I Need a Bigger Gun

As we progress into the future, games become more and more limitless. When hardware or storage capacity used to hinder developers, new formats and emerging cloud gaming have basically done away with old constraints.

Have you ever noticed how most newer games lack unique or memorable arsenals? With all the power at their fingertips, developers still rely on the tried and true Doom arsenal to pepper their games with variety. Nothing against Doom or iD Software, but that was 1994.

We are in the year 2015. The fact that I couldn’t recall any weapons from the latest Call of Duty is a tremendous problem. Even if the first game relied on period accurate weaponry, the series was known more for how it changed the way we utilize the guns more then the guns themselves.

Yes! That gun I’ve used in every game for the past 4 years!

Even with that, Call of Duty is eternally boring with it’s selection of firearms. You have the general ”Weapon” category and then everything to broken into sub-catregories. Rifles, Machine Guns, SMGs, Snipers; you name a real life gun, Call of Duty has it.

While this may make sense for a Tom Clancy game with it’s focus on realism, Call of Duty should be pushing the boundaries of the genre. The games are the most popular thing in the medium and collect ridiculous amounts of money every year. You’d think Activision would want to spice things up a bit.

To lay off that franchise, what about any other games? Grand Theft Auto is guilty of phoning in the weapons. I remember the stupid glee I had when I first obtained the chainsaw in GTA: Vice City. About the coolest weapon I found in Grand Theft Auto V was a golf club.

Even Assassin’s Creed has basically stopped innovating in terms of arsenals. Since Ezio introduced the dual hidden blade, every subsequent game has contained it. Ubisoft then started throwing in items that took away from the idea of stealth (who the hell wanted bombs?).

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate looks to remedy this problem, but I don’t know if one game series is enough. As popular as those games may be, shooters still reign supreme and have been stagnant for a long time. I don’t want to always rely on an M4 or ACR in my games.

I used to love old-school shooters with their insane, unrealistic and creative weapons. I loved how, when Half-Life took a turn for a more realistic style, the weapons remained unconventional. I truly love how Unreal introduced two firing modes.

Even their “real” guns had different modes.

Painkiller, a game which was seen as a bit vapid back in the day, has probably the best arsenal of any shooter around. There are only 6 weapons, but each gun has an alternate mode that is basically a new gun. It doubles the arsenal without bombarding the player with different models or information.

To that effect, Halo has always been fairly inventive with it’s guns. While some are basically analogues for genre staples, the Needler and the Plasma pistol are wholly unique. The pistol is also god damned incredible with how well it balances the multi-player (as far as the first game is concerned).

Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena never had issues with balance as their arsenals were diverse and different. Obviously a rocket launcher was in both, but each game had a different feel and different fire rate. The rail-gun was a much faster sniper, while UT’s plasma rifle and ripper have never been replicated.

You can dig through iD Software’s past and find plenty of different guns. Quake had the lightning gun, Heretic had a damned staff and Doom introduced the world to the BFG 9000 (later upgraded to the BFG 10k for Quake 3).

And all was right with the world.

Then I go to my PS4, boot up Killzone: Shadow Fall and see weapons that can be replaced with any real world equivalent. It really makes newer games feel completely dated. What about when future warfare becomes a reality? Now these weapons will be old-school and worthless.

With the likes of old-school shooters, most of those weapons will never exist. Even if you could produce a facsimile, the game’s weapon would remain an entity unto itself. The fun wouldn’t be lost or feel lazy.

I would just like to see shooters try harder. The genre used to be a trailblazer for graphical technologies and creativity. Now, we pretty much have a paint by numbers system for creating first-person games. I don’t want that to be the standard.

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Perceived Value

A strange trend seems to be emerging within the review process for games. If something lacks a large quantity of content, the score goes down regardless of the quality. For example, Dirt: Showdown was given a lukewarm reception because it’s career mode is short.

I completely disagree with that assessment. I found the game to be extremely enjoyable and a decent attempt at a Burnout style game from a company known for realism. The physics felt wonderful and the damage modeling looked amazing.

For $60 though, I could maybe see the point. There isn’t a tremendous amount of stuff to do, but the included modes and cars are furiously entertaining. Then again, I got the game in a Steam sale for $5, so maybe my acceptance of it’s “lack of content” comes down to perceived value.

