Diary of a Pigman

My life started in a swamp, and it was as nice as swamps get. I decided to leave. Immediately I noticed a black figure teleporting away, then it teleported right next to me! It looked at me with its purple eyes and said “Hi!”(fun fact! Endermen actually say “hi” and “what’s up” but it is altered and messed up and that is why you hear….whatever you heard) and I repeated back “Hi?”. He told me his name, “John,” he said then he went on about this “End” thing and a nether portal and how to build it and how it is essential to go to the nether to get to the End. I asked him if he knew what either of these things are and he said “other dimensions”. I started to freak out, “I’ve never even been to a different area than this one, I’ve only been alive for like 10 minutes now and you expect me to go to a different dimension?!!”

“I’m in.” I said “So how do we get to the End anyhow?” I asked and John answered, “First we ask a blaze (which live in the nether) if we can have some of their extra blaze rods (which they always have extras). Then we turn it into blaze powder and we craft it with an ender pearl (which John has an infinite amount of) to get an eye of ender. When you throw an eye of ender it floats in to the sky leading you to the direction of the nether portal. Eventually it will fall or shatter in mid-air so you might need a lot of them to throw and you’ll also need twelve of them to place down on the end portal itself. When the eye of ender falls and shatters you’ll need to dig down. Eventually you will find yourself in a strange maze. Follow the light until you find the End portal. At that moment, destroy the thing that is spawning silverfish and deal with the silverfish! Then place down the eyes of ender on the yellowish-blueish block and your End portal will turn into a night sky. Jump in and you’re in the “End”.”

“Wow, that is a lot to take in. So, how do we get to the nether?”

“Well, we either have to build one out of obsidian or we can find a player that’s a Noob that will leave their nether portal unguarded. It would be a lot of trouble to build one out of obsidian, so we should look for a player for sure,” He said, pointing east. We eventually found what we wanted, an unguarded nether portal, so we went through it. It was very noisy going through and when we got there it looked like hell, really – I’m not joking! There was lava and red blocks everywhere called nether eak. In the distance, there was red building. I was 90% sure that was where we were going to get blaze rods.

I was right! John said, “That’s the building over there! Let’s go!” When we got inside the building we started exploring everywhere. Eventually we found a cage with a blaze spawner inside. We asked them if we could have some extra blaze rods. They said yes and gave us 2 stacks of them. We began our journey back to the nether portal. Once we got there, a magma cube asked us if he can come too!  We said yes and we left together. Since we had the key ingredient and John’s wisdom, we crafted eyes of ender with ease. What a journey that was!  I can’t wait for our next adventure.


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Doom

Developed by id Software and published by Bethesda in 2016, Doom is a reboot of id Software’s iconic Doom series of first-person shooter games originally published in 1993.

Have you ever wanted to go guns blazing into a giant pit filled with demons, racking up gory kills and copious amounts of blood as you hack, slash, shoot, and beat your way through the hordes of the undead monstrosities that reside in the deepest bowels of Hell itself?

What do you mean “we already did that“?

No, I meant in 2016, not 1993.

Welcome back to DOOM, the game that gave the world its aggressive love for First-Person Shooters! You are a marine, Mars has been taken over by the denizens of Hell, here’s a gun, go stop them with all the blood, guts, smoke, and fire you can muster! That’s all the story you need to take on Hell. Seriously. Okay, there’s a little bit more, but it doesn’t matter. You’re here to kill demons, end of story; and boy do you kill demons with extreme prejudice.

Smooth, responsive, and above all else fun, DOOM shows that you don’t necessarily need a story filled with the horrors of war, or even a linear path (hallway) to make a fantastic game. You know you’ve found something special when it’s required to have a map of the surrounding area because it’s so easy to get lost in the level. Weapons are effective and have weight to them, and the demons look equally horrifying and target-like. Tearing them to shreds with one of the best soundtracks of the year behind you, parading through blood and guts whilst head banging to metal is easily one of the great pleasures in life.

DOOM has always been more about the single player experience than the multiplayer, so the multiplayer never grew on me. It isn’t deep or thoughtful by any stretch, and doesn’t have quite the gory thrill of single player, but it’s enjoyable enough to be added on as a bonus for those who are interested in that aspect of FPS.

DOOM, still to this day, is my favorite FPS franchise. Be it the weapons, the levels, the enemies, or the music, I wholeheartedly enjoy every moment I spend playing it. Any of it. All of it. Buy it. It’s worth it.


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Cuphead

Cuphead is a throwback style run and gun adventure game designed and produced by StudioMDHR in 2017.

