculation after glancing at a recipe book to check the next step. She is calm. She has found some semblance of inner peace.
A few people I know use knitting or crocheting or other craftwork. Some of them are running out of things to make and people for whom to make them. The same thing happens. They wind up getting absorbed in what they’re doing, so much that they may not want to put it down and, when they do, they’ll probably be thinking about picking it back up for the next hour before they can be officially distracted from it.
There’s also things like drawing, painting, or anything else arts related that requires more than a moment’s concentration. Some people even get their fix by painting walls or sanding things or doing harder work.

The absorption into these activities is incredibly good. Reaching a meditative state of mind wouldn’t be easy for most of us without a kind of medium to distract our modern minds which are, usually, forced into a kind of ADD. In a world full of multi-tasking, we are not usually able to – or even inclined to – concentrate on one thing for an extended period based on what have become social norms.
Think about it. If you sit around all day doing just one thing, no matter what that one thing might be, you may wind up completing something and you may feel accomplished. But, when you dig deep down into your psyche, there’s something that’s still dissatisfied. There’s something down there in the depths yelling at you and pitching a fit because you wasted all that time doing just one thing. You spent all those countless hours which cannot be regained doing just that one thing. Instead of doing three to ten different things at the same time, you chose to do one.

Maybe it’s just my personal neurosis. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way but, when I’m in a situation when I cannot multi-task, I feel like I’m not doing enough. I’m one of those sorts of people who usually has to do 3 things at once to truly concentrate them. Even right now, as I write this, I’m talking to co-workers, fielding phone calls, doing my job, and contemplating which fiction project I should really be devoting my time to.
I squirm when I think that I have to dedicate my time to just one thing but, once dedicated to that thing, I turn into a zombie. I’m in the zone. I want to do nothing else but that one thing until it’s completely finished and any interruptions to that activity are met with horrifying levels of annoyance. Once I can get that voice in the bottom of my psyche to shut up about wasting my time, I get lost.

There are a few things that can get me to reach that state. Writing, sometimes, is one. As a matter of fact, right now, I have the feeling that I’m in the zone. I have completely forgotten to go to lunch and will probably compromise with my desires and take a break within the next 15 minutes. I’ve been so absorbed in my writing today (I was working on something else before I was inspired by my total absorption to write this) that I’ve not cared about getting more coffee or grabbing a bottle of water. I’ve been upset when the phone at my desk rings. I’m in that place where the rest of the world is blurring around the edges and all I see are the words on the paper.
I can also get this way when I draw or paint Warhammer miniatures. I feel my breathing pattern change to a slow steady rhythm. Everything in my mind seems to slow down and I can achieve clarity of thought.

The one that truly makes me zone, though, is sort of embarrassing because it’s completely unproductive. It has no end product though it may feel rewarding.
My guilty Zen pleasure is puzzle games. Tetris and Lumines lately, though I have been known to absorb into Planet Puzzle League, Dr. Mario, Meteos, and many others. This is why I absolutely love the Nintendo DS. It affords me a portable Zen machine. If I have it with me, any time I need to clear my head, I just jam in good old Tetris DS (at which I excel in a manner which borders ridiculous), play on standard mode with the endless option, and go until I drop. Usually I end up finishing in the upper one hundreds (Lv. 150 or higher), but have been known to play through to much higher levels (I think I topped out in the low 400s one night, but it was late, I couldn’t put it down, and passed out shortly after).
I feel kinda bad about this, but it’s an incredible mind clearer. I’ve had some of my best ideas while I was lost in a long round of a puzzle game. My thought process about what’s happening on the screen dissolves and the game just starts to come naturally, no matter how fast the pieces are falling.

It’s wonderful to get to that Zen point, I just feel bad that my Zen largely involves something that produces nothing. Feels like kind of a waste. Maybe I need to concentrate more on production and less on pixels.

But, those pixels are so damned addictive…

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