Gamers exist in a world where the generally accepted $60 price point is not the only way to buy a game. That may have never been the case, but every game launches at $60 at retail whether it should or not.

I know during the PS2/Xbox/GCN era, we saw a bunch of B-games come out at reduced rates. Those titles clearly knew they weren’t going to set the world ablaze and kept their MSRP low to garner more sales.

This led to titles like The Suffering and GUN becoming hits despite not being of the best quality. One of my favorite games from the era, Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, was a huge failure due to launching at a full retail price point.

And possibly that “To Be Continued…” ending.

Without the expectation of “$60 thrills,” games like those are allowed to be rated fairly and given a chance to entertain. If Aliens: Colonial Marines didn’t have the audacity to launch at full price, it may have not been as negatively received.

A person’s own perception may shift that idea. Games like Dead Space and Max Payne are fairly short, but have been showered with praise from gamers and critics alike. Everyone seems to think that the general polish and feel of the games is worth their higher launch prices, even if you could get extensive experiences for less.

Bethesda had started talks about this when Skyrim was nearing launch. The director of Elder Scrolls 5, Todd Howard, stated, “I do think industry-wide we would benefit from more games out at $19 or $29. I would try more games. Because I’m not going to try a game for $60. It’s a tough decision.”

That does make sense. Without having a wide range of titles to enjoy, you begin to fall into a rut and give-up on gaming entirely. Without those fresh, different, unique games, one gets jaded to the whole practice.

Valve has done their best to remedy that situation. While Steam sales may not be the best answer, they show that any title can become popular and lucrative if given a better price.

I can even attest to it. While I wouldn’t recommend Dirt: Showdown to serious simulation racer enthusiasts, anyone looking for a rambunctious time slamming cars together will not find a better title.

Yeah, $60 is a bit much, but getting the game for $5 will give you weeks of enjoyment. That lower price lets you feel out whether the game is for you and how the online mode functions. FYI, smashing others online is a blast.

The year is 2015 and we’re still dealing with full retail price. $60 is not going to cut it anymore, especially not when disasters like Batman: Arkham Knight launch on PC and just assume $60 is correct.

I think reviewers should be looking beyond the dollar value when evaluating games. It may be easy to write in that something isn’t worth full price, but don’t let that negatively effect your perception of the game.

A lot of deserving titles will get slammed because their prices are insane. Just because the games market is a broken mess doesn’t mean the title is, too. And to developers; it doesn’t speak negatively of your game to price it at $40.

Character’s Freewill

As gamers, we never stop to really question why. Why are we mowing tons of enemies down? Why are we progressing left to right in a seemingly endless fashion? Why are we tapping rhythmically to floating notes?

More than the why, I question the what if. What if your character doesn’t want to proceed? What if your motivation for completion goes against the character’s will to survive? This is something that rarely gets touched on in games.

Murasaki Baby actually has a small segment that inspired this blog. The game is an indie platformer for the PS Vita that makes heavy use of the systems features (in that pretty much every feature is used). The basic mode of transportation to by grabbing your characters hand and yanking it to move forward.

The game follows some weird looking child on a search for her mother. Your bar of health is a single balloon that must never pop. Other than that, it’s basically solving simple puzzles that require touch, are time sensitive and sometimes make you tilt the whole system.

It’s a neato little game, but the part that struck me most was about mid-way through. The main character has been through some major stuff at this point and becomes scared to proceed. You have basically failed at your job keeping her safe, since she has had a few near death experiences.

Until you manipulate the world around her, your character will not move. Yanking her hand fails to produce any action. She simply stands her ground and refuses to listen. She doesn’t like what you’ve done so far and isn’t going to blindly obey anymore.

While Murasaki Baby never comes back to this, it got me thinking about how some characters may not actually believe in the gamer’s goal. Why would they want to senselessly murder hundreds of people? That makes them look like a sociopath.

I remember awhile back reading about how Dom Santiago from Gears of War was supposed to be the voice of the player. In the sequel, he was constantly shouting about how pointless the war was and how killing the Locust was fruitless.

While I don’t agree with the statement of him reflecting my views, it makes for an interesting idea. Dom in Gears of War 2 is ready to die. His wife is more than likely destroyed and he’s got nothing to return home to. While he may help the battle, once the war is finished, what will he fight for?

