What’s Next? – Short Blog

The day I started writing for Destructoid as staff was a dream come true. The culmination of years of studying, writing and honing my skill, finally publishing a review for potential millions to see was enough to bring me to tears. I had achieved the goal I set out for myself all those years ago.

Then a few months later, reality crashed into me. I had been working as a per diem employee at a homeless shelter when a very unfortunate incident happened. I ended up losing my job due to management’s decision right before December. While becoming unemployed at any point is unfortunate, doing so right at the peak of the holiday season is disastrous.

I wasn’t completely up shit creek, money wise, so I decided to start fresh at the beginning of the New Year. I would have the best possible chance to get my resume seen if I applied while employers were actively looking for new recruits. Sadly, as of the time of this writing, I am still unemployed. The magnitude of my situation at the homeless shelter has finally sunk in and I realize that I’m going nowhere and fast.

You’d think achieving two dream positions (working directly to help people and being a video game “journalist”) would see me elated, but that isn’t the case. I’ve slowly been running out of money and nothing seems to help. I’ve tried being an Uber driver, but apparently there aren’t a lot of people in Connecticut in need of chauffeuring. I’ve been constantly putting out applications, only to get rejections from basically everyone (including an unpaid internship!).

A few years back, I found myself in a somewhat similar situation. I left a job with my friend’s dad to obtain a personal training certification, which I successfully did. After that, I started on the job hunt only to get nowhere. Employers wanted me to have previous client bases while individual people wanted me to have experience in training. It was a ridiculous catch 22 that I couldn’t find an answer for.

Still, to this day, I cannot obtain work at any commercial gym. It makes me wonder what the value of education is. I took a big risk and it failed, but why did I even do that? I wanted a change of careers to something I enjoyed, but I guess that is too much to ask of the world. It feels like all of my choices are wrong.

Really, what is next for me? I’m 29 years old, sitting at home wasting away and getting nowhere in life. I don’t have money to return to school, I’m slowing depleting my funds on medicine and cellphone bills and I have little to show for it. It’s great that I’m able to engage with the gaming community on a larger level, but that doesn’t pay the bills. Why does everything have to come down to the almighty dollar?

How do people cope with the realization that their lives are nothing? When all you do is wake up, go to work, come home, eat and sleep, what is the point of life? Is there no possible career option that allows me to simultaneously enjoy what I do and earn a living? While I am always going to be grateful to Destructoid for giving me the chance to finally live out my aspirations, it’s looking more and more likely that I’ll never be able to turn this hobby into a job.

It hurts so much to write that, but it is the truth. I’m lost in a state of arrested development and I’m not sure how else to proceed. I just want to become something important to the world, but that doesn’t seem likely. For me, toiling away in obscurity until I inevitably die might be the only path.

Really and truly, I am just looking for possible options. Where is the flaw in my logic? What is preventing me from becoming successful? How do I accept reality and become a mindless drone? How do other people manage to find consistent work that lets them be independent?

I Will Survive

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Doing the right thing doesn’t always bring peace. When you’re a homeless person with a record, any threat to your safety becomes a threat to your life. Even if you know you’re breaking rules and causing trouble for others, when you lose the comfort of your safety net, all bets are off. Without a bed to sleep in, you might as well lie down and die.

Last night, I was assaulted by one of the men at the homeless shelter where I work. He had continuously broken our curfew rule and he wasn’t happy when I suspended him. Giving him a slight benefit of the doubt (and not wishing him to freeze out in the cold), I granted him permission to grab some of his belongings. Even if he was lying to me and himself, I wouldn’t want to bring harm to him.

Sadly, he didn’t feel the same way about me. I was helping another resident and his man turned around and slugged me. He got in a few more hits before I even realized what had happened. I’m thankful that someone else was in the room with me, or else I may have eventually retaliated and caused a serious problem.

What strikes me the most is the fear I saw in that man’s eyes. As he knocked me over and proceeded to walk towards me, I could see a killing intent beaming from his pupils. If I were a weaker person, I may have died in that room. While it frightens me to the very core of my being, it also makes me terribly sad that some people feel the need for physical violence.

When the world doesn’t go your way, resorting to such hostility isn’t going to solve your problems. You’re refusing to look in the mirror and see that your own behavior is causing your misfortune. I won’t claim I’m a saint, but I’m not the reason you lost everything in your life.

