Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012: A Dismal Year in Gaming

Looking back on this year in PC gaming, I have to say…it’s been grim. Potential success stories have been marred by a single-minded struggle from larger companies to cash in. In fact, some of the behavior we’ve seen as gamers from companies has been absolutely atrocious. Games that otherwise would have been legendary fell flat on their faces, and the games of the year came out of the blue to impress everyone. It’s been a bizarre, dark-horse year for gaming as a whole. However, two particular examples rose particularly prominently: Continue reading

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Bachelor Chow: Pasta and Meat Sauce

What does food have to do with geekdom, you may ask? Well…sometimes, everyone needs a quick, reasonably healthy meal ready. Maybe the raid went a little long, and your significant other will be there in twenty minutes. Maybe you don’t know how to cook beyond soft boiling an egg or cooking oatmeal. Screen-Shaped Eyes is here to present you with easy, affordable ways to sate yourself and occasionally impress others.

As someone who has at various points been referred to as both saucy and meaty, this is one of my favourite recipes. Better yet, it doesn’t even require measuring cups, since it’s far easier to measure by taste.

Ingredients

– One package of ground beef (about .5 kg is good)

– 1 tbsp of olive oil

– One jar of pasta sauce or ground tomato: plain or fancy and full of vegetables and spices

– Pasta

Optional Ingredients (see? I told you it was easy!)

– Ketchup

– BBQ sauce

– Oregano

– Salt and Pepper

– Garlic or Garlic Powder

– Onion or Onion Powder (or both!)

How to Make Food Happen

1. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan at medium heat.

2. Add ground beef, stirring regularly so that it gets cooked all the way through. Put a pot of water on to boil, too. Throw in a bit of salt.

3. Once the ground beef is cooked, with very little or no pink left, pour in the pasta sauce. If the water is now boiling, add the pasta.

4. Stir the sauce well and let it heat until the sauce is bubbling slightly, then take a small taste now, just so see what you’re starting from. If you’re tired or lazy, throw in some salt and pepper and you’re done. Otherwise, turn the temperature down to low, and let the sauce simmer.

5. Chop up some onion and garlic, and add them to the pan and stir well. The onion needs to cook a bit. If you don’t like your onion at all crunchy, you can add it with the meat while cooking, too. If you don’t have onion or garlic, never fear. I have a solution.

6. Add a splash or two each of ketchup and BBQ sauce. Stir, and taste again. Sampling food is the best way to learn to cook, I promise.

7. Add herbs and other flavouring agents. If you have it, give it a try! I tend to go for oregano or italiano blend. Now’s the time to add more salt and pepper, if you think it requires it. If you didn’t have onions or garlic, you can also put in garlic and onion powder. They’re available in large bags at any grocery store ever, and are an excellent seasoning to put on most meats.

8. Let the sauce simmer for a little longer, then turn the heat off. If your pasta’s been cooking for more than 10 minutes, it’s probably overdone. Turn off the burner now.

9. Just put the pasta into a bowl, or on a plate. Pour some sauce on top. Dinner, like magic. The best part? You totally have leftovers for another day or two now. Or you can invite friends and loved ones over to impress them with your culinary genius.

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2012: The Best Year In Gaming

Whenever I flit my eyes over to a site that I don’t happen to write for (although, let’s be honest, why would anyone look at any other site than Screen-Shaped Eyes, the holy bastion of games writing, the Mecca of videogame nonsense?), it seems like this year is getting a bad rap. It’s a year, we’re told, marred by the juvenile attitudes of gamers and those marketing to them alike, by legendary franchises crushed into the dirt and of our biggest hopes for the year being riddled with flaws. I’d like to suggest though, via the traditional annual list article, that 2012 was the best year for gaming. Continue reading

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A Calm, Measured Response to the NRA

I’ll admit it- I’m a gamer and a gun owner. This is my personal opinion, and no one else’s.