In that regard, the player controlling him and making him kill isn’t so much representing Dom coming to terms with his eventual mortality, but outside pressure making Dom react in a way he doesn’t want to. War is controlling his mind and he’s, basically, a cog in the gears of war (pun intended).

Grand Theft Auto IV also had a little of this, though the plot is far more convoluted. Niko Bellic wasn’t a heartless person. His past was dark and vicious, but he simply wanted a new chance and a new life.

The criminal underworld of Liberty City does not allow that for Niko. Since killing is his business (and business is good), Niko gets roped into a conflict without his consent. That his cousin is a big failure contributes a lot to Niko’s failure to live his “American Dream.”

At the same time, Niko isn’t really going against what he desires. The whole point of the plotline in GTAIV is that you cannot escape your past. Eventually, you will have to answer for the sins you commit, either in life or death. Niko falls back on a skill he knows because it is the easiest thing for him.

He also throws away his desires to reform himself when his family comes under fire. After time Roman is captured, Niko goes on a literal killing spree. He doesn’t gun down innocent bystanders (unless you make him), but he doesn’t pull punches on his “enemies.”

His kind of dichotomy makes Niko one of the most interesting protagonists in the Grand Theft Auto series. While Rockstar wrote the rest of the script without much thought, Niko was well fleshed out. He, ultimately, represents the idea I’m talking about.

An idea like this is mostly why games don’t try to focus on the inner humanity of a character. If you are forced to not do something, suddenly the game is becoming a scripted plot. Without player input, why even bother making a game?

Tomb Raider (2013) had a major problem with this. Lara Croft was traumatized by killing, but she eventually employs the same tactics her enemies do. That doesn’t make a lick of sense. She shows no remorse, either. She just happily plunges axes through her victim’s necks.

Spec Ops: The Line reveled in this. It made you, the player, want to try a different method. Your enemies don’t deserve the punishment that Cpt. Walker doles out on them. His mind breaks due to the trauma of war, so he feels every action is justified. It’s a reversal of what this blog is talking about.

For the most part, you won’t find many objecting protagonists. For a game to make the most sense, the main character must want the end result. Since a lot of action games focus on killing, trying to have a person abstain doesn’t make for an intriguing game.

Then again, I always play Deus Ex without killing anyone, so maybe I’m the weird guy?

Forget Me Not

A funny thing occurred after I finished Remember Me recently; I didn’t like the game. I couldn’t come to terms with the sluggish combat and I was generally annoyed with how much exposition there was in the dialog. The game seemed to have it’s head thoroughly up it’s own ass (to quote Jim Sterling).

I was a little ticked off with seemingly having wasted my time. Even the conclusion to the game felt forced and out of left field, robbing me of a satisfactory closer. I took to the internet to see if people had any theories as to what happened and stumbled upon an interesting article.

On the website VenturedBeat, writer Leigh Harrison made the statement that, “Remember Me undermines it’s story to be a video game.” After skimming through his thoughts, I realized I felt the same way.

For starters, why is there a mad scientist type character that gets finished off half-way through the story? How come there are so many weird creatures that make no sense in a game that focuses on memory manipulation? Do people really mutate when they lose their minds?

I couldn’t get over these basic details. It didn’t help that most of the dialog was borderline satire, but delivered with such earnest feeling from the actors. To their credit, they aren’t bad, just the writing is. At one point, an enemy taunts you with some big bad wolf bullshit and your character responds with, “This red riding hood has a basket full of kickass.”

There isn’t a hint of irony with her yelling that, either. You’re just supposed to accept that she’s a woman who can kick ass in a man’s world. I don’t take an issue with Nilin being a woman, just that we still can’t have a game that doesn’t bring attention the character’s gender.

YOU GO GIRL!

Another villain, who is basically captain mcguffin, approaches a locker room and proclaims, “Hello beautiful ladies! Time for your cavity searches!” Why does he utter that? I know he’s supposed to be an utterly unlikable guy, but a line of dialog like that is basically written to make you hate him for disrespecting your character’s gender.

It doesn’t feel natural. It’s a cheap way to garner hatred without describing the guy further. That the game then shifts into a fight scenes makes less sense, too. Nilin proceeds to take out a locker room full of guards because you’re in a video game. We see her steal memories from a distance before, but I guess you just can’t now.