I do feel somewhat responsible, but mostly that I let such a violent man back into the shelter. I should have known this would occur; the guy had a history of coming in drunk and mouthing off to staff. He clearly has no respect for anyone, let alone himself. I can’t escape the thought that one of my female staff members could have been injured due to his guy’s belligerence.

I am mostly sharing this story, though, so that I don’t forget that moment of shock and horror. Certain events shape our lives and while I don’t intend on becoming a victim, I’m not going to shake this off like an accident. To walk past this like I’m some tough, emotionless robot is the wrong thing to do.

I also want everyone on this site to know that I feel stronger in my resolve to speak my mind. I may have taken a few hits to my face, but if your first hit doesn’t count, then expect me to keep ticking. I guess I’m a literal tank as I don’t even have any bruises or cuts.

Some of you may take issue with my articles, but your retorts lack substance. You’re dealing quick blows in a gut reaction without weight. You need a clear mind before you can harm me and your reasoning needs to be sound. Sure, I have my biases when it comes to some games, but I’ve do my research before posting.

I may have made mistakes in the past, but that isn’t happening anymore. I know who I am and what I’m setting out to do; I wish the naysayers would do the same. Be more constructive with your criticism, because my plate armor isn’t even going to kink when you strike.

And to the people that do enjoy my work and support me; I extend a tremendous thank you. As with this assault, I’m grateful that some people are able to put aside their own bullshit and reveal the beauty inside. I didn’t even need to exchange words to get their help and that overwhelms me.

Like I’ve said, I’m not saint, but I would have never thought others would put their own safety on the line for me. Clearly, I’ve done something right by them and I’m doing something right by you. Thank you so much for everything. Your kind words and continued support mean a lot to me.

This Blog is a 1/10

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With the recent outrage to the Angry Video Game Nerd’s decision to refuse to review Ghostbusters, I felt now was the right time to pose this question. Does current media criticism work? For that matter, does criticism still have an impact?

To quickly explain my stance with the AVGN, I will say that his argument is one I agree with. You vote with your wallet; it’s as simple as that. While that theory makes a lot of logical sense, it doesn’t really translate into a real world outcome.

There are so many games and films I have not purchased that still end up getting sequels and breaking box-office records. I’m not a fan of superhero films, but we’re in the middle of a surge of comic book popularity. I’ve disliked Call of Duty since 2010, but those games are still trucking along.

It seems that regardless of what I say or do, things I don’t like (or that most critics deem to be “bad”) will continue to get made because of their profitability. Hell, most people were complaining about Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice before its release, but that managed to break March box-office records. How in the hell?

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Ben is pleasantly surprised.

What I truly miss from reviews is a critical viewpoint. I really miss the discussions of artistic merit, theming, motifs and imagery. Not every film has a deeper motive or subconscious message and not every game is trying to reshape the industry as we know it; I understand that. There are some films and games that set out to do that, though.

Where are the discussions of deeper meanings? Where are the essays and analyses of what they mean to us? I want to see more of a critical look at what the narrative or design represents more so than reading some random bloggers opinion on the experience.

I can’t claim to know the history of criticism, but MovieBob explained in one of his videos that old fashioned critics wrote for their own society. It was an accepted part of life that anybody who could see a stage play would be doing so. If you missed out on an event, you were either poor or an imbecile.

I feel we’ve entered a part of our history where seeing a film or playing a game is almost a universal given. Things drop in price rapidly and films are available for fairly cheap with streaming services, so what is to stop even the poorest of people from experiencing whatever they desire?

What really seems to be a problem is that a lot of big budget, CGI effects driven films have been making boatloads of money in spite of community backlash. How many articles have you read about Hollywood being dead, even if the “culprits” keep making money?

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Why is this a goddamned thing?!

Activision keeps getting thrown in the fire for their annual release schedule, but no one ever thought to not buy their games. Ubisoft pumps out sequels with reckless abandon, but people eat them up without even asking why. Marvel has plans in the works for another eight films in the next two and almost every film outdoes the last.

We need to stop complaining about franchise fatigue and start looking at what each entity does. Instead of blindly praising the movies for their flashy spectacles or giving a pass to games because of cyclical release patterns, we should take a broader look at what each title represents.

We also need to realize that not every film or game is worth spending money on. It doesn’t matter that a team of 300 made a game; if you truly want to see change, you need to stop throwing passive support to the companies responsible for the industry’s current state.