Honestly, I’m shocked to have been regarded as a consumer of the ‘filthiest form of pornography‘, as if I was below a pedophile for playing violent video games. It’s kind of been a grand betrayal, because in most cases, I step up and defend the NRA in conversation- they defend gun owners like me. Or did. I believe that gun ownership is basically harmless for the average citizen, the same way that car ownership is. I believe in the right to concealed-carry, because not everyone works someplace safe, because between calling the cops and when they get there might be the difference between life and death. I believe in the right to self defense because when it comes down to it, lethal force is lethal force, no matter if you’re using a gun or a claw hammer to fight off an abusive ex-husband. Guns are equalizers force those who would be vulnerable. They aren’t a cure all, but I believe a fighting chance is better than no chance at all for the average citizen. I believe that guns don’t make you a bad person, and you should be allowed to own whatever small arm you want, so long as you store and use it in a responsible fashion.

Now, grand betrayal and slander notwithstanding, you’ve just weakened your main argument, NRA. The crux of the argument against gun control legislation is that like cars, guns are just hunks of metal and plastic that are responsibly and legally used by millions of law-abiding Americans every day. Games are essentially the same, likewise with movies. As discussed in my previous post, there are absolutely huge numbers of gamers out there, and if your argument held any water, wouldn’t we all be raving lunatics, tearing the heads and spinal columns out of one another like in Mortal Kombat? Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? Like with any reasonable and sane person, I can tell the difference between ‘fantasy’ and ‘reality’. A game is just a piece of plastic, and like a gun, doesn’t inspire violence. As well, I’m sure you’ve been told your game and movie references are mostly more than a decade old, which really diminishes the impact of what you’re saying.

In the end, your press release has not a single mention of mental health reform. Not one. Instead of treating persons with mental illness, you propose to ignore the elephant in the room and let them try to attack schools because they have security guards? Why not try to identify and treat the problem before it becomes a bloodbath? One of the leading causes of firearms-related deaths is suicide. Why doesn’t the NRA take the lead, and start a phone line for gun owners to call if they’re depressed? Why not take steps to get gun owners the help they need, if they need it? Why not open up lines to those veterans, those police officers you represent- the ones with the simply CRIMINAL suicide rates? Mental health issues in America are simply unaddressed- and that is the root of all these shootings, not guns or violence in the media.

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Sensationalism and Tragedy

I hate it. I hate seeing the media taking murder and turning it into money. I hate the media using the horrors inflicted by a sick man to tug at out hearts. And I hate those using the emotions of a bereaved nation to pimp their pet causes, no matter what they are. Whenever a mass shooting happens, opportunists of every stripe come out of the woodwork to blame someone or demand something. Jack Thompson is already trying to use the media machine to try to blame games. The gun control lobby is trying to blame guns. And it goes on and on and on, with everyone ignoring the real issues- mental health care in America and media sensationalism. Disturbed persons contemplating mass murder will obtain the tools regardless, and no amount of video games will have any affect on their decision to butcher the innocent. We as gamers need to remember not to react in a knee-jerk way to baseless accusations like those old Jack is levelling at us once more. People are hurt, lashing out, reaching out. There are some trying to exploit it for their own agendas. Just…turn off the TV. Listening to Jack Thompson or others only helps them. Be informed, but don’t be used. Continue reading

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Depression In The Borderlands

I was a tiny nipper when I first sat hypnotised by the lanky form of Mowgli. I’d been sitting in front of the Mega Drive Jungle Book game, one that my Dad had rented out from Blockbuster for me (and what an odd concept renting out games is these days). I was absolutely engrossed and completely incompetent, failing in every conceivable way to make progress across the simulated jungle. It’s a memory I look back on with a faint feeling of satisfaction when, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see the fire kindle in my younger eyes, engaging in a hobby that would envelop my spare time for years to come.

I had to rename this, because we were getting frustrated searches for bestiality.