The ending boss is also something I take issue with. I figured finding your target and remixing his memory would be enough, but you are then shoved down a pathway to shut down the mega-computer that runs the game’s plot.

He asks you to shut him down and end his suffering. Upon reaching him, though, he suddenly wants to do battle. He then states, “If you do not kill me, I will destroy you.” You literally just asked me to kill you and now there is a battle? The hell?

Without me, this game is only 7 hours long! THAT CANNOT BE!

After seeing that article, I began to wonder about other games I’ve played that left me feeling empty. A lot of times, there seems to be basic plot structure getting thrown out the window to facilitate an action set-piece.

I noticed this a lot with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I had never pieced it together as being contrived for the sake of gameplay, but that suddenly makes sense. The final mission has the Ghost Squad stating they can’t be seen and must take caution, only for them to miss a shot for no reason, slide down a mountain and brandish their pistols for a running duel.

There was even a section far earlier in the game where the Ghosts retrieve a hostage and during transit, take out their pistols and slow-motion action scene their way out of the armed facility. Why not stealth your way out? How about using those automatics you packed?!

We have cloaking devices, but his is way more efficient!

As video games become a more “serious business”, it seems developers are finding more ways to up the ante in regards to cinema. Since action movies basically have fight scenes every 15-20 minutes, a game must have that as well.

I truly believe Remember Me would have made a stellar movie. It has certain narrative choices that are beyond pointless, but it’s insistence on delivering an action game environment reverses a lot of the good will it’s story sets up.

Not only that, but the game basically never allows you any choice. You are compliant with the script and only change your understanding when the story says you can. It basically rips control from you when it should be empowering.

I also don’t like how many references they make to the word “Remember.” Then again, I did say I didn’t like the game.

Portal Stories: Mel – Review

With Valve having seemingly given up game development, fans of their IP’s have been wondering what their next game will be. Instead of waiting, Prism Studios decided to craft an unofficial prequel to Portal 2 in the mean time. The quality of the level design may not always be top class, but Portal Stories: Mel ends up feeling like a full retail product, despite being a free mod.

While a lot of that credit has to go to the prior work Valve did with Portal 2, to even craft puzzles or a story close to as engaging as Valve’s work is a true testament of Prism’s skill. A lot of the ideas get borrowed from Portal 2, but the character of Virgil ends up feeling alive and cheery.

The exploration of Aperture’s past is also highly intriguing. While we got a lot more of an in-depth look at how the world of Portal comes to be in it’s sequel, we now understand a bit more of how Cave Johnson ended up running the company into the ground and what helped GlaDOS ressurect herself.

Of course, this is all non-canon, but the sheer quality of it all is very engaging. After finishing the game, I almost wish this were an official part of the Portal storyline. We may be removing a bit of the mystery behind GlaDOS and Cave Johnson, but at least it all remains interesting.

As for the puzzles, they start off strong and begin to get repetitive near the end. The last few chapters are some of the best designed in the entire mod, but they come too little, too late. The boss encounter is very reminiscent of the original Half-Life and even a few levels take some ideas from Black Mesa.

The soundtrack is also incredible. For a fan project, I’m surprised we got an entirely original score, but it fits the mood extremely well. I was always partial to the atmosphere sounds of the original Portal and I’d say that is the only place where I felt Portal 2 did not live up to it’s predecessor. I guess Prism thought so, too, as this score blows Portal 1’s out of the water.

The slight alterations to the Source engine since Portal 2’s release have yielded some better lighting and incredible looking water. Since PC’s are also a bit more adept, extra foliage is present in the “Overgrown” segment. It looks worse for wear than in Portal 2, which kind of screws around with the idea of this being a prequel.

If it weren’t for the middle section of the game, I’d say this is a homerun. Portal 2 had a strange reliance on ending most platforming/story segments with a half-open door that required you to portal out of. Portal Stories: Mel also does that quite a bit.

From the beginning of the middle until the intro of the finale, we also get treated to an incredible amount of block puzzles. The gels do make a return (and water gets utilized, which is nice), but a lot of the ideas are just more obtuse setups than what Portal 2 had.

I did have fun, but I can’t deny that the ideas stopped being creative and exciting after awhile. The last 2 chapters really were a standout as they feel completely different from the official Portal series.