Film might be a lost cause due to overseas markets dominating the box-office. We have a bit more power with the games industry, seeing as how it’s not as gigantic of a global phenomenon. The cost to play a game is considerably larger than a movie ticket or DVD; that will remain a given.

We really just need to cease getting upset over someone not liking something. If you enjoy game, don’t lash out because someone else doesn’t. Talk more about the aspects you enjoyed and what it meant to you. Delve into what the game represents to you. Chat about how the design subtly guides the player or tricks them into a false sense of security.

There is more to a game and film than whether it is “good” or “bad”. Reading over current reviews, you wouldn’t know it. Criticism needs to be shaken up; it hasn’t meant anything in a long time.

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DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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I Did My Best

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Working at a homeless shelter is fairly taxing. When you constantly strive to believe in the good inside of everyone, it becomes disheartening when you learn they are lying. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes.

To have someone look you in the eye and tell a complete fabrication is quite maddening. It feels like the soul is being ripped straight from your heart and getting crushed on the pavement before you. You start to distrust your own instincts and the words of your compatriots.

It makes me feel as if my intentions are wrong. I really just want to help people find a better place in their lives; to have others game the system is enough to bring my blood to a boil. When I see such reckless disregard for the wellbeing of others, I want to haul off and punch someone in their face.

I personally feel like a monster. I shifted the blame towards my co-workers for failing to inform; what really happened was that residents exploited my naivety. A moment like this is something that builds character, but not in a way I like. To become colder to the concerns of my fellow man feels detrimental to me.

I’ve always had a problem like this. At a previous job, I had trouble telling my co-workers no. If they needed a shift covered, I was there. I wanted to help as much as I could, despite what it was doing to my mood. I longed for some freedom, but was constantly shackled to the cash register. It lit a fire in my mind that was itching to lash out at anyone.

I ended up fighting myself. I would go home and call myself a spineless coward. I would lament how I’d wasted my free time at a job that wasn’t accomplishing anything. I became spiteful of the people who were taking advantage of my kindness; I was their whipping boy.

Now, it seems the cycle is repeating. I thought I had found the perfect job for me. This was something where I could truly make an impact on society. People would come in off the streets and get a second chance to change their fate. They would no longer need to live in squalor.

Just when I thought I had found the perfect job, I now feel like I made a mistake. I know I’ve screwed up, but I’m not still so sure I can handle the situations presented to me. I’ve been witness to a drunken woman calling me an asshole and claiming the shelter is worthless. I’ve had a person construct an elaborate story just to get out of losing their bed.

To then see those people on their discharge date claiming as if they were wronged is tortuous. How can someone be in such denial? In what reality is nothing ever your fault? How can you throw away the safety your children now have simply because you’re a fuck up?

It’s strenuous to bear witness to habitual liars, compulsive addicts and slothful youths who waste their opportunity for betterment. It’s reassuring when you do have residents who are strongly motivated and eager to leave. They are the exception.

When I started working this job, I felt bad for passing over all the homeless people I’d see on streets. I used to believe they were simply lazy. Now I know that my initial thought was correct. If you’re willing to waste your day on a street corner holding a sign, you clearly don’t give a shit about actually helping yourself.

I took a lot of strides to make sure I wasn’t sitting in self-pity for the rest of my life. I may not have everything that my heart desires, but I at least know that I’m trying. No one can take that away from me. To have to deal with people who want to casually throw their lives away makes me angry.

I don’t want to put everyone’s words into doubt, but I suppose that is the best way to deal with these people. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Luckily, I won’t be fooled again. I’m not going to lie down and let my chance at personal gain be ruined by someone who wants a handout.

Series I Love – Super Mario Bros

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One cold, snowy day in 1992, my father decided to let me and my sister try out his NES. My mother had gotten the console as a first Christmas gift for my father and he liked to hide it away so we kids wouldn’t break it. Little did I realize, but his choice to let us touch that console would change my future.

I remember him going behind the television and fiddling with the coaxial cable. We had the RF/switch for our NES, so connecting it was as easy as pulling teeth (almost literally). After that, he switched the television to channel 4, dialed the nob and we were set.

Well, not just yet. The console didn’t display properly, so he had to remove the cartridge and blow into it. I never thought to question why at such a young age. I just took all of these steps as gospel. After “cleaning” the cartridge, my father put it back into the NES and we were golden.