Continue reading

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A Return to the Secret World; Prologue

Well, after a series of horrendous financial woes including massive layoffs, The Secret World has gone free to play. While I played, I rather enjoyed the game…but not enough to continue my subscription after a few months. The gameplay was fun, but I was having trouble making it into a guild. Partly, the society of the game wasn’t quite hammering itself out at that point. It was all exploration, questing. And, to be honest, it was a hell of a lot of fun. There wasn’t a raid culture where I was inducted into a cabal of tightly-knit people like on World of Warcraft, so I didn’t end up roped into a cabal of other players wherein I was an essential cog of a larger machine. I am constantly getting suckered int playing a healer, and I didn’t in The Secret World. It seemed like a more casual MMO experience, and that’s what I enjoyed about it. The skill system was novel and didn’t really restrict me as a player- I could heal and DPS with a very minimal set of skills, and didn’t pigeonhole me as any particular class.

There wasn’t that factionalism to really bind us together like there was in other games; no screams of ‘Horde for life!’, reppin’ for Orgimmar and Undercity. The factions largely felt…well, cosmetic. I hate to compare it to WoW once again, but part of the reason why factions flourished was the world PVP aspect. It could be incredibly frustrating to get ganked while questing, but it also made players of a given faction much more likely to protect one another, to take pride in your colours. Even walking down the street today, wearing a Horde T-shirt gets me nods of respect or at least recognition. It makes it easy to strike up conversations with people.

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I think my favorite part of the game was the lore and story quests. The lore in particular was fantastically written, the world settings incredible, and the idea behind the setting itself fantastic. I walked around for hours and hours looking for lore and really rather enjoyed it. That was the game’s greatest strength. There were plenty of references to everything from Stephen King to HP Lovecraft and back again. The quests were a lot of fun, and the emphasis on puzzles and problem solving was a nice change of pace. The skill wheel made things easy while being deep, and it was fun not to be restricted by class. I could swap in one skill set and be a healer when needed, and swap in another to DPS or quest. This also required the odd equipment change, but that wasn’t as big of a deal as I originally thought.

The community of The Secret World is also wonderful, by and large. Not only is it helpful and polite, it’s occasionally self policing. Since there’s an emphasis on problem-solving skills, the community frowns upon asking for answers (and even more so about giving them) on certain channels. Racism, homophobia, and other unpleasantness are rapidly reported and shouted down. Players are, by and large, extremely helpful to one another to boot. I haven’t ventured into a roleplaying server yet, but by and large everyone seems to be wired tight and willing to both teach and learn.

So why did I end up quitting? Paying fifteen dollars per month to basically play by myself was just sort of…well, baffling. I was playing what essentially amounted to a single player game with a tax, and because I was taxed, I felt to compelled to play constantly. That really killed the casual feeling of the game, which made me enjoy it less and less until I figured I was better off saving the money. It’s not a bad game by any means, but I felt a touch pressed to play even when I didn’t want to. Why am I giving it another chance now? Well, why not? There will most likely be a much bigger pool of players, and since I’ve quit, there’s been plenty of content added. So why not give it another shot?

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Impressions: Baldur’s Gate: Extended Edition

Baldur’s Gate was an important to me, as a kid. It was my first ‘real’ PC game. It introduced me to sprawling games with interesting characters who -acted- human; if you did something they didn’t agree with, they’d bail. Hell, some of them would attempt to perforate some of your very favorite virtual arteries if you pushed them too far. It was endless hours of fun, so when Beamdog announced they’d be improving it, I was first in line to hand them my money. In spite of my reservations about ‘remastering’ older games, I was eager to see a game so near and dear to my heart given the treatment it so richly deserves. Better graphics, higher quality audio, the whole bit.

For those not immediately familiar with Extended Edition, it’s a remastering of both the original Baldur’s Gate and its expansion Tales of the Sword Coast. The concept is rather simple- an adopted child, you grow up in the library-fortress of Candlekeep with your adoptive father, until one day he calls you to his study and tells you that the two of you must flee as it is ‘too dangerous’. Things happen, he dies, and you’re on your own to unravel the plot against you (among others) in the classic setting of Faerun.