It’s been a while since I found myself whistling jazz tunes while attempting to scratch my eyes out and crying while rocking back and forth in the fetal position.

I love this game…I think.

Cuphead tells the tale of Cuphead (obviously) and his pal Mugman as they travel around the world collecting Soul Contracts for the Devil, to whom they owe their own souls for making a deal and losing a bet. Sounds familiar, right? Well, once you realize that the entire game is hand-drawn as if it were a 1930’s Fleischer Studios cartoon (see: rubber hose animation), you’ll be as sucked in as I was.

The detail in the characters and background art is painstakingly apparent as you run, jump, dash, and shoot your way through levels and boss fights. So. Many. Boss fights. Watching the game move at a cross between vintage 24 frames per second and a modest modern 60 frames can be a little jarring at first, but it’s easy to get used to as the action pulls you in.

However, I must caution those who are taking this experience with little to no preparation:  this game is hard. Very hard. Frustratingly hard. Ridiculously, aggravatingly, hopelessly hard.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

Needless to say, be prepared for a grind. Cuphead rests on its laurels of being a trial-by-fire trudge through forests, gardens, candy lands, and more. Enemies fly from all directions, some are invincible, some just take a lot of bullets. The best way to put it: it’s not unfair, but you’d better be ready to be beaten countless times for the simplest mistakes before you get a feel for things.  Also, with no way to gain more health, you’ll be hard-pressed to avoid that last fatal hit before you reach your goal.

Cuphead is a powerful, yet docile creature. It may be fun and adorable, but it is also a force to be reckoned with. Have fun, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.


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Starcraft II

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, and its following expansions Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void mark the long awaited continuation of Blizzard Entertainment’s landmark RTS title Starcraft, one of the most popular and successful real-time strategy games of all time.  Starcraft II follows directly on the heels of the narrative setup by the original game with numerous characters returning to fill greatly expanded roles.  Mechanically the sequel builds heavily off its predecessor, continuing and expanding on many classic mechanics and strategies.

When taken all together, Starcraft II’s campaign, formed of three individual campaigns each released with the base game or one of the expansions, is perhaps the greatest single RTS production element in the second decade of the 2nd millennium.  Each campaign focuses on one of the game’s three main races, and follows iconic characters that were the movers and shakers from the previous game as they continue to chart their own paths, and those of their respective races, through the deepening conflicts in their home system.  The various campaign sections feature new units, mechanics, and abilities beyond Starcraft II’s standard multiplayer fare; these variations not only keep the very large string of missions exciting and engaging, they also perfectly showcase how effectively the game’s design tools were implemented and thus the great level of customization available to modders.  This is all in addition to watching a very colorful cast of characters interact between missions inside the “command ship”, a semi-interactive debriefing and prepping area that serves as the “lobby” for the campaign missions and the workshop were the player upgrades and customizes their units and abilities.

The downtime between missions is another great addition from Blizzard.  Pacing is balanced between diverse and sometimes rather hectic missions and the controlled, casual environment of the command ship, without ever bringing the player out of the overall campaign experience.  Aside from a slightly distorted sense of time, primarily due to “time-sensitive” missions being optional due to multiple choice selections, the game world and its nuances are continually in the fore of the player’s space.  The interaction between the different points of the command ship, and the characters within, also serve as the perfect vehicles to establish plot points and the campaign’s narrative in an environment where the player would not be easily distracted and can engage or skip them at leisure.

Pacing is most certainly an element that Starcraft is known for, at least as far as action economy is concerned.  The first Starcraft was famous of high-speed, knife-edge missions and matches where players had to be continually focused on balancing long-term goals while addressing short term needs.  Starcraft II maintains this trend most obviously in its multiplayer, and in its campaigns to a lesser extent.  Blizzard was very careful to preserve the design elements and mechanics that make this level of action possible, including a proliferation of hot-keyed commands and abilities.  The campaign missions are for the most part a more casual sampling, which is entirely appropriate considering the highly detailed levels, colorful faction designs, and intricate plots.  Of course varying levels of difficulty are still including to satiate more experienced players and some of the higher level missions include their own parameters for increased challenges such as time-limits and resource limitation.