He gave me the controller and tried to explain how Super Mario Bros. worked. I was 4 years old at the time, so needless to say, his words went completely over me. I saw the bright colors and a funny looking guy and proceeded to press some buttons. He walked to the right and the screen moved, so I just assumed that was it.

I walked into the first thing I saw. I can’t tell you what I was thinking, but I clearly had no perception of what an enemy was. My father then took the controller away from me, assuming I was an idiot (not in reality, I just got sad). I cried a bit, but I didn’t give up. I was entranced with this game.

24 years later, I’m still fond of Super Mario Bros. The fat, little, Italian plumber and I have basically grown up together. I’ve played all of the main Mario titles and a majority of the spin-offs. Seeing his face and hearing his voice is like comfort food to me.

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Some of the happiest memories I have are from Super Mario Bros. 3.My sister and I would trade turns for hours on end. The game seemed so incredibly massive and creative. Each world had something different about its design and the ability to store power-ups made challenging areas less painful.

Not only was the design more refined than previous entries, but having Luigi tag along and help progress just felt right. The original game basically mimicked an arcade machine by having each player make individual progress. Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like the first time cooperation was put into a game.

A few years after first picking up a controller, the Nintendo 64 was unleashed on the world. Being 8 years old at the time, I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe that we were moving into the third dimension so fast.

Nintendo was always the king of promo videos (their adds for Donkey Kong Country and StarFox 64 are ingrained in my mind), so I remember watching the Toys’R’Us video for Super Mario 64 about 100 times. I hung on every word the developers were mentioning. Mario was becoming more like a stuntman and a fighter. His moveset was expanding.

Not only his repertoire of attacks, but the world he was traversing was growing. Levels were becoming more vertically inclined. Mario could wall jump, ground pound and long jump; he felt like the crazy kid that I was. I was always loaded with energy, so I used to pretend I was Mario and jump around my backyard.

The wait for Christmas in 1996 was excruciating. Since I already figured out Santa wasn’t real, I knew my mother had the console in her bedroom. She hid that thing better than a drug lord dumps a corpse. I never even caught a glimpse of the box, despite her concealing it for 3 months.

When I did eventually get my hands on Super Mario 64, I felt like my life had changed. I was mesmerized by what I was playing. I couldn’t get my head around how such a game was made, let alone conceived. It felt like my world and video games were becoming one.

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The last time I felt such a way about Mario was with the release of Super Mario Galaxy. I wasn’t too big on Sunshine, but I played it and New Super Mario Bros. I had begun to gravitate more towards the spin-off games like Paper Mario and Mario Tennis, yet I had a feeling that Nintendo was slowly running out of ideas.

Super Mario Galaxy came out during my sophomore year of college. I went to school in Florida, away from my home in Connecticut and my Nintendo Wii, so I felt the sting of disappointment. I had to wait months to even try out the game, so I felt a bit empty. It didn’t help that my friends at school were jerks; I couldn’t seek comfort in the guy who had been with me my whole life.

There was a glimmer of hope, though! An online friend of mine who lived in Florida had just bought the game. He was willing to pick me up and have me stay the weekend. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my best friends, but I would finally get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy.

The opening cutscene that set up the story of Rosalina and the Lumas brought me to tears. It felt like Nintendo realized how cherished and special their mascot was. It was like they recognized the power this juggernaut of gaming had over the imagination.

The game was also thoroughly in love with Super Mario Bros. 3, something I attribute to Galaxy being the third 3D Mario game. I was sold; this felt like what I had been missing all those years. Platformers never really died down, but no one had made as creative and joyful a game as Nintendo did with Super Mario 64.

Galaxy pushed the limits of what could be done with 3D level design. It even utilized the Wii Remote in a method that didn’t feel so gimmicky. It had some challenge, an unlockable character (in the form of rising star, Luigi) and a truly incredible soundtrack.

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Since that day, Mario has been in some mediocre games and a few truly amazing ones. Nintendo just loves banking on nostalgia, a design philosophy that may potentially hold them back. When Nintendo EAD Tokyo is given the reigns, Mario is unlike anything else. The other teams kind of phone it in.

If the Mario series truly were to end, I wouldn’t mind capping it off with Super Mario Maker. Having the tools to create a brand new Mario adventure in my hands is something my younger self would have killed for. To have the kind of vibrancy and joy that my 8 year old self had would be overwhelming.

I’ve grown a bit cynical over the years, but Mario has always been there to bring the happiness back. He still has a zest for jumping and bouncing, even if his “love”, Princess Peach, is an airhead. How many times can one person really be captured?