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There were problems, right off the bricks. The game refused to run on my system until the most recent patch, which initially caused a great gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts and lamentations. Once that bump in the road (admittedly, quite irritating for many players) was cleared up…the game ran beautifully. There have been UI improvements, the most noticeable at the main game screen. There is the Black Pits adventure, the tutorial (and trust me when I say it’s critical that new players use it), and then the main game all sectioned off on the load screen. The journal has been improved, and small changes to make writing more legible. There’s also a new quick save button, and the level cap has been removed. Some things have remained the same- the merciless Second Edition rules, for example. Not everyone is familiar with the old rules, including THAC0 and the calculation thereof.

One thing that newcomers to the franchise may find irritating is the bizarre difficulty curve that Second Edition  causes. Baldur’s Gate turns out to be harder in the first hour or two than the middle part of the game, simply because at level one your character and the NPCs  accompanying them are incredibly fragile. As a mage, for example, you aren’t permitted armor and start with a whole four hitpoints. It can even be less, depending on the ruleset you want to use; strict Second Edition rules call for a 1d4 hitpoints, which means that there’s a chance you can start with a single hitpoint, and gain one per level…for the rest of the game. The average weapon (shortbow or short sword) does 1D6 worth of damage…without any bonuses or being critical. A few lucky hits, and it’s game over. This works both ways, of course- a lucky hit from one of your party can devastate an enemy. It’s all part of the classic charm of the game for me- it was challenging, but not absurd.

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I’m truly enjoying the game- the game is crisp and what changes have occurred improve the game. While many of the upgrades from Baldur’s Gate II made it to the game, I don’t think it was a detriment- and it might make it more accessible to those unfamiliar with the game.  There are three new characters, all reasonably interesting and fleshed out. I haven’t been able to finish all of them, so it’s hard to say with certainty just how good the new characters are- doubly so because of their vastly different alignments. I haven’t been able to play all of them, so as a reviewer, I don’t feel I can say they are all good- but I’d bet my last match they are anyways. They also have their own adventures and dialogue, and they are valuable additions to any group- and their adventures are a welcome addition to a long game. That’s one of the things I really like about the game- it was long without being a grind. With mods no doubt on the way, I figure that the game will weigh in at sixty-plus hours for the average player.

A final point to consider is the fact that this game is cheaper than most releases (19.99 USD), and can run on most machines. While original is available, the level of fit and finish simply isn’t there until you mod the hell out of the game. Even then, the level of graphical quality won’t be present, nor the new adventures. As a fan, I found it to be worth the extra ten dollars- the game runs smoother, faster, and looks better. There’s more spells, there’s improvements from Baldur’s Gate II. Baldur’s Gate is essentially canon for me, and this version is accessible to everyone.I bought the game, and would gladly do so again. The team at Beamdog did a great job, and as soon as Baldur’s Gate II is available for preorder, I’ll gladly do so.

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Review: Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?!!

I am 23 and I watch Adventure Time. I work with children and they’ve asked why I proudly tote little badges of Finn and Jake on my big grown-up jacket, why someone who is inescapably an adult watches a children’s TV show. It’s a valid question and one that needs answering before I go much further. Here’s why I watch (and play) Adventure Time. What time is it? Continue reading

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In UK Cinemas: 7th December 2012 – 9th December 2012

Russell Crowe Fightin' Around The WorldIf you live in America, December is the month in which absolutely nothing of any worth comes out.  Where you have multiple weeks of the month which pretty much consist of f*ck all getting released, here in the UK we are up to our eyeballs in new flicks to see!  Yes, a lot of them are just movies that were released in America months ago that have finally gotten around to getting a UK release but, again, at least we get a choice in what to see!

Anyways; this week sees the long-awaited return of In Bruges director Martin McDonagh, Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA directing a martial arts epic with Russell Crowe in a role (sadly the closest we will ever get to seeing Russell Crowe’s Fightin’ Around The World getting made), Parks & Recreation’s Rashida Jones aiming directly for those of us lonely sods who aren’t going to experience the love of the opposite gender this Christmas, and we have another classic Christmas movie getting a re-release because money.

Shall we dive in to the full-ish list, then? Continue reading

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