Starcraft II’s developers were also able to take advantage of its famed multiplayer and stellar single player to introduce an element that was still in its infancy at the time.  Cooperative play, in which two or more players join together through LAN or internet play to complete a single mission, was introduced in the form of a specific multiplayer option where players could each take control of a commander, represented by one of the notable characters from the campaign, and lead their specific roster of units alongside their ally against singular pre-built missions.  With each completed mission, the particular commander that was used gained experience, unlocking new units and abilities, up to a final level of 15.  Over the years Blizzard released more coop commanders, gradually increasing not only the unit options but also the very mechanics of gameplay for each commander.  Players can not only use familiar units from the campaign and multiplayer lineups, but also experience completely new rosters and mechanics developed specifically for cooperative play.

All of this variety comes in a refreshingly concise and smooth package.  Starcraft II demands its share of memory space, but can operate on most internet connections and high graphics settings are manageable on just about any gaming computer currently on the market.  It also launches quickly, has very well developed tools to maintain internet play, and practically seamless party chat and matchmaking tools.  Its graphics levels have also aged well, and while not up to the standards of modern FPS titles it can still provide enough grand explosions and minute, interactive details to more than satisfy any level of RTS gamer.

It’s always difficult to confidently say that a particular title is the greatest genre champion of its generations, but as one of the few RTS franchises still viable and active, Starcraft II most certainly deserves accolades as a game worthy of its fanbase and the legendary popularity it has boasted over the years.  It is still supported by Blizzard and continues to receive new content.  The base game is also free to play and its other assets are available at reasonable prices through Battle.net.  The RTS genre may have faded, but Starcraft II should still hold a place among anyone’s game library as an enjoyable single player experience and a fun multiplayer excursion.


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Dead Space

Ever wonder what it would be like to be drifting alone in space with no escape plan, slowly watching the ship whose air you’re quickly burning through come apart at the seams, all the while being chased by unimaginable horrors that won’t die after shooting them in the head?

You…you haven’t wondered that? Just me? Really? Come on, guys, it’s not that much of a scary scenario, is it? It is? Oh…

Well, anyway, moving on…

Dead Space tells the story of Isaac Clarke, an engineer sent with a small crew to the U.S.G. Ishimura, a planet-cracking ship that they lost contact with recently. What they find is a horrific alien entity bent on killing or assimilating them, and what began as a possible rescue mission becomes a lone man’s fight for survival inside a quite-literal box of death. In space.

While I might be a little biased in my assessment (I first played Dead Space on a full-wall projector with surround sound, and wept as I cowered before a human-sized Isaac taking down vile Necromorphs taller than him), this game scared the crap out of me. Beautifully gruesome visuals, terrifying sound design, and a wonderfully creepy score elevate the tension on the Ishimura, sometimes past the breaking point in certain areas. Movement can be a little clunky, but it’s only to be expected of an engineer with no combat training trying to survive; in other words it’s a perfect emulation.

Enemy types can get repetitive after a while, with their zombie apocalypse vibe, but the level design makes up for those shortcomings, especially in the vacuum stages. Story’s a bit convoluted, which is probably a deliberate design since it highlights the alienation you feel all alone, seemingly without a purpose beyond survival, in the depths of the void.  The story opens up more if you play through the sequels as well, which you should really do if you can get past the first game.  What could be worse?

Is it perfect? No. Is it groundbreaking? Nope. Is it scary? Oh, hell yes. Do I love it all the same? Absolutely.


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Hearts of Iron IV

Hearts of Iron IV was released in 2016 as the latest entry in Paradox Interactive’s long-running Hearts of Iron series of grand strategy games.  Continuing the tradition of its predecessors, the fourth title brings players the full scope of the brewing world at war, with 1936 and 1939 scenario start dates.  Players can take the roll of any existing nation on earth at the time, and must manage resources, industry, politics, the development of new technologies, and the organization and deployment of their armed forces as the globe erupts in war.

As with its more immediate predecessors, Hearts of Iron IV, or HOI IV as it is often abbreviated, continues to present Paradox’s traditional grand strategy model with many changes to the nuances of combat and diplomacy from previous titles.  A new resource was added, political power, that enabled each nation to make changes to its government and laws, engage in direct and indirect political maneuvering, and research national focuses.  Political power accrues at a base amount, with modifiers adding or subtracting to the daily gain as appropriate.  There is no penalty for running out of political power, but if the player is reduced to a negative gain of power they will be unable to continue developing focuses.

The national focus tree is perhaps HOI IV’s biggest addition to the series.  Instead of scripted events guiding the course of historic events and developments, each nation now has a focus tree that contains numerous political choices that initiate diplomatic actions, develop countries, and lead to war.  Historical events such as the Anschluss of Austria appear as part of a chain of focuses that guide the historic development of the Third Reich, culminating in war with France and England.  Most nations utilize a generic focus tree which provides industrial development, military research, and the option to make a nation communist, democratic, or fascist.  The great powers come with unique, highly developed focus trees, and with expansions more of the minor nations such as Australia and Romania gain their own special focus trees as well.