Regardless, Nintendo isn’t going to let their mascot bow out. I won’t turn away from him, either. Until I can no longer physically hold a controller, Mario will always be a part of my life. To remove him would be like asking me to kill my childhood.

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Here’s to another 30 years!

Series I Love – The Legend of Zelda

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When I was younger, picking which games I wanted to play was simple. I was a pretty damn spoiled kid, so I usually saw something in the store and my mother bought it. While she objected to some things, she typically got me anything my heart desired.

Walking into our local Toys’R’Us one evening in 1998, I happened upon a flyer for an upcoming game called Zelda. My reading comprehension wasn’t as astute as now, so I didn’t even catch the subtitle underneath. To me, the golden sheen and shield crest were enough to hook my interest.

Over the next few months, I played my N64 as usual and kept my obsession with Goldeneye 007 going. At such a tender age, nearly any game would get its hooks into me and engulf my imagination. I kept thinking back to that sword and shield and wondering what dangers awaited me.

As the release date drew closer, Nintendo began their marketing campaign on TV and in movie theaters. I distinctly remember sitting in the theaters and seeing the “WHILST THOU SUCK?” advertisement. It put a fire in my eyes and made me determined to prove those ads wrong.

A night or two before the games release, I heard from a GameStop employee that the cartridge for Ocarina of Time was going to be gold. My little mind was blown. I couldn’t let this thing escape me. I needed to have this game in my collection. It felt like a rite of passage.

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After getting home with the game, I couldn’t wait to play it. I nearly ripped the box apart with excitement, but I saved my enthusiasm for the journey. I didn’t want to sully the experience by destroying its case.

As soon as the first chords of the theme played, I was in love. The game felt legendary even without its namesake. For 10 year old me, this was the most important game of my life. It was almost as if I became an adult as I stepped in Link’s boots and set off to save the land of Hyrule.

I had never played anything like it at that point in my life. My childhood was full of video games, but the 90’s were dominated by platformers and beat-em-ups. Fighting games were a big deal after Street Fighter, but not many besides that and Mortal Kombat stuck around.

Something like Zelda encompassed all of the exploration I loved from Mario with puzzle solving and dungeon diving. It was literally being placed into darkness with some tools and being told to figure it out. You had no guide and your worth was measured in accomplishing the mind benders in front of you.

I don’t remember how long it took my younger self to finish the N64 classic; I do know that I nearly missed the bus ride to school one morning since I was nearing the end and refused to skip the cutscene. My mother also nearly fell asleep listening to Zelda’s lullaby after a long night at work.

That same year, Nintendo had a double whammy for young me. A colorized version of the first portable Zelda title, Link’s Awakening, was released for the Gameboy Color. I always brought the device with me to school for recess and the bus rides, so clearly I had to have this other Zelda title.

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When I’d leave home for the bus stop, I’d pack Link’s Awakening with me. From one to the other, my adventures with Link never ended. I’d sketch doodles of Link tackling foes, exploring ruins and finding treasure. I would fantasize about being in those dank caverns and surmounting the colossal beasts.

Since those games, The Legend of Zelda has become my favorite series. I’ve beaten each game in the series more than once (save for a couple of them) and I even get excited hearing about re-releases of past games. It’s strange to be excited for an HD version of a game you’ve finished 3 times and still own.

Even the dreaded Zelda 2 I’ve managed to complete twice. When playing it, I find the game amazing. For that matter, during any of the Zelda games, I’m awestruck. How Nintendo manages to craft such a varied world with intricate puzzles and hidden treasures is just awesome to me.

The mixture of thought provoking puzzle design and grandiose combat scenarios with a classic tale of good versus evil just keeps me coming back. I dig all of the variations the series has seen. Wind Waker is my favorite and I love bringing a friend along in Four Swords Adventures. The more recent Triforce Heroes is a solid co-op puzzle game and Skyward Sword made me a believer of motion controls.

Honestly, there isn’t a title in the series I truly dislike. I may complain about the issues that Twilight Princess has wit pacing or how superfluous most of Skyward Sword is, but I can’t get enough of those worlds. They are filled to the brim with interesting content.

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More importantly, they make me feel like my actions matter. I know that gaming has always placed your character as a hero, but those exploits weren’t as personal until The Legend of Zelda came along. With Zelda 2, Link was now directly helping people with their requests.