Still, at the price of free, why aren’t you playing this? It’s an easy recommendation and is quite well made, too. I hope the team at Prism Studios can someday make an original project. I’m sure they’ll come up with something wholly awesome.

8/10

Reviewing One’s Experience

So Batman: Arkham Knight is a flaming pile of excrement, right? Well, only if you’re playing the PC version. Otherwise, the game runs fine and looks great. Should those negative review scores be revised, then? When WB and Iron Galaxy squash all the bugs, should we demand critics re-evaluate the game?

With this weeks latest controversy over a game release, I began thinking about an old idea of mine. When does objective criticism and personal experience become a factor in a game review? A game cannot cater to every specific customer at once, but we see fans demanding such a thing from writers.

The constant stream of, “No way this game is a 5,” and “Too much batmobile. 7/10,” are just pathetic. At the same time, maybe we should be seeing more objective takes on current games.

While I used to be all about leaving personal experience out of the equation, I’ve shifted my viewpoint in more recent times. Unless a game has actual game breaking bugs (Which Arkham Knight does on PC), you can’t truly call it a bad game. If it makes even one person happy, then it has not failed.

Even made me question humanity. I’d call that a win.

I’ve enjoyed a lot of critically panned games. Binary Domain is a brilliant shooter, but most reviewers couldn’t be assed with it. Long Live the Queen is a charming text-based adventure, but critics didn’t find a lot to love. Goat Simulator is also quite shat on, but I love how hilariously stupid it can be.

My friend is also quite fond of WWE 2k15 on PS4. We both agree the game is a horrible, broken mess, but the glitches produce some of the most outrageous moments we’ve had in a long time. There isn’t another game out there where Sting can do a split in mid-air while Hogan gets stuck inside the ropes.

I’m getting tired of seeing people complain about review scores, as well. If someone personally feels that a game should be rated a 5, you don’t have any right to refute them. You don’t have to agree, but to shout that they are wrong is ludicrous.

The 10 point scale for reviewing has long been abused. Critics will give average games a 7 and that tilts the scale in a negative way. Now anything below a 7 isn’t worth looking at, which means that 7 is actually 5 and 5 then becomes something like a 3.

I believe that has more to do with how ingrained school grading has become in society, but it still leads to a misconception about the quality of a game. It also does nothing to inform a reader if the game is any fun.

I remember when GamePro still existed. They used to grade games in 4 different fields; Graphics, Sound, Control and Fun Factor. A game could get low marks in the first three, but Fun Factor was ultimately what most people were curious about.

Ah, memories.

Even if you end up hating a game after grinding away at it, the fun you had when you first popped it in should be worth it. If you live your life regretting the decisions you make and looking to strangers online for confirmation, you’re doing something wrong with your life.

What truly tipped in into this line of thinking was the end of 2011. I was eagerly waiting for games like Uncharted 3, Saints Row: The Third and Duke Nukem Forever. Those all quickly became my least favorite from their respective franchises, but it also taught me a thing about believing in reviews online.

At the end of the day, the only person who will know you best is yourself. You cannot rely on someone’s opinion when making a purchase. You should obviously reference a review to gauge any glaring errors in playability, but some person who has never met you is not a good indicator of something you may like.

Why should I care if some random jerk thinks my favorite game is trash? Unless he is threatening game developers or personally assaulting my family, I don’t know why his thoughts should impact mine. I like the damn game and that is that.

This may be a bit sidetracked, but I just wish people would learn to use reviews for what they are; opinionated viewpoints. They are one person’s account of how they saw the game. If you typically agree with that person, then the review might just be for you.

Yeah; this guy.

So at the end of the day, I believe personal experience should weigh more in a review score. Instead of trying to remove any trace of humanity from a piece, inject more of your own belief into it.

As indie game writer Rob Marrow told me, “Of course I’m bias. I don’t like this specific type of game.” You can’t always get what you want. Learn to deal with that.

A So Called Legacy

With Capcom’s announcement of the Mega Man: Legacy Collection for next-gen consoles, I feel a bit torn. On the one hand, we have at least some kind of confirmation that Capcom actually cares about the blue bomber. On the other hand, they don’t care enough to make an entire compendium.