In past titles, players were concerned primarily with the assembling of armies and navies, who led them, and how they were utilized in individual battles.  For this latest release a slew of detailed mechanics now define the operating parameters for division performance in the field.  Divisions are made using templates which automatically draw the appropriate equipment from the national stockpile during training.  Combat width, which increases or decreases based on the number of battalions a template requires, determines the operational viability of a specific template.  If a template’s width is too high it will be unable to participate in most battles; if it is too low it runs the risk of being overwhelmed by larger opposing divisions.

The division template and how it interacts with the numerous combat mechanics is perhaps the most confusing and arbitrary part of HOI IV, and a hallmark of the game’s overall style.  While the template is easy to learn and use, the reasons for its performance on the field are cryptic and at times illogical.  Numerous guides exist online regarding appropriate templates for various widths and purposes, but performance of these templates in game varies heavily and the player is often at a loss to understand why a supposedly advanced template design is failing to overpower inferior combat formations.

This complexity permeates most aspects of the game and is certainly prevalent in the military side.  The use interface serves perfectly well at informing the player about their ships, planes, and combat formations.  However it’s over-reliance on symbols and parlance leaves most new players confused as to what any of the unit commands actually do.  This level of complexity is more subtle in the economic and diplomatic sections, where symbols are more easily decrypted and effects are more basic.  Yet nuances remain, with most players finding certain political actions restricted or even inaccessible depending on a variety of factors relating to their own nation as well as the world in general.

Of course, in typical Paradox fashion, all this complexity doesn’t exist without a way to subtly manipulate it.  The division template designer allows for almost any combination of units to be applied as long as the player has enough army experience to afford it.  Factories can continue producing obsolete equipment, and even when going the historical focus route players don’t have to make alliances or enemies with the traditional targets.  Admirals and generals can be swapped at will, with a short travel delay, and air wings can have any type or number of planes assigned to them.

The user interface features a level of customization as well.  Players can assign specific symbols to division templates allowing them to be identified at a glance.  Ships, air wings, and armies can be renamed and the color and symbol utilized by each army can be modified for distinctive recognition.  Notifications also crowd the top of the screen, highlighting production, diplomacy, or other areas that might need to be addressed.  Clicking on each notification brings up the relevant screen and, although not precisely perfect, allows for quick examination of any deficiencies.

HOI IV goes a long way in telling the player what they can and should do.  Sadly, it is also quite adept at telling the player what they cannot do.  The default settings for a standard game are designed to funnel the normally free-flowing mechanics into the more predictable historical setting of World War II.  Diplomatic actions, economic and military laws, and even national leaders are all restricted by a complex web of ideology, world tension, and military parameters.  These cannot be circumvented, and the passage of game time has been observed to be the only true cure.  Most nations have at least three years of in-game time to adjust themselves, but ambitious players will find the limitations on their goals frustrating and sometimes completely obstructive.  It is highly recommended that players familiar with the basic mechanics adjust their game’s diplomatic and ideological settings to ensure the maximum number of options are available.

At its heart, HOI IV is a WWII simulator to the core.  Its alternate paths and options are numerous and extensively developed, but prospective players should approach the game with the foremost notion that they will be playing through historical WWII.  With this mindset, the restrictions and difficulties that may arise will seem more flavorful and less belligerent, allowing gamers to gradually ease into the notion that events need not follow a set pattern.  Coming to HOI IV with the idea of immediately turning history around may lead to substantial disappointment that can overshadow the elements of the game that are actually done well, such as the division template designer and the nature of focus trees as player-driven events.

Grand strategy is a niche genre for a reason, and players may surprise themselves by finding that they like, or dislike, this style of play when it may have a great deal of, or no, relation to their preferred genre.  Anyone that enjoys nation building and logistical organization will fit right into HOI IV and shouldn’t hesitate to try the game out.  The new content from the many DLCs might seem overwhelming, but it helps in the Hearts of Iron series to start at the end of development to avoid learning strategies that are rendered obsolete by later updates.  Of course, the game is perfectly playable with any DLC combination and is overall reasonably priced.  Most importantly, prospective gamers should remember that failure is part of the learning in this game, and quite often the thrill of a hard won victory in the greatest conflict in human history is worth the harsh learning experiences required to achieve it.


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