Running menial tasks shouldn’t be that gratifying, but I’ve always been drawn to the side quests in Zelda. Fishing for hours to get a stupid scale or holding onto a chicken and floating down to Earth is utterly captivating to me. That each activity rewards the player with something useful also makes those tasks feel less tedious.

I also just plain love exploring. Hyrule has had such a rich landscape, but even the extra worlds of Termina and Koholint are filled with nooks and crannies to delve into. As much as I may associate puzzles with Zelda, spelunking is a big part of the formula.

I’m not opposed to change and I do wish that some of the tropes would be put to rest, but I’m always eager and ready for a new Zelda title. Each one is like stepping into an actual legend. That I get to be the hero who overcomes adverse odds is just icing on the cake.

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Here’s to the future of Zelda.

Integrity Vs Monetary Gain

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens just opened up worldwide and a big question has been on my mind; where does art end and money making begin? One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in my life is dealing with the fact that, to make a living, I need to accept money from people.

All I’ve ever truly wanted to do was exist in this world and help others. That I need to constantly be searching for work and getting paid puts me in a sour mood. That some of my favorite entertainment properties also exist to make cash also gets me agitated.

I wasn’t alive at the advent of film, but I can’t imagine that visionaries who saw the format were immediately thinking of monetary gain. Artistic integrity had to have been present for some of them.

To take it back even further, what of famous authors or composers? Was Shakespeare simply churning out comedies and dramas for cash? Did Mozart take his talent for music and use it solely for personal gain?

When I review a film or game, I tend to look at it like a piece of art. I certainly understand that not everything is created to stimulate the mind, but most works have a purpose. Someone doesn’t come up with an idea and then pause their train of thought to consider how to market the thing.

I’ve always believed that film makers and game developers create to express themselves more so than inflate their pockets. It sickens me when I read stories about selfish producers or greedy corporations churning out endless amounts of trash for misinformed masses.

The Force Awakens happened to actually be good, despite existing solely for money. The film makers behind the project put a lot of passion into their craft, but that doesn’t excuse the film’s cynical nature. This is a nostalgia vehicle with plenty of fan service and a vague connection to what came before.

Does that mean I shouldn’t enjoy it? Are the themes present in the film not worth discussing? Do any of the people involved truly care about the project beyond launching it? It’s tough to think about.

Nintendo seems to be riding the nostalgia train of the Legend of Zelda as hard as they can. That series is my personal favorite game franchise, but even I am beginning to feel queasy. Nintendo definitely is whoring it out with re-releases and updates.

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Don’t forget your amiibo! *additional fee of $13.99*

Big publishers like Activision and EA have relied on their “flagship” franchises for over a decade now. Call of Duty has become a November staple despite negative feedback from the more current titles. Battlefield hasn’t gone away since 3, even with skipping one year for a Medal of Honor title (made by the same developer, no less).

Mario has turned into a bloated excuse to keep a legend around. Sega won’t put Sonic out to pasture. Capcom is trying their damnedest to copy everyone else. What happened to the games made with love and care?

I know indies exist (in both the film and game industry), but those are hardly getting the attention they deserve. You also have indie developers like Double Fine who are leaning on their own pasts to create a sequel to a game that don’t really need one.

It feels like artistic integrity has long been forgotten. To create any kind of brand recognition takes too much effort for studios to invest in. Gigantic budgets and record breaking sales aren’t required to make something successful, but companies tend to close down without positive reception.

The cost of production for films and games has ballooned out of control. To stay in the business that one may love, they have to compromise their own desires to work on something that is devoid of integrity. Artistry and revenue don’t co-exist.

It breaks my heart to see this. Maybe this is all a part of growing up and following the development process so close, but I’m really becoming jaded to films and games. I want to see brand new things, but even I am afraid of buying into a game that I know nothing of.

When I pick up a new Zelda, I at least know the general premise of what I’m getting into. If I go for something like Undertale, what the fuck am I supposed to expect? The name doesn’t really make sense to me and the small glimpses I’ve seen of it are ambiguous. That doesn’t instill confidence in me.

Is it possible to make something with your heart and soul and then demand people pay you for it? I personally don’t agree with that. The reason I gave up pursuing a  career as a gaming journalist was because of the struggle I had with asking for money.

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I love to discuss my thoughts on games and what I feel playing through a new experience. To tell people that they need to pay me before I do that is gross. Why should anyone be required to fork over their hard earned money for my stupid ramblings?