In an effort to not rant like a maniac for the next few paragraphs, I’ve decided to break this into a Top 5 list. I will go over 5 different ways that Capcom could improve the Legacy Collection that won’t ruin the idea they are shooting for.

5. Bonus Features

While not everything is known about the downloadable collection, one thing that should be included are bonus, DVD style features. When going back to the past, it’s nice to get a viewpoint from developers on what their creative process was.

More importantly, adding bonus features gives old fans a reason to actually pay attention to what is possibly the 5th time these games have been re-released. Nothing is cooler than beating a game and immediately re-starting it with director’s commentary.

The interactive museum feature is a start and I won’t dismiss photo galleries, but I will state that I don’t believe they are enough. Concept art always looks better on paper, so just throwing a bunch of images into the collection won’t really matter.

4. Extra Modes

Capcom has at least confirmed there will be a challenge mode for each game in the collection, but I’d like to see them take this further. Mega Man 9 and 10 had bonus characters as DLC that would be perfect to include in the older games.

Along with that, why not go ahead and make a Master Quest style version of each game? Fans have beaten these games an innumerable amount of times over the years, so giving them what might be the closest thing to a new Mega Man as possible wouldn’t be bad.

3. Updated Graphics

Graphics may not be the most important part of a game, but charging an umpteenth time for a 28 year old game is a little crazy. Instead of just wholesale porting a ROM over, why not go the distance and re-create the sprites in HD?

Capcom hired Udon to do such a thing for Super Street Fighter II: Turbo, so why not Mega Man? Many people consider the blue bomber to be a defining character of their childhoods, so they would appreciate updated art assets that pay homage to the original style.

For the sake of purists, though, do not make updated graphics the only option. I cannot stand when HD remakes update the past, but fail to respect it. LucasArts did great with their re-releases of the Monkey Island games, so give us something along the lines of that.

2. Release on “Legacy” Consoles

While the new generation of consoles is underway, there are people who have no interest in leaving their past consoles. For some, the PS3 and Xbox 360 are all they will ever need. Then there are the Nintendo faithful who have a Wii U and no possible way to experience this collection.

Instead of snuffing those customers, why not port the game to last-generation consoles? You can’t tell me that the collection wouldn’t run on previous gen hardware. Both PS3 and 360 have Mega Man 9 and 10, not to mention the Wii has a majority of the older Mega Man games on the eShop.

Wii U also has that, but when you’re charging $5 a pop, why are you going to leave Wii U owners out in the cold on this “Legacy” collection? Just having the games isn’t the only point of this re-release.

Sony has the perfect feature of “cross-buy” that would be great for their console family. Having Mega Man on PS3, PS4 and Vita would be enough to convince prospective players into dipping their toes.

1. Include Every Mega Man Game

This is probably the biggest concern of mine when it comes to the so called “Legacy” collection. You can’t claim something is a legacy if it doesn’t have every available game. Even though Konami has their heads firmly up their asses, their legacy collection of Metal Gear included every title (and the VR Missions!).

Capcom should take this chance to provide Mega Man 7, 8, 9 and 10 on next-gen hardware. Forget that some of those titles aren’t the best of Capcom’s classics (I actually think 9 is the best Mega Man game), but they are a crucial part of the blue bomber’s history.

The biggest disaster is that Mega Man 8 isn’t readily available on most consoles. While Sony recently released it as a PS1 classic, there isn’t a reason why this collection should be missing such a game.

Couple that with the fact that the previous Mega Man collection actually included 7 and 8, and I really don’t understand the reasoning to leave out the last four games in the Mega Man series. Hell, that same collection even had both arcade fighting games, so why not throw those in?

Even if it would move the relatively low price up a bit, I’d be willing to pay more for a collection that is complete. The NES era might be the best of our old friend, but he did have other ventures that most likely created some die-hard fans.

With this list, I really hope Capcom takes the time to notice some of my concerns. I do love Mega Man, but access to the back catalog of games isn’t the easiest thing to come by. You either have to own more than one console or be lucky and find the old Anniversary collection.

Capcom could even go out of their way and make a physical release that includes a Mega Man statue. That may be asking too much, but fans truly want some kind of acknowledgement that the blue bomber is worth a damn.

Either way, I probably will still end up with the Legacy collection. I love the little blue guy too much to withhold myself.