I want my message to get to other people, not have it locked within a cage. Stories that intrigue me always have some kind of deeper message or meaning. They pay respect to their viewers and don’t compromise their creator’s being. That is what I’ve always sought out.

That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Anything truly new will be swept under the rug to make way for the corporate machine. Visionary ideas will be buried in favor of guaranteed success. Maybe I should just fall in line and accept my check.

Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye

For youth growing up in the 2000’s, AOL Instant Messenger was basically a way of life. Not having a screen name meant you didn’t talk to anyone, apart from meeting at school. Gone were the days of clogging up phone lines or leaving your baggage at school; now you could continue the conversation at any moment.

It allowed kids to express themselves freely while also giving others the time to calculate their responses. Talking face to face can be intimidating and difficult, but an instant messenger gives you lots of free time to contemplate just what you will say.

That doesn’t mean everything you type will be perfect. Far from it, actually. Emily Is Away shows just how mixed any seemingly innocent response can be. When two people are not ready to express how they feel about each other, it doesn’t matter what medium of communication they are using.

While this game may not resonant so much for younger gamers, anyone who actually used AIM will get struck right to the core. We’ve all had that one person we wished we could be 100% honest with. We’ve all wanted to speak our minds completely, but fear that saying the wrong thing will ruin everything.

It’s hard to see that come rushing back, especially when the entire look and feel of AIM is recreated down to a tee. It’s neat to be taken back to a desktop from my youth and have it function basically the same way. I’ve also come to hate that damn message noise, for all the awkward things I said in my past.

What the game reveals, though, is that both parties are in the same situation. A lot of men like to believe that women are manipulative bitches, but that isn’t the case. Emily does care for you (well, the you from this game), but she doesn’t know how to say it. She’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Life has no single answer and she is just trying to figure everything out. She was always a friend, but possibly could have been more. If both parties had just said what they wanted, then maybe this romance could work. The great thing about this game (much like Depression Quest) is that the correct response will come up, only your character will erase it.

Sometimes it’s easy to type things in a furry of rage and adrenaline, but then you begin to second guess yourself. I remember moments like that, even if I tended to just speak my mind without caring. Still, Emily Is Away definitely captures all those awkward transitional phases of life.

You can replay chapters, but all of the choices in place do not allow you to game the system. The outcome is fixed, even if your personality can be manipulated. It doesn’t allow you to have the happy ending you want, which is a bit of a bummer, but also partially realistic.

Instant messengers were a very impersonal way to chat with friends. You had anonymity and never needed to look someone in the eye. You didn’t even need them to be present; you could type up a literal dissertation and plant it at their virtual doorstep. It had all the convenience of the modern era with just enough of a margin of error to make mistakes.

It just made things weird. I remember my last year of high school and constantly talking to the one girl I fell for. She would blurt out her exploits and I’d be filled with rage, but I internalized everything. Since she couldn’t see my face, she never knew there was an issue.

I also got into some sociopathic practices and made dummy accounts to try and catch her in lies. It was a really troubling part of my life that I’ve done everything to forget. While I will never be cleansed of the nightmare, at least I acknowledge how wrong it was and never practice it.

Emily Is Away doesn’t get that dark with it’s narrative, but it does make one wonder about how things could be different. If you said something else or badgered Emily a little more, maybe your future could come true.

While it’s mostly just a different way to experience a story, Emily Is Away does end up being a really cool little game. Essentially a choose your own adventure style game, Emily Is Away can shed some real insight on how you live and love. It also allows you to not hurt anyone in the process.

Yearning For The Past

Nintendo has made a habit of banking on nostalgia. For the past few years, nearly every single one of their games is firmly rooted in the past. Mario has been refining Super Mario Bros 3 since the New series launched on Wii and Super Smash Bros. is basically a celebration of everything old.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is, essentially, a touched up version of the classic Yoshi’s Island on SNES. Instead of falling head over heals, though, I find myself indifferent. Every chance I get to play the game, I end up bored after 8 levels.

That isn’t to say the game is bad; far from it, actually. It’s a well crafted and hyper polished adventure, but it lacks creativity. It lacks soul; there is no passion and the game coasts along at a lethargic pace.

Is that a bad thing? Honestly, I cannot answer that. For some, the deliberate speed of the game is what makes it enjoyable. My sister finds the game very captivating, despite being easy for her. She loves that nothing is thrown at the player that requires dexterity or mastery of the game mechanics.

As for me, I only seem to find entertainment in the graphics. The game is a sight to behold. Nintendo have truly gotten a grasp on HD graphics and I’m curious to see what the NX might bring to the table. That doesn’t dismiss how humdrum Woolly World is.

It sure is nice looking, though.

All of the cool concepts you remember from Island are in this game, minus Baby Mario. While a lot of people would call that a plus, it’s a huge detractor in my book. Baby Mario was annoying, sure, but he served a purpose; it gave you a goal.

You didn’t want Baby Mario crying because it would drive you up the wall. With him not being a factor, you tend to recklessly fly through the game with no concern for death. Yoshi changes from cautious guardian to senseless traveler.

It really doesn’t help that each boss encounter is phoned in. I haven’t seen a collection of enemies so meaningless in some time, but not a single boss battle in Woolly World is even remotely interesting. They all follow the well established 3-hit formula to a tee. Even the bosses with a cool theme (a shy guy frozen in ice) end up being boring slogs.

Mostly, I end up feeling sad. If I don’t like a game, I tend to get angry and a little rash, but Woolly World just makes me depressed. I want to enjoy it’s cute exterior and finely tuned mechanics, but I can’t sustain interest.

Level 5-6, titled “Up Shuttlethread Pass“, is what really brought this full circle. It’s theme song is immediately nostalgic and evocative while being entirely new. It sounds almost like it is being played on an old phonograph player; I basically picture the entire scene in black and white.

It makes me yearn for my youth. I remember powering up Yoshi’s Island for the first time in 1st grade, sitting in front of my 27-inch RCA CRT and being blown away at how different the game was from Super Mario World.

What was with SNES and sports themed enemies?

There once was a time when Nintendo was willing to take risks with their franchises. Nintendo EAD could have easily churned out another average Mario game and called it a day, but they decided to focus on his new sidekick.

In turn, the entire dynamic of the game changed. No longer was everything based on physicality and secrets; Yoshi had the ability to stock ammo and explore his world without a time limit.

Not wanting to entirely ditch power-ups, Nintendo created a whole new way to experience Mario’s various abilities; transformations. Yoshi was able to become a helicopter and a mole and see a completely unique aspect of the levels.

In addition to that, there were also puzzles involving rolling blocks, hidden coins, soft dirt platforms and fuzzy seeds that intoxicated Yoshi (somehow). It was unlike any game ever released at that point. It’s art style was also wonderfully realized and brought to life with imaginative music.

For a child 7 years old, it was fundamentally like looking into a new world. It grabbed me with it’s cartoony style and kept me hooked with it’s innovation. It expanded my mind to different gameplay; I now didn’t expect the same thing from Mario with each iteration.

Sadly, it seems Nintendo never fully realized what made Yoshi’s Island so special. Each new game has tried mixing up the visual style instead of expanding the mechanics. The closest we’ve ever gotten to a truly progressive sequel was Yoshi’s Island DS. That game worked because it kept the original foundation and tinkered with some changes.

The game feels weird on Wii U. I can’t understand the screens side by side.

Every other title, from the disappointing Yoshi’s Story right up to Yoshi’s New Island, have gone backwards in terms of progression. Instead of trying to find a new way for Yoshi to interact with his surroundings, Nintendo has relied on gimmicks. In New Island, Yoshi has giant eggs; in Woolly World, everything is made of yarn, etc.

Maybe the whole problem with the Yoshi series is that our youth keeps reminding us of how great the idea can be. When given something so different and so well done, it’s hard to ever repeat that success.

Mario has maintained popularity over the years for being so boldly different with each game, up until the New series started coming along. Now, Nintendo could only inject new life into the franchise by handing it over to the players (Super Mario Maker is awesome).

Could Yoshi be saved by the same gamble? I don’t believe so. Yoshi’s Island felt handcrafted and thought-out; not a single level repeats a mechanic to the same extent. Each new element may come out of nowhere, but doesn’t appear out of place stacked next to Yoshi’s repertoire of moves. Level design wasn’t the only aspect that made Yoshi’s Island, unlike how a Mario game can function solely from it’s arenas.

Whatever the cause, I just cannot enjoy Yoshi’s Woolly World. I may love my amiibos to death, but the game doesn’t do anything for me. Well, it does make me sad, but that’s not the best thing to say